Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard

Everyone has secrets and some are more devastating than others. With those big, gut wrenching secrets, it's nice to have someone to confide in. The trouble comes, though, when someone starts threatening you with that deep, dark past.

Alison was best friends with Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily. That is, of course, until the seventh grade when she suddenly disappeared. Now juniors in high school, the four remaining girls have grown apart and have started to live lives that they'd probably