Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Donorboy, by Brendan Halpin

Following the same formula as Breakfast with Tiffany, we have the story of Ros, who lost her two Moms to "a tragic accident involving foodstuffs." And while that sounds a bit like a joke, the story is actually a pretty serious one about learning to adjust to a new family, as Ros goes to live with her biological father (the sperm donor). There she must cope with her grief, some annoying kids at school, some even more annoying administrators, a few bad decisions, and an overly anxious new Dad. Dad, meanwhile, has to cope with Ros. Told through emails, journal entries, IMs, and random other media, the story unfolds through multiple viewpoints.

It's clever without getting saccharine and insightful without trying to be too cool. Again, it's hard to say what younger readers will think of it, but adults (and parents in particular) will enjoy the father's attempts to cope with his feelings and failures. So, maybe not a good YA book, but a good book all the same.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Stay With Me, by Garret Freymann-Weyr

Leila's sister killed herself and now each family member must deal with the loss. For Leila, this means looking for a reason to explain the event. She believes the answer must lie with a mysterious man her sister was with before she killed herself. But that search opens other doors as Leila meets Eamon, a man 14 years older than herself, who offers things that Leila had never considered before.

While marketed as a YA book, this lacks the humor and insight to really be one. Not only is it not YA, but it's also not terribly interesting as a read either. Instead, it's full of numerous (largely pointless) subplots and inner dialogs of the type that tend to plague modern adult fiction as "clever" and "intellectual" but isntead are just dull and tedious. Not worth the read!

Every Time A Rainbow Dies, by Rita Williams-Garcia

Thulani has lived in a child's world, caring only about the pigeons he keeps on the roof and dreaming of his long-gone mother. But when he rescues a girl who is being raped, his life begins to change in subtle and then major ways. In the process he explores who he is and what he wants from the world, and how his life could be very different. The story doesn't end with any answers, but plenty of possibilities.

I tend to not care for books set in urban settings (preferring more familiar suburban and rural places) but this is a nicely woven tale with plenty of color and details. It's also a mature and respectful story that can open doors to readers (like me) who don't know much about Haitian and Jamaican culture. Recommended.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech

Annie loves to run and loves to draw. Through a series of prose poems, she describes her runs, the 100 apple drawings she has made, her grandfather who sometimes forgets who he is, the boy she runs with, and the baby her mother is having. By the end, her mother has had the baby and her running partner has discovered the secret to running well from the grandfather.

Another YA poetry story. Sometimes these work well but this one really doesn't stand out much. There are some cute plays on words with footnotes and a thesaurus, but nothing so dramatically different or original. Average.

A Long Time Ago Today, by Sally Warner

Six years ago, Dilly's mother died, leaving her a place in the Adirondacks that she and her father return to every summer, reenacting rituals that her father believes that Mom would have wanted them to do (Dilly isn't so sure). But when an old family friend tells Dilly that she has a letter that her mother wanted Dilly to have when she was older, Dilly struggles with whether she wants to read it and have her understanding of her Mom changed forever.

Poignant and moderately engaging for a a book in which very little actually happens. The setting (Upstate NY) resonates with me personally because my family had a country place in the area, not so much unlike Dilly's when I was growing up. But the story suffers from its plot, in which lines never really connect and not much memorable occurs. In the end, we are left with a bit of emptiness.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

I Am the Wallpaper, by Mark Peter Hughes

Floey has always lived in the shadow of her popular older sister. But when her sister gets married and her Aunt drops off two bratty cousins to live at their house for a few weeks, Flooey has a brush with fame that changes the way she views herself, her friends, and her perception that she is "wallpaper."

This is a pretty much by-the-numbers coming of age story where the quiet neglected one realizes that she has a lot more going for her than she thought. There's a few clever twists but no major surprises. Satisfying and engaging, so worth the read.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Make Me Over, edited by Marilyn Singer

In a series of 11 short stories, the authors explore the many various meanings of remaking ourselves and changing who we are. The highlights include a wallflower who gains confidence by tricking a group of cheerleaders into imagining that he's French; an owl that transforms itself into a human being to win the love of an Indian maiden; and a newly arrived immigrant at Ellis Island who must choose what parts of her past to keep as she pursues her future.

As with all collections, some of the stories are stronger than others, but what I was impressed with overall was the very different interpretations each author took of the collection's theme. I expected to read 11 angst-ridden stories of young women doing make-overs. But instead was treated to some amazingly creative visions of the various ways that people (and animals!) can change themselves to become something better. Inspiring reading.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone

In a series of poems told by different people, three girls dish up the dirt on "T.L." -- a guy who knows all the right moves and buttons to push to get what he wants. In sum, he's a jerk, but each of these girls has to learn that lesson on their own, convinced as they are that they will be different.

It's fairly well-trod ground (both the format and the story) although Stone does a decent job of explaining how passion, hormones, and dreams can cloud your judgment and make you do stupid things that you learn to regret. And she adds a nice piece of sisterly solidarity at the end to underline for the readers which side they should be on. Functional, but hardly earth shattering.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Climbing the Rainbow, by Joy N. Hulme

After years of struggling with muteness, Dora Cookson gets a chance to attend school for the first time. Kept back for four years, she has a lot of catching up to do. In a series of anecdotes, she retells the highlights of that first year, as her family adapts to its second year of homesteading in New Mexico.

A story that seems to be largely based upon the life of a woman the author knew, this makes for interesting history but not terribly interesting story telling. There is little suspense here and no drama. Small children might like the fact that not much happens (and what does happen is fairly benign) but older readers will find the whole thing terribly dull.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Light on Snow, by Anita Shreve

Another adult lit book with a teen character....

When Nicky and her father find an abandoned baby in the woods behind their house, it triggers a series of events and a visit from a young woman with a secret which cause them to confront the delicate balance in their own relationship.

Unlike the Picoult book I just finished before this one, this novel is more likely to appeal to younger readers. The story is a bit slow, but it reads quickly and has interesting characters and a satisfying conclusion.

My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

All of her 13 year life, Anna has had to be there to take care of her sister. In fact, this is the reason she exists: when Kate gets sick, Anna donates bone marrow, blood, and other body tissues to fight off the effects of Kate's leukemia. But as their mother asks Anna to donate a kidney, something breaks, and Anna turns to a lawyer to get legal permission to say "no."

Picoult is an adult lit writer with a great grasp of how adults interract, but really not much of a sense of what makes teens tick. Anna and Kate swing between being portrayed as petulant brats and being simply young (but very well-spoken) adults. They talk like (very intellectual) grown ups and have very adult motivations for their behavior. Picoult has a great story here (albeit with a contrived ending) but no real sense of her younger characters. Read this as an adult book, not YA. And I'll wait for a good YA version of the story.

Claiming Georgia Tate, by Gigi Amateau

In a lyrical narrative, Georgia tell us about life with her grandparents, growing up in rural MS in the 1970s. About finding jesus, the truth about her absent mother, and her ability to make friends and rise above adversity. But this is not a story for the faint of heart, because Georgia will also have to endure being molested, humiliated, and raped before she can return to her loving family.

It's a beautifully told story, but really very intense and not intended for younger readers. One might even argue that it's not a YA book at all. But beyond that, I was frustrated by the many loose ends and a bit too much melodrama for my tastes, so I'm not sure that I'll give it a perfect rating, but it is a near miss and I'll look forward to Amateau's next novel.