Thursday, October 30, 2008

Exodus-- Julie Bertagna

It is the year 2100. The polar icecaps have almost completely melted. The world entire world, with the exception of the tallest mountain peaks, is covered with water. And somehow, 15 year old Mara Bell must save her people from certain death as global warming has caused flooding on her tiny northern island, Wing, and there is literally no where to go but onto the open water. Mara and only one boat-load of her people arrive at New Mungo, a towering city in the sky built on what was previously known as Glasgow. However, New Mungo does not accept refugees, and they are stranded with the other poor and abandoned folks below the city. Mara, and the allies she makes called Treenesters, must somehow infiltrate New Mungo to save the poor, the young, and the refugees.

In theory, this an interesting book. With global warming affecting our climate, habitats, and yes our polar icecaps, the background for this novel is quite believable. However, the author does not give readers enough character or plot development to really entice them. Mara forms these incredibly strong bonds with people in a matter of hours, and the reader is left feeling unsure about why she would potentially sacrifice her life for them. Also, the things that are most interesting in post-apocalyptic stories like this one were totally left out. We don't really learn about how the people survived, how they built New Mungo, etc. When Mara does enter New Mungo, the technology is mind-blowing, but Bertagna does not describe it in a satisfactory way. There is nothing about this book that hasn't been done better in other books for teens.

Still, as it wasn't a terrible book, and teens might find it more interesting than I did, I would recommend it to teens who enjoyed the following books for the reasons listed:

For teens who like...
  • the weather setting of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as We Knew it and The Dead and the Gone
  • the cool hoverboard scenes in Westerfeld's Uglies books
  • the technology vs. primitive living that collided in Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games
  • the kids take the lead in crisis themes in Michael Grant's Gone

Be warned... the books I listed above as read-similars for Exodus will probably be enjoyed more by teen readers that Exodus will be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Truth about Chuck Norris-- Ian Spector

So I have a funny story to share with you. Recently I observed a Young Adult Advisory Board (YAAB) meeting at one of our branch libraries. The YAAB leader, Holly, is much loved by this group of about 20 teens, but they tend to get a little rowdy, especially after soda and candy. Holly often has to shout to be heard over their not-so-dull roar, and at this most recent meeting, one of her loyal YAAB teens decided to interviene on her behalf. The teen stood up on her chair and shouted "Give Holly the respect you would give Chuck Norris!!" and instantly it was silent in the room. I couldn't believe it! The teens not only knew who Chuck Norris was, but they *LOVE* him. Apearantly, all the teens had read this book, The Truth about Chuck Norris: 400 facts about the world's greatest human. According to this branch library's YAAB group Chuck Norris is the funniest, awesomest topic that anyone could ever discuss. Has anyone else experienced this Chuck Norris phenomena?

And after that meeting, I figured I better read the book myself. Here are a few "facts" listed in the book for your reading pleaseure. Most of the entries in the book revolve around these four topics: Chuck Norris's beard, his genetailia, roundhouse kicks, and sex. Just a warning: some are pretty tasteless/offensive (by which I mean totally funny to teenagers and to this librarian who thinks like a teen).

"Chuck Norris's dog is trained to clean up it's own poop because Chuck Norris will not take shit from anyone."

"The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain."

"When Chuck Norris was denied a McGriddle at McDonald's because it was 10:35, he roundhouse kicked the store so hard it became Wendy's."

"Chuck Norris can impregnate women with only a glance. He can also do this to men."

"Chuck Norris eats coal and shits diamonds."

"When he is alone at night, Chuck Norris likes to wear slippers with bunnies on them. Real live bunnies."

"If you drop a phonograph needle on Chuck Norris's nipple, it plays the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds."

"There are three ways to do things: the right way, the wrong way, and the Chuck Norris Way. The Chuck Norris Way is the same as the wrong way, but with more roundhouse kicks."

"Chuck Norris's beard has a representitive in congress."

"Chuck Norris is so American, he can eay tyranny and shit apple pie."

"Ozzy Osborne once bit the head off a bat. Not to be outdone, Chuck Norris then bit the head off of Batman."

"Rosa Parks refused to get out of her seat because she was saving it for Chuck Norris."

And my personal favorite...

"Rainbows are what happen when Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks Richard Simmons."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Absolute Brightness-- James Lecesne

Have you ever read a book jacket that gave away such a crucial plot point, it made you wonder what else could possibly happen that was more significant? Absolute Brightness tells you right off the bat that the boy pictured on the cover, Leonard, disappears in a tragic way. Somehow, knowing in advance that it was going to happen made the anticipation while reading the book even stronger.

