Saturday, February 28, 2009

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: A Greenwillow Book, HarperTempest, 1993.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1994)

Tough Sarah (who has severe burns all over her hands and face) and doughy, frightened Eric (also called Moby, after another famous whale) have been friends for a long time, mainly because no one else wanted to be friends with them. High school changes everything when Eric starts to shed pounds as a result of joining the swim team and Sarah, who turns out to be not so tough, cracks and winds up in a psychiatric hospital.

A friend said in class the other day that talking to your best friend, at the age of 13, about the death of a parent is dumping so much on a kid, even if that kid is your age, that they can't possibly comprehend. Sarah Byrnes has been avoiding doing that most of her life, protecting her friends and also protecting herself. When the truth finally comes out about why she is in the psychiatric hospital and about her scars, she is more exposed than she has ever been and must learn to trust Eric as well as a small handful of adults that he trusts.

When Eric's best friend, who he was secretly afraid of because she's so tough, stops talking and is committed, his life changes dramatically while not changing at all. He still has to go to school, where he is taking a Contemporary American Thought, a class that erupts into dramatic and emotional debate on an almost daily basis. He still has to go to swim practice, where he and Ellerby are stars plotting to take out their fellow teammate. He still has to deal with his mother's new boyfriend, who is about as interesting as cardboard. He still has to deal with being a high school boy who wants to laugh and eat and joke and crush on girls and not talk nonsense to his best friend, who won't respond and possibly can't hear him, in a mental ward everyday. But he does.

This harrowing (yet hilarious at times) story not only touches on, but addresses so many touchy subjects: weight, image, abuse, abortion, religion, suicide, fault, what it means to be a victim and who can be a hero.

Hard Love

Wittlinger, Ellen. Hard Love. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1999.
[Book cover credit:]

Lambda Literary Awards, Children's/Young Adult (1999)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2000)
Michigan Library Association's Thumbs Up! Award (2000)
Printz Honor (2000)

John has been reading zines for a while, especially Escape Velocity, when he finally decides to publish his own. He stalks, then meets, then gets advice from, then becomes friends with Marisol, Escape Velocity's creator as he becomes further steeped in zine culture.

John has never really been into girls; he's more into writing his zine, Bananafish. He finds inspiration in another zine, Escape Velocity, written by Marisol who he meets while both are dropping their zines off at Tower Records. After these two loners gain each others' trust and become close friends, John realizes he's finally fallen for a girl. And she's a lesbian.

The second book in the series Love & Lies: Marisol's Story is now out in hardback.

Rapunzel's Revenge

Hale, Shannon and Dean Hale. Ills. Nathan Hale. Rapunzel's Revenge. New York: Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2008.

[Book cover credit:]

ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, Fiction (2009)
Booklist's Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth (2009)

On her twelfth birthday, Rapunzel decides that she is ready to see over the great wall that in her villa's garden, even though she has been forbidden to do so by Mother Gothel. On the other side, Rapunzel sees that Mother Gothel terrorizes the land that she rules and uses her subjects as slaves. She also sees her mother. Her real mother. For this Gothel is furious and locks her in a high tree from which Rapunzel is afraid she will never escape.

Who says that Rapunzel must wait in her tower for a prince to come rescue her? In this version of Rapunzel's story, Rapunzel herself is the hero, not only her own but for many others who have suffered under Mother Gothel's tyranny. Part fairytale, part western, part quest, nothing is as expected about Rapunzel's Revenge.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman. Ills. Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2007.[Book cover credit:]
Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2007)
National Book Award, Young People's Literature (2007)
American Indian Youth Literature Award (2008)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2008)
Michigan Library Association's Thumbs Up! Award (2008)
And more!

Infuriated by the state of the reservation high school and desperate to avoid the lack of future that so many of his friends and family members have already succumbed to, Junior makes a bold choice and decides to go to high school off the reservation, in town. As the only Native American attending Rearden High School, Junior, now called Arnold, must reconcile his reservation life at home with his image and friends at school.

