Monday, November 24, 2008

Would You, by Marthe Jocelyn

One night during the Summer, while Nat and her friends are having fun sneaking into people's pools, they pass an accident site. Within a few minutes, Nat learns that her sister has been struck by a car and is now in a coma at the hospital. In the days that pass, she and her family (and their friends) come to grips with the idea of losing someone you love, who you never thought you would lose since she was so young.

A thin story, both in length and in development, that struggles to tell the story of grief in a new and original way. This one's in first-person present tense yet somehow manages to avoid any feeling of closeness or immediacy. I never felt connected to the characters nor any real compassion for what they were going through. And the story was so old and undeveloped. People grieve. It's sad. That's basically the story.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

How To Ditch Your Fairy, by Justine Larbalestier

In a parallel world in a the near future, Charlie is a student at an elite sports high school in New Avalon. New Avalon is the best of the best and sports rule this world, making Charlie's place in the school a major honor. But in the world, fairies also hold sway and, while not everyone believes in their powers, Charlie sure struggles with hers. The fairies grant their hosts particular powers and her fairy give her the ability to find the perfect parking place -- a fairly worthless talent for a 14 year-old who hates cars and a dangerous liability when an upperclassman takes to kidnapping her to help him find parking places downtown. If only Charlie could get rid of her fairy and maybe gain a replacement -- like one that would win over all the boys or give her perfect hair....

A strange, quirky, and original setting for a story that combines sport novel with romance with supernatural magic, but never quite does any of these genres all the way. That may be charming, but I actually found it a bit maddening. Add to it all the surreal workload that Charlie and her fellow students allegedly endure and a sadistic system of demerits and I just started to get creeped out. What should have been a funny and entertaining story just got dark. New Avalon just seemed like a dystopia and a depressing place. So, in the end, I was confused about what I was supposed to get from the book. There were little elements of all sorts of things, but in the end, it seemed like a happy fairy tale ending (!) was supposed to wipe away any substantive conclusion. I didn't get much out of this book, despite its originality. Your results may vary.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Market, by J. M. Steele

One night, on an anonymous tip, Kate discovers a website that purports to be a market. But this "market" doesn't tade in the usual commodities -- it rates the popularity and desirability of the girls in her high school. When Kate shows it to her friends, the girls are initially disgusted, but ultimately intrigued at the possibility of playing the market by investing in Kate and inflating her value from "junk" to "blue chip" -- with the goal of cashing in on the gain. But as her "value" starts to climb, Kate learns that there are other "investors" who are eyeing her and that speculation -- even in popularity -- can have dangerous side effects.

A bit heavy-handed and simplistic, the premise makes this book worth reading, but just barely. The (anonymous) authors are slick and on a mission to sell their story as a parable on the perils of popularity. In case you don't pick that up from the main plot, they have weaved in some subplots that tell the same message. The overall effect is a book that seems over-engineered -- like it was the result of a focus group rather than the heart and soul of a living writer. That's not to say that the story is formulaic, but the ingredients certainly are.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bliss, by Lauren Myracle

It is the Fall of 1969 and the big story on the news is the Manson trial. But for Bliss, it is about trying to fit in at Crestview Academy after her parents dump her with her stodgy grandmother as they flee to Canada to avoid the draft. That would make for a pretty interesting story, but there is more: a ghost of a girl who killed herself 80+ years before, a death-obsessed loner, a non-conformist love interest, interracial dating in a time when such things were still dangerous, and mutitudinous quotes from the Andy Griffith Show.

This novel falls seriously into my category of trying-to-do-too-much. I'm not sure how all of the plots were supposed to relate (most of them are just fade away and the ending is amazingly incomprehensible), but I am sure that some sorry book report writer will have to figure it out. Her earlier Rhymes With Witches did a similar job of crossing high school life with the supernatural, but it was wittier and had more focus. This one can't figure out if it wants to be funny, poignant, and just gross-out. All over the place and ugly to boot!

Debbie Harry Sings In French, by Meagan Brothers

Johnny aimlessly drowns his dead-end life in alcohol until an unintended overdose of drugs lands him up in a rehab center. A girl there introduces him to the music (and style) of Debbie Harry and Blondie. It's the early 90s and he's more into 80s New Wave, but something about Debbie totally captivates him and gives him the strength to find a new direction. New directions, however, come with new complications and it takes a girlfriend, a jealous bully, and one fantastic dress to show him the way.

