**spoiler alert** A much more thoughtful, creative, & well-written version of "Twilight" with big ideas on its mind. I loved the beginning (magnif**spoiler alert** A much more thoughtful, creative, & well-written version of "Twilight" with big ideas on its mind. I loved the beginning (magnificent world-building, a great main character named Karou, lovely lyrical writing combined with a propulsive plot) and the end, which resolved the central mysteries beautifully and managed to make me fall in love with a new character, Madrigal, introduced much later in the book -- no mean feat after I had invested myself in Karou. However, the middle felt squishy to me. I didn't particularly like the chapters from romantic lead Akiva's point of view, and found the soulmate stuff overly goopy (too similar to Edward/Bella for my taste). However, at least the goopiness is well-written, and is intermixed with passages that reflect on colonialism and war and the creation of the other (a nitpick: perhaps not very subtle reflections?). DOSAB did make me want to read more of Taylor's work, and I certainly think it's worthy of being a Printz contender. ...more
Our narrator is Miles Halter, who has decided to leave his family and friends in Florida and go to a boarding school for his junior year. Culver CreekOur narrator is Miles Halter, who has decided to leave his family and friends in Florida and go to a boarding school for his junior year. Culver Creek Preparatory School is Miles’ dad’s alma mater, a small school 15 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama. As the story opens, Miles’ parents are throwing him a good-bye party on the eve of his departure.
When the very sensitive, thoughtful Miles sets off on his journey into the "Great Perhaps" of Culver Creek, the first person he meets is his roommate, Chip Martin, a math genius, chain smoker, and planner of elaborate pranks. Chip, in turn, introduces Miles to his partner in crime, Alaska Young, who blows Miles off his feet. She is a magnetic, powerful personality, smart and passionate and sexy and engaged with big questions about the nature of human existence.
As the book continues, Miles, Chip, and Alaska are forced to confront painful events from their pasts. But the past is not the only thing these teenagers have to worry about; it’s clear from the structure Green has chosen that something big is going to happen in the present. The two main sections of the book are “before” and “after.” Instead of chapters, Green labels sections of text as “one hundred thirty-six days before,” “eight days after.”
What is this central event that rocks their world so significantly that everything else becomes before and after? Does it help them to solve the philosophical questions they ponder? The only thing that’s sure is that there are no easy answers to life’s tough questions when you have opened yourself up to the Great Perhaps.
This is a beautifully written book that is well worth adding to our young adult collections. Green is concerned with big ideas, but he handles them with a light touch that doesn’t feel overbearing. He raises thought-provoking questions, but never tells you what to think. It has the potential to raise some people’s hackles: there is definitely sexual content, and a good deal of smoking, and the central event is controversial. However, the well-drawn characters, lovely prose style, and the exploration of large philosophical questions made it an award winner, and make it well worth defending. ...more
In Jellicoe Road, we have the pleasure of getting to know Taylor Markham, a 17-year-old boarding school student who has just been elected the leader oIn Jellicoe Road, we have the pleasure of getting to know Taylor Markham, a 17-year-old boarding school student who has just been elected the leader of the Jellicoe School’s Underground Community. In her new role, Taylor is in charge of the traditional “territory war” that takes place each September between the students, the Townies, and the Cadets from a military school in Sydney who come to Jellicoe Road for a 6-week outdoor training course each spring. This is a large task to begin with, but it takes on an extra dimension of difficulty for Taylor when she learns that the leader of the Cadets is none other than Jonah Griggs, with whom she ran away four years ago in an ill-fated attempt to find her mother. But, as you can tell from the fact that she doesn’t know where her mother is, Taylor has much more on her mind than winning the territory war and dealing with Jonah Griggs – she is trying to puzzle out the story of her past and understand what brought her to the Jellicoe School in the first place.
As the story begins, Taylor's mentor Hannah has suddenly left the school, leaving only an unfinished manuscript in her house. We read snippets of the manuscript along with Taylor, and get to know five friends who met on the Jellicoe Road 22 years ago under tragic circumstances. Marchetta sets up a dual narrative, shifting between Taylor’s narration of current events at the Jellicoe School, and Hannah’s manuscript. In fact, the very first words of the book come from the manuscript and tell us of a terrible car wreck involving Narnie and Tate and Fizz.
