8/24/2010

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina De Gramont: Young Adult Book Review

Every Little Thing in the World
Nina De Gramont
Atheneum
Realistic; Young Adult
March 2010

Before she can decide what to do about her newly discovered pregnancy, sixteen-year-old Sydney is punished for "borrowing" a car and shipped out, along with best friend, Natalia, to a wilderness camp for the next six weeks. (BWI description)

Sydney’s not a “bad girl,” but an average, sixteen-year-old teen who accidentally gets pregnant after dating a boy a handful of times. She can’t believe it happened. She’d listened to her teachers in the sex-education classes at her private school. She and her long-time boyfriend had always taken precautions. It’s only after they break up that she forgets to be careful, resulting in the pregnancy that threatens to change her life forever. She’s sure that her parents wouldn’t understand, and in the beginning, they wouldn’t. So she puts off telling them. It takes until the end to resolve the issue of the pregnancy, and to tell her mother, if not her father, about what happened. Most of the book takes place during a month spent at a wilderness adventure camp in Canada, where Sydney’s dad has sent her after her mother can no longer handle her acting out.


In the ongoing conversation about whether abortion is or isn’t murder, and whether a pregnant teen should have the baby and keep it, or give it up for adoption, Ms. DeGramont does a thorough job of examining the possible repercussions of each choice, while writing a thoroughly entertaining, and though-provoking, novel.

Not everyone would make the choice Sydney and her mother believe is the only right one in this situation. But it’s right for their values, which enables DeGramont to shade the meaning and the attitudes into those that are upbeat and convincing.

8/17/2010

Something, Maybe by Elizabeth Scott: Young Adult Book Review

Something, Maybe

Elizabeth Scott
Simon Pulse
Realistic
March 2010

Seventeen-year-old Hannah does everything she can to avoid being noticed due to the scandalous occupations of her parents, but she might have to make an effort to change that after she develops a crush on two guys at her part-time job. (BWI description)

This was a slight, but enjoyable, book, a quick read. If you’ve ever read any Elizabeth Scott’s novels, you know she is very talented. Living Dead Girl was one of the most disturbing books of 2008. By contrast, Something, Maybe is a more simple story of a girl who wants one guy, but discovers that a better one was always there, just waiting for her to notice.


What makes the book unusual is seventeen-year-old Hannah’s embarrassing, infamous parents. Her mother earns her living as an erotic web-chat hostess, and her father was fashioned after Hugh Hefner. Jackson (the Hefner-type character) was in his 50’s when he had a two-year relationship with Candy, Hannah’s nineteen-year-old mother, impregnated her, promptly dumped her, and would never have claimed his child, were it not for a paternity suit. Unfortunately, Candy refused to take any child support from wealthy Jackson, thus Candy and Hannah only scrape by from payday to payday. Candy is portrayed as reasonably likeable—she’s not overly vain, and she tries to be a good mother, though spending all of her time strutting around in scant, sexy undies in front of a webcam. That she wouldn’t accept any financial support from Jackson made her seem very stupid to me.

Though not ordinary parents, Scott rendered them realistically and, in fact, they are the most interesting aspect of the story. In a bid to improve his image, Jackson, who is now in his seventies, sends for Hannah. While spending time with him, she gets an eyeful about his lifestyle.

When not feeling embarrassed by her overly libidinous parents, Hannah works at the call center for a drive-in burger restaurant. Josh, the gorgeous poet and activist that she pines for, is totally unattainable. Finn, an awkward but nice, guy-next-door type, is constantly doing what he can to get her to notice him … until, one day, she finally does.

Hannah is a likeable girl. Instead of making her too cynical, which Scott could’ve done, she rightly gives her a cheeky quality that is entirely appropriate, given her parents. Irreverence is always easier to take than unrelenting cynicism. Scott’s dialogue catches the way teens talk, and what they talk about, superbly.

7/29/2010

The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti: Young Adult Book Review

The Six Rules of Maybe
Deb Caletti
Simon Pulse
Realistic; Young Adult
April 2010

Scarlet, an introverted high school junior surrounded by outcasts who find her a good listener, learns to break old patterns and reach for help when her pregnant sister moves home with her new husband, with whom Scarlet feels an instant connection. (BWI description)



I always find interesting the official "one-sentence description" with regard to what it says about a book. It's a selling tool, and there's always some truth to it. The book always deals, on some level, with that description. But in this case, the description left out what, to me, the book was more about. Certainly in the end, Scarlet has a better understanding of what her personality patterns have been, and has the courage to break the self-defeating ones. But the book was so much more about falling in love with her sister's husband ... And who knows why S&S didn't highlight that instead.

