Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bras & Broomsticks, by Sarah Mlynowski

When Rachel finds out that her little sister Miri is a witch (and that her Mom is too), her first thought is how amazingly unfair it is that she didn't get the same powers, but then she realizes that magic could do wonders for her popularity and maybe even help her keep her Dad from marrying Jennifer (the STB). But quickly, Rachel learns that popularity and magic can have some pretty harsh consequences.

Part recycled Grimms Tale (and what good story isn't?) but with some modern cred behind it, Rachel will remind readers a lot of Cyd Charisse (the heroine of Gingerbread and Shrimp) but a bit younger. She's as boy crazy but maybe not as boy lucky. And the writing is snappy and fast paced. I'm not too bonkers for the story which seems a bit predictable and well-trod, but it's a fun read.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Truth About Sparrows, by Marian Hale

When Sadie's family is forced to sell their home and travel in search of a new life at the height of the Depression, Sadie hopes the change will be temporary. She hopes that soon they'll be able to return home to Missouri and to her best friend Wilma. But as time goes by, Sadie realizes that there is no going back, and that she must make a new home on the Texas coast, with new friends and a new life.

Hale's story of coming of age in the midst of economic dispair has all the makings of assigned reading. It's a good story if you're into historical fiction, but one can't help but wonder how many readers end up reading it because they have to write a book report for school. The strengths are the crisp writing and tone that never misses a beat, but there isn't much that will grab and hold you.

My own reading experience was interrupted as I started reading this book a month ago and had to stop because the copy I was reading was missing pages -- so there was a gap in my experience. That said, I didn't find myself gripped with suspense at what I was missing, so while this is a good book, it's no page turner.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Harley Like A Person, by Cat Bauer

Harley think she may be adopted [didn't we just read that two books back?] and it would explain how her eye color differs from the rest of her family, and why her parents have lost her birth certificate and get all weird when she brings up her suspicions. But mostly Harley needs it to be true, to help her cope with the spiraling nightmare of her life which is causing her to lose touch with who she is. Instead, she tries alcohol, smoking, and drugs, climaxing is a last ditch effort to sort everything out which takes her to New York.

This is a pretty dark and melodramatic book. It's not bad. The writing is good, the characters are believable. I bought the motives and all, but the payoff at the end will disappoint as you just hoped for so much more, and the plotlines developed early just seem to die in the end. As far as "mystery of where I came from" stories, this is lightyears ahead of the Face on the Milk Carton.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Keeping You A Secret, by Julie Anne Peters

Holland Jaeger is the senior class president, on her way to majoring in pre-law at Stanford, and the apple in the eye of her mother. She dates Seth (also on Student Council) and has a great set of friends. But then she meets Cece, a very out-of-the-closet teen lesbian, and Holland begins to have feelings that she has a hard time explaining to her mother, her friends, or herself.

Peters scores again with a touching book about coming out in high school, and the difficulties of being gay, when you're still trying to figure out what you want to major in in college, let alone what your sexual orientation is. It's not instant classic material, but it's a good book. I'll have to fault it slightly for dragging a bit at parts and then speeding to catch up. Maybe some editorial assistance? But these are the type of quibbles that shouldn't lead anyone to not read this book. Peters hasn't really expanded herself very much from Define "Normal" but she's in a very good place.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Anybodies, by Julianna Baggott [N.E. Bode]

Fern has been convinced for most of her life that she was raised by the wrong parents. They are dull and boring while Fern is certainly not. They talk endlessly about lawn care, while she is able to make crickets emerge from books, witness a nun turn into a lamppost and an umbrella, and sees evil clouds and watchful birds. Then, much to her delight, her suspicions are revealed to be true when her long lost real father Bone shows up and swaps her for the Summer with the boy who is supposed to be living where Fern is. And she acquires a mission: to find a powerful book called The Art of Being Anyone, before it falls into the devious hands of The Miser. There are angry fairies, dinosaurs, and all of your favorite children's book characters to deal with before Fern is done.

