Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays Everyone!

I hope you're all enjoying this time of year with your family and friends.

I'm enjoying it at the beach. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sorry, guys

I know all the challenge posts in a row suck. I always think that I should really put up challenge posts as I see the challenges so that they're not all going up at once. Then all of a sudden it's almost the end of the year and it all needs to be done! Here's to more organization next year, I guess.

To make up for it, here's some pics I took on my walk into work a few months ago to remind us all what summer was like:

And a couple cat pictures, cause who doesn't love those?

YA Historical Fiction Challenge

I don't read a ton of historical fiction, but I always want to. I'm signing up at Level 1: 5 books, though I'm guessing reading through other participants' reviews will bloat my TBR list.

  1.  Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
  2.  Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  3. Between Shades of Gray by Ruth Sepetys
  4. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  5. Open Wounds by Joe Lunievicz
  6. Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner 
  7. Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

POC Reading Challenge

2011 edition.

Off the Shelf Challenge

I failed miserably at a similar challenge last year, but this year I'm committed! Again, I'm going to try to read at least 50 books from my own bookshelves and the TBR piles towering in my office. This puts me in the "On a Roll" challenge level. Hopefully that name fits once I start going...

I want to start by focusing on the YA/MG titles I purchased in 2010, but this might be a good excuse to get to all of that adult fiction I've been hoarding for years as well!

Debut Author Challenge

This challenge is a first for me. The objective is to read at least 12 books by 2011 YA debut authors.

  1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
  2. I Am J by Cris Beam (YA debut)
  3. Open Wounds by Joe Lunievicz
  4. Dead Rules by Randy Russell (YA debut)
  5. Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
  6. Dark Parties by Sara Grant
  7. Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A.J. Hartley (MG/YA debut)

GLBT Challenge

Once again, I will be participating in the GLBT Challenge. This year there are no levels of participation, but I'm hoping to read and review at least 12 books that positively portray GLBTQ folks.

  1.  Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
  2.  I Am J by Cris Beam
  3.  The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  4.  Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
  5. Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Fisher, Catherine. Sapphique. New York: Dial Books - Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2010. Print. Incarceron 2.
[Book cover credit:]

If you haven't yet read Incarceron, what are you waiting for? ;) Also, don't read this. It will spoil it for you.

The Warden's final little stunt destroyed the portal to Incarceron, trapping not only himself but also Keiro and Attia in its depths. As much as Finn would like every waking moment to be spent working on their release, there are bigger things for he, Jared, and Claudia to worry about. Finn's lack of courtly manners and, you know, memory of his life as Prince Giles is really starting to work against them. And when a young man who is indistinguishable from Finn physically but clearly bred to eat from a silver spoon comes to court claiming to be the long-lost Giles, it could be death of them all, in Incarceron or Out.

It took more self-control than I knew I had not to tear into this book as soon as I got it. I wanted to reread the first book so I could pick up all the little things that I was sure would pop up again in this sequel. I suggest you all do the same. Fisher writes a very intricate story, and it definitely builds on little clues left behind in the first book. Still, I don't think Sapphique quite lived up to its prequel. Or maybe it just didn't live up to all the hype I'd built up for it in my head. I loved the way I was plopped into the middle of all the characters lives again rather than having the book pick up right where the previous one left off. I really liked that there were so many little clues in the text to lead the reader to what is Really Going On Here. I loved that this book, the end of the Incarceron series (pairing?), was still full of twists right up to the very end. I still loved most of the characters (though not necessarily the same ones I loved in the last book, a fact I also loved). But there was just something missing. I didn't stay up until 4 in the morning to finish Sapphique. I took a leisurely week to read it.

Though the narration still switches between life in the Realm and life in Incarceron, a lot of Sapphique follows Claudia, Finn and Jared in the Realm. Which is what I wanted! I know! But life at court rather than at the Wardenry or with the peasants is pretty boring. And Claudia and Finn both annoyed me. A lot. They're both beyond frustrated at Finn's lack of memory and this frustration manifests itself as doubt on Claudia's part and severe moodiness on Finn's. Neither were the strong and/or sure of themselves leaders that we met in Incarceron. The change in them was totally believable; I just didn't love them as much as I used to.

BUT with all the focus on life Outside, Sapphique does treat us to more insight into living life by Protocol, including a short trip to a peasant village:
She [Claudia] shivered. "You should glass the windows. The draft is terrible."

The old man laughed, pouring out thin ale. "But that wouldn't be Protocol, would it? And we must abide by the Protocol, even as it kills us."

"There are ways around it," Finn said softly.

"Not for us." He pushed the pottery cups toward them. "For the Queen maybe, because them that make the rules can break them, but not for the poor. Era is no pretense for us, no playing at the past with all its edges softened. It's real. We have no skinwands, lad, none of the precious electricity or plastiglas. The picturesque squalor the Queen likes to ride past is where we live. You play at history. We endure it."
Throughout the book Claudia is served revelations such as this. It also becomes obvious that though she is kind and more educated than she should be considering Protocol in general and her gender class in it, she has no idea how to interact with people outside of the roles of master and servant, and everyone who is not her master is her potential servant. If Finn gained anything from living in Incarceron (besides his BFF Keiro), it's that he knows what it is to go without, to live a meager existence, to just try to survive. Even as Claudia doubts more and more whether Finn is actually Giles, it becomes clear (to me, not necessarily to the characters) that Finn will be a wonderful king if/when they get rid of the witchy Queen.

Speaking of the witchy Queen, one of the characters that I loved the most was her son Casper. I know, he's horrible in Incarceron and he comes nowhere near making the switch to "good guy" in Sapphique, but I still loved him. He seemed so lost a lot of the time. You can tell that he really grew up living in the dual shadows of his Queenly mother and Princely half-brother. When Giles comes back, whether anyone believes Finn is the real Giles or not, Casper is left being the younger prince again. The spare. I felt so bad for him, still hanging around Claudia throughout this book even though it's always been clear she has no interest in him. He kept trying to win her back with promises of power and safety, things Finn/Giles couldn't offer her, but rather than coming off as evil and manipulative, he seemed like an unpopular rich kid who buys everyone in his class presents so they'll come to his birthday party.

And then there's Keiro and Attia still in Incarceron following yet another legend of Sapphique, looking for a way out. I liked their storyline a lot, but there was little to no character development in it. It was like Fisher knew she needed danger and action to keep readers interested in between all the palace intrigue in the Realm, so she foisted it all on the two of them. But it's the two of them who manage to pull everything together in the end (I'm being generous because I LOVE Keiro; Attia's the real smartypants in this volume).

Sapphique is a must-read if you are a lover of Incarceron. It's not the thrill ride that the first book was, but questions are answered, loose ends are tied up, and maybe, just maybe, things are allowed to change.

Sapphique will be out in hardback on the 28th!
You know, before you blow all your hard-earned Christmas money. ;)

Also, I would be a bad blogger if I didn't point out that last week Taylor Lautner (yes, that Taylor Lautner) was announced as The Guy Who Will Play Finn in the movie adaptation. I just hope Hollywood wises up and listens to the FYA ladies when casting the Warden.

