31 May 2011
Dunkle, Clare. The Sky Inside. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Martin's sister Cassie is part of the Exponential Generation, or Wonder Babies. Genetically engineered to be super intelligent, the Wonder Babies are declared a mistake and the government chooses to recall them. Martin can't stand the thought of losing his sister, so he sets out beyond his community to find the special school to which his sister has been taken. Will he be able to locate her before it's too late?
This is a typical "alternate society" story, rather similar to Lois Lowry's The Giver, with a highly structured society that has opted for fewer freedoms in exchange for greater security. Martin, like Jonas, chooses to leave his society behind to explore the freedom of the outside world.
I enjoyed this story. It was on unusual take on the alternate society story, but nonetheless it was very interesting and kept me reading. I would easily read other books by this same author.
30 May 2011
Lecesne, James. Absolute Brightness. New York: Harper Teen, 2009.
When Phoebe learns that her cousin Leonard is going to move in with her family, she is less than thrilled. When Leonard arrives and Phoebe discovers that Leonard is what some psychologists have called "pre-gay" (exhibiting all the signs of being gay without admitting to it), she is horrified. Leonard soon makes friends with Phoebe's mother's clients at her hair salon, transforming the way they look so that they feel beautiful. At school, however, Leonard is picked on. He is an outcast everywhere, except in drama club, where he is picked for the role of the fairy in the upcoming Shakespeare play.
Then one day Leonard disappears. The police search for weeks, and when they do discover a lead, it creates more complications than Phoebe and her family can handle. Soon Phoebe is dealing with conflicting desires of revenge and mercy, and she finds that she misses Leonard more than she thought possible.
Once I started reading this book, I wasn't sure that I was going to like it. A book that is so obviously pro-gay isn't something I generally pick up. But I will admit that I liked the fact that Leonard decided to be himself, whatever "himself" really was, no matter what his classmates thought of him. And I was really pleased with Phoebe's choices toward the end of the story as she battles a decision far beyond her years. I thought it took guts on the author's part to argue both for the rights of gay teens and against the death penalty. This was an intriguing book, and it forced me to think about things from a different perspective.
29 May 2011
Garfinkle, D. L. Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl. New York: GP Putnam and Sons, 2005.
Michael has been called Storky for as long as he can remember. He has also been friends with Gina for as long as he can remember, and he keeps hoping the friendship will develop into something more. When he starts high school and attempts to lose his nickname and win his girl's heart, he discovers that his two goals are more difficult to reach than he initially imagined.
Let me say at the outset that there are many things about this book that I like. I love that Michael plays Scrabble in his spare time. I think his volunteer visits to the nursing home, where he develops a friendship with one of the residents, are really neat. I love that he learns to stand up for himself and that he finally realizes that the idea "No doubt the problem is with you" is not always true. All of that is great, and large portions of this book are hilarious and entertaining. However, this is a book written from the perspective of a teenage boy, and as such, it contains some crude language and discussions of topics that I just don't think needed to be in the story at all. Because of that, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend this particular book. Read it if you will, but read with caution.
28 May 2011
Halpern, Julie. Get Well Soon. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2007.
Anna, normally a straight-A student, has lost interest in school. Her parents haven't been able to cure her depression on their own, so they pack her up in the car and drop her off at a mental institution. Anna spends three long weeks locked up in the loony bin, where she meets a roommate who has a plastic baby, a boy who thinks he's the servant of the Dark Lord, and a boy who will likely live out his days in that same institution. So what really makes a person crazy, and does locking up all the crazy people together help them to become less crazy? Anna's not sure.
I'll admit it: I checked out this book entirely because of the cover. Well, I did read the synopsis, too, but I started with the cover. This book was entertaining and fun and definitely different from other books that I have been reading.
