Monday, March 26, 2007

Acceptance by Susan Coll

This adult novel follows the lives of three high school students from their junior year to being accepted to college. The three kids go to one of the best public schools in the country, and the hype is all about test scores, AP tests, and what elite university will accept them. "AP Harry" earned his nickname the right way and dreams about Harvard. Maya is the rich girl who isn't as bright as her parents want her to be. Taylor is the troubled teenage girl who steals people's mail, paints her fingernails blue, and wants to go to college where she can have a private bathroom. Add in AP Harry's mom, Taylor's mom, and a guidance counselor at the small college Yates, and you have this novel.
While the subject matter is appropriate to college-bound teens, I don't know if teens will get the subtle humor the author uses to show the stupidity of the college admission process. I thought is was hilarious at times, because I used to pore over the U.S. News & World Report college list, too. I went to Illinois Wesleyan because it was ranked as the best Midwest small liberal arts college. I filled out a Vassar and Yale application and pondered whether paying the filing fee was worth it, considering my chances of being accepted. So I understand where the kids in this novel are coming from, but I don't think their stories made a great novel. The book was okay. And that's not great.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tamar: a Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal by Mal Peet

This one won the Carnegie Medal because it "is a powerful and moving story that cleverly connects the present with the past." Oh, my, does it! I LOVED it. I couldn't put it down. All 424 pages of it. The suspense is unbelievable. I thought I knew what happened. Well, kind of. But the ending still took me by surprise. The bitterness of the son. The easy forgiveness of the granddaughter, Tamar.

The book goes back and forth between the 1940s and modern day. In the 40's, Tamar and Dart are two Dutchmen who went to Britain, became undercover agents, and parachuted into the Netherlands to help the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. While I read many books about the Dutch Resistance, this one tops them all. I was obsessed with reading the parts of the book that took place in the 1940s. All the details about secret codes and run-ins with Nazis. The murders and the consequences. The renegades of the Dutch resistance and the people who tried to keep them under control. And there were so many Dutch who helped with the resistance. Normal people who risked their lives to save other people.

But this isn't just a war book. It's a love story. Tamar is in love with Marijke. Then Dart meets her and falls in love with her, too. What a love triangle this forms and their actions form the plot of the novel. The modern day story has Tamar, a teenage girl, trying to find out about her dead granddad and her grandmother, Marijke, who is in the nursing home with dementia. The two stories combine with such force.

The ending was slightly disappointing to me for some reason and I 'm not sure why. I liked the modern story ending, but Tamar and Dart's story jaded me a bit. Maybe I was disappointed in what happened and that caused me to not like the ending. I'm not sure. But I do know that this novel is one of the best historical fiction novels I've ever read. I know I'll nominate this one for the next Abe award.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pride of Baghdad; written by Brian K. Vaughan and art by Niko Henrichon

Unbelievable. Stunning. Gorgeous. Disgusting. Fascinating. A must read.
This graphic novel was unbelievable. Truly. The artwork is incredible, yet bloody at appropriate moments. This one isn't for junior high readers. When American bombers attacked Baghdad in April of 2003, the zoo was bombed. Animals were suddenly free. Vaughan took this plotline and makes the animals talk. The result is stunning.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

This is a Newbery Honor Book and I absolutely loved it. But, then again, I am a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and good historical fiction. In this novel, sixteen-year-old Hattie is an orphan who inherits 320 acres of Montana land from an uncle she never met. So, Hattie, by herself, tries to improve the land so she can keep it. She builds fences, plants wheat and flax, and fends off the aggressive man who wants her land. But this isn't the typical homesteading novel. Hattie doesn't make it. Hail ruins her crops. The German family she befriends loses their daughter to the Spanish flu. But she leaves the farm with her head held high anyway. She might get her soldier boy who is back from the war. And we know that she'll do fine whatever happens to her in Seattle. Very uplifting, easy read.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Rise of Lubchenko by Michael Simmons

Holy smokes! What a great cover on this one! This is the sequel to Finding Lubchenko, one of my favorite "guy" books. I wasn't as impressed with this one, but Simmons still writes a great adventure story. You have to love Evan Macalister. He's quirky, great-looking (he tells you), intelligent, lazy, and loves to make his dad's life a living you-know-what. Evan's dad is rich and makes millions off the smallpox vaccine. The problem is that bad people keep trying to steal the smallpox strain to create biological weapons. In the first book, Evan saves the day. In this one, Lubchenko (the mysterious CIA-like dude in France) saves them, and Evan saves his dad's life without his dad finding out. Evan has a great relationship with his girlfriend and her one-liners are great. She really puts Evan in his place, especially the scene where they are at a topless beach in southern France. She's hilarious. I will still recommend this one to the readers of Finding Lubchenko. It ought to stay off my shelves.

