Wednesday, June 08, 2011

This 'n' That

I have a few different things to natter on about today. Well, three.

  • You guys, you guys! KidlitCon '11 is in the works! September 16-17 in Seattle. More deets needed? Check out Chasing Ray for the lowdown. I love this conference and I've been at every one so far. The best part is meeting all the cool people I know in cyberspace.
  • So what's the final word on the #48HBC? See MotherReader's wrap-up post for a global view. As for me, my final donation tally is 11 books read x $5 per book, and 23 comments left x $1 per comment, for a grand total of (drumroll) 78 dollars to Make Way for Books, a Tucson-based literacy organization. Who ever heard of donating 78 dollars? I'm making it an even 80.
  • Finally, this made me happy: an SLJ interview with Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite authors on the planet even before he started writing books specifically for children and teens. Quotes like this are why: "Amazingly, I find that children understand rather more than their parents think they do." So true.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

48-Hour Book Challenge . . . Met!

So, another 48-hour Book Challenge, come and gone. I think I've got my technique down now. I pick books I'm excited about to keep up my energy. I use the audiobook option to give my eyes a break and let me do things that I can't do with a book in my hand. I keep Twitter and Google Reader open so I can dip into the Internet and see how other challengers are doing. I use a stopwatch-and-spreadsheet technique to keep track of my time. Yes, I'm a nerd. Shut up. So this was a pretty good year!

Here are my totals.

Books read: 10 (not bad, considering that I worked all day Saturday)
Audiobooks: part of one. I'll count it as a round one.
Time reading (including audiobook time): 14 hours, 33 minutes, 22 seconds
Time blogging, including this post: 4 hours, 31 minutes, 52 seconds
Time social-networking: 1 hour, 38 minutes, 45 seconds.
For a total time of . . .

20 hours, 44 minutes.


Since I pledged five dollars for every book read, that's 55 dollars for Make Way for Books so far. I'll wait until Monday night to tally up the replies on my posts (a dollar apiece) and see how much the final donation will be.

One of the things I take away from this every year is, "Boy, are there a lot of nuts out there." Um, I mean, "Cool people who love the same things I do." The other thing is how quick it is to write a blog entry. I get re-energized and into a pattern of reviewing. Maybe this time it'll stick, what do you think?

Thanks again for another great year, MotherReader and all my fellow challengers!

Audiobook Review: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Book: Anne of Green Gables
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Narrator: Laurie Klein
Published: 1908
Source: Local Library

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert thought they were getting a sturdy, sensible little orphan boy who would help Matthew around the farm. What they got instead was Anne Shirley, a sensitive, imaginative, red-headed orphan girl who will bring breath and life into the stagnant Green Gables.

Like the Stones say, you can't always get what you want . . . but sometimes, you'll get what you need.

Time: 3:01:48 (partial)
Why I Wanted to Read It: I love audiobooks, but have a hard time listening to ones that are new to me, so I tend to pick books I've read before. It's been entirely too long since I spent time with Anne.

So this is a partial review, since I've only listened up to the first meeting with Diana Barry. I'd forgotten how long it takes for Anne to ease into Avonlea society. After all, we can't imagine one without the other. But then, the other thing I'd forgotten was how weird and wild Anne is to the staid and prosaic people of Avonlea, not least the Cuthberts. Full of imagination and romantical fantasy and plopped down in a practical and hard-working farming community, this is a fish out of water and no mistake. Maybe the reason Anne has to exist in Avonlea (and vice versa) is that they are so different they function as two sides of the same coin.

Reading this as an adult, I find myself horrified by Anne's life before Green Gables, and profoundly grateful for the mix-up that landed her there. As sensitive as she is, it couldn't have been too much longer before the lack of love and the constant exploitation would have destroyed her. Or maybe I'm being pessimistic and her sturdy imagination, which creates friends out of reflections and echoes, would have shielded her into adulthood. Luckily, we'll never know.

The other part of reading this as an adult is that Anne is hilarious. Like many a starry-eyed teenager, she takes things she's heard and barely understands, mixes them up, and spouts them forth. And yet, she's not being pretentious. She genuinely loves the romantic poets of her era (she seems to exist somewhere in the 1870's or 1880's) and is open to the joys of nature. Some of the stuff she comes out with could be seen as manipulative if written in a modern book, especially when she talks despairingly of what a trial she is, or how frightfully badly she should be punished. But we all know Anne is simply not like that.