Book source: ARC picked up at ALA

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Fisher, Catherine. Incarceron. New York: Dial Books - Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2010. Print. Incarceron 1.
[Book cover credit:]

Cybils Finalist - Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction (2007)

Finn lives in an vast and inescapable prison. All the unwanted riff-raff of society, the murders, thieves, predators, and other criminals, were once permanently locked away. This prison was supposed to be a paradise where the lowest of society could start over and make things right. But things did not work out as planned. The prison, Incarceron, is a sentient hell-hole where fear, treachery, and hunger rein. And its boundaries have been breached. The prisoners live on the hope left by the legends of Sapphique, a man who is said to have escaped, and Finn, who is thought to have been born of the prison rather than of its prisoners, remembers bits and pieces of a life Outside. With the help of a Sapient, a learned man, he hopes to escape back to the life he thinks he remembers. He remembers the stars.

The world Claudia lives in is based on some fond remembering of the Victorian Era. Everything has been altered to artificially represent this bygone and romanticized time when things were simpler, safer, and more ordered, at least from the point of view of the rich. Everyone, privileged or not, is left chaffing in a world that society has long since outgrown. But like most things in her world, underneath her image, Claudia is decidedly non-Era. She's smart, educated, and wants to know more than she's allowed. As she hurtles towards her wedding to the heir of the throne, she snoops on her father, the Warden of Incarceron. And she finds a key.

I devoured this book. Twice. The pacing, the storyline, the characters, it all fell into place for me. A lot of the time I think that two simultaneous story lines (as opposed to alternating viewpoints of the same action) make it easy for either or both stories to get away with being a bit under-developed. That's not the case here. Both Finn and Claudia's stories are complex, and the points where they come together are intense. The difference between Claudia's life and Finn's is so stark. Claudia and Finn's disbelief at discovering the other (and realizing how the other must live) is genuine. It also allows for a lot of explanation without a lot of info-dumping. And Fisher uses the alternating viewpoints to create a million mini-cliffhangers throughout the text.

Finn's whole storyline is so urgent. His only certainty is that whatever unknown is around the corner is probably life-threatening. He can't even be sure that his memories of Outside, which come to him during seizures, are real or really his. But Finn is surrounded by friends, or at least by people who need him, like his oathbrother Keiro. Finn and Keiro's relationship is one of my favorite parts of his world. It's complicated and not always all that honest, but they clearly care about each other a lot. And even though their circumstances are over-the-top horrible, they manage to maintain a normal-ish friendship: the kind where a searing punch to the gut can mean "I forgive you."

The society that Claudia lives in is based on the Victorian Era, but this is no revisionist history. The people who put Protocol and Era in place are trying to recreate, not re-remember, that time. They aren't creating an idealized version so much as trying to return to the way things were. Exactly as they were: no technology, widespread healthcare, or women in pants. No indoor plumbing. But in reality they should be much more advanced in all of these areas than we are now. Because of this, the spread between the haves and the have-nots, already extreme in Victorian times, is even more obscene. The have-nots must live like their 19th century counterparts; they don't have the means to change anything. People like Claudia, on the other hand, can use a myriad of technologies to make their lives easier ranging from washing machines for their fine silks to laser skinwands for their wrinkles. They just have to look like they're living within Protocol; they have to make a pretense of not wanting to get caught. Even though most of the heart-pounding action happens inside Incarceron, it's Claudia's world that fascinated me. Hopefully the next book, Sapphique (which I'll review next week), will delve deeper into the technology (and lack thereof) and culture of her world.

Incarceron is deeper and more complicated than I expected (and less steampunk-y than the cover would suggest). I highly recommend it!

Also, Incarceron is already being developed as a movie (2013 projected release) and the sequel is coming out at the end of this month.

Book source: I bought it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monsters of Men

Ness, Patrick. Monsters of Men. Somerville, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2010. Print. Chaos Walking 3.
[Book cover credit:]

As I've said before, Ness doesn't do nice little catch-up spots in the openings of his book, and all his books end on HUGE CLIFFHANGERS (even, to some extent, this one). So, while I have tried to avoid them at all costs, this review has some spoilers for the previous two books. Don't read this if you haven't already read The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer. But really, if you haven't started reading this trilogy, you should. The entire thing is heart-wrenchingly wonderful (though pretty freaking violent).

"And what other kind of man would you want leading you into battle?" he [the Mayor] says, reading my Noise. "What kind of man is suitable for war?"
A monster, I think, remembering what Ben told me once. War makes monsters of men.
"Wrong," says the Mayor. "It's war that makes us men in the first place. Until there's war, we are only children."

Monsters of men, I think. And women.

Reading this book is like getting punched in the stomach. In a good way. And if I learned anything from Monsters of Men, it is that there is, in fact, a good way. It's basically when you're keeping someone else from getting decked, or when you're getting pummelled to protect the one you love.

Monsters of Men was the most satisfying end to a series or trilogy that I've read in a long time. A really long time. Like the previous books, the plot runs at a breakneck pace that left me breathless, and it covers a lot of ground. Coming into the book I couldn't have even imagined things that happened in the middle, let alone how it would end. There are a lot of loose ends that are tied up over the course of the book, but ending is not finite. I don't think Ness will be writing another book in this world or with these characters anytime soon (ever), but the ending is open to possibility and to the imagination of the reader. This book is full of passion, action, and general umph.

I know I'm being really vague, but I think the best way to read these books is to go in blind.

And, word to the wise, it can reduce just about anyone to a sobbing mess. There were a few moments in the beginning that had me looking out the train window and blinking a lot during my commute, but the real stuff is saved for the end. I wouldn't advise that anyone read beyond page 400 or so outside of the comfort of their own home. We're talking hug the book, can't see through the tears crying for the last 100 pages. But oh-so-good!

Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Book 2: The Ask and the Answer
Book source: Philly Free Library

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Invented Life

Bjorkman, Lauren. My Invented Life. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Roz and Eva have always been best friends as well as sisters. Secrets, giggles, pillow fights, the works. Sure, Roz has always lived in Eva's shadow, but it's an impressive shadow so she doesn't mind too much. That was before Eva removed Roz from her life. Now, PD (Post Deletion), Eva is doing a pretty good job of pretending Roz doesn't exist, and Roz thinks she knows why. Eva MUST be a lesbian and she MUST be terrified of coming out. Even though Eva is being horrible to Roz, she wants to do something nice for her, to help her. So Roz pretends to be a lesbian and comes out at school, both to show Eva how it's done and to snag a bit of that spotlight for herself.

I checked out My Invented Life after reading Libyrinth and being overjoyed at reading about a queer character with friendS. It seems like such a simple thing, to give a queer character more than one friend and/or a friend who is NOT another queer character of the opposite sex so that none of the real life problems of one-sided-lovey feelings between friends get in the way of the story arc. My Invented Life was suggested (by the awesome MissAttitude) as another book featuring queer teens with (gasp) friends of both sexes and multiple sexualities. On that basis alone, this book is already a win!

