Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Publisher Review: Confessions of a Serial Kisser

by Wendelin van Draanen. Knopf Books for Young Readers. Find more information about the title at the publisher's website, here.

(First, a word about publisher reviews.)

Evangeline is looking for something, and she's not sure what until she trips on a romance novel of her mother's, and reads about crimson kisses. That is it, she thinks, she needs that passion. Reading a self-help book on living your dream makes her convinced that she should just go for it, and she does.

She's not necessarily finding what she's after, though, and instead of finding passion and romance, finds herself in a mess. Her reputation is taking a hit, her best friend gets angry with her, and more than one of the guys she's tried out as a kisser is unthrilled with the aftermath. Now she has to try to figure out a way to clean up this mess, not to mention figure out what went wrong in the first place.

Add to that the fact that her mother seems to be willing to take back her father after a separation, while Evangeline is holding onto her anger, but feels like she can't talk to anyone about that. And the fact that her grades are slipping as she becomes preoccupied by everyone except school. It's beginning to get desparate, when she gets some help and support from a few directions, has an epiphany of her own, and begins to get things back on track. Somehow, the crimson kiss seems less important, and she finds herself looking for something more realisitc, but just as exciting in the end.

I was curious to see how van Draanen would do teen chicklit - I have enjoyed her middle grade Sammy Keyes mysteries and the novel Flipped, and thought she could do a character with a little more substance than the too-typical fluff-dwellers. She didn't disappoint - Evangeline has a strong base, even if she loses it for a while, and comes back to her senses in the end. She also has her own interests - van Draanen sprinkles the book liberally with references to blues rock, including bands and songs that she listens to, for she is a serious music lover. All of which make for a nice solid character and a message about being grounded and true to yourself that resonates without ever hammering to bring it home.

I really quite liked this one, both as a fun read and a fine example of the kind of girl you'd like other girls to see - fun, but sensible, cool, but smart. Good stuff, indeed.

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by Jerry Spinelli.

This latest book by multi-award-winner Spinelli hits some of the same notes as his other big titles, but somehow, I felt missed by a bit.

As with many of his stories, his characters are damaged - David has lost his mother and is both angry and trying to find a way to get her back, while Primrose has no father and a mother she is embarrassed and angry about. The two find each other and develop a kind of strange relationship, each angering and needling the other, each easily offended, yet somehow needing someone. They come together and apart often, according to their latest level of hurt, and in the end, take a journey together that heals in some ways, but not as much as the homecoming.

I like the way he gives his characters realistic responses, and I found that the prickliness of the two felt right, like them just bonding happily would have been false, and I am always happy to see the happyish ending, where things are not all sunshine and roses yet, but where you can see everyone moving towards a better future. I think he handles these things well, and enjoy them, even if they are beginning to seem like what he always does.

So what did I think missed? I think I found the book a bit disjointed in the writing, making it harder for me to get into, like the author was trying to be clever by making us guess what was going on for a while before revealing things. Perhaps this is meant to draw the reader in, but I found it more of an obstacle than a compelling lure.

And I think there were some things that seemed like they were supposed to be significant in some way that were left untouched in the end - like the eggs. Yes, they were a theme, present in the opening egg hunt scene, in descriptions of the sun and its rising, in the egging of Primrose's room, and in the fragility of the characters, though this is not pointed out directly. But what was with the egging? It is clear that it is part of her life as an outcast, but is never really addressed, which I think would have been helpful.

Overall, it's fine, and fans of Spinelli will probably not be disappointed, but I just felt it wasn't his best. Instead? I loved Crash, would recommend Maniac Magee, of course, and found Loser an interesting study.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

by Gabrielle Zevin.

Right off the bat, I was amused by the contradiction in the title. And the flap was intriguing.

So we have Naomi, who lost a coin toss, went back into the school to grab a camera and lock up, and on the way out, lands at the bottom of the school steps with a head injury and amnesia going back some four years. Meaning she has forgotten a lot - all of high school, some major family and life events, much about her relationships with others in the school. She's sort of starting over, and starting over knowing she's a bit of a curiosity in the school. In high school. Ouch.

It's a tough book to talk about without giving some of the twists and turns and discoveries away, and I think they are worth leaving for you to discover, so I will instead, just note that as she learns things and navigates her way forward through that and her re-entry into school, she finds herself interested in some different things and people, learns more than she initially might expect, and does some real growing up along the way.

By the end, she is in some ways where she started, and in other, important ways, in a very different place. I like the ending, it does wind up how I would hope, and i think the person she ends up as is a much more likeable person, all told.

I really liked this one, and kept wanting to know what came next, always a good sign. I'm not telling you a lot, here, but I will tell you I think it's a great read.

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