27 February 2010

Breathless by Jessica Warman

Katie Kitrell's life is a mess. It was when her mom finally became a successful artist and her dad started a psychiatry practice and the family actually had some money that Katie first started to feel the true burden of hatred and jealousy. The only friend she had was her older brother Will. But Will has been in and out of her life since elementary school, and the summer before sophomore year turns out to be the worst. After Will's most recent bout of "losing it," Katie's parents admit him to a psychiatric hospital and send her off to boarding school. Unlike many typical teen novels, Katie can't wait to be shipped off. At boarding school, she lies about her family and tells everyone that her brother is dead, and she focuses on other things: she finds some real friends, falls in love, and excels at swimming. But Katie just cannot escape her family or the love (and hatred) she feels for her brother. The family issues are reminiscent of Dana Reinhardt's How to Build a House, and while Katie makes some poor decisions throughout the novel and she has no idea how to handle her emotions, she's authentic and inspiring.

Not everything in this novel seems to work. Readers will connect with Katie, but Drew doesn't feel quite right. There is a lot of the drinking, smoking, and general misconduct found in many novels with "rich kid" settings, but the reader keeps wondering just how committed Katie is to swimming (she keeps saying how important it is). And there is such a mish-mosh of issues -- Will's schizophrenia, her roommates big secret, the "mean girls," and the rags-to-riches life, among others -- that the reader might get lost in all of them, and forget to focus on the real story of Katie's internal struggles. Nevertheless, this book is certainly worth adding to your reading pile.

Call number: YA WARMAN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

Oh Carter, wants so badly to be ready for high school, and especially for high school girls. He's a virgin -- bummer! -- and he desperately wants to be able to at least speak to girls without stuttering, without tripping over his own feet, and without getting so distracted by their bodies (or a fly on the wall). Beginning a few weeks before his starting as a high school freshman and following him through the first year, Carter struggles to figure out how to be a successful high school man. Instead, he provides the reader with a string of hysterical situations including his first date, Taco Bell, ripped pants, X-rated video tapes, first kisses, and theater productions. Boys and girls -- those who have experienced high school and those approaching "the best years of their lives" with anticipation -- will find Carter, EJ, Abby, and Amber's antics hilarious, over and over again. As an added bonus, the audio version of this title presents one of the greatest voices in teen literature.

Recommended to every single high school reader that can get their hands on a copy of this title in print, on CD, on Playaway, or through downloadable audio. Just get this story in your head.
Call number: YA CRAWFORD (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd

The year is 2015 and in an attempt to combat impending global warming, England has issued carbon dioxide rations and strict energy usage plans for families and individuals. At first it's no big deal. There are occasional blackouts and fuel shortages, but Laura Brown is busy focusing on other things like school, a really cute boy, and her band, the dirty angels. But when the weather begins to change and all of a sudden the summers are scorching and the winters unbearable. The snow and rain and drought begin to overwhelm the country and things become increasingly dangerous. The rationing and the eventual destruction begin to destroy Laura's family and she can't seem to hold onto anything "normal" in her life. She doesn't know if she'll ever be able to put together the pieces of her life, even if everyone she loves survives. The images included don't do much to enhance the text, and the personality of the characters might not connect with each and every reader, but the story is compelling enough to keep most interested. Like another "what will we do if the world comes to a crashing end?" story written in journal format, Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, this book will remind readers how potentially fragile the world is, and how strong adversity can make anyone.

Recommended to most readers, especially those who liked Life As We Knew It and the dead & the gone and other dystopian novels or stories involving environmental crisis.
Call number: YA LLOYD (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern

Another novel about a girl who just doesn't fit in. But, no really, Jessie doesn't fit in at all: she's obsessed with math and pretty much likes to study, period; she makes her own skirts, has enough to wear a different one every day, and sometimes they have themes, like fabric with pencils and rulers appropriate for the first day of school; she has a budding rock star brother which only helps to make her look more lame; and her best friends have suddenly become completely different people. When Dottie Bell starts striking up conversations with her in study hall, Jessie is terrified for her struggling reputation because Dottie is definitely uncool. But, of course, Jessie is intrigued by Dottie's personality and interests, and since her own life and relationships are a mess, she finally decides to join in a social gathering with Dottie and her group of friends: Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game for true geeks, according to everyone who isn't a geek. What Jessie finds among this new group of friends is pure joy, confidence, and a complete disruption of stereotypes.

