29 January 2009

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Kyle is your average teenager. Okay, well, maybe he’s a little bit above average. Or, if you ask him, a lot above average – in the looks department, anyway. And in the getting-girls-to-like-you department, and pretty much in the getting-everyone-to-like-you department. Kyle figures he has it all: he’s dating the hottest girl at their super-elite NYC high school, he’s just been nominated for Spring Dance Court (at which he’ll obviously be crowned), and his dad, a big-time news reporter, has more money than he (Kyle) knows how to spend. It’s just that Kyle isn’t necessarily the nicest guy in the world, and when he sets up a fellow student, Kendra, to make a fool of her, she knows that she’ll have to teach him a lesson. Beastly is a very strict retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but it never seems to stray from the mind of a true-to-life teenage boy. When Kyle is transformed into a beast (no, really), and his dad can’t fix it for him, he is basically sent into hiding, with only the company of the family maid, Magda, and his blind tutor, Will. Through a series of well-known events, Lindy comes into his life. Now, all Kyle needs to do is make Lindy fall in love with him and get her to kiss him before the two-year deadline. It’s not as easy as it seems, but like all successful fairy tales, how well the lesson is learned by the end of the story is what determines the final happiness of the story characters.

Fans of retold fairy tales will eat this up; for a completely different perspective, try pairing it with Donna Jo Napoli’s Beast.

Recommended for high school readers.
Call number: YA FLINN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

Those who consider themselves to be “mature” readers might roll their eyes a bit when they first encounter Julie’s world, but they will soon be sucked into The Wild with the rest of us despite themselves! On first impression, readers know that Julie isn’t an average girl, but she tries hard to fit in at school and with her friends; only her best friend Gillian knows the truth: that The Wild, the heart of the fairy tale world, lives under her bed. Julie’s mom Zel, her grandmother, her brother Boots, and Zel’s friends Cindy and Goldie were able to escape The Wild over 500 years ago, and The Wild can only regain power if a wish is made at the Wishing Well, which Grandma guards herself. When the worst happens – because, of course, the worst does happen – Zel and all of the other characters get sucked back into their fairy tale worlds, and it is up to Julie to be the hero. Through twists and turns, endless seas, ogres, and magicians, Julie discovers and that the fairy tale world isn’t so happily-ever-after. But along the way, she also discovers some secrets, makes some friends, finds her heart’s desire, and learns what it truly means to be a hero.

This is definitely a story that would appeal most to girl readers in middle school and older. Even if you think that the fairy tale stuff just isn’t for you, you might still find yourself rooting for Julie as she struggles on her journey to reunite her family and find her way home. Chances are you won’t be able to help yourself from reading the sequel, too, Out of the Wild
. For another adventure with fairy tale twists, try Michael Buckley's The Sisters Grimm series (Book 1: The Fairy-Tale Detectives was the 2008 Middle Grade One Book New Jersey selection).

Recommended for middle grade readers.
Call number: YA DURST (Teen Room) & J FIC DURST (Children's Room)

Reviewd by kate the librarian

26 January 2009

The 2009 Teen Selection of One Book New Jersey is Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew It... find some great products at CafePress!

20 January 2009

BOOK CLUB - FEB - the dead & the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Susan Beth Pfeffer’s the dead and the gone is the companion book to Life as We Knew It, the 2009 Teen Selection for One Book New Jersey (www.onebooknewjersey.org).

Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It enthralled and devastated readers with its brutal but hopeful look at an apocalyptic event--an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes. Now this harrowing companion novel examines the same events as they unfold in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales. When Alex's parents disappear in the aftermath of tidal waves, he must care for his two younger sisters, even as Manhattan becomes a deadly wasteland, and food and aid dwindle. With haunting themes of family, faith, personal change, and courage, this powerful new novel explores how a young man takes on unimaginable responsibilities. (

Ø Have you thought about what you would do given some cataclysmic event? Have you a plan? How can your family stay safe and together in the event of an emergency? Where would you go? What emergency supplies do we have, and where are they kept? Do you have a basement full of canned goods?

Ø What is the likelihood of these types of events taking place? What are more likely scenarios that might cause this type of disruption to normal life?

Ø How far would you go to survive? Would you share? Steal? Hoard? What happens to our humanity in the face of imminent extinction?

Ø How is the dead and the gone different from Life as We Knew It? How was the situation different in a rural v. urban setting?

Ø How is religion portrayed in the dead and the gone and what is its effect on the characters’ actions? How does race and social class affect the situation? What is the impact of geographical location?

Ø What was your reaction to the scene at the stadium? Could you put yourself in Alex’s shoes?

Ø How do characters evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes? What is Alex’s relationship with his friends and family like before and after the catastrophe, and how do they change over the course of the story?

Ø How do you think you would have been like or unlike Miranda in this situation?

