Friday, March 17, 2006

Romeo and Juliet - Together (And Alive!) At Last

Book: Romeo and Juliet - Together (and Alive!) At Last
Author: Avi
Published: 1987

Pete Saltz is desperately in love with Anabell Stackpoole. Indications are good that she reciprocates, but they're both too shy to do anything about it. What's a best bud to do? If you're Ed Sitrow, you cook up a plot to put on "Romeo and Juliet," casting Saltz as Romeo and Stackpoole as Juliet. After all, if they play the most famous couple in history, they're going to have to at least look at each other, right?

But the path to true love never did run smooth. Although the entire eighth grade gets in on it, Ed's slight case of overconfidence means that they have two weeks to rehearse, no teacher help, a borrowed set and costumes (borrowed from where? Well might you ask), and by the way, doesn't anybody know how to work those stupid curtains? Boy, does Saltz ever owe him one.

Being an English geek, I really took to this story, especially the hilarious mangling of Shakespearean language ("O, lemon table day!") in their disaster-riddled performance. It's not deep lit-chra-chure, but it's light and hilarious and strangely touching in the depiction of first love and middle-school friendship. Read it for a sweet, diverting, and roll-on-the-floor funny couple of hours.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Did you think I stopped reading or something?

Book: Peeps
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Published: 2005

No, this book has nothing to do with those marshmallow critters you get in your Easter basket and a) disembowel with unsettling glee, b) blow up in the microwave, or c) let sit around until they're roughly the density of cement, and then try to eat.

This book is about Cal. His life has taken a turn for the weird recently. On his first night in New York City, he had a drunken one-night stand. It's not until several months later, after every girl he's so much as kissed has turned into a cannibalistic monster, that he figures out the mysterious Morgan was a vampire. Lucky for him, he's semi-immune to the parasite that causes vampirism. But now, with the help of the secret Night Watch, he's got to track down all his exes and put them out of vampiric commission. Then he's got to find Morgan and figure out just what's going on . . . because there's definitely something going on.

Don't read this after eating, especially if you're eating spaghetti and meatballs. It can get pretty creepy and gory, but not gratuitously so. Cal retains a little bit of just-off-the-bus Texas farmboy innocence, even as he's doing a very dangerous and thankless job. Lacey, the new flame (whom he can't even kiss--sigh), counterbalances him as the acerbic, cynical Noo Yawker.

The premise may sound like a Buffy rip-off, but Cal's matter-of-fact, just-doing-my-job attitude, the strong grounding in biology, plus the lovingly drawn New York City that Cal and the Night Watch move through and under, keep it feeling real. This book is very heavy on the science, which was a plus for me because I love finding things out. Westerfeld weaves biology and parasitology into the fabric of his story, as well as intercutting the chapters with breezy mini-essays on real-life parasites. Close to the end, these tend to disrupt the flow of the story, but they're still pretty neat for those with strong stomachs. If, however, you choose to skip them, it probably won't detract too much from the experience.

Note of interest: I found this book through a recommendation from Unshelved, a web-based comic strip about a public library that runs "Book Club" features every Sunday.