awesome

Oh wow…

So I just glanced at my syllabus for YA Mats to see where I left off in my reviews.  And found new and exciting proof that I am in fact extremely lazy.  Well not so much lazy, I just don’t think I manage my time very well.  Especially at work.  At 8am 4:30pm is so far away.  My final is coming up so it might be a handy exercise to do a one line review with a yah or nah vote for the title.  And hopefully we’ll get back into some serious reading, like the new Percy Jackson.

Genre Fiction

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer – Fun, futuristic, interesting adventure story.  Loved the characters, the action and the humor.  Colfer strikes again, Awesome.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sorry to say, I just couldn’t get into it.  Too slow, too boring, I didn’t finish. Just didn’t float my boat.  Whatevs.

Peeps by Scott Westerfield – Set in NYC which was fun.  A different take on “vampires” which was fun too.  Sharp writing and great scenes.  Awesome.

Multimedia…uh, I didn’t read any of the books and I’ve already read Potter 7 so hearing it was nice, Jim Dale rules but nothing much to report.  My committment to not reading Gossip Girl stands. 

Nonfiction

Hitler Youth by Susan Bartoletti – I enjoyed that besides getting general information, Bartoletti decided to follow 6 or 7 teens living in Nazi Germany and went into detail about their lives.  Lots of great resources, pictures and well researches.  Awesome

Fields of Fury: The American Civil War by James McPherson – Although the Civil War is not my favorite war, this book was very well made with tons of good features for kids.  Although not as specific as Hitler Youth, it still had some good stuff.  Cool.

Tree of Life by Peter Sis – A book that looks cooler than it actually is.  Although it gives the basics of Darwin and his work, the art work used in the book is a the real draw, yet not used as efectively as it could be.  Still Cool.

Adult Books for YAs

A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer – A powerful story about an abused child.  So terrible I couldn’t bring myself to read it again.  But would still recommend. Awesome.

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – Liked the writing, like the perspective, but very depressing story about death and families.  Would recommend but was hard going trying to read on an airplane when there’s a strom out your window.  Cool.

Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah – I would have appriciated it more if I didn’t feel the author’s point breathing down my neck so much.  A cautionary tale about drug life, it was sometimes hard to care about the characters. Whatevs.

And finally Mock Printz Award Night

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by MT Anderson – I liked it, alot.  Very interesting design, story, writing style.  It was made to look like an 18th century book which was fun.  Would have to make sure to give it to the right kid though.  Not an easy read, writing or story.  Awesome.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher – I heart Crutcher.  As much as I want to be mad at him for his flat, secondary female characters I still love his work.  Whale Talk is one of his best and it holds up considering I read it over 5 years ago and still loved it.  Awesome.

Burned by Ellen Hopkins – I was trying very hard in class to descirbe why I disliked this book.  It wasn’t the sad ending, I don’t mind when things don’t end happily ever after.  I mind though when an author spends over 200 pages setting up a character only to destroy that growth and progress in less than 4 pages.  Why?  I feel betrayed as a reader when I feel lead around only to be punched in the face, and not in a good way.  I really felt the ending was added for total shock value.  Totally unecessary.  Lame.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers – Another book I read 5 years ago that still holds up well.  Told in screenplay format the story is a common one of youth crime but it is so unique when told from Steven’s perspective.  Leaves the reader thinking too, not frustrated and wanting to set fire to the thing.  Awesome.

Woo, so not so hard as I thought.  But we’ll get around to more good things soon.  Like Breaking Dawn.

Feeling neglected?

I’m a bad YA poster.  Almost three weeks with no YA reviews, clever insights, pithy observations.  It does feel like cheating since usually I post my thoughts before I get to class and hear what others think.  But we’ll roll with it.

From Romance and Relationship week

Foreverby Judy Blume

I had never read this.  Apparently growing up it was the dirty book that was hidden under beds and behind desks.  Still is in some places.  It is one of the most challenged books in school libraries, even today.  And I’m not sure why.  Oh, sure I know why.  The main character has sex.  Uncomfortable, awkward, first time, teenage sex.  And sure some may consider the handling of it explicit but I saw it more clinical.  The man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina.  Seriously, it felt that sterile and straightforward.  So I know why, I just don’t understand why.  Subtle.  It is a landmark book being one of the first to tackle teen sex.  But really, you can find worse stuff in alot of other YA books.  Since it is a classic, I won’t rate it but I really can’t see myself handing this to a teen and saying Enjoy!  Honestly, I was reading romance novels by the time I hit high school.  And I wasn’t harmed, much.

