Monday, February 27, 2006

If We Kiss, by Rachel Vail

Charlie starts the year off with her first kiss. That ought to be a good thing except that the boy (Kevin) then starts to date her best friend Tess. And Kevin's father starts to date Charlie's Mom. And when it couldn't get any more confusing and complicated, it seems that Kevin still wants to kiss her...and she wants to kiss him too.

Both predictable and cliche, yet fun and original, Vail does a wonderful job at producing a realistic story. It doesn't break new ground, it won't teach you life's lessons, and it won't shock the schoolboard, but it is entertaining and fun to read. The literary equivalent of comfort food.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Locked Inside, by Nancy Werlin

Marnie has learned to be very careful how she opens up. It was an important survival technique as soons as she was old enough to realize the way that people would try to use her because of her famous mother. But when she is kidnapped, she must confront that decision to stay closed up, and learn to trust the right people in order to survive.

A thriller. Not my usual choice of genre, but I'm trying to branch out. The whole thing was a bit too long and rambling for my taste, with very little long-term redeeming quality to it, but it was entertaining. The characters never quite sucked me in but the novel wasn't a bad experience. If you like thrillers and mysteries, this one is not bad.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Just Like That, by Marsha Qualey

Hanna breaks up with her boyfriend, blows off her friends' party invite and takes a walk out to the lake during a bitterly cold Minnesota night. What happens next triggers a series of event that compound with others to create a story of sorts as Hanna separates herself from her friends, finds new ones, and seeks out lost family relations for herself and others.

This is an odd book. On its face, it's very poorly organized. Plot twists show up out of the blue, usually with only a few pages foreshadowing (important character information is presented after the fact to justify these twists). It all reeks of bad writer. Yet, this is well-written and one suspects that the poorly announced plot twists are something of a style. That particular style may or may not appeal. I'll give it points for originality, but I'm not so sure it works for me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Splintering, by Eireann Corrigan

In the aftermath of a random act of violence against a family, the individual members of the family must recover and rebuild. Each one struggles with their own demons and none of them can quite figure out a way to reconnect. Through a series of prose poems which are alternating visions of what brother and sister feel, Corrigan brings to life their conflicting feelings.

Some poetry collections work, while others become excuses for fragmented writing. This is an example of the latter. It doesn't help that the poetry isn't really that good. Long rambling free verse, the language is basically prose written in snippets. That's really an abuse of the form, as if Corrigan can't connect the dots between the various scenes or find a way to connect her characters. Yes, as the title implies, being splintered and disconnected might be the point here, but this is pretty turgid reading. The characters mostly mope around, not really realizing anything about themselves or others, and end up pretty much where they started. Very little payoff here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sandpiper, by Ellen Wittlinger

Sandpiper Hollow has a confused relationship with boys. She picks up a new boyfriend, stays with him for a few days, and drops him when she tires of him. But then she meets Walker and his secrets and her life changes. But not before her past catches up with her. Each chapter is interspersed with poetry that expands upon the themes that the chpater before has just introduced.

A fairly explicit and violent story about teenage sex, jealousy, and love, placed in a very realistic and believable setting. When the heroine starts describing giving her boyfriends blowjobs within the first twenty pages, you know you aren't reading Catcher in the Rye anymore! This is thoughtful and respectful fiction, just the type of thing that narrow-minded people like to ban. But while it will give the adults gray hairs, I think YAs will like it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Overnight, by Adele Griffin

Caitlin's birthday sleepover is the high social event of the year for the Lucky Seven -- the in-crowd at school. But when one of them gets abducted, the whole thing falls apart. By the end of the evening, the old alliances will be permanently broken.

Told from several viewpoints, Griffin captures the pettiness of sixth-graders well. Whether this makes for a good read is a matter of debate. If I was a sixth grader, I'd probably take offense at how shallow and cruel everyone is portrayed. But most of all, too many things were left unanswered, and that's frustrating. I like a few loose ends, but an awaful lot at the end is left unanswered.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

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

In this sequel to The Anybodies, Fern and Howard go to summer camp, where the Mole (a.k.a. BORT -- sorry! no underlines!) has turned everything wrong. It is up to Fern, Howard, Corky Gorsky (secret agent!), and Good Old Bixie to thwart his plot. And with some help from everpresent empty bottle of diet lime fizzy drink, they will do it...that is, unless the author is killed by her ex writing teacher first!

More silly fun here, although of course not as striking the second time around. As sequels go, this isn't bad, but I don't imagine this story line has much left in it. Still, good for a silly chuckle. The storyline is so ridiculous that it really isn't worth following, but it will make for a fun bedtime read.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Ostrich Eye, by Beth Cooley

Ginger is initially distrustful of the stranger in the park who is watching her and her friends, but then she notices how much he looks like her biological father who left so many years ago. Now that she knows who she is, she opens her life to him and helps him figure out a way to confront her mother about her Dad's reappearance into her life. But everything is not quite what it seems.

A functional, but largely by-the-numbers story about family, trust, and a couple other things that I can't reveal because it would ruin the ending, this is a Delacorte prize winning story. I'm not quite sure it lives up to the hype, mostly because the ending is a bit too predictable, but it is a good read.

Contents Under Pressure, by Lara M. Zeises

Lucy's life takes a massive change when her older brother comes home (with his pregnant girlfriend) to live at home. Add to the mix a first kiss and a first boyfriend. Then finish it off with some heartfelt discussions about sex.

Zeises is a wonderful author for niot being prudish or talking down to her readers. Her characters are wonderfully multi-dimensional and realistic. She's not afraid to not only discuss sex honestly, but also discuss passion, lust, doubt, fear, and the whole emotional rollercoaster. Another strong work by a woman who is fast becoming a favorite author of mine.