My Invented Life is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," but instead of mistaken genders, we have mistaken sexualities. In case you don't get that similarity right away, the characters are also auditioning and rehearsing for a school showing of the play. Much of the book takes place in the big barn behind the school where the theatre geeks hang out and practice. The characterizations of the drama club crowd are pitch-perfect. The major players range from Eva, popular cheerleader who always gets the lead, to Eyeliner Andie, the showy goth chick with the super-skinny, shy boy toy. Amazingly, up until Roz decides to pretend to be queer, there doesn't appear to be any other non-hetero folks in the group.

Right before auditions, this tight-knit group (which also includes Roz and her arch-nemesis Carmen) is joined by the drama teacher's nephew, Jonathon. He's new (read: automatically crush-worthy for most of the group), has done something that has gotten him kicked out of his parents house (mysterious bad boy with a serious chip on his shoulder), and African-American (a fact which seems to surprise only Roz). Roz lays claim to him on the basis that he's her next door neighbor, she's the drama teacher's favorite, and she could use a friend. Coming out does not go as she hoped. She gets attention, RoZ iZ a leZ on the bathroom wall, but not the outpouring of love and support she was hoping for:
"None of my friends hugged me, not even once." We theater geeks touch a lot -- hug, polka around the room, and smoosh cheeks together for pictures. ..."They probably though I would fondle their breasts."
So Roz starts a campaign to educate her classmates about the Kinsey Scale and to make them accept her as a lesbian. For Eva's sake, of course. Even though Eva still won't admit that she's queer (no matter how much Roz tactlessly badgers her about it), Roz keeps up the facade. She and Eva begin to bond again over The L Report (Roz's nightly updates on her "experiment" with lesbianism), Roz gains some new friends (including Jonathon and Eyeliner Andie) and a new understanding of what all those people online mean when they say "sexuality is fluid," and secrets come out of the woodwork and from all directions.

This is a cute story with an engaging and memorable cast of characters and a predictably happy ending (if you're familiar with "As You Like It"). It's also a great book about being the only "one" in a crowd, whether by "one" you mean POC, queer, poor kid, goth, whatever.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Avalanche Dance

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Schwartz, Ellen. Avalanche Dance. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Gwen has always been a dancer, flitting about through her childhood making up movements. She's always known that she will always be a dancer, but her dream is to become a choreographer. The three-week Dancemakers workshop in the city would give her everything she'd need to realize that dream. But it's expensive and it's far away from the tiny mountain town that she lives in with her family. Her father doesn't want her to go. When their argument about the workshop is cut short by a late spring avalanche, Gwen could lose so much more than her dream to be a choreographer. She could lose the ability to dance, or even walk, at all. And she could lose her father.

Following the avalanche, Gwen isolates herself entirely. She feels responsible, and she doesn't feel like she can tell anyone. This is partly because she's had a major falling out with her best friend (of forever), Molly, over Molly's new found fascination with alcohol and pot (and yes, these are 13yr olds).

Even though there are some more mature issues brought up in this book, particularly the drinking and substance abuse, Avalanche Dance never lost that tweener feel. Though both girls are dealing with things that they shouldn't have to deal with until they are older (the possible loss of a parent, drug abuse), they both still handle it like the 13 year olds that they are. That said, this is not a book for every 9-12 year old. The parties Molly attends are important to the story and her actions there are described in detail. And her post-Gwen friends are much more hard-core than she is. But more than Molly's actions (which are never portrayed preachily), the way that Gwen links her own actions to her father's injuries might be too much for some younger readers. Knowing very little about avalanches, it was very easy for me to think, like Gwen, that if she hadn't argued with her father, they both would have made it home from their impromptu ski trip just fine.* Clearly the way that Gwen deals with these feelings of guilt is not ideal, but I completely understood why she felt the way that she did. The cause and effect is so much more believable than your average misplaced guilt about a parents’ divorce or something similar.

Told in their alternating viewpoints, Avalanche Dance is really about Gwen and Molly’s relationship to each other. Throughout the book, both Molly and Gwen reflect on the relationship that they used to have, how it fell apart, and how much (if they'd only admit it) they miss it. When Molly is sentenced to community service, to be served at Gwen's house, the two are forced to face each other and their problems. This is the real the meat of the story. Molly can see that Gwen is dying inside and Gwen, though still hurt, is very protective of Molly. Even though their friendship is mostly seen in the girls’ memories, this qualifies as another great girl friendship book. Even when neither wants to talk to the other, I loved the way that they miss and worry about each other.

For the readers who want a book about a dancer:
I always go into fiction books and movies about dancers very warily,** especially those about kids and teens dancing. I'm not delusional enough to think that my experiences as a very committed young dancer are the only experiences that are authentic, but I'm always worried that something will be said or portrayed in a way that will ring so untrue to me that I won't be able to let it go. Things as small as how the ribbons on shoes are tied have ruined what are probably very good stories for me. I braced myself to read Avalanche Dance, waiting as I was reading for something to go wrong. Nothing did. Instead, I was sucked into Gwen's story and Gwen's life.

The way that she dances, with her whole self, and the way she feels about dance, like it is her life force, felt very real to me. They way she grieves over it when she thinks she has to put it aside, also felt heartbreakingly authentic. For example, after Gwen experiences debilitating, but unexplained, pain in her leg, she cuts her hair:
Gwen picked up the scissor. She lifted a hank of hair. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she cut. A clump of hair fell into the sink. She lifted the next piece of hair.
I remember that feeling from the first time I got my hair cut without explaining to the hairdresser that my hair needed to be able to be gathered into a ponytail with enough left over to attach a hair piece. It was terrifying. It was also a life changing moment for me: I was no longer a dancer. It's the same for Gwen; that haircut is her proof. But Gwen's story does have an uplifting end. And though Molly is eventually the one who saves her, it's dancing that brings her completely back to herself in the end.

Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

*Disney has taught me, hopefully among other folks, that yelling on the side of a snowy mountain has clear and immediate consequences.

**That new Black Swan movie? It looks awesome and I'm definitely going to see it, but I'll be watching all the dancing scenes through my fingers. I mean, Natalie Portman as a ballerina I can almost accept (she carries herself well), but how will she do the dancing scenes? They're going to use a double, right? And what about Winona Ryder and Mila Kunis?!? The queens of the all-time slouchers? Are they kidding? They couldn't find any ACTUAL dancers who want to make a break into the movie biz? Really?

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Cranberry sauce1

I hope you are all enjoying a happy day with your family and friends. 
May you have much to be thankful for.

Image By Rick Kimpel from Spring, TX, USA 
(cranberry sauce) 
[CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], 
via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Buddha Boy

Koja, Kathe. Buddha Boy. New York: Frances Foster Books - Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

BCCB Blue Ribbon Book (2003)
Book Sense Summer Pick Teen Readers (2003)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2004)
ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults - Religion: Relationship with the Divine (2007)

"What is that?" from Megan in her usual drama-queen way: but it was a sight, really, this skinny bald-headed kid in a size million T-shirt, backpack humped and lumpy as a turtle's shell, making his way across the cafeteria like a rabbit crossing the freeway: this way, that way, looking all around. "An exchange student? From Mars?"
But Jinsen is no alien. He's just a new kid with an outlook on life that differs from everyone else at Rucher High. Associating with Jinsen, quickly dubbed "Buddha Boy," would be social suicide, which is why Justin is dreading their new group assignment, the one that requires him to meet Jinsen at his house after school. But  Justin and Jinsen have more in common than they think and, social suicide or not, Justin finds himself standing up for Jinsen, even when he won't stand up for himself.