Junior, to his family and rez friends, or Arnold, to his friends at his all white, off-rez high school, doesn't take anything seriously. Not the constant ass-whippings he receives at the hands of his former classmates and neighbors, who think he is abandoning the tribe.

Not the fact that he's a basketball star at a school where the only other Indian is the mascot.

Not the fact that the adults in his life are plagued by alcoholism and that his father's best friend died fighting over the last sip in a bottle of wine.
Hiding behind his comics, Arnold or Junior has a lot to deal with and no one who can empathize except his diary. Read it, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, to see what he actually takes seriously.
Images are copyrighted by Ellen Forney and used with permission from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. They are from pages 45, 142 and 170.
Review for adults:
In this, Alexie's first novel for young adults, he cannot quite give up the ghost and talks to us no-longer-young adults directly. It's well hidden in the plot, so you don't have to worry that teen readers will think he's preaching to you or to them.
"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together.
You can do it" (p189).
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a funny, funny book with serious implications about racism, alcoholism, peer pressure and a whole lot of masterbating, which is all well and good. These are things that young adults need to learn about and deal with, and humor is a great way to do it. Adults can also enjoy all of these lessons and laughs and comics, but we should take a good look at the adults in Arnold's life. Be the one who says, "You can do it."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Juvie Three

Korman, Gordon. The Juvie Three. New York: Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

Gecko, Terence and Arjay, all residents of their local juvenile detention centers, are given a second chance at life when Doug Healy comes along. They all move into an apartment in New York together which becomes their own experimental rehabilitation program. When Healy is knocked unconscious and wakes up with amnesia, the guys have to cover it up or go back to juvie.

"Gecko regards Terence in surprise. 'Didn't Healy give you the warning? That he had to fight to get this program going, and the whole thing is kind of a trial run? Mess up, and you go straight back into the system.'" p22

Gecko, Terence and Arjay are fighting for lives that they never thought they would get back. But how can they keep each other in line when they are still the same people who ended up in juvie to begin with?


van Diepen, Allison. Snitch. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007.[Book cover credit:]

When Eric Valiente moves to town, Julia falls for him immediately. She hopes that he's like her, too smart to fall into the gangs that rule their high school. When it turns out that he's not, she steps out of her safety zone of non-participation to protect him. Now she's in up to her neck.

Snitch and you're a punk who better watch her back, right? No matter what. But what if you tell to save someone else? In a world where loyalty is drawn along color lines, not black and white but red and blue, who would you choose? Your friends, your family, your hot new boyfriend? Who would you snitch for?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pretty Monsters

Link, Kelly. Ills. Shaun Tan. Pretty Monsters: Stories. New York: Viking, 2008.[Book cover credit:]
Pretty Monsters is a collection of nine fantastical stories. The settings are drawn from a wide range of times and places, as are the characters, and the creatures you will encounter during your reading include werewolves, undead girlfriends, wizards, faeries and superhero librarians.

With a disclaimer like:
"I know no one is going to believe any of this. That's okay. If I thought you would, then I couldn't tell you. Promise me you won't believe a word" (pgs 141-2).
how can you be shocked by little girls who turn into horses, surfers who can talk to aliens, a superhero librarian who was just killed off on a TV show calling you in real life and asking you to actually steal books from a library in order to save her, or any other array of Pretty Monsters?


Somper, Justin. Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.
[Book cover credit:]

After the death of their father, twins Grace and Connor run away from life in an orphanage or as the pet children of a wealthy banker in their father's boat. They are caught in a storm, capsize, and are rescued separately, Connor by pirates and Grace by the mythical Vampirates.


This book has pirates, vampires, vampires who sail like pirates, and, just so no one feels left out, is set in the year 2505 with vampires who insist on living as if it's still 1920s or earlier. Put that way it sounds like Vampirates must read like a train wreck; to a certain extent, it does. There are so many different elements to the basic premise of this novel that some definitely fall by the wayside. For example, once you read past the page that tells you the year is 2505, it is impossible to tell that you are not being plunked down into another Caribbean pirate story (that still has about a million twists) set whenever our favorite bucchanears usually make an appearance.

