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 o...moreIn 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. (less)
Horvath’s wonder at the beauty and richness of everyday life, and her awareness of its potential to blossom into unexpected...moreA 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.(less)
I absolutely loved Anastasia as a kid and re-reading the books as an adult is even more fun as I get some of the more sly humor. I aspire to be like A...moreI absolutely loved Anastasia as a kid and re-reading the books as an adult is even more fun as I get some of the more sly humor. I aspire to be like Anastasia's parents :) Marked it as "joy of literacy" since Anastasia's notebook is a great example of a writer's notebook.(less)
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 to...moreClaire 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 :)(less)
Bean’s gentle, lyrical book tells the familiar story of a young child who is having trouble falling asleep, but with a twist: his protagonist is a cit...moreBean’s gentle, lyrical book tells the familiar story of a young child who is having trouble falling asleep, but with a twist: his protagonist is a city dweller who needs a breath of fresh air before she can rest. As the story begins, Bean’s lovely watercolors, contained within framed boxes, convey the girl’s feeling of being boxed in by her surroundings; his subdued earth-toned palette shows us the dim quiet of the oppressive nighttime interior. When the girl follows a soft breeze up to the roof deck and emerges into the expanse of the night-time sky, Bean’s pictures spill out of their framed boxes, each one filling up a two-page spread with a panoramic vista in hues of deep blue and forest green. Bean keeps pulling the camera out further, showing us more and more of the moon-lit mountains and rivers that surround the girl, who has snuggled up with her cat in a nest of blankets. Reminded of her connection to “the wide world all around her,” the girl “looked up, breathed, closed her eyes… and slept.” In the final image, readers see that the mother has kept tabs on her child’s night-time adventure; she sits on the roof deck, drinking a cup of tea and gazing up at the moon with a protective hand on her sleeping daughter. This is a perfect bedtime story; the serenity of Bean’s illustrations and the soothing, lullaby-like rhythm of his prose will help to ease children toward the kind of restful sleep that the little girl finally finds.(less)
Very cute early-ish chapter book, perfect for second grade. Our narrator, Alex, is a scientific genius who has figured out how to make a spaceship out...moreVery cute early-ish chapter book, perfect for second grade. Our narrator, Alex, is a scientific genius who has figured out how to make a spaceship out of cardboard boxes, all to get away from his annoying younger brother Jonathan. Alex's voice is authentic and age-appropriate (I know Jonathan is 6, but unclear on how much older Alex is), and his perspective on Jonathan and his parents is always deadpan and frequently hilarious. Most of the narrative is spent with Alex and Jonathan as the younger brother tries to join in his older sibling's imaginative play. Alex slowly starts to realize that Jonathan has a little bit of genius in him as well, and that there are some good reasons not to go gallivanting off to another galaxy (chiefly, the lovely Zoe Breen). I loved the off-the-cuff references to superstring and quantum theory -- Alex really knows his scientific stuff! But there is no knowledge of science required to enjoy this lighthearted look at sibling conflict and the power of children's imaginations. The illustrations interspersed throughout are fun and seem designed to appeal to "Wimpy Kid" aficionados.(less)
OK, so the descriptions of how combines work and how the wheat is harvested were sometimes a little overdone, but that is a small complaint. I fell in...moreOK, so the descriptions of how combines work and how the wheat is harvested were sometimes a little overdone, but that is a small complaint. I fell in love with these characters, especially Summer and Jiichan, and I am amazed at how lightly Kadohata managed to weave in some very mature themes. At first I wondered why Kadohata focused so much on Summer's thoughts about "A Separate Peace," but when I went back and re-read the first few chapters I was blown away by the parallel Kadohata subtly makes between Gene's relationship with Finny after he nearly kills his friend, and Summer's relationship with mosquitoes after they nearly kill her. Yet, at the same time, you could totally ignore that writerly parallel and just appreciate the insight into Summer's brain that you get as she ponders Gene's actions and what they can teach her about the coexistence of good and evil in all of us and the external circumstances (the "luck") that can cause someone's potential good or evil to manifest itself in an action. Kadohata hit the luck theme pretty hard at the beginning and the end of the book, which made for a nicely wrapped-up and tidy ending, but it got a little lost in the middle so the ending didn't quite feel as earned as it could have been. However, I did thoroughly enjoy immersing myself in this world and I am very happy that Kadohata won the National Book Award. I hope she gets some Newbery love as well!(less)
Twelve-year-old Catherine is full of rules for her autistic brother David to follow – rules about how to eat, how to inte...moreA 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. (less)
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 Creek...moreOur 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. (less)