Friday, October 31, 2008

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire by Donna Getzinger

This is a nonfiction book about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.
This book was a well written and moving account of factory conditions and the union movement of the day that led to the death of 146 people and then its aftermath. Well written with appropriate photographs, I enjoyed this book or at least as much as you can about such a horrible tragedy. The account of the fire itself was horrible. (I was tearing up during certain passages) If I knew it would have more teen appeal I would give it a thumbs up but I don't think it would so I'll have to say nay.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Blood by Peter McPhee

After a serious bullying incident in Scotland, Callum and his family move to Scotland. The bullying continues until Callum is able to stand up to his bullies. The characters seemed flat to me and I found myself not really caring. Consequently, I'm voting NO.

Rose By Any Other Name by Maureen McCarthy

During a road trip with her mother, to see her dying grandmother, nineteen-year-old Rose gains a new perspective on the chaos of the previous year. Her Dad had left her Mom, it was the end of a long-term friendship with Zoe, and her own bad choices that had dramatically transformed her near-perfect life. I really enjoyed this very raw book, the characters seemed very real. However because of the edgier side to the book, I am voting a MAYBE on this to see what others think.

Things That Are by Andrew Clements

This is the third book in this series by Andrew Clements. I do feel that it does stand alone as a very good exciting read. The story revolves around blind Alicia. However, though I enjoyed it as much as the previous ones, I feel it's a little young for Thumbs Up and therefore voting NAY

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Most Excellent Year: a Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park by Steve Kluger

I want to start by saying that I don't like the cover, I think it could scare some readers away. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It is about 3 teens writing about their most excellent year. TC and Augie are brothers in all but blood and Ale is a new student who's father is an ambassador. Told in IMs, phone calls, diary entries, e-mails, letters, it follows their love, self discovery, missions, and friendships. Though the book has many threads and story lines, (what lives don't?) it all comes together. The characters are well fleshed out including supporting characters. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did, especially with such a ridiculous cover. I give it a thumbs up!

Chalice by Robin McKinley

I admit it, I'm a McKinley fan so when this showed up on my starred Kirkus reviews, I thought YES! I must say I feel like I've read a lot of bee-related stories lately, and I'm not really sure why bees have become a popular plot device, but I think McKinley's choice of making her heroine a slightly crazy beekeeper works in this cozy fantasy world. As usual, McKinely drops the reader into the story abruptly, without a full understanding of what is going, much less the rules of the new universe the characters inhabit. What is clear from almost the beginning is that this is another beauty and the beast story, only in this case the beast is a walking, talking pillar of fire.
I thought it was delicious. The Blue Sword it isn't, but Chalice is head and shoulders above many other fantasy books I've read this year.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Skim by Mariko Tamaki

I really enjoyed Skim - both for its cinematic, emotional illustrations and its undaunted conversational dialogue. The storyline unfolds through the main character's lived and recalled experiences in her diary. There is a lot of internal conversation and struggle - confusion - that we all know so well. The images often speak volumes - and are breathtaking.

The caveat - when I say undaunted language - I mean it. This book has ALL the ingredients to make it controversial. Which made me love it all the more. Definitely on the upper tiers of YA.

I'm giving this one a Thumbs Up.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

Rosemary has been teased at school for years because of her weight. Her aunt is also hard on her but one year right after Christmas she decides to do something about it. With the help of a therapist and a new friend, she slowly works the weight off and gets her first boyfriend (he liked her before she lost weight). But is about more than just weight loss, it is more about her coming to like herself and also her relationship with her cancer stricken single mother. A good book, that except for a reference to the show Divine Design, should stand the test of time but I don't see it as a TU. I'm nay for now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse

Joseph is very lucky...blessed, even. His parents are Russian immigrants who realize the American Dream when they invent the teddy bear, but in typical teenager fashion, all Joseph sees is that he has to watch his younger brother and sister instead of playing stickball with the guys, his friends treat him differently, and his parents don't have time to take him to the new amusement park at Coney Island because they're too busy making bears. In contrast, the author includes little vignettes about the children who live under Brooklyn Bridge. I liked this story, but I also didn't. There were times when I could really feel Joseph's pain, but also many times when I just wanted to scream at him for being so ungrateful, and the bits about the homeless kids seem completely random, only just starting to make sense about ten pages before the end of the book. NAY.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

House of Dance by Beth Kephart

This is the story of Rosie, who is spending the summer sorting through her grandfather's things before he dies of multiple myeloma, trying to reconcile the differences between him and her mother while her mother falls for a married man, and learning to ballroom dance so she can give her grandfather one last gift--a connection with his past and the music and dance he and his wife once loved.