The storyline veers all over the place, but the characters are surprisingly engaging. Moreover, Johnny's journey is unique in YA (which is truly amazing in this day and age of jadedness in the genre). This is hardly classic material, but it is original and it is well-written. Give it a try!

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Isabel Factor, by Gayle Friesen

Right before Zoe and Anna are supposed to go to summer camp, Zoe breaks her arm and can't go. Inseparable as friends ("like crazy glue"), Anna does not know what to do but reluctantly goes alone. The summer promises to be busy as she and her friends from previous summers hatch a plan to finally win the camp competition against their arch rivals in cabin seven. However, there is a new girl (Isabel) who won't play along. Her resistance has striking consequences on old friendships. Soon, Anna is even reconsidering her friendship with Zoe and her priorities in general.

A bit of a rough read and treading on familiar ground, this story does not offer a lot. The ending is strong and some ambitious themes about peer pressure are approached, but this is overall pretty average stuff.

Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall, by Wendy Mass

When a freak dodgeball accident lands Tessa in a coma at the hospital, her life flashes before her eyes. However, each episode is seen through the context of a store at the mall where her Mom and Dad work. While this may sound like an absurd basis for a story, it turns out to be an effective device to allow Tessa to revisit her life and realize that she hasn't always made the best of choices.

This is one of those free-verse novels: a genre that is overly prone to navel gazing, especially in YA. Sometimes, it works well. This time, the results are mixed. Some of the chapters (particularly early on) coalesce nicely, but others drag or fall into cliche (do we really need one more prom disaster story?). A decent-enough read, but disappointing in the end.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another Kind of Cowboy, by Susan Juby

Taking a break from her successful Alice, I Think series, Juby gives us the story of Alex -- a horse-obsessed boy with a talent for riding and a small secret that he keeps from his alcoholic father. Add in a spoiled and self-centered rich girl from an elite girls' riding academy, his two nosy little sisters, and a variety of other characters and you get a charming story about finding out who you are, coming clean, and competitive dressage.

Spoiled rich girl Cleo never quite appealed to me, but Alex is a winner and a nice hero (Juby has created another character worthy of a few more books). The setting (rural British Columbia) is a bit off of most people's radars, but the story is a winner, not really following a traditional arc but still managing to deliver a good payoff. Worth reading!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson

Scarlett lives in a famous old hotel in the heart of Manhattan with her family. It sounds terribly exotic unless you realize that the hotel is an economic failure (a pale shadow of its former glory days) and her family is a mixture of dysfunctional types. But everything changes when the exotic and eccentric Mrs Amberson arrives and takes an instant liking to Scarlett. Staying in the fanciest suite in the hotel and throwing money around like crazy, Mrs Amberson looks poised to change everyone's fortune until things go terribly wrong. Now, Scarlett must rise to the occasion and save the day.

An uneven work. Thoroughly fun and enjoyable in the first 250 pages, the final 100 pages become muddled as the plot treads water and losings its dramatic edge. Things aren't helped by one of the most boring romances to grace YA in a while. It was so bad that it took me totally by surprise, because I really was enjoying the book and couldn't put it down. But it just failed to deliver. In addition to the romance that isn't, there's a number of improbable plot turns, a major dramatic moment that isn't (when Mrs Amberson's secret conflict with her nemesis is revealed), and all sorts of rough ends. Johnson writes some good books and most of them are quite entertaining, but this one just bombs out. Disappointing!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott

Alice lives in a hellish world that centers around pleasing Ray. It wasn't always like this and somewhere in the back of her mind she remembers the girl who had a family and a different life. But that was before Ray took her away and made her his and name her Alice. And she isn't even the only Alice. Before her there was another Alice who Ray killed when she turned 15 and was too old to love him anymore. Now that Alice herself has turned 15, she knows it won't be long before Ray replaces her as well.

ICK! It's a quick read and an engrossing story, but you have to be one very sick puppy to enjoy a book like this. And I realize that that review is not going to scare anyone off (I read the same sorts of reviews myself and it only made me want to read the book), but this is a story that really exists only to exploit. You won't learn anything more than there are people in the world sicker than you (for even wanting to read this) and that a slick advertising campaign and a lot of hype can make the difference between schlock and must-read YA. Nasty!