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder stays true to a teenager's heart and is never too serious or predictable. Recommended to all readers, though the romantic situations might appeal more to girls.
Call number: YA HALPERN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Pena & Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

Two boys. One is half Mexican and half white. The other is Cuban but looks white on the outside. One is devoted to baseball, and the other is obsessed with comic books. Both are temporarily relocated (one by choice, one intends to never make a return trip). One is written into the 1960's/1970's culture and the other resides in a contemporary setting. Both must deal with alcohol, drugs, abuse, and romance, with varying degrees of positive and negative results.

In Mexican WhiteBoy, Danny doesn't know where he fits in. He relates most to his Mexican heritage, feeling more comfortable with his extended Mexican family than with his white mother. When his mom moves to San Francisco with her new boyfriend, Danny decides to stay the summer with dad's side of the family in San Diego County, hoping to connect with his Spanish culture and to find his dad. Things don't go as planned and the only thing Danny finds that he can truly connect is a baseball with a catcher's mitt. With the added perspective of Uno's voice, a black kid born and raised on the streets of San Diego, Danny ultimately finds a way to feel at home.

Rico doesn't feel like he fits in with his Cuban parents or his Harlem school in Dark Dude either, being a Latino with light hair and white skin. Leaving just a brief note for his parents, he hitchhikes to Wisconsin to stay with a neighborhood friend on a farm. Focusing on creating his comic book story and on his new girl, he tries to accept where he fits into his own world.

Both boys struggle for acceptance -- from others and inside their own minds. And eventually each learns what it takes to get it.

Recommended to high school readers.
Call number for Mexican WhiteBoy: YA PENA (Teen Room)
Call number for Dark Dude: YA HIJUELOS (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This Newbery Award winner tells the fascinating tale of Nobody Owens. Bod has spent his entire childhood living in a graveyard, raised and loved by ghosts, and watched over by guardian Silas, a man neither alive nor dead. While desperate to see more of the world, venturing beyond the graveyard poses a threat to Bod because it is only in the graveyard that he is protected from the man Jack, who is responsible for murdering Bod's family. Bod outgrows friend after friend (children in the graveyard never get older) and he fails to keep himself invisible from outsiders (though he does know how), leaving him feeling out-of-place both in and outside the graveyard gates. Scarlett helps him to feel real, and she also is as interested as he is in the man Jack who killed his family and who threatens to finish the job by killing Bod, too. Interestingly enough, the man Scarlett meets one day in the graveyard, Mr. Frost, is also interested in the story of the murders that took place inside the house in which he now resides. What could possibly happen to Bod, a boy who isn't afraid to die, but really, really wants to live?

Recommended to middle grade readers, as well as to all those with a flair for the dramatic, the mysterious, and the entertaining! The illustrations in the print book add flair to this intriguing story, and the audio version, read by the bestselling author, is completely compelling.
Call number: YA GAIMAN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

24 February 2010

Book Club - FEB - Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary from the publisher: As the Revolutionary War begins, 13-year-old Isabel wages her own fight... for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.

1 -- What was New York City like in 1776?
2 -- What did you know about slavery during the time of the Revolutionary War? What did you learn from this story?
3 -- How does the title Chains connect to this book? Can you think of any alternative titles that could have been used?
4 -- Have you ever dealt with an older sibling leaving for college or moving out of the house? How do you think this compares to how Ruth and Isabel felt when they were separated?
5 -- Many children have chores to do around the house, but could you imagine doing the things Isabel did!What are your responsibilities around the house? Are they close to the same things Isabel was forced to do?
6 -- What do you think the adults did all day in 1776? Did they work, fight or sit around the house? Is this what your parents do?
7 -- It can be hard to watch your younger (or older!) siblings have it easier than you. What does this feel like to you, and to Isabel?
8 -- Do you think it is fair to ask a twelve-year-old to work as hard as Isabel?
9 -- Living in New York City right at the birth of our country must have been wonderful! How do you think other children reacted when they heard news of the Declaration of Independence? Were they happy to be free, nervous for their family to have to fight or something else? How do you think the slaves felt hearing this news?
10 -- Mattie, from Fever 1793, felt many of the same things as Isabel but almost 20 years later. How do you think these girls were similar? Could they have been friends?
11 -- Did you know that the northern states had slaves? What did it feel like to learn that Isabel was a slave from Rhode Island?