26 May 2011
Efaw, Amy. After. New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Is it possible that an athletic, responsible, straight-A student could be pregnant without knowing she was pregnant? The police visit Devon's home one day as they are canvassing her neighborhood, looking for information about a baby that had been found, alive, in a trash can behind Devon's apartment complex. Devon's mother assures the officers that Devon is staying home from school due to illness, a very unusual situation for Devon. But when the officers question Devon and she nearly passes out, they discover the secret no one could have imagined: Devon is the mother of the Dumpster baby. Devon is sent to the hospital and then the juvenile detention center while the adults in her life try to determine whether this was a premeditated murder or just a scared teen's reaction to the impossible.
This story also fits into the category of "books about girls who don't want to be like their mother." I was intrigued by Devon's story, especially as it is told from her point of view, and I was very interested to watch the court proceedings and the ways that the professionals were able to explain how Devon could have been in denial about her pregnancy and how the people around her shared that denial with her for nine months. I applauded Devon's decisions toward the end of the novel as she decided to accept responsibility for her actions. This was an excellently written story and definitely worth reading.
25 May 2011
Hale, Marian. The Goodbye Season. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009.
One of the most common story lines in teen literature involves a child with special powers, especially if that child is an orphan or a "practical orphan." Another popular theme involves trying to be different from ones parents, especially a daughter trying to be different from her mother.
Mercy Kaplan dreams of having a different life, a better life, than her mother has. She does not want to be trapped at home, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies her whole life. There aren't many other options open to her, though, and her family's extreme poverty soon drives all plans of escape out of her head. She is sent to live as a servant for a neighboring family, but while she is gone the influenza epidemic rages through her town, killing her entire family and the family she is serving. Mercy tries to find another place to work, but tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. When she gets tangled in another family's generational drama, she has to choose: will she stay and relive her mother's life, or will she do something different, just because she's always wanted to be different?
I liked most of this story. The plot actually kept me reading, even if I was able to predict what would happen. I appreciated that Mercy realized toward the end of the novel that her mother was not miserable in her choice to be a homemaker. Mercy's mom enjoyed staying home and raising Mercy and her siblings. However, I was very disappointed in Mercy's decision at the end of the novel. I was rooting for her to choose otherwise. Nonetheless, this was a good book and definitely worth the read.
24 May 2011
Kingsbury, Karen. Leaving. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
After reading Kingsbury's story Unlocked, I was excited to find another of her novels. This novel is also part of her Forever in Fiction program, where people can memorialize friends or family as characters in a Kingsbury novel. The beginning of this book excited me: there were several mentions of the novel Unlocked, so I was hoping for a similar story.
I was, unfortunately, disappointed. This story is not anything like Unlocked. Leaving reads much more like a Christian romance novel. In lieu of a discernible plot, the author has chosen to focus on the feelings and relationships of the characters, especially the dating lives of the protagonists. I kept hoping for zombies to pop around the corner or for aliens to land in the backyard, but the biggest conflict in the story came from the "I like him, but I'm not sure if he likes me, and I kind of like this other guy, too" type of story line. Definitely not up my alley.
I have never been one to stomach drippy romance novels. If you enjoy the Christian romance genre, or you just want to read a modern-day fairy tale free of profanity or other objectionable elements, you are more than welcome to have my copy of Leaving. Otherwise, I will be leaving it in the donation box at the library.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel for the purposes of review.
21 May 2011
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Leaving Fishers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Dorry has just moved to Indianapolis from a small town in Ohio. She is new at school and hasn't found a group to hang out with yet. When she is invited to eat with some classmates at lunch one day, she is so excited to finally be accepted and wanted. Later, she finds out that these classmates are all part of a religious group called the Fishers. She attends a few Fisher events and is so excited to discover love, acceptance, and happiness. She accepts the Fishers' message of faith without hesitation and plunges into their work with enthusiasm.
However, Dorry soon finds that this group is requiring more and more commitment from her, from getting up early to pray for two hours each morning to giving all of her college savings to the group. Any resistance on her part is explained away as her sin or her possible lack of salvation. Dorry is beginning to doubt the decision she has made, but it is too late to walk away from the group?