Who are these people? What does this tragic car wreck have to do with Taylor? Why did Hannah leave the Jellicoe School so abruptly? Why did Taylor’s mother abandon her? And what’s the point of the territory wars, anyway? Marchetta skillfully builds up the suspense as Taylor searches for the answers to these questions, struggling to figure out how seemingly unconnected fragments of her past and Hannah’s past actually do connect.
Marchetta puts readers into the same position as Taylor, layering in fragments of narrative whose connection is initially difficult to ascertain. This strategy is a bit disorienting at first – we readers feel as confused as Taylor – and it does require some diligence to push through the first few chapters. However, the payoff is worth every bit of effort as we accompany Taylor on her journey into the past – a journey which, ultimately, helps her to move into her future.
Jellicoe Road deservedly won the 2009 Printz Award, and for that reason alone is worth having in your collection. But regardless of its award status, it deserves a place on our shelves for its wonderful main character, Taylor, whose wry, honest, unflinching voice feels completely authentic, for its sensitive and timely depiction of how to deal with and move past violence and tragedy, and for its skillful blend of genres -- it has elements of both “boy” and “girl” genre fiction, making it widely appealing across the board. Jellicoe Road really defies categorization – it’s an un-put-downable mystery, a romance between two of the least conventionally romantic characters you will ever meet, a boarding school story that turns every stereotype of boarding schools and their students on its head.
I highly recommend that you entrust yourself into Melina Marchetta’s more-than-capable hands and let her take you on a journey down the Jellicoe Road. ...more
Lucky Trimble has not experienced a lot of luck in her ten years. She has never met her dad, who left before she was bornA book talk from grad school:
Lucky Trimble has not experienced a lot of luck in her ten years. She has never met her dad, who left before she was born, and she lost her mom two years ago in a freak accident. Now she lives with her French guardian, Brigitte, in a small town on the edge of the Californian desert, where she has one of the only paying jobs in town, cleaning up the Found Object Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center after twelve-step meetings. Eavesdropping on the recovering drinkers, smokers, and gamblers, Lucky hears about how they each found their Higher Power, and aspires to find her own: “Being ten and a half, Lucky felt like she had no control over her life—partly because she wasn’t grown up yet—but that if she found her Higher Power it would guide her in the right direction” (p. 5). Lucky knows that you need to hit rock bottom before your Higher Power will reveal itself to you, but she’s pretty sure that will happen soon -- she is sure that the homesick Brigitte will decide to return to France any day now, and dump Lucky in an orphanage without her beloved dog, HMS Beagle. When Lucky finds what she considers proof of Brigitte’s impending departure, she takes drastic action. Read The Higher Power of Lucky to discover what Lucky does, and whether she succeeds in taking control of her life....more
Twelve-year-old Catherine is full of rules for her autistic brother David to follow – rules about how to eat, how to inteA book talk from grad school:
Twelve-year-old Catherine is full of rules for her autistic brother David to follow – rules about how to eat, how to interact politely in social situations, and how to keep your clothes on even when you have spilled something on them. She has been embarrassed by David too many times before, and now that a new girl, Kristi, is moving in next door, Catherine wants to make sure that David won’t ruin the perfect friendship she has been imagining. She is not sure how Kristi will react to David when she herself is so torn between love for him and frustration with him. “Sometimes I wish someone would invent a pill so David’d wake up one morning without autism, like someone waking from a long coma, and he’d say, ‘Jeez, Catherine, where have I been?’ And he’d be a regular brother… a brother who’d give back as much as he took, who I could joke with, even fight with. Someone I could yell at and he’d yell back, and we’d keep going and going until we’d both yelled ourselves out. But there’s no pill, and our quarrels fray instead of knot, always ending in him crying and me sorry for hurting him over something he can’t help” (p. 8). Catherine soon finds that Kristi may not be exactly the kind of friend she was hoping for – but perhaps Jason, the paraplegic boy she meets at David’s speech therapy clinic, is. ...more
Horvath’s wonder at the beauty and richness of everyday life, and her awareness of its potential to blossom into unexpectedA review from grad school:
