Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Paranoid Park

by Blake Nelson.

When a teen skater - but a Prep, not a Streeter - first goes to an underground skatepark, he thinks it is amazing. But the next time, he and a Streeter get into a bad situation that ends in a death. An accident, but mostly his fault, and a horrible, gory accident, at that. The bulk of the book deals with the aftermath of this andhow he handles it.

The book has a really realistic feel to it, how this massive guilty secret colours everything in the kid's life, how it is never out of his mind, how he wrestles with the idea of telling, of turning himself in, and thinks about who it would affect. How he is careful, guarded, all the time and doesn't feel like he can be open to anyone, in any way, really. How frightened he is when the police ask questions. In the end, the first person narrative is composed of letters written to one person he feels comfortable with, though he doesn't really know her all that well.

This was a good book, even though it made me tense, because it keeps you in suspense. The emotions of it are clear and believable, and while it seems on the surface like it suggests you can get away with stuff, I think it really does a good job of showing how high a price you really pay on the inside and how it cuts you off from people around you, making it actually a good cautionary tale.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, bk. II
by Rick Riordan

This second installment in the Percy Jackson series starts with Percy again returning to Camp Half-Blood, but this time, against directions. he finds it under attack, as someone has poisoned the tree that protects it, adn someone must go on a quest to find the only thing that might heal it - the Golden Fleece. Yes, that golden fleece, did you know of another? The premise of this series is that Percy discovers as a young teenager that he is the son of Poseidon, and the others at the Camp are half-bloods, too, heroes in training.

The premise of the series is fun, though the storyline in this one is not great. The action still not bad, but it just fails to deliver the same kind of non-stop, gripping action and guessing about the mythology that the first one does. He does encounter plenty of the good old monsters, mostly ones that Odysseus ran into, since he has to travel to the island inhabited by the same Cyclops, and those with some knowledge of classics will likely find it as fun as I do to see wehre it's going, but still. Ultimately, while it's certainly okay, it just isn't as good as the first one. I sure hope things pick up again in book III. I will read it, just in case, because the first one was really good.

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Monday, October 22, 2007


The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen

by Mitali Perkins.

Eighth-grader Sunita Sen has lived a pretty normal, pretty American-style life up until her grandparents arrived from India to live with her family for a year. Suddenly her mother took a year off from teaching college chemistry and traded her pantsuits for sarees, morphing into the ideal Indian daughter she thought her parents would want, and expected Sunita to follow suit.

Sunita is angry with her mother for changing everything about herself and their family, and embarrassed by how different they suddenly seem from the other, "American" families of her classmates. When her mother tells her not to bring home any boys, her budding romance with Michael is brought to a screaming halt, as she is too mortified to tell him the truth.

Eventually, her best friend Liz and her love for her grandfather bring things to a head, and she steps up, letting her classmates see her family as they are, telling Michael the truth and rekindling their friendship, and helps her grandparents and her mother start talking. This opening of communications allows her mother to relax, take some part-time teaching on again, and lets her see her family for the wonderful people they are. In the end, she even invites her classmates over to her house for a birthday party, something she never imagined doing just a week before.

I loved this book for the real feeling of it. What 12-year-old is not embarrassed about their family? And her confusion over her place, partly in Indian culture and partly Americanized, rings true. I also liked how the resolution came not as some reasoned lecture, not as some blinding epiphany, but in a moment of anger that made her let her guard down, and then everything came flooding out when she couldn't take the pressure any longer. Again, it hit the perfect note. I can see any middle grade or even teen reader of immigrant parents really understanding this and seeing their own dilemmas in it.

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The Loud Silence of Francine Green

by Karen Cushman.

I usually love Karen Cushman anyhow, but this one was great. In her usual manner, she has taken a period in history - the McCarthy era 50's in this book - and placed a fairly strong-minded character there. But in this case, her strong-minded girl is not her main (title) character, but her best friend, Sophie. Sophie arrives in Francince's world and turns it upside down, with her talk of politics and willingness to get in trouble to defend what she sees as her right to free speech and free thinking. Sophie's family is sure different, too. Her father talks with her about what is in the news, discusses ideas like Sophie is a grownup with her own opinions, while Francine is feeling more and more hemmed in by a steady diet of, "That's enough, Francine."

As Francine starts to see injustice and fear around her, she begins to form her own opinions, to get angry about things, to not always agree with the pack the way she has been encouraged to do and always has before. Her 6-year-old brother should not be having nightmares about bombs and communists, her father should not have to worry about whether he can afford to build a shelter to protect his family from nuclear war, her friend's father should not have lost his job for being suspected of communist sympathies, and his friend should not have been blacklisted and hounded by the FBI until he was driven to suicide. By the end of this book, Francine decides that her father's way of trying to protect them by not rocking the boat and not getting involved is not going to be her way. She decides that if she is appalled by what she is seeing, she should start to take a stand, even if it makes her stomach twist in fear of trouble.

