Monday, August 31, 2009

Going Bovine-- Libba Bray

So, a few years ago at a conference I had the privilege of hearing Libba Bray speak. I don't exactly remember what she said, or even what the topic of the presentation was, but she literally had me crying with laughter. I was never a big fan of her Gemma Doyle trilogy (although many, many people are), and after I heard her speak I thought to myself, Why doesn't she write something funny?? The woman is obviously hilarious!

Well, guess she hear my private brain-thoughts because Libba Bray has written something humorous! Going Bovine is 16 year-old Cameron's journey to save the world and find the meaning of life... before he's dead. Somehow, Cameron has contracted Mad Cow Disease, and we-the-readers travel with him through a series of possible hallucinations or just really twisted realities. In order to save the world from the Wizard of Reckoning, Fire Giants, and to seal up the whole in the universe that Dr. X accidentally let the evil sneak through, Cameron has to put his trust in Gonzo (the dwarf of destiny), Balder (a viking god turned yard gnome), and Dulcie (a punk rock, sugar lovin' hottie angel chica). Their ragtag crew travels all over the South in a falling apart Caddy and *must* get to Florida before Cameron's E-ticket to the Magic Kingdom expires.

Overall, this book is silly, laugh-out-loud funny, and will be easy to recommend to that teen who just wants to read "something funny". However, there are some poignant moments, and I did feel emotionally pulled at some points while reading. I think Libba is quite a good writer... some parts of the book felt a little long (it is almost 500 pages after all!), but the way she wrote her character's thoughts and dialog was just perfect. I would recommend this to teen boys or girls who enjoy humorous writing, and who don't mind mild drug, alcohol, and sex references.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Once was Lost-- Sara Zarr

Sometimes it seems like YA fiction with a religious theme fit into three basic categories: christian fiction, stories about teens in religious situations typical Americans find oppressive, or books about rebel, atheist, pagan teens. This is a generalization, and know there are notable exceptions, but Once Was Lost took me pleasantly by surprise... even though I do enjoy Sara Zarr's writing.

Once Was Lost is Sam's story. She is a PK (preacher's kid) who has spent the last year taking care of her alcoholic mother and hiding her mom's problems from the sharp eye of her father's congregation. Sam's not sure about a lot of things anymore, but she mostly isn't sure if the God her father preaches about is the God for her... if he even exists, and if he does, why are all these bad things happening? When Jody, the young choir soloist, suddenly goes missing, the whole town is in an uproar. All signs point to crime, and Sam takes Jody's disappearance extremely hard. All at once, everything Sam thought she knew to be true seems wrong and she has lost her place in the world. But sometimes getting lost is the only way to really find oneself.

I appreciated the way Zarr told this story. She could have really been down on organized religion, or made Sam's struggles seem trite or too black-and-white. Zarr handled the subject with a dignity and accuracy, and I think a lot of teens who are learning to think about religion for themselves for the first time will really identify with Sam. There is also an element of suspense to this story that keeps the reader enticed. Once Was Lost will be published in October 2009.

Punkzilla-- Adam Rapp

Punkzilla is Jamie, a 14 year-old boy who lives the crustpunk, street kid life in Portland, OR. After his militant, homophobic father enrolls him in military school, small-for-his-age and androgynous looking Jamie runs away in hopes to find a better life for himself. He lives in abandoned warehouses in Portland with other kids, and writes letters to his gay and dying of cancer brother, Peter. Peter sends Jamie bus money, so he can come visit him in Tennessee before he dies. Most of this story is told through Jamie's unique letter writing style, as Jamie writes letters to Peter he never plans to send, describing his bus journey and what the life of a Punkzilla is like.

I have to say, this book was intriguing but a bit challenging to read. Adam Rapp really does a good job writing in Jamie's style. I truly felt like I was experiencing things through Jamie's perspective, and even though the lack of punctuation and made-up words were sometimes a stumbling block, they made the story richer. This isn't a feel-good story, and the content might be better suited for older teens, but its grittiness isn't over-the-top or inappropriate for the story Rapp was trying to tell. It's one of those books that will linger with you for a while, for better or worse.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Plague-- Joanne Dahme

So I feel two ways about the title of this book... on one hand I like that I know exactly what I am about to read (a book about the plague, obviously). On the other hand, there have been so many books written about the plague and I wanted something to entice me further.

Nonetheless, I read the book.

The Plague is overtaking England. Nell and her brother George have lost both of their parents but have somehow survived. While following the funeral cart down the road, the King spots Nell and realizes she is almost an exact double of his daughter, Princess Joan. But when Nell, George, and Joan travel to Spain where the Princess is slated to wed a Prince she has never met, something terrible happens. The Plague has somehow crossed overseas and killed Joan before she meets her future husband. In order to maintain the truce that was built through the engagement, Joan's brother, known only as The Black Prince, forces Nell into impersonating the princess and following through with the betrothal. But Nell is afraid for her life and for George, and tries to escape a destiny that wasn't hers in the first place.

I thought this book was just ok. I would recommend it to teens who like historical fiction, but it would be a hard sell to that teen who wanders in and wants you to find them A Good Book. The writing isn't exceptional and the characters are a slightly flat and sometimes annoying. There is a fantasy twist, which is what saves the book for me, but overall The Plague is just ok.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Along for the Ride-- Sarah Dessen

For those of you who have read this blog from the beginning, you will know that I really love Sarah Dessen... I read her personal blog too, and learned a bit about her process while writing Along for the Ride. While this isn't my favorite book she has ever written, I still quite enjoyed it.

Like all of Dessen's novels, the protagonist is a girl who is smart, witty, and complex. Studious to a fault, top-of-her-class Auden decides to experience life a little more fully by living on the coast with her deadbeat dad, his new wife and baby. Auden's never been a girly-girl. She never dated in high school, and was raised by a feminist mother who taught her that beauty is on the inside and that a smart woman is a powerful woman. When Auden meets Heidi, her dad's new trophy wife, she immediately judges her... but when night-owl Auden meets other girls her age who happen to be beautiful AND intelligent, she has to rethink her preconceived notions... oh, and of course, it wouldn't be a Dessen novel if there wasn't a beautifully imperfect boy around the corner.

So as usual, it's nearly impossible to sum up this Sarah Dessen novel without making it sound boring and cheesy. Her books are never totally straight-forward, which makes them a pleasure to read, but hard to summarize. Still, if you are a fan of well-written books that deal in relationships (romantic, familial, or platonic) this book is for you. It's also a good book to recommend to teens who like to read romance, but don't want mushy-gooshy or graphic sex in their novels.

Same Difference-- Siobhan Vivian

Poor little rich girl heads off to Art School and comes home an expert on that which is Real vs that which is Corporate.

But not exactly...

Same Difference is a simple and predictable novel, but an entertaining read none-the-less. Emily grew up in a subdivision of McMansions in a suburb of Philadelphia. Her best friend Meg lives across the street. Their favorite activities include going to Starbucks, hanging out by the pool, and looking for a boyfriend. But when Meg finds a boyfriend, suddenly Emily is the third wheel. She decides to take an summer Art intensive in the city, and there she meets wildchild Fiona and superhot professor's assistant Yates. Suddenly, her sheltered square-box life in Cherry Grove isn't so special, and Emily looks for ways to become her own unique person.

While the plot of this book was definitely not something new, I did enjoy it, and I think teen girls will too. I would recommend this book to teen girls who like books on finding one's place in the world, and reconstructing one's identity.