Boy Meets Boyby David Levithan

A more modern love story and also more emotional.  Paul goes to high school the is this wonderful world where drag queens are star quarterbacks, people are tolerant of other’s sexual preference and celebrate people’s differences.  When Paul meets Noah, the perfect boy, things go well until (there is always an until) things go wrong.  My description of Paul’s world might be one spot where class discussion influenced me.  Many of us felt it was a great world, but not a realistic one, more an idealistic one.  But the characters are interesting and moving and the story is charming and sweet without being obnoxious.  Favorite of the week, its pretty Awesome.

Letting Go of Lisaby Lurlene McDaniels

I avoided these books when I was younger.  Why?  The same reason I don’t read dead dog stories (Red Fern, Old Yeller, Marley and Me).  I mean, why put yourself through that?  If I need to cry I’ll watch Extreme Home Makeover or stub my toe.  Why would I want to read about terminal cancer patients or teens with rare neurological diseases?  Why?  But I had to pick one of Lurlene’s 50 so I went with the one with the Harley on the cover.  Didn’t help the story much that the terminally ill teen girl rode a bike but it was worth a try.  Flat characters, predictable storyline, blah, blah, blah.  So although I had preconceived notions walking in, they were justified.  I mean if you want to read about death go get the Little Prince or Looking For Alaska or Harry Potter even.  Lame.  Sorry, I had too.  No reason to put anyone through this, ever.

I’m kinda tired so I’ll finish part 2 tomorrow.  I really liked the next set of books so I want to be fresh, and so clean, clean.

Wednesday Madness…

At my job?  Yeah right.  But it is once again time for the weekly YA round-up.  This week is poetry and short stories and is probably the 1st week I hadn’t previously read anything.  So here’s a look

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Mr. Ward, new English teacher, begins holding Friday Poetry readings for class.  Through the book each class member “presents.”  I really like the mix of prose with poetry.  The book is set up very similar to Canterbury Tales, each character gets a prose prologue and then their poem and reaction from the class bard Tyronne.  Grimes handles all the different voices wonderfully each one separate and unique.  I hear the audiobook is done using a different teen for each character.  Might be cool to check it out.  Very Awesome.

Red Hot Salsa ed. by Lori Marie Carlson

This is your more traditional collection of poetry written by Latino authors.  The poems are bilingual meaning they have both English and Spanish versions of all the poems.  There is also a helpful glossary for those less skilled Spanish speakers.  Although the collection is targeted to YAers most of the poems are written by established adult authors.  Which is fantastic but…yes the but, it would have been great to see some teen poems mixed it too.  But maybe that another book.  There is also an awesome cover with some cool art work but none on the inside?  There are very small nit-picks.  The poetry is good, maybe not as powerful to me as to someone else but I enjoyed it still.  Gets a Cool

Guys Write for Guys Readed. by Jon Scieszka

A collection of stories, artwork and comics from all the biggest guy writers in YA and kids and beyond.  Maybe the reason I wanted to see art work in Red Hot Salsa was because every other profile in Guyshad a picture or a cartoon or something.  It was really fun to see some of the illistrators’ art work from when they were younger.  Each author also had a Born, Live, Random Fact and Selected Biography which I thought was great too.  I would recognize the name and then put the book to author when I got to the end.  My favorite was Mo Willems cartoon about when he was younger he sent a letter to the Peanuts writer.  So funny, so fun, so Awesome.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading2007 ed. by Dave Eggers.

Interestingly we were told not to read all of this title, only the forward.  Well this edition didn’t have a forward, just a clever little Q&A that did answer the question I think we’ll be about tonight.  That is the Nonrequired Reading series is chosen by a committee high school kids in the San Fransico area.  So that’s cool.  I also picked this year’s because it included a set of funny lists at the beginning and a commencment speech from Conan O’Brien.  So we’ll see what we do with it in class.  So far, so Awesome.

Returns of the Day…

It feels like forever ago that I last updated.  Part of the reason was we had a week off from class because of BookExpo (jealous I couldn’t go).  So I also took a break and read some non-class required reading, AKA 2 romance novels and the new Skulduggery Pleasant.  And yes, I took off the jacket and the feelings of annoyance and aggravation disappeared.  But it is once more Wednesday and here are this week’s LIS 722 picks.