Though the many angles of this book can cause some problems, they also allow for many, many entry points into this novel, making it a great choice for reluctant readers. The chapters are also short, and, because they switch back and forth between Connor and Grace's experiences, the reader doesn't have to slog through too much to get to the storyline s/he is really interested in. And, problems aside, these storylines suck you in. As Grace and Connor are distracted from their mirror goals of finding the other by their own circumstances, the reader cannot forget that Grace's special status as a twin is all that keeps her alive and that Connor must succeed in finding her for her to survive. The ending is satisfying on some levels and COMPLETELY UNFINISHED on others, causing me to rush out to find book two of the series (Tide of Terror) as I will most likely run out to find books three and four.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York, HarperCollins, 1999.
[Book cover credit:]

National Book Award Finalist (Young People's Literature, 1999)
A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2000)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2000)
Coretta Scott King Honor (Author, 2000)
Edgar Award Nominee, Young Adult (2000)
Printz Award (2000)
South Carolina Junior Book Award Nominee (2000)

After a man is shot with his own gun during a robbery, Steve is arrested and put on trial for being the lookout for the robbers. This is the story of his trial, written by Steve, as a screenplay.

The alternate format of Monster makes this an impossibly fast read given its almost 300 pages. That said, there is a lot going on in this book. Steve, through his screenplay, shows us an almost objective view of his court case and related flashbacks. His camera and character direction are the only things that betray his bias. This is contrasted with his handwritten journal that he keeps in prison during the trial. The raw fear that he shows in this format cannot help but to color the feeling of the clinical portrayal of the court scenes. The combination is at times chilling.

While we are limited to Steve's perspective of his trial and the events leading up to them, we can see, through him, what the people around him are thinking. This contrast between how we see Steve, frightened and trying to distance himself from the situation, and how the adults involved in his case, including his own defense attorney, see him is the main conflict of the book. This will appeal to many readers, but especially those who have been the victim of prejudices and stereotypes. Steve cannot get away from his young-black-man-from-the-hood image, even if it is placed on him rather than coming from him, which is something that many young readers can unfortunately identify with.

Annie on My Mind

Garden, Nancy. Annie on My Mind. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1982.
[Book cover credit:]

ALA Best Books for Young Adults (1982)
Booklist Reviewers Choice (1982)
School Library Journal's 100 Books that Shaped the Century (2000)
Retro Mock Printz Award (2002)

In 2003, Nancy Garden was also awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement for Annie on My Mind.

After meeting in a museum, Annie and Liza strike a friendship that crosses the boundaries between Liza's private school upbringing and Annie's metal detector, public school reality. When this friendship also crosses the line between friendship and romance, they must figure out how to proceed and who to tell.

"Chad kept kidding me that I was in love, and asking with whom, and then Sally and Walt did, too, and after a while I didn't even mind, because even if they had the wrong idea about it, they were right" (p109).

When Annie and Liza's friendship becomes something more, will they be able to keep if a secret? Will their relationship survive being hidden? More importantly, should it?

The First Part Last

Johnson, Angela. The First Part Last. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2003.
[Book cover credit:]

Printz Award (2004)
Coretta Scott King Award (2004)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2004)
South Carolina Young Adult Book Award Nominee (2005-2006)

Bobby thinks that everything in his life has changed when his girlfriend tells him that she is pregnant. Things really change when his daughter is born as he learns how to be a single father while still being sixteen.

Then Bobby took the subway to Chelsea to hang out at Nia's apartment. Now he makes two subway changes each way to get from his apartment to Feather's babysitter's. Then Bobby lived with his mom who was always away on assignment. Now Bobby lives with his dad because he can't be trusted alone. Then Bobby was the baby in the family. Now Bobby has a baby of his own. To get from then to now, Bobby has to learn The First Part Last.