Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Like We Care, by Tom Matthews

A story of two high school students, Todd and Joel, who get themselves in the midst of a consumer revolt against the obnoxious cable music station R2R and its attempts to shove commercialized rock music down their throats. What starts as a boycott of convenience stores blooms into an attempt to affect grassroots politics and destroy commercial rap.

This rather preachy book suffers from two major flaws: written by a guy it has a male writer's typical penchant for violence and unnecessary roughness (and a consequent lack of interest in emotions, feelings, and motivations). It's second flaw is that it's written by a guy who believes that HIS generation's music was less commercialized than the current generation (and hence, more "authentic"). This is a good lesson for teens to read (if they don't realize the extent to which they have been had, they will), but for a read, it comes off pretty thin and pretentious. And the novel itself bears the hype stamp of a commercialized YA book industry that is only slightly on higher ground than the industries that the book does attack.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

My Mom and Other Mysteries of the Universe, by Gina Willner-Pardo

Arlie can't stand her moth, and it's no wonder! No matter how hoard Arlie tries to please her, her Mom only has a critical word to say. Meanwhile, Arlie's little brother gets away with murder. But then two events happen (one tragic and one very peculiar): her parents are in a card accident and her mother falls into a deep coma and a new girl comes to school who looks and acts strikingly like Arlie's Mom (but as a 10 year-old).

From the title, I assumed this would be a nice mother-daughter struggle to get along book, and the supernatural twist that the author put in took me completely by surprise. But what might seem a bit derivative of Freaky Friday, actually works quite well as an original take on a fairly tired story line. And while the story is not exactly enthralling reading and suffers from some of that typical middle reader preachiness, this one was actually a bit fun.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rules for Life, by Darlene Ryan

Izzy's Mom left her with a rule to cover any situation, and in the absence of a living mother, these rules guide Isabelle through life. But when her father decides to remarry, and Izzy's older brother falls off the wagon, the rules don't seem to cover the situations she is facing.

A rather irregular and uneven book, with trouble creating an authentic voice. There are times when Izzy seems too petty to be the older high schooler she is supposed to be, and other times when she is far too worldly and well-spoken to be a plausible adolescent. And the story plods along in somewhat melodramtic fashion from one crisis to another, without large amounts of linkage between events.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins

In free verse, we learn how Kristina (the good grades-receiving and model student) became Bree (an unwed mother and meth addict). Along the way, this is a story about addiction, drugs, danger, sexual violence, and ideals gone awry. Nice uplifting material.

But more than being dreary, it's awfully repetitive. The verse falls into two basic catgeories: pieces that advance the story (by revealing a key new plot point) and reflective pieces (that all basically state that meth has a terrible hold on people). No denying that, but how often do we need to read about it? What is missing in so much of this is what caused Kristina to start. The motivation is muddy and the escalation equally unclear. And the result is that the exercise sounds a bit sermonizing. The author's message: if you do meth, you'll get raped and beat up and lose all your friends and lose your respect...and, oh yeah, it's bad for you too.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Perfect, by Natasha Friend

Isabelle doesn't understand what the big deal is. She just throws up from time to time, especially after she's eaten a lot of food -- an awful lot of food. But this is the only way she can cope with her annoying little sister, and her depressed mother, and the memory of her Dad who died two years ago. And from a distance, Ashley seems like the most perfect person in the world, until Isabelle gets to know her better. And until Ashley shows up at Group.

Pretty much a by-the-numbers story of eating disorders, with the requisite kids who don't succeed to counterpose against the heroine who (of course) starts on the road to recovery. It's satisfying, albeit more than a little predictable.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen

When Annabel sees herself on TV in the Kopf's fall fashion commercial, she doesn't recognize her own image. The girl in the commenrcial is so happy and has it all, but life since she made that ad has been anything but, and Annabel feels lost. The trouble, Annabel learns, is that every lost opportunity (lost friends, lost happiness, lost life) is a result of her own inability to communicate. She'd like to think that it is because no one listens to what she wants to say, and that she should scream "just listen!" to them, but she realizes that the reality is much much more complicated.

Sarah Dessen scores again with a deeply moving story of a teen struggling to find her own voice and her own way of coping with the world. And aside from a very nasty (and frankly unnecessary) digression about 2/3 through the story, this is a wonderful read. There are so many things that are wonderful about Dessen: she's a great observer of human relationships and of the world in general, she writes beautiful flowing prose, and she has a tremendous understanding of what growing up is about. Beautiful. Haunting. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Harry Sue, by Sue Stauffacher

Harry Sue is one mean-talking joint-jive-fluent young lady. She needs to get the lingo down, because she means to spend her time in the slammer as soon as she can. The problem is that she first has to start her life of crime, and she just doesn't have the heart to do what must be done. Maybe once she rescues the kids from her grandmother's day care center or gets her "road dog" and quadraplegic Homer to start trying to live again, she'll be able to become the hardened criminal she longs to be.

Harry Sue is a fun character but the writing style drains after a while and the novel is written in a madly unlinear style that makes you want to skip ahead a few pages to figure out stuff and then jump back. Sometimes, that makes things interesting, but mostly it's annoying. And in a book this long, it takes out the fun.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Rx, by Tracy Lynn

Thyme Gilcrest enjoys Ritalin. It gives her the edge she needs to do well at school and keep up with the smart kids (not quite enough to BE one, but enough to come close). The problem is that she doesn't have a prescription for it, and she starts to trade others with the drugs she can get for the drugs she wants. Before she knows it, she's dealing.

Lynn does a great job of pointing out the hypocrisy of an adult society where adults medicate themselves freely and easily, and become so unaware of their surroundings that they don't recognize the way it destroys their lives and the lives of their children. The novel can get high marks for avoiding the easy sermons and cliche events that a more moralistic writer would choose. Instead, this is a pretty taut story.

What isn't so good about the book is all of the topical references. This book is packed full of very contemporary cultural references which will ensure that the book has a shelf life of no more than five years. In general, YA writers avoid this, and they should.

The subject matter had more than a passing interest to me, as I dabbled in a bit of prescription drug swapping when I was in high school (trading Valium for Darvoset and their ilk). We didn't quite have as many fun drugs to choose from or as much readily available anti-depressents and uppers, but I could very much relate to the rather exhaulted place of "legal" drugs (and its higher ground than acid and hash). This is a story that will give parents the willies, but it has a ring of truth to it.