Saturday, March 31, 2007


Burger Wuss

by M.T. Anderson.

A strange little number, this one. It's part satire of corporate culture and fast food restaurants - the Wuss works at O'Dermott's, serving up O'Chickens and Big O's under the sign of the Emerald Ring, an image of Kermit O'Dermott, the elfin mascot, looking over his shoulder. It's part about being a wuss and taking abuse and being bullied by the bigger and musle-headed and how it breeds a deep-seated desire for revenge. It's partly about losing a girl and not getting it. It's sarcastic and odd and sad, all at the same time. I'm not sure if I just wasn't feeling it, or if it wasn't sure exactly what it wanted to be. Despite the critical acclaim it garnered (and despite my usual love of the snark), I wasn't loving this one. I just kept waiting for it to become something, I guess.

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Princess on the Brink

Princess Diaries, vol. VIII. By Meg Cabot.

Ack! I guess she needed drama in Mia's life to make things roll forward, but jinkies! This is a total cliffhanger and I'm kinda mad at Meg for breaking up Mia and Michael. I have faith that she'll work things out with Lilly, her best friend since forever, but I'm not sure about Michael and it's just not right, dammit. Rarely does fluff leave me in a state of panic when it ends, but here I am. The thing is, I've gotten invested in the character. She's real is what it comes down to - she has plenty of insecurities, her reactions make sense, she cares about stuff that lots of teens care about, like being vegetarian and the environment and what her hair looks like, all at once. Meg is obviously totally in touch with her teenaged self still, because I've heard her talk, and Mia is so her. So silly as it seems to be so involved with my fluff, I'm going to say it - this fluff is good stuff. So there.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Party Princess

Princess Diaries, vol. VII. By Meg Cabot.

Okay, these are total fluff. And they do read like they were written fast - because by now, Meg has Mia's voice down so well, she just needs a rough plot outline to write along, really, and she can just go. But it works here, it really does. These are fun, and I love the character, even if it's not fine literature. There's a lot to be said for a character you can just identify with in lots of ways as a teen, and lots to be said for some brain candy. And tonight I start the next volume. Yay!

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 26, 2007


Mr. Little

by Robert Newton Peck, author of the side-splitting Soup books.

This book treads territory familiar to any reader of Peck's Soup series. It is in a similarly rural setting, it also feels set in the 1930s or 1940s, and it features two boys pulling similar pranks, and getting into the same sorts of trouble with their parents and teachers. This time, however, these are different boys, and they have a new teacher. They are not thrilled, because he is replacing the sweet and pretty Miss Kellogg, and they try to pull some pranks on this new guy, hoping to see him crack. As it turns out, he's got a tougher shell than expected, and a trick or two of his own. By the end, the boys and the man have come to some respect and a bit of a friendship.

I quite liked this for putting a twist on the tale and making the teacher something other than the nemesis. It's also a short and fun book for a younger, less skilled, or more reluctant reader, with high boy appeal, though I loved these when I was a kid, too.

Labels: , ,


Chanda's Secrets

by Allan Stratton. Michael Printz honour book (the teen equivalent of a Newbery honour).

I had heard a lot of buzz around this one, and sometimes that ruins a book (or movie, for that matter) for me. But I was also expecting something heavier, something less optimistic, so the turn for the positive was a nice surprise.

Essentially, this is a book about Africa, about the stories of family breakdown, of the way young girls can become used and abused so easily, about the destructive powers of gossip, and, mostly, about the deep and terrifying impact of AIDS in Africa. Chanda's family is doing well, until her father is killed in a mine explosion, after which her mother finds herself with another man, who they leave after he rapes Chanda. Her next partner leaves them somewhat better off, leaving his house to Chanda's mother when he dies, but the last man, Jonah, runs around and brings home the dreaded disease to Chanda's mother before he leaves and then dies himself. Chanda's friend Esther, having lost her parents, is also at risk, having started to sell her young body in an attempt to earn enough to bring together her siblings again. By the end, Chanda's mother is sick and leaves her to care for her siblings. Chanda goes after her, and finds her dying alone, of AIDS. She decides at this point that she is sick of the shame and knows that she and her mother have nothing to be embarrassed about. She brings her mother home to die with her family around her. With the house and her siblings left to her care, she invites her friend to bring her siblings and live with them, too, sharing chores and the safety of their own home and scorning the gossip that has spread about Esther. When Esther tests positive, Chanda continues to hold her head high, going to the clinic with her in support, despite what people may say. Indeed, her attitude changes the opinion of the neighbour gossip, who gets off her high horse and throws her own weight behind Chanda in the end.

There is a lot here about how superstition and ignorance and fear of people's talk contribute to the spread of both disease and refusal to deal with it. Close to the end, Chanda and her friend go to a clinic, having decided they were sick of the shame and the stigma, and they see a sign: Everyone is either infected or affected. The virus' impact runs deep, not only killing thousands so that new graveyards are full almost before they are opened, but isolating and dividing, as the stigma and fear is enormous.

I love that this book, despite taking on a serious and tragic story, one all too common, manages to end on a lovely note. Not a light, everything's-going-to-be-just-fine note, which wouldn't work, but a hopeful note, with a heroine who finds a way to do what she knows to be right, a way to cope and go on, a way to work towards a future for herself and those she loves. I'm a sucker for an optimist, and I love a strong, pragmatic main character, so this just worked for me.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, March 23, 2007


Room One: A Mystery or Two

Andrew Clements is one of my favourite authors for kids. I love that he uniformly populates his stories with intelligent kids - not everyone gives children that much credit. I love that readers and the kids in the stories get to know the adults as fully formed characters, not the two-dimensional stock "parent" and "teacher" models found in most children's literature. I love that there are trusting relationships between adults and children in his stories, where they end up working together on something and coming to understand and respect each other. I like that the settings are often in school, and things often begin with the type of project a kid can relate to from their own school environment.

All that said - I did not love this book. I felt like Mr. Clements was totally phoning it in on this one - perhaps because he was trying something a little different, and it just didn't really work. Perhaps because he was trying to keep it shorter for his usual grade 3-4-ish audience and it just wasn't enough time to fully work out what we had started. It just felt rather abrupt, like a summary of what he really wanted to write, as if his editor had either asked him to trim severely or neglected to ask him to flesh it out more. Maybe he was in a rush? Whatever the case, I think it's a damn shame to see him strike out for once.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 19, 2007


Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

When, oh when, will these books be made into movies? They ar simply screaming for it, every one. Eoin Colfer's writing is cinematic, and unfolds before your mind's eye perfectly. The characters are fantastic - each interesting, likeable, and amusing in varying ways. The action is nicely timed. The fantasy realm part of the books is fully conceived, technologically way advanced, and wholly original - no standard fantasy-book Middle Earth knock-offs here. There are jokes - visual, punny, acronym-hidden, and physical. It works on layers, too, with something for everyone. This fifth installment does not disappoint, though one would think it would get harder to live up to the standards set by the earlier books. If you're looking for some great plot-driven reading, this is it.

Labels: , ,