Bluford High: The Bully by Paul Langan

Bluford High is a series of books based around an urban California high school.  For class we had to pick one, there’s around 13 so I grabbed The Bully.  The theme for this week’s books seemed to be boy outcasts so I thought The Bully would fit better then some of the others about love and relationships.  Also I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that deals this directly with bullying.  So it kills a few birds with one stone which always help when recommending something.  Darrell moves to California with his single mother and starts at Bluford High.  He is a small, shy boy who gets targeted by Tyray, the school bully.  By making new friends, reading Hatchet and joining wrestling, Darrell learns how to change his situation.  Nothing too graphic and some very positive messages about confidence and standing up for oneself.  The story and the characters are simple, meaning there are no deep surprises.  Everyone does what you would expect them too and everything ends up the way you thought it would.  But this book and others in the series rate high on the relatablity and interest scale.  A friend that teaches at an urban school can’t keep these books in her library.  I give it a Cool, even for it’s literary shortcomings.  It’s no Langston Hughes, but it gets the job done.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Another classic.  What can I say, this is my 4th time reading it.  West Side story, just without the Romeo/Juliet storyline.  Including knife fights.  I still think this book is relevant now as when it was originally published which is why it’s still around.  Young men are still living and dying “violent and young and desperate.”  It is beginning to show its age though with some of the references (even though Paul Newman is still hot).  So much that you couldn’t hand this to any kid and say, “you’ll love it.”  This would probably require some front-loading to help a reader get into it.  Plus some schools use this in instruction, which tends to take some of the pleasure out of it.  I’ll say it again, you can’t rate a classic.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I read I Am the Cheese also by Cromier first.  Maybe I wouldn’t have judged this one so harshly if I hadn’t because when I first read it I was a little disappointed.  Not because the book is bad, totally the opposite.  Mostly I was disappointed because it wasn’t as good as I Am the CheeseCheese blew my mind, Chocolate War just made me sad.  Jerry is tagged by a secret society at his all boy Catholic high school to not participate in the school’s chocolate sale.  When the society turns around and tells him to start selling Jerry continues to refuse and defy the society.  What depth was missing in The Bully is more than made up in this books, alienation, societal good v. person will, mob mentality, abuse of authority, resistance is futile (that last one is from X-Files, sorry, couldn’t stop myself).  There’s a lot of ground that Cormier covers so reader beware, this will not be an easy ride.  The book though is showing it’s age but again, the story is strong so it still could work.  Gets a Cool, even though it is a borderline classic.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

See earlier review.  But just to recap, love this book!  Awesome!

And I saved it for last because it’s my favorite in the bunch…

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I just read this book last year so I wasn’t going to re-read the whole thing, skim through and reacquaint myself but that was all.  And the damn thing wouldn’t let me.  This one of those books you fall into.  It wraps you up and doesn’t let go until it’s done with you or you have to off the el.  Great characters, man I love Green’s characters.  Miles Halter, soon to be Pudge leaves Florida to go find “the Great Perhaps” at a boarding school in Alabama.  There he meets the Colonel, his roommate and Alaska, the gorgeous girl down the hall and select other friends.  The first half is about Pudge’s growth in a place that he finally fits in. The second half is the rest of journey he takes to find who he really is.  So moving, so beautiful, so terrible and so great.  I want to write like Green; setting, characters, mood, exceptionally brilliant insights that shame Hallmark and sap everywhere. “That which came together will fall apart imperceptibly slowly and I will forget.”  Man, makes me cry and I don’t cry.  I cried at Titanic and Extreme Home Makeover that that’s it.  But unlike Chocolate Wars where I’m left just feeling sad, after Looking for Alaska I feel healed as well.  And that is powerful.  Just Awesome.

Next week Poetry and Required Nonrequired reading.

It’s a strange condition…

Double Down!! It’s a review for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz and Jesus Land by Julian Scheeres.

So I do this crazy thing where I’ll be listening to an audio book that will in someway echo the book I’m reading at the same time.  Like when I was listening to The Ghost Map, a nonfiction account of the cholera epidemic in London and YA gothic lite The Sweet Far Thing.  Both mentioned the muckrackers of Victorian London and how they eked out their life on the garbage and filth of others.  It was kinda weird to read two accounts of basically the same period. So is the some phenomenon with these two titles.

On the surface these books have little connection, Oscar Wao about a Dominican immigrant and his nerdy life growing up shunned by girls and friends alike and Julia’s memoirs of her adopted brother and their crazy religious upbringing.  I did start to link these two until Julia is sent to Christian Reform school in the Dominican Republic in the 80’s while Oscar’s story has as much to do with his family’s past under Dominican dictator Trujillo as his own experiences.  Where Oscar Wao’s voice comes from a ghetto and sometimes vulgar world, Jesus Land invokes the anger, fear and disappointment of a rebellious teenager.  But what really connects the two worlds is the underlying theme of families and their legacies.