Phoebe is living on the Jersey Shore with her beautician mother and sister Deirdre who is recovering from sexual abuse. Although life is not easy on their family, the three women are managing to find their own way. Phoebe is a magenta haired, vocal black sheep in her family, until Leonard shows up and slightly displaces her spotlight. Leonard is Phoebe and Deirdre's cousin, and he comes to live with them after his mother dies and no one else will take him in. Leonard is instantly loved by the elderly women who frequent Phoebe's mother's beauty shop, and despite some ingrained homophobia, the community begins to really accept Leonard and his colorful personality. Meanwhile, Phoebe finds herself a bit lost, and blames Leonard for it. She ends up with the wrong kind of guy (REALLY wrong) and does everything she can to just make Leonard disappear from her life... until he really does. And it's only after Leonard is gone that she realizes how much love and respect he had for her... and how much she had for him.

Absolute Brightness was quite well written, and although there were times that I felt the plot could have moved a little faster, I was very invested in the characters and outcomes of each of their stories. This book does not shy away from tough topics, and really focuses on the idea that ethics and morals are not a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem. The author raises tough questions, and whether readers agree with Lecesne's assertions, they will be drawn in by his storytelling.

I would recommend this book for both guys and girls who enjoy mysteries like those written by Kevin Brooks or Carol Plum-Ucci. It would also be good for teens who like to ponder ethical decision-making and want to read stories about middle class people rather than the influx of rich kid books we have been seeing recently.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Girlwood-- Claire Dean

One of my favorite school librarians once told me that she always reads the author bio before she starts a book. Inspired by her, before reading Girlwood, I decided to check out Claire Dean's brief bio in the back of her book. This is what it says:

Claire Dean writes from a bright green house behind an ever-growing garden in Idaho. She was inspired to write Girlwood for her daughter who asked for a story about good stuff. "When I asked her what she meant, she said, 'You know, about hope and magic and fairies and girls.' Good stuff indeed."

I don't know why, but that really touched me... it made me really excited to read the book. Okay, enough with the sap, on to the book.

Girlwood takes place in Idaho in a town that was once on the edge of a massive forest. Developers are clearcutting in order to make room for million dollar houses, and Polly and her grandmother Baba are doing everything they can to stop this. When Polly's sister Bree runs away, Polly and Baba are convinced she is living in the woods. There is subtle magic throughout the book... Dean alludes to fairies and dryads; Polly can see auras, her Baba is a healer, and her friend Olivia can talk to wolves. Still, even with the subtle magic and supernatural references, I would consider this book to be realistic fiction. There is something quite moving about the way Polly and Baba care for the trees and the forest, and reading this book made me want to run outside and climb the tallest tree I could find.

This book reminded me of Madapple, which I read for our Mock Printz event but didn't blog about because I want to let your opinions be uninfluenced by moi. The protagonists of both Madapple and Girlwood have great knowledge of wild plants and their uses, both for physical and spiritual healing. Also, in both books, each chapter starts with a brief description of an herb, flower, or tree, and lists the folklore and the healing properties of each plant.

Although Girlwood wouldn't make my list of favorite books of 2008, nor was it incredibly well written, I quite liked it, and would be happy to pass it on to teen girls. It would be appropriate for a wide range of ages; I would say 12-18 even though Polly is only 13 years old. Girls who like books about magic (especially earthbased magic like Wicca, not the Hollywood-witchcraft-magic type stuff), nature, stories about friendship, stories set in the Northwest, and elementals like fairies, should enjoy this book.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Seaborn-- Craig Moodie

What is more peaceful than sailing the Atlantic Ocean on a calm summer day, sketching, and listening to seabirds calling? In Seaborn, Luke and his father escape their familial chaos by leaving land behind and sailing their rig along the east coast of the United States. In order to prolong their distraction from real life and the mainland, Luke's father proposes that they find the Gulf Stream and head toward open ocean. When the weather suddenly turns for the worst, and Luke's father is thrown overboard by enormous crashing waves, Luke finds himself alone and sailing a badly damaged boat in the middle of a tropical storm. Luke's survival is in his own hands, and somehow he must find a way to be rescued.

Seaborn has a great premise... teens eat this kind of survival-natural disaster fiction up. However, I was disappointed in the execution of the plot. Moodie spent way too much time setting the story up. Almost 3/4 of the book takes place before the big storm hits. The reader only gets a few chapter's worth of Luke's survival efforts, and the story wraps itself up very tidily and quickly. The most interesting and compelling part of the story for teens (and for this reader who had the mind of a teen!) is how Luke fixes his boat, finds food to eat, and searches for rescue. All the set-up about Luke's family and friends back home do nothing to entice the reader, and don't even tie into the events that conclude the book.

Still, even though I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I would recommend it to teens who liked Life as We Knew It, books by Will Hobbs and Gary Paulsen, and books about boats and sailing. This book would probably be enjoyed mostly by boys and is appropriate for tweens as well as teens.

The Luxe and Rumors-- Anna Godbersen

One of my librarian friends once admitted to me that Anna Godbersen's Luxe series is her guilty reading pleasure. As I am all about guilty pleasure reading, I thought I would give the series a try. I am currently on hold for the third book in this series, Envy, but I read The Luxe and Rumors this weekend.

