Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: The Stone Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

Book: The Stone Girl
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Published: August 28, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Sethie Weiss cares about only two things in life--being thin and holding onto Shaw. Although they hang out almost constantly, and have sex almost every time, he won't hold her hand in public, he won't use the word boyfriend, and he never, ever lets her know what he's thinking. What Sethie can control is her weight, and she rations out food and calories like a guilty secret, striving to shave off just one more pound.

Through Shaw, she meets Janey, and the two girls become fast friends, sharing everything from SAT tips to vomiting techniques. She also meets Ben, a sweet Columbia student who seems to actually like her. But not everything in her world is looking up. As Shaw slips through her fingers, Sethie gets more and more focused on cutting herself off from nourishment, and everyone else she cares about begins to take notice.

Anorexia is one of those topics that sort of makes YA readers (as in, people who have read the genre for a a long time, not necessarily readers who are young adults) go, "Oh, Christ, this again?" It's a serious topic that's been done to death. Literally, in some cases. The last time I liked an anorexia book, she was a Rider of the Apocalypse. However, in spite of the topic, I snatched this book up. This was because I remembered Sheinmel's first novel, The Beautiful Between, which had all the ingredients and milestones for a very run-of-the-mill YA novel but took the journey in an interesting and surprising way.

In this one, I kept thinking that something stereotypical was going to happen. Sethie would discover that Janey was sleeping with Shaw. (Not even.) She would fall in love with a new boyfriend whose love would make her see what she was doing to herself. (Didn't exactly happen, and good thing too.)  We'll find out that Mom, or society, or Shaw, was All To Blame. (Not hardly. In a lovely bit that showcases the complexity of this disease, Sethie looks at the various pamphlets and articles on anorexia in the school nurse's office and turns away from them, begging them to stop defining her.)

This was a very fast read, and very, very focused on Sethie's inner life. Sometimes it's hard to get a handle on the characters outside of Sethie, but this didn't bother me too much. What I liked was the realistic, complex look at Sethie's disease, the lack of easy answers, and the acknowledgement that the only person who could start to pull Sethie back to health was herself.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

Book: A Tale Dark and Grimm
Author: Adam Gidwitz
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

You've heard 'em all. You've seen the movies. You probably have the Halloween costumes. But do you really know the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm? Really? Are you sure?

Hansel and Gretel were originally a happy little prince and princess, basking in their parents' love. But then their father cut their heads off. They get better, but decide to risk the dark and scary world instead of staying at home.

On the outside, Hansel and Gretel encounter one dark and gory situation after another. As they survive each one by the skin of their teeth, as they're separated and reunited, as they risk death and in one case go to Hell (just for awhile), they become stronger and more capable. But will they ever be able to face the one thing that scares them the most: going home?

In this sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes scary, often gruesome, and always marvellously entertaining book, Gidwitz has stitched together some of the Brothers Grimm's most bloody tales. Having read a few of the originals myself, about the only thing he really changed was to make Hansel and/or Gretel the main characters. I heard a lot of scuttlebutt comparing this to Lemony Snicket, though I have to say it was mostly the authorial asides. Snicket is all about the looming danger that's escaped juuuuust in time, but Gidwitz actually puts his characters through it.

I'd like to hear if teachers have used this as a readaloud, because I think the structure would work for that, and the multiple ending trope that Gidwitz plays with is an interesting springboard for asking kids to think about story and narrative. I think kids will eat up this fast, gruesome ride, and come out of it with a new desire for the fairy tales that they've always encountered in their sanitized versions before.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Book: Liar and Spy
Author: Rebecca Stead
Published: August 7, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

Georges (the s is silent) isn't so sure he's going to like his new apartment. It's much smaller than the house he and his parents had to move out of it, and the neighbors are pretty weird. When he meets Safer, the upstairs neighbor his own age, he gets sucked into the other boy's spy games. At the same time, an upcoming unit in school, a science experiment that all the kids say determines your future, is ramping up the torment from the cool kids.

His mom tells him that he has to look at the big picture, not to let the little details distract him. But life is made up of details. Rules. Games. Who makes the rules to your game?

Having read When You Reach Me, I headed into this knowing that there was going to be a story on the surface, and all sorts of things bubbling and boiling underneath. I wasn't disappointed. Though Georges tells the story in first person, the people in his life seem to have something going on that they aren't talking about, including Georges himself.