Julianna Baggott (writing as N. E. Bode) has obviously had a great deal of fun with this book, telling a story that will amuse children and put a smile on the face of lovers of kid lit. It's full of references to all sorts of classics (and more than a few knowing jibes at pretentious MFA creative writing programs as well!). Ine wonders if the whole thing isn't a bit too precious, but it's a quick read. Nice if you like fantasy, and a welcome break from so much of the other much-less-clever stuff out there.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Miles Halter comes to Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama with few friends and fewer regrets. His great accomplishment so far is his obsession with people's last words. But his life changes as first he meets his new roommate (the colonel) and then he meets the enigmatic and emotionally volatile Alaska -- the young woman who would be the Love of His Life if only she would stop making fun of him for it. In this very touching and insightful look at growing up from a boy's point of view, everything is about Alaska. Everything, that is, until After.

I remain very very torn about this book. I hate boy books, especially books about boys written by boys. So, I really want to hate this book, but I now understand why this book is getting all the buzz this year from the librarians. John Green is truly an outstanding writer and I can see this winning the Printz (at least, it SHOULD win it). You will laugh and you will cry -- I rarely do when I read, but this was a major exception. I'd ding it if I could, but it deserves all four stars. stunning!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ola's Wake, by B. J. Stone

Josie and her Mom travel to the Ozarks to attend Great-Grandma Ola's funeral. Josie never met Ola when she was alive, but now she wants to get to know her. Through listening to other people's stories and learning about live in the Ozarks, Josie is able to do so.

It cute and quaint and a fast read. It's also disjointed and never really develops into a real story.

Belle Teal, by Ann M. Martin

Belle Teal is growing up in the South in the late Fifties. Her grandmother is going senile and her mother is studying at secretarial school while trying to support them all, so there's really no one at home for Belle Teal to tell about the new colored boy at school or snooty new rich girl. As she confronts her classmate's blatant racism with the help of her friend and a sympathetic young teacher, Belle Teal does a lot of growing up.

Probably one of Martin's better novels, this one still has some rough spots, almost as if it was rushed and underedited. It is enjoyable enough as a read for middle readers, but gets a bit scrappy at parts. Like other novels about racism in the past, this novel seems suspciously like one of those books you get assigned to read, rather than choose to. Might make a good book report subject but for enjoyment I'd go for something more contemporary and relevant.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tae's Sonata, by Haemi Balgassi

Taeyoung is a very self-conscious eighth-grader, but she has reason to be so, as one of only two Korean-Americans in her school. She copes with discrimination (some real, some imagined) and with a sense of isolation and loneliness, struggles with friendship and shifting loyalties, and a growing sense of herself.

A nice, charming, and short book about growing up Asian in America. Nothing terribly deep, but not a shallow book either. A good read.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

See You Down the Road, by Kim Ablon Whitney

Bridget is a Traveller, a group of modern day nomads who travle in trailers, making a living largely by ripping people off and then moving on before they can get caught. But 16 year old Bridget isn't sure that this life is for her. The stealing is part of her concern but it's also her upcoming marriage to Patrick that makes her question who she is and what she wants to do with her life.

Based on a real subculture, Whitney carves out an amazingly fresh landscape to tell her story. And being such an unusual background, the characters operate in ways we aren't accustomed to. How many teens worry about engagements, bride prices, and stealing to make their parents proud of them? I'll give the book high marks for originality and presenting a compelling set of characters.

But I think my reservations come mostly from personal problems with the story. It's hard to care about Bridget's fretting about getting married when she's defrauding and outright robbing people right and left and lives with such a distorted moral compass that this is OK. When you think of how these people live, this is a very difficult group to feel sympathy for.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner

Atalanta is a divinely-blessed huntress and athlete, accompanying Jason and his Argonauts on hunts and a favored mortal of the Goddess Artemis. When Atalanta's father, the king, comes to claim her from the woods where she was abandoned, he demands that she marry. And she replies by setting up a contest, a race which every suitor must run (and win) if he wishes to stay alive. Many suitors dies until Atalanta meets her match.

The story is classic Greek myth, with Spinner's psychological interpretation superimposed on the story. The result is uneven. Some scenes (like the boar's hunt) are nicely drawn, but the characters are sketchy and undeveloped. The most interesting parts end up being the squabbles of the gods themselves.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

My Father's Summers, by Kathi Appelt

In a series of short, poetic passages, Appelt tells the story of her childhood, growing up in Houston with a father who went to Arabia to escape his family, returning only to divorce her mother and marry another woman.

This really is not a YA book, but rather a book for adults about looking back on a childhood. The passages are all quite bittersweet, but it is not a tough task to make a brief segment come off that way. And it doesn't really create a story per se, just a collection of ideas. Nice writing, but not really storytelling either.