Ø Were there things you wanted to know that the author didn’t tell you?

Ø Do you have any predictions or hopes for the third book that Susan Beth Pfeffer is writing?

Some discussion questions for Life as We Knew It:

Ø What was the first major catastrophe that happened when the moon was knocked out of its orbit?

Ø What happened to Rhode Island? If you managed to escape, where would you go? Why?

Ø What were some of the effects of the catastrophe? Why is electricity such an essential utility?

Ø What happened to the climate during the summer? How did the family cope?

Ø Miranda’s family was isolated from the community during the winter. In what ways was this both good and bad? What was the decision that Miranda faced at the end of Life as We Knew It?

Ø What were some of the kids’ first reactions in school the next day? How do you think you might have felt? What do you think shaped Miranda’s reaction (family, friends, religion)?

Ø Miranda’s mom exhibited foresight in dealing with the seriousness of the situation. What are some of the things she did to increase her family’s chances of survival? Do you think that Miranda’s mother should have donated materials to a less fortunate family?

Ø Who do you credit with Miranda’s family’s ability to survive overall?

Ø This book champions the family unit. Do you think there were other ways to handle the catastrophe, besides relying only on family? Would a cooperative approach stand a chance?

Ø Is Miranda’s mom really prioritizing Jonny? What else could be going on? What are her motives?

Ø What was your reaction to the scene were Miranda finds the chocolate chips in the pantry?

Ø Do you think Miranda really skated with Brian Erlach that one time?

Ø Do you think Dad and Lisa made it to Colorado? Why or why not?

Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts! Also, let us know if you have an activity or snack ideas. :)

15 January 2009

Someone Named Eva by Joan M. Wolf

There are many, many novels written for children and teens about World War II and the Holocaust, and recently there have been a number of successful fiction and nonfiction writings of the Hitler Youth movement of young boys; however, very little is known about young girls living in the Nazi Régime in the 1940’s. Based on true facts and ideals, Joan Wolf guides readers along on a young girl’s journey through a time in history that very few Americans can comprehend. History tells us that Hitler believed in a supreme Aryan race – beauty and strength in the form of blonde hair, blue eyes, and proportioned facial features. Milada has just celebrated her eleventh birthday when she is separated from her family and taken from her home in Lidice, a town just outside Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic, divided from Slovakia). She is brought to Poland to a center designed to instruct the chosen young girls on how to be perfect Aryan children for the future of Germany. After almost two years in the training center, where Milada – now called “Eva” – has learned the Nazi German history, culture, and language, she is sent off to Germany to be adopted by her new Aryan family, headed by a high-ranking Nazi officer. While she is well cared for, well fed, and treated with respect and even love, she yearns for the family, the language, and the home that she is afraid she will forget forever.

Milada’s journey is powerful largely because there is little known about Hitler’s League of German Girls or about the role of the Czech people during the Nazi Régime. The author’s note at the conclusion of the novel sheds significant light on this period of Czech history. This book is recommended to middle school readers who are interested in stories of the Holocaust, Hitler, and the Nazis. While not overly graphic in nature, the story naturally covers topics that are mature in nature.

Recommended for middle grade readers.
Call number: YA WOLF (Teen Room) and J WOLF (Children's Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

14 January 2009

Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is pretty much a regular fifteen-year-old girl living with her parents and her brother. She has a best friend, she loves playing volleyball, and she works hard in school. But she lives her life in India, oppressed by the British, during the beginning of the Second World War. Her beloved father, appa, is a freedom fighter, a supporter of a nonviolent protest movement against injustice and war. When Vidya excitedly joins a protest one afternoon, appa is beaten by a British police officer and his brain is injured badly. Because the family now lacks financial stability without the male head of the household, they must move to live with appa’s family, who is neither welcoming nor emotionally supporting. Vidya struggles with a new family that isn’t accepting of her, the guilt she feels for what she believes was her part in appa’s injury, and the fear of being arranged in a marriage before she is allowed to attend college. In the midst of all her worries, there is a war going on that seems to creep closer to India every day.

Although not a contemporary setting, this novel speaks of the basic trials of everyday teenage life, using the voice of a very willful and intelligent girl. Vidya struggles to gain a sense of freedom – from her family and her culture – and believes that education is the only thing that will allow her to be independent. Her brother and her new (boy!) friend, Raman, challenge some of her beliefs and force her to look at life from a wider perspective. Overall, the general storyline and storytelling is average; what make this story stand out are the unique historical and cultural setting, along with the depth and honesty portrayed through the character’s voices.

Recommended for middle grade and high school readers.