Scarlet is a type of girl you knew in high school. Everyone likes her, if only because there’s nothing not to like about her. She’s not in the popular crowd, but rather she has the type of personality that attracts others who are decidedly not in the "in" crowd. (Whoa, was that me in high school and throughout many years of my adult life? You bet. Not that there's anything inherently wrong in that.)

She’s too shy to assert her needs, or even to know what she needs or wants. Until her sister Juliet comes home one day, pregnant and married to a guy she’d never even mentioned to the family ... Almost instantly, Scarlet begins to fall in love with Hayden, Juliet's new husband. It's just in her to do that. She bonds with the lonely, the downtrodden, the unloved.

Juliet is Scarlet’s opposite—sexy, outgoing, beautiful, and troublesome. In high school, she was into boys and sex. Fortunately, she took precautionary birth control, and so it’s somewhat of a surprise that she should accidentally get pregnant. But then, maybe not. For someone as flaky, self-centered, and immature as Juliet, probably just about anything is possible. (She's not a 100% unlikeable character, but close. Until the end, when Caletti finally shines a light on Juliet's self-defeating patterns.)

Toward Juliet, Hayden, her husband, is a romantic, besotted puppy of a man. He's really a sweet guy, and most readers will also fall instantly in love with him. He writes her the most romantic love letters to Juliet, which Scarlet secretly reads and swoons over. Unfortunately, it would seem that Juliet finds Hayden so boring, that she meets clandestinely with her ex-boyfriend, a creepy bad boy. It would seem that, near the end, she runs off with him.

As you can imagine, seeing that is heartbreaking for Scarlet, who would give anything for Hayden to have written her the love poems. I felt my own heart breaking for Scarlet throughout this book, for her doomed love, and her personality style that was so like my own in my younger years.

What I like best about Caletti’s writing is her deep insights about human nature. She frequently features characters, girls and their mothers, who fall in love with the wrong man, and it screws up their lives. But overall is a sweet romanticism toward life, which I find delightful.

If you're someone who likes a book heavy on plot, this one will disappoint. Scarlet spends most of her time worrying about other people’s problems, and so much of the book is introspective. But because Caletti  understands human personality and motivation on such a deep level, I loved that. Scarlet loves to read psychology books, which explains why she understands more about psychology than anyone her age normally would.

If I were to review this in terms of character analysis, and use Enneagram personality styles as a blueprint, Scarlet is the classic NINE. It is very difficult to pull off a story about a NINE style (as the protagonist) because they have very little sense of self. They don't cause conflict, because they have no idea who they are, or what they want. Because of that, there is no burning need that would push a plot forward.

But Caletti succeeds at it, and beautifully. The NINE style personality is afraid to hope for anything for their own self. They felt neglected by their parents when young. They felt that one of their siblings, or one of their parents, got all of the attention. Totally true in this novel. They don’t know what they want, and even if, by chance, they do find themselves wanting something, they’re afraid to go after it.

So they cling to hope instead. They're the old fashioned, fairy tale princesses who hope the warty toad they kiss will turn into a prince. Scarlet has the most agonizing, heartbreaking hope that Hayden will decide to love her instead of Juliet.

But it’s a relationship that cannot be. Hayden loves Juliet, and they're having a baby together. So Scarlet must learn, in the end, when it’s appropriate to let go of hope, or to displace it onto a more appropriate object. In this case, it’s Hayden and Juliet’s baby. And, in the case of a NINE style personality, that turns out not to be such a difficult thing to do. She also, of course, learns how to stand up for herself. Feeling her anger, she gets the courage to tell her mom how she always felt neglected. She tells a creep who's been bugging her to stop.

The only thing I take issue with in this book is that the Juliet character should’ve been named Scarlet (because she’s somewhat like spoiled Scarlett O’Hara) and the Scarlet character should’ve been a Molly or a Mary or a Beth. Or maybe a Cathy.

