Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

I recommend this book for: high school

This is one of the best YA titles I've read this year . . . and that's saying something! Jade is a senior who has been dealing with anxiety since she was 14. Her parents are ignoring one another, her brother is depressed because his father won't let him quit playing sports, and her circle of friends is growing apart and going in vastly different directions. What keeps Jade calm is watching animals - specifically, she likes watching the elephants at the zoo down the street. She watches them pretty much 24/7 on their webcam, and that's where she sees the intriguing boy with a baby for the first time and has the feeling that he's going to be a part of her life . . .

Jade is fantastic narrator. She's insecure but takes her life into her own hands, honest but keeps secrets, at times hating all the people she loves. Her voice made me laugh out loud, several times, as in:

"It makes you realize how basically everything we do comes down to a) mating or b) competing for resources. It's just like Animal Planet, only we've got Cover Girl and Victoria's Secret instead of colored feathers and fancy markings, and the violence occurs at the Nordstron's Half-Yearly Sale."

There are some tough issues in this book as well - other than teen parenthood, there's Jade's first serious relationship, an extra-marital affair, and a bit of bad language, for those who are concerned about such things. But the focus of the story is how Jade grows strong in the face of her challenges, and it's a beautiful thing.

Reviews that made me want to read this book.

Eleven by Lauren Myracle

I recommend this book for: grade 5-7

This is a book I knew I had to read when a girl came in and asked for it, then started jumping up and down when I pulled it from the shelf, yelling "Yes, that's it!!!" Any book that inspires that much excitement is worth reading.

Sixth grade is a turbulent time for anyone, and Winnie is no exception. From feeling like she's losing her best friend to a new popular girl, crushing on her sister's boyfriend, and having her own first boy/girl thing happen on Valentine's day, she has lot going on. The friendship theme is so important here, and it's nice to see Winnie growing up and accepting that you can be friends with more than one person and giving the unpopular girl in her class a chance. Each chapter takes place in a different month, which I liked because it shows how much can happen in that period of time, and the episodes were very well chosen. This is my first Lauren Myracle book, and I definitely enjoyed it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Forged in the Fire by Ann Turnbull

I recommend this book for: high school

I think that I don't do sequels very well. I was completely entranced by No Shame, No Fear, and although I was still interested in this book and the characters, it seemed flatter to me. Maybe I'm a sucker for romantic tension (which is hard to maintain when the characters get married!), or perhaps it was that there was so much going on in this book - Friends held prisoner, deaths and marriages, babies, lots of moving around, the Black Death, and on top of it all, the great London fire. I think the problem, however, was mostly with me - I certainly can't fault Turnbull's attention to historical and character detail. I especially appreciated her honesty about young people's emotions, how even people in love can have feelings for someone else under the right circumstances. Definitely a book I'd recommend to fans of the first, but not as a stand-alone, lest the reader never develop an interest in the characters, not understanding their history.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

As a big fan of Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver, I was excited to get my hands on his first novel. This one goes back to 8th grade, and features drummer Steven Alper, who is also a character in Notes. Steven has typical 8th grade problems until his little brother Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia and his world turns upside down. Steven has to face all of the emotions of having someone he loves face death, the ugly reality of the children's hospital, and the personal and financial consequences of his mother quitting her job to take care of Jeffrey. Without being sentimental, Sonnenblick portrays all of the despair, hope, and yes, thankfully, humor of Steven's year. Of course, there are other significant happenings in his life, such as getting noticed by the hottest girl in the class and getting chosen to play sweet drum solos in the school jazz band concert, not to mention the titular Dangerous Pie. Steven and Jeffrey are both characters you want to cheer for, and although this book isn't as hilarious/devastating/hopeful as Notes, it's a great read that's fast because you can't put it down.

Friday, September 21, 2007

On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck

I recommend this book for: grade 4 and up

There are certain things you expect in a Richard Peck novel, and this one doesn't disappoint in those areas. Quirky characters. Heartwarming moments. Interesting historical details. Yes, yes, and yes - but I'm not sure how much kid appeal this book really has. It's told as a series of vignettes that occur throughout Davy's experience on the homefront during WWII. Some of them were hilarious and some poignant - the jokes Dad plays on Halloween pranksters come to mind in the hilarious category - yet the overall feeling is one of nostalgia that I'm not sure kids can really relate to, and that creates some distance from the characters. Also, this book happens to have one of those endings where I didn't realize it was over and turned the page to see what happened next and the answer was "Nothing, you idiot, the book is over!" A little too abrupt for my taste. An enjoyable historical fiction, and yay for another one narrated by a boy, but I'm not jumping up and down about it like I was with The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips - which had a female protagonist, hmm . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In the Name of God by Paula Jolin

I recommend this book for: high school

Nadia is a 17 year old Syrian Muslim who considers herself to be religious. She wears the hijab and is annoyed by her less devout cousins. When an older boy cousin gets involved with radicals and starts spouting their anti-American philosophy everywhere, Nadia starts to get drawn in to the more militant form of Islam - the excerpt on the back cover features a man teaching her how to strap a bomb around her waist and set it off.

This book is a little scary, because Nadia is under a lot of the same kind of pressures most teens are - family and financial issues, dealing with romantic feelings, struggling with religion. How many bad decisions do most people make during the course of their teen years? Nadia, however, is in the position to make a very bad decision with a high death toll. Interesting reading to get an Eastern perspective on the Western world. Some of the characters lack dimension, and the ending happens a little too quickly with little resolution, but the insight into Nadia's life more than makes up for those flaws.

