Thursday, April 27, 2006

Talk, by Kathe Koja

Through alternating viewpoints, Kit and Lindsay tell the story of putting on a controversial play at their high school. But it's also a story of misplaced affections, as Lindsay falls in love with Kit. Kit meanwhile is in the process of coming out and taking the risks of how the school will react to him. In the midst of all this, is the text of the play itself which is about freedom and societal attempts to impose order.

Koja gets a lot of critical acclaim but I simply don't get her style. I had problems with The Blue Mirror for its incomprehensible narrative, but this one is far worse. If it wasn't for the plot synopsis on the jacket, I would have completely lost track of the characters or what they were up to. And the snippets of the play thrown in confuse matters more. They are there, of course, to underline parts of the main story, but they don't really perform that function. Skip this one.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mermaid Park, by Beth Mayall

Amy's family (especially her step dad) is driving her nuts, so a summer in Wildwood NJ away from them is just what she needs. And when she discovers the swimmers at Mermaid Park, she knows that she has found her calling. During the summer she learns to deal with the anger she feels towards her family and how to transcend it as a "mermaid."

I wanted to like this novel very much, but it was all over the place. It took nearly 100 pages just to develop a sense of the characters and their relationships to each other. In the end, I didn't find myself terribly moved by any of them.

Crooked, by Laura and Tom McNeal

The Tripp brothers are bad news and when Amos runs across them on a vandalism spree, trouble escalates. What starts as bullying takes a violent turn and drags in Clara and Amos's friend Brook as well.

Another trashy teen exploitation novel. Some interesting character development and misplaced signals, but overall this is a violent and unnecessary novel.

Crunch Time, by Mariah Fredericks

Daisy, Leo, Jane and Max meet by accident at an SAT prep class and decide to form their own study group. Alternating between them, each kid shares their feelings about the SATs, and the person who ends up cheating on them.

Fredericks portrays the high stress world of SAT prep and the pressures surrounding kids in landing a good college. the rotating narration is sometimes interesting and effective, but it does make it hard to get a fix on the characters and understandwhat makes everyone tick. The story ends with lots of loose ends and some rather convenient solutions to others.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

When 15 year-old Liz is killed by a taxi cab, she embarks on a voyage to Elsewhere - the place we all go after we die. Here, she learns how to speak Canine, discovers an avocation, makes friends and discovers that life does go on (even when you are no longer alive!), and that there are lessons to be learned in the Beyond.

I would not have considered a novel about the Afterlife to be of much interest to YAs, but if there ever was a YA-appropriate story about life after death, this would be it! With the lyricism of What Dreams May Come and the absurdity of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is a fairly original vision. It is not, however, of even quality and the last 80 pages of the book really fall apart. A good idea, but flawed delivery.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dizzy, by Cathy Cassidy

When Dizzy was little, her mother went away - traveling the festival circuit. But every year she sends Dizzy a birthday card. This year it's different: she shows up and offers to take Dizzy on the road with her, traveling from one festival to another. But Dizzy discovers that things are not always as wonderful as she had hoped. And that her mother is not quite as wonderful as she seemed.

A rather predictable story of how our dreams/wishes don't get realized in fact as much as we imagined. There is a major lack of plausibility to Dizzy's easy acceptance of her mother's lies - lies that probably every reader is going to figure out without the help. Passable, but ultimately unfulfilling.

Alice I Think, by Susan Juby

Over the space of several months, Alice documents in her journal entries a series of events including her failing career in retail, her aborted attempt to find a boyfriend, a horseback expedition with her sexually-promiscuous cousin, and her re-entry into "civilization" (public high school) after years of home schooling. She's definitely a bit quirky and odd, and it will be pretty obvious to everyone (except her) why she has so much trouble getting by.

Not only is Alice a quirky character, but Juby's story is as well. The humor is very subtle and dry. At times, the story drags or the style gets a bit tired, but overall this is an amusing and humerous read.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Friction, by E. R. Frank

Simon is the coolest teacher at school. Alex thinks so. Everyone thinks so. But when Stacy arrives, she begins to tell disturbing stories about Simon that cause Alex and her classmates to reconsider how they see him.

A mildly disturbing portrayal of a teacher who may or may not have behaved inappropriately with his students. It's hard to know what the audience is. The subjects are 12-13 year olds, but the subject matter may be a bit complicated for that age group, so overall the story has a mixed focus.

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale

Miri has never felt like she fits in with her village. While most of her people work in the quarry mining for linder, she stays at home. But all of that changes when an emissary from the Prince arrives to announce that the Prince will take a bride from the village and that all girls between 12-18 will be trained in the arts of being a princess in preparation for the choosing in one year's time.

A magical and rich fairy tale with just a small amount of actual magic and fantasy. Mostly, this is a very creative story about growing up, learning one's own worth, and finding a true calling. The ending takes a bit long to come around and has some contrivances, but this is a good read.