The narrator, Laurie Klein, annoyed me a little bit at first, because she seemed to be a little over the top herself. But either I got used to her style or she settled into it. I'll go on reading this, definitely, and remembering why this girl still resonates with kids and adults over 100 years later.

Book Review: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor

Book: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
Author: Barbara O'Connor
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

Nothing ever happens to Popeye. Living out in the country along with his shifty Uncle Dooley and his overburdened grandmother, Velma, each day is the same as the last and next. He longs for changes and adventure. Then he meets Elvis.

Well, not that Elvis.

Elvis Jewell is the oldest of five children. He lives in a Holiday Rambler that's just gotten stuck in the lane that leads to Popeye's house. He's the president of the Spit and Swear club, and just like Popeye, he's ripe for an adventure. But it'll have to be a small adventure, because they've only got a few days until his parents manage to un-stuck the Holiday Rambler and then he'll be gone.

When Popeye and Elvis find boats made out of Yoo-Hoo containers floating down the creek, bearing cryptic messages, they know this is the small adventure they've been looking for. But is there time to have it before Elvis has to leave again?

Time: 0:23:47
Why I Wanted to Read It: With only about an hour and a half left of the 48-Hour Book Challenge, I wanted a very short read, and I've liked Barbara O'Connor's books in the past.

There's a timelessness about this book. It makes no reference to cell phones or the Internet, to anything that anchors it to any particular time beyond now-ish. It's about two bored kids in a long, hot summer, longing for excitement and challenge in lives that don't offer much of either.

Although it's clear that all the characters are living in what comfortable suburban kids would consider abject poverty, O'Connor makes no effort to address or correct this. It is what it is, it's their life, and they're living it.

What is there to take away from such a short, odd little book? What I closed it with is the sense that friendship, no matter how fleeting, is something to be treasured, and adventures, no matter how small, are something to be pursued.

Book Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Book: A Spy in the House
Author: Y.S. Lee
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

One step from the gallows, Mary Lang was rescued and given a new lease on life by Miss Scrimshaw's Academy. Five years later, at the age of seventeen, the rechristened Mary Quinn is recruited for the secretive Agency, a collective of female operatives who do all the dirty jobs that their male counterparts can't.

Her first job is in the Thorold household. Apparently, there's something fishy going on with Mr. Thorold's company, and in the guise of serving as a companion to his spoiled daughter, Mary is to keep her ears and eyes open for any hints as to what.

There's plenty afoot in this house. Why is Thorold's secretary, Michael Grey, so flirtatious? Why is Mrs. Thorold so sickly sometimes and so assertive others? What's with the clever and sarcastic James Easton sticking his nose in everywhere? Mary's got a lot on her hands, sorting out the truly dangerous from the merely seedy, and she's got to do it fast.

Time: 1:55:40
Why I Wanted to Read It: Victorian girl spies! It's like the Gallagher Girls, but with crinolines!

Except not. Oh well.

Mary was so far removed from the central investigation that I couldn't quite grasp the nature of the mystery, and her efforts at finding out more just seemed like recklessness instead of taking initiative. Honeypot, you're a trainee spy, serving as a backup to the central agent in the investigation. This is not the time to boldly declare your independence and go tearing off to screw up said agent's careful plans, especially when you have no idea what they are. Aside: and why is a trainee spy thrown into an investigation without support beyond one or two cryptic notes from the head of the Agency? Also, why didn't we ever find out the identity of the central agent? I was waiting to find out that it was somebody really cool and heretofore unsuspected and . . . nothing.

I did like the setting. Mary's London is so seamy that you half-expect the Artful Dodger to pop up, and she's so comfortable in it that you'd expect her to say, "'Allo, gov," to said famous pickpocket. Lee also touches on the plight of minorities in Victorian London. Mary, it transpires, is half-Chinese and considers this a terribly shameful secret. I wish we'd witnessed the treatment of Asians before that, just so her position wouldn't be so cringe-inducing to a modern reader.

I also liked James, conducting his own investigation and constantly running afoul of Mary's work, and she of his. The sparkage was interesting, which makes me hope that we'll see him again, even though his final appearance in the book would seem to deny that possibility.

