30 November 2011

True (...Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan

True (...Sort of)
Katherine Hannigan
Greenwillow Books
When I started reading Katherine Hannigan’s novel True (Sort of…) my first impression was that it was an elementary level book.  I liked the character Delly Pattison and her made up words – you know, being a word-maker-upper myself – but it was just a little too…cutsie for me.  I couldn’t imagine a super-cool 8th grader being willing to read about “surpresents” (surprise presents) and “mysturiosities” (very curious mysteries).  In fact, I envisioned the book being read aloud to a class of sixth graders.  Theoretically, a teacher could read this book aloud to a class – it’s a bit long, but it’s a very quick read.  However, in the end, I’m not sure I’d read it aloud to a class.  For a book that starts off being “cutsie” it definitely hits some heavy topics and in the end, is a very deep, meaningful and profoundly touching book.
Clearly, I loved it.
Like I said, it’s the story of Delly (Delaware) Pattison – second youngest in a family with five children.  Delly has been labeled a troublemaker, even though her escapades are always done with the best intentions.  The book starts out explaining how when Delly was younger, she was happier and even though she got in trouble, she always had a smile on her face and would wake up and face the day with excitement.  Somewhere along the line though, Delly lost that smile and that excitement, and now she’s usually just angry.
Then she meets Ferris Boyd, the new girl who doesn’t speak and doesn’t allow anyone to touch her.  She’s sort of a “mysturiosity” to Delly, so Delly starts following her home, telling her stories.  Delly is supposed to go home after school, so their friendship is sort of a secret.  Soon, they are best friends. Throughout the rest of the book, that friendship is tested, and Delly learns about the world around her and slowly starts to understand that she has been rather selfish in life.  As she learns to be self-less, the relationships in her life – with her family, teachers, and even with the local police officers – improve, and her life is profoundly changed.
What I love about this book is Delly’s worldview.  She sees the world in a completely different light than most people.  It’s the perfect blend of innocence, ignorance, wonder and thought.  It’s her worldview that creates, almost ruins, and saves her friendship with Ferris.  I would like to think that there are 6th graders out there who are like Delly – who are still able to see the wonder in the world, but who realize the importance of being there for those you love.
For a book that started out as a fun, read-aloud book, I cried hard in the end, and my worldview has changed in regards to my students.  I no longer think this would be a good book to read aloud to a class, but I will recommend it to just about any one of my students who enjoys realistic fiction, and I think I might recommend that the Literacy teachers at my school read it.  In fact, I would say this would be an excellent book for any middle school student, or anyone who works with middle school children.  It is a beautifully written book with heart and a sense of humor.

29 November 2011

Dead Rules by Randy Russell

Dead Rules
Randy Russell
Creeperific cover eh?  For the first few days I had this book, I really wanted to spin old school and make a brown paper bag cover for this bad boy, the cover freaked me out so much.  However, about three days into reading, I realized that the back is the same, only different (wha?), so instead, I just remembered to keep the book face down on my bedside table.  That and the description made me think it would be somewhat scary and it’s not at all.  In fact, it’s just plain fantastic.  Super fantastic.  One of my favorite reads of the school year so far.
Jana Webster is one half of Webster and Haynes – champion debate duo and soul mates – and when she dies in a freak bowling accident, she is sure that her boyfriend, Michael Haynes, is absolutely devastated without her.  She’ll do anything to have him join her at Dead School – the purgatory high school all teens go to between life and death.
The first thing I love about this book is Dead School itself.  What a great idea!  Real high school is kind of like purgatory for most of us, but it’s also a time where we figure out who we are (er…try to) and what we want to do with our lives.  Dead School is similar in that kids are divided into different groups – risers, sliders, grays and virgins.  Grays are students who took their own lives and are servants in the afterlife.  Virgins are…well were…yeah, you get it…and they are the messengers for the powers that be.   Risers are students who lived decent lives and died, usually by accident, and will most likely “rise” when they’re done with Dead School (a time frame that no one knows or understands for the record).  Sliders are the opposite.  These are the kids who lived life on the sketchy side and many died while in the middle of some illegal or dastardly deed (what a great word – dastardly!).
Jana dies and is a Riser, however, in order to help her boyfriend die, she must become a Slider – something that rarely happens in Dead School.  In order to become a Slider, she’ll need the help of Mars Dreamcote – the handsome Slider with a secret or two.  Mars is the second thing I love about this book.  He is not what he seems and he is one of the most real, honest, fantastic kid…er dead kid…you can imagine.  I kept thinking of some of my classmates when I was reading about him – were the people we thought of as misfits and “bad boys” really just kids trying to make heads or tails of their lives?  If you can read this book and not fall in love with Mars, you’re heartless (ok, maybe not, but still, you might want to have yourself checked out by a professional).
Jana is also an excellent character.  Her death makes her reexamine her life, and though this isn’t a new concept, Russell definitely puts a new spin on it.  Her drive to become a Slider and thus help her devoted boyfriend join her in the afterlife is so focused, she completely misses out on some big details just like she did while she was alive.  When it all becomes clear to her, her change/revelation/epiphany – whatever you want to call it – is fantastic (if not just a wee bit predictable).
Yeah, so basically Dead Rules is an awesome book that I would recommend to anyone who likes realistic fiction that is set in a science fiction world.  Oh, and anyone who likes a laugh.  It’s darn funny – the stories of how all the characters die are hilarious as are the dialogue and the rules of Dead School.

