Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1 The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

I'm probably going to make a lot of important people angry with this one, but here goes.

I didn't like this novel. In fact, I can almost use the word hate. I can't believe this is a Printz honor book. To me, it's nothing compared to previous honor winners. Yes, the book is historical. The plot line of the novel is pretty cool. I like that Octavian is a slave who doesn't know that he is a slave and is brought up as a prince learning Greek and Roman in the American colonies. I like that he doesn't know he's an object of experimentation. And I do like that Anderson used old vocabulary. But, for some reason, the book did nothing for me. I listened to the audio version and wanted to stop after listening to the first CD (there were 7). But I had to try to figure out why the book won so many awards. I guess the book is "literary" and maybe that's why it won. But my high school readers don't like it very much. In fact, it's been sitting on my shelf (propped up) for several weeks now and no one checks it out.

I appreciated Feed by the same author. That dreary futuristic book really caught my attention, especially with all the cuss words. :-) But I'm dreading volume 2 of this one. I'll buy it. But for some reason, I am not looking forward to reading it. I really can't believe I didn't like this one. The idea of a pox party and other elements of the plot are really fantastic, but I had to force myself to finish listening to the novel. So, maybe someone can help me understand why this one won so many awards. Because it's about such an obscure historical topic? Because one sentence in the book is 8 lines and a whole paragraph? Because the author used letters home from a minor character and 1st person narrative to tell the story? Why did it win the National Book Award?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

American Youth by Phil LaMarche

This adult novel easily could have been published as a young adult novel. It's gripping and an easy read. The only thing that bugged me was that the narrator referred to the main character as "the boy" and he lived with "the mother" and "the father." I know there probably is a philosophical reason for the author to do this, but I just found it annoying. I also thought the detailed description of field dressing a deer was thrown in the book to gross city people out.
His name is Theodore. Teddy has quite the dysfunctional family, although you don't realize that at first. His mother deserves to be tortured. His father leaves them alone to get a new job 8 hours away and doesn't seem like too much of a dad. Teddy shows two brothers a gun, leaves it loaded, and walks away. Next thing you know, one boy is dead and it's the brother's fault. Teddy's mother tells him to lie about loading it. And thus begins the problems. Teddy falls in with the American Youth, a militant do-gooding Republican/almost Nazi group of kids who treat him poorly. He has a dysfunctional relationship with Colleen, his first girl, and is accused of raping her. His great uncle shoots himself. Teddy burns his own arm and contemplates suicide. He drinks. He smokes pot. He does everything to hide his problem. Finally, he talks to the dead boy's mother, admits the truth about loading the gun, and starts to handle himself. Wow. There is a scene at the end that makes me want to keep the mother locked in her bedroom for good.

What Was It Like? Teaching History and Culture Through Young Adult Literature by Linda J. Rice

Written by an assistant professor of English who is also a National Board Certified Teacher who taught in the schools for ten years, this handbook for teachers is a must-have for English and history teachers. The purpose of the book is to provide interesting, active learning activities for middle and high school students. Each chapter focuses on a time period and provides summaries of the young adult novels and several intriguing activities for students. Chapter topics include the Great Depression, migrant farm experiences, the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, Koreans during the Japanese occupation, the Civil Rights movement, and Vietnam. In the Great Depression chapter, the author features Cynthia DeFelice’s Nowhere to Call Home (2001), Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago (1998), and Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust (1997) to cover the themes of “ingenuity, interdependence, resourcefulness, perseverance, and hope as strategies for navigating through life’s uncertainties.” Each chapter has a brief historical overview of the time period, summaries of featured young adult novels, descriptions of active learning projects, role play and simulation activities, creative writing assignments, an annotated bibliography, and a list of references.

The activities included for each novel are thought-provoking and easily adaptable to any classroom. The integration between young adult literature and historical events is seamless and provides learning across the curriculum. Many student work samples are included with black-and-white photographs. The annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter contain other YA works that could be used instead of the featured works the author selected. Librarians should purchase this professional resource and use it to create awesome projects with English and history teachers.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

This adult novel was a pleasure to read. Think Da Vinci Code meets ancient Celtic folklore. I loved the realistic portion of the novel and the author did such a great job adding in the fantastic elements. I truly cared for the ancient Celt and the Roman who kept being reborn to claim Ysabel. I hated Ysabel, even though she was inhabited by Melanie, a totally cool character. Really, it's the characters that create such an intriguing atmosphere in the novel. I really want to work with Ned's dad at the photo shoots because they are such COOL people! I could change ring tones or throw people into the pool. And I could live in France for 6 weeks.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou

I thought this satirical fantasy was cute and fluffy, just what it was probably intended to be. The author also helped write M or F? which I liked. My book club students selected this one to read simply because of the title and front cover. The two main characters, Heather and Veronica, are thrown together into the fantasy world of a novel they are writing a paper on for class. Heather is assumed to be the princess and the two girls play along because they want the wizard to help them get back to their own world. Both girls (of course) learn some lessons and grow up, and, of course, they save the kingdom.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore

This adult novel definitely kept my interest and I was surprised at the ending. Two fifteen-year-old boys are friends growing up in Ecuador. That alone makes the novel different. Anti is the white outsider while Fabian is the outrageous local boy who lives with his eccentric, rich uncle. Storytelling is a central theme of this novel. The uncle can really spin a tale and the two boys eat up every word. Fabian can really tell a tale, too, and at the end of the novel, Anti is pretty good, too. I read another review that compared this novel to Life of Pi, and I agree with the comparison. Both have the "who knows what happened" plot line. Unreliable narrators are stinky!

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley

I'm not sure what to think about this thick volume graphic novel. I love the stark black and white artwork. The book itself is beautiful with a dark green ribbon bookmark and beautiful thick antique paper. Despite the glowing introduction by Jane Yolen, I think it falls short of the starred review it received in Booklist. The idea of the castle waiting for its princess to return is great, and I love the whole bearded woman plot line. But, to me, the plots don't come together very well at the end. I was left wondering. I think I know my fairy tales and I still think there were loose ends. I liked the feminist slant and the smart aleck nuns.