This book was an interesting read for me. I could see many parallels between the actions of the Fishers and a group I used to be associated with, and I could understand Dorry's confusions and the frustrations of her family members as they watched her sink deeper and deeper into this cult. I am glad that she decided to leave in the end, and that she was able to begin her process of healing.
20 May 2011
Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey. New York: Simon Pulse, 1996.
Mrs. Dunphrey is Tish's new English teacher, and she has assigned journal entries to Tish and her classmates. The students are allowed to mark the entries as "don't read" if they do not want Mrs. Dunphrey to read them. Tish opens up in her journal, pouring out her frustrations at working at a fast-food place to earn enough money to care for herself, her younger brother, and her mother. She describes her horror at discovering that her deadbeat father has returned and is back to screaming at her mother. She is terrified when she discovers that her father has left and her mother has left to search for him. Now she is sixteen and trying to run a household, care for her brother, and survive high school. Tish's world is spinning out of control, but she's not sure who to trust. Can she let Mrs. Dunphrey in on her secrets?
As a former English teacher, I really enjoyed this story. I have assigned journal writing to my students before, and I can imagine being the teacher who is seeing so many "don't read" entries in Tish's journal. I have also been in Tish's place - overwhelmed with responsibilities beyond my years and maturity and bursting with desire to get some help yet afraid to trust those around me. I was proud of the teacher for not reading the entries until she was given permission and then taking the appropriate actions to make sure that Tish and her brother were taken care of. I was even prouder of Tish for seeking the help she and her brother so desperately needed. This book is a quick read and a good one; every teacher ought to stop by the library and check it out. Chances are you have a Tish in your classroom, too.
18 May 2011
Warner, Judith. We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. New York: Penguin Group, 2010.
I picked up this book thinking, "Wow, a book about how these crazy helicopter parents and frazzled teachers are over-medicating kids for things that should be normal, like the 7th grade boy who can't sit still and people think he needs Ritalin. Great." That's exactly what the author was expecting to write about as well - parents who choose to medicate their children instead of disciplining them or who medicate to create designer lives for children who absolutely must get into the best schools. In essence, giving medication to kids who don't really need it.
What she found, however, was a disconnect between reality and the hearsay that has propagated the idea that "all kids are on medication." They aren't. Warner discusses the idea that most kids actually aren't on medication, that more kids are on medication now than in the past because more diagnoses are available for children and more medications have been made safe for them, and she illustrates her points with stories of parents who have tried everything for their kids and are only medicating them as a last resort. Not only that, but there are still scores of children who may need medication and aren't getting it, simply because their parents don't have the resources or the patience to fight against a system that assumes low-income children misbehave or receive low grades because they are just "bad."
This was an interesting book that forced me to look at this topic from a different viewpoint. It also drove home the point that a few news headlines or stories on the internet can rapidly change public opinion, even if those stories don't represent the status quo.
17 May 2011
Johnson, Marilyn. This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.
I was intrigued by the title and the subject matter of this book, but what really grabbed my attention was the cover. A superhero librarian in a cape is blasting out of a pile of books. I like books, I'm going to be studying library science in just a few months, and I've always wanted to wear a cape in public.
The author of this book immersed herself into the world of librarians, specifically the changing technological world of librarians. She explored the changing role of the librarian while telling all sorts of stories of meeting librarians in cyberspace on Second Life, reading librarians' blogs about things they find in the library, and spending time at some of the biggest and smallest libraries in the world. I found this book to be fascinating, entertaining, instructive, and enjoyable. I'd keep it for myself, but I checked it out of the library, and I'd rather not incur any late book fines.
15 May 2011
Welch, Gina. In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010.
