Friday, October 30, 2009

Crazy Teen

Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern (2007)

Anna Bloom is depressed, overweight, and probably suicidal, so her parents take her to a mental institution. That sounds like a pretty grim starting point for a teen novel, but Get Well Soon flies on Anna's honest quirkiness and funny descriptions of Lake Shit, as the she and her fellow inmates call this "freak hole" loony bin where they've all landed. It's a long way from her suburban home, yet she makes friends, learns about herself, and even gets her first kiss.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Paulsen!

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen (2009)

I don't enjoy survival-in-nasty-outdoor-condition books at all, so Gary Paulsen is not an author I select regularly. A couple of years ago, however, I laughed my way through Paulsen's The Amazing Life of Birds: The Twenty-Day Puberty Journal of Duane Homer Leech, so when I saw Notes from the Dog, I decided to give it a try. The protagonist, 14-year-old Finn, has big plans for the summer--avoiding people and reading a pile of books. He's willing to make a few exceptions: his dad, his friend Matthew who's living with him this summer, and his dog Dylan; overall, though, he's an awkward introvert. His new neighbor, twenty-something Johanna, sets him on a whole new course. She's undergoing treatment for breast cancer and soon has Finn creating a garden for her in his backyard, raising money for breast cancer research, and--shockingly--talking to more people than he ever thought possible--even girls.

This novel is an amazing, and short, trip down a very emotional road. I laughed and cried but did not feel manipulated. Paulsen is a wonderful writer who deftly handles difficult topics and leaves the reader feeling touched and thoughtful. Highly recommended for grades 6-9.

Slept Away

Slept Away by Julie Kraut (2009)

What happens when a Park Avenue teen gets shipped to summer camp in Pennsylvania? Lots of funny stuff! Laney Parker has some major adjustments to make: no cell phone, no diet coke, no internet, no friends. Things look pretty bleak until she finds a kindred spirit and regains her sense of humor. No language, sex, violence.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dead Girl #1

Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (2008)

Seventeen-year-old Amber Borden is a little upset that her plans to make a social splash didn't quite turn out as she envisioned, but she knows she'll get over her disappointment when she receives the scholarship offer of her dreams--right before getting hit my the mail truck that delivers it. Who knew that taking the wrong turn in the afterlife would leave her in the body of the most popular girl in school? She's dealing with a whole new level of problems now, not least of which is: how can she get back her body--and her life? This is a fun paranormal adventure with a spunky, good-hearted heroine. No language or violence; some mild sexual situations.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fun New Series by Van Draanen!

The Gecko and Sticky: Villain's Lair
by Wendelin Van Draanen (2009)

Shredderman made me pick up this volume; it's first book in Wendelin Van Draanen's new series about a talking gecko named Sticky ( he's got sticky fingers, as in, he likes to steal things...) because, yeah, fiction featuring talking animals doesn't usually appeal to me. At all. I made an exception because I love Shredderman and all of Van Draanen's other titles--like the Sammy Keyes mysteries, Flipped, and Runaway--and I'm so glad I did because this series is great. Elementary-aged kids will love the fast-pace, silly rhymes, and goofy situations that our hapless hero, thirteen-year-old Dave Sanchez, finds himself in as he first befriends and then helps Sticky retrieve some powerful gold coins from the evil villain, Damien Black. This would make a great readaloud for the elementary set--grades 2 through 4 or 5 most likely.

The Gecko and Sticky: The Greatest Power, the second book in the series, extends the fun as Damien Black continues to menace our heroes. This time Damien Black, while still seeking to get the powerful coins away from Dave, robs a bank. Dave happens to be present, sees what happens, and decides to get the money back for the bank, which happens to employ him. Kids will enjoy reading as Dave and Sticky develop a partnership and Dave shows the value of friendship.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vast Fields of Ordinary

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd (2009)

This is a "more" novel. It's more than gay fiction, more than first love, more than coming out, more than coming-of-age, although it has all of these elements. Burd writes beautifully, the novel's many layers coalesce well, and the main character, Dade Hamilton is achingly real. It's his last summer before college, he has a crap job at a grocery store, his parents' marriage is falling apart, and the guy he's been fooling around with barely acknowledges the relationship. He's existed on the fringes for a long time, but this last summer he seems to be drawn to want more. He's also oddly aware of the case of a missing nine-year-old autistic girl who seems to be appearing in odd places, including Dade's own backyard. Stepping outside his comfort zone with the help of some new friends, Dade learns a lot before he even gets to college.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teen Memoir

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

I enjoyed Zevin's first novel, Elsewhere, quite a bit because I thought she did a nice job exploring the afterlife. In Memoirs, she again imagines a fanciful, though appealing, scenario: what if you banged your head and couldn't remember who you were. That's what happens to the protagonist, Naomi Porter. She's at the beginning of her junior year, doing some early extracurricular yearbook work with her best friend Will, when she tumbles down the school's front steps, knocks her noggin and can only remember her life up to about seventh grade. Interestingly, she can remember math and science, but not French! Even more interesting are the insights she gains into herself as she discovers--and questions--her previous self's thoughts and actions. I think this is what makes the novel so fascinating and what will most engage teen readers. Highly recommended for grades 7 and up. Sexual situations, language.