Breakfast With Tiffany, by Edwin John Wintle

When Tiffany's family life in Connecticut takes a major nose dive and her mother Megan begins to give up on her, Tiffany's gay uncle in NYC takes her in and tries to give her the stability she has lacked. What ensues is a very realistic look at the dynamics of being a troubled teen and a struggling guardian.

This piece of adult fiction is way off of my usual read -- intended more for my actual demographic than my favorites. It's a more "appropriate" book for a middle-aged guy to read. I liked the sections most where we get to see Tiffany struggle between rebelling against and needing her uncle. It's a painful story and, being non-fiction, generally rings true. I wonder if younger readers would like it or find it annoying?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Far from Xanadu, by Julie Anne Peters

Mike has more than a butch name. She presses 100 lbs, is a super fast-pitch softball player, and an excellent plumber to boot. But she and her family are haunted by demons - a brother who can't finish anything, a mother who is eating herself to death, and the memory of a father who killed himself two years ago. Then, the most gorgeous girl in the universe - Xanadu - moves to Mike's small kansas town, and she starts to dream again.

A lot of potential here, but there is too many plot lines and the characters are mind-bendingly dull. The book stretches on for nearly 300 pages, and from about page 20 onwards, I just gave up caring about their whining. The dearth of sympathetic characters makes reading this book a total chore. That is truly a shame as I've liked all of Peters's other books.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Double Identity, by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The story begins with Bethany being mysteriously abandoned with an aunt that she has never known she had. And it gets weirder from there as strangers keep calling her "Elizabeth" and she is stalked by a mysterious man. Eventually, all is revealed, but not before a number of twists and turns.

Haddix writes pretty good suspense, although this story (set in the future) borders heavily into sci-fi. In fact, it's an odd mix of teen angst, child/parent conflict, and a bit of mystery. Makes for good entertainment.

So Super Starry, by Rose Wilkins

Octavia goes to a posh London high school for children of the elite (rock stars, movie stars, etc.). Her own mother is the star of a long-running sitcom and her father is a rising movie director of art films who has just snagged sexy heartthrob Blake Montague for his new picture. But even if Octavia hangs with the rich and famous -- it is not a world that she feels as comfortable in as her mother and classmates. And having her first boyfriend opens all sorts of revelations for her about who she is and who she wants to be.

Wilkins is basically a British Meg Cabot, but unlike the heroines of Princess Diaries or All-American Girl, Octavia doesn't really have any particular talent of her own (except her sincerity). In the end, it is hard to feel much empathy for this mature, yet rather mopey, 15 year old. Her primary quirk seems to be her heighth, but it never becomes much of a plot driver. Instead, this is the rather familiar girl-meets-boy-but-decides-that-she's-better-than-him story. Satisfying, but ultimately predictable.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Maze Me, by Naomi Shihab Nye

A collection of largely unrealted poems, reflections on growing up, on the state of the world, and just about everything in between. There are poems about pumpkins, and old ladies, and babysitting. All sorts of topics!

The subtitle "Poems for Girls" is a bit of a misnomer. There is a wonderful essay at the beginning about turning 13 and some of the earlier poems have a particular feminine quality (in the stereotypical sense of the term) quality to them, but the majority of this work isn't really gendered in any particular way. That doesn't make it any less magical.

I fell in love with this book when they read "Because of Poems" at the CCBC Spring Gathering, and that poem alone makes this the first must-own book of the year. Not every poem is a hit, but the ones that are, are truly transcendent.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What's in a Name, by Ellen Wittlinger

In ten chapters, ten different kids tell a story, with one of them picking up where the last one left off. The story itself concerns a small town that is holding a vote to decide whether to change its name, but there are plenty of subplots about who likes who and a boy coming out of the closet. The plot, however, is not really the point -- the fun lies mostly in seeing how different perspectives make a story very different.

Of course, stories told from different points of view have been done many times before. It's a clever device, but since the story itself is not terribly overwealming, this isn't going to captivate you a lot. Moreover, it's a bit distracting to just start getting into a character and then suddenly have their turn be over.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What I Call Life, by Jill Wolfson

When Cal Lavender makes a mistake and lets her mother Betty have an episode in the Public Library, Cal gets sent to the Pumpkin House (a foster home) under the care of the Knitting Lady. There she learns a lot about adoption, the ways that other kids deal with trauma, and a little bit about knitting. And while the reader will quickly recognize some truths about Cal's life that she has trouble recognizing herself, none of it will matter in the end.

Interesting mild critique of the foster care system written by a woman who apparently usually writes about it from the inside as non-fiction. It's a good story with decent characters but I wanted, in the end, to see more happen to Cal -- at the very least to see her develop more. Maybe not so realistic, but more fulfilling.