Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to Steal a Car-- Pete Hautman

Well, I guess I can say this book will be great for reluctant readers... but I didn't really like it much myself.

How to Steal a Car is about Kelleigh's foray into auto theft... sortof. For reasons not made clear to the reader, Kelleigh decides to rebel against her parents. First, she "steals" and returns her father's Lexus. Then so moves on to her neighbor's Caddy, etc. Finally she hooks up with drop out Markus and he decides to pay her to steal some nice cars out of a parking lot.

And that's basically the whole story.

Ok, sure, there are more plot details than I am describing, but so much is left out... and the stuff that's missing is what would make the novel compelling. The characters are flat, I can't find any motivation for rebellion or dissatisfaction, and the main character Kelleigh is sortof annoying... not a good combo.

Still, this book could be good for the reluctant reader, especially girls, and is a nice nongirly book for the most part.

Breathless-- Jessica Warman

I have to admit that I love this cover. Something about those underwater shots always grab me. Anyway, on to the book!

Katie's family wasn't always rich. They used to live in a cottage, hang out together, and be a "real family." But as her father started to make more money, he became more controlling... her mother in now an alcoholic, and her brother suffers from drug induced schizophrenia. When he tries to kill himself, Katie's father decides to ship her off to boarding school rather than deal with a family embarrassment... and her brother is shipped off to a mental institution.

Swimming has always been Katie's escape. When the captain of the swim team at her new school asks Katie what her best swimming stroke is, Katie shrugs and says all of them... and it's true. We follow Katie as she succeeds at swimming, but basically fails at the rest of her life. Compelling supporting characters, like her roommate Mazzie and her brother Will, really round out the story. I was tricked into thinking this was going to be another one of those rich girl boarding school books, but it's not... it goes deeper than that and teen readers will likely become engrossed in Katie's struggles.

I would recommend this to teen girls who like family dramas, boarding school books, stories that include lots of teen partying, and sports (swimming especially).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Andromeda Klein-- Frank Portman

Yes, I've finally done it.

I finally finished reading Andromeda Klein. So, I've kinda had a bad attitude about this book... I wanted it to grab me from the beginning (it didn't). I wanted it to be compelling (it wasn't). I wanted to like the protagonist (I did. YAY. Small victories.)

So, I read the first two hundred pages on breaks, on the elliptical machine, in line at the grocery, you know all those places where you need to distract yourself from reality a little bit. That wasn't the best way to read this book. Last week I needed to drive to a library branch that is over 2 hours away, each direction, so I listened to the book on CD. And that's when I really started to like it.

Andromeda Klein is a teenage occultist. NOT a wicker girl (wiccan) or a bacon (pagan). She works at the the international house of bookcakes (library), sneaks her dead BFF's little brother bagel worm agony (girly mags) in exchange for some of her weegie (spooky and magical) possessions. After some consumption of christmas trees (gin martinis), she meets a boy who's an emogeekian (emo occultist) and at the urging of Huggy, (her holy gaurdien angel otherwise known as alterverse AK) Andromeda agrees to take Byron the emogeekian on as a neophyte as long as he helps her save the library books from the sylvester mouse list (aka extra hours weeding list).


So you can see why this book was a struggle at first. It's told from Andromeda's perspective, so you have to really get used to her special lexicon in order to understand what the heck she's talking about at all. Also, there are hundreds of pages of Andromeda's perspective on all things occult. As a person who has a decent amount of knowledge on such topics, even I was pretty floored by the sheer mass of it all. Still, there was something charmingly compelling about this book, and no matter how much I wanted to toss it out the window, I just kept coming back to it. And, when listening to the audio, the lexicon isn't as much of a struggle and the funny party came shining through. So yay! I've officially read all of the Mock Printz books for this year!

I would recommend this book to... um...well... that precocious teen who won't stray from the 133s who is obsessed with all things occult and doesn't mind dense reading. I'm sure there's one or two out there, right?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Destroy All Cars-- Blake Nelson

Anyone looking for a slightly humorous and slightly delusional alternaboy saving the world book? Cuz I've got one for you...

James hates cars. He hates consumers. James cuts holes in his sweaters and puts duct tape on his converse so his stuff doesn't look new. He hates food drives and petitions and every other do-gooder activity that is wussy. He likes action! He thinks we should destroy all cars! But he's not quite sure how to get to school without one...

Destroy All Cars is basically the story of an impassioned high schooler who has great vision for change, but is too lazy for action. He is still in love with his ex, Sadie, who is just the opposite. She might not rage about gas guzzling SUVs, but she does organize food drives, groups to fight the paving of wetlands, and volunteers at local shelters. She can't understand why James won't get in on the action too... and so he does, but only to try to win her back.

Personally, I got annoyed with James. He is such a poser! I know that's kindof Blake Nelson's point and all, but I almost felt like he was making fun of teenagers in a subtle tongue-in-cheek way. I am very curious to see how well teens like this book and if they feel teased. Has anyone else read this yet?

I would recommend this book to boys (and girls, but boys especially) who enjoyed The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian or Teen Inc by Stefan Petrucha.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hold Still-- Nina LaCour

Caitlin and Ingrid were BFFs. They did everything together and really had no need for anyone else in their lives. But then Ingrid committed suicide, leaving Caitlin alone, confused, and rebellious.

Ingrid leaves behind a journal just for Caitlin, and slowly but surely Caitlin reads it and learns a little bit about Ingrid's motivation. Caitlin needs to learn how to live again, how to make friends, and how to let people in.

Honestly, there is nothing truly innovative here. I just didn't quite feel Caitlin was authentic, and even though we get glimpses of Ingrid through her journal entries, she doesn't feel real enough to spark such a depression in Caitlin. A side character, Dylan, is a bit of a bright spot in this tale, but even she isn't really a unique character either... Dylan is a lesbian who is portrayed not stereotypically but just typically...

