"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

29 April 2013


Harris, Michael. Homo. James Lorimer and Company, 2013.

Wow. 144 pages of gay stereotypes. The gay kids get bullied at school and at a party. They almost don't get invited because the hosts are Christians who hate gays. One of the gay kids attempts suicide. The other one hooks up with a random guy who he later learns is HIV positive. The HIV positive dude tells the teen, "Don't look for a deep, long-lasting relationship. Hookups are all we get."

The message I got from this book is that gay guys should not "act gay" so they won't be bullied and that they should accept a sub-par existence because that's all they'll ever have. How depressing.

I am glad I got this book on the Kindle so I can't donate it to the library, because I wouldn't want anyone to read this.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purposes of review. 

27 April 2013

Rapture Practice

Hartzler, Aaron. Rapture Practice. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Aaron details his life in a fundamentalist Christian family, including attending a private Christian school, participating in neighborhood Good News club, and eventually questioning everything he's been taught.

I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of this book. I started reading it on my break at work and picked it up again as soon as I got home. The stories Aaron tells are so similar to what I experienced that I was interested to see how he escaped and how his family reacted.

But when Aaron gets in trouble at the end of his senior year for going to a party at a friend's house and drinking, he decides to be gracious to his family and allow them to believe what they want, even if he disagrees. I'm okay with that, but I had too many questions at the end of this book:

1. Did Aaron ever explain to his family that he doesn't believe what they do, and how did they react when he did?
2. Did he come out to them? At the end of the book he's sort-of figured out that he's gay, but nothing comes of it.
3. Did he go to Bible college as his parents wanted him to?
4. How is his relationship with his family now?
5. What does he believe now? Does he still identify as Christian, or is he identifying with another faith, or does he consider himself to be not religious?

This book was a great first half of the story. The portrayal of the fundamentalist family and school was quite accurate, although I was surprised they weren't at church more than he mentioned (I didn't read any instances of revival services or missions conferences). I could only give the book four stars, though, since I didn't have my questions answered - those questions were what I was hoping to read in the last portion of the book. This book would be good for people who want a picture of the Christian fundamentalist movement, but not so much for those who have been in it and want to see how someone else escaped, or for those who want more information on the gays vs. Christians debate, since that's barely mentioned in this book.

25 April 2013

The New Normal

Little, Ashley. The New Normal. Orca Book Publishers, 2013.

Tamar's younger twin sisters died in a drunk driving accident several months ago. Now her dad is absorbed in his TV shows, her mom is obsessed with yoga, and Tamar is losing her hair, trying to keep her family together, and attempting to survive high school.

This book started out not-so-good, but it got a bit better as the book continued. I was frustrated with the main character since she didn't cut her parents much slack in the aftermath of her sisters' death. Also, why didn't she go to the doctor to see what was going on with her hair loss? I got the impression from Tamar's memories that her sisters were selfish jerks. She didn't seem to remember any happy times with them.

If you feel the need to add books about hair loss to your YA collection, this would be a good book to use. Otherwise, it's interesting enough for people who read everything, but not something I would keep in my collection for the long-term.

23 April 2013

OCD, the Dude, and Me

Vaughn, Lauren. OCD, the Dude, and Me. Dial, 2013.

Danielle has OCD and has been sent to an "alternative" school where the learning environment is better for her. Something happened to her in junior high to trigger her OCD, but she doesn't like to think about that. This book consists of her writings - journal entries, correspondence with various people, and assignments for English class. We follow Danielle as she travels to England with her class, attends a socialization support group, and begs her aunt to rescue her from all the required activities in her life. Eventually, interesting things happen to Danielle and we do find out what happened to her to trigger her OCD.

First off, this girl doesn't seem like any character or genuine human being with OCD that I've ever met. Second, the book is random, scattered, and severely lacking in the plot department. I only kept reading so I could find out why there's a purple bowling ball on the cover. Yes, really. Third, if Danielle is at a special school, why don't any of her classmates have any disabilities?

This book was okay, but not really worth the time to read it. It's just too fluffy for a book that supposedly tackles some very serious issues.

21 April 2013

Miss Fortune Cookie

Bjorkman, Lauren. Miss Fortune Cookie. Henry Holt and Co., 2012.

Erin lives in San Francisco where she spends time with her Chinese friends and writes a "Dear Abby" style blog under the name Miss Fortune Cookie. But Erin has trouble following her own advice, and when her friends' lives and her blog get mixed together, she's not sure what to do.

This book was not too bad. I enjoyed the San Francisco references, especially the goofy passengers on the Muni, but the rest of the book wasn't super-enjoyable. It wasn't bad, but it didn't stand out as wonderful or awesome or anything. Because of the interesting cultural references both to Asian-American families and to the city of San Francisco, I'd probably keep this one on my shelf. It's a more upbeat companion to Bitter Melon.

19 April 2013

Marco Impossible

Moskowitz, Hannah. Marco Impossible. Roaring Brook Press, 2013.