The prose here is beautiful, lyrical, and flowing, so much so that I had a hard time putting this book down, but there were a lot of things I didn't like. The resolution came a little too quickly on some plot lines but not at all on others, and it felt like there was a lot of detail poured into some places while sorely lacking in others. Given more detail about Rosie's dance lessons, this book could really fly with fans of Dancing with the Stars, but the detail centers more around the people Rosie meets at the dance studio than the dance or the learning process itself. A beautiful, sweet story, but not Thumbs Up. NAY.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lizard Love by Wendy Townsend

Grace is living in NYC after living years on her grandparents' farm. She isn't liking it, missing all of the wildlife she would interact with daily until she finds a pet shop specializing in reptiles and amphibians. She adopts an iguana even as she fights her developing body. Parts of this book seem uneven. One moment it reads really young and the next moment it reads a little more mature and then back again. It was good but not great. I vote nay.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

In this retelling of the six swans (only 3 in this book) , Alexandra is the sister who must save the day and return her brothers into human after evil stepmother killed her mother and father. She has to find the magic in her that her mother never bothered teaching her and didn't know she even had.
Good story but not great. I vote nay.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon

Where to start!!! I am blown away by this novel. Taking place in 1992, Conception follows the story of Shivana, a young woman living in Chicago's South Side, leading up to and including her unplanned pregnancy. The father is the married neighbor for whom she babysits, the only person in her life who makes her feel desired and appreciated. Shivana has never known she can have dreams of more than the stereotypic unwed, Welfare mother. As she struggles with her depression, poverty, rage, and potential she meets Rasul, a young man she thinks she can "real love" not "hot love". The other narrator of the story is Shivana's unborn fetus, a soul who has had three other mothers and never made it to birth. The soul's story weaves through Shivana's, detailing quite a bit of history including slavery, lynchings, and police brutality. The soul is pleading for Shivana to hang on and give birth, an option Shivana is not sure she can manage.
Without giving away anymore of the story, this is one of the finest novels I have read in a while. Shivana's voice and plight are real and painful. The writing is captivating, not an easy read, but one that had me sucked in entirely. The blending of the fetus' past and present was seemless and gut-wrenching. Oh my, this novel did a number on me!
However. I have no idea why this is being marketed as a teen book. I see this as a shoe-in for an Alex Award, but I am afraid that many libraries (particularly schools) will not place this in the teen area. Buckhanon does not shy away from sexual references ("unprotected, into my silky young softness for the second time that night."), there is intense deliberation about abortion and what to do if one can't afford it. ("Help me. Get rid of it" "What you mean, Shivana?" "Girl, just jump on me" "Uh-uh! Nooo! Don't even ask. I ain't tryna kill no baby..."), and obviously no chance of a happy ending. Not that I believe we need to be plying teens with happy endings or safe books, I just wonder how we can get this out there.
Do I think it was the best book I have read in a long time--yes. Do I worry about Conception's ability to be accessed by teens--double yes. Does it fit our criteria--oh yes. I am going with a YAY, and can't wait to hear what others have to say.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Savage by David Almond

The first word that comes to me with David Almond's work is unsettling. The Savage certainly falls into this category. This novella is an amazing blend of graphic novel/bildungsroman. Following his father's death, Blue is encouraged to use writing as a therapeutic medium. The result is his story about the Savage, a boy with no words, no love, and a thirst for killing. Each of the parts about the Savage are illustrated by David McKean (of Coraline fame) and is written in halting, misspelled prose by a younger Blue. The Savage is able to show the anger and rage Blue has building, but even in the safety of his story Blue cannot commit harm to others. And just as Blue's real-life terrors are escalating, the Savage appears in his real world.
Only 80 pages. So much involved. I think this one is genre bending, important, and ground breaking. I worry about the teen appeal, age appropriateness, and the brevity of the story. Going with Yay for now.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Facts of Life by Gary Soto

In this collection of Short Stories by Gary Soto, he explores moments in teens' and pre-teens' lives. One boy decides not to choose between living with one of his divorcing parents. Another girl tries to cope with learning that she is an illegal. Definitely on the young side of the TU spectrum (the main characters are 11-13). And like any short story collection some are better than others. Good and enjoyable but not great. I give it a nay.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Snakehead by Ann Halam

If you haven't read Siberia by Ann Halam, you're missing out. I think this author has a fun, unique voice in teen literature, and I hope other people get a chance to read her newest deviation from the norm, Snakehead.

When Perseus first meets the beautiful, North African princess Andromeda, she's busy hiding her identity, and he's trying to live a normal life as a half-mortal, half-god. Both teens are feeling a little lost, and their predetermined fates weigh heavily upon them. Will they sacrifice everything for the good of civilization, or just to humor the gods?

Halam winds back and forth between historical fantasy and historical fact (Perseus and Andromeda hitch a ride on the Argo, but all the girls on Serifoes bare their breasts in public, as was customary at the time), mixing modern and antique language (Perseus's peer group is made up of "yacht club kids" but Andromeda's false name is Kore, or Girl in Greek ). This one is fine for the 7th grade and above. The rape of Medusa is mentioned without description, and there is a reference to "rejected sacrifices" referring to the loss of virginity, but that's about it. There is no description of the bare breasts other than their existence.