Gina Welch was curious about the evangelical church. She wanted to know the truth behind the smiling faces, the protests against evolution, and the emphasis on being "born again." In order to truly understand these concepts from an insider's perspective, Welch went undercover and joined a megachurch. She went forward for salvation, was baptized in the church, went door-to-door soulwinning, and even joined a small group mission trip to Alaska. Throughout her time in the church, Welch hid the fact that she was not truly a believer and that she was only there to get information.
It was fascinating to me to read about the church, a place I am quite familiar with, from the perspective of someone who has not grown up in it or embraced it. I was intrigued by Welch's reactions to ideas such as worship music, group prayer, and witnessing. It was very interesting to read about her journey and the love she learned to have for the people in the church, while still questioning the idea that a person can have a relationship with Jesus after simply praying a prayer on a street corner. This was a very interesting read and definitely worth checking out of the library.
14 May 2011
Franklin, Jonathan. 33 Men: Inside the Miraculous Survival and Dramatic Rescue of the Chilean Miners. New York: Penguin Group, 2011.
I admit it: I don't pay much attention to world events. After six years at a school where television was not allowed and six more years in a place where I could not afford television or internet in my home, I simply got used to living with my head in the sand. But even I could not miss the news when the 33 miners were buried under tons of rock and then miraculously rescued ten weeks later.
Franklin was one of the few journalists allowed an inside look at the rescue operation and the goings-on with the miners, and he details much of their journey beneath and back out of the ground in this book. It's definitely worth the trip to the library.
13 May 2011
Harris, Lisa. Blood Covenant. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Ghost soldiers. Highly contagious diseases. War. Africa. These are all elements of a great story, and all are present in this novel by Lisa Harris. A vast improvement over some of the other books I have attempted to read and review, I actually enjoyed Blood Covenant.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel for the purposes of review.
11 May 2011
Turner, Matthew. Churched: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2008.
With a humorous style and details that only an "insider" can appreciate, Turner describes his family's plunge into the Fundamentalist movement and how he developed a love for Jesus in spite of all he dealt with at church.
I was intrigued by this book - the title, the picture on the front, the first few pages. Turner definitely captured my attention, and I believe he accurately pictured life inside a Fundamentalist church. Unfortunately, there is little description of his choice to leave Fundamentalism or his belief in God in spite of what he learned at church. I wanted to jump inside his brain for a bit to find out why he left and what he believes now, but perhaps that information is destined for a sequel. As it is, this book is entertaining and light-hearted, poking fun without being cruel, and is definitely worth a trip to the library.
09 May 2011
Zarr, Sara. Once Was Lost. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2009.
Sam is a pastor's daughter. She has always been left out of close circles of friends or activities because people are afraid of what her father will think of them. Now her mother is in rehab after a DUI conviction, and Sam is frustrated that no one mentions her mother or what is really going on. It's as if her mother simply doesn't exist for now. And Sam's father has thrown himself even deeper into serving the community, often leaving Sam in the dust.
Then one of Sam's classmates disappears and the town rallies to search for her. Between her father's distance, her mother's absence, her lack of close friends, and the new stress on the town in light of Jody's disappearance, Sam is about ready to scream. Can she find what she has lost?
This book was intriguing and a welcome relief after the many rather-depressing teen books I read. I enjoyed seeing the town through the eyes of the pastor's daughter (a daughter who is a confessing atheist) and watching her family become whole again. And they do find the missing girl, by the way, and she's still alive.
07 May 2011
Goodman, Shawn. Something Like Hope. New York: Random House, 2011.
Shavonne is in juvenile detention and is rapidly approaching her eighteenth birthday. She is hoping to be released on her birthday and to take custody of her three-year old daughter. She wants to get on with her life and put the past behind her. But she has a lot of work to do before she can get there, and the other girls at the detention center aren't making things easy for her. It's difficult for Shavonne to feel any hope when she is surrounded by so much despair.