Call number: YA VENKATRAMAN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

06 January 2009

Repossessed by A. M. Jenkins

Imagine that you are stuck in Hell – literally – with almost no means of escape. You are destined to keep watch over others’ pain for all eternity. But there is a single sliver of hope: if you could slip into the body of a live human being, you could live a life of freedom . . . at least until God caught you. One of Hell’s own “Fallen Angels” decides that overtaking a human body is worth the risk of facing the wrath of “the Boss.” He can’t take just any body, though. He focuses on one seventeen-year-old boy, who has just enough freedom to walk about on his own without being watched every moment, but few enough responsibilities to hold him back from doing whatever it is he would like to do. And, of course, he can’t just overcome any living soul either; he specifically chose this boy just at the moment that he was about to be hit by a truck and die anyway.

As soon as he is in the teen’s body, the “angel” is overwhelmed by the colors, the detail and beauty, and the intensity of life on earth. He doesn’t know how long he has, so he strives to get all the experiences out of life that he can possibly muster, including attempting to act on many of the thoughts with which the average teenage boy is familiar. He knows he can’t stay, and wonders what life will be like without him. Haven’t you ever wondered if you’ll leave a lasting impression during your time on earth?

This Printz Honor book deserves special attention from readers looking for something a little bit different – a twist on teenage drama. A balanced mix of light and dark, heavy and humorous, makes this title worth a bit of your time.

Recommended for high school readers.
Call number: YA JENKINS (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

02 January 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

This book is worth every enthusiastic review it has already received. The story takes place in an unspecified year in the future in a land once known as North America, which is divided into twelve districts. Each district has a specialty that supposedly benefits the whole, and sixteen-year-old Katniss lives with her family in a district of coal miners. The rulers of Panem maintain control primarily by conducting an annual survival competition that pits young people from each district against one another. The competition is broadcast visually so that all districts can witness the events. When her younger sister is chosen as the female participant from District 12, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Together she and Peeta Mellark, the chosen male, journey to the Capitol to prepare for the Games. Katniss soon learns that not everyone can be trusted, even when those individuals can be counted on for some assistance, advice, and good luck. During both preparation and the actual Games, Katniss must rely on her own strengths and intuition, until she discovers that she cannot win without Peeta. The problem is that only one survivor can win the Games.

This is the first in a projected series and is highly recommended. The gory action, face-paced adventure, and suspense will appeal to boys of all ages, and there is just enough kissing to even further heighten girls’ interests, as well. Read this and then pass it along. (You might also want to try The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau or Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.)

Recommended for all ages.

Call number: YA COLLINS (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler

This mysterious tale introduces the reader to Dusty, a fifteen-year-old girl who lives in a small British town with her recently divorced dad. It is wintertime, and everything is covered in snow and ice, giving the novel a physical and emotional atmosphere of desolation. Dusty is home alone when she receives a phone call from a boy who knows things about her, and Dusty is convinced that this strange boy is the key to solving the mystery behind her missing brother, Josh. However, the more Dusty tries to follow or speak to the boy, who remains unnamed, the more mysterious her world becomes. More often than not, she meets up with danger, keeping the novel moving steadily through each suspenseful chapter. The mystery of the boy is never quite concluded, but Dusty does find out what has happened to Josh, even if these issues are not quite resolved. While the descriptions of Dusty’s bleak surroundings sometimes distract from the pace of the action, they do provide depth to the emotion of the book. Frozen Fire is mysterious, suspenseful, and fantastical, if a bit on the weird side. Readers who like something different, rather than the standard YA fare, will gravitate toward the ideas presented in this story.

Recommended to high school readers.

Call number: YA BOWLER (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe

Kyle is stuck. Stuck in time, stuck in guilt, stuck in a shrink’s office once a week. All because he’s stuck with the memory of his best friend’s death, or the lack of memory, which makes things even worse. No matter how hard he thinks about that morning, and no matter how many times his mind repeats the scenes leading up to and following, he just can’t remember exactly how the bullet made it to Jason’s body. Vividly, Kyle can describe the scenes in which Jason and he had breakfast with Kyle’s parents and sister. Then they went outside and played around in the snow briefly before checking out Dad’s shed. There was some cool stuff in the shed, including the old film reel, which fascinates Kyle, whose dream is to be a movie director. It’s Jason who finds Dad’s old gun, but the loaded weapon ends up in Kyle’s hands while Jason lies in a pool of blood.

Following the shooting, Kyle needs to try to go back to a “normal” life, this time with his family, a parole officer and psychologist watching his every move. Kyle struggles to deal with life without his best friend, and with the fact that he could be at fault in his friend’s death. As Kyle writes screenplays detailing the various scenes leading up to, and immediately following, the “accident,” he begins to better understand the course of events, and the place that Jason held in his life. Despite the heavy material, this face-paced read offers humor and hope. Some friends offer emotional support from unexpected places, including a loner at school, the school librarian, Jason’s brother, and even his own sister. The characters are well-drawn, and the conclusion is overwhelmingly satisfying.

Recommended for older middle and high school readers.
Call number: YA AYARBE (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian