Monday, May 24, 2010

The Secret Year-- Jennifer Hubbard

Colt and Julia had a torrid, clandestine romance, and somehow nobody knew about it. She was a rich countryclub girl from Black Mountain and he is a poor boy with an alcoholic father who lives in the flats. Although they would see each other in the halls at school, their two worlds were so separate, they never communicated beyond anonymous notes in lockers dictating meeting times and locations.

On Memorial Day weekend,Julia got ragingly, disastrously drunk. This shocked her friends immensely as her boyfriend Austen was a binge drinker and Julia hated it. She got a ride home from her friend Pam, who accidentally ran into a pole... Pam totaled her car, broke her arm, and killed her best friend Julia. Julia wasn't wearing her seat belt because she kept leaning her head out of the car window to vomit. Nobody can figure out why Julia would be drinking, why her car was in the shot causing her to rely on Pam, and why she was fighting with Austin.

But Colt knew. Colt knew that she was thinking about breaking up with Austin, and maybe she needed the alcohol for courage. Colt's entire world was rocked off it's axis with Julia's death. Not only has he lost the girl he's been with for over a year, his entire mourning process has to happen in private. No one would ever believe a girl like Julia would ever be with him... or would they? Maybe their secret wasn't as protected as they thought...

Overall, I would say this was a pretty good book. It was not exceptionally well-written, but it had a nice flow. It was fast paced in a way that really appeals to teens, and though the character development wasn't exceptional, it was good enough to make the reader feel attached to Colt's plight. I think teens who liked 13 Reasons Why, The Sky Always Hears Me, and Hold Still will like this book.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Line-- Teri Hall

In the future, the government controls everything you do. War is commonplace, and to protect citizens from death and destruction, the government has created an invisible barrier that surrounds the entire country.

Rachel and her mother live on The Property, which is far removed from the over-packed cities that are run by a tyrannical and oppressive government. Though Rachel has no idea why they must live so separately, she does know that her mother is extraordinarily protective of her. When Rachel accidentally breaks a window in a green house on The Property, her mother panics and fears they will be sent back to the city to live. Luckily Rachel is able to work off her fees by helping The Property owner, Ms. Moore.

Meanwhile, communication comes from over The Line... The Line separates them from The Others, people who were trapped on the other side when the government turned on the barriers. All Rachel knows is that someone needs her help. But when Ms. Moore finds out what Rachel is up to, her reaction is beyond shocking.

I think this post apocalyptic book will appeal to some, but it wasn't up my alley. I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters, and the writing felt pretty amateur. Also, I felt the author sprung a few too many coincidences on the reader to be truly authentic. My biggest beef with this book, though, is that it's the first in a series AGAIN. It feels like every book published now is the first in a series, and nothing has a strong ending. My plea to series writers: PLEASE reward your readers with a good, solid, satisfying ending even if you have a few more to write on the subject.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors-- Francisco X. Stork

The last thing Pancho's father said to him was to take care of his sister Rosa... and Pancho, 17 and now an orphan, feels like he's failed him. When his mentally handicapped sister Rosa is found dead in a hotel room and the police dismiss the case as an accident, Pancho is out of his head with guilt and anger. Finding her killer is the only thing that matters to Pancho, until the state officials remove him from his trailer and take him to a priest run home for boys.

The priest in charge introduces Pancho to D.Q, who is dying from a rare form of cancer. Although Pancho tenaciously clings to his revenge plot, being a companion for D.Q. subtly alters his perspective on life and living. D.Q. strives become a Death Warrior, someone who lives intentionally and sucks the marrow out of life. He is writing a manifesto, and teaching key points to Pancho. But when the time comes, will Pancho focus on the beauty of life and living, or will revenge and death guide his hand?

This is a subtly written book, and the friendship between Pancho and D.Q. is endearing. Stork doesn't hurry to make a point, but neither does the prose meander. Class and racial issues are examined in a way that lets the reader maker her/his own decision about right and wrong. One of Stork's strengths in general is that he shows rather than tells. I would recommend this to boys and girls who want a book about friendship, books with Mexican-American characters, and to teens who like serious books with bits of humor here and there.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Half World-- Hiromi Goto and Jillian Tamaki

In our universe, there are three realms: there is the realm of flesh, the realm of spirit, and half world. Over the course of time, the three realms have functioned as a piece of the whole, until a rift is formed and half world becomes a grotesque purgatory where twisted creatures lose their humanity and are stuck repeating torturous acts again and again... think Sisyphus from Greek mythology rolling the rock up the hill for all of eternity. One day there is a prophecy: a child of flesh will be impossibly conceived in half world, and will escape, only to return and reestablish balance and order to the realms, thus freeing the trapped souls in half world.

Melanie is an unlikely hero. She's dimwitted, overweight, and woe-begotten. When her mother disappears, she turns to the only friend she's ever had: the old shopkeeper Ms. Wei. With the help of Ms. Wei, a rat, and a murder of crows, Melanie finds her way into half world. Her intention is to save her mother, but in the process she develops more fully into an individual and learns selfless compassion.

Overall, I really enjoyed this creepy/strange book. I am not well-versed in Japanese mythology, so I am curious to know if half world is a creation of Goto or if it's a traditional tale retold. Either way, I am sure this book will be a hit with teens. Although the protagonist is female, there are many elements to this story that will be enticing to boys, and manga and mythology fans will probably like this book. I found it to be well-written, maybe a bit overdramatic in some places but the plot allows for the drama. Jillian Tamaki (illustrator of the awesome graphic novel Skim) adds to the story with her uniquely styles illustrations.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Incarceron-- Catherine Fisher

There's been a tremendous buzz about this book on all the YA lit message boards. Heck, the publisher sent my library district a total of FIVE advanced reader's copies, and they were handing them out like candy at a recent library conference. Did it live up to the hype? Honestly, not for me, but I would be very interested in hearing what you thought of it, and I really think teens will like it.

Incarceron is a mysterious world full of dark thoughts, half mechanical animals and people, and criminals who rule. It's a prison, and an experiment that went terribly wrong. Finn can remember nothing but Incarceron, but has a tiny tattoo that leads him to believe he was once a part of a world on the outside. At this point life outside of Incarceron is just a myth that most people don't believe in, and even though prophets have told tales of escaping, actually leaving seems impossible... until one day an artifact appears that allows Finn to connect with a woman, Claudia, who seems to be on the outside.

Claudia is trapped in a political intrigue and is set to marry a jerk of a prince at any moment. Her father is the warden of Incarceron, which no one has actually seen, or knows of it's location. When her tutor finds a way for Claudia to communicate with someone on the inside, she finally finds a way to escape her fate.

This book will appeal to teens who enjoy books like Hunger Games or The Maze Runner... but in my opinion, both of those books are superior to this one. It just didn't grab me the way Hunger Games did, and it felt a bit heavy-handed to me. Also, it's going to be a series, and to me it seemed like a story that should have been told all in one book.

The Sky is Everywhere-- Jandy Nelson

So one million years ago when I was a teenager, my mom used to tease me because I loved to read "dying books". There was nothing I liked more than grabbing a fresh box of kleenex and crying my eyes out to an incredibly sad book where inevitably, someone important dies.

The Sky is Everywhere is not your generic ya weepie tome. In fact, our protagonist is pretty darn tough. What I loved the most about this book was how honest it was, even when sugar-coating the grieving process is less than savory.

Lennie's older sister Bailey was her best friend... they became understandably close when their mother abandoned them and left them to be raised by their grandmother. When Bailey died suddenly from an arrhythmia, Lennie found herself in the sunlight all alone... a place she (the shy band geek type) has never wanted to be. Lennie's grieving process leads her to a closeness with Bailey's fiance, and although Lennie has a strong, positive relationship with another guy, she can't avoid the electric connection she feels to Bailey's fiance. Throughout the book, snippets of Bailey's poems are scattered, and music is also a strong theme. And though it will strongly appeal to girls who like sad but compelling books with romance, I do feel this book will have a broader appeal. I just wish the cover was better...