It's hard to say too much more without ruining the fun of pulling apart the mysteries in this book, so I'll just reiterate something that Safer says when they first meet. A good spy is a good observer. To get the full effect of this book, you have to keep a sharp eye out, for the things said that don't fit. For the things unsaid and you don't know why. This book will turn you into a spy, too.

Monday, August 06, 2012

It's Time for KidlitCon!

Well, almost. In strict accuracy, it's time to register for KidlitCon. This year, it takes place in New York City, September 28-29. This is your chance to meet and hang out with all the bloggers you ever wanted to know, plus a few more. Talk about bloggy topics, books, and blogging about books.

Because it's in New York City, AKA the Big Apple, AKA You Want How Much for That Apple?, they've lowered the price of the conference itself to just 55 dollars. For the whole thing! This includes a pre-con on Friday, with dinner (and special guest speaker Grace Lin!), lunch on Saturday, and naturally the conference itself. If you don't feel like coming to the other stuff (although I don't know why you'd miss out when you're already in New York anyhow), the conference itself is free. Can't get much better than that.

So if you've always wanted to try it out and you've always wanted to visit New York City, consider this your big opportunity. This is the seventh year and I haven't missed one yet.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Book: Beauty Queens
Author: Libba Bray
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

When the plane holding all fifty contestants of the Miss Teen Dream beauty pageant goes down on a tropical island, the odds are most definitely stacked against the survivors. No water, no food, no shelter, and you just can't get a good facial anywhere.

But Miss Teen Dream contestants never say die (well, except for the ones who already did). After a few missteps, they're taking their survival into their own hands, creating shelter, catching food, and battling island wildlife, all while working on their tans and keeping their pageant skills sharp.

But there's more coming down the pike. The beauty queens are about to face off with reality-show pirates, the evil corporation, the megalomaniac dictator with an Elvis fetish, and the weapons system whose override is PowerPoint. You know. Just in case you thought this was going to make any sense at all.

I've been looking forward to this book on the strength of Bray's wild and powerful Printz award winner, Going Bovine, and I wasn't disappointed. It was the same mix of hilarious and heartfelt. She expertly juggles about six or seven viewpoint characters, all with their own individual character arcs. She often does this by pairing them up, playing two against each other to how their differences peel away the glossy pageant personae and find the messy, scaly, warty real girl underneath. To questions on ethnicity to sexuality to conformity to feminism--very often in the same character--the answer comes out the same: nobody fits a category, but they're all extraordinary just the way they're made, and their power comes when they own it.

If you're a plot person, don't read this. If you're into strict realism, don't read this. But if you love wicked satire with just enough silliness to keep you laughing, feminism with some teeth, stories about love and friendship and identity and courage . . .Well, this is the book for you.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Reading Roundup: July 2012

By the Numbers
Teen: 14
Tween: 7

Review Copies: 8
Swapped: 1
Purchased: 1
Library: 17

Teen: Mr. Monster by Dan Wells
Though my library cataloged this in their adult section, I felt like it was a perfect example of a teen book. A very dark and disturbing teen book, to be sure, but with the same themes of self-definition, growing into yourself, and understanding what you're capable of and why that doesn't mean you should do it. In some ways better than the first book.
Tween: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
How do you follow up a Newbery winner? With another book that seems simple on the surface, but bubbles with secrets underneath. Review coming soon.
Children: Just a Second by Steve Jenkins
We don't talk about the concept of time a whole lot in children's lit. Oh, sure, how to tell time, but not the way that Jenkins does, recounting various things that could happen in various units of time. I think scientific-minded kids will get a giant kick out of it. And of course the illustrations are stellar.

Because I Want To Awards
Longest Awaited: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Years, you guys. Years. I kept wanting to re-read the others as I worked my way through this book. It's not a flashy, action-packed plot by any means, but this quietly powerful meditation on personal guilt and responsibility, and how a leader must handle them in both herself and the people she leads left an impression.
No Easy Answers: I Am J by Cris Beam
This story of a transgender teen gained points for not having J discover a place where he magically belonged. He felt as out of place in the LGBT shelter as he did at home, and that felt realistic to me. The real focus was not on "how will the world ever accept me" but "how will I ever learn to fit into this skin."
For Lovers of Traditional Children's Lit: What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
There's something very old-fashioned about the feel of this book. I noticed the words "wholesome" and "classic" coming up a lot in other reviews, even though there are themes that would never have come up fifty years ago. I think it's because of the way that Mo is pretty much left to her own devices, seeking out adventure and answers in equal measure. Give this to lovers of the Penderwicks and other modern classic books.