Less Gallagher Girls, more straight-up historical mystery. I'll read the next book for the setting, and the interesting premise, and hope that the things that frustrated me this time around will be corrected.

Book Review: Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

Book: Enchanted Glass
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Aiden Cain is in a pickle. Orphaned by the sudden death of his gran, he's also being stalked by strange creatures, which has gotten him kicked out of at least one foster home. His gran always told him he could go to Jocelyn Brandon, of Melstone House, who would know what to do about him. But when Aidan arrives at Melstone, he discovers that Mr. Brandon is dead and the new owner, Mr. Brandon's grandson, doesn't have any more idea what to do than Aidan does.

Andrew Hope is likewise in a pickle. He's inherited his grandfather's field-of-care, the responsibility for the magical well-being of a huge area of land. It's been far too long since his childhood lessons with his grandfather, which he's starting to realize were more than just the imaginative play that he told himself they were. He's also starting to realize that Aidan is a lot more than just an orphaned relative.

As magical enemies gather on the horizon and high summer looms, Andrew and Aidan are going to need to keep their heads cool and their wits about them if they hope to come through this one alive.

Time: 1:57:18
Why I Wanted to Read It: Please. Did you see who wrote it?

One of my favorite parts of this, and of most of Jones' work, is how high magic and legendary creatures exist alongside prosaic English country life. Soccer games are witnessed by sanguine weredogs, friendly giants eat unwanted vegetables, and gigantic cauliflowers grown by magic are made into cauliflower cheese. (I had to look this up. Yecccch.) In fact, in many ways this is a book that could never have been written by an American, because the base of it is a particularly English-countryside mindset of ownership and responsibility for the land and the people in it.

There was some discussion about Andrew being at least as strong a main character as Aidan, if not stronger. Conventional wisdom holds that kids only want to read about other kids, but then, Jones never seems to pay much attention to "conventional wisdom" when it comes to her books. (Witness the success of Howl's Moving Castle, which has one child character, and that a secondary one.) It didn't feel at all jarring to me, and I think we don't give kids enough credit for being interested in a good character no matter their age.

Basically, this book is classic Diana Wynne Jones. Mayhem, narration filled with biting wit, outrageously flawed adults and children, magic, more mayhem, coolly threatening villains, and main characters who despite being woefully unprepared for the task at hand, roll up their sleeves and plunge in. If you're already a fan, this won't disappoint. If you're not, this will make you one.

Book Review: Forget You by Jennifer Echols

Book: Forget You
Author: Jennifer Echols
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Zoey Commander's life kinda sucks at the moment. Her dad is marrying his pregnant twenty-four-year-old mistress in Hawaii and her mom is in the loony bin. Not to mention, she can't seem to get away from brooding Doug Fox, who calls her a spoiled brat and blames her for all his problems.

Then the wreck happened, and everything changed. Doug is suddenly acting like they're something special to each other, and her actual boyfriend, Brandon, is nowhere to be seen. But what is responsible for this sudden change? Because try as she might, Zoey can't remember a thing about that night. And she doesn't dare let anyone know, because she's terrified that she might get locked up alongside her mother. But how can she discover the truth without anybody figuring out that's what she's after?

Time: 1:50:34
Why I Wanted to Read It: I really loved Going Too Far. Unfortunately, this book didn't live up to the promise.

My major problem with this book was the main character. Frankly, Zoey annoyed the daylights out of me. With her life in a shambles, she's clinging desperately to what little she does have control over, then accuses Doug of lying to, manipulating, and controlling her. Character-wise, that makes sense, but god, was it exasperating! Probably the thing that annoyed me most was her insistence on holding Doug at a distance because she was with Brandon . . . a guy she had stupid, impulsive sex with once, didn't like it, doesn't think much of him, and yet he's the love of her life? Whatever.

I realize this sounds like I think this is the worst book ever committed to paper, but it's not. I did feel for Zoey, confused and lost and looking for answers in all the wrong places. I also felt for Doug, who is as confused in his way as Zoey, but at least it's obvious he cares for her. There was just so much that drove me batty about Zoey that I can't completely endorse it as a romance. I'll read Echol's other books, because she is awfully good, just as long as she doesn't come up with another character who's this much of a mess.