The Moon Robber by Dean Morrissey and Stephen Krensky

I recommend this book for: grades 2-4

Check out the amazing cover illustration, and you've seen the best part of this book. The concept is an intriguing one - 3 children walk through a magic door in a toy shop into another world, where the moon is a ship and you can buy clouds. The execution, however, leaves something to be desired. For example, the giant who steals the moon is described as always talking like a pirate, yet his actual dialogue doesn't have so much as a "yo ho" in it. The level is difficult to determine as well, as it has some long passages and scientific concepts that seem a bit advanced for a first chapter book. But the illustrations - gorgeous.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Huzzah, another great re-telling of Cinderella! I'd read a great review of this, then set myself up for disappointment when I saw the cover art - for some reason it looks cheap to me - but the story was fantastic.

La Cendrillon's mother died just after giving birth to her, causing her father to turn away from the child and leave her to be raised by his servants. He also leaves an infant boy, commanding that the child should never leave his lands unless he sent for him himself. And so Cendrillon and Raoul grow up together, she wishing every year on her birthday that her father would forgive the circumstances of her birth, and he always wishing to know his origins. Neither is ever granted, until one year in anger Cendrillon wishes for a mother and sisters who could love her, since her father never will - and her new stepmother and sisters arrive shortly thereafter.

Dokey has created a fantasy world where wishes have real power, where love and hate grow from the ground as certainly as they do in people's hearts, and where two friends make their own happily ever after by the choices they make. Definitely worth a read for fans of fresh takes on fairy tales.

What the real critics thought.

Monday, September 10, 2007

No Shame, No Fear by Ann Turnbull

I recommend this book for: high school, fans of historical fiction or love stories

Wow and a half. This is a beautiful love story set in England of the 1600s. Will is a rich merchant's son, recently returned from his studies at Oxford and ready to pursue a trade. Susanna is the daughter of a poor weaver, but economic status isn't the only thing keeping these two apart - she's also a Quaker. People of her faith are persecuted terribly at this time, and Susanna's father is in prison, prompting her to seek a job with a Quaker woman who owns a print shop to help support her mother and younger siblings. Will, who has always been interested in these people who will not renounce their faith even under dire circumstances, becomes especially interested when he learns that Susanna is one of them. Susanna is fantastic - because of her faith, she is not a submissive young woman, but she doesn't fall into the "historical heroine who's a complete rebel" category. She's utterly realistic.

Told in chapters alternating between the two lovers' voices, this is a very beautiful "novel of love and persecution", as the cover proclaims. The historical detail and description of the Quaker faith and Will's exploration of it make a rich backdrop for the love story, and the voices of the young couple are completely honest about both their beliefs, their questions and doubts, and the myriad sensations of being in love for the first time. Some parents may be made uncomfortable by some of the honesty, so this is recommended for high school, but very highly.

And I'm not the only one!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gemini Summer by Iain Lawrence

I recommend this book for: middle school?

Beau and Danny are brothers who do just about everything together. It's 1964 and America's eyes are on the space race, and Beau is completely caught up in the excitement of the space program, idolizing Gus Grissom, and dreaming of becoming an astronaut. Danny's dream is simpler - he wants a dog. Their parents have dreams too - Mom is writing a novel, the next Gone With the Wind, and Dad is digging a fallout shelter to keep his family safe from the attack he's sure is coming. Although they're considered hillbillies and made fun of because of Dad's job (he drives a septic truck commonly called the poop-mobile), and there's a bit of tension between their parents, the boys are happy. Then a tragic accident takes Beau, and Danny and his parents have to adjust to life without him. Then the miraculous happens - Danny's parents let him get a dog, but this dog is special. In fact, Danny is convinced that Rocket isn't just a dog at all - he thinks he's Beau.

This book was intriguing, but it had its problems. One, I was completely unsure about how old Danny was until over 3/4 of the book was over - since the book is in our YA section, I had him placed at about 11 or 12, only to find out that he was really 9, which changed things a good bit. And as such, it might be hard to find an audience for this book - there's no bad language or any kind of mature situation, but the description of Beau's accident could be disturbing for younger children, but Danny's youth might keep older kids from being interested. Historical fiction is a hard sell most days, but the dog aspect might make it more appealing, so it could go either way. That said, I did enjoy the story, and although the actions of the adults that actually drove the story tended to not make sense to me, the actions of the children made perfect sense. So, it's a good book for the right audience, but not for everyone. It would definitely make a good alternative for kids looking for historical fiction for school assignments, since it's a bit more exciting than many books in the genre and (gasp!) it's told from a boy's point of view!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan

I recommend this book for: grade 5 and up

Oh, how I love this series! I devoured The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters, and volume 3 doesn't disappoint, delivering the same modern twists on Greek mythology, exciting escapades, and hilarious narration as the first two. This adventure is darker, as befits an aging Percy and a world on the brink of war, but the humor keeps it from being scary. Percy, Thalia, Grover, and two of the Hunters of the goddess Artemis are on a rescue mission to save the goddess and Annabeth from the clutches of Luke and Kronos. They meet up with new enemies, including zombies raised from dragon's teeth (commonly mistaken for those of the T-rex), and for the first time, the group suffers losses.

Things that are done really well: Percy's awkwardness around Annabeth, the introduction of the Hunters and their "no boys allowed" philosophy, Thalia's character development, capturing the adolescent sense of humor, tying in myths that are new to the series, plus tying back to past events like the Lotus Casino. And my favorite scene, where they visit Hoover Dam, is sure to make middle schoolers laugh out loud - I did! So basically, I'm devastated that this book only came out a few months ago and I'm going to have to wait for #4!

Everybody loves Percy!