Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: Mr and Mrs. Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire

Book: Mr. and Mrs. Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire!
Author: Polly Horvath
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher, via NetGalley

Sensible Madeleine has always been the one to take care of her scatterbrained parents. So when she gets home from school one day to discover that they've been kidnapped by foxes, she knows she has to rescue them. It's what she does. But she's going to need the help of two bunny detectives, and they're going to need the help of a garlic-bread-loving marmot, a hat club, a free-loading neighbor, and purple sparkly disco platform shoes. Those last items, by the way, are needed for driving the car.

I've read other books by Polly Horvath, but either I read an unrepresentative sample or this is a departure from her norm, because I was totally taken aback by the sheer zaniness of this book. From Madeleine's adorably feckless hippie parents to Mr and Mrs. Bunny's bickering interplay to the mustache-twirling villains to the screwball details (the hat club gets a donation of rubber and immediately decides to use it to line bonnets for the parade in honor of Prince Charles. As you do), I was delighted with every page.

Quirky, fast-paced, and deliciously off-the-wall, you'll want to keep this one on hand for your mid-elementary-grade readers. Just beware of reading while drinking.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Book Review: Messed Up by Janet Nichols Lynch

Book: Messed Up
Author: Janet Nichols Lynch
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

R.D. is already a statistic. With his mom in prison, his father deported, and his grandma AWOL, he's being raised by his grandma's ex-boyfriend, Earl, and they scrape by on Social Security and under-the-table auto repair. He's repeating the eighth grade and drifting around the edges of a gang lifestyle. Anybody can see where this is going.

Then the unthinkable happens. Earl dies.

With the specter of the foster care system looming before him, R.D. quickly realizes that his best option is to not let anybody know that he's on his own. But he's just a kid. How is he going to manage that, and keep himself together?

While reading, I kept thinking, "This author must be a teacher." The portrayal of kids adrift, floundering, sliding toward a fate as just another number in a police report or welfare rolls, is too clear and pitiless not to result from direct observation of similar situations. Ditto for the message that the only salvation is understanding the consequences of your actions and that you are the only person who can control your fate. When I checked out Lynch's website, I was proven right; she's taught both middle and high school. I feel like the premise could come off a little preachy ("you gotta grow up sometime, kid") and the fact that R.D. succeeded in his ruse as long as he did was somewhat unlikely, but the characters saved it.

R.D. starts the book as the least self-aware teenage boy on the planet. Full of helpless rage, but unable to understand where it comes from or what to do with it, he's a gang color and a gun away from juvie. Then responsibility hits, and hits hard. It's amazing to see R.D. mature over the course of the book. In spite of having had a very tough life, up to now he's never had to actually think about how to take care of himself, and how his choices affect not only him but the people he cares about.

He's hardly unique. Surrounded by other kids in similar straits, the only difference is that he's lucky enough to be able to take control. One of the saddest secondary characters was Desiree, a classmate who fastens onto R.D. when he breaks up a fight between her and another girl. She proclaims herself his girlfriend, vows her devotion, and when he makes it clear that he can't handle her crap, leaps to another boy and then uses him to revenge herself on R.D. She's a sad character because you can clearly see the grasping need for an identity, for meaning, that underlies her extreme clinginess and wild emotional swings. At one point, she incites her new boyfriend and his friends to jump R.D. and beat him up, and stands on the sidelines chirping, "They're fighting over me!" Even R.D., being beaten to a pulp, knows better.

While his road to maturity is full of bumps and bruises, R.D. is one of the lucky ones, and by the end, both you and he know it.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: February 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 15
Tween: 7
Children: 9

Review Copies: 11
ARCs from colleagues: 3
Borrowed: 1
Purchased: 2
Library: 12

Teen: Split by Swati Avasthi
This story of two estranged brothers, who both escaped at different times from their abusive father, is full of complex and flawed characters trying to work out the meaning of family. Kudos to Avasthi for taking on a well-worn subject in a risky way.
Tween: Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Take one smart, impulsive heroine, add a not-entirely-functional family, the English Regency time period, a smidge of magic, a dab of romance for secondary characters, a lot of humor, and stir well. You'll get this deliciously entertaining romp of a book.
Children: Mr. and Mrs. Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath
I did not expect to like this book nearly as much as I did. Talk about your screwball comedies. Replete with bumbling bunny detectives, villainous foxes, adorably inept parents, an exasperated and sensible main character, and jokes galore, this is a book you'll want to share.

Because I Want To Awards
Longest Awaited: The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang
No joke, this has been on my list since 2009
Another One for Your Dystopia List: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
While I wouldn't call this a 10 out of 10, it's at least an 8. The two main characters are almost literally from different worlds, and I can't wait to see where Rossi will take them next.
Sweet and Sad: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
The sudden death of a sibling is tough on anybody. For a girl on the autism spectrum, it's exponentially more difficult to sort out the tangle of emotions as she tries to conceive of a life without the brother she adored.