Buddha Boy reminded me a lot of What Happened to Lani Garver. It has that same feeling of hurtling towards disaster running along in the backgroun of the whole thing. In the forefront, however, there is a great story about Jinsen and Justin. Jinsen seems not to care what anyone thinks of or does to him. Good thing, too, since he dresses, looks and acts odd, none of which gets him a bunch of friends. He practically invites kids to bully him when he starts to beg for lunch money in the cafeteria. Most of the kids do just that, either actively by throwing pennies or worse or passively by ignoring Jinsen altogether. Justin, instead, asks him why he's different.

The two boys have more in common than Justin had originally thought; they are both artists. Koja's use of language, especially when describing the boys' artwork, is beautiful. You can really see the works of art that Justin and Jinsen are creating as you're reading. Stemming from that, the rest of the book is simply lyrical. The story, even though it is set in a contemporary high school and deals with some pointedly cruel bullying, has the far away feel of a fairytale. Justin tells this story and it somehow manages to feel like it's happening in the present tense and like it's already happened at the same time. Regardless of the subject matter, it's beautiful. When you add Jinsen's attitude and actions, and the way he affects and changes Justin, the whole thing is really breathtaking.

I only had one complaint, and it's not exactly a deal-breaker. During the course of Justin and Jinsen's growing friendship, Jinsen explains a few things about Buddhism, but mostly smiles and lets Justin figure things out for himself. Jinsen lives by example. This is great and fits well with his reaction to the bullying in the story, but I did wish every once in a while that Jinsen would give a straight answer to Justin's questions. There doesn't seem to be a lot of young adult fiction dealing with Buddhism,* so it would have been nice for this one to be a bit more informative.

I loved Koja's writing and have since picked up a few of her adult books from the library just to get more of it (in addition to special ordering Under the Poppy).

Book source: Philly Free Library

*Or at least I couldn't find very many. I really wish librarything or goodreads allowed boolean searching...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Five Flavors of Dumb

John, Antony. Five Flavors of Dumb. New York: Dial Books - The Penguin Group, 2010. Print
[Book cover credit:]

Schneider Family Book Award, Teen (2011)

Have you ever had one of those moments where you fly off the handle a little and tell everyone just how dumb they are, how they're doing everything wrong, and how you could do it better? Piper has. But instead of being told to shove it after telling off the lead singer of Dumb, the most recent winner of a Battle of the Bands competition no one's ever heard of, she's offered the position of band manager. Now Piper, who knows nothing of rock music having lost most of her hearing at an early age, is in charge of promoting and controlling the bands' members, so different that they amount to Five Flavors of Dumb.

I've known more than my share of garage bands and "artistic" types in my life (Hi guys!), and I loved how John showed off the different types of high school musicians (I'd say stereotypes, but these folks are real, dude). First there is Will, the bass player. Like all bass players, he's an enigma unto himself. There's Tasha, the angry grrl guitar player who is in love with Will. Ed, a classical musician, plays the drums and basically adds the stability of years of musical training to the group. Kallie's hot. Girls want to be her and guys want to do her, and every band needs someone like that, right? And then there's Josh, the lead singer. He's all ego and jumping around and hogging the spotlight. And wanting to do Kallie. He also hires Piper, who is in way over her head, in the hopes of getting a paying gig for the band.

John could have made that set-up a whole book in and of itself, albeit a much less satisfying one. Instead of being a book all about the band, this is a book all about how Piper deals with them. But it's also a book about Piper and her life at school and at home. Woven through her parents reactions to Dumb are Piper's reactions to her family. Her maternal grandparents (now deceased) were both deaf and very into deaf culture. They instilled a sense of pride in Piper, along with the sense that she has the ability to do anything she wants to do regardless of her lack of hearing. Piper's mother and brother are both fluent in ASL (American Sign Language), but her father does not sign at all. Her infant sister was born deaf. In her, Piper saw a kind of ally. Or, she did until her parents raided Piper's college fund to get her sister a cochlear implant (a surgically implanted device that can restore hearing to severely deaf persons). Betrayal and closing doors all in one. She hopes Dumb will be her ticket out of town and to the college of her dreams.

The juxtaposition of why Dumb's different members, Piper included, are in the band, money, fame, the music (said very seriously), and various crushes on other band members, cause problems. All the band drama keeps this from turning into a problem novel about a moderately severe deaf girl in a hearing family and high school. Though the fact that Piper is deaf comes up over and over and over again in her dealings with various people in the music business as well as with the band itself (and, sadly, her family), it is never Piper's defining characteristic, just as Kallie's skin color is never hers (though she is proud of her mother's self-proclaimed status as "the first African American to go grunge" (p160)*).

The best part about Five Flavors of Dumb really is Piper herself. She has such a strong voice, sense of herself, and talent for sarcasm. I also loved her developing relationship with the girls of Dumb, Tasha and Kallie. I LOVE great girl friendship books, and by the end this one totally fit the bill. And watching Piper's rock music education was fabulous (the Seattle setting helped a bit). I grew up listening to Hendrix and other musicians of that era (thanks Dad), and I was in middle school and just getting into Nirvana when Kurt Cobain killed himself (thanks Johanna). I can't imagine coming to these musicians as a senior in high school. Seeing them through Piper and the rest of Dumb was like "meeting" them all over again.

Five Flavors of Dumb came out earlier this month!

Book source: ARC picked up at ALA

*Quotes and page numbers are from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lost Hero - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Riordan, Rick. The Lost Hero. New York: Disney - Hyperion Books for Children, 2010. Print. The Heroes of Olympus 1.
[Book cover credit:]

Camp Half-Blood is packed, even in the winter. With the addition of new cabins for all the minor gods' children and everyone being claimed by the time they're 13, there are a ton more Heroes roaming around. But things still aren't going swimmingly. Zeus has closed Olympus and is not allowing the gods to talk to their mortal children. Artemis, even, is cut off from her huntresses. And Percy's missing. No matter where Rachel's predictions send Annabeth looking, she can't find him.

But this story isn't about all that, not really. It's about Piper, Leo and Jason. Three half-bloods with special gifts: Piper can convince anyone to do just about anything, Leo is amazingly good with his hands and can make an engine out of just about anything, and Jason, well, at the moment Jason can't remember anything. They've been hidden away at a school for delinquents, all unclaimed even though they're well beyond 13, but chosen by the gods since birth for what they must do now.

The Lost Hero totally fulfilled all my wishes and desires for it. It's still Camp Half-Blood (even if Chiron is especially cranky and unhelpful in this go-round), but it's not just more of the same. We're not so far into the future that Percy and Annabeth are former legends, nor are we so close to the end of the last Percy book that we have to sit around and watch them make out all the time. They're not even main characters in this story, just cameo characters. The addition of the children of all the minor gods makes everything a bit more hectic and crowded and crazy, but the explanations of the various gods and their traits are still there. Not only do we get Piper, Leo and Jason as new characters, but there are a bunch of new potentially important folks back at camp as well. And (this is a bit spoilery, so highlight to read) San Francisco was never really evil! But that last one is probably only important to me.