This was an interesting look into the juvenile detention system, as well as the mind of a teen who has been incarcerated. I didn't enjoy this book the same way I enjoy other books, but it was an interesting read. Unfortunately, the language choices of the characters are less than stellar, so I can't really recommend this book for classroom use or for anyone's personal library. I was impressed with Shavonne and her decision to let her daughter be adopted by her foster parent, as Shavonne realized that she would not be able to give her daughter the life she wanted her to have, and she really wanted to stop the cycle of abuse. This book was rather depressing, unfortunately.
05 May 2011
Maberry, Jonathan. Rot and Ruin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.
Benny is about to turn fifteen. At fifteen he has to find a job or his rations will be cut off. The last thing Benny wants to do is join his brother Tom in the zombie killing business, but it turns out to be Benny's only option. Tom takes Benny with him into the land beyond the protective fence, and Benny soon learns that killing zombies isn't as easy or as boring as he originally thought. And one of the other bounty hunters is collecting orphans for the Zombie Games. Tom and Benny have got to locate the game arena and rescue the kids before it's too late.
Okay, so this is a zombie story. Already some of you are rolling your eyes that I even stooped to read this book. But this isn't an ordinary zombie book. Really. The zombies aren't the focus in this book; the focus is on civilization and the hope of the future generation to change things and to go beyond simply surviving to thriving in a post-apocalyptic world.
I was surprisingly impressed with this book, and it managed to hold my interest all the way to the end. I won't be adding it to my personal library any time soon, but it was worth checking out of the library.
03 May 2011
Omololu, C.J. Dirty Little Secrets. New York: Walker & Company, 2010.
Lucy has never had a sleepover at her house. She doesn't invite friends over for study parties or to work on projects. If someone picks Lucy up at her home, she will always be waiting at the curb. Lucy doesn't want her friends to know that her mom is a hoarder. Her house is piled with mounds of "treasures" her mom has collected. Lucy can hardly stand to be at home; she can't wait until the day she is old enough to move out. When an emergency happens in her home, Lucy has to decide who to let in on her "dirty little secret."
I found this book to be interesting, especially after my recent mini-study on hoarding. From what I could tell, the hoarders in this book (Lucy's grandmother, mother, and oldest sister) were portrayed accurately, and I felt sorry for Lucy that she had to deal with all of this on her own. The ending was a surprise to me, and I ended up enjoying this story more than I thought I initially would.
02 May 2011
Sonnenblick, Jordan. After Ever After. New York: Scholastic, 2010.
Jeffrey is a fairly typical 8th grade boy. He struggles with math class. He worries about the end of the year high-stakes testing that may hold him back in 8th grade. He is trying to decide whether he really likes Lindsey, the new girl in his class. He wonders why his brother decided to move to Africa to study drumming for a year. Oh, and he's a cancer survivor.
Jeffrey and his friend Tad are both cancer survivors, and they are both dealing with the long-term effects of both the cancer and the medications they had to take to survive. They are planning to walk across the graduation stage together: a milestone for both of them as Tad can't walk more than nine steps and Jeff isn't sure he'll be graduating.
This story was sweet. It was funny. It was entertaining. It was sad, predictably so, but I read it anyway, and I really enjoyed it. This would be a great read-aloud story for a junior high class (as long as the teacher can edit some of the characters' word choices). It was definitely worth the trip to the library.
01 May 2011
Beaufrand, Mary Jane. The River. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 2010.
Ronnie has moved from a bustling city to a small, small town. Her father loves the town. Her mother loves the town. Her foster brother and sister are thriving. But Ronnie misses civilization. She is pulled out of her homesickness by a little girl down the street, and things start looking up. Then the little girl is found on the banks of the river. Ronnie is sure that her death is more than an accident, and she is determined to find the answers no one else is looking for.
This book was predictable but not excessively disappointing. I figured out the ending long before the end of the book, which shouldn't be that surprising since this book was written for teenagers. I almost would have liked the story if it were longer and more detailed. It seemed a bit too short to me; I finished it in one evening. It's not a bad story, but there are better teen books out there.