28 November 2011

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Justine Larbalestier
Audiobook read by Channie Waites

I got this book because I liked the premise: Micah has been hiding her true identity for years but when her boyfriend is killed, she decides to come clean (to the reader at least) about the fact that she is a werewolf.
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as I’d planned.  But I’ll get to that later.
As I said, the book is about Micah – a girl who doesn’t fit in anywhere.  The truth is she’s a werewolf.  Her family on her father’s side are all werewolves, and she inherited the “family illness”.  The book starts off with Micah telling us about all the ways she’s lied in the past – pretending she’s a boy, not telling her parents where she’s going or with whom.  Then her boyfriend (secret boyfriend) turns up missing and since everyone knows she lies all the time, they assume she did or knows something.  When it turns out her boyfriend was mauled by wild dogs, Micah has to figure out who really killed Zach and convince her parents it wasn’t her so they won’t ship her off to live with her crazy, red-neck were-relatives.
As I said, the book ended up being very different from what I imagined.  For one, Larbalestier does an amazing job of weaving lies and truth together.  She does such an amazing job, in the end, you have no idea what is lie and what is the truth.  Truth be told, I think I need to go back and re-read the end of the book because I really don’t know what was true and what was fiction, and I can’t decide whether that is a plus or a minus for the book.
I’m also not sure how I feel about this book because I listened to it on audiobook and, well, I pretty much hated it.  It was read very slowly and the different accents the narrator attempted were forgotten relatively quickly or just plain bad*.  Usually when I don’t like an audio book I quit listening and finish reading the book in print and that often helps.  However in this case, by the time I got the print book, I’d listened to so much of the book, I only had about a chapter and a half left – not enough to be redemptive.
I would recommend this book to high school aged students who are fans of science fiction and romance – anyone who likes secrets, werewolves and “forbidden love”.  It’s definitely a girl book, and the language and violence are a bit much for the average middle school student.  I will not give up on Justine Larbalestier because of this one book though!  Mostly because she’s married to Scott Westerfield (one of my favs), and because the title of her other book – How to Ditch Your Fairy – is just entirely too tempting!

*I say this with all due respect to Ms. Waites.  I couldn’t do her job no matter how hard I tried.  Just ask my friends.  Last year I tried reading a passage from a book aloud to them and it was crapski.

