Thursday, March 26, 2009

Beautiful Americans--Lucy Silag

Think Gossip Girl, but in Paris, with less sex and little less cruelty... and then you have Beautiful Americans by Lucy Silag.

Honestly, what to say about this book? It was a quick read... in fact, it was perfect for reading on the elliptical machine or right before bed, because if you miss a word or two it's ok. I'm not saying it was a bad book; I've just read and reread this same story again and again. Zach, Alex, PJ, and Olivia are all spending a year at the American school in Paris. Zach is a gay emo-boy who wants to find love, Alex is a rich girl from New York who tries to buy happiness. PJ's the hippy-chick whose parents are in jail for drug trafficking, and Olivia is a ballerina who has been selected to dance with the Paris Underground Ballet.

Lucy Silag succeeds in giving her characters different enough personalities to remain distinct from each other, yet she doesn't give the reader much reason to empathise with their problems. I wanted deeper character development, more Parisian scenery, and more believable drama. Still, teen girls will probably enjoy this book, especially fans of Gossip Girl, The A-List, and The Luxe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Outside Beauty-- Cynthia Kadohata

In a world that values beauty more than almost anything else, what's a girl to do when beauty escapes her? Shelby and her three sisters have one thing in common: their gorgeous sexpot man-eating mother. All four daughters have different fathers. They are racially diverse, and with the exception of Shelby, all quite beautiful. They have lived a magical life traveling from place to place with their mother, following the path of jewelry, money, and love. Shelby's mother is fiercely independent, yet strangely entangled with a multitude of men, and all four girls unendingly adore her.

But one day tragedy strikes. All four girls are sent to live with their respective fathers. Shelby finds herself living with her father Jiro, an immigrant from Japan who now lives in Arkansas and produces top quality chewing gum for a living. Her sisters have varying levels of stability in their new homes, but Shelby is desperate to return to them. After living a life surrounded by intensely close female relationships, this exile is slowly killing the spirits of all four sisters. They take desperate measures to reunite, and find that family is often bigger than the little box one puts it in.

While it's easy to summarize this story in a bit of a cliche and simple way, there are more complex elements to it that will keep the reader enticed. While it didn't knock my socks off, it was a fairly compelling read and I enjoyed the diverse range of characters Kadohata provided. I would recommend this book rather widely to teen girls, especially for those who are looking for books about relationships that don't involve explicit sex, Asian characters, or stories about family.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Carbon Diaries, 2015-- Saci Lloyd

Imagine crossing Georgia Nicholson (Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging) with Miranda (Life as We Knew It). If you did, then you'd get Laura Brown.

It's the year 2015 and the entire world is suffering the effects of global warming, climate change, and rebuilding after The Great Storm. England has decided to be the guinea pig in a new carbon emission limitation scheme, which will later be imposed on the rest of Europe and beyond. Laura Brown is a regular teenage girl living in London. She is the bassist for a punk band, The Dirty Angels, is in love with the boy next door, and needs to find a way to pass her exams. When her family begins to fall apart at the seam because of the strict carbon rationing, Laura quickly learns there are bigger things at stake than a first kiss, a good test score, and a killer bass riff. She learns about civil disobedience, living off the earth, being a parent to her own self-destructing parents, and how to stand up for herself. She also learns that no matter what, family is your home even when everything around you crumbles away.

Although the topic matter of Carbon Diaries, 2o15 is quite serious, the book itself is light. Maybe it's the British slang, but I kept hearing Georgia Nicholson's voice throughout the book in the way that Laura nicknames her teachers, lusts after boys, etc. Still, the author does try to be appropriately serious when it's called for, and mostly succeeds. While it isn't a fine piece of literature, teens will most likely enjoy this book, and it's a less depressing option for teens who want to read futuristic books like these.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tender Morsels-- Margo Lanagan

First I must apologize for my brief blogging hiatus... I was on a vacation, but mostly the blame for why I have not been writing can be pegged on this book, Tender Morsels.

WHAT?! I hated Tender Morsels?? But it won a Printz Honor!
Yup. Sorry. It kinda killed my will to read and sucked the joy out of retold fairy tales for me...

I should say that I typically love retold folk and fairy tales. This usually makes me biased IN FAVOR of them. And, furthermore, I was reared on East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Peter Asbjornsen and I love the brutal gory tales of the north. So, it really took me by surprise how much I didn't enjoy Tender Morsels.

Tender Morsels tells the story of two worlds: the real and true world where men rape women, fathers abuse daughters, and mothers die, and the heavenly world where Liga and her daughters Branza and Urdda live happily and peacefully. The novel transpires equally in both worlds, and the reader is sometimes left to figure out which world is being featured and which version of each character we are seeing. After a lifetime of sexual abuse and impregnation by her father, Liga's fragile spirit is crushed irreparably when she is gang raped and impregnated by local ruffians. Just as Liga is about to throw Branza, and infant, and herself (pregnant with Urdda) off a cliff, a spirit appears to her and transports her into a heavenly dimension. In this personal heaven, Liga raises Branza and Urdda. In the real world, a local witch and dwarf man in search of easy fortune, decide to poke holes in the space-time continuum and ultimately disrupt Liga's perfect heaven. First Urdda, then Branza and Liga are transported back to the real world and have to learn how to exist in a land that's brutal and real.

I can see why some people might consider this work worthy of a Printz honor. It was a complexly written book, and Lanagan mostly succeeds with a Norse influenced prose. Still, I think that complexly written doesn't always equal great, and this is where Tender Morsels falls short for me. To me, the story itself got a bit lost, and if the plot isn't driving the reader forward, what will? I would love to hear other people's opinions about this book, as I know there are big fans of it out there!

I would recommend this book to older teens, as it's a quite complex read. It would be good for teens who liked East by Edith Pattou (one of my all time favorite books), Norse fairy tales, and books that play with the space-time continuum. Just a note so you know what you are recommending, in case you haven't read it: there are multiple rape scenes, incest, and some blurry relationships with animals.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Because I am Furniture-- Thalia Chaltas

Anke is invisible. No, she really is. She has two siblings, and they are not invisible, not one bit. In fact, her father can see them so well he never seems to leave them alone. Ever. Anke's sister Yaicha is a genius with makeup. Maybe she will go to cosmetology school when she grows up. Or maybe she has covered up so many bruises and scrapes, she has become an expert by default. Anke's brother Darren is a daredevil and popular at school. He's also tough, but never tough enough to keep his father at bay. Their father is an alcoholic, physically and sexually abusive. And their mother just looks away.

No one knows why Anke is invisible to her father. He literally never speaks to her, never visits her room in the middle of the night, never uses her face as a punching bag. And the sad, sad thing is that Anke is so desperate for someone to love her, so desperate for human touch, she almost wishes he would... well... anything would be better than being invisible, right? Anything would be better than being a piece of furniture.

This is the debut work by Thalia Chaltas, and though I am not fond of the verse-novel format, I know it's popular with teens. This is an unflinchingly realistic tale of abuse, silence, and the need for human contact. Although the words are sparse, the reader really feels a connection to Anke. Teens will relate to Anke's strength and suffering, and I can't wait to recommend this to girls who are fans of Sonya Sones, Ellen Hopkins, Laura Wiess's Such a Pretty Girl, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak.

This book will be published in April 2009.