Book Review: The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman

Book: The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
Author: Jacqueline Houtman
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Edison Thomas knows all sorts of things, like the Latin name for his pet rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), how many grams there are in a pound (453.59237), and the hardest substance in the human body (tooth enamel). What he doesn't know is how people work. For instance, why does Mitch, who has been his friend since childhood, always say strange things and laugh when he's around? What is the meaning behind the ketchup packets that are suddenly turning up in all his things? (They're certainly not his.) And what does it mean that new people, like geeky Justin, science-fiction fan Terry, and musician Kip, are suddenly talking to him?

As he struggles to create an invention that will solve the problem of a dangerous intersection near the school, Eddy finds himself reassessing the nature of friendship. Of the two, the second is the far thornier problem.

Time: 0:57:14
Why I Wanted to Read It: Duuude! Science!

I have a great affection for scientific kids in fiction, such as Calpurnia Tate and Phineas L. McGuire. They approach the world in a logical and orderly fashion. Of course, very often the narrative conflict comes from the refusal of people to act in a logical and orderly manner, and that's certainly the case with Eddy. I loved seeing him slowly recognize the unhealthy nature of his relationship with Mitch, and start to build on better ones with new people who appreciate him as he is and overlook or gently correct his quirks.

While never explicitly stated in the text, Eddy does seem to have Asperger's or some other form of high-functioning autism. He's terribly sensitive to sudden noises, tends to fixate on random facts, and goes to specialized counseling sessions. But neurotypical kids will recognize his quagmires, even if his methods for dealing with them would differ from their own.

I would have liked to see a stronger comeuppance for the poisonous Mitch, but otherwise, I won't hesitate in recommending this book for anyone who wants a unique and interesting book about friendship, science, and the intersection of the two.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Book Review: Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Book: Bumped
Author: Megan McCafferty
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley

In a near-future America, a virus has sterilized everyone over the age of twenty, meaning that fertile teenagers are suddenly the hottest commodities in the free market.

Melody was the first of her classmates to sign on as a pro, getting contracted to deliver a baby to an infertile couple who would pay richly upon delivery. But due to pickiness on the couple's part regarding the potential sperm donor, she's sixteen and still hasn't yet "bumped," or conceived. Although that's not her fault, she's facing derision from her pregnant classmates. Plus she's afraid that her best guy friend, Zen, is drifting away from her. Not to mention the horrible thing that happened to her best friend, Malia, when she gave birth. Oh, and there's the matter of the long-lost twin sister that suddenly turned up on her doorstep . . .

Harmony is a runaway from a conservative religious sect that deals with the fertility problem by arranging marriages at thirteen. She's come to her sister, hoping to bring her to God and also feel a little less like an outcast herself. She's out of touch and dazed by the secular, sinful world she finds herself in now, but also a little exhilarated at the unaccustomed freedom, especially after she's mistaken for her sister and swept off to get inseminated by the most beautiful boy she's ever seen. Besides, she can't exactly go back. Because she's left more than a few secrets behind her . . .

Told in alternating viewpoints over just a couple of days, both girls are forced to confront the beliefs of their differing worlds, and how those beliefs don't mesh with what's inside them.

Time: 1:42:30
Why I Wanted to Read It: While I never read the Jessica Darling series, I wanted to see how this particular spin on the dystopia craze would play out.

McCafferty makes the preggy-crazy society entertaining as all hell, with pop songs about insemination and accessories that imitate a pregnancy belly. Harmony's world, mostly told and not shown, is a little more standard-fare, repressive patriarchal religious cult, ho-hum.

As the story unfolds, we realize the far-reaching damages that both societies inflict. Late in the book, we meet an eleven-year-old girl in a birthing center, and not to visit. In both cases, sexual choice is removed from the teenagers' control. I say teenagers and not teen girls because the boys are part of it too. The more genetically desirable boys are encouraged to procreate, some of them even becoming professional inseminators, and the less desirable are called "worms" and reduced to being the designated driver at the orgy. Again, there's less of Harmony's world shown, but if you've read one repressive-patriarchal-religious cult book, you've read 'em all, and you know what to expect.