The Luxe takes place in the very late 1800s, right at the turn of the century. The series is set in New York City and is told from the perspective of four characters: sisters Elizabeth and Diana from an old-money family, their lady's maid Lina, and a nouveau riche socialite, Penelope, who lets nothing stand in the way of her desires. While not extraordinarily well written, the story is compelling enough to keep readers turning those pages. The Luxe ends with a cliffhanger that leads nicely into the next books.

I appreciated a few things about these books... first, I am glad there is a series about socialites that isn't so sex-designers-drugs-booze, etc. I personally enjoyed the Gossip Girl series when I read it a few years ago, but have a hard time recommending it to teens in our more conservative communities. The Luxe still has the scandal and intrigue, but is much more of a clean read than Gossip Girl. Also, The Luxe brings in the historical fiction aspect, giving it a wider readership.

I would recommend The Luxe series for readers of Gossip Girl, The A List, The Clique, The It Girl, anyone who likes a rags-to-riches story, and those who enjoy historical fiction/romance. I would even recommend it to teens who enjoy Jane Austen, but are looking for a beach and bathtub read rather than a classic novel.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cycler-- Lauren McLaughlin

I really, really wanted to like this book.

But I didn't. *sigh*

Jill is a stereotypical high school girl. She is obsessed with prom, engages in witty banter with her delightfully artsy best friend Ramie, feels misunderstood by her father, and strives to get straight As. Oh, there is one thing that really differentiates her from all the other girls... once a month, for four days, Jill turns into a boy named Jack. The book is narrated in alternating chapters by Jill and Jack.

So, the premise is simple, maybe not super original (anyone remember the 1980's "Classic" Willy/Milly?), but still interesting. The book itself however, was a major disappointment. First, the book opens with an fairly graphic description of Jill physically turning into Jack. I am not at all squeamish or prudish, but the opening scene made me want to put the book down, which is really the opposite reaction an author wants a reader to have! Also, Jack's character was so one dimensional, I had a hard time getting through his chapters. The most disturbing portion of the book was when Ramie let a boy she caught spying on her through her bedroom window into her house and had sex with him... without even knowing his name, let alone all the other things one hopes people talk about before having sex for the first time.

However, the biggest issue I take with this book is the slightly homophobic undertone it has. I do think that Lauren McLaughlin really did not intend for it to be there; actually I think she tried really hard to make it *not* homophobic. Still, there was a bit of stereotype perpetuation and I feel she used sexuality to solve the plot problem she created for herself when she wrote a character who is biologically a cycling hermaphrodite. Maybe I am taking it all too seriously, but I think teens who are sensitive to this type of pigeonholing will pick up on it too.

Overall, I must say this is one of the most disappointing books I have read in months... but still, as always, I'll bet I can find many teens who would enjoy this book. That's one thing I love about giving books to teens... most of the time they aren't looking for fine literature, and really just want an interesting story. I would give this book to girls who like light reading, romance, and comedy... maybe girls who enjoyed E. Lockhart's Fly on the Wall (a much better book IMHO). Be sure to keep your audience in mind when recommending this book because Jack's sections are full of masturbation and porn references.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mock Printz Tralaalaa

Many libraries host Mock Printz Award workshops, and this year my library district will host one too! Thanks to the interest and encouragement of local media specialists, I am happy to coordinate this event. A school librarian and I compiled a list of ten titles that we feel are contenders for the Printz Award. If you need more info about the Printz, check out ALA's site. (Although I am hearing they are having trouble with their site, so if the link doesn't work try again later...)

Because we worked on this list as a team, there are a few titles that I have not read... so I have been busily reading those books. Since I don't want to sway anyone's opinion of these books before we engage in our Mock Printz workshop, I have been refraining from blogging about them. However, I thought I could at least post our list so you can see what I have been reading. Hey, maybe we can have our own mini-Mock Printz workshop over the internets!

FVRL's Mock Printz Reading List

The Hunger Games-- Susanne Collins
Little Brother-- Cory Doctorow
Newes from the Dead-- Mary Hooper
My Most Excellent Year: a Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park-- Steve Kluger
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks-- E. Lockhart
Madapple-- Christina Meldrum
The Adoration of Jenna Fox-- Mary E. Pearson
Skim-- Miriko Tamaki
After Tupac and D Foster-- Jacqueline Woodson
Good Enough-- Paula Yoo

Extra Credit: Paper Towns-- John Green (we made this one extra credit because we absolutely could not come to an agreement about whether it should be on the Mock Printz list or not... so we decided to let others make the reading decision!)

Full disclosure: I have already blogged about a few of these titles before we chose them for the list... so just ignore those old posts if you are going for the unbiased approach to this exercise! I do have some favorites on the list, and I do have my opinions on which are actual contenders for the award and which just round out the list nicely... if you really want to know my secret top three, I'll tell you (but you'll have to burn the note after you read it...)