Polly by Amy Bryant

This is one adult novel that should have been marketed as a young adult one. Really, it's YA lit. I don't know what Harper was thinking.

Polly is a teenager full of angst and the novel is divided into the names of the men in her life. She dates some real losers, probably because her real dad is off drinking himself silly and ignoring her. Her beautiful mother remarried when Polly was young, but it hits Polly really hard when her real dad disowns her so her step-father can adopt her. Polly is really into the punk rock scene in D.C. and spends her high school life going to concerts, drinking, and smoking. By the time she gets to Virginia Tech, she's settled down a bit, and after one fun and footloose semester, settles down into art and math. She works at the college radio station and even works at the Disney store in the mall when she's home over the summer. This is your typical coming-of-age bildungsroman story, but Polly does get raped by an acquaintance when she is home from college. She doesn't report it, but does end up telling her friends and her mother. She also has a turning point in her life when she realizes that her boyfriend is a loser. Hello! The readers know it, but it takes Polly awhile to see it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dark at the Roots by Sarah Thyre

Well this memoir was a kick to read, but I'm not if high school students will enjoy it. The author is a writer/actress who looks familiar to me but I'm not sure from where. The jacket says she has been on Conan O'Brien so maybe that's where I've seen her.
The cover of the book is awesome. Gotta love the freaky doll. My daughter wanted to read it and she's only four. She was very disappointed that there weren't any pictures.
The author had an interesting life. Her dad was strange and her mom was even worse. Nothing extremely traumatic happened, like in The Glass Castle or A Child Called It, but Sarah's childhood was definitely worth writing about. I'm sure she took some liberties to bring some humor into the situations though, but that's what writing a memoir is all about.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Charity Girl by Michael Lowenthal

Oh, my goodness! Did you know that during World War I our government incarcerated 15,000 women because they had STDs? I sure as heck didn't! This historical novel based on fact makes me want to do some research on my own. I can't BELIEVE our government did this! and I can't BELIEVE I didn't know about it! Really, some of these poor girls were with their solider boyfriends once or twice, got syphilis, and, boom, they are stuck in a "girls' home" until they are cured. Most were never charged with any criminal charges. Of course, some of the girls really were prostitutes, but, still, the fact that the soldiers were allowed to keep infecting women while the women were the ones who were punished makes me angry!
I like that the book doesn't finish squeaky clean. I like that Frieda doesn't get her solider boy, even though she is convinced that they love each other. This novel shook me up, and that is a good thing. I highly recommend it!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Wow! It's been a long time since I've read an adult thriller like this one. It reminded me of early Stephen King, the Richard Bachman stuff. I was scared by page 40, and that's pretty good.

Judas is a a fifty-something aging rock star, living with a former stripper, who has made a lot of people angry in his life. Turns out the step-father of one of his former live-in's haunts him. His ex, Florida, committed suicide, and now the ghost of her dead step-father wants to make Judas kill himself and everyone around him. This is quite the psychological thriller. The stepfather was a sneaky hypnotist and almost every character in the novel has a hidden past. It took me two days to read this one because I didn't want to set it down. I am looking forward to reading his second novel.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

With Their Eyes: September 11th, the View from a High School at Ground Zero edited by Annie Thoms

The students at Stuyvesant were right in the heart of the attacks on September 11th. The students produced a play that consists of monologues from students, teachers, and other people around the high school.
I'm not really sure what to think after reading this. I think it would be better to see it performed. None of the monologues are gut-wrenching, and most show the resilience of high school students. Really, most kids bounce back from tragedy, and this didn't show any students who really fell apart after the towers fell. I kept waiting for the tragic student to give their monologue. So, I'm not really sure if I liked this or not. It wasn't dry reading, but it wasn't thrilling. It was better than a lot of things I've read about 9/11 though. Although my favorite piece is The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard.

