Thursday, August 30, 2007

Twelve, by Lauren Myracle

In this sequel to Eleven, Winnie has turned twelve and twelve turns out to be an eventful year, ranging from getting her first bra and period to overnight camp and bee stings. A good boy and some fall-out with her best friend add more adventure.

I wrote that Eleven was good but boring because not too much of interest happens at that age. Holding aside the predictable menarche-inspired anecdotes (which, as important and dramatic as they are can be something of a predictable plot development in a book like this), the book simply is not very engaging. Part of the problem is that it is written as thirteen disconnected vignettes, as if Winnie was writing in a diary and only managed to do one entry a month. The anecdotes are well-written, but I never felt that interested in the character.

And as for the gratuitous name-dropping of Judy Blume in the November chapter, let's say that it was about as blatant as most of Blume's writing. Subtle it isn't. So, in case there is a young reader out there not familiar with Judy Blume, I'm sure that this will inpire them to pick up her ouevre. Or maybe not....sigh, I need to go back to teen books...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Alpha Dog, by Jennifer Ziegler

Spending the summer taking college classes in Austin couldn't have come at a better time for Katie as her boyfriend has just dumped her. But spending the sumer away from the kids at school and her overbearing mother isn't quite working out the way she planned. Her roommate is throwing wild parties. As a whim, Katie has adopted a dog who has turned into a holy terror. All of this has made Katie realize that the only way that she can ever truly be happy is if she learns to become the alpha dog.

Satisfying, but utterly predictable. The story has decent pacing and some good humor. Ultimately, it is an entertaining read, but no great literature. For a summer read, that is probably sufficient.

Rock My World, by Liza Conrad

In the summer before her senior year, Livi and her best friend Cam get dragged around with Livi's Dad. But it's not what you think: Dad is the lead singer of the legendary Baby Dolls and the summer is a whirl-wind trip of the world through a series of money-making nostagic gigs. As Livi interviews the band members for a journalism internship she has snagged, she also struggles with her growing attraction for the lead singer of the supporting act.

The book didn't do much for me on so many levels: crass materialism, flat characters, a rushed plot, cheap sentimental and contrived ending....I could go on. It also suffers from a major pet peeve of mine: Livi's taste in music is conveniently 10 years out of date, allowing the author to insert her music sensibilities into the story. Would it really kill a YA writer to do some research on what teens listen to now? OK, I'll withdraw my fangs but you should really give this one a miss....

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Better Than Yesterday, by Robyn Schneider

Charley and Skylar have been in academic competition during their years at Hilliard Prep, but the quest for academic excellence has not made them happy. Charley is trying to convince his ambitious parents to let him pursue his dream of music, rather than theirs (medicine). Skylar is living down a reputation acquired in freshman year. Both of them (against their preconceptions) are fighting their attraction for each other. In the background are Marissa and the troubled Blake.

The book is engaging but suffers from what I call the first-novel syndrome. Schneider has a lot of good ideas and want to cram them all into the same book. That leaves a lot of plot undeveloped and also subjects the reader to a bunch of random thoughts and musings. These ideas are frequently clever but they strain the narrative. Finally, skip the last chapter. While the book is enjoyable, Schneider feels an unnecessary obligation to tie everything up at the end with a rushed afterward. You'll be happier if you skip it and use your imagination instead.

Monday, August 13, 2007

True to Form, by Elizabeth Berg

In the summer of 1961, Katie is thirteen and in the throes of a series of changes. By good fortune, she wins a radio contest that allows her to visit an old friend in Texas and she makes some wonderful new friends back home. But a series of tragedies (some of which she causes, while others are out of her control) leave her struggling to re-evaluate herself and her priorities.

Historical fictional memoirs don't tend to appeal to me and non-YA books about teens tend to score low as well, but I'll give this a qualified endorsement for rising a bit above the genre. The story rambles a bit and never develops a plot, but it is warm and well-meaning. Also, ditch the insipid discussion guide at the back of the book (you can save those for your unimaginative teachers!). Instead, enjoy this timeless (despite its repeated mention of contemporary miscellanea) story about priorities, friendship, and setting yourself right.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine

Of the two princesses, Adele is the shy one and it is Meryl who is brave. But when the Gray Death strikes Meryl, it is Addie who must rise to the challenge of finding a cure for the dreaded disease. In the space of a few weeks, Adele will have to battle ogres, specters, gryphons, and dragons to rescue her sister. But first, she must overcome her fear of spiders!

A fairly typical offering for Levin in a world not that much unlike Ella Enchanted or Fairest, but without much of the magic of those books. IT's an entertaining read, but never quite captures the imagination. Addie is more reliant on others for help and grows less than Ella did. So, while those other books explored the development of magic within, this one never quite goes there. More of an action adventure than human development story.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Diary of a Teenage Girl, by Phoebe Gloeckner

In this highly original story of growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s, Phoebe tells the (presumably autobiographical) story of Minnie, the daughter of an alcoholic and abusive mother who sleeps with one of her Mom's boyfriends, takes lots of drugs, and fails her way through her junior year of high school. It's a disturbing and dark story with some very believable moments and motivations (especially Minnie's misguided search for affection through having sex with older guys). As such, the work is groundbreaking for its honesty.

It is also so gross and removed from most adolescents' experiences that it is a hard sell. Sure, we've all experimented, but the sheer depth to which Minnie falls to will turn off many readers. And the explicitness of the story (and its drawings) certainly turned me off. Still, if cult comix are your thing and you like some pervo graphic novel stuff, there may be something here for you. A strange combination of exploitation and empowerment by an author who couldn't quite decide which she was more interested in. Complex like life.