Saturday, December 29, 2007

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

This teen novel is described as joyous and uplifting. Instead, I would call it poignant or bittersweet.

Tessa, age 16 has been living with leukemia for the past four years. Now, she has run out of treatment choices save doubtful experimental procedures. She chooses not to undergo still more treatment, more suffering and instead she lives what time she has left to the fullest. She makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies. The list grows and shrinks as her desires change and her illness progresses. Top of her list are have sex, do something illegal, try (illegal) drugs, drive. Between bouts of rage in which she tries to destroy any sign that she ever lived, destroying pictures, her mementos and even tossing a TV through a window and bouts of depression that keeps her in bed for days at a time, Tessa sets out to accomplish each thing on her list. Her friend Zoey, and sometimes father and brother Cal each support her efforts even as she shoves them away - afraid to have feelings for them and then pulls them back - forgetting that they too have needs. Her mother, divorced from her father and not really a part of her life for many years even comes around to support Tessa. And, lonely back door neighbor Adam who helps her burn her possessions during one of her rages, perhaps falls in love with her, gives her a totally unexpected experience if sex with love, not just the mechanical process she had gone through to fulfill her wish list. Tessa seems to think she is entitled to shoplift, take her father's car joy riding and do any manner of wild things because she is ill. I question the message that might give to others - though they probably don't need a story to give them ideas such as these. Other books about dying teens seem to be carefully crafted to go through the classic stages of grief. This story seems more real to me even though the emotions take a back seat to Tessa's efforts to live fully before she dies.
JDW 12/29/07

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Breathe My Name by R.A. Nelson

This was one of those books that's left me feeling neither here nor there. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't spectacular. Something was missing but I can't quite put my finger on it. The novel is about 18-year-old Frances, or Francine depending on which family you're talking about. Frances is a girl with a great life. She's got loving parents, annoying brothers, a great best friend and a crazy but loving new boyfriend. Overall she's got a life people would be happy to have, except for the secret she holds. Suddenly a lawyer shows up at her door, bringing Francine and her other mother back into Frances' life. Eleven years ago Francine's mother killed three of her four daughters. She was in the process of killing Francine when a stranger came and saved the day. Shortly after that happened, Francince was adopted and became Frances. Now the lawyer shows up with a letter from the murderous mother, claiming that they need to finish what they started. (Her mother was found not guilty by reason of insanity but had recently been making a strong recovery). Frances needs to see her mother, even though she knows her new parents would forbid it. In order to get around this, she and her boyfriend sneak off under the cover of a weekend school trip. They find characters from Frances' past and eventually discover her long-lost mother.

Like I said earlier, this book didn't make a strong impression one way or the other. The only thing that bothered me was that it took so long to find out what actually happened eleven years ago. By reading the front flap I knew what happened, but it took about 100 pages to actually say. Even then, it wasn't any real deep details. The novel had a habit of slipping between past and present, showing Frances' life in "Fireless" with her mother. It did a great job of showing her mother's psychosis but wasn't that impressive. It sort of reminded me of the Ya-Ya sisterhood and how the mother could be wild and crazy, the children's best friend, but at the same time, deeply troubled. The mother was a nicely constructed character.

This book wasn't bad but I don't feel as though I should run around singing it's praises. Give it a shot if the story interests you. That's all one can say.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Go Figure by Jo Edwards

I had read Jo Edwards' previous book Love Undercover (See February 8) and found similar flaws in her second book, Go Figure. This novel centers on Ryan Burke, a senior with weight issues. It's her senior year and she's still fat, but she's not going to let that hold her back. She's enrolled in a photography class and her best friend Kimberlee is destined to find her a guy. Her previous boyfriend Noah is a hit musician, recently appearing on the cover of Rolling Stones. The bad thing about that, though, is that Ryan only seems to be known as Noah's old girlfriend. While Ryan tries to figure things out in her life, she stressed over the fact that her bff (Best Fat Friend) Chelsea hasn't been the best email buddy. Things start falling apart when she hears from Noah that he's written a song about her (and some other people as he said) only to learn that it's not the most flattering song. And then Chelsea, who'd been in California, returns home 80 pounds lighter. Suddenly Chelsea's popular and Ryan is more lost than ever.

I feel as though the summary of the novel is confusing and lackluster, but yet the story itself was lacking something in terms of plot. It took about 50 pages for the novel to actually pick up a storyline and even then, it wasn't all that exciting. There seemed to be too much internal monologue and background. Plus the reveal of Chelsea was obvious, especially when the girl said she really wasn't comfortable talking about weight anymore. And speaking of weight, the emphasis that Ryan placed on it was annoying. I understand having weight issues but there's a difference between having weight issues and obsessing. Sure Ryan's getting psychiatric help, but it's not doing her any good. And for a girl with so many problems regarding her size, she's got it pretty good. She's got great friends, guys willing to make out with her, and a boyfriend who turned into a rock star. Call me a little cynical, but that's just a little too good to be true. I really didn't find Ryan believable. In fact, I found her annoying. If she's so miserable about her weight, she should have done more to fix it. Sure she said she worked out, but not enough to make a difference and there wasn't really much of a mention of diet. I really just wanted to tell her to shut up and deal or do something about it. Now don't get me started on the ending. In Jo Edwards' first novel, I found the ending a little too cheesy. The same thing happens with this novel. It was just a little too picture perfect. Real life isn't happily ever after but yet this novel made it feel that way and I really didn't feel as though Ryan made any resolution to her main conflict - her weight.