17 November 2011

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan

Gemini Bites
Patrick Ryan
Scholastic Press

When my guy saw this book sitting on the kitchen table and read the book jacket, his first reaction was “What in the world are you reading?”  Then, as I explained the premise of Gemini Bites to him, his look of confusion and concern just deepened.  I’ll admit, the storyline is one of the things that drew me to the book: fraternal twins Kyle and Judy fall for the same guy.  And said guy is super gorgeous, rather mysterious, and allegedly a vampire.
But the storyline isn’t all there is to this book.  In fact, the love triangle turns out to be rather secondary (at least it was the way I read the book).  It’s more about sibling rivalry and about why teenagers do things that make no sense to them or those around them but they just can’t help themselves.
Case in point: Judy.  If she were my sister, I’d probably hold a pillow over her head to put the family out of their misery.  Über-competitive, fake and cranky is how she comes across in the book – even in the chapters written from her point of view.  She’s attending a church group and claiming to be “born again” all because she wants to date a guy.  She’s rude, selfish, conniving and goes after Garret (aforementioned vampire) just because she can tell Kyle is a little interested in him.  Throughout the book both Kyle and Judy make references to the fact that they were closer before their parents initial divorce (backstory; Kyle and Judy are the middle children in a family of nine.  Their parents separated for just over a year when they were younger and they haven’t been close since.  Kyle doesn’t understand why, and Judy never bothers to tell him. Judy, for some reason, is in constant competition with Kyle, often mouthing “I win” when she gets her way.  The only person to somewhat derail her is Garret – his penetrating stare, great abs and vampiric ways seem to throw her off her normally snarky, aggressive ways.
On the other hand, we have Kyle.  He has recently come out of the closet and is handling life pretty well, other than the fact that he doubts he’ll ever actually date a real live boy.  His family (minus Judy) is very supportive, he has good friends, and he’s finding his way, though he still struggles with self-confidence.  Then along comes Garret Johnson.  He tries to be friendly, but 1) he’s pretty sure Garret is straight (wait…is he sure?  He’s not sure he’s sure) and 2) Garret is, well, a little creepy with the weird lighting in his room and the mysterious calls with his “vampire trainer” (I can’t remember the term Garret uses and I already returned the book…sorry!).  So while Kyle is completely attracted to Garret and thinks maybe Garret is attracted to him, he’s not sure and when Judy starts to show interest in Garret, things get interesting.
Then there’s Garret.  He’s weird and somewhat secondary to the plot until the end.  His dad is transferred mid-school year, so instead of moving with his parents, he lives in the Renneker attic until the end of the school year.  He admits that he’s a vampire when asked, but it’s not something he advertises necessarily.  Too bad for him the school crazy is after him, constantly trying to stake him in the heart or shoot him with a silver bullet.  And I can’t tell you too much about Garret without spoiling the end of the book, but I will say that I really didn’t like him much for the majority of the book (I was Team Kyle all the way!!!) but in the end, regardless of his vampire-ness, he is just a kid trying to figure out who he is, and he is definitely instrumental in helping Judy and Kyle both figure out who they are.
Who would I recommend this book to?  That’s a great question.  I did enjoy the book, but it definitely wouldn’t make any of my favorites list.  The book is definitely not middle grade appropriate because of sexual content, but I think high school students who struggle with their identity (and not just their sexuality, who they are in general) would benefit from reading this book because each of the characters tries to be someone they aren’t and then has to deal with the consequences.

**This is the first book review I've done where I can't find the author's website.  Help please if you can!***

Matched by Allie Condie

Allie Condie
(Allyson Braithwaite Condie)
Dutton Books

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – the women who wrote Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness – claim that this book is “a brave new world that readers from Twilight to The Hunger Games will claim as their own” (from Matched book jacket).  Now, I’m not sure if the words “a brave new world” are bolded to make reference to Aldus Huxley’s book, but if so, I have to whole heartedly disagree.  This book is pretty darn good, but it is not, in any way, the “new” form of A Brave New World.  However, it is a book that will appeal to both crowds that loved Twilight and The Hunger Games (the movie is on its way people!  Get excited!!).  In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Cassia really is Katniss stuck in Bella’s world…or...maybe the other way around.
Cassia lives in a world where all decisions are determined by “Officials” – where you will live, what job you will have, how much food you get, etc.  The book starts out with Cassia attending her Match banquet – the celebration where she, and many other teens her age, will find out who they are to be “matched” with.  Shockingly, Cassia is not only matched with someone she knows, she’s matched to her best and lifelong friend Xander.  It’s very rare to be matched with someone you know.  The next day when Cassia tries to view all the information about her match (even though she already knows him so well), something strange happens.  She sees someone else.  Someone else she knows.  Ky lives in her neighborhood and she, Ky and Xander have grown up together and spend much of their recreation time together.  Now she must figure out which of the two boys is her “true” match, and as she deals with her feelings for both boys, she learns that her perfect society is far from it.
Cassia is much like Bella in that she must choose between two “matches” that are both good for her – one is safer, one fits her better.  She doesn’t want to hurt either of them, in fact she tries very hard to protect both of them.  She’s also like Bella in that she doesn’t know her own strength (I know there are many people out there who would completely disagree with me that Bella is a very strong female character, but whatever, she is).  The difference is that Cassia is taught and encouraged to be strong – by her society and her grandfather.  Bella just doesn’t think or know how strong she is.  However, the difference between Bella and Cassia is that Bella is drawn to Edward for reasons she doesn’t understand.  The idea of Ky is put into her mind by the mixed up match.
Initially, the correlation between Cassia and Katniss was difficult for me to see.  From the get-go Katniss knows that Panem is massively defective, and Panem is designed to keep people down.  The Society in which Cassia lives tries to convince the citizens of its perfection and goodness.  Katniss is a rebel from day one, whereas in Matched, Cassia fights against her initial feelings of rebellion and consistently tries to be a “good citizen”.  However, as the book goes on, I can totally see the correlation between the two young women.  Both understand that they are, more or less, pawns in their respective societies.  Both are forced to put on “shows”, both are forced to do things in order to keep their loved ones safe, and both make choices that classify them as “rebels” simply because they want to protect others.
And now that I’ve compared the crap out of these three heroines, let’s just talk about Matched for a second.  It really is an excellent YA novel.  It has the action, internal struggle, rebellion and cute boys that are required of any good YA novel.  It’s definitely a girl book – the romance plays too much a part in the story for most male readers to get into it.
I don’t know that it will have the same adult-reader appeal that Hunger Games and Twilight did (though I still scratch my head at the adult appeal of Twilight.  Yes, I’m an adult who loved it, but...hello…I’m a YA Librarian.  It’s kinda my job).  This might stem from my current state of the blahs about YA lit.  However, I also think the romance-strand of the book is a little too teenage girl for adults to be able to identify with.  Or, I might be a complete romantic cynic (probably).  In any case, I look forward to purchasing the book for my school library, but won’t necessarily be passing it on to my adult friends.

