26 February 2009

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I just finished reading Life of Pi, which has been notabley recognized by teens and adults alike since its 2001 print publication. Actually, I should specify that I've just finished listening to the story. In general, I have mixed feelings about audio books. At times I've listened to books that take my breath away and I can't imagine having experienced the story in any other way; at other times I wonder what my opinion of the book would have been if I had just read it in a traditional manner, without distraction.

Life of Pi is the multiple-award winning story of a zookeeper's son, a Bengal tiger, an orangutan, and a zebra. Yet, it is also a story that questions concepts layered in philosophy, religion, survival, family, and perspective. Many of the philosophical questions raised were intriguing, and the religions points made were insightful... But in the end I was left with the feeling that I just didn't "get it."

Instead of writing a formal review for this title, I'm much more curious to hear the reflections from other minds...

Call number: FIC MARTEL

25 February 2009

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

One relatively minor accident changes her in ways she never could have imagined. With one random incident, her life has turned upside-down forever. Seventeen-year-old Naomi fell trying to save the yearbook staff’s precious camera, hit her head on the school steps, gets taken to the hospital, and now can’t remember anything following the time when she was in sixth grade. She doesn’t remember her parents’ divorce or her mom’s new daughter, or her best friend Will, or her boyfriend Ace, or her love for tennis, yearbook, or photography. Meanwhile, one of the things that Naomi does know about herself is that she was orphaned as an infant, and she struggles now – again – to discover her place in her family’s life, and in her own life. In her loneliness, she grows attached to James, the boy who saw her fall and went with her to the hospital under the charade of being Naomi’s boyfriend. James is tortured by his own past and unassuming of Naomi’s, unlike Will and her dad who keep expecting her to act like and be the “old” Naomi. When Naomi begins to remember, she’s more confused than ever.

While this isn’t a stand-out read, Gabrielle Zevin touches on just enough drama and angst to grab and hold onto the teen reader’s attention, without unrealistically stretching the reader’s imagination too much. This quirky read is recommended for older boys and girls who will enjoy the fully developed characters of Will and Naomi.

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

Reviewed by kate the librarian

19 February 2009

War Is . . . edited by Marc Aronson & Patty Campbell

War is many things to many different people. Aronson and Campbell have put together a book of stories that draw from the perspectives of soldiers to touch the hearts and minds of civilians around the world. This book is a collection of stories, letters, and news articles written by those who have seen wartime first-hand. Some of the writings tell the story of cruelty and heartbreak, while others illustrate the freedom and exploration of first-time independence. War Is . . . does not attempt to make judgment on war itself; it simply exists to tell the stories of those men and women who decided to serve their country, both in the past and present day. The book comes from the perspective that those of us who have never experienced war from the inside can never understand it; therefore, it is essential that we respect war by listening to the stories it creates. Marc Aronson says, “I believe that it is criminal to ask soldiers to fight for us without listening to them.” None of these stories glorify war, and yet none spare us the gruesome or joyful details that emerge from some experiences. This collection simply tells a story, and asks the reader to strive for his own understanding.

This book is recommended for high school readers, or other mature readers interested in the history of war, the military, and American men and women who have fought, and continue to fight, for their country.

Here's a discussion guide.

Call number: YA 306.27 ARO

Reviewed by kate the librarian

09 February 2009

3 Willows : the Sisterhood Grows by Ann Brashares

Ama, Polly, and Jo are as different as can be, except that they all just have one more summer before they start high school and that they have known each other their whole lives. Ama struggles through an outdoor wilderness adventure – for school credit, or course. In between babysitting, Polly worries about her weight and the growing distance between her mother and herself. And Jo is spending the summer working at the beach, avoiding her family, and gravitating toward an attractive distraction. As all three girls go off in separate directions for the summer, they learn more about themselves and each other and begin to come to terms with the fact that they are growing up and becoming independent. Their journeys are paralleled by the growth of the willow tree through scattered imagery and the mention of some fun facts: The roots of the willow tree are remarkable for their strength and tenacious hold on life. The girls wonder if their friendship has a place in their lives, while striving to figure out where they fit into the world.