I had high hopes for this novel. At first I thought it might be a little bit of "big girl empowerment," but I didn't see that happening, especially when the whole novel seemed just a little too fictional. I can see showing having a character with weight issues, but to make that the bane of her existence is a little too much to swallow, especially when she fails to come grips with it. This novel was just a little too much cheese for my liking.

General Winston's Daughter By:Sharon Shim

This novel is intriguing to me, and is written so well that it captures any teen's imagination. I was so into the novel it seemed true to me. But this story is totally imagined, and got my attention from the beginning of the book.

The personality of the main character throughout the novel was Averie who is the daughter of General Winston . Averie grew up in a big estate with servants. She is a teen who at first falls in love with a Colonel, but then is romantically crazy about Lt. Du Kai, who in reality Averie has to keep hush hush. Averie already wears on her finger an engagement ring from the Colonel. Towards the end of the book, she gives back the ring to the Colonel, who had gotten injured in a battle . As you might presume, everyone was surprized including the Colonel. Averie finds that her Father the General, was killed in battle in a fictitious town called Chiarrin. The city was burned completely, and the General became ashes.

The daughter Averie decided to bury what remained, of her Father next to her Mother in the small burial ground of the Weymireestate.

The end of the novel was a bit of a surprize to me being that Averie is closing parts of the estate to move to a foreign city by herself. She will be living in the town where the Lt. DuKai lives tho she loves a lot.

Winter's Bone By: Daniel Woodrell

This novel is American folk story presenting Ree Dolly as your folk hero. "Winter's Bone" is a timeless story that expresses through prose, the gumption of one little woman's feisty personality.

At the beginning of the novel, say the first 70 pages I personally was not interested in the plot. As the time went by, I was hooked on this novel, and fascinated with the different plot of the story. Especially anything to do with Ree Dolly. I especially got a kick they way they searched for the where abouts of their Father. Family members knew his body fell, or was thrown in a pond that had been frozen, and his legs had a cement block attached to them. This would sink the body deep.

The novel was alright, but I personally have enjoyed better books.

LRD 12/17/07

Hacking Harvard - Wasserman

Harvard is one of the most pristine Ivy League schools to get into. A whole bunch of people apply and only a few get into Harvard. Schwarz, who already goes to Harvard, and his friends Eric and Max plan one day to do the unthinkable, hack into the Harvard database and get a jock with a C average into Harvard. They do the plan in stages, the first being to pick the jock. They pick Clay Porter, who at first doesn't want to join, but when money becomes involved joins right away. The next step is to get a perfect SAT score. Clay goes and takes the SAT's, with a camera on him and Schwarz, Eric, and Max are outside the room giving him the answers. Then about a month later they attend a Harvard football game where they scope out the veteran admissions officer having an affair with a dean from Harvard. The next step is filling out the application which includes volunteer hours, grades, an exceptional artistic talent, and a personal statement. The application is submitted and now all they have to do is wait for the interview, which won't be till February. The interview comes around and Schwarz and company have it all set up with Clay fitted with a microphone and speaker. Things start to go awry when there is interference between Schwarz and Clay, but when things get cleared up they hear that Clay is doing fine on his own. Then comes the day where the admissions committe picks who's accepted/wait list/denyed into Harvard.

I could see this book turned into a movie. It would be interesting to see this played out on the big screen. I think it would be as enjoyable in the theater as it was reading the book.
T.B. 12/17/07

Monday, December 10, 2007

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

Arnold, also known as junior is a Spokane Indian with medical issues, lots of smarts, a talent for shooting baskets, living on a reservation with a mediocre school, dreams of a better future.

In pursuing his dreams, Arnold chooses to attend white school 22 miles away. He is rejected both at home where other Indians call him white and at school where kids find all kinds of names to call him. The rejection includes losing his one best friend who he misses terribly. He sometimes has to walk the distance from school as his parents cannot always afford gas money and his father drinks. But, he finds support both from his dysfunctional family and from some of the kids at the white school. Along the way he experiences the deaths of several people important to him. Punches a white bully in the face and much to his surprise gains the kid's respect, Faces his former best friend in basketball, twice, as a member of the white school team, shares with readers the rampant alcohol abuse on reservations and how it hurts the Indians and keeps sight of his dreams against the odds. Another book, Tequila Worm by Canales looks at a Latina girl with dreams of a better future and the support of her family as she grows up and away from them, same theme, different cultures, wonderful stories.
jdw 12/10/07

