26 March 2012

Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton

Chanda is a sixteen-year-old girl living in southern Africa, firmly caught in an AIDS pandemic. Millions of individuals living in this part of the world are infected with HIV/AIDS; this is not a work of historical fiction. In a life where money is scarce, good doctors even more so, and where ignorance and fear are roadblocks in the path to sexual safety, illness and disease are rampant. Chanda is living with her mother and her younger brother and sister, and her story begins immediately following the death of her youngest sister, baby Sara. Marking Chanda's mother as cursed and the reason for the death, Sara's father walks out on the family. Without money or work, life is difficult, especially for Chanda who is trying to make her way through school to get a scholarship. When her mother leaves to visit her family in her hometown, Chanda expects that she will return, and after a few weeks Chanda goes out to find her, determined to bring her home -- even if she is only bringing her back home to die.

Chanda's Secrets is a powerful story of poverty, and of the ignorance and fear about HIV/AIDS and the treatment of AIDS sufferers. It is about a young woman strong enough to stand up for the people she loves, whether it's her best friend who has to whore for money to bring her family back together, or a stepfather who she doesn't like but respects as a human being. It's about a difficult life and individuals fighting for survival every day. It's also about hope -- that through acknowledgement of the disease and education about safety, maybe one day AIDS will cease to exist.

*Great study/discussion/activity guide: http://www.allanstratton.com/secretsteachingguide.pdf
*The movie "Life, Above All" is based on this story.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

22 March 2012

Mangaman by Barry Lyga, illustrated by Colleen Doran

Traditional comics meets nontraditional manga in this graphic novel-format masterpiece. Marissa Montaigne is popular, and she surely prides herself on being herself, and never any version of who someone might want her to be, and that's probably the reason she broke things off with her popular, jock boyfriend. But when she lays eyes on Ryoko Kiyama, she's smitten for sure. He's the boy, or the non-boy, that everyone's been talking about. When there was a rip in his world, he finds himself the odd-man-out in the "real world." Everyone makes fun of the sound track word bubbles that follow him around, and they can sometimes see the images that he's thinking, but he's only really concerned with two things: getting home, and Marissa. But what if he can't get home? And what if Marissa gets sucked into his world without him?

There's a lot going on here, and I kind of hope that there is more to come with the storyline. Recommended for any and all readers -- the non-"sex scene" is hilarious. And for the record, Barry Lyga is AWESOME.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

19 March 2012

the summer i learned to fly by Dana Reinhardt

Thirteen-year-old Drew Robin Solo spends most of her time helping her mom, Lizzie, in the Cheese Shop; she doesn't have many friends - not including her pet rat, Hum, of course - so there really isn't anything else to do. Her dad died when she was a baby and she only has a few things of his that helps her get to know him. She has an impossible crush on 18-year-old Nick who helps out in the shop when he isn't surfing. And she has three girlfriends who are all away for the summer (and who she doesn't much like anyway). But everything in her world changes when she finds homeless Emmett Crane eating the too-old-to-keep-on-the-shelf cheese late at night behind the shop. Emmett with the curly dark hair, who leaves notes folded up as paper cranes, who disappears for days without any word, and who hangs out on the beach with older kids with tattoos, cigarettes, and guitars. In one short summer, Drew learns a lot about her self and even more about the people in her life and the growing world around her.

I read this book in day, and thought I was going to be really sad and depressed by the ending, but was pleasantly surprised by a positive, inspiring, and completely more realistic conclusion. Recommended to most teen readers, especially girls with romantic hearts.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

(Two books with pet rats in a week's time? Weird.)

14 March 2012

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Thien Pham

Dennis has been bred to be a doctor (specifically a gastroenterologist). Throughout his elementary and teen years, his dad pushes him to work harder and be better, to put down his video games and to pick up a textbook and study as much as possible. But when Dennis' father dies of liver cancer just before high school graduation, Dennis buries himself in the same video games his parents were so against having in the house. Dennis is awesome at gaming, but the guilt from turning his back on his "destiny" as a doctor eats at him and eats at him - until he catches a couple of lucky breaks and studies and works his way into medical school. This is a story of a young man who can't quite seem to figure out what he wants out of life, or how to get it. It's the story with a lot of ups and downs, about a young man who manages to figure out the important stuff in the end . . . at least so far.

Gene Luen Yang has some wonderful graphic novels published for teens and adults, including the Printz Award-winning American Born Chinese. Level Up is recommended for all readers, especially those just breaking into comics territory!

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

08 March 2012

The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot

We first meet Helen in an Underground Station near Trafalgar Square. We follow her through the streets of London, where she meets a collection of individuals, including Ben, who sets her up with a roof and a few meals. When her beloved pet rat is killed by one of the cats in the makeshift shelter, she decides it's time for her to keep on moving. She hitchhikes north to England's Lake District - famous for its calm and its beauty - and by accident winds up being quite literally rescued by a couple who own a pub. (It turns out that Beatrix Potter once stayed at the same pub.) It is in this place that Helen is finally able to begin to come to terms with her past, a story that the reader uncovers through flashbacks along her hard journey. 

This is a story of sexual abuse, the battle toward self-acceptance and relinquishment of undeserved guilt. This is the story of "one bad rat," who overcomes unrelenting struggle and uncovers her self-worth through the support of strong, loving adults. Recommended to all readers -- and lovers of Beatrix Potter will find something a little extra-special here as well.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.

03 March 2012

Psychiatric Tales : eleven graphic stories about mental illness by Darryl Cunningham

Darryl Cunningham is himself a sufferer of mental illness as he has had to combat depression and anxiety through many of his childhood and adult years. His time working as a health care provider and on psychiatric wards - and his own life's experiences - serve as the basis for these stories. Stories of dementia (young and old), self-mutilation, depression, and personal disorders are connected not by sadness and struggle, but by hope, and Cunningham clearly is putting a call out for support and understanding from the general public for mental health sufferers.

In the chapter about famous people with mental illnesses, I even learned about a musical artist named Nick Drake who sounds like his sound might be pretty interesting, but who didn't become known until well after he committed suicide at aged 26. Even the slightest stories in this collection can serve as reminders that one never knows what the future holds, for better or for worse. It might be worth it to struggle through the bad to get a chance to experience the good.

Reviewed by kate the librarian.