Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pieces of Georgia, by Jen Bryant

Georgia is dealing with a distant father (and a dead mother), chronic heartburn, and a friend who is experimenting with drugs. On a more positive note, she has a talent for art, which is promoted by a anonymous gift of an annual membership at the local art museum, where Georgia falls in love with the paintings of the Wyeths. Through her journal (in prose poetry), she relates all of these events in her life.

Functional and readable, this novel falls on familiar ground with few surprises. That does not mean that it is bad, but there is not much new here. The verse is not terribly poetic (more like disjointed thoughts crammed together), but it works well for being like a journal.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Angelmonster, by Veronica Bennett

A fictionalized account of the early life of Mary Shelley, the novel traces Mary's life from her acquaintance with Percy Shelley to his death (and her publication of Frankenstein). Rich in period detail, the facts of the harshness of early 19th century life will interest fans of the era.

In my professional life, I have always had a strong interest in William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary's parents), so a novel which traces their equally-famous offspring is a treat. I found this particular account to be functional and revealing, but not strongly engaging. And I wonder how much interest it will hold for a reader without a previous inclination to learn more about Mary Shelley.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Boyfriend Rules of Good Behavior, by Catherine Bateson

Millie and her mother relocate and find love, although her mother's boyfriend ends up being a better choice (mentoring Millie in photography and helping her with a school project). But mostly, this is just a collection of random anecdotes about being a teen.

The sheer plot-less and random nature of the story left me wondering what the point was. Ideas are introduced (problems fitting in at a new school, a bully, etc.) but left undeveloped. It basically seemed as if Bateson did not know what she wanted to write. Leaving us with no story at all.

Guinever's Gift, by Nicole St. John

At the turn of the century, Lydian Wentworth, after the death of her overbearing father, receives an invitation to visit the reclusive Arthuria-obsessed artist Charles Ransome. Charles is a family friend with whom her father mysteriously parted ways years before. In a whirlwind, they become engaged and maried. But things turn dark as Charles falls into an obsession with finding the grave of Arthur. The household as a whole goes to madness, murder, and dark secrets revealed. Melodrama ensues.

Not quite sure how this classic romance/mystery ended up on my YA reading list, but it was probably a mistake (perhaps a confusion with a similarly-title YA novel coming out in 2008). I found this older novel terribly overblown and pretentious (and more than a little bit silly). Probably better thought of in retrospect than in the actual reading. Avoid.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Quaking, by Kathryn Erskine

Matt (short for Matilda) has been passed from one relative to another, never quite working out wherever she's been. The experience has made her bitter and angry, but when she comes to live with the Fox family and learns their Quaker ways, she encounters a force that she had not counted on. And as a prejudiced teacher and a bully taunt her, she uncovers the inner strength to stand up for herself and stop being a victim.

For the most part, this is straight by-the-numbers finding-your-inner-self stuff. No major surprises and the bad guys are painted depressingly two-dimensionally. However, it is rewarding and mildly educational.

I was drawn to it by the Quaker stuff (since I am one). The setting in a Quaker family provided a lot of in-joke opportunities and I got a good laugh out of Matt's description of Meeting for Worship. Mostly, I forget that most people don't know this stuff (since I started attending at the age of 9, it was all second nature to me by my teen years). I was a bit concerned that the author would misrepresent Quakerism, but it was actually a fair and decent portrayal.

Guyaholic, by Carolyn Mackler

In this sequel to Vegan Virgin Valentine, we've come a long way. V has been (barely) surviving living with her grandparents, trying to avoid attachments, and dealing with her distant mother. So, when she completely blows it with her latest best thing (Sam) she grasps for something she can do to get away. And, strangely enough, roadtripping to see her Mom in San Antonio makes some sense. Roadtrip ensues.

A rather odd short novel. It has much of the charm of her other novels, but didn't quite grab me as much. V didn't do much for me in the first novel and she has not grown on me much this time around (although if you do like her, I'm sure you'll enjoy the book). There is some decent humor and V remains a realistic character, but I couldn't get into her. Not one of Mackler's best writings (but still a decent read).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Me, Penelope, by Lisa Jahn-Clough

In some ways Lopi (short for Penelope) has it all together. She's managed to shave a year off of high school and will graduate early this year. She has a good friend Toad and a couple other important folks in her life. But her relationship with her mother is rocky (made worse by the death of her baby brother when she was only 6) and she longs for love - or at least for sex. The latter is a particular struggle for her as she attempts to sort out the meaning of "love" and what she is really looking for.

Touching and insightful, this is a stunning novel and a model of moderation. There is angst (but not too much), there is sex (but neither squeamish nor prurient). We have the expected conflict with Mom and a rapproachment at the end (but handled delicately). We even have some potential melodrama (dead brother), but it is handled gracefully. In sum, Jahn-Clough is an excellent writer, creating a heroine who sounds real and sympathetic. This is not a flashy novel, but it is a beautiful piece and one of the best I have read this year. Strongly recommended.