I couldn't have asked for more, and I doubt other fans of the Percy Jackson books could either.

The Lost Hero is told from the perspectives of Piper, Leo and Jason. While they all kind of sound alike (see my criticism of the alternative viewpoints in Riordan's The Red Pyramid), I never got them mixed up during the story. This may be more because of what is going on in each of their heads rather than distinction of voice. Even though they're all on the same quest and living through the same adventures/dangers, they're not remotely going through the same things. Each of their lives really has been leading up to this quest and they're just now starting to figure out how. Piper is going through all kinds of internal torment because she has been basically told that she'll double-cross the other two (not to mention that all her memories of Jason, who she thought was her boyfriend, are probably a product of some super-potent Mist). Leo is seeing his former babysitter Tia Callida (who encouraged playing with both fire and knives) and is figuring out connections between her, the weird circumstances surrounding his mother's death, and the prophecy he, Piper and Jason are meant to be fulfilling. And poor Jason. He's just trying to grasp hold of his memories: the ones that allow him to be a top-notch fighter, the ones that bring the gods' Roman rather than Greek names to his lips, and the ones that rumble in the back of his mind with every mention of the Titan War.

It's a bit more complicated, a bit more multi-layered, and a bit longer than the Percy books. But then, the characters (and the original Percy fans) are also a bit older. New readers will fare just fine without having read the Percy books (so far), but I have a feeling that won't be the case for much longer. And Percy fans will love the continuation of the Camp Half-Blood story.

Also of note: Leo is Latino and Piper is of Cherokee descent. Leo (very) occasionally uses Spanish words, especially in his memories. Piper reflects on her grandfather's life on the reservation as opposed to the life she's lived in California (her dad's a famous actor). She also bristles at the term "Half-Blood" upon reaching camp (though there is no examination or explanation of why that term bothers her in the text). Riordan doesn't make a big deal about the ethnicities of any of the characters (at least not the mortal half of their ethnicity...), but he still manages to make it matter.

Book source: Philly Free Library where I started out 27th in line for this title a week before its release. :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I'm baaack

I didn’t get to as many of the “grown-up” books as I wanted to during my time away. But that’s okay, because I’ve been reading library books!

I realized during my break that lately I’ve been reading books that I feel obligated to read rather than books I want to read. Sometimes these two categories overlap, such as with ExtraordinaryPenny Dreadful, The Mockingbirds, Nightshade City, and The Kneebone Boy, just to name a few. But basically, I’ve been reading a bunch of ARCs. Don’t get me wrong, I love ARCs and I’m grateful for all the ARCs and review copies that come my way. But since ALA, where I picked up BAGS of ARCs and passed out my card to more publishers and publicists than I can remember, I feel like I’ve been drowning in them.

And I don’t even have that many.

But I’ve still been feeling very burnt out on this whole reading boatloads of YA/MG books and writing reviews of them. By giving myself a break from the pile of books I feel like I need to read, I realized that I do still really want to read YA/MG books and I still have a lot to say about them. I just want to pick what I read and when I’m going to read it! So, from a personal standpoint, I’m going to be more particular about what titles I accept for review, even if that means I’m removed from a few people’s pub lists. I’m tired of feeling bogged down by my blog.

From a more “professional,” or at least "blog goals" standpoint, I’m going to be more picky about what I review because I feel like I’ve moved away from what I wanted to do with my blog in the first place, that is to highlight YA/MG books featuring or written by POC and/or positively portraying members of the LGBTQ community. Looking over what I’ve reviewed since ALA, you wouldn’t know that’s supposed to be my focus. Brought to my attention by MissAttitude and further explained by Zetta and the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center), the publishing statistics for books written by and/or about POC are abysmally low. According to the CCBC numbers, if you add the number of books written by POC to the number of books written about POC (and in reality there is most likely overlap with those numbers), 18% of books for young people are written by or about POC. If the pile o’books I picked up at ALA is any kind of a representative sample, that statistic is a bit high. In the last three months I've read and reviewed a total of three books where the main character is not white, and only one book that positively portrays members of the LGBTQ community (something that is not tracked by the CCBC). It makes me sad.

But, as the title of this post says, I'm back. Back from my blog break and back from a stint of reading what is handed to me rather than what is calling to me from the library or my TBR pile.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween

 (Me and my bestie circa 1999)

Happy Halloween Everyone!

I know it's tomorrow, but the kids in my neighborhood are making the rounds tonight.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Not only do you get to dress up in some amazing outfit that you'd never be able to wear otherwise, but Halloween means it's only a week until my birthday!

In honor of my anticipated post-Halloween candy coma and my birthday, I'm taking a little break. I'm going to spend the next two weeks hitting all the post-Halloween candy sales so I have something to munch while reading The Rebels of Ireland (so I can finally mail it to my dad as promised months ago), Russell Brand's memoir, and maybe even the last third of War and Peace. It's okay, I laughed a little at that last one too.

You should spend the next two weeks doing the following:
  • NOT forgetting about The Mockingbirds and Five Flavors of Dumb (I'll review it when I get back) which come out on the 2nd and 11th, respectively,
  • VOTING, if you're in the States and of age, of course,
  • and trying to beat me to the sales of leftover candy!
See you all in a couple weeks!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tombstone Tea

Dahme, Joanne. Tombstone Tea. Philadelphia: Running Press Teens - Running Press Book Publishers, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Jenny loves her daughter, Amy, and would do and has done anything and everything for her. This will never change. Even after they are separated by Amy's death. Even years after Jenny has died herself, hoping for a reunion beyond the grave. When Jessie walks into Laurel Hill Cemetery and bumps into the metal angel over Amy's tombstone, Jenny knows she can use Jessie's life force to bring Amy's spirit back to her. After all, a mother's love is eternal.

Tombstone Tea alternates (in huge chunks) between shortly after Amy's death and Jessie's modern day experiences in the cemetery. We don't quite learn what really happened between Jenny and her daughter at the same time that we watch Jenny try to use Jessie for her otherworldly purposes, but the two stories still run alongside each other with Paul as a connection and guide for each. His role as a spiritualist in the early 1900's is an interesting one that I wish had been looked at more closely. But even without any explanation of the spiritualist movement, it's clear from the start that Paul's connection to the dead is both important and powerful. Not until almost the end of the book do we see how much it altered his life.

For me, the characters, not the two storylines, were the strength of Tombstone Tea. Paul and the other ghosts Jessie meets in Laurel Hill Cemetery are well-done and manage to convey the weirdness of finding oneself a ghost as well as the history of their former, living selves without detracting from the story. It's very Graveyard Book, especially since all of them, save Jenny, are almost completely non-threatening. And Jenny? She is deliciously creepy, obsessive and dangerous, both in life and after it. She is not, however, enough to ratchet this book's scary points up to the "horror" level. Though there are scary moments, the whole thing is much more paranormal, creepy, spiritualist, if you will, than downright scary. It is still a great Halloween read, especially if you're fascinated by the Victorians' fascination with death and the beautiful cemeteries they created.

