Saturday, January 26, 2008


Leepike Ridge

by N.D. Wilson.

This book reminds me in some ways of Holes even though the stories are not that alike on the surface, I think for the way things of past and future blend in improbable but really interesting ways, and for the fact that in each, a pair take on a seemingly futile journey fueled by hope alone.

In this book, Tom runs off one night, angry about his mother's possible answer to a marriage proposal, and finds himself swept down a crevice in a river, landing in an underground lake in a cavern. He finds a few useful things on someone who had come before him and died, and is soon joined by a dog, who keeps him company. When a storm causes the water to start rising, he reaches a new crevice, and is swept into a further cavern, where he is fished out by a man who had been stuck in his cave for some three years.

Not willing to give up and settle in, Tom lights the man's own small flicker of hope, and the two set out on a mission to get out or die trying, but not before some startling revelations on the part of this long-lost man, Reg.

Meanwhile, on the surface, Tom's mother is in danger, as treasure-hunters use this opportunity to move onto her land, and they want her out of their way. Her only real ally is a strange old man that her late husband had always liked, who helps save the day in the end. I don't want to give away the ending, here, but it all wraps up in ways that are lovely and interesting and hopeful, which is always a plus, if you ask me.

This book has lovely language, without becoming overly complex, has a nice way with coincidence and taking chances, and carries a message about perserverance that I quite like, especially in that it is not heavy-handed at all. The only part that I think might give kids some pause is when Tom is trapped with the dead man deep underground. He raids his backpack, pries a helmet with a lamp off his head, pries on boot off to try to send a message, pops a ring off his finger so he can give it to police for identification when he gets out, and ultimately pushes him out into the lake, a message carved into the toe of his other boot. This is not just a little icky and creepy, so the squeamish might not enjoy that, but I would guess that by middle grades, most kids can handle it, given what else they may have read or watched.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Bad Tickets

by Kathleen O'Dell.

A coming of age book if ever there was one, this tale of Mary Margaret Hallinen's life-changing summer is set in the late 60's, during the draft and the era of drugs and sexual revolution. Could there be a time more suited to the whole notion of breaking out of the old, predefined ideas of your future and your behaviour and wanting to find a whole new way of doing things, all your own? It's almost too easy a device, but it works here, where she is finding her way while in tension between her parents' loveless shotgun wedding and the ensuing mess of Catholic children and her new best friend's wild, partying ways, including hanging out at a house full of hippies.

In the end, a bold act and a surprise twist teach her something about how to find something in between, and how even the boldest can find themselves going down a road that she never wanted. It's a good read, though it's a little scary to watch a young girl so out of control, but I like the way it balances the sides of the coin while it avoids being lesson-y.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008


Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw Rose

by Mary Quattlebaum.

This is a short read, about the length of an early chapter book, but the language is higher-level. It might make a great one for a reluctant reader or someone intimidated by heftier volumes.

It's a nice early mystery, too, with a very relate-able young boy in an urban setting who loves basketball as the central character. It's not a whodunnit-style mystery, but rather a strange series of circumstances that lead his friend to believe that a rose cutting they snatched for a friend of the family might be cursed. Or perhaps, thinks Jackson, haunted. In the end, they return it to where it originated, only to discover a little extra background.

It's a nice light read with just a touch of spooky atmosphere, but not enough to give anyone any nightmares. I think it would make a great transition from Easy Readers into older fiction for a kid in in about grade 3 or 4, but as always, I suggest having the kid try reading a paragraph or two to see if it's a good reading level for them when you are looking at these kinds of steps up.

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Friday, January 18, 2008


Harlem Summer

by Walter Dean Myers.

The big gun and big daddy of black children's and teen writers, Myers has painted a vivid picture of Harlem in the 1920s in this story that I suppose would fall under the header of "coming of age," in that Mark grows up a bit and learns some things about himself, the world, and his place in it.

Mark is caught between two very different sides of life and black culture that summer, as he works in the magazine offices of the NAACP's The Crisis, under the direction of some very educated and refined people (including Mr. W.E.B. DuBois), while he spends his evening carousing with friends and accidentally getting caught up in the bootlegging business and running afoul of gangsters. What he really wants lies in neither of these two extremes - he dreams of playing jazz saxophone with his friends in a club, and recording an album.

When everything comes to a head, he discovers a little about what he doesn't want out of life, even if he doesn't quite know exactly what he does want to be, and at the close, we see him make a step in the right direction.

Myers' writing is vivid and jumping with slang and licks of the love of jazz. His writing of Marks' voice brings the whole thing to life in a way that a third person voice just couldn't do, and lets us see Mark's own confusion and how much the young man has ahead of him to learn. A great period piece, the books also includes photos and mini-bios of many of the historical figures and locales mentioned during the story, adding a nice touch for those who are curious.

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Finding Stinko

by Michael de Guzman.