7/20/2010

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski: Young Adult Book Review

Gimme a Call
Sarah Mlynowski
Delacorte
Fantasy; Chick lit; Young Adult
April 2010

After accidentally dropping her cell phone into a fountain at the mall, fourteen-year-old Devi Banks starts to get phone calls--and an earful of advice on how to live her life to avoid making disastrous choices--from her seventeen-year-old self. (BWI description)

I love the premise of this book. There are times when I would dearly love for my older self to be able to give my younger self advice. Wouldn't you?

As you might expect, however, younger Devi isn't, at first, about to take any advice from anyone, especially the "Crazy Stalker Girl" on her phone. It takes a number of attempts by older Devi before younger Devi actually gets that it's her older self who is magically/mysteriously on the other end of the line.

How does it happen in the first place? Older Devi drops her cell phone into a magical fountain at the same time as she is wishing she could turn back the clock. Why? Devi's boyfriend, Bryan, has just broken up with her--right before the senior prom. But that's not the worst of it by far: for the past four years, she's been devoting her life to him. She's neglected her friends and her studies, and now she doesn't have any girlfriends, and she's being accepted only into mediocre colleges.

It's a fun premise. I loved seeing the differences between younger Devi and older Devi's attitudes, and how things in her life change during the four-year time span. When older Devi convinces younger Devi to change a single, small thing, it often changes older Devi's life in big ways. In the end, both Devis decide that the hassle of cleaning up a mess made as a result of changing fate isn't worth it. Each learns to live in a more balanced way.

I'd recommend this book to teens who are looking for a light, fun read. Bryan may be the cause of all of Devi's troubles, but their "cute meet" at a party is one of the most delightful scenes in the book.

7/08/2010

Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala: Young Adult Book Review

Tell Me a Secret
Holly Cupala
HarperTeen
July 1, 2010
Realistic Fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher
Debut Author

Bad Girl sister, Xandra, who younger Good Girl sister, Rand, idolized, died five years ago. Since then, no one in the family wants to talk about it. Certainly not her snobby Socialite mother, who feels she married beneath her station, and who blames her husband for introducing Xandra to Andre, the no-good boyfriend who killed their daughter. (Note to reader: My bald description does a disservice to Ms. Cupala's more subtle and literary writing style. The book is emotional, but it doesn't read like melodrama, though my summary does.)

Now Rand is trying to BE Xandra, and to come to terms with what happened by living Xandra’s life for her, instead of her own. She chooses a boyfriend, Kamran who, like Andre, is unacceptable to her mother. She chooses Delaney, a girl who is like Xandra, to be her new best friend. Rand is hoping that together they will replace what’s now missing in her life: dearly beloved Xandra. Rand also had a crush on Andre when she was twelve years old.

A bunch of unexpected things happen: Rand loses her former best friends, Chloe and Essence. Delaney steals Kamran from her. Worst, or perhaps best, depending on your view, Rand discovers she’s pregnant. From that point, this already dark story gets ever darker and rockier, but the ending is hopeful and realistic.

The story is about uncovering secrets. It’s about accepting responsibility for one’s actions and relinquishing blame. It’s about learning to forgive, and to have faith that a bad situation could be a blessing in disguise.

Ms. Cupala is a wonderful writer. Sometimes when I read a debut novel, I have doubts about whether the writer will continue to be published. I have no doubts about Ms. Cupala's talent and future as a writer.

Holly is currently undertaking a massive, six-week blog tour. If you want to follow it, check out the itinerary. Giveaways are also involved. Thank you, Holly Cupala, for your efforts in having HarperCollins send me the book.

6/23/2010

This World we Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer: Young Adult Book Review

This world we Live In
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Harcourt
Young Adult
Dystopian
256 pgs
April 2010

Book three of the dystopian series that began with Life as We Knew It is no less bleak than the original. Sixteen-year-old Miranda and her mother and two brothers are still struggling to survive in rural Pennsylvania. A year ago, a meteor hit the moon and knocked it off kilter, resulting in almost total devastation of the earth. Sandwiched between these books was The Dead and the Gone, which took up the same issue in New York City.

In this book, Miranda and her family get visitors: Alex Morales and his sister, Julie, from The Dead and the Gone, as well as Miranda’s father, his wife and their baby. Things haven’t changed much. Food is still in short supply. One wonders what will happen when the severely rationed canned goods, that are given out once weekly by city officials, run out. In this book, Miranda and Alex spend a lot of time scavenging the homes of the dead (and almost everyone is dead) for things such as toilet paper, aspirin, shampoo and tooth paste, books. The two teens also fall in love.