There was one thing this book was missing that I noticed right from the start: an author's note about the real Laurel Hill Cemetery. If I didn't live in so nearby in Philly and have a sister who really likes visiting cemeteries and a girlfriend who really likes taking pictures of weird things (Jessie's dad calls Laurel Hill a "magnificent outdoor sculpture garden" (16) and he is so right), I wouldn't know that this book is set in a real place. This is a real shame for a lot of different reasons, first of which is the fact that the main historical ghosts in the story were also real people that are actually buried in Laurel Hill (except Paul, of course, for whom there is no record in real life or the book). The spooky reason being that Laurel Hill hosts a lot of events throughout the year including one called Dining with the Dead, which is happening tonight. Eerily close to a Tombstone Tea, don't you think?

Book source: Philly Free Library

Monday, October 25, 2010

Personal Demons

Desrochers, Lisa. Personal Demons. New York: Tor, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Booktalk (kind of):
I want to think of something clever and interesting to sum up the plot of the book and get you interested, and I almost never use the jacket copy or internet summaries, but what it says right on the cover is just too good to pass up:
If you had to choose between Heaven and Hell, which would it be?

...Are you sure about that?
Awesome, yes? But in order to give you a little more info about the set-up, I'll try again:

Frannie Cavanaugh is a pretty average girl: one of 5 sisters all (really) named Mary, kicked out of Catholic school, expert in Judo. Like I said, pretty average. Until Luc shows up, shortly followed by Gabe. Two new guys at school, one smolderingly hot and sexy, the other the real life embodiment of what Calvin Klein was trying to do with all those blond male models in tighty-whiteys. And both seemingly enamored of Frannie and determined to win her for his own. But this is no (un)friendly rivalry or game to get the girl. Luc and Gabe are battling each other to win Frannie to their side, and who she picks may determine the fate of the world.

Look at that cover and then look at my little blurb again. It seems like Personal Demons could be an overly dramatic teenage bodice-ripper involving "heavenly bodies" with "hellish consequences" (it's a euphemism if it's in quotes) among other things. It's not. True, there are some Very Big Things going on here, and the potential to be over the top about it is high, but Desrochers manages to make this story focus on Frannie and her inner turmoil about these two guys who suddenly want her, her unwillingness to let people in, and her discomfort around religion in general.

Told in alternating points of view, Frannie and Luc's, Personal Demons is not only really damn steamy, it's also a refreshing look at the start of a relationship. In YA lit, it seems that we're always treated to the girl side of the equation, and more often than not, that girl is insecure about where the relationship is going. We get that here, and Frannie certainly has a LOT to be worried and insecure about with Luc, but we also get the other side. The parts of the book from Luc's point of view were my favorite. Not only has he had centuries to perfect his wit, making him both funny and insightful,* but he's also just as insecure as Frannie. She's supposed to be his mark; he's been sent from the depths of Hell to tag her soul for eternity. He is knocked on his butt by his genuine attraction to and feelings for Frannie. I love seeing a guy in YA go all googly eyed (without turning stalker or otherwise creepy) over a girl...even if this guy is a demon.

There is so much else that Personal Demons has going for it. I don't want to make this unreadable long, so I'll try to just touch on a few other points of greatness here:
  • Frannie has awesome friends who threaten to beat up Luc if he messes with her. 
  • Frannie has hilarious sisters (all named Mary) who aren't so fleshed out that they crowd the story, but are all there and manage to be supportive anyway.
  • Frannie's Grandpa! He's great. Just so so great. He's supportive of Frannie in a way that the rest of her family is not. They all want what's best for her (which is wonderful); he trusts her to figure out what that is for herself.
  • There are multiple deep discussions about forgiving oneself as well as a serious look at whether or not there is anything that is unforgivable.
  • Frannie's discomfort with religion is explored in a sensitive way along with why bad things happen to good people.
  • By the end of the book, Frannie, Luc, and Gabe all learn a lot about love and sacrifice.
I really loved Personal Demons, and I wasn't sure I would just by looking at it. It fits in nicely with other paranormal romances (though it's way sexier than most), but it also looks at some more serious issues. The paranormal aspect brings all of Frannie's existing issues (religion, forgiveness, her inability to let her guard down) to the forefront, but the hot demon and sexy angel roaming the halls of her high school do not cause her story to exist.

Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher.

*Best line in a book EVER (with some context):
Because I love her.
That's got to be what this feeling is--the giddy rush I feel when I look at her, the way all my insides scream when I think about Belias taking her, the insatiable need I have to be with her. How is that possible? There's no crying in baseball and no love in Hell. It's just the rules.
p.193 (bold emphasis is mine; the italics are all Desrochers)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The House of Dead Maids

Dunkle, Clare B. The House of Dead Maids. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Tabby Ackroyd arrives at Seldom House, she finds her place there unlike any other job she's ever had. She's a maid, specifically the Young Maid, but she's not really expected to do anything until the Young Master, her charge, arrives. No one knows the Young Master's name, including the Young Master who refers to himself as Heathen Git. Tabby is determined to save the boy, who she calls Himself, and bring him to the light despite the darkness of Seldom House. And despite the previous Young Maid, now dead, cold and eyeless, who won't leave Tabby and her charge alone.

This cover grabbed me at ALA. I walked past the huge poster of the girl with no eyes probably a dozen times before I decided I just had to have a copy of this book. That girl on the cover is so enthralling. And a little disturbing. And she doesn't disappoint. This book is enthralling. And a more than a little disturbing. Tabby's life at Seldom House is odd, creepy, and plagued by ghosts, some seemingly kind and some openly menacing.

The House of Dead Maids has a wonderfully creepy and complicated set-up. It is hard to guess what is really going on at Seldom House with its old maid and young maid, neither of whom are actually maids, and its old master and young master, neither of whom act like the wealthy landowners they're supposed to be. Everything is a, from the way the house is run to the way the townspeople react to those in it. In the beginning, it's not so weird that it alarms Tabby, every town and house has its quirks, but it does make her feel vulnerable and a little off-kilter. It's in this state that she starts to encounter the ghosts, one in particular that she might have know in their lives before Seldom House. The mood ranges from a little dark to pretty darn scary. When we finally see what is really going on at Seldom House, there are a few holes left in the story, but they do not detract from the rapidly increasing creepy factor that just keeps getting higher the more things are explained.

Much has been made of The Heathcliff Connection in this book. Himself, or Heathen Git, is supposed to grow up to be Brontë's Heathcliff, and Tabby, a real historical person, grows up to be the Brontës' maid and teller of late night ghost stories. While this is kind of cool, I do think that The Heathcliff Connection is being emphasized a bit too much (on the blogs, by the publishers, in the jacket copy). It didn't seem to have too much to do with the stories, The House of Dead Maids or Wuthering Heights. Tabby's real life connection to the Brontës, on the other hand, was pretty interesting, especially when an explanation involving the hauntings at Seldom House is given for why the real life sisters cared for this maid so devotedly for her entire life. The epilogue offers more information about the historical Tabby, which I found very interesting and much more related to the story in this book than the (I felt) forced Heathcliff Connection. The epilogue also contains a plug for the author's website where there is more information about the historical Brontës, Wuthering Heights, and Tabby Ackroyd.