12 -- How did it feel to hear the Locktons lie and pretend to be a Patriots so that they could get past the docks?
13 -- What would you have done when you learned that Elihu Lockton was working for the Loyalists? Do you think Isabel did the right thing?
14 -- Isabel frequently goes to the water pump to get water for cooking and bathing. On one trip, a group of enslaved African Americans are discussing their options for freedom (page 161). Which option would you have taken?
15 -- What did the Grandfather mean at the water pump when he told Isabel to find her River Jordan? Have you heard that phrase anywhere else before?

These questions and further thoughts for discussion are available from the author's website as well as http://www.adlit.org/.

11 February 2010

Katman by Kevin C. Pyle

Kit doesn't exactly love his life. He lives in a “'low income' neighborhood” with only his mom and his older brother. His mom works too hard to make ends meet and support the family, and his socially awkward brother (who is also really smart, but really knows it) makes it clear that things would be better if Kit wasn't around. Of course, Kit isn't accepted at school either – as outcasts and strays usually are rejected. When Kit discovers a whole bunch of stray cats, he decides to take care of them, even if it means stealing from the store he works at, dealing with his mother's anger and frustration, or even putting up with the old crazy cat lady. With the incorporation of Kit's own illustrations of his superhero “Katman,” this graphic novel honestly tells of Kit's journey to uncover inner strength and self-acceptance. The ending seems to patch up kind of nice and neat, but it's the satisfaction of self-discovery that will remain with the reader.

This quick read is recommended to readers who feel like outcasts, want to help out the world somehow, or who can simply recognize how doing something good can change how you feel about who you are.
Call number: YA GRAPHIC PYLE (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Refresh, Refresh by Danica Novgorodoff

As in times past, many teenage boys are growing up without dads. Refresh, Refresh illustrates the lives of three boys who are waiting for their dads to come home, hoping that the military and the war doesn't swallow their families whole. Gordon, Cody, and Josh are three friends whose dads are all in the Marine reserves, away at war. The boys try hard to act like men complete with fist fights, whiskey, and older women, but don't yet know how to grow up, illustrated clearly by their unwillingness to let go of war games, stuffed elephants, and sleigh rides in the snowfall. They have to survive with limited communications with the men they admire, through tough times at home with the families they are trying to help support, and despite the frustration of not knowing what to do with the rest of their lives, looking towards a future over which they seemingly have no control.

It is unclear whether this graphic novel speaks for or against military enlistment. Gordon, Cody, and Josh struggle daily with how they can spend their days making their fathers proudest, and spend most of their time unhappy. And yet, the boys stick together through their hardest days, no matter what. This story should remind readers that it isn't for us to judge how another behaves to survive. Recommended to older teen readers. This graphic novel is brief but intense.
Call number: YA GRAPHIC NOVGORODOFF (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer by Van Jensen, illustrated by Dustin Higgins

With stark black-and-white illustrations, Jensen and Higgins continue the story of the famous wooden puppet that comes to life, called Pinocchio. After a quick re-cap of the original story, the reader learns that Pinocchio is a monster slayer, acting upon his own vendetta against Geppetto's killer. When he makes a plea to the townspeople for help, he is mocked and left alone to save the carpenter and fairy who have been devoted to caring for him. What he finds is a community of monsters, of vampires, and he discovers that to destroy those who took his father from him, he must face a few truths and use knowledge – and denial – as his ally.

Recommended to all readers who enjoy graphic novels and untraditional retellings of classic stories.
Call number: YA GRAPHIC JENSEN (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian

Too Cool to Be Forgotten by Alex Robinson

The title and dedication “For the loners, losers and outcasts. May you show them all someday” of this graphic novel imply a light, fun read without too much sustenance or depth. This expectation would be met certainly with an overwhelming storyline. We meet Andy Wicks as a grown man – a husband and a father – who has finally agreed to hypnotism in another attempt to quit smoking for good. We follow him into his therapy session and then end up back in his high school, where he is a geeky teenager. Andy is forced to face a variety of social and family moments, including his father's impending death (of Lou Gehrig's Disease). He is allowed the ability to be angry with his father for dying, as well as to recognize what is important in his own life.

Recommended to all readers, not just those reminiscing as adults. The emotion in this graphic novel is raw and authentic and the shift from adult to teenage perspective adds an extraordinary layer of depth to the story.
Call number: YA GRAPHIC ROBINSON (Teen Room)

Reviewed by kate the librarian