16 November 2011

Hunger Games Movie Trailer

Oh holy lord.  It's nearly here.  Ok, so March is four months away, but whatEVER.  I can't wait for this movie.  And the cast?  Wowza.


Can you tell I'm excited?

11 November 2011

Dear Bully edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

Dear Bully is a collection of stories about bullying written by some of the most prominent YA authors of our time.  I read this book because several copies were donated to our school, and an interesting thing happened while I was reading.  I realized that I was kind of a bully in high school.  And if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m kind of a bully now sometimes.
People associate the term bully with big hairy teenagers that push down the little runt in the hallway and steal everyone’s lunch money.  That may have been the modus operandi of bullies years ago, but now bullies look very different.  And bullying isn’t just physically overpowering another person and laughing, it’s any action intended to intimidate or humiliate another person (my definition based on definitions from Merriam Webster, The Free Dictionary and OLWEUS.com).  So based on this definition, ask yourself this question:  were you a bully?
Yeah, you’re probably lying and don’t even know it.
What I realized through reading Dear Bully is that bullying comes in all different forms, has many different intentions, and most importantly, we – or at least I – have the wrong ideas about bullying in general.  Usually we look at bullying from the point of view of how mean the bullying “act” is.  We should, however, look (or try to) look at things from the point of view of the victim.  Calling another kid “fat” or “fag” or “ugly” isn’t that bad, and doesn’t make you a bully, but put yourself in that kid’s shoes.  He/She probably hears those words/taunts hundreds of times.  You may not be a bully for teasing someone once, but you are a part of a collective bully that might be making someone’s life pretty miserable.
I also realized that as adults, we haven’t learned to deal with people who are different from us any better than we did when we were kids.  I hate to admit it, but I'm pretty sure I'm still a bit of a bully. I used to work with a woman that I could NOT stand.  Everything about her annoyed me– she was difficult to work with, had horrible personal habits, and generally drove everyone nuts.  Honestly, I never really gave her much of a chance because she was so weird.  Instead of being an adult, I acted just like I would have in middle school: I ignored her as much as possible, I conveniently “forgot” to do some of the things she asked, at lunch I would talk with others about how annoying she was and immediately go silent when she walked through the door, and – I hate to admit it – I was flat out rude to her about 90% of the time. And though I wasn’t the only one, I realize now that I could have handled working with a difficult person in a much more adult, professional manner, and that most of the time, I just wanted her to understand that I didn’t like her and wanted her to leave me alone.  Only problem was, we worked together.  There was nowhere for her, or me, to go.  So I just kept being rude, accomplishing nothing.
Yep, I admit it, I bullied her.
Well done, Suzanne.  Well done.
And now that I’ve read the wonderful stories contributed by such amazing authors as Jon Scieszka, Lauren Oliver and Mo Willems, I know that bullying looks different through every pair of eyes and that the most empathetic, friendliest, non-bullyesque thing you can do for another person is try to see the world through their eyes and understand their world.  Life is hard for everyone, and the best that you can do for your classmates/coworkers/fellow humans is try not to make their journey any harder.