Horvath’s wonder at the beauty and richness of everyday life, and her awareness of its potential to blossom into unexpected adventures, infuses each moment of her latest book, the fizzy and incandescent story of Jane Fielding’s twelfth summer. Jane lives in a coastal Massachusetts town with her mother, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, and her three young siblings. She has always loved their home by the sea and their summer rituals of gathering berries and making sand castles. However, this summer, Jane cannot find contentment in her usual pursuits. She is ready for a change, feeling like “a candle on a cake ready to be lit.” Jane prays for one hundred adventures, and begins to stumble upon them with the help of the quirky characters who populate her town—eccentrics like Nellie Phipps, a preacher who sends Jane up in a stolen hot air balloon, and Mrs. Parks, who insists on being driven to California in the middle of the night. Jane’s adventures become more personal when several possible fathers appear on her doorstep and she realizes the mistakenness of what she has always believed about her mother: “That she is enough in herself alone to have made us. That she has dreamt us into being.” Horvath has given Jane such a forthright and genuine voice that readers experience right along with her the mingled heartache and elation of taking the first few steps out of childhood—realizing that the adults around you are not always good role models and that there are some adventures you would rather not share with your family. Horvath’s language is radiant, and her expansive view of the world’s possibilities allows her to easily play the edge between the fantastical and the familiar, blending realistic and almost-magical elements into this engaging, surprising, and altogether marvelous tale....more
Groundhog Day for kids, but not as well-done or philosophical. I reviewed this one for grad school, and while this review is a little more harsh thanGroundhog Day for kids, but not as well-done or philosophical. I reviewed this one for grad school, and while this review is a little more harsh than it needs to be upon re-reading, I still mostly agree with it. Here it is:
In this contrived fantasy, estranged ex-friends Amanda and Leo are forced to re-live their shared eleventh birthday over and over again as they learn trite lessons about the importance of standing up for yourself, following your dreams, and helping others. Back when they were best buddies, Amanda and Leo always celebrated their birthday together – but when Amanda overhears Leo insulting her at their tenth birthday party, she is so hurt and angry that she shuts Leo out of her life entirely. When their eleventh birthday rolls around, the two plan separate parties, at which each has an equally terrible time. Amanda, who narrates the novel in a shallow and stereotypically “tweeny” voice (with lots of exclamation marks! and CAPITALIZED WORDS!), is dismayed when she awakens the next morning to discover that the awful birthday is repeating itself, as it does again the next day, and the next. She feels frightened and alone until she realizes that Leo is stuck in the same loop with her. The two team up to figure out what is going on, and in the process, face down some long-standing fears and gain greater understanding of themselves and each other. The lessons they learn tend to be rather simplistic and heavy-handed, as when Amanda says: “I must be a pretty unobservant person not to notice Leo getting picked on for a whole year. All I had thought about was how I felt; I had never looked at it from his side. We could have made up a whole lot sooner” (p. 191). When an explanation of the friends' predicament finally emerges, readers may find themselves disappointed by the strained, clumsily foreshadowed back-story involving an old family feud and an out-of-nowhere enchantment. Mass’ inelegant, superficial rehash of Groundhog Day robs an extraordinary premise of its power to beguile and delight. ...more
This is one of those books that I want to pick up and re-read immediately, as I know the reveal at the end will give me a whole new perspective on theThis is one of those books that I want to pick up and re-read immediately, as I know the reveal at the end will give me a whole new perspective on the beginning. I just kept assigning tags to "Moon Over Manifest," as the book encompasses so much - it's like a two-for-one historical novel, with the setting bouncing back and froth between southeast Kansas in 1936 and in 1918. As the 1936 characters try to solve one mystery about the events of 1918, they unravel a town's secrets and learn about the power of stories and the true meaning of home.
In 1936, Abilene, our 12-year-old narrator, has been sent to Manifest, Kansas by her father, Gideon, after a childhood spent as a hobo riding the rails. Vanderpool paints a vivid picture of life during the Great Depression, with empty storefronts and never enough food to go around in the parched Dust Bowl of the Midwest. Abilene tries to learn why Gideon has sent her to Manifest and what the town means to him as she makes friends with two classmates and does some work for the mysterious Gypsy woman, Miss Sadie, who lives on the outskirts of town.
As she works for Miss Sadie, Abilene listens to the older woman's stories about life in 1918. She learns about another wayward stranger who arrived in Manifest after a life of wandering, just like her. This young man, Jinx, quickly becomes friends with high school senior Ned and begins to make himself the first home he has ever known in Manifest. Again, the plentiful historical details give life to the era. Manifest is a mining town with over 20 nationalities represented in the ranks of the mine workers, most of whom have immigrated from Europe, yet anti-immigrant sentiment is running high as World War I continues to sweep local boys off to the trenches. We witness a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, watch a bootlegger ply his trade, and see the tragic toll of the influenza pandemic.
