Friday, May 29, 2009

Shine Coconut Moon-- Neesha Meminger

September 11, 2001. New Jersey. Fear, racism, fear, aggression, fear.

Samar is a 17 year old Indian-American girl. She was raised to be American, and knows almost nothing about her culture and family. Her mother separated herself from her strict parents and wanted to avoid the racism and pigeon-holing dark skinned people receive in the United States, so she raised Samar to be American through and through. Samar has only white friends, a white boyfriend, and lives a happy lilly-white life... until a man in a turban shows up on her front steps and changes everything.

Set just after the 9/11 attacks, Shine Coconut Moon tells the story of Samar, a girl who has longed for a big jovial family her whole life. After the attacks, her Uncle Sandeep reaches out to Samar and her mother, begging them to contact their family again and to put the past behind them. After 9/11, Samar's classmates begin to look at her differently and some even react violently to Samar and her uncle. But meanwhile, Samar finds solace in learning about her roots, making Indian friends, and exploring what it's like to have a family.

There's a lot of good stuff in this book. My only gripe is the author was so heavy-handed in the way she wrote about actions and emotions... don't tell me about it literally, describe the scene so I get the feeling without it being so in-my-face. This is Meminger's first novel, and I bet she will improve with later work. All in all, it's a good but not excellent book that describes the horrible fear and violence that occurred for many nonwhite people after the 9/11 attacks. I would recommend this to girls who want to read about other cultures, especially India, or who enjoyed Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier (which I loved).

Wherever Nina Lies-- Lynn Weingarten

Beautiful, artistic, blue-haired, wild-hearted and beloved... that's Nina. She was slightly off-kilter, lived in a world of intensity and art, and was prone to creeping out her bedroom window to experience night-time fun. But one day she didn't come home, and that day Ellie's world changed forever.

Ellie always idolized her older sister Nina. Sure, they bickered, but most sisters who love eachother that fiercely fight a little too. When Nina disappeared, Ellie knew she didn't just run away... she knew in her heart that Nina was still out there, and that she needed Ellie's help. Her friends wanted her to forget Nina, but when bits and scraps of clues leading to Nina's location kept popping up, Ellie just couldn't let go of the thought that Nina was out there, somewhere. When Ellie meets Sean, a guy whose brother died not too long ago, she feels akin to him. Together they search for Nina, and Ellie uncovers a shocking truth that changes everything forever.

This book is a bit of a thriller, a mystery, a love story, and a tale of sisterly love. It's not bound to be a classic, and it's not much different than other books of similar genres, but teens will like it. The plot was interesting enough to keep me engaged, and although I guessed the big secret right away, I'll bet some teens will be shocked by it. I would recommend this book to girls who like mysteries and thrillers that aren't violent.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Anything but Typical-- Nora Raleigh Baskin

Neurotypicals have it easy. When there is an annoying noise, they ignore it. When they feel stressed or anxious, they take a deep breath and continue on none-the-less. They have control over their appendages. They don't need violent outbursts to get their message across.

Jason is not neurotypical; he is autistic. When he was a little kid, his parents thought he was a genius. He could read before most kids could make full sentences. He could memorize anything, spell any word perfectly, and is an accomplished story-writer. But when he started to get older, some things made him stand out, and not in a good way. His hands flutter like birds and he pulls at his face, hair, and clothes when something bothers him. He sometimes responds with violence when people don't understand what he is saying. And he is honest, too honest for a word full of white lies and platitudes.

But one day Jason makes a friend, a GIRL, through an online fanfiction community. And when he has the opportunity to travel to Dallas for the fanfic convention, Jason can't decide if it's worth it to meet his first real friend or if the world of neurotypicals will be too much for him to handle.

This well-written and interesting book takes a different look at the world of autism. I know there have been other books written from the perspective of an autistic person, but for whatever reason, this book feels more intimate. I recommend this book to girls and boys who feel like outcasts, or who enjoyed Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or even Wendy Mass's A Mango Shaped Space.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Way He Lived-- Emily Wing Smith

Doesn't it always seem like people become flawless after they're dead? Especially youth... it's like there's a post-mortem photoshop application for memories... all the dog-kicking, spitball shooting, back-talking, etc gets washed away.

In The Way He Lived we learn about Joel, a boy in his teens who died tragically on a hiking accident. Told in six sections, each with its own narrator who is either related to or a good friend of Joel, this book tells the story of Joel's life through his affect on other people. Each narrator has a unique voice and focuses on a different aspect of Joel. We never really learn exactly who he is, but the picture the reader gains by viewing his life through the eyes of others is a fuzzy-perfect-beautiful image... almost like it's been photoshopped to perfection.