Project Mulberry, by Linda Sue Park

Julia may be a Korean-American, but she wants to be as American as she can be (and forget about the Korean part). When her best friend Patrick suggests that they do a project raising silk worms, Julia resists the idea as too Korean, but she warms up to the project. Along the way, she deals with managing her annoying little brother, her mother's distrust of Blacks, and her frustration with the author.

The really clever part of this novel is the heroine's chats with the author that take place between chapters. It's an original and (unusually) entertaining concept to shed some light on the author's mind. Otherwise, the story is satisfactory with good writing and engaging characters, but nothing especially extraordinary.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen

In alternating chapters, Bryce and Julianna tell the story of how they met and how they've grown up together, but with drastically different points of view. And while Julianna has been chasing after Bryce from the very beginning, Bryce doesn't feel quite the same attraction until a series of events causes the two of them to flip their positions.

Very clever and insightful. I have a soft spot for stories where you get multiple perspectives on the same events. It's always so clever and fun to read. Van Draanen creates two very believable and sympathetic characters that you really want to see develop, making this a difficult book to put down. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins

A series of overlapping and interrelated storylines about a group of kids in the small town of Seldom. Opportunities found and lost (mostly lost) and several clever asides and digressions.

Doesn't sound like much of a plot, does it? Well, it isn't. If this book had not just won the Newbery (and been written by a really great author), I'd probably just blow this one off as a bit of literary pretension. But instead I feel rather compelled to take it seriously, since others are as well.

There are a number of clever stories (the traveling necklace, the driving lesson, the guitar) and the writing is certainly excellent. There are also some really silly experiments (the sponge, the Japanese chapter). That said, I have a hard time seeing this as children's literature. Rather, it struck me as being as inaccessible as adult lit has become. Perhaps YAs would like it, but it is way too experimental and weird for younger readers and the vocab is a bit too advanced. Think The Little Prince with more SAT-level words. What you have here is a book written by adults for adults with the illusion of being a kid's book because the characters are children. But that doesn't make it a book for kids.

Now, if any young readers would like to weigh in and tell me I'm wrong, and that they really loved this book, I certainly wouldn't mind hearing from them, but my money is on the bet that this book isn't going to get read very much.

Jailbait, by Leslea Newman

Andi is almost 16 and as much of an outcast as she can be. But when an older man starts to pay her special attention and tells her how beautiful she is and how much he loves her, she finally feels appreciated. And as their relationship goes further and further, Andi begins only a little too late to realize how trapped she is.

Newman deftly avoids turning this cautionary tale into sensationalistic schlock. Instead, creating a very tender coming-of-age story set in the early 1970s. It all feels rather autobiographical, but that is its charm: the story is believable and touching. And it will make your stomach churn, but that's what good writing - and this story in particular - are all about.

Bird, by Angela Johnson

Bird has run away from Ohio, her dead father, and her family, seeking something else because of a dream she has had. She ends up in Alabama, taken in by the kindness of Jay, Ethan, and Mrs. Pritchard. And, in the summer she spends down there and the intertwined storylines of the people she meets, she learns a bit about why she is running and where her home is.

This is a well-written and sweet story about losses not fully comprehended and about self-discovery. I have to wonder if it wouldn't be a bit dull to a younger reader as very little actually goes on in this story, but I'll leave that conclusion to others (I certainly found it a bit dull!).

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Killing Britney, by Sean Olin

Years ago, Britney's mother died and her body was never found. Now, friends and family are dropping like flies to a mysterious murderer. Is it the strange Adam who arrived recently from far away and has a past he is trying to hide? Or is it obsessive Bobby who is trying to "protect" her? Or someone else?

Gack! I will rate this as one of the worst books I have read so far, certainly the worst for 2006. Even if you like murder mysteries, this one lacks all sorts of plausibility or coherent writing. Oddly, the whole thing is set in Madison WI (where I live), with people and places changed to avoid slandering anyone, but it is patently obvious that Olin has never been here as he has no idea what the place is like. Some minor (but representative) examples: the action takes place in "northwestern Madison" (where? on Lake Mendota?). Worse, he talks about the Packer's green and white colors (Excuse me? You don't even have to be a native to know the green and gold). But skipping past that amazing sloppiness, this story is full of two-dimensional characters with ridiculous motivations and poor writing. Good descriptions of gorey deaths if that interests you, but there are better examples of the genre if that's what you want.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Wrecked, by E. R. Frank

A party, a drunken friend (and a few too many drinks perhaps of her own), a dark night, an old U2 song, and a big crash. A wave, a father, and scream that won't stop...until they all do. The friend in the cast, the SATs, therapy, the nightmares, and the attempt to rebuild and reconnect. Some stories come to happy conclusions for no particular reasons (like people bindly sending dollars to a PO Box), others remain unfinished, like the memorial website never visited or the brother who won't admit that he needs help, or a father who plays internet poker on his laptop. Sometimes you are just wrecked.

This multi-layered story (and yes, I didn't mention every subplot!) tells about how Anna recovers from the experience of driving the car that kills her brothers girlfriend, and along the way disocvers some of the mysteries of what makes her tick. It's a good story and well-written, and probably should have been another 100 pages. They say that you should always let then story tell itself. But when you get to the last ten pages and the story suddenly jumps ahead six months, you know that the author has tired of the story or an editor has forced her to shorten the manuscript, and you've been cheated of a part of the narrative. I'll give it a mixed review for that and some other narrative muddiness, but this is a very strong book and certainly worth reading!