Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I recommend this book for: high school

Marcus is just your average teen tech geek - he knows how to get around school surveillance, build his own laptop, and do some neat tricks with his cell phone and alternatives to the Internet. But everything changes when terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, and Marcus and his best friends are arrested by the Department of Homeland Security. They're innocent, but treated like they're guilty, and Marcus has a big problem with that. So what's a teen to do when his liberties are taken away? Take them back!

So starts the story of Marcus and his fight against those who try to convince the city that they're trading liberty for security without actually providing that security. Doctorow does a good job of explaining all of the technology and what it does in terms that non-geeks can understand. Marcus is brilliant, not just when it comes to computers, but in the connections he makes between his social studies class and his current situation.  

A great book that gives teens and adults plenty to think about - why is that we're content to be under surveillance everywhere?  What does the Declaration of Independence mean in today's world?  How do you go about proving that you're not a terrorist?  It is definitely for mature audiences - the violence isn't graphic, and the message of thinking for yourself is applicable for everyone, but there's also a good bit of rather frank sexual content.

Don't trust anyone over 25!  Trust these reviews . . . 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hero Type by Barry Lyga

I recommend this book for: grade 8 and up

Kevin is a hometown hero after he saves a classmate from being abducted by a killer responsible for rapes and murders all over the country. Instead of a nobody, he's suddenly being followed by reporters and making appearances on national tv. He receives the key to the city and a new car. Then, a photographer publishes a picture of him removing the "Support the Troops" magnets from his bumper and throwing them away. Suddenly, everyone in his small town is against him, and Kevin finds himself defending not only his actions, but free speech in its many forms to a town that just isn't listening.

I loved this book.  It was complex - Kevin knows that saving Leah wasn't the heroic act everyone thinks it was, and what he calls his "inner Catholic" causes him guilt over a lot of his actions. What makes a hero or a villain was discussed without being preachy, and the debates Kevin has with John Riordan (and just about everyone else) over free speech vs. patriotism - and whether those two things are mutually exclusive or not - are fantastic. Was it entirely realistic for everyone to jump all over Kevin? Maybe not, but I can certainly understand him feeling like the whole world was against him.

Side characters were well-developed, although Kevin was certainly the most complex - he does things that you know are despicable, but he's still a sympathetic narrator, and his growth is impressive. The Fools are fun, and Fam is especially great for bringing out Kevin's cluelessness.  A very worthwhile read!  

Some mature content that includes plot spoilers - for details, start highlighting here:  Kevin and his friends drink, smoke pot, and play some pranks that could be considered vandalism.  There is talk about sex and some references to male anatomy.  Here's the big plot spoiler - you find out that Kevin was actually following Leah and videotaping her without her knowledge.  But he's not actually a crazy stalker - he feels bad about it, stops, and tries to make amends.  End of invisible text.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

I recommend this book for: high school

Fergus lives in the troubled Ireland of the 1980s. His brother is in prison because of his involvement with the freedom fighters, hunger strikers are dying regularly, and violence can explode suddenly and without warning. His biggest dream is to do well on his exams, get into medical school, and get out of Ireland. Then he makes an amazing discovery while digging peat with his uncle - the body of a child. Suddenly he has a new dream - all about this Iron Age girl and how she came to be in the bog.

This was a powerful book - the exploration of Ireland both of ancient and modern times and the different sacrifices people make. Difficult decisions abound. Fergus' friendship with a Welsh soldier who guards the border was a fantastic element. I loved the intense part in the middle where Fergus gets wrapped up in transporting illegal packets across the border - especially the resolution of it. One problem with this book though, is that it doesn't give much background on Ireland at this time, or explanation of the various acronyms (RUC, IRA) that are tossed around, so a reader who doesn't know anything about Ireland's history would be really lost.

Content makes this a high school book - it includes strong language, talk about sex and some sexual situations (although not the actual act).  

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Snoring Beauty by Bruce Hale, ill. by Howard Fine

I recommend this book for: older kids and grownups

It's a picture book, but I'm not sure how much kid appeal this one has. In a twist on the Sleeping Beauty story, Princess Drachmina Lofresca Malvolio Margarine (Marge for short) is cursed to be run over by a pie wagon and die when she turns 16. But all is not lost - a slightly deaf fairy changes the curse so that she'll merely turn into a sleeping dragon until she is awoken by a quince.

I found this book to be funny in an off-beat sort of way, but young kids won't get the jokes. The pictures are lovely, and although I couldn't figure out why the story was narrated by a frog, I liked him.  This title could be useful for older students studying fractured fairy tales, or just for a good laugh as a read-aloud.  

1, 2, Buckle My Shoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines

I recommend this book for: preschool

The traditional rhyme is illustrated by gorgeous quilted illustrations. Each panel with a number features both the arabic form and the corresponding number of buttons, and the details and colors of the picture panels are gorgeous and add interest. The last page is a double spread featuring the numbers and colorful hands with buttons on the fingers to represent the numbers.  The rhyme would be great for sharing with a group, and the pictures make this a great one to share one on one.  
Simple and fun!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wake by Lisa McMann

I recommend this book for: high school

Janie has an alcoholic mother, a burning desire to go to college, and a secret she's never told anyone. Whenever she's in a room with a sleeping person, Janie sees into that person's dreams.  The results of this are sometimes comical and sometimes terrifying, and she has no control over it. Now in high school, Janie has learned to manage her condition to a degree - she blacks out but can usually ride out a person's dream safely and get back to life. Then one nightmare really gets to her - and it turns out to belong to someone who's starting to matter to her.