I found myself quite disappointed when each narrator's section ended... but only because I wanted more of each narration! It's usually a good thing when the author leaves you wanting more, and in this case, it really helped the pace of what would have otherwise been a slowish read. It's a very real book, and quite powerful. Religion, specifically Mormonism, is an important element of the book, but not overpoweringly so. Overall, I quite enjoyed this book and I think both boys and girls (especially girls) would too. I recommend this book for teens who like the "dying books", multiple narrators, stories of friendship, and stories of loss.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Headlong-- Kathe Koja

The Vaughn School is for serious academics. If you attend this school, you are serious about your education, future, and life in general. This isn't boarding school for social deviants or rich girls in headbands and knee socks. The Vaughn School girls work hard for their grades, will attend Ivy League universities, and will have careers.

But for whatever reason, the administration has decided to diversify a little bit and admitted Hazel, the artist/rebel/speak-your-mind bad girl. Lily is a lifer at Vaughn and a legacy student. When she decides to switch from day to boarding her sophomore year, she realizes that she has less in common with the other girls, and more with Hazel. This is a story of self-discovery, friendship, and life in general.

My summary honestly doesn't do this book justice. It's told in first person, from Lily's perspective. She kindof hero-worships Hazel ala Pudge and Alaska from Green's Looking for Alaska except Lily's feelings for Hazel are platonic. Also the chapters are not sequential... we get bits of the story here and there, but somehow it all falls together just right. I would recommend this book to girls who want to read about real not fluffy friendship, and those who enjoy boarding school books like Looking for Alaska and Jellicoe Road.

Monday, May 11, 2009

School for Dangerous Girls-- Eliot Schrefer

It's pretty straight-forward, actually. If you're a bad girl, you're gonna get in trouble. And if you keep getting in trouble, you'll get kicked out of school. And when you get kicked out of school, there's only one place for you to go: Hidden Oak aka the School for Dangerous Girls.

Hidden Oak. Doesn't that sound like a summer camp? Unfortunately for Angela and her classmates, there is nothing quaint about Hidden Oak. It's the last chance for all the girls who attend, and they have one month to prove to the administration that they're reformable. Girls who have a spark of change are "gold thread" and girls who are too rebellious and bad become "purple thread". Gold thread girls live a normal-ish reform school life... but the purple thread girls are locked in the tunnels under the school and left to Lord of the Flies-esque self-ruling.

Angela isn't really a bad kid... she has made some mistakes, responded to abuses inflicted upon her at a young age, and is unendlingly loyal. It's this loyalty combined with a strong stubborn streak that gets her thrown from gold to purple thread... and when she is left in a life or death situation, she has to make tough choices or die trying.

I have to admit this book was pretty unrealistic. Still, it was a page turner. I didn't love it, but found myself compelled to finish it quickly because of Angela's sassy, honest voice. Teen girls will like this book, especially those who want to read about the "bad girl" or who enjoyed Todd Strasser's Boot Camp.

Shimmer-- Dallas Reed

A box made out of human flesh. Open it and shimmering wasp-like dust will fly out and settle on you. Run away, run away NOW because if that dust touches you, you will be unable to control your urges...

Shimmer is a piece of light-horror fiction set in the remote Colorado town Winter. There is a big divide between the rich kids and the working-class kids, and as we've learned from Gossip Girl, rich kids throw wicked parties. At Justin's party, the queen bee Tess finds a box in Justin's dad's office. Although it feels disgusting and appears to be constructed of flesh, she opens it and releases hell on all the party-goers. Nerds, Betina and Emma who also happen to be at the party, are the only ones to keep their heads amongst the madness. Emma closes the box and takes it away. She doesn't know what's going on, but the cold chill of evil has spread and all she knows is that she needs to get the box away from the now insane rich kids. Persuit, betrayal, fear, sin, and love continue the story's plot.

This novel is a thinly veiled Pandora's Box retelling and I can honestly think of quite a few teens who might like this... still, it wasn't particularly well-written or captivating to me, the adult reader. I love it when I can find teen fiction that is well-written AND has high teen appeal. For whatever reason those seem pretty few and far between for me this year. Anyway, I would recommend this book to teens (especially girls, but not exclusively) who like light horror (kinda scary but not gory or nightmare inducing), mythology, retellings of folk tales, and suspense.