Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quiver by Stephanie Spinner

This one was nominated for Abe and is short, so I decided to read it during school yesterday! I had to finish it at home though. I don't think it's Abe material. Greek mythology is great, but I this isn't the best novelization of a myth that I've read.

Atalanta is left for dead in the forest by her father, the king. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, saves her, and Atalanta is raised by a band of hunters. She is swifter than men and a better hunter. Atalanta vows chastity for her goddess, but, of course, she ends up falling in love. Her father decides to claim her for his own. She must marry, despite her vow, so she says that she will marry the man who will beat her in a foot race. The losers must die. After several deaths, she sees a man whom she falls in love with because Eros shoots her with an invisible arrow of love. Throughout the novel, Artemis, Eros, Apollo, and Aphrodite discuss the events and make changes as they wish. I hated the ending of the novel. Atalanta and her new husband desecrate sacred ground and Zeus turns them into lions as punishment. This short little book was okay. I finished it. But that's not good enough for me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read this one two years ago when it first came out and gave it a 7 out of 10. I think my rating has improved to an 8 out of 10 now for some reason! I liked the quirky Ashley better this time around. I still think it's rather unrealistic, but that's what makes it fun. Ashley's friend Natalie has the best Russian grandmother in literature. I love how the old lady dresses funny, speaks Russian to everyone as if they understand, and swims in the baptismal pool at the Methodist church without permission. She's a kooky old lady, just like I hope to be in 50 years! Ashley finally ends up smartening up and dumping her boyfriend who isn't going anywhere. And Ashley ends up going to community college because planning the prom makes her realize that she is good at something. She has a way of getting what she needs, whether it's the janitors to clean up after prom in exchange for pastries, or getting the most popular girl in school to buy prom tickets in exchange for a cool ride to prom.

Shooter by Walter Dean Myers

This one received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, but I just don't see its greatness. I know Myers is a great author, and he wrote one of my favorite Vietnam books, Fallen Angels. But this one about a school shooting just irritates me. As I read it, I kept thinking, ahhh, another school shooting book. It seems to me that after Columbine, every important author felt the need to write about bullies and school shootings. The format of this one is interesting at least. It consists of psychologists' reports and police interrogation transcripts with the young people involved with the shooting. The two young people allow themselves to be run over by the twisted kid who ends up shooting himself in the school, after shooting some other kids from a window.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Anorexia: a stranger in the family by Katie Metcalfe

VOYA 2Q, 2P, J, S
Katie Metcalfe’s 2001 New Year’s resolution was simple: lose weight and exercise more. Unfortunately this straightforward resolution turned into years of anorexia that led to hospitalization. Anorexia nervosa fostered obsessive compulsive disorder, bulimia, and emotional turmoil. Because of her hospitalization, the self-proclaimed Goth couldn’t attend the colleges she wanted because her grades suffered. Her relationships with her family and friends deteriorated. In this autobiography, Metcalfe attempts to explain how she became anorexic and her road to recovery. She stresses the importance of alternative treatments like massages, art therapy, and journal writing.

I couldn’t help but compare this autobiography to Lisa Gottlieb’s Stick Figure: a Diary of My Former Self (2000) and Metcalfe’s autobiography didn’t measure up. While her situation was dramatic, I found many phrases and sections overdramatic and sensationalized. Punctuation is missing. Metcalf is English and relates her weight in stones and kilograms, yet her mother in Part II uses pounds for weight. There are four black and white photographs of the anorexic Metcalfe, but not any that show the healthy author. Part II consists of fifteen pages written by Metcalfe’s family members and Part III gives recommendations for how to get help. The intriguing cover of the book is an anorexic girl’s back and neck. Some students snatch up books about eating disorders, and this one will fulfill their need. I, however, found the book sappy and preachy.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

King Dork by Frank Portman

Supposedly (!) the author of this YA novel is a big shot punk group guy. You can tell by reading this novel. It reminded me of High Fidelity because of all the band names, song titles, and "ratings" of 70s bands. Really, it seems like an autobiographical novel, but without knowing the author I'm not sure. But chances are the guy was a big dork in high school! How else could he get inside the mind of a teenage nerd so well?
This one started out hilariously. I laughed. I thought the main character, Tom Henderson, was a quirky kid who had a good story to tell. I liked the whole mystery thing about whether his dad was murdered/set up/committed suicide/whatever. I liked the girl/guy relationship problems in the novel. But somewhere around page 200, I started getting bored. I read the reviews on amazon and someone else agrees with me. The book just starts to drag and I think it needed some editing. I didn't like the ending. Sounds corny to sum it up like that in one sentence, but after finishing the book, I thought, "Well, heck, I liked the first half!"