This is a very spooky, scary story that is a perfect Halloween read, and with the extra awesome cover it will be perfect for Halloween displays as well. For Brontë fans, The Heathcliff Connection will be an added bonus to a book that is a great keep-the-lights-on story for the rest of us as well.

Book source: Arc picked up at ALA.

PS - And there are illustrations! Little ones at the beginning of each chapter. Some of which make that cover art look as harmless as a tea party.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Hahn, Mary Downing. The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall. Boston: Clarion Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Florence's uncle sends for her, taking her from Miss Medleycoate's Home for Orphan Girls and offering her a place in his home, she thinks her life must be finally looking up. When she gets to Crutchfield Hall, she finds her uncle to be wonderful and caring but away a lot on business. She's left with a crotchety aunt who doesn't bother to hide her dislike of Florence, her sickly cousin James who refuses to leave his bed, and the oppressive memory of James' older sister Sophia who died a year earlier. But then Sophia's memory stops just being oppressive; Sophia becomes...persuasive.

Mary Downing Hahn was the author of my childhood nightmares.

Her books, especially Wait Till Helen Comes, terrified be as a child. The only time in my entire life that my mother limited the content of my reading was to not allow me to read her Hahn's books after dark. As I've admitted before, I scare easily, but Hahn's books scared everyone. I have a distinct memory of my friends Karen and Paige and I reading one of her books out loud at a slumber party. Later that night we were dared to go outside by Paige's sister. That's it, just go outside. We couldn't do it. Paige's sister put all our underwear in the freezer as our "consequence" for turning down the dare. We felt lucky. We were in the sixth grade. I'm pretty sure that stopped my torrid affair with Hahn's book, but I still remember them.

It was with this background that I picked up The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, expecting to be scared. And I wasn't. It's not that I'm so grown-up now or so desensitized by years of scary books and movies that I hadn't been in late elementary-middle school. I admitted just a couple months ago that I couldn't read The Dead Boys right before bed. It's that Sophia wasn't all that scary. She's mean, but not evil; jealous, but has no power/knowledge to get what she wants. She's just a sad, spoiled girl who doesn't want to be dead and who will hang around grabbing everyone's attention with her antics and tantrums until she gets what she wants: a second chance at life. Because it's just nor fair! Especially when James gets to live. Sophia terrorizes James and tries to get Florence to help (and sometimes succeeds).

But it still wasn't scary.

Because the whole story revolved around Sophia and Florence and James' fear of her, The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall kind of fell apart for me. Younger readers who are not quite ready for the super-scary stuff but are still looking for a Halloween book will be happy with this one.

Readers who aren't expecting Mary Downing Hahn to always remind them why Joey is right to be afraid of little girl ghosts* might be happy with it too.

Book source: Arc picked up at ALA

*I tried to find a clip, but no dice:

Chandler: Joey, there was a little girl who lived here, but she died like 30 years ago.
(Joey's eyes double in size)
Joey: (frightened) What?
Chandler: Ha! I'm just messing with you.
Joey: That's not funny! You know I'm afraid of little girl ghosts!
- from

You can also watch the whole episode online, if you want the visual. The scene I'm referencing is at about 17:30. :)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hope in Patience

Fehlbaum, Beth. Hope in Patience. Lodi, NJ: WestSide Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Nominated for YALSA Quick Pick's for Reluctant Readers, 2010

Finally out of her step-father's house where she suffered through years of sexual abuse at his hands, Ashley is adjusting to life in Patience, Texas. In Patience she has a father, a real father, who wants to protect her, a step-mother who doesn't see her as "the competition," a little brother who will play his video games so loudly that he entire house shakes, and a therapist who refuses to let her wallow in her past. Basically, she has a chance at a normal life. But with the coming trial against her step-father, her own flashbacks, and a seriously misguided rumor mill threatening to drag her down, Ashley may never be able to focus on the "normal" problems she should be worrying about at her age: her last place status on the cross-country team, a group project with one of the most uncooperative group members ever, and whether or not a certain boy can look past everything else going on in Ashley's life and just like her.

This is a harsh story, and my heart broke for Ashley over and over again while I was reading it. It is not a book that will be immediately accessible to a wide audience. It is a book that shows how one young woman is able to overcome years of sexual and emotional abuse with the help of some solid family and friends, and as such, it it has the power to provide exactly what the title suggests, hope, if it gets into the right hands.

Ashley's abuse at the hands of her step-father is definitely a focal point of Hope in Patience, even though it is all in the past at the opening of the book (though it does still manage to be graphic in places). Her mother's emotional abuse, however, manages to still reach Ashley in Patience and still tear Ashley to bits. It is that, more than facing her step-father at trial that puts up roadblocks on Ashley's road to normalcy. It is also what makes it so hard for Ashley to trust that her father and step-mother really love her, want her around, and have her best interest at heart.

Ashley's father, David, wasn't around when she was a kid. He had been an alcoholic, prompting her mother to leave him and take Ashley with her. Rather than wallow in the realization that he could have saved Ashley from years of abuse had he just looked her up and been a part of her life, he steps up and welcomes Ashley to his house and home with open arms. He becomes the best supportive dad a girl could ask for, and though Ashley's trust issues (and his prior absence) make her unable to call him "Dad," it is clear that he quickly becomes one of the foundation pieces in her growing support system in in her new life.

Bev, David's wife, is also instrumental to Ashley's increasingly happy life in Patience. She steps right into the role of the mother Ashley never had, without pause and without question. Bev becomes Ashley's confidant and friend (and English teacher), and when the time comes when Ashley needs someone to tell her to just get over it already, Bev's the one to do it.* For clarification, No one ever implies that Ashley should just get over years of abuse. Ever. She has an amazingly patient and supportive family and therapist who all understand that these things take (a lot of) time. But! Whenever anything bad happens, anything at all, Ashley has a tendency to close in on herself and shut out the world. This is what Bev tells her to get over, in a completely not-angry, non-judgemental way.

But the real star is, of course, Ashley. She's scared, kind, bold, shy, and overly aware of herself in the way that folks in therapy often are. And she's funny. And not broken. Fehlbaum, in Ashley, has managed to show that a person can go through hell and back, be totally and in some ways irrevocably scarred, and still not lose what make them them. Ashley displays fierce loyalties to her friends, K.C. and Z.Z. especially, even when she's struggling to hold herself together. And they do the same for her when she needs it the most. And there's Joshua. He's cute, he's also on the track team, and he like Ashley, which in a lot of ways terrifies her. Learning to trust him with all of her issues is the Big Thing in this book. It's the Big Problem and also the Big Indication of Growth. It's also really sweet.

Hope in Patience is ultimately about how Ashley grows out of the shell that years of abuse put her in. It is the powerful story of how she stops being Ashley-who-was-abused and becomes just Ashley.

Hope in Patience will be out in hardback on October 27th!