Still, there are girls out there who are always looking for the next tearjerker. This one might fit the bill. I would recommend this to girls who liked the BFF suicide part of Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why, Black Box by Julie Schumacher, You Know Where to Find Me by Rachel Cohn, or Stay with Me by Garret Freymann-Weyr.

Hate List-- Jennifer Brown

Valerie loved her boyfriend Nick. He was not your typical high school guy... he was on the fringes, he was interesting, creative, and defended her from the bullies at school. He was her best friend. Was. Nick committed suicide, but only after he brought a gun to school, shot his classmates and teacher, and even shot Valerie in the leg as she tried to stop him.

When we meet Valerie, she is dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. She is completely overwhelmed with guilt and sadness from the incident. She misses her boyfriend of 3 years and can't figure out how she never knew he was capable of murder-suicide. She is totally ostracized at school even though she was also a victim. But worst of all she is full of guilt about the Hate List.

You see, when something bad would happen to Valerie, like her parents fighting or getting ridiculed at school, she would add a name to the hate list. For Valerie, it was a way to escape and displace her anger, but for Nick, it was a concise list of who deserved to be punished.

What makes this book different than other "school shooting" type books is Valerie's perspective. I felt this story gave a more well-rounded view of how and why something like this can happen without parents and friends picking up the clues. I would recommend this book to fans of Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun, Hopkins' Burned, or Endgame by Nancy Garden.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Love is the Higher Law- David Levithan

Love is the Higher Law takes place in New York City on September 11, 2001. This story is the tale of three teens, Claire, Peter, and Jasper, and their experiences with the biggest attack on the USA that most American youth have lived through.

Their story overlaps, though not too strongly until about halfway through the book. Just like many New Yorkers, Clarie, Peter, and Jasper are affected by the attacks on the twin towers differently, but strongly, and even months later are feeling the affects of the tragedy.

Honestly, I struggle with Davie Levithan. He has moments of brilliance (one or two of his short stories in How They Met) but mostly his books are a bit meh. Still, this is a really great short book for teens who want to read 9/11 fiction, teens who feel connected with NYC, or those who want a book with gay characters in it.

Fire-Kristin Cashore

So I have been waiting to read this book since December of 2009, which is when I read Cashore's first book, Graceling. I literally read this book cover to cover. Full disclosure: I was home sick this weekend with a headcold, so I also read three other books cover to cover, but this one was worth the time investment!

Fire is a monster, a beautiful and compelling monster. In Fire's world both animal and human monsters exist, and both species are extraordinarily colorful (think bright blue tigers), heartbreakingly gorgeous, and posses a compulsion that makes everyone instantly desire them. Fire got her name because her hair looks like dancing flames. The novel is told from her perspective. And, just like in Graceling, the female protagonist is strong and powerful. But, unlike Katsa (from Graceling) who is a physically strong and valiant fighter, Fire possesses an intense mental fortitude and prowess.

This book contains all the elements of a really great fantasy novel: unusual land and creatures that aren't toooo strange, strong heroes and heroines, espionage, royalty, warfare, and love. But what sets it apart is Cashore's ability to write a character who is so heartwrenching, you feel like you know her personally.

Fire is a companion novel to Graceling, and it can fully exist on it's own. But do yourself a favor: read them both. Both books will appeal to fans of Tamora Pierce's Alanna books, Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series, or fans of fantasy fiction in general.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

When You Reach Me-- Rebecca Stead

Fans of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time: this book is for you. It's also for those of us who want a charming story with a slight mystery and a touch of fantasy.

Miranda lives in New York City in 1979. Her mother is a hippy turned almost-lawyer and they live in an apartment building in a safe-ish neighborhood. Each day on the way home from school, Miranda passes the Laughing Man, a homeless guy who is harmless but crazy. When her best friend Sal ditches her, Miranda must look for other friends besides Charlie, Meg, and the other characters in A Wrinkle in Time. This story is told from Miranda's perspective, and because of this, we view her world through L'Engle tinted glasses... but it's subtle and even if you aren't a fan of the book (or read it so long ago you can't remember anything about it, like me), you will still be engaged by Miranda's story. When You Reach me is a touching tale of what life used to be like, of middle school, and of friendship.

Readers of this blog will know that I don't often read this sort of book... but I'm glad I did. After all of the angsty stuff I fill my brain with, this book was a well-written and welcomed break. It's definitely for the younger end of YA... in fact my library has this book cataloged as J. Fans of Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars will enjoy this book.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jumping off Swings-- Jo Knowles

Ellie is the girl that boys talk about in locker rooms. She's pretty but not gorgeous, she's approachable, and she's-- ahem-- generous with her time and body. But what they don't know is that she's immensely vulnerable and is looking for that intimate connection that will make her feel loved... and she's just sure that the next guy will be the one to give that to her.

Josh is an embarrassed virgin who can't take locker room teasing any longer. He sees a chance to shrug off the V-word forever and has an humiliatingly short encounter with Ellie in the back of his parent's van at a party. He runs away with shame, leaving Ellie to deal with the aftermath...only the aftermath is worse than just tears or a mess. This one night stand leaves Ellie pregnant and totally emotionally destroyed.

I know that teen pregnancy has become something of a trend, but this book treats this subject more honestly than some. It's told from four perspectives: Ellie, Josh, and their two friends Corrine and Caleb. This book shows how a simple decision doesn't just affect one person, and how no one's life is as perfect as it seems.

I would recommend this book to teens who liked the teen pregnancy aspects of I Know It's Over (K.C. Kelly Martin), Impossible (Nancy Werlin), and Someone Like You (Sarah Dessen).