There are a few problems with the book: uninspired cover art and somewhat slow start are the easiest to point out. I set it down for several weeks after the first few chapters, but once I picked it up again, I finished relatively quickly, racing towards an expected ending(I know the myth), but looking forward to finding out how the author was going to twist it. Strange to say, I really felt the author could have used some pointers from Stephanie Meyer and explored the teen romance with a little bit more detail. After Twilight, wicked looks and jolts of excitement just aren't enough.

YAY, but I'm looking for other opinions.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Take Me There by Susane Colasanti

Three good friends attending a design high school in Manhattan relate how one week changed their respective lives. Rhiannon gets dumped, gets humiliated, and gets supported by friends, Nicole enters a flirtation with a teacher and must confront the shadows in her past, and James finds that he is falling for Rhiannon.
Told in alternating voices (same day of the week from each of the teens perspectives), this book sucked me in! I spent the entire (and I mean from 9-noon) morning reading this on my couch. The diaglogue may be it's biggest pitfall, because Colasanti completely captures the cadence and catch-phrases of this generation of teens. This will ultimately date this book, but man, is she spot on!
I'm not sure this has great literary value, but it was a fun, insightful, and sometimes heartwrenching read with huge teen appeal . I'll go Yay for now.

Impossible by Nancy Werlin

Impossible is the fictionalization of the story told in the song Scarborough Fair. Lucy Scarborough has a crazy mother and was raised by foster parents who really love her. When she turns 18 events begin to happen that point her in the direction of a family curse, which she has the chance to overcome if she completes 3 impossible tasks. With the help of her foster parents and the boy next door, she gains the courage to break the curse.
This is well-written and its timeless truth is that people need other people to overcome obstacles in their lives. Too often we think we have to go it alone. I give this one an enthusiastic YAY.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth

This the popular fantasy novelist Kate Forsyth's first teen novel. Kate Forsyth wrote Rhiannon's Ride, which is sitting on my beside table right now reminding me that if I am very good and finish up all these teen books, I can crack open her series for hours a pleasant escapism.

As far as I can tell, Gypsy Crown is meant for the middle school age child. The main character is a young orphan with the ability to tell the future. Within the first thirty pages most of her extended family is thrown in jail in connection with the death of a constable in Cromwell's England. Emilia sets out on a mission to gather the five talisman's held by various gypsy families in England, with the help her her friend Luka, her horse, Luka's dog, and the family dancing bear. Somehow these items will help save the family from certain death.

If I wasn't reading for the purpose of awarding prizes, I think this might be a nice enough read, but as it is, I can't see it as award-winning. Nay.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ever by Gail Carson Levine

Olus is the Akkan god of the wind but is lonely. He meets Kezi, who lives in a different country and never heard of the Akkan pantheon. But her dad inadvertently seals her fate to be sacrificed to her people's god. So together Olus and Kezi must find a way to make her immortal. It is a good story but not TU. I'm nay.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Possibilities of Sainthood by Dorina Freitas

The lovely-but-doesn't-know-it narrator of our tale has a dead father, a crush on a good Italian boy who ignores her, an Irish guy who she is afraid of liking because he actually LIKES her, and a large obsession with becoming a saint, though its clear she really doesn't quite get the importance of dying before being sainted. I thought the book was okay, but I felt like the writer has started the work as historical fiction, been turned down or told to write it as contemporary, and had added modern details without really pulling the meat of the story into the contemporary world.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci

This is the tale of a small number of teens from various parts of the world (mostly New York and Pakistan) brought together by a terrorist attack that proves fatal or near fatal for certain main characters. If you can suspend your disbelief and try to remember back to when 9-11 and the anthrax attacks made everyone feel like the next attack was just around the corner, you might get into this a little more quickly than I did. After a few hundred pages is really picked up with good action and engaging characters (wish we'd met the Pakistani kid earlier!). The book is certainly modern, but not tied to anything dating it aside from technology. It may have some staying value--the real question is will a teen pick it up?

Strong maybe.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

This is a historical fiction story of a young man in 1981 Northern Ireland. Fergus's brother is in prison and on a hunger strike, though his mother doesn't want a lot of people to know. Fergus and his uncle while out digging illegally find a bog child from the iron age and Fergus dreams of the girl and what could have happened to her. To save his brother Fergus agrees to be a courier for, who he believes to be terrorists. Quite a bit happens. It is a decent book but I don't see it having wide teen appeal. I vote nay.

Chanda's Wars by Alan Stratton

This compelling book tells the story of Chanda, who due to her mother's recent death, is responsible for the well-being of her brother and sister. Encouraged to make amends with her estranged family, Chanda travels to a nearby town from which her brother and sister are stolen by a group of rebels. This book is, in large part, a book about child soldiers in war-torn Africa. More than that, however, this is a family story and one of courage and adventure. The narrative is well-constructed and Stratton keeps you wondering with each page what is going to happen. This book gets a Thumbs Up from me. Though this is a follow-up book to Chanda's Secret it certainly does stand alone. I did not read the first book and still found this one to be incredibly moving.