Monday, September 01, 2014

Reading Roundup: August 2014

By the Numbers
Teen: 11
Tween: 5
Children: 3

Sources
Review Copies: 11
Purchased: 2
Library: 3

Standouts
Teen: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
It starts with a murderous ghost who's not even the villain, and ends . . . well, no, I can't tell you that. In between, it crawls through Japanese ghost stories and gives you the creepies to no end.
Tween: The League of Seven by Alan Gratz
While I thoroughly enjoyed the old-fashioned adventure story feel of this (with a soupcon of steampunk!), my favorite part lay in the construction of a world where Europeans, mysteriously cut off from Europe, get absorbed into the pre-existing Native American society of the New World.
Children: Rose by Holly Webb
Rose has a bedrock of good common sense, which is why it's so interesting to see her go head-to-head with magical goings-on and discover her own magical power.

Because I Want To Awards
For the Whovians in the Crowd: Jackaby by William Ritter
This fast-paced murder mystery, careering through Victorian New England, with a supernatural detective who has a Really Bad Habit of not imparting all the facts to his long-suffering assistant (and our narrator), was definitely built on the Dr. Who/Sherlock Holmes model model.
For an Author Who's Done So Many Teen Girls, This was a Spot-On Tween Boy: Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown
As legions of older sisters and younger brothers will tell you, there's a world of difference between the two. But Brown nailed it, first try.
Tissue-Paper Premise, Slam-Dunk Execution: Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers
Twins who didn't know it find each other over the internet in a story told solely through text communication of one kind or another. Oh, yeah, it's a tough sell, but Rivers' spot-on tween girl voices do the trick.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review: Red Thread Sisters by Carol Antoinette Peacock

Book: Red Thread Sisters
Author: Carol Antoinette Peacock
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

At eleven years old, Wen has finally been adopted by an American family. She gets to leave the poor, crowded, noisy orphanage in China, but she'll also have to leave behind her best friend, Shu Ling. Even though they've always promised each other that the first to get adopted will find a family for the other, the separation is wrenching.

Family life in America isn't all that easy, either. Wen struggles with her English, with the differences between China and America, and with fears of being rejected by her new family like she was rejected by her old one. She wants to bond with her new family and make new friends, but every time she does it feels like a betrayal of her old life and Shu Ling. And just as she is starting to settle in and enjoy things like Halloween and Thanksgiving, she gets horrifying news: if Shu Ling is not adopted by mid-January, she'll age out of eligibility and never get adopted at all.

From halfway around the world, can Wen save her friend and find her a family in less than three months?

For everything she's been through, Wen has a quiet toughness that can work against her - as when she rejects her new family's overtures - or for her - as when she takes on the impossible task of getting one young teenager out of thousands adopted by somebody.

Though most kids reading this may never have seen China or known anything like the orphanages, they'll identify with Wen - scared, uncertain, out of place, but still willing to tackle the challenge in order to keep what she's been given.

When most people think of overseas adoption, they think of babies, brought home before they can walk or talk, or remember their old life. But the truth is there are many, many older children out there. This is the story of two of them, and of the unbreakable bonds of friendship that can stretch much farther than around the world.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book Review: A Certain October by Angela Johnson

Book: A Certain October
Author: Angela Johnson
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

When she's in a horrible accident that kills a friend and severely injures her seven-year-old brother, Scotty feels responsible - for Kris's death, for Keone's injuries. It's all her fault, but there's no way she can make up for it. In the face of her helplessness, Scotty starts to do things to help other peoples' lives, and that might be just enough to get her through this October alive.

It's always hard for me to characterize an Angela Johnson book. They don't seem to have beginnings or ends, you feel like you're dropped in the middle of someone's life and then get plucked out again. I feel more as if I should like them than I actually do. But the jumbled tangle of emotion and uncertainty is awfully close to living inside Scotty's head. It's a quick and often confusing read. I'd give it only to people who are fans of Johnson's other work.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Book Review: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Book: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
Author: Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

In the studio, Gabe runs his community radio show, "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children." He plays eclectic mixes and chats over the airwaves to night owls just like him. In the studio is the only place Gabe can truly be himself. Because to the outside world, Gabe is Liz, and Liz is female.

But Gabe has always known he's male, even if it's a scary thing to declare that to the world. As his radio show gains a cult following and he starts to dream of bigger and better (a career in radio, a life as himself, even--gulp!--a girlfriend), he needs the courage to stand tall against a world that doesn't know quite what to make of him.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the slowness of the process. Gabe comes out to his parents, to close friends, and then painfully, to the world, in baby steps like asking a radio station to change the name on his entry form from Liz to Gabe, and telling his new boss that though his W-2 says one name, it's really another. Each outing is its own different brand of scary.

There's a realistic variety of reactions to Gabe's secret. Some people are immediately accepting, like John, his musical mentor who's seen many, many things in a long career in radio and music. Paige, his best friend and sort-of crush, is also completely supportive, if sometimes a little clueless. On the other end of the spectrum are his parents and his brother, who are baffled and horrified. There's also Mara, a girl who's initially into Gabe until she realizes he's transgender, and then reacts with horror and vindictiveness, and of course, the almost-obligatory vicious transphobes, who harass Gabe through Facebook and eventually attack him and his friends.