I had the sense that the author didn’t spend as much time thinking this story through as she might have. For much of the story, not a lot happens except for the continual search for food and supplies. Miranda and Alex fall in love, and then struggle over it. He keeps saying he wants to find a monastery, where he plans to become a monk and give his life to God.

Finally that issue is resolved, and Miranda struggles because she's not a Catholic. They won't consumate their love, because they need a proper marriage by a priest. Huh???? Considering that they're practically the last two teens alive on the planet, it all seemed mighty silly to me. Miranda's older brother took a "wife", Syl, within 24 hours of meeting her, without any struggle whatsoever. That scenario seemed much more plausible to me. When you are struggling to survive, and you don't know if you'll even be alive tomorrow, some beliefs and values become rather outmoded.

The story was almost over before something of driving narrative significance happened. A tornado strikes, and then the story really comes to life. Seeing the characters struggling with life and death moment by moment, instead of their “mere” and ongoing starvation, was exciting. And even after Miranda and Alex survive the tornado, Miranda makes a moral choice that might drive Alex away from her forever. But any reader with common sense knows that it shouldn't.

Each book in the series reads just fine as a stand-alone. Readers who aren’t inclined to read the entire series can choose whether they want to experience the meteor’s results in a rural area, in New York City, or, in this third book, back in Pennsylvania, with a passionate teen romance thrown in. The ending is ambiguous … is a fourth installment in the works?

3/26/2010

Saint Iggy: Young Adult Book Review

Saint Iggy
K. Going
Harcourt
2008
Realistic

Summary: Iggy Corso, who lives in city public housing, is caught physically and spiritually between good and bad when he is kicked out of high school, goes searching for his missing mother, and causes his friend to get involved with the same dangerous drug dealer who deals to his parents.

I had to review this book on my blog. It came out a couple of years ago, so if you plan to read it, you'll probably need to check out a copy, or find it in one of the larger bookstores.

I read a lot of books, yet the memory of this one is still strong in my mind. It was a gem ... one of those one-in-a-hundred books. If only every book I ever pick up could be as good as this one.   

Sixteen-year-old Iggy Corso is doing ninth grade over for the third time. He’s also about to be suspended for the ninth time, this time for sassing a teacher. He wants to do better, but it’s hard when you’re not very smart, your parents are addicts, and your mom recently disappeared. But when his principal seems to understand what Iggy is dealing with, Iggy takes heart. Inspired that someone actually believes in his inner goodness, Iggy becomes determined to get back into school, and even to be a contribution. That's what his principal wanted him to do, and that's what he plans to do ... if he could only figure out what that would be.

Iggy’s friend, Mo, is supposed to help him, but Mo also has issues. He’s bright and comes from a world of wealth and privilege, and yet he flunked out of law school, and is an addict. Mo needs money for drugs, and so he plans to get it from his mother, who he hasn’t seen in a while.

They arrive at her house, and she's so happy to see them that she invites them to stay. Mo doesn’t want to, but Iggy can’t imagine how Mo could’ve given up all the comforts of wealth. Iggy’s only source of comfort is his daydreams, where he makes a contribution. Where he is a hero.

Finally, in an ending that will take your breath away and make you cry, unforgettable Iggy gets his chance to achieve his dreams and be a real-life hero.

Going has written several other novels. Her most recent, King of the Screwups, will be released in paperback in May. I’ll post a review of that in a few weeks.

3/23/2010

Literary Awards 2010: Sherman Alexie Wins PEN/Faulkner; David Almond Wins Hans Christian Andersen

Sherman Alexie has won the PEN/Faulkner award for Fiction for his short story collection War Dances. The $15,000 prize will be given out at an awards ceremony in DC on May 8. Read an article here.

If you've never had the chance to meet this man, or to hear him speak, you've missed one of life's great privileges. Everyone loves Sherman Alexie.


David Almond wins the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Literature. The Andersen award is the highest award that can be given for children's literature. It is awarded every-other-year by the International Board of Books for Young People. Read about the award here. Read a newspaper article about David Almond being this year's recipient here.  It is said of Almond's works that they are "deeply philosophical novels that appeal to children and adults alike, and encourage readers by his use of magic realism.”