Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Code Orange

Caroline B. Cooney is a master of teen suspense, having authored such perennial favourites as Face on the Milk Carton and Whatever Happened to Janie? She takes a slightly different tack here, focusing her tale around a boy and a dread disease - a favourite topic of mine.

When Mitty starts researching his topic for science, he starts with an old medical textbook out of desperation, and trips across a sample of what turns out to be smallpox scabs. Suddenly, his research takes on a new urgency, he is on countdown to when symptoms and contagion might develop, and he makes some wrong moves when he starts to panic. When he receives emails from some strange people and some scarily official people (like the CDC and the FBI), he has some fast decisions to make. He finds himself in the wrong hands, waiting for the end of the disease's incubation period to see what might happen next...

I love the suspense of this, I like the character, and of course, I am a sucker for a good tale of infectious disease. This is good fun.

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Fringe Girl

I loved Valerie Frankel's adult novel Smart vs. Pretty, a tale of two sisters. This teen novel contains some of the same element of sibling rivalry, but sets it in the background as part of the character's motivation.

Fringe Girl is just that - a girl on the fringe of the Ruling Class of her high-end Brooklyn high school. (with a fringe, too, which is how she really got the name...) And, as one might expect if one has had any exposure to teen movies, she's filled with a certain jealousy/disdain for them that distills itself down to hatred and, ultimately, action. But not just any action. Instead, she takes her social studies class theme for the term to heart, and makes her project about the real-life application of theories. The study of revolution in action. If only she had listened to her teachers warnings that history rarely favours the rebel government, though, she might have spared herself some heartache...

Of course, in the end, she sorts things out with some serious meals of her own pride, but it's a fun ride up and down in this book.

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Rock My World

by Liza Conrad.

A fun story about a rock god's daughter going on tour with him for the summer, getting the writing gig of a lifetime for a rock magazine covering the tour (hello, Cameron Crowe!) , and discovering a lot about her family and herself. I loved this. This story has layers, too, though it seems totally fluffy.

She's got her Coming of Age thing going on, learning that her "rules" don't always apply, learning to view her parents differently, learning to help solve a decades-long rift in her father's band.

She proves herself a good writer capable of writing for a major publication, capable of getting a good story, not just the surface fluff. She proves herself to have a good head on her shoulders, not getting swept away by the glam and possibilities of the lifestyle available to the celebrity. She proves herself to her mother. The girl is everything you want in a good teen character.

And, just for full effect, a love story in which she again shows herself to have a good sense of self, but grows up, too.

Good stuff.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


King Dork

Frank Portman, aka Dr. Frank, was known to me as the guy in MTX, and referenced in one of my favourite Queers songs. So when I saw a teen novel with his name on the cover? I was kinda curious. What would a Berkeley punk write about, exactly?

Well, about the fatuousness of the Catcher in the Rye cult, about high school abuse of the dorkish, about clueless parents and about step-parents who try too hard, about the weird power structure of the "in" crowd, about dirty old men and sinister plots, about an inscrutable best friend, about the forming and naming of bands, and about trying to find some way to know your dead father, even if what you learn is at least half imaginary.

Rambling, fascinating, spot on in spots and way out in ways, this is one that leaves you with questions, but is still somehow satisfying in its substance.

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Missy Violet & Me

by Barbara Hathaway. A Coretta Scott King Winner.

This slim volume of fiction could be read by a grade 3, but perhaps is better suited for a 4 or 5.

Viney is eleven the summer her family's seventh child is delivered by the midwife, Missy Violet, and can't pay her for this one or the sixth, still owing. So Viney will spend the summer with her, helping "catch babies." And learning. About herb medicine, about where babies really do come from, about how to kindly soothe someone in distress. And, in the end, about having the confidence to step in, and maybe a bit about what she might want for her own future.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Mable Riley: A Reliable Record of Humdrum Peril and Romance

by Marthe Jocelyn.

It's 1901, and Mable accompanies her sister to Sellerton, where Viola will be the new school mistress. There, she discovers the power of gossip and reputation at the same time that she discovers Ms. Rattle, a bloomer-clad suffragette who leads the local cheese factory girls in the town's first strike. Mable is often in trouble and Viola's position in a precarious situation because of her, but in the end, she sorts out everything to such a satisfactory end as to have her missteps excused.

Interspersed with her journal entries are the chapters of a silly serial adventures story she writes to entertain her friends back home.

This book and its heroine owe a massive debt to Anne of Green Gables and Josephine March, the daydreaming victorian spitfires that came before her. And because of that, I can see fans of those books loving this one, which doesn't stray too far from their fine example.

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