Yossel: April 19, 1943: a story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Joe Kubert

This is a great one! Really, this could be used as a textbook in history classes. A lot of the information was repetitive for me since I already knew a lot about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. It started slowly, but, oh my, did it pick up in the middle. I didn't want to put it down until I finished. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I like this one better than Maus.

Yossel is a young boy when his family is placed in the Warsaw ghetto. He entertains the Nazis and the people around him because he is an artist. He can draw superheros and the horrors that are taking place around him. His family is taken to Auschwitz. People around him were starving. Then Yossel meets an old teacher of his who has escaped from a death camp. Yossel draws his story, and it is very powerful. The story ends with Yossel and his friends in a sewer under the ghetto, trapped, and ready to fight the Nazis. This story has been told so many times, but I really like this wonderfully drawn graphic novel. The pencil drawings are stark and even look incomplete in places. The paper feels like expensive drawing paper. Please read this one.

Monday, March 5, 2007

B for Buster by Iain Lawrence

Another one that I read for Abe with high hopes because I think we need a war novel on the list. But I didn't like this one. Kak runs away from his drunk father at the age of 16 to join the Royal Air Force. He works as a wireless operator in the belly of bombers and also takes care of the pigeon that was on every flight. Strange, huh. Homing pigeons were used to carry messages back to base if something happened to the aircraft. Usually if the bird came back on its own, the plane and its crew didn't. Depressing. The air battle scenes were great, and Kak bombs Berlin, Nuremberg and other German occupied towns, but the whole trying-to-find-a-father-figure plot was a turn-off to me. Awfully simplified for a young adult novel, so I think this one is more for middle school and junior high.

Rock Star, Superstar by Blake Nelson

You can't beat a good rock and roll novel, and this one is a great one! Pete is a bass player, and goes back and forth between the bands Mad Skillz and The Tiny Masters of Today. In the process, he falls in love with Margaret, a girl who dresses like a "punk librarian" and falls out of love a bit when his band gets popular and cool chicks start flirting with him. Pete knows he is a good bass player but the Tiny Masters change the way he thinks about music. They play at the big clubs in Seattle and even make their way down to L.A. to try to get a record deal.
After reading my attempt at a summary, the book doesn't sound all that interesting, but, believe me, it is. I like Pete. I like his music even though I've just read descriptions of it. I like his friends. And I like this book!

Bloody Jack: being an account of the curious adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, ship's boy by L.A. Meyer

I was pleasantly surprised by this one that I read for Abe. I thought I had read it before and not liked it, but I think I'm remembering some other pirate novel. I really liked this one! Mary Faber becomes an oprhan at a young age in London because sickness destroys her family. She falls in with a rough crowd of kids who teach her to beg, but her real skill of making money is having the ability to read. After the senseless death of her gang leader, she cuts her hair, and goes off to sea as a ship's boy. She's good at it. But, in her career as a ship's boy who earns her way to midshipman, she becomes a woman in more ways than one. Puberty hits and she has to hide all sorts of things from her shipmates. She falls in love with another shipboy who she reveals her sex to. She earns the nickname "Bloody Jack" because she kills a pirate during an attack, and kills a man who tries to rape her. Eventually, of course, everyone finds out that she is a girl, and the captain and crew (who respects her) arranges for her to go to an American school for girls. To find out what happens next, read the sequel!

Thursday, March 1, 2007

47 by Walter Mosley

This one is interesting. I can honestly say that I haven't read anything quite like it, and that's quite a feat considering all the young adult books I've read in my lifetime! In 47, the author has blended life on a slave plantation and African folklore and fantasy to create something unique. The name of the book is also the main character. 47 lives on a plantation where the slaves are numbered instead of named. When a slave dies, another slave is bought and given the number. 47 meets a black man named Tall John in the forest and the two of them form a bond. 47 is special and is chosen my the mystical beings to take Tall John's place. 47 becomes immortal and helps lead slaves to freedom. It's pretty complicated, but the mixture of fairy tale and fantasy is awesome. I was really entertained.

Losing is Not an Option by Rich Wallace

This 128 page book is a collection of sports short stories. I usually like this author, but I wasn't impressed by this collection. While the stories were intertwined, beginning with Ron when he's in 6th grade, and ending when he's winning the 2 mile at the state track meet, I didn't see the point of some of them. I thought the young Ron would turn off a lot of my high school readers. I know that I didn't like reading his petty thoughts that a junior high kid thinks. After reading the book, I just thought, "Humph." I'm not happy I read it. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either.