Friday, September 24, 2010



Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka

by Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka, as you likely know, is one of the funnier authors around, and is also a huge proponent of finding the right books for boys to read. His own books have massive boy appeal, and he highlight a lot of others, as well as giving advice, on his website, Guys Read.

Like Gary Paulsen, whose hilarious How Angel Peterson Got His Name had me literally guffawing (and I don't do that often), Scieszka has been moved to write about what it was like growing up a rowdy boy among other rowdy boys. Thank goodness, because this book is funny - and explains a lot about how he became such a funny guy, himself.

The family stories and photos are, as those commercials like to put it, "priceless," being funny, revealing, and wonderful snapshots of the era he grew up in. The stories are full of humour, horseplay, and sometimes pain, with physical comedy looming large. It's not all slapstick, though, because these stories of his boyhood are also full of heart, reflecting the full range of chaos and love that coexist in a big family.

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Bang, Bang, You're Dead!

by Narinder Dhami

After reading Todd Strasser's novel/indictment about school shootings, and in preparing to read an adult novel on the topic, I came across this book, and was surprised to find that it was British. Since we tend to think of school shootings as an american phenomenon, I was curious to see how it would be handled differently here.

The book alternates between the actual action of what is happening in the school and the reasons why Mia believes that her twin brother might be the one holding the gun, including a look back over their lives, beginning as very young children looking after themselves while their mentally ill mother lay in bed during the depressed phases of her bipolar cycles.

Mia is nearly certain that her twin is trying to both pay back a girl who bullied her and make her mother sit up and take notice of how her refusal to seek help is affecting the family. They are, after all, living on the brink, and Mia does not feel that she has the strength to deal with it, while she watches her brother become ever more distant and scornful.

During the school shooting, Mia is so certain it's her brother that rather than evacuate the school with her classmates, she runs toward the classroom held hostage, hoping to talk him down, only to find herself playing cat and mouse with the gunman, who she hears rather than sees until the last second.

This story has a twist ending that took me completely by surprise, and which I will not give away, but I will say that the British tradition of psychological thrillers and mysteries is definitely alive and well, even in teen fiction...

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Fever Crumb

by Philip Reeve

To start, let me say that the post-apocalyptic setting is not one I am drawn to, and in fact it was the cover of this book and the description of it that drew me in - until I started reading, and found myself curious and, soon enough, invested in Fever's story.

Fever has always been told that she was found as a baby, and brought to live with the Order of Engineers, where she has been raised as one of them: logical, analytical, and dismissive of emotion. She ventures out into the world to assist an archeologist, who begins to turn her world upside down when he brings her to places that she remembers, in vivid detail, despite having lived her entire life with the Engineers. When she is spotted, with her mismatched eyes, by paranoid Londoners who believe her to be a remnant of the species who has lorded over them not long ago, she becomes hunted. Soon, her past, the city's past, and the strange memories become hopelessly intertwined, and she learns the truth about her birth, just as new forces invade the city. At the centre of the desires and fears of many and opposing forces, Fever managed to emerge safe, but thoroughly transformed.

Reeve is a skillful author who draws readers in quickly, building characters and setting up a scenario right away. The larger world around them comes out along the way, and was so fully imagined and so filled with clever details that I found myself becoming more and more curious about it. I am now on the lookout for more by him!

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