Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Wish List

Book: The Wish List
Author: Eoin Colfer
Published: 2000

Meg Finn's got a problem. See, she's dead. Wait, that's not the problem. The problem is, she died with her soul so perfectly in balance that she can't go to either heaven or hell. So now she's got to return to earth and hopefully nudge it a little further onto the positive side. To do that, she's been assigned to help Lowrie McCall complete his "wish list."

Lowrie is dying, alone except for a chestful of regrets. But his wish list is going to change that. All the times in his life when he should have done one thing and instead did another, he wants to fix. Sure, he can't go back in time and kiss that beautiful girl that eventually married his best friend. But he can find her today. But only with Meg's help. And if Meg's erstwhile partner-in-crime (literally), the now-demonic Belch, has his way, even Meg's best efforts won't do the trick.

Best known for his deliciously amoral teenage genius, Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer succeeds in creating more truly memorable characters, and in not preaching in a story where the primary tension is between heaven and hell. Meg has a good heart, but she's hardly a shoo-in for the wings and the harp. Lowrie is not pitiful and pathetic, nor does Colfer overdo the crusty-old-fart stereotype when drawing this character. Even the reps from heaven and hell (St. Peter and Beelzebub, respectively) are interesting. The only character who's slightly 2-D is Belch, but he fulfills his villain duties with a mindless malevolence that is all the more unsettling when you realize he's only sixteen. Grab this book for a thought-provoking, funny look at life and what comes after.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Awards and more awards!

The 2005 Newbery and Caldecotts were announced today in San Antonio as part of the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference. Go have a look.

And I'm proud to note that I blogged one of the Printz honor books several months ago. I Am the Messenger by Marcus Zusak. The Michael L. Printz Award is given for excellence in literature written for young adults. Nice to know my taste occasionally coincides with that of authorities in the field.

Back with more books soon!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Little Darlings

But, Bibliovore! You just posted yesterday! Usually there's about a month between posts!

I know. But I've started working at a library, which is something like Kate Moss working at a heroin factory. So hopefully you get a lot more Bibliovore posts from now on. Don't send me grumpy emails if you don't, though.

Book: Little Darlings
Author: Sam Llewellyn
Published: 2004

Poor little Primrose, Daisy, and Cassian. Their father and stepmother spend most of the time going to fancy parties and making money, with not a moment left for raising the children. Dear, dear. But they keep themselves occupied with cookery, devious schemes, machinery, and general mayhem. Oh, and they get wonderful nannies. Nineteen, at last count.

But when the Darling household gets put on the Nanny Blacklist, their papa has no choice but to acquire one from the AAA Aardvark Childminding and Security Agency. This nanny's different. This nanny's smart enough to dodge the initial greeting (three children flying, at speed, from the end of the banister), kind enough to get them all takeout, and larcenous enough to steal all the silver. Oh, and the children. But only by accident. He (yes, he) takes them to the SS Kleptomaniac, manned entirely by inept burglars and a brilliant, beautiful captain on a mission to reassemble the parts of a royal teddy bear.

This promises to be more interesting than lessons, at any rate.

With an arch, satirical, subversive tone that hints of Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl, Llewellyn weaves a story utterly lacking in gooey sentimentality. Daisy, Primrose, and Cassian would send Mary Poppins screaming for the hills, and that is the source of most of the enjoyment I got from this book. With equal parts deviousness, practicality, and teamwork, the siblings barrel through adventures that would send most literary children under the covers. The plot bounces and spins from one unlikely event to the next with a dark glee in the Darling childrens' capability and resourcefulness in the face of obstacles that have baffled all the adults. While the end has the potential to be a bit syrupy, the author's own wry recognition of that fact leaves you laughing. If I see anything else from Sam Llewellyn, even if it doesn't feature the Darlings, I'll be sure to pick it up.

A Year with Butch and Spike

Book: A Year With Butch and Spike
Author: Gail Gauthier
Published: 1998

Butch and Spike Coutre are the class cut-ups. Butch is more likely to draw all over his math homework than finish it, and Spike is more likely to ask questions in class than answer them. They drive the teachers nuts, but sixth-grade teacher Mrs. McNulty has a secret weapon. His name is Jasper.

Jasper's about as close as you can get to the perfect kid. He makes straight A's. His teachers love him. He doesn't give his parents any trouble. He figures in return for all this goodness, he deserves the best sixth-grade year any kid ever had. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen . . .

It's practically a cliche - good, sweet kid makes unlikely friends with the neighborhood bully and transforms him/her (let's not be sexist here; girls are worse bullies than boys sometimes) into a human being with feelings and everything. Frankly, that's what I was expecting when I picked up A Year with Butch and Spike. To my surprise, I found that the situation is almost perfectly reversed. Jasper is at first rigidly virtuous and scarily perfectionist. But as the year goes on, he learns to see the world through the non-comformist, curious-about-everything eyes of the Coutre cousins. He does his best to maintain his position as the kid who always does the right thing and follows the rules. But as his outlook changes, he begins to realize that there are more important things than living up to a perfect scholastic standard.

I really enjoyed this book. Spike and Butch, who aren't bullies but genuinely good-hearted kids, form an entertaining duo. Mrs. McNulty is the worst example of a teacher abusing her power over the kids in her class. But it's Jasper's transformation into an actual human being instead of a teacher/grades/achievement-controlled puppet that is most compelling.