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

*Bev also assigns controversial (Chris Crutcher) books in her classes, allows kids to hang out in her classroom before and after school, accepts "edgy" freaks and religious zealots alike, and is basically all kinds of awesome. And she's backed up by the sassy, southern principal's secretary, making her exponentially more powerful in her school setting. Bev is basically who I want to be when I grow up, except I want to be in a library rather than a classroom. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

River Odyssey - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Roy, Philip. River Odyssey. Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2010. Print. The Submarine Outlaw Series 3.
[Book cover credit:]
If Sheba dreamt about you, you were in for it.
"There was a big storm," she began.
I sat up and listened closely. A big storm was no big deal; I had seen lots of those.
"And there was a sea monster."
Not so good. "What did it look like?"
"I couldn't see it; I just knew it was there. And your submarine was sinking."
Shoot! "Was the monster pulling it down?"
"Yes, I think so. I'm not sure. It's just that..."
"What? What is it?"
"I think maybe the saw monster was your father."
Trusting in Sheba's dreams and intuition, Alfred postpones his trip to the Pacific and decides to sail upriver to Montreal. That's where his grandfather thinks his father ran to when he left Alfred, and that's where Alfred is hoping he can still find him. Sheba is worried that without this trip, Alfred will be left with unfinished business weighing him down for the rest of his life. If that's true, why does Alfred feel more pulled down by dread the closer he gets to his destination?
The Submarine Outlaw is growing up, both the character and the series. Though there is still plenty of information about the working of the sub and, in this installment, the workings of the St. Lawrence River, River Odyssey reads a lot less like narrative non-fiction than the previous books in the series. I think that's because Alfred actually does a lot of growing in this book and deals with a lot of (gasp!) feelings. And he finds out that while he may want to explain everything away logically (see his rationale for the weird happenings over what my be Atlantis in the second book) some things, especially the actions of people and the motives behind them, will always remain inexplicable.

Alfred's mother died giving birth to him, and his father left shortly thereafter. All Alfred knows about either is what he's been told by his grandparents. Most recently, when asked the question, "What was he like?", this has consisted of a tight-lipped response from his grandfather: "He's not like you" (27). For the duration of his trip, Alfred is let trying to figure out what that means. He's not adventurous? Not at home on the water? Not good with animals or without company? As Alfred sails up-river and meets a variety of people along the way (as he is wont to do), he settles on another possibility. What if his father is not good?

Still an adventure story, still a great story about how things work, River Odyssey has something else too that was missing from the other Submarine Outlaw books: emotional (rather than mechanical) conflict and growth. Though Alfred still meets, gets to know, and leaves people on his trip, though he still gets in and out of scrapes along the way (gets a whole lot closer to getting caught than we've ever seen before - it's a lot harder to flit off into international waters when you're in a river), gone is the episodic quality of the first two books. I doubt fans of the series will be missing anything that they loved in the first books and will love seeing a glimpse into the rest of Alfred's life. And I think River Odyssey may have more to offer new readers as well. This doesn't feel like fiction for young readers of non-fiction anymore. The story and the information about ships, subs, and bodies of water are much more balanced, and this book is (finally) about a boy who happens to travel the world by sub rather than about a boy and how built, maintains, and travels by submarine.

River Odyssey came out last month and is now available for purchase!
Book 1: Submarine Outlaw
Book 2: Journey to Atlantis
Book source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Mockingbirds

Whitney, Daisy. The Mockingbirds. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

When Alex wakes up in a guy's dorm room with no clothes and no recollection of how she got there, she knows that something wrong has happened. She doesn't want to go to the cops, and going to administration of Themis Academy is useless. She just wants the whole thing to go away, to have never happened. When she starts remembering that night, and dealing with what those memories do to her, she stops feeling safe. In the halls, in class, in the caf, anywhere he might be. That's where The Mockingbirds come in. They're a group of students masquerading as an a cappella group who enforce the Themis Academy Honor Code and dispense justice among those in the student body who break it. And if Alex decides to press charges, hers will be the first case of date rape tried in their secret court.

Starting the morning after that night, The Mockingbirds is an intense book. The reader, like Alex, starts out not knowing what's going on and, with her, pieces that night together over the course of the entire book. It isn't until almost the end that Alex remembers the entire night, or as much as she's ever going to, and by then she's come to terms with a lot of it and had some time to heal. It's still horrible, clearly, but presenting the rape in that way, in short pieces over the course of the book, takes away the shock and some of the horror of it. It's not graphic, though it may still be triggering for some people.

Alex's big conflict for most of the book is accepting what happened to her as rape. 
I've thought about rape before. I pictured it happening to me. A dark alley, some rough guy I don't know who's five times my size grabs me and forces me to my knees, a knife to my throat. Sometimes I'd picture it happening in my house while everyone was asleep. He'd come in through my window and hover above me. I'd be startled awake, pinned down in my own bed, everything I know that's right in the world ripped out of my chest.

That is rape.

I know rape is something else too. It's just I always thought of it in a very specific way -- with a very specific kind of attacker -- not in a way I'd have to defend, not in a way where I'd have to preface everything with "I was drunk, really drunk."

She has loads and loads of guilt about being drunk enough to be taken to the room of a guy she didn't know. If she can't remember getting to his room or even large chunks of the party before hand, maybe she's also simply not remembering that she wanted to have and enjoyed having sex with him. While she knows this isn't true, the dirty and used feeling won't let her actually think that, she knows she has to prove that she wasn't "asking for it," something no sexual assault victim should ever have to do. It's bad enough hearing other people recount her drunken exploits of that night in front of the Mockingbirds while she's building her case; she could never explain her drinking and other bad decisions to the cops, her parents, or the administration of Themis Academy. It takes her a really long time to really believe that though she made bad decisions, being raped was never her fault, but that point is eventually made very clear for Alex (and the reader) by her friends, the Themis Academy Honor Code, and during her trial.

Still, this doesn't read like a problem novel. Of course Alex is consumed with what happened to her and its aftermath, and that takes up a lot of the book. But this is also about the Mockingbirds themselves, their founding, the checks and balances in their system, and ultimately their power over the student body. It's very cloak and dagger, but on the side of truth and justice! Through her interactions with the Mockingbirds, Alex gains confidence and strength. She also makes plenty of new friends and figures out just how much all of her old friends are willing to go to bat for her. She even gets a bit of romance. And, of course, this is all set at a boarding school for the extremely gifted. This book would be just as good and just as compelling (though not nearly as heart-wrenching) if Alex were pressing charges for bullying or some other offense rather than date rape. The story is really balanced in that way. Because The Mockingbirds is this year's big book about date rape, one might assume that it should be reserved for older young adults, but all the other elements in the book make it, I think, accessible to all high schoolers, not just the about-to-go-college ones. And, as the book points out when other girls start telling Alex their own stories, it's not as though date rape is something that only happens to high school upperclasswomen or older.

The book closes with an author's note where Whitney talks about her own experiences with both date rape and a student-run justice system. Resources for victims of sexual assault as well as organizations promoting the empowerment of young women are also provided.

The Mockingbirds will be out on November 2nd!
But it looks like it's already available for purchase on amazon.

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher.

*Quotes and page numbers were taken from an uncorrected proof and my not match the published copy.