Marco has a crush on a classmate, a classmate who is about to leave for the entire summer. So he plots a way to break into the high school's prom so that he can confess his undying love before his crush leaves for the summer. He drags his best friend Stephen along for the ride.

I will have to echo what others have said about this book. I'm glad for a tween book with a gay character, and I sort-of enjoyed following the boys on their adventures across the town as they tried to rent tuxes, forge permission slips, and reach the prom on time.

But Marco is annoying. And controlling. And whiney. I spent the entire book wanting to punch his face. And there's never any explanation for why he's like that; it just seems like he was born this way and he's going to stay this way. He doesn't change. At the end of the book he is just as angsty and controlling and demanding as he was at the beginning. And I was tired of his friend being treated like a doormat.

Because this is one of the few books for tweens that features a gay character, I'd keep it, but not because I enjoyed the book.

17 April 2013

Fire Horse Girl

Honeyman, Kay. Fire Horse Girl. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013.

Jade Moon is a Fire Horse, which is an unlucky sign for a Chinese girl. She's stubborn, she's opinionated, and her family hasn't been able to find her a husband. When her father connives with Sterling Promise to travel to America, bringing Jade Moon with him, she is excited at the opportunity. But her family gets stuck on Angel Island for months, and Jade Moon soon learns that her father never meant for her to set foot in America at all. She is able to escape by pulling off a Mulan-esque ruse that brings her into San Francisco but complicates her life.

I enjoyed this story - the history involved in Angel Island and the racism against the Chinese, the way Jade Moon is able to use her Fire Horse stubbornness to help herself and others, and the San Francisco setting. It took a while to get into this story, but it was well worth the read.

15 April 2013

Just One Day

Forman, Gayle. Just One Day. Dutton, 2013. 

Allyson is a good girl whose life has been controlled by her mother, who has planned all of her classes and extracurricular activities. Amazingly, Allyson's mom allows her to go on an educational tour of Europe.  While in London, Allyson meets a boy at a rogue Shakespeare event and decides to spend the next day with him in Paris.  She spends an excellent day with him touring Paris and spends the night with him, only to panic the next morning when he's gone.

For the next year, Allyson pines away for her beloved Willem. By the time summer arrives, she has decided to take charge of her own life, changing her college major and planning to return to Paris to find Willem.  After some amazing adventures, Allyson travels to Willem's hometown and sees him ... with another girl.  She's been warned that his adventure with her was just a one-day thing, that he went through girls faster than anyone can keep up with, but she is still convinced that things will be different when he sees her again.

This book seemed very similar to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things or Ask the Passengers. The protagonist begins the story being totally controlled by her mother's dreams. Also she has no backbone. But she changes throughout the story, and by the end she is becoming her own person instead of the person her parents want her to be. I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I would, until the very end of the story. I hate, hate, HATED the ending. The ending cancelled out all the wonderful growth and change I'd seen in the main character.  Argh.

Nonetheless, it was a lovely story.  If you do read it, I recommend stopping before you hit the last three pages.  The rest of the story is excellent. 

13 April 2013

Fat Cat

Brande, Robin. Fat Cat. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009.

Cat is in a very competitive science class this year, and she has to create a research project based on a random photo she chooses from the teacher's folder. Rather than grabbing a picture of plants or insects, the things Cat has been interested in, she ends up with a picture of early humans. She decides to begin her research by mirroring, as closely as possible, how early humans lived and ate: she gives up her cell phone, her television, and her car, as well as chips, soda, and candy bars. As her project progresses and her body responds to all the changes, other people begin to notice the difference in Cat. And suddenly she has to decide how to respond to all the attention she is receiving, especially from Matt, whom she was friends with until 7th grade and has hated since then.

This book was a quick, entertaining read. I finished it in just a few hours. I enjoyed the science-based plot, like I did in Brande's Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature. What I didn't enjoy was the fact that we know from the first chapter that there is something going on between Cat and Matt, but (like Matt) we are clueless about the details until the end of the book. Overall, though, this was a good book. I would recommend it to those who enjoyed Brande's other book, as well as readers who enjoyed Going Vintage.

11 April 2013

Autism, the Invisible Cord

Cain, Barbara. Autism, the Invisible Cord: A Sibling's Diary. Magination Press, 2012. 

Jenny's little brother has autism, and he is being bullied by an 8th grader at Jenny's school. Jenny decides to use her writing talent to craft an article about bullying for the school paper. Throughout the year, Jenny begins to see that the cord that ties her to her brother isn't as thick as she thought. Her brother begins to develop some independence and to survive even without Jenny's constant assistance. She starts to dream of attending a special summer program for journalism, but will Ezra survive without Jenny there?

I really enjoyed this story. It's a quick read, and it addresses bullying, autism, and the life of a middle school student. It has a happy ending and is free from any red flags. There aren't enough good books featuring characters with disabilities. This one definitely belongs in the library's collection.

09 April 2013

Fat Angie

Charlton-Trujillo, E.E. Fat Angie. Candlewick, 2013.

This is another one of the books where the teen girl, who has no backbone, grows a spine and decides to do something with herself, including taking on her stereotypical mother who could hardly care less about her.