I feel as if this book didn't quite do what it set out to do, but it's still thought-provoking. Both girls feel out of place in their worlds, seemingly for different reasons but actually for the same one. They're being told what to do with their bodies. Have as much sex as possible, wait for the assigned mate. Get pregnant, pop 'em out, for reasons forced on them from the outside. Neither sister will be happy until they take control and make the choices instead of having them made for them.

So much for individual choice. But my cynical side says, "Yes, but . . . society's got a point. Without the teen pregnancies, there would swiftly be no human race." It's the free-market aspect of it that's so entirely horrifying.

My strongest complaint is the end. So the two sisters have gone through their separate journeys and arrived at the same conclusion and come together as sisters, oh! hugs and puppies! All of a sudden out of left field there came this weird sequel-begging, he-said/she-said Big Misunderstanding denouement. It was kind of annoying, because it felt as if the story was going somewhere else entirely and then someone decided we needed a series. I'll read it, because this was entertaining and I want to see where Melody, Harmony, Zen, Jondoe, and Ram end up in their messed-up world, but I feel like it could have been done in one book.

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Book: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
Author: Tom Angleberger
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Dwight has to be the weirdest kid in school. He's been known to answer yes-or-no questions with colors, wear really long socks with shorts, and basically be counted on to be the oddest person in the room. But the strangest thing about him may be the Origami Yoda he carries around on his finger, who gives advice. The yet weirder thing? In general, it seems to be good advice.

But Tommy, who's been advised by Origami Yoda to ask the girl of his dreams to dance at the School Fun Night, needs better proof than that. He gathers anecdotes from every kid who's ever gone to Origami Yoda, compiles it into a file, and studies it all with commentary from steadfast doubter Harvey and doodles from Kellen. Is it really just a folded piece of paper and a weird voice? Or is Origami Yoda the real deal?

Time: 0:30:39
Why I Wanted to Read It: Another one that everybody and their sister was talking about.

Remember middle school? Angleberger does. Sucked, didn't it? He remembers that too. He brings middle school roaring back with all the confusion, doubts, clumsiness, and general hideous angst of being twelve. The things that happen in this book would be considered small, but in the world of tweendom, they're huge and loaded. Who likes who? How can I stop being mocked? How can I stay out of trouble?

Origami Yoda's answers reflect the worldview of an observant outsider who is still a kid. But sometimes you will find yourself wondering if he's more than just a folded puppet, and that's the magic.

The doodled pictures will probably make this a hit with the Wimpy Kid set, and the short, gulpable chapters make it a further draw for reluctant readers. What fun, and I'm looking forward to more from this author, whether it features Origami Yoda or not.

Book Review: The Enemy by Charlie Higson

Book: The Enemy
Author: Charlie Higson
Published: 2010 (US)
Source: Local Library

Ever since the first teenager walked the earth, adults have been the enemy. But now, when a mysterious ailment has transformed everyone over the age of sixteen into a mutated, cannibalistic creature, it's the truth. Kids have banded together for survival, battling the grown-ups, scavenging for food, and praying to make it to tomorrow without becoming lunch.

For a little group holed up in a Waitrose supermarket, despair is encroaching fast. So when a mysterious boy turns up with the news that there's a substantial community of kids not only living but thriving at Buckingham Palace, they decide to take the chance and journey through London to the shimmering possibility of safety.

But when they arrive, the leader of the Palace kids seems an awful lot like a power-hungry madman. Now they have to ask themselves . . . are the grown-ups the only enemy?

Time: 2:16:57
Why I Wanted to Read It: I kept hearing such good things, from bloggers I trust.

Zombie books are one of those things I have a conflicted relationship with. On the one hand - ooo, post-apocalyptic! Fighting! Danger! High-intensity drama! And, duh, zombies. On the other hand, bloody depressing, and I mean that literally.

This isn't precisely a zombie book: after all, the grown-ups aren't dead, although they're certainly not what they were. But it shares much of what makes true zombie books so depressing: the feeling of insurmountable odds, not being able to trust anybody even when you desperately want to, seeing the people you loved and depended on either reduced to monsters or killed by those same monsters.

Higson doesn't pull punches with the deaths, y'all. In general, authors tend to kill off secondary characters, but Higson brings the horror home by spending time, even telling pieces of story from a character's point of view, and then killing them off. The end result is that even when good things happen, or hope flickers, there's a cynical little worm in your head saying, "This kid's gonna bite it." And half the time you're right. It brings you into the wearily fearful mindset of the characters more powerfully than any other technique.

