Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Living Dead Girl-- Elizabeth Scott

Without a doubt, this is the most gut-wrenching, painful book I have read this year. Maybe ever...
I had nightmares last night after I finished it... not because it was gory or gruesome in the way some YA horror can be, but because I know abuse like what is portrayed in Scott's novel exists in this world... which makes it much scarier than a ghost story.

Living Dead Girl is told by 15 year old "Alice". She was abducted when she was in elementary school on a field trip, and has been help captive by Ray, a man who abuses her in every way imaginable. Because he prefers her to look young, he literally starves her, makes her wear the same frilly nightgowns she wore when she was a small child, and goes through drastic measures to stave off her puberty. Ray murdered his last "Alice" when she was 15, and the current Alice, the protagonist of this story, considers herself a living dead girl: not only is she totally dead inside because of years and years of horrific torture, but she knows that any day now she will be murdered to make room for a new and younger "Alice".

As you can tell from the plot summary, this book addresses some serious issues (sexual abuse, kidnapping, pedophilia, etc). However, the most powerful parts of this novel come from Alice's descriptions of the way other people treat her. When she goes into the esthetician for her full body waxing, the esthetician can see all the bruises on her starved body. Does she reach out to help her? No. Alice talks about how the people in her apartment building just look the other way, and on the bus they would rather see right through her than help her.

It made me think about how many people exist in our society that are just waiting for one person to offer them help... just one person to help them navigate their way from hell back to earth again. Then, on the way to work, I heard a special on NPR about Oregon's statute on limitations on child molestation and got angry all over again...

This is a powerful, horrifying, extremely well written book. It is not for the faint of heart.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Big Fat Manifesto-- Sarah Vaught

Is it just me, or does it seem like there is a rise in books about teens with alternative body types? Maybe I am just noticing them more... but it seems like the eating disorder fiction trend has swung a bit from the anorexia-bulimia bend to an overweight-chubby-obese focus. Honestly, I think teens will want to read both types of books, and "issues" fiction has always been popular with the teens I see.

Big Fat Manifesto is a well written book about a girl named Jamie who is fat. She prefers the term fat, and she isn't just a bit overweight... she is at least 300 pounds and comes from a family who is also dealing with weight issues. She is a journalist and starts a column in the school paper to speak honestly about what life is like when you are physically larger than most of the population. Jamie is popular, has a boyfriend, and is an actress (though only gets to play the villain or "character" roles). Jamie's open, honest, blunt, and slightly bitchy voice is really what makes this book enjoyable. Also, there are some heart-wrenching scenes where the reader can really understand how hard life can be when you don't fit into furniture (like the desks at the ACT testing center or airplane seats), clothes (everything in 4X is designed for old ladies), or your friend's car.

Vaught doesn't not glamorize obesity, but she does a great job of making someone who is not obese understand the emotional issues that might go along with being overweight. In our thin-fascinated American (world?) culture, it is easy to poke fun at overweight folks, all in the guise of concern (health! stress on resources! diabetes!). I would be interested in hearing what teens think about this book. As an aside, it is nice to read a book with a severely overweight character who is not 100% ostracized from all things normal... Jamie has friends and a boyfriend, which is not a common thing in other books like this.

Just because:

Here is a brief list of fiction about teens with body issues... overweight, underweight, eating disorders etc. Got some to add? Let me know!

Large and Small: a short booklist of eating disorder fiction


Fat Kid Rules the World-- K.L. Going

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes-- Chris Crutcher

Big Fat Manifesto-- Sarah Vaught

Vibes-- Amy Kathleen Ryan

The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things-- Carolyn Mackler


Mercy, Unbound-- Kim Antieau

Skin-- Adreinne Maria Vrettos

Skinny-- Ibi Kaslik

Lovesick-- Jake Coburn

How I Live Now-- Meg Rossof

Perfect-- Natasha Friend

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Patron Saint of Butterflies-- Cecilia Galante

I'm not sure why, but I kind of have a fascination with religious cults... they are interesting to me for some reason, and this is why I picked up an ARC for The Patron Saint of Butterflies while at ALA this summer.

This novel is told from two perspectives: Agnes and her cousin Honey. Agnes truly believes that if she is good enough, she will be a saint one day. She performs horrifying acts of self-torture to punish herself for sins like running, going outside on a holy day, and little white lies. She totally believes the message of the cult leader, Emmanuel, and respects him more than anyone but God. Honey however, has been viciously abused by the leaders of their cult and dreams of escaping one day. She was abandoned by her mother when she was a baby, and knows no other life than Mount Blessing. One day something terrible happens, and Honey and Agnes find themselves at one of life's crossroads: escape to the secular world rift with sin and temptation, or stay at Mount Blessing and endure the punishments doled out by Emmanuel.

Together, their story is rich and full of different perspectives. The author, Cecilia Galante, grew up in a religious cult similar to Mount Blessing, where Agnes and Honey live. When I read that bit about the author, I wasn't surprised, because she treats the cult context with transparent honesty and respect, but definitely not reverence. It bothers me when authors demonize an institution totally, because in real life, there is almost always some good and some bad in everything... nothing is 100% pure or 100% evil. I liked that Galante alluded to some of the positive aspects of communal living as well.

I would recommend this book to girls (boys might like it too, but the book is notably female character driven) who like duel narratives, stories about religious experience, or tales of overcoming obstacles. It is definitely clean, realistic fiction, but people with strong conservative religious backgrounds /may take offense to the negative portrayal of some aspects of Mount Blessing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Cheated-- Patrick Jones

Sometimes your parents let you down. Sometimes your teachers, friends, even the police let you down. And sometimes, you even let yourself down.

At the root, this is the basic message of Cheated by Patrick Jones. This novel tells about Mick, a high school boy with only a couple of friends and parents who consistently let him down. First his dad cheats on his mom and when Mick catches him, his father makes him swear not to tell his mother. Then, in a drunken fog, Mick cheats on the only bright spot in his life: his girlfriend Nicole. When Mick and his only two friends (one who has a major violence problem, and the other who is a pathological liar with a screwed up family) commit a horrific crime while drunk, Mick has to make a difficult choice. Does he tell the truth and save himself, or does he remain loyal to the only people he feels really care about him: his friends.

Overall, I think this is a book teenage boys will enjoy. It is a little to simplistic and underdeveloped for my personal taste, but sometimes teens appreciate a straight-forward book like this. One thing that did really bother me about this book is that all the adults are portrayed extremely negatively... it is just too one sided and unrealistic. I am sure Jones was trying to write the adult characters through a teen's eyes, but it made the book flat and one dimensional for me.

I would recommend this book to teen boys who want stories about kids who commit crimes, are social outcasts, or are incarcerated. Don't laugh! I get requests for books about those topics all the time, belive it or not.