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman

Another one I had to read for Abe. I was pleasantly surprised by the voice of the narrator, Antsy Bonano, because of his quirky sense of humor. Smartaleck. Really. And the whole concept of Calvin Schwa, the boy at school that nobody notices was fascinating. I know a few students who feel like the Schwa. I LOVED the experiments about the Schwa effect. Teachers who didn't notice him. Cafeteria workers who didn't notice him. Adminstrators didn't. But, unfortunately, the Schwa's father didn't notice him much either. Antsy and the Schwa make a lot of money on the effect, but get into trouble with the local old codger. Add in his blind daughter, and you have an interesting plotline. I must say that this novel is pretty original. So I liked it. It felt a little junior highish (recommended for grades 7-9 according to Baker & Taylor), so I'm not sure how hard I'll push this at the Abe meeting. But it's better than Red Kayak, Touching Spirit Bear, and a few others I 've read lately.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings

I had to read this one for Abe, and I think it's a junior high morality novel. It was an okay read, but my high school kids aren't going to fall in love with it. I'm not even sure I'll get anyone to check it out.

Thirteen-year-old Brady lives by the water and knows it. When a boy and his mother go missing, he is with the grown men from his town leading a search and rescue mission. Brady finds Ben, the small boy, resuscitates him and is a hero. But then Ben dies from pneumonia and Brady goes through depression. He doesn't understand why his two best buddies are avoiding him. Then he figures it out. His two buddies were responsible for the red kayak sinking and Ben's death. Because Brady spent the summer working for Ben's mom, and just because he is a good kid, he tells his dad everything, they find the kayak, tell the police, and Brady's two friends are remorseful, apologize, and get sent to a forestry boot camp for delinquents. So that is what I mean when I use the term morality novel!

24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley

Awwww, this one was cute. Chick lit for girls and guys! I loved it! Jack Grammar is cute, dorky, smart and has basically no girl experience. So, it's his senior year. His two good friends place a personal ad in the school newspaper, and next thing you know, he has girls wanting to go to prom with him. So he dates. And dates. And kisses. And sneaks into the country club to swim. And gets his butt kicked by a girl basketball player. And falls in love with his best girl friend, but then realizes that it isn't love. And through it all, you'll be very surprised about who he ends up taking to the dance. And who he ends up liking. I love that the ending is unpredictable and even realistic. Because prom really isn't the fairy tale that we are raised to think it is. My junior and senior prom wasn't all the great. It's really just another homecoming dance except the dresses are nicer and the dinner costs more. If you're lucky you get a commemorative glass and a good picture!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

So I had to read this one for the Abe award and it reminded me a lot of So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. I liked Westerfeld's novel, and this was okay, too. Jennifer works for the government, hence the name, and her archenemy is her ex-husband John Nike. Well, one of the John Nike's. I love the characters' names!
John Nike takes his marketing strategy a little too far and murders a bunch of teenagers as they buy the new Nike Mercury shoes. The marketing works, and sales skyrocket, but two weeks later the $3000 shoes are selling for $99 in the clearance bin. But, oh, the murders start quite the change of events. Jennifer gets a man, her cute little girl gets a soon-to-be step-dad, and John Nike (one of them) ends up impaled on the Nike Swoosh door handle of Nike Town. Ha! The government of this futuristic society doesn't get disbanded by US Alliance and TransAmerica, and Jennifer saves the day.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

I had to read this one for the Abe award, and I wasn't looking forward to it. It looked too much like a Hatchet knock-off. And I kinda think it is.

Cole is a 15 year old rich kid of divorced parents who drink too much and abuse/neglect him. He lashes out and becomes quite the hoodlum. After bashing a kid's head into the sidewalk, he gets the option of Circle Justice. He thinks it's a joke at first, but eventually changes after being mauled by a white "spirit" bear on a deserted Alaskan island. I didn't like the bear concept, but other than that, I loved the old Indian dude, his probation officer, and Cole's personal growth.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Tell No One by Harlan Coben

oooooo, adult suspense! It's been way too long since I've read something like this. I forgot how much I love this genre! This is the first Coben novel I've read, and I read this one because it was nominated to be on the short list for the Abe Lincoln book award. I'm not sure if it will make it though. It is an ADULT novel, but there isn't anything too graphic--sex or violence wise. But, there aren't too many students I could recommend this to. Fans of Patricia Cornwell, Crichton and Cook would read it. Or Patterson. But, it'll be a tough sell to most of my students.

Dr. David Beck, the main character, loses his wife at his childhood getaway. She's murdered by a serial killer. But is she really dead? He receives mysterious emails that could only come from his wife. Then he sees her through an web link. Then people begin dying. A huge mixup between his wife's father (a cop, of course), the local rich guy, and local hoodlums drives the plotline. I must admit that I didn't know for sure what had happened. Things were tied up neatly at the end--no sequel needed here. I don't feel like I got to know Dr. Beck very well, but the plot is what sells this book.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

This was a reread for me, but it is one of the titles up for next year's Abraham Lincoln High School Book award, so I figured I needed to reread it. It is better than average, but it's written by Joyce Carol Oates, so I expect it to be good.
Ursula Riggs is a tall, pierced, self-proclaimed ugly girl who involves herself in a school controversy when she sticks up for Matt Donaghy. In the lunchroom, Matt jokes about shooting up the school to his buddies. Two students overhear, and next thing you know, Matt is suspended for three days and ostracized by his peers and the whole town. Ursula defends Matt to the principal, and befriends him through email. Both kids suffer from depression and help each other out, and the friendship leads to a romance at the end of the novel.
This is really a junior high book, I think, but the cover is interesting and students pick it up.