Friday, February 22, 2008

A Lifetime of Secrets by Frank Warren

I recommend this book for: high school and adults

If you're not familiar with PostSecret, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Frank Warren began PostSecret as an art project, asking people to make post cards with their secrets written on them on them and mail them to him. This simple project has turned into a phenomenon, with hundreds of postcards pouring in daily, and Warren has exhibited them all over the country. This is the 4th collection of PostSecret cards to be published in book format, and it's wonderful. You can read straight through or browse at your leisure. Arranged by the approximate age of the person with the secret, the cards range from beautifully artistic to scrawled on the back of an envelope, messages of despair, grief, hope, and above all, honesty. Some of the contributers have written because they have no one to tell, or nobody will believe them, and it's amazingly cathartic to read the secrets of strangers. Some of the secrets are a bit dirty (in more than one sense of the word), so recommended for high school and up. This should be of special interest to those who love art and people with secrets of their own - and really, who doesn't?

More PostSecret fun: go to the video for Dirty Little Secret to see some more featured secrets. The Yahoo! music player worked best for me.

Hmm, no real reviews for the book on Amazon, but you can look at the intro and some sample cards and see how you like them!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Emma and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I did it! One of my goals in life was to read all of Jane Austen's novels, and I'm done! I'm not going to do extensive reviews on either of my final two, but here are my thoughts: Emma has supplanted Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel - Emma herself is so complex, and she grows immensely during the story. It was fantastic and funny. Mansfield Park is very different from the other books - darker, slower-moving, and the protagonist is much more timid than any of Austen's other heroines, but still enjoyable. Now what classics shall I turn to for breaks from the kid/teen lit world?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess

I recommend this book for: high school

Sara Carter is destined to be famous - that's what she believes. She's a complex, scary 17 year old who sees ghosts, becomes different people for weeks on end, and self injures. She sees plastic surgery as a way to make all of her dreams come true, and meeting Jonathon Heat is her big chance. Heat, a pop star/cultural icon whose face has collapsed after too many surgeries, offers her the chance to get the work she wants done and make her big debut with him - but once she's moved into his mansion, Sara and the people around her begin to realize that the deal is not exactly what it appears . . . Heat is desperate to get a new face, but would he stoop to stealing one from a teenage girl? Or has he already tried it before . . .?

Burgess covers a lot of territory in this novel written in the style of a true crime narrative. The narrator is an unnamed journalist who frequently quotes his interviews with Sara's boyfriend, best friend, mother, nurse, and other people around her. Sara herself is absent except for in excerpts of her video diary. A compelling read that deals with celebrity, body image, reality, and how far people are willing to go for what they want.

*Note: The plot centers around a teen girl in a celebrity's house, and there's a good bit of the scandal you might imagine involved. The sex and drinking aren't graphic, but they are definitely present, and there's a good bit of profanity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dramarama by E. Lockhart

I recommend this book for: high school

Sarah lives in a boring small town in Ohio but longs for glamour. She fills up her lonely hours with watching musicals and tap lessons, trying to find a release for the "lurking bigness" inside her. Then she goes to an audition for a summer theatre camp and meets Demi - a boy who plays as straight as they come at school but really likes boys and Liza Minelli. From the day of the audition, they're inseperable, and Sarah (now dubbed Sadye) knows they're destined for stardom. They go to camp together convinced their dreams are all about to come true, using a tape recorder to document the experience "for posterity."

Now of course, drama camp isn't that easy - there's always rivalry, backstabbing, romantic tension, big fights, poor directing, and huge decisions to deal with, as well as a colorful array of characters. I loved every minute of reading this book, and every time I was compelled to put it down, I walked away wondering what would happen next. The climax was one I definitely didn't predict, and although I was disappointed at first, the ending turned out to be perfect. This is a fantastic read for teens who love theatre (it does help to be somewhat familiar with Guys and Dolls, although Lockhart does a good job of explaining the necessary points) or anyone who is curious about what happens behind the scenes. Fun fun fun!

Note: There is a good bit of profanity, some teen drinking, and mention of sex in this book. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up

Mena is an only child who used to go to church with her parents and all of her friends. Then she got kicked out because of something she did - something she was sure was right, but the result is that the church is being sued by a young man and his parents. No longer welcomed by her church family, largely ignored by her disappointed parents, and persecuted by the youth group that made up her circle of friends (they call her Judas), Mena is not enjoying the beginning of her high school career. One bright spot turns out to be biology class, which is taught by the brilliant Ms. Shepherd, and where her lab partner is a smart, funny, and pretty cute boy whose biggest problem with her is that she's never seen Lord of the Rings (sorcery isn't allowed in her house).

And then Ms. Shepherd begins the evolution unit, and the church group decides to fight against it. As the drama unfolds in Mena's classroom she has to choose where she stands on science and faith, how close to get to Casey and his family, and how to relate to her parents in the aftermath of her big decision.

What made this book for me? The characters were wonderful, from nerdy/cute Casey and his bossy, activist sister to the youth group girl who wears her Jesus Freak shirt two sizes too small to show off her chest. Mena's narrative voice is dead on, funny but making you feel for her at the same time. Watching Mena's life evolve is fantastically satisfying, and the themes of questioning faith and friendships are applicable to the lives of many teens.

The pros. The first two chapters are excerpted after the review, and if they don't make you want to read this book, I don't know what will!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schliltz, illustrated by Robert Byrd

I recommend this book for: grade 6-9

This one was so cool! As a theatre person, I appreciated the monologue form, which gave the characters their own voices to tell about their lives. It also gave the reader a sense of the interconnectedness of the small village, how everyone depended on the others. There were great details (including gross ones like kidneys and fleas that the boys are sure to appreciate), and the background essays that give context to some of the monologues were well-written, informative, and interesting without ever taking up more than two pages. This would be a solid choice for historical fiction assignments, pleasure reading for kids interested in the time period, or for a reader's theater performance (oh how I hope that wouldn't be copyright infringement - it begs to be read aloud for an audience!) My personal favorite was Giles the beggar, who gets the last word in the book and makes the most of it.