Genre: Inspirational fiction

Breathless by Lurlene McDaniel (2009)

I selected this title randomly off the new fiction shelf at the library because I recognized McDaniel's name from all my volunteer shelving at the middle school and knew she was prolific. I did not know what kind of fiction she wrote, at all. Turns out it's classified as "inspirational" fiction for teens.

This novel tackles the theme of euthanasia as one of the main characters, Cooper, has to decide whether or not to help his best friend, Travis, end his cancer-shortened life. McDaniel does not trivialize the topic or make it a black and white issue. Nor does she develop the characters to any great extent. The novel is short and to the point. It seems to be meant to generate discussion about a topic rather than engage the reader in a riveting situation (that would be Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper, for instance) .

Monday, October 12, 2009

Still Wimpy

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney (2009)

Jeff Kinney scores another hit with this fourth installment in his Wimpy Kid series. Greg Heffley plans a summer vacation of indoor sloth after he and his friend Rowley charge up 83 dollars worth of fruit smoothies at the country club pool and Greg is no longer invited there. Greg does not want to return to the town pool because of the specter that greets him en route to the pool in the locker room--hairy old guys showering. What could be worse? Actually having to enter the shower area to retrieve his little brother Manny when HE wanders into the shower--after first confusing the urinals for sinks! Greg finds solace in some odd places--like the gossipy ladies at the beauty shop--but he steers clear of Fregley, the odd kid with "hygiene issues." Other disasters await Greg, with lots of laughs for us!

Good news, Wimpy fans: there's going to be a fifth book!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another for Austen Fans

Me & Mr. Darcy by Alexandra Potter (2007)

After too many disappointing first dates, Emily Albright has decided to give up on men and stay home with her favorite book, Pride & Prejudice, permanently. She loves her job managing an independent bookstore in NYC and really does not need a man. Her best friend Stella argues that she should try a fun holiday get away in Mexico, and even books the tickets, but Emily insists that she's got other plans, and happens to pick up a brochure for a literature tour in England the same week. And then impulsively books the tour. Where she meets Mr. Darcy in the flesh. Yum.

This is a fun read full of parallels between Emily's life and the plot line of her favorite novel. It's all pretty obvious, and eventually Emily sees it, too. Nonetheless, Austen fans will love reading this one. Adults only!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Not Wimpy--Just Funny!

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell (2009)

Nikki Maxwell believes her mother is brain dead, and she has proof: she asked for an iPhone and got--a dorky diary! Sure, she's a great artist, but she wants a social life, not a pity party with blank book. Her family has just moved to a new town and she's starting at a fancy new school, courtesy of a scholarship granted to her because her father has been hired as the school's exterminator. Yup, his business van, complete with large black roach flopped on the roof, will make regular visits to her new school. Argh.

It just gets worse for Nikki--her locker is right next that of the queen of the CCP--Cute, Cool, & Popular--clique, Mackenzie, who is probably the meanest girl in the history of queen bee meanies. Nikki would love to respond to some of Mackenzie's nasty jibes and cruel comments about other people, but she's way too shy, so she says them all in her head. And in her diary, of course! Nikki brilliantly illustrates her many humiliating foibles--and her eventual triumphs. This is a fun and hilarious book for all the fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid who need a few more laughs about the drama that is tween and teen life. Recommended for grades 3 and up.

Not so Peachy

Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson (2005)

With a cover blurb of promising "a sweet and delicious read" from Ann Brashares, Peaches sounded like a perfect bite of fun. Unfortunately, it wasn't. I slogged through it, hoping it would get better, but it just did not. The slow start proceeded through to a slow middle, at which point the novel did improve, but not enough to redeem it.

The problem, I think, is that Anderson chose an omniscient third person narration style rather than focusing on one of her three protagonists' points of view. Birdie would have worked well; she's the sweet, shy, awkward girl whose father owns the nearly failing peach orchard. Instead, the novel bops between Birdie and two other girls, as they eventually develop a close friendship. Anderson tells more than shows, so even that friendship seems somewhat less-than-authentic. But that's just my opinion, and others may find the novel's plot more enthralling than I did.