Friday, December 07, 2007

Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron

Recently there have been several books published in which a teen could enter a piece of art created by someone of importance to them. By doing so they learn to embrace life in spite of their sadness and to live/look with heir hearts. Frannie's father dies unexpectedly and leaves all his possessions to her. He was an artist and divorced from her mother. Among his many junk art objects is a wooden box filled with 1000 handmade puzzle pieces. The box has Frannie's name on it. It becomes her summer goal to finish this puzzle and understand the message it contains. It is her mother's goal to have her be a camp counselor for the summer. At camp she is the art counselor and there are some genuinely funny moments as she describes the other counselors and relates to her very unique, not always charming campers. Frannie works long on the puzzle, sometimes finding herself wandering in the puzzle itself, learning where it is and finally meeting her dead father who helps her understand his life, death and divorce. Very Charming, sad/happy and perhaps Frannie has fallen in love - or not.
JDW 12/7/07

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Beastly by Alex Flinn

This story is a modern day version of Beauty and the Beast. The main character is Kyle Kingsbury - the king of the school. He's popular, pretty and perfect - except for his personality. Kendra decides he needs a bit of an attitude adjustment after he asks her to the homecoming dance only to embarrass her by showing up with a beautiful girl. Kendra, a witch, casts a spell on Kyle, turning him into a beast. She showed him kindness, though, because that day he showed kindness to someone else by giving a plain girl a rose (granted he just gave her the rose because his date didn't want it, but kindness is kindness despite motivation). Instead of killing Kyle or permanently making him a beast, he has two years to find true love and to receive a kiss. Kyle's father, a TV personality, tries his hardest to find a cure for his son, but when everything fails, he buys him a mansion and leaves him there with the housekeeper Magda. Due to threats on Kyle's part, he soon receives a blind tutor named Will to live with him. In the months alone, Kyle develops an interest in books and a love of roses. He builds a greenhouse and comes to accept his lonely life as a beast. One night, though, a druggie breaks into his greenhouse and in order to save his own life, the man offers his daughter for his freedom. Kyle, seeing the opportunity to find love in the girl, takes him up on the offer. Soon Lindy comes to live with him. Coincidentally, Lindy was the plain girl he gave the rose to. As the story of Beauty and the Beast goes, they develop a friendship through their joint studies and love of roses which might turn into more. But of course there needs to be more conflict in which the Kyle lets her leave and he sees his chances of receiving true love's kiss slip away. Will they live happily ever after? What do you think?

I really liked the modern day twist on this classic story. The story did a great job setting up the importance of looks in the most casual and typical of settings. Homecoming was coming up and it opened up the debate of the fact that the only reason people were nominated was because of their looks. Kyle's dad, a TV personality, was the perfect fit for the role because he was in a position where without looks and image, nothing else matters. The novel really showed how the topic is so common today. I also liked how this novel treated Lindy's situation. If she came from a loving household, it'd be harder to accept her being "kidnapped" by the beast. In this story, though, there's a lot of emphasis on how she's better off with him. Here it's not just the beast's needs being met, but also hers. Kyle, as a beast, was a very like-able character. On a interesting note, the novel has sections where Kyle is chatting online to other people who have been transformed. It's just a neat like add-in, especially to see other stories like the Little Mermaid - whose ending bothered me a little bit, but I won't go into detail about that.

That's what I liked. One thing that I didn't find so believable was Kyle/Beast as only a teenager. Maybe I'm too used to the characters being older, but there were scenes where he seemed too old, too insightful to be just 16. It worked at the beginning, but as the story progressed and he was on his own it became less believable. It didn't detract too much from the story, it was just hard to keep in mind that he was still a teenager. That's really my only complaint. It was a really enjoyable story. It was nice to see the characters transform, both physically and emotionally. Fans of classic fairy tales should definitely pick this one up. Even if Beauty and the Beast isn't your favorite story, this one is worthwhile.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Postcards to Father Abraham by Lewis

16-year-old Meghan seems to have found her niche in life. She is a runner and a very good one.
Since life hasn't been exactly kind to her, finding a way to feel comfortable with herself was very important. Her banker father who just doesn't get it sends her off to a private school where her good grades and good running skills could lead to a college scholarship. She is a misfit, becomes friends with another misfit and gets tossed out. At the same time she discovered an injury to her leg that does not heal. This leads to a diagnosis of cancer and the removal of one leg. In trying to adapt to one more bad event in her life, she rights postcards to her hero Abraham Lincoln sharing her pain even as she wonders what his pain was like. There is a subplot about a favorite sibling, Killian who served in the Vietnam War, compared to the Civil War, and came home with post traumatic stress disorders. Unable to tolerate closed in places for long he wanders around all day long and sleeps outside at night. Meghan is very brave and resilient, however scared she is and we know she will be alright no matter what life hands her. This one could make you cry, its just so unfair.
jdw 12/07