Thursday, December 22, 2011

Meggie Brooks

Meggie Brooks by Daphne Woods (Princeton, NJ: Heather Press, 2010).

Summary from Meggie Brooks is the gripping story of a girl growing up in a small rural township in New Jersey, living an almost idyllic life, enjoying the beauty of her country environment, spending time with her sometimes dysfunctional relatives, and uncovering a family mystery. But that is only one side of the story. Although she is an excellent student, Meggie finds out early on what happens when she confronts the politically correct agenda of the schools. A young Meggie is silenced and traumatized for attempting to speak her views about global warming—views she has developed after watching a video on the subject with her parents. After that incident, she becomes wary of speaking out on issues in the classroom, and it is years before she finds the inner strength to defend her own views. She ultimately does, however, even becoming a lawyer in order to defend religious freedom and free-speech rights, and in the end, it is a story of triumph. Meggie's search for truth in her family correlates with her search for truth in the world around her. A young girl's journey into adulthood, a poignant search for love, a family saga full of mystery and intrigue, and a passionate romance—this amazingly rich novel is all these and more.

Yikes!  I wish I had read this description instead of the one that the author sent me before I agreed to review this book, which is filled with horrendous ultraconservative, right-wing claptrap.  Meggie is a self-righteous, whining crybaby whose parents are litigious boors.  Their eagerness to sue the schools belies their contempt for the judiciary as being too liberal.  They get their views from such biased sources as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and don't bother considering other perspectives although they're quick to criticize all other media outlets as liberals who don't consider alternative views.  This is clearly a conundrum, but then so much of what Meggie spouts is.

The novel itself largely consists of lengthy and ill-informed diatribes thinly veiled as discussions among characters--emphasis on lengthy, for this novel tops out at over 500 dense, narrowly margined pages.  Meggie makes much of her Christian values, but her brand of Christianity is so hateful and vile, Christ Himself wouldn't recognize how twisted His words can become in the mouths of fundamentalist Evangelicals like Meggie who hate homosexuals and poor people. Meggie's frequent run-ins with teachers and other folks who happen to disagree with her are almost comical in their uniformly negative physical descriptions of her tormenters.  Liberals are all fat, ugly, frumpy, greasy and just plain unattractive; truly they are the great unwashed to Meggie. Further, Meggie's endless harping on the weight of other female characters (all of them, not just the liberals) amply illustrates her superficial and judgmental nature.

Meggie Brooks was billed to me as a YA novel, but the long tracts of dull political wrangling can hold little appeal to that audience.  The so-called romances are also mainly opportunities for Meggie to either condemn liberal perspectives or approve ultraconservative ones.  The SAT vocabulary seems highly overwrought  and makes the characters sound like pretentious prats. Reading this novel was truly a painful experience though it did illuminate for me precisely how Washington has ended up in such dire straits.
Not recommended for anything but the recycle bin.

The Loser List

The Loser List by H.N. Kowitt (NY: Scholastic Press, 2011).

Twelve-year-old Danny Shine has the usual problems of a geek in middle school, but he's OK with crushing on a cute girl, avoiding bullies, and hanging with his equally geeky best friend Jasper.  A run-in with tough girl Chantal lands Danny on the dreaded Loser List--written on the wall in the girls' bathroom.  His problems escalate when he tries to get his name off the list, and he finds himself in detention with scary guy Axl. But Axl turns out to be OK, or so Danny thinks until Axl implicates Danny in a shoplifting scam and alienates Jasper. Ah, but revenge is sweet, and Danny triumphs in the end, despite some public humiliation.

This is an excellent pick for the legions of Wimpy Kid fans. Danny's a self-deprecating guy who haplessly lands in a tough situation. He uses his geeky interest in comics and drawing to help himself--a great lesson for kids of all ages about being true to oneself.  The pictures are excellent--except Kowitt should take a look at a pair of whitie-tighties before she attempts to draw one again; there's a reason they're called Y-fronts. Recommended for ages 8 & up. 