This book is fantastic, not only for showing the kind of constant fear and confusion the people lived in at that time, but also for doing a terrific but not heavy-handed job of showing the dangers of a time when government tells people to accept its spying on its own citizens in the name of security. A thinking kid will pick up on it without feeling lectured, while one who doesn't make the connection will still enjoy the story for what is in print. Wonderful.

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Monday, October 15, 2007


Not-So-Weird Emma

by Sally Warner.

A book before Super Emma in the series. In this book, there is a rash of name-calling and hurt feelings in Emma's classroom, and she is the new kid, trying to make friends. Emma and her friend Annie Pat feel bad about their part in it, but don't know how to say so, as the whole thing seems to have taken on a life of its own. The teacher catches wind of what has been going on, and chews out the whole class, threatening to take away a treat she has planned for them. After a series of apologies, everyone feels better, and they enjoy playing with a parachute together, as one big group.

This book and Super Emma are simple enough, being early chapter books, but they take on some of the types of situations that arise in classroom dynamics, and the author really seems to get how it looks to a child, how difficult it is to know how to handle it when you're in the middle of it all. The voice is realistic, not one of those wacky girl books so popular right now, and I think these could be a nice read for a child having some trouble navigating the social jockeying of school. They don't offer up pat solutions, but not feeling alone can go a long way, and they might even try what works for Emma.

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Super Emma

by Sally Warner.

Yet another young reader featuring a spunky young girl, this little star is not the wild and wacky diva so many other strive to be. Rather, she is just a regular girl who in this short early reader, jumps into a situation without thinking, taking on a bully who is bothering a classmate. Bullying situiations are complicated, though, and she asks her mother not to get involved, while also finding herself on the receiving end of some hateful glares from the kid she tried to help. She draws the bully's ire, and the situation escalates into a full-scale schoolyard scrap. She and the bully's other victim get themselves in trouble, as does the bully, and the whole class endures an afternoon of lecturing and problem-solving talks. Her mom is proud of her standing up to the bully, though not thrilled with the fighting, and the lesson is passed on without preaching that the kid who told the teacher did the right thing. All in all, not a bad treatment of how a bullying situation can get out of hand, and how it could be better handled, without straying into Earnest territory.

Try also Andrew Clements' Jake Drake, Bully Buster, another early reader on the same theme.

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Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

by Wendy Mass

When Jeremy, a few weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, receives a mysterious box from his dead father, it sets him on a quest. The search, he thinks, is for the missing keys, four of them, to open the box inscribed "The Meaning of Life: For Jeremy Fink To Open On His 13th Birthday." The search, though, takes him in some most surprising paths, including the delivery of long-lost items to some very interesting characters. He takes the opportunity to learn from them, too, and by the time the four keys come together, he has been on quite the adventure. In the end, he makes an even more startling discovery, but his sense of who he is and how he fits into he world has grown, and he is filled with a greater sense of both peace and purpose.

This book was a great, fun, journey, filled with interesting people and little unexpected twists, including the one at the end. Jeremy's learning manages to not be too pat or trite, despite containing the kind of "wisdom" that could come off that way. Instead, it really gets you thinking about the search he is on, and I can see it being quite inspiring for the kind of child who thinks about their reading. Even if not, it's a terrific little read.

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Monday, October 08, 2007


Size 12 Is Not Fat

by Meg Cabot.

This is one that is really in the adutl collection, but I include it here for teens for a couple of reasons. One, Meg is primarily a teen writer, and the voice here is similar to her teen books. They will relate. Two, the character is just in her early twenties, having been a teen pop sensation and now working in a residence hall at the thinly disguised New York U. Again, an age group and setting entirely relatable for older teens. Finally, did you know that the Young Adult section at the library is actually aimed up to 25? Yep.

But about the book... So Heather wells used to be a bubble gummy pop singer, until she decided she wanted to sing different material and also started to put on a bit of weight. Now she's working at a residence hall so she can go to classes some day, since her mother took off with her savings and she's got not much to live on. luckily, her ex's brother (and her current crush) Copper lets her live in an extra apartment at his house near the university, so it's working for now. At least, things are relatively smoothe until two deaths at the residence hall seem related, and she's the only one who doesn't believe they are accidents. But when her own life starts looking like it's in danger too, she gets Cooper and a police detective involved.

So it's a mystery. And it's chicklit. And what's with the title? Well, Heather is a little defensive about now being a size 12 which, as she keeps pointing out, is not fat, it's the size of the average American woman, god! It's fun and fluffy and now there's a sequel which I will get to at some point, too, if you enjoy this one. And if you tend to like Meg's other work, you will.

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