Higson also uses his setting to explore human nature, in all its power-hungry, cowardly, underhanded, generous, loving beauty. Anybody who's ever thought that kids are somehow morally superior to adults will have that notion struck down, and anybody who's ever thought the reverse will have the same experience.

It's a disturbing book in a lot of ways, not for the sensitive. The Nick-and-Rachel sequence will give you the severe jimjams, and the way the kids use "mothers and fathers" to refer to the attacking grownups makes you both sad and a little queasy. But I couldn't put it down, and the only reason you're seeing this post now instead of sometime very late last night is because I had to work today. I have the prequel The Dead as an e-galley, and given the ending of The Enemy, I'm looking forward to a sequel soon. Very soon. You hear me, Higson??

Friday, June 03, 2011

Book Review: Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison

Book: Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?
Author: Louise Rennison
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library (downloaded onto my Nook!)

Georgia Nicolson is back, and so are all her fab mates. Not to mention the Luuuuurve God, and of course Dave the Laugh. And if both those lads are hanging about, you know Georgia's in turmoil. Because who wouldn't want a beautiful Italian like Masimo? He's, y'know, beautiful, and, um, Italian, and - oh, I've got it! He kisses like a dream. Although it must be said that when Georgia wants to laugh and hang about and feel most like herself, it's not Masimo she turns to, but instead Dave the Laugh. Hmmmmm. Odd, that.

Now Masimo wants to go live in London with his band. Should she ask him to give up the opportunity for musical famousosity and stay with her? Should she go with him? Or should she send him away to pursue his pop-star dream, with a stiff upper lip (and a gently quivering lower one)?

Possibly, there is a mysterious Option D. Although it's only mysterious if you are as thick as an extremely thick thing in Thicky-A-Gogo-Land.

Time: 1:35:22
Why I Wanted to Read It: I've been reading these books for years. One of my first reviews on this blog was Away Laughing on a Fast Camel. After the last one, however, I said, "Enough of this!" because the series was just going on and on and on. But this landed back on my list when Ms. Yingling mentioned it was the last one, and things actually got settled, and all really quite well. Plus, after Scars, I really needed to laugh like a mad laughing thing.

And I did. Oh, how I did. I fully expect the nice men with the white coats to turn up on my doorstep, called by the long-suffering neighbors. (It's okay, they know their way here quite well by now.) Georgia is in fine form, with all the silly dances, dirty jokes, and snarky commentary we've come to expect from her.

If I were one of the adults in her life, I might well strangle her. She's impulsive, snotty, irreverent, insensitive . . . in short, she's a fifteen-year-old girl, which is why she's so enormously appealing. Those moments when the basic goodness shines through, such as her patience with her sister Libby and her treatment of the first-formers who idolize her, make her someone you want to spend 150 pages with.

As for how the series wound up, I have to say, I knew it all along. As I said above, Georgia's appeal is that she's still a goofy, impulsive, silly teenager. Throughout the series, she's been trying to be fabulously cool and sophisticated for the sake of the older boys she dates. Which really is not her at all. Ending up with the boy who loves her when she's most herself is the best ending I could have picked in a million years.

I love recommending this series, and one day I will listen to them all on audio, because the writing is just made for reading aloud. Of course, given that I listen to audiobooks in my car, that could prove incredibly dangerous.

Book Review: Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Book: Scars
Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Published: 2010
Source: Review copy from the author

Believe it or not, fifteen-year-old Kendra is actually in a better place than she was six months ago. Sure, she's in therapy and sure, she's cutting herself to let out the bottled-up pain. But six months ago, repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse began to rise to the surface . . . which is how she landed in therapy and started cutting in the first place.

But although he lurks in the shadows of every painting and sketch she creates, Kendra still can't remember the face of her abuser. Even attempting to do reduces her to terror. All she knows is that it was a trusted man in her childhood life. Worse yet, he's still around - somebody's leaving her notes and messages, warning her not to tell or he'll kill her.

The only sunny spots come from her relationship with a new girlfriend and the warm reception that her artwork, always derided by her artist mother, is beginning to garner from others. A new life is within Kendra's grasp, if only she can muster up the courage to discover and face the man who destroyed her old one.