There's not a lot of transgender books out there. I'm glad to add this one to the stack.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Book Review: A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar

Book: A Song for Bijou
Author: Josh Farrar
Published: 2013
Source: Local Library

When Alex spots the beautiful girl in the corner store, that's it for him. He's in looooooove. He has to find a way to get to know her. But Bijou Doucet isn't so sure about this strange American boy. Back home in Haiti, she was never allowed to spend time with any boy outside of her family, and she's not entirely sure she wants to defy that for a boy who can't seem to talk to her without tripping over his own feet.

Determined friends and creative thinking get the two into each other's company, and they shyly stumble toward something like romance. But they come from very different worlds, not just culturally but in their own experiences. Can a Brooklyn-born white boy and a Haitian girl ever find a way to be anything more than friends?

I'm going to declare it, there's not enough MG romance out there. There's especially not enough MG romance with a male point of view out there. And yet, for many middle schoolers, love is about all they can think of. Does anyone like them? Are they ever going to go on a date? What if he or she wants to hold hands? Or (gasp!) kiss?

The first-person POV switches back and forth between Alex and Bijou, a technique I appreciated because they do come from such different worlds. However, I wish there had been some stronger delineation of Bijou's chapters from Alex's. Different font, a chapter heading, something. Every time there was a switch (and it wasn't a consistent pattern), it might take me up to a page to figure out whose POV I was in.

This is a sweet, funny book with an incredibly sense of place. I want to visit Alex and Bijou's Brooklyn with all its color and variety and energy. It's not all sunny good fun, though. There are some ugly prejudices lurking under the surface. But Farrar keeps those light, brushing the edges of the story without making them the central conflict, and keeping his book light and sweet. Highly recommended for middle-school readers.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Reading Roundup: July 2014

By the Numbers
Teen: 10
Tween: 4
Children: 6

Sources
Review Copies: 7
Library: 9

Standouts
Teen: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater
My two favorite secondary characters from the Shiver series get their own book! Isabel and Cole are each broken in their own way and it's fascinating to watch them trying to line up their jagged edges.
Tween: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
I don't always love the Newbery picks, even if I can see why they won. That said, I both appreciated AND loved this story of a lonely, artistic gorilla.
Children: Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 by Dav Pilkey
I've been pointing children at these books for my entire librarian career, but I hadn't read one in a long time. This book reminded me why the kids still flock to them. Funny, swift-moving, and tongue firmly in cheek (at one point, a character notices a gaping plot hole and the other says to him, "Whaddya think this is, Shakespeare?"), there's a reason they're modern classics.

Because I Want To Awards
Longest Awaited: Mortal Heart by R.L. LaFevers
The last of the assassin nuns! That being said, this one was rather slower and I felt occasionally lost amidst the medieval politics. But it was still a satisfying ending to a complex and addictive series. Best part: how many NunFriend scenes we got, and how integral that friendship was to the plot. I think I have to read the series all in a row now to get all the undertones. Oh, darn. (Out in November; sorry, guys.)
Darn Near a Standout: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Nobody does alienated, struggling teen girl quite like LHA. Hayley actually seemed to have acquired some of her father's crippling PTSD, just in dealing with it.
Euwwwwwwwww!: In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
This author doesn't stint on the blood and guts. That would up the appeal already, but he backs it up with strong main characters and a satisfying arc for each.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

Book: The Lost Girl
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Published: 2012
Source: Local Library

Eva has always known that her life doesn't belong to her. She is an echo. Like the backup of a hard drive, her sole purpose is to absorb all the details of another girl's life, so that if that first girl dies, she's on hand to step in.

But Eva wants her own life, not Amarra's. She wants to create art, she wants adventures that haven't already happened to somebody else, she wants to love the boy she picks and not the one Amarra loves.

Then Amarra dies, and Eva must travel from England to India to take her place. The only people who know she isn't the original Amarra are her new family members, and since echoes are illegal in India, she has to be extra-careful to pass with Amarra's friends and boyfriend.

She's always known that she's not Amarra, but now those differences could mean the end of her.

I feel as if this book could have used another pass through the editing process. The beginning is slow and my interest didn't really kick in until  Eva got to Bangalore. The world building is also somewhat rickety. Everything seems contemporary, but the echo creation process has been (so we are told) in place for 200 years.  Echos are well-known enough to be legislated, but there's only three people in  the world who can create them, Also, Eva spends a lot of time being irritatingly passive, accepting her fate until someone drags her into action. This fits with her life experiences (she's always been told what to do and how to do it), but it doesn't fit with the way other people talk about her as someone bold and daring.  I wish we could have seen more echoes, or at least heard of them, to get a better picture of how echoes actually do fit into the world.

What I did like? Eva's tense, wobbly relationship with Amarra, like a younger sister always in her older sister's shadow, with the older sister resenting that she exists at all. The portrait of the parents' grief, both assuaged and heightened by Eva's presence. There was also the boyfriend's grief, which is a complicated beast, all tangled up with sadness and guilt and interest in Eva. The setting is also a view of India we don't often get, a well-to-do middle-upper-class world with light touches of non-Western detail.

If there's another book about echoes, I'm interested in the premise, but I would want a stronger execution.