I enjoyed this story. I definitely appreciated the LGBT twist on the love story. I loved that Angie used basketball as a way to honor her sister, and that her focus on basketball eventually superseded her love of junk food.

Because of the LGBT angle, the teen girls becoming themselves plot, the war connection, and the body/image weight theme, this book can have a wide appeal and definitely belongs in the library's collection

07 April 2013


Bailey, Em. Shift. Egmont USA, 2012.

Olive has been hospitalized for an unnamed mental illness, and now she has returned to school. She takes her meds, goes to class, tries to stay out of trouble. She spends a lot of time with her friend Ami. One day a new girl shows up at school, and there's something strange about her. Olive decides Miranda (the new girl) is a shape-shifter who basically sucks the personality and life out of a person. Miranda begins following Katie, the most popular girl, and soon Katie becomes really sick while Miranda takes Katie's boyfriend, Katie's followers, and eventually Katie's life. But no one believes Olive. They just adjust her meds and tell her to face her fears. Then Miranda turns her attention to Olive, and soon Olive feels the life draining out of her...

That description makes this book sound more interesting than it was. It was okay at the beginning, even with the creepy shape-shifting thing going on. About halfway through the book we discover that Ami is just a figment of Olive's imagination. Then Katie dies, and Miranda sics herself onto Olive. At that point I quit caring about what happened in this story. The thriller part of it wasn't thrilling enough, and the contemporary "chick lit" part of it wasn't realistic enough. It was just a weird mishmash of genres and it didn't really work for me.

This book might work for readers who like both thrillers and contemporary fiction, or fans of chick lit who want to break out of their typical genre. It does discuss mental illness, but doesn't give enough descriptions or information to be truly helpful.

05 April 2013

Because I Said So!

Jennings, Ken. Because I Said So! The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids. Scribner, 2012.

Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame tackles common household sayings, specifically parental warnings, and researches the science behind the sayings, ending each section with a ruling of "true" or "false" for such statements as, "If you cross your eyes, they'll stay that way" and "Wear a hat; you lose 90% of your heat through your head." I found this book to be both informative and entertaining, similar to the TV show Mythbusters, but with fewer explosions. This book would be a good read for trivia buffs, fans of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader, and even tweens and teens.

03 April 2013

After Eli

Rupp, Rebecca. After Eli. Candlewick Press, 2012. 

Daniel's brother is killed in Iraq, and Daniel's way of grieving is to make a "book of the dead," where he records deaths of famous people and random people from the local cemetery. Meanwhile, his mother is taking his brother's death hard, and Eli feels like he's invisible now that his brother is gone.

Meh. This book was not nearly as good as it should have been. The first 80% of the book was Eli's random life, including his love for Isabelle and the time he spent with her and the twins, interspersed with some memories of his brother. Then he goes postal and rips apart his brother's room and tells his mother she needs help. His parents decide they should maybe get some counseling or something, and they all live happily ever after.

Nope. This one didn't do it for me. It wasn't really about war, it wasn't really about grief, ... it wasn't really about anything at all.

02 April 2013

The Wishing Spell

Colfer, Chris. The Wishing Spell. Little, Brown, 2012.

Fame does not equal writing ability.

This book was written (and narrated, since I had the audio version) by Chris Colfer, who played Kurt on the show Glee. It sounded like a Fablehaven-esque story, and I was intrigued enough to give it a try. And while Colfer does an excellent job narrating the story - using different voices, etc. - the narration wasn't enough to keep me interested. The writing just isn't that good. He does a lot of telling and very little showing, and the story is peppered with gems like this: "Connor's mouth fell open like a broken glove compartment." This type of simile would be perfectly appropriate, had it come from one of my seventh grade students during our young authors contest. In the context of a published work, however ... I just wasn't impressed.

That being said, kids who enjoyed Fablehaven and have read every other fantasy book may also enjoy Colfer's work. But I wouldn't recommend it for anyone over the age of ten, and especially not for English teachers.

01 April 2013

I Swear

Davis, Lane. I Swear. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

This book is very similar to Thirteen Reasons Why. The first chapter opens with a character committing suicide, and the rest of the book follows various characters as an investigation is opened and everyone grapples with his/her role in the suicide. The chapters are narrated by five different characters, so the reader gets a variety of perspectives on the same situation.

First, I was intrigued by the concept of this book, and I thought the cover was well done. I have a couple of problems with the story itself, though. First of all, the very short chapters are narrated by a different character each time, so it is very difficult to keep track of who is speaking. I actually had to draw a chart to remind myself of each character's relationship to the other characters.

The other thing I strongly disliked about this book was the ending. All of the characters learn and grow and change, except for the one who probably needed it most. Was this a realistic ending? Probably. But it was definitely not satisfying. The character I most wanted to slap at the beginning of the book was still slap-worthy at the end of the book.

I would easily recommend this book to someone who enjoys books such as Thirteen Reasons Why, or who might enjoy books with multiple viewpoints where the full story isn't really explained until the end of the book.