Abilene attempts to figure out where her father figures into these stories of Ned and Jinx. Why does Manifest mean so much to him that he has chosen to send her here? Just when I thought I had figured it out and was a) surprised that the solution was obvious so early in the book and b) annoyed that Abilene had not figured out the obvious, Abilene revealed that she was thinking along the same lines as I. Intrigued, I continued, only to find that a second mystery had been hiding in the background all along. The resolution of this second mystery added to the compelling and satisfying finale.
There are certainly a few bones to pick with "Moon," such as the "Rattler" spy subplot. I need to go back and re-read Ned's initial letter to Jinx teasing him about figuring out the identity of the spy, because I am thinking/hoping that Abilene misinterpreted it. Ned and Jinx are certainly the last people I would expect to go rooting around for spies during WWI, as they certainly knew how immigrants were unfairly tagged as spies and how the misinformation and propaganda contributed to the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment they despised. I tried not to pick apart a few of Jinx's "cons," as they seemed liable to fall apart at the seams if looked at too closely. And I wondered about how Ned's compass ended up in the hands in which it ended up.
But overall, I think "Moon" is worthy of its Newbery win. There are some passages of lovely writing that seem authentic to Abilene's perspective. The flow of the different formats of writing, from Abilene's present-day narration to Miss Sadie's stories to Hattie Mae's newspaper articles to Ned's letters, carries the story along at a nice clip. The setting is beautifully imagined and realized. No loose ends are left hanging in either of the mysteries, and yet nothing feels artificially resolved. Large themes of home and story are gracefully intertwined in the narrative, and Abilene's growth in her understanding of these themes feels realistic. Secondary characters are well-drawn; I particularly loved Shady and Eudora. I will certainly be booktalking it up and trying to get it into the hands of my upper elementary and middle school students....more
Claire is a 7th grader who lives in a small town on the U.S./Canada border, who seems more than usually responsible and kind, with her willingness toClaire is a 7th grader who lives in a small town on the U.S./Canada border, who seems more than usually responsible and kind, with her willingness to work hard on her family's farm, play Indiana Jones games with her younger brothers, and coach young skaters on the weekends. When she is selected to skate the Maple Show Princess solo at the town's festival, she doesn't know that a Olympic Gold-winning scout, Andrei Groshev, will be in the audience. He is impressed by her talent and offers her a scholarship to study with him in Lake Placid.
From here, the story is pretty predictable. How will Claire deal with the new high-pressure, competitive situation in which she finds herself? How will her friends at home feel about her new inability to go out for Milkshake Nights? How will Groshev's stable of ambitious young skating prodigies deal with the arrival of a talented newcomer in their midst? What will Claire think of the one young man who is training with her in Lake Placid? Chances are, if you have read a sports-related fish-out-of-water novel before, you might have a good idea of what the answers to these questions will be.
What pulls "Sugar and Ice" out of the pack, for me, is the lovely detailing of the setting, the well-drawn Claire's relatability and likability, and the way it immerses the reader in the world of figure skating. The latter might simply be an individual quirk on my part (considering that I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I have watched "The Cutting Edge"). But it is nice to see a girl-focused sports novel that does not focus on the girl trying to break into the ranks of a traditionally male sport, but instead deals with the dynamics of how girls treat girls within a mostly female world. Messner mentions in her note that she was trying to write "Mean Girls on ice," but there is a good balance of personalities in the Lake Placid skating rink -- Claire is hassled by one group of "Ice Queens," but also makes new friends. Development of secondary characters is not a central focus of the novel; each non-protagonist has one defining trait. However, Claire's well-roundedness helped to minimize the annoyance I usually feel at the lack of attention to other characters.
Of course, as the novel progresses, Claire learns about herself (with the help of a sports psychologist) and gains maturity and confidence. She also gains insight into what causes the Ice Queens to subject her to bullying. There are some pretty heavy-handed clues about which Ice Queen has resorted to vandalism and psychological games in her quest to intimidate Claire, but Claire does not figure that out until the end, just in time for a big novel-ending showdown. I bought Claire's growing understanding of how dreams shape people's choices, and what exactly her dreams entail, and by the end was satisfied with the choices she makes about how to fulfill her dreams.
Overall, "Sugar and Ice" is good fun and its predictability gives it an old-fashioned, comfortable feel -- a first read almost feels like a re-read. Plus, I learned something about beekeeping and Fibonacci numbers -- a nice side benefit :)...more