What makes Oscar Wao such a big, epic, Lord of the Rings story is the included histories of Oscar’s cursed family, his martyred grandfather, his much abused immigrant mother and my favorite, his rebellious sister.  I love Lola’s story, possibly because the performer who read her was awesome, but also her story helped to explain Oscar’s more than the others.  Besides stringing the idea of shared curse the story also shows the legacy parents leave unintentionally to their children.  

Oppositely Julia’s story is more intimate and personal but no less moving.  The book is focused tightly on her and her brother David’s relationship.  As much as it is about their being raised devout Calvinist it is also about their struggles growing up in Indiana and dealing with racism they faced.  I found it amazing, reading this and also Oscar Wao, the damage and violence we can inflict on other people.  All for a cause or a leader or an escape.  The way people can be used and discarded.  It makes for very moving and heartbreaking reading.

An Awesome to both titles.  Wish I would have read Oscar Wao though instead of just listen to it.  I feel it is one of those fiction books that is not just read, but studied.

Where the heart roams…

A review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I’ve mentioned before that I appreciate a good ending in my books.  This one has a great one, just saying.

And why not?  Alexie is a great writer.  I remember reading a story of his in an undergrad writing class and being totally depressed.  No way would I ever write anything that good.  I’ve heard teachers use some of his shorts in language arts classes and they work really well even though they weren’t written for YA audience.  But he writes honestly about growing up which is refreshing.  So I was interested to read his latest title which is intended for YA audiences.  I won’t lie, first few pages I was rolling my eyes. No way I thought would any 14 year-old be this self-aware and articulate about it.  I wasn’t buying Junior as a character.  Then I finished the first chapter and it was over, I was in.  Alexie makes you be in Juniors world as much as you are in his head, almost forces you.  It’s an aggressive book that makes you squirm a little.  Forget any romantic or mystical preconceived notion you may have about modern life for American Indians.  No choice is easy for Junior, to stay on the rez or to go to the white school, to be apart of the tribe and a way of life that may kill him or betray his family, his friend and get out.  As a reader you do not get an easy ride either.  It’s heartbreaking because its a world you can’t completely understand, being an outsider, but you know is real.  Alexie presents many problems and shows there is no right solution, no answers.  It’s devastating a little, but there is hope (see opening line). 

Totally Awesome.  Really cannot recommend this book more.  It’s been added to my list of YA books that should be required reading for adults too.  Awesome. 

There are also illustrations and drawings sprinkled through the book.  Junior is an avid drawer so we get to see some of his cartoons and pictures.  Just like we get to see the picture of his world.

Moody books

A review of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

What I take away from reading most books is how they feel to me.  This is different then how I feel while reading them which can impact my reading.  But much like a particular day can be gloomy, sunny or ordinary, books can leave that same lasting impression.  We also like to call this mood or tone.  The best stories come together when the mood plays a role in the story, almost like another character, but it is almost unseen or subtle. 

I bring this up because How I Live Now totally has a feel.  It’s what brings the story it’s vividness.  The story is fairly simply, a messed up girl gets sent by her family to live with British relatives.  War breaks out leaving Daisy and her cousins to fend for themselves in a changed world.  That simple summary or any other would not give you what the novel is about.  It’s about living in England, its about living in a war, its about love, its about magic, its about survival.  The story doesn’t tell you that directly though. 

The book is written from Daisy’s perspective, almost like a diary and the writing reflects that.  The dialogue is without standard punctuation, which usually annoys me, but works in this case.  It gives the feeling of things being fluid.  Time is also handled in the same manner.  Some events are detailed and very vivid while the rest of time is blended and merged to feel like endless days simply passing like the ones before.  I also appreciate the lack of cookie cutter ending.  I feel one of the greatest disservices YA Lit does is tie up all lose ends or have no ending at all.  This ending is appropriate and fits the story. 

Rosoff also has a sweet looking website which is always awesome.  http://www.megrosoff.co.uk/

Since I’m increasingly using this blog to write reviews I think I should have a rating system right?  So this book gets an Awesome(4 stars) out of a Cool (3 stars) a Whatevs (2 stars) or a Lame (1 star).  If something is bad enough to rate no stars then I won’t waste my time posting about it.  Unless I have some vendetta or grudge against it and I feel like it is ruining Lit as we know it.  I also call this the “want to scratch my eyeballs out” effect.