The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (NY:  Razorbill, 2011).

Josh and Emma are best friends and neighbors; at least until six months ago when Josh almost acted on his more-than-Platonic feelings and things got awkward.  Emma is serial dating and Josh is still embarrassed, but he brings Emma the AOL CD-ROM he gets in the mail for her to load onto her new computer.  Dial-up is slow, but they get on the Internet and find...Facebook.  They've never heard of it because it's 1996, yet they quickly discern that they're looking at the future: their future--and everyone else's they care to look up.  That's weird enough, but then they notice that their future changes every time they log on, and they start to think about how the present ripples into the future at the same time as what they're seeing in the future is impacting their present lives.

This is such a wonderful premise, brimming with possibility, and Asher and Mackler do a great job of working with that potential.  The perspective switches off between Josh (Asher) and Emma (Mackler) but the transitions are seamless and there's no confusion. Seeing how Josh and Emma handle their new knowledge and ponder the ramifications of their actions--which they see played out in real time whenever they log in--makes the pages fly.  Highly recommended for ages 13 & up.  Sexual situations, alcohol.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Jinx

The Jinx by D. F. Lamont (2011). Self-published.  Review copy provided by the author.

Thirteen-year-old Stephen Grayson isn't sure what's going on, but he knows he's at fault somehow.  First he wrecks his brother's bike--spectacularly--on the first day of school, then there's the garage fire and a major explosion in science class, followed by a myriad of minor mishaps, and capped by a car crash.  And it's during the car accident that he connects the weird tingling in his hands and the subsequent disaster.  Once he's sure, he knows what he has to do--leave home.  Trouble follows him on the road, though, and soon he finds himself flung from a bus chasing down gigantic stone-like creatures and misshapen beasts, then kidnapped by some kind of neatnik cult.  The cult's leader explains that somehow Stephen has become the epicenter of a universal battle between the forces of chaos and order, and he must use his special powers to help the forces of order defeat chaos once and for all.  But Stephen's not so sure and when a rebel biker named Daedalus shows up to rescue him, he gladly goes along. Can Stephen and Daedalus come up with an alternate plan--and can it succeed?

The Jinx is quite short at 123 pages, but it packs a nice punch with lots of action and a fast-moving plot.  Stephen is a believable character vaulted into an unbelievable situation.  The creepy cult is actually quite hilarious (they're all albinos with helmet hair that doesn't move, no matter what, and they hate dirt!); Daedalus adds a lovely steampunk element with his goggles, leather gear, and penchant for mechanical devices. The explanation for Stephen's power as well as the whole chaos vs. order battle is a bit cryptic, but more or less plausible. Overall, a fast, fun read, recommended for ages 9 & up.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Scary School

Scary School by Derek the Ghost, illustrated by Scott M. Fischer (NY: Harper, 2011). Review copy provided by the author.

At the Scary School, humans and scary creatures mingle, and lots of the human kids die, though some return in a different guise, like dragons. Many of the teachers routinely eat or otherwise kill students, including Principal Headcrusher, but most notoriously Dr. Dragonbreath.  The narrator, Derek the Ghost, died in a horrendous laboratory fire, but returned as a ghost because he'd always wanted to write a book, and with the Ghoul Games competition against the monster schools ahead in the coming school year, there will be lots to write about. 

Kids are sure to find something funny in this humorous take on school jitters.  Sure, the other students can be mean at any school, but can they eat your brains or slash you to death?  And teachers can be frightening, but will any of them actually eat you, the way Mrs. T (a real T. rex!) does--if she's hungry--during a detention?  The plot stutters episodically as it focuses on different students and events that are only loosely connected, but it gradually leads up to the Ghoul Games, which threaten to destroy the school! Derek tends to tell rather than show and more detail, especially about himself, might have allowed the reader to feel more invested in the story.  He also regularly alludes to future books and events instead of allowing the story to unfold naturally.  The illustrations are excellent! Fine for ages 8 & up.