There isn’t anything super-special here, but those who loved – or who had big sisters who loved – The Sisterhood series, won’t want to miss this one.

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

reviewed by kate the librarian

05 February 2009

Converting Kate by Beckie Weinheimer

Kate and her mom have just moved from Phoenix, Arizona to small-town, Maine to help run Aunt Katherine’s Bed & Breakfast. Taking advantage of the move, Kate finally quits the Holy Divine Church in order to explore her own beliefs and to find out what exists beyond the church. Her devout mother doesn’t agree with Kate’s decision and continually reminds her of the beliefs with which she was raised. But Kate now has the distractions of public high school, where she makes friends, joins the school’s track team, and even starts going to Youth Group meetings at her aunt’s traditional Christian church. She forms relationships with a variety of people in the town, including vegetarian “tree-hugging” Jamie, cute lobsterman Will, and the new young priest at church. As her relationships with her family and new friends shift and develop over the course of the story, Kate also is faced with issues of tolerance, cruelty, and shame, and she discovers that not all situations are black-and-white, right-or-wrong.

Kate is a strong young woman, who doesn’t even realize how mature she is. There are a number of interlacing issues in this story – homosexuality, religious and educational tolerance and censorship, coming of age, and love and attraction to name a few – but everything works well together in a way that makes sense to the reader. Most of the characters are likeable and high school readers will have much to which relate.

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

Reviewed by kate the librarian

BOOK CLUB - MAR - Ana's Story by Jenna Bush

She is Ana, and this is her story. It begins the day she is born infected with HIV transmitted from her young mother. Now she barely remembers her mamá, who died when Ana was three. From then on, Ana’s childhood becomes a blur of faint memories and secrets—secrets about her illness and about the abuse she endures. For more information, go to http://www.harperteen-ana.com/.

Taken from the book:

Ana’s prized possession is the photocopy of her mother’s photograph. Why is this so important to her?

Ana’s neighborhood and country are described in various parts of this story. How is Ana’s community similar to or different from yours?

What do you think race, social class, and economic class have to do with some of the issues raised in this story?

Ana’s grandmother warns her not to talk about her illness to anyone, ever. Do you feel that this was for Ana’s own good or for another reason? What might her grandmother’s motives have been?

In what ways do the teachers at Ana’s school violate the rights of those infected with HIV?

What kinds of roles do the adults in Ana’s life play? Why are the adults in her life important?

Ana is afraid of the way she will be treated if anyone knows she has HIV. How does this kind of discrimination make you feel? In what ways do you see exclusion in your school? How as it affected you and how can you help others?

In what ways does Ana use her imagination to distract herself? How do you think her dreams help her?

How do you feel about Abuela’s response when Ana tells her about Ernesto? How do you think Abuela should have responded? Why do you think she reacted the way she did?

How did Papa’s death affect Ana?

What happened after Ana’s wrote about her abuse in a letter to her priest? Do you think that writing the letter was a wise decision? Why or why not?

In what ways does Ana’s relationship with religion and spirituality change throughout her story?

How did Ana’s life change when she was brought to live at the hogar?

What was the hogar like? Do you think it benefited those with HIV/AIDS, or was it just another form of exclusion?

Ana is shocked to find out that her grandmother saved her life when she was a baby. What do you think caused the change in Ana’s relationship with her grandmother throughout her story? Do you think Ana has forgiven or can forgive Abuela? Is forgiveness important?

What are some struggles that Isabel might have that Ana may not have had? What struggles does Ana have that Isabel did not?

Where does Ana feel most at home? Considering her relationships with her family, why do you think that is?

What role does education play in Ana’s life? Have you learned anything from reading her story? What did you learn? Do you think there is enough education and awareness about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, child abuse, and other childhood hardships?

Why do you think Ana kept her three big secrets? What else could she have done? What do you think you could do?

How did this book affect you? How can teens like you help teens like Ana?

Activity ideas? Snack ideas? Leave a comment!