This interesting and fast-moving book centres around Newboy, abandoned at birth by his street kid mother, in hopes of him having a better life. Instead, he ends up in the foster care system, running away from one so-called home after another, and at some point, becomes mute without physical cause. Finally, he decides to make a serious break for it. One of those issues books? yes and no.

Yes, he learns that the street is a tough place, gets beaten and knocked around a bit, goes hungry some, gets recaptured once, and so on. Yes, the evils of some of his parents make the whoel foster system sound terrible, and running away no better.

But this book has heart. Newboy finds a ventriloquist's dummy, dubs him Stinko, and finds himself oddly able to speak through him. He makes a friend or two along the way among street kids, helping a couple of them and getting help in return. He figures out he can make a tiny bit of money using Stinko as a street performer. He meets a man who feeds him and teaches him to dance. Along the way, he bonds with a couple of kids so strongly that they not only rescue him, but the trio is going to set off for warmer climes. And somewhere in the midst of it all, he finds his own voice.

So this book is about abuse and life on the streets, but it is also about connecting, growing, finding yourself, the danger and the kindness of strangers, and forging your own family of friends. It was, it turns out, a pretty good read.

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The Case of the Missing Marquess

by Nancy Springer.

This book starts with a premise that could make for cheese and disaster all over the place in the wrong hands - Enola Holmes, much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, has a sudden problem - her independent, strong-minded, older mother has disappeared.

She starts to realize why when she meets her brothers, and finds also that her mother has left her a message and the means to run off on her own, despite the plans of Mycroft, who wants to mold her into a proper upper-class young woman, not the untamed thing her mother has raised.

Along the way, she meets up with a young Marquess who is similarly looking to escape the confines of his family, and solves his missing persons case, all the while evading her brothers and some villains looking to kidnap the pair of them.

What makes this work is her independent spirit, her own methods of detecting (often enough by instinct or accident), and the fact that she is not some Sherlock clone in skirts. She in fact didn't really need the family connection, but it does make a nice tension that is not played too strongly. I really enjoyed this one, and will be looking for the other titles in the series.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008


The Clone Conspiracy

by Simon Rose

This mini-thriller is slightly more complicated reading than an Easy-to-Read book, but not by a lot. Its short length (88pp.) keeps it in range for kids who are not dedicated readers, while also keeping it moving, in order to fit a little thriller into its pages. It's written well enough, given the little space left over once plot is being driven, but is nothing special.

Still, a kid who likes the way TV shows move forward will find this similar. It begins with the disappearnace of Patrick, Luke's friend. After a few months, he sees him by chance, and is drawn into a strange mystery involving cloning and evil scientists. Not much time is spent on details, but essentially, they wanted Patrick in order to use his body to house another mind. And now Luke and Patrick's sister are in danger, too... Where does the conspiracy end?

Simple and fast-paced, it's what we call a hi-lo. High interest, low reading skill necessary.

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Ziggy and the Plugfish

by Jonathan Harlen.

Kooky in the way of cartoons like Spy Groove or Atomic Betty, zany in the style of Daniel Pinkwater, this is a great read for someone who likes fast-moving and silly. A lot of the (mostly boy) readers of series like Captain Underpants would probably like this as a next step up in the reading chain, because while it is somewhat wordier, it has the same kind of madcap feel about it, and inhabits a similalry appealing (to kids) world where only the kids make sense.

The story begins when Ziggy Plunkett's parents are consumed by some sort of giant jellyfish who has washed up on the beach where they were vacationing. And so does the rescue ranger who tries to pull them out. And then, as he and his newfound partner Shayla try to figure out what to do next, a submarine shows up and starts pulling the whole jiggling mess out to sea. So they follow, attempting a rescue, and find themselves at the bottom of the Marianas Trench before things are put right. Even the conclusion is bizarre, but pretty funny.

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Boy Meets Boy

by David Levithan

Levithan is one of the big bright lights in teen lit these days, and I loved his parts of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, so I wanted to try seomthing of his own. plus, the cover is cute, and I haven't read a lot of teen gay lit - seriously, it's like chicklit for boys who like boys.

The story was cute, the writing wonderful, the emotions exactly the kind of gut-wrenching up-and-down-ness of new maybe-love. My only real issue was the fact that the whole town and school and setting was obviously SO fictional. A town where the star quarterback is also the homecoming queen? Where there are no issues with being gay in any corner, it seems? Where the main character has never had a tough time because of it? He has one friend from a neighbouring town who has religious parents who have trouble with his sexuality, but otherwise, everything is tickety-boo. Hmm. It's like the most idealized, hazy-focused vision of what life could be like if no one had problems with any form of sexuality or its expression. Which is lovely and all, but still sadly far from realistic, and I think most gay teens would know that pretty well already. Still, I suppose, if you are going to lose yourself in sweet fiction, why not escape all the way?

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