Monday, November 19, 2007

Between Mom and Jo, by Julie Anne Peters

Nick's family faces a series of challenges: illness, separation, isolation, and alcoholism (to name a few). What makes the family different (and yet also very much the same as any other family that has struggled) is that Nick has two mothers.

It would be tempting to see that particular twist as a gimmick (either to portray a non-traditional family as being just like a "normal" one, or to get on a soapbox), but Peters does not do gimmicks. Instead, we get a very insightful and moving story about love and family that is unique ofr its setting. She shows us that while people are certainly people, that there are dynamics to same-sex parenting that differ. In the past, I've found Peters's novels to be near misses (Luna and Define
were strong contenders though). Here, she really scores and produces a simply outstanding work. Recommended highly.

River Secrets, by Shannon Hale

In this third installment of the Books of Bayern, the war is over but emotions still run hot - especially in Tira. An embassy from Bayern must figure out a way to promote peace amidst warmongering fanatics and a mysterious case of burned bodies that keep showing up near fire-burner Enna (now allegedly sworn to peace). But front and center to this story lies loyal small Razo, who gets to play a prominent role at last after being only a side character in the first two novels.

While this book does not stand out in any specific way, it is a good read. Hale continues her tradition of providing above-average fantasy. The stories have some action, a lot of romance, but a strong underlying humanism, making them a pleasure to read. Entertaining and enjoyable (but read Goose Girl and Enna Burning before you get to this novel).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Before, After, and Somebody In Between, by Jeannine Garsee

Martha has a lot of troubles to deal with. She's one of the few whites at her inner city school and been singled out for bullying. But no torture from her classmates can compare to the living hell that her alcoholic and abusive mother puts her through. And when her Mom isn't after her, it's an abusive boyfriend (hers or her mother's) or a jealous girlfriend. Life is simply one nearly uninterrupted hell. Her only respite is her incredible musical talent with the cello.

An incredibly dreary and down read, recommended for masochists only. This is a book which reinforces the notion that YA literature should hurt (see Rules of Survival for another recent example of the genre). The writing is decent but there's not much to recommend a novel which consists of a heroine who has nothing but anger and bad luck and never ever manages to grow. Depressing and unnecessary.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, by Gabrielle Zevin

After a fall down the stairs at school, Naomi loses her memory - not all of it, just the last four years. And in that refreshed state (where her last memory was of the age of 12), Naomi reexamines her life (boyfriend, hobbies, and family). The process surprises her and those around her and leads to changes that startle everyone - even the reader.

Zevin's Elsewhere was a refereshingly new type of novel. This one starts with a less-original premise (Regarding Henry, anyone?) but handles it in an amazingly fresh way. There's a bit of melodrama and the story may run a bit long, but Zevin is becoming one of the really great novelists of YA. Recommended.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tasting the Sky, by Ibtisam Barakat

In flashback, Ibtisam tells the story of her growing up as a Palestinian refugee after the Six-Day War of 1967. On one side, it is an extraordinary story of survival, but it is also a tale of an ordinary childhood. She plays, she has successes and failure. She struggles with fear and loneliness (an early love for the alphabet, a lost pet, and a few more sinister encounters).

While mostly random anecdotes and with a narrative that speeds up and slows down annoyingly at will, this is still a charming and beautiful book. Barakat is an excellent writer (her early love with words shows through). Her story is engaging and revealing. It won't solve the problems of the region, but it will give you an interesting window through which to view them.

The Lottery, by Beth Goobie

Every year, the school's unofficial Shadow Council would select a student in the Lottery to become the "dud" of the year, condemned to carry out the Council's dirty work, and shunned by the entire school. This year, Sal becomes their victim. But Sal's story is complicated and the choice of her turns out to be less random (and more fateful) than anyone could expect.

An odd mishmash of idea, this novel has a great premise but allows itself to get bogged down in subplots that don't really add to the story (a borderline autistic student, a dead father, an uncommunicative mother). In such circumstances, I am prone to believe that the author needed a better editor. Goobie is apparently well-honored by her native Canada so she can write, but she doesn't apparently know enough to write a trim and taut story (which a thriller like this really wants). As a result, some really interesting conclusions get lost in the haze.