Time: 0:17:13 (partial because I started reading this yesterday and wasn't done yet)
Why I Wanted to Read It: I'd been hearing about this book for some time. Cheryl is a Kidlitosphere pal and I knew it was a deeply personal story, drawn from her own experience. In fact, her arm is the scarred limb shown on the cover. When she emailed to offer me a review copy, I leapt at the chance, even though I knew it wasn't going to be a book full of hugs and puppies.

The good news is, this is definitely worth the read. Sometimes you get the "thinly veiled autobiography" feeling with books based on the author's experience, but Kendra felt real and alive to me, and I couldn't stop turning the pages to follow her slow blossoming, in spite of the pain that seethed under her skin. I did flip to the end to find out the identity of the abuser, because I'm terrible like that, and it was exactly who I thought it would be.

One of the things I appreciated was the portrayal of a family life that made the abuse possible. Her mother's willful ignorance and incredible self-involvement, plus her father's need to be at the center of the family's attention at all times, made it credible that nobody would have noticed what was going on and that Kendra would have thought so little of herself as to believe that she deserved the abuse, and that nobody would listen to her if she told.

I would have liked to see a little more from the time that the memories started to resurface, especially how the break-up with her first girlfriend affected or prompted them. I also thought the climax was unexpectedly dramatic for a book that had been all about the inner emotional journey up until that point. I did see the need for Kendra to face and conquer her abuser, so it worked in that way. It was just startling.

As I said, it's not a hugs and puppies kind of book. But it is a well-told and deeply affecting one, and the cutting aspect is included as just that, an aspect of the pain that Kendra is experiencing.

Sixth Annual 48-Hr Book Challenge Starts Now!

I was going to start in the morning, but then I decided that I couldn't wait! My bookshelf has so many books I've been looking forward to reading that I'm just going to go ahead and start. I do have to work all day tomorrow (curses!) so it'll be a smaller year than usual, but I aim to have a blast anyway. My audiobook will be Anne of Green Gables, so I'll listen to that as I drive to work, cook, take knitting breaks, exercise, and do other things that require two hands for.

For every book I read and review (because the reviewing's half the fun, dontcha know!) I'll donate five dollars to Make Way for Books, a local literacy organization. For every comment on a review, I'll add a dollar. If you're coming here from MotherReader's starting line post, check out my more recent reviews and updates. Also, you can follow me on Twitter or Find me on Facebook.

My first book will be a partial one, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. I started reading this yesterday and thought I'd have it finished, but it's been a busy couple of days. Since I was getting the "gotta-review" feeling about it anyway, I decided this was going to be my first book.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about ("She wants to do what for 48 hours?"), drop by MotherReader's blog and find out! If you have a blog of your own (or were always meaning to start one), join in!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Reading Roundup: May 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 16
Tween: 7
Children: 4

Review Copies: 7
Library: 19

Teen: Shine by Lauren Myracle
Myracle tends to be hit or miss with me. This book, about a damaged girl coming back to life as she peels back the layers to reveal the nasty underbelly of her small Southern town, was a monster hit.
Tween: Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Hayyaat is on a quest to bring her ailing grandmother soil from her home. Sounds simple, right? Until you factor in that the soil is in Israel, and Hayyaat is a citizen of Palestine. This book gives readers an up-close-and-personal look at the devastating effects of drawn-out conflicts, and also the terribly complex nature of that conflict.
Children: TIE Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy
As her grandmother weakens and finally dies, Pearl struggles to make sense of it all through her own particular brand of poetry, which is not what they're being taught in school. Quiet, reflective, and never maudlin, this slim book stands out in the life-after-death genre for first-to-third graders. (Coming out Aug. 23.)
The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Kids might not realize this is a fictionalized account of the childhood and youth of Pablo Neruda until the very end, but that's okay. Neftali's struggle against an overbearing father and his desire to create his poetry on his own terms are all relayed through a magical-realism style that will keep them turning pages.

Because I Want To Awards
Yanked Me Out of My Reading Funk: For Keeps by Natasha Friend
For the Pacifists Among Us: Truce by Jim Murphy
Reliably Excellent: Glitter Girls and the Great Fake-Out by Meg Cabot