A fast-paced, exciting read. The intense pace is supported by the format of listing a date and time before each short section. A lot of the action seems to be based more on character development and relationships than on actual events, but Janie's world is so complex and interesting that it works. The final third of the book is where most of the actual action happens. A major theme is that things aren't always what they seem - with the dreams Janie stumbles into, with Cabel, and even with Janie's mother.

This is definitely a book for high school because of content - without spoiling the plot I can say that there is very liberal use of the f-word, teen drinking and partying, drug use, and sex (after all, she gets sucked into the dreams of teenagers . . .) It's also a novel that doesn't shy away from society's problems - in addition to Janie's alcoholic mother, there is a character who has suffered from physical abuse, a drug dealer, etc.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mary Had a Little Lamp by Jack Lechner ill. by Bob Staake

I recommend this book for: preschool to grade 2

This quirky tale tells of Mary and her beloved gooseneck lamp, who goes everywhere with her. It follows the meter of 'Mary had a little lamb', but has a lot more pizzazz! The illustrations are mostly fantastic, featuring oddly-shaped people who reminded me a bit of Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride, but much more colorful. Mary and her lamp have a lot of personality, and the perplexed faces of Mary's parents and classmates are priceless.

But - there's virtually no explanation of why Mary leaves her faithful lamp behind in favor of another appliance, which bugged me. Also, there's one picture of a swingset where the swing would clearly be lying the ground if it wasn't forward and up in the air - shattering the laws of physics gets on my nerves, too!

Final verdict - a few issues, but lots of fun!

Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up

In 2003, 19 year old Robin Perry leaves Harlem to serve his country in Iraq. His father is upset at his decision, but Robin feels compelled to make a difference. This book chronicles his experiences as part of a Civilian Affairs unit - the people who go in when the shooting is supposedly over to deal with the people and help them see that Americans are the good guys.

I'm not a war book person, really, but this one had good points. The men and women in Robin's unit (who dub him "Birdy") are interesting, and their banter is entertaining to read. Myers portrays the immediacy of the war well - one minute the soldiers are just riding to the market, the next a car explodes. Birdy has to face his fears, particularly of himself and what he will become as a result of what he sees and does.  The letters he sends home - cheerful, hopeful, and reassuring - make an interesting counterpoint to the confusion and doubt he actually feels.  

There were also bad points. I felt some of the dialogue was a bit overdramatic.  Also, I knew without a doubt pretty much as soon as all of the characters from Birdy's unit were introduced who was going to die, which really lessened the impact when it happened.

Parental stuff - as you might imagine in a war book, there is some bad language and violence.  It doesn't get terribly gory, but there are descriptions of severed body parts and a somewhat graphic scene where two men are killed at point blank range.  There are a few sexual innuendoes ("I want to see what she's got under those fatigues"), but it's all talk.  

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I recommend this book for: high school

In a world where some people are born with Graces - special gifts for anything from baking to mind-reading to predicting the weather - Katsa serves her uncle, the king of the Middluns. Her Grace is fighting, and she uses it at the king's command to threaten, hurt, or kill his enemies - or sometimes just subjects who have ticked him off. She despises herself for it. But Katsa has a secret - the Council, a group that she and sympathetic friends have started to fight the kinds of abuses she herself is forced to lay on the common people. It is on a Council mission that she meets Po, the prince of another kingdom - and another Graceling fighter. His grandfather has been kidnapped and they have to find out why, because it could have ramifications not just for his family, but for all of the seven kingdoms.

This book blew me away. The world was original and lovely, and Katsa was a fantastic heroine. She grows a lot during the course of the book, but she has certain principles that she holds to and will not sacrifice. The development in the other main characters was also great. The ending wrapped up a little too quickly for me, but the story was definitely well-plotted. As in real life, there were no easy answers about why the villain is doing what he does. The love story was completely engrossing. Definitely one of the better fantasies I've read!

If you're concerned about mature content, highlight starting here:  There is sex in this book! One scene makes it very clear what is happening, and there are a few other references to lovers sharing a bed and some innuendoes.  A medicinal form of birth control is used - I know that might reassure some parents and offend others, so I thought I'd bring it up.  The villain is a very bad man who takes pleasure in the pain of others - the book describes how he cuts up animals, hurts servants, and it is implied that he wants an inappropriate relationship with his daughter.  End of invisible text.    

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I recommend this book for: grade 8 and up

Frankie was a freshman at her exclusive boarding school last year - a geek, a nobody. This year, she's getting noticed, in particular by the popular senior Matthew Livingston. But Frankie isn't just a pretty girl who will be contented with being Matthew's girlfriend. When she realizes that he has a secret, she does her homework and finds out about the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds - an all-male secret society bent on causing mayhem. A society that Frankie's father belonged to in his own boarding school days. A society that is at a total loss for some good prank ideas. Which is where Frankie comes in . . . and the resulting hijinks involving ladies' undergarments, vegetable sculpture, and statue abduction are hilarious.

This was a fantastic book. Frankie is a strong girl who applies what she learns to real life, with pretty amazing results. She is passionate about what she believes in, regardless of how silly other people think she is.  She's brilliant and creative, and very fun to read about. The other characters are also drawn very well, particularly Matthew - the reader can see what he's really like and still understand why Frankie likes him. The ending is also fantastic - I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that I respect Frankie's independence and that it remains intact. A very fun read!

A fairly clean read, but read the invisible text if you're concerned about content: Although Frankie does not drink, she does attend a party with lots of teens drinking beer, and the boys in the Loyal Order do a lot of drinking when they get together. Frankie's relationship never progresses beyond making out, but there is (non-graphic) discussion of other characters having sex. No bad language to speak of. Oh, and Frankie definitely makes war on the administration, so  if you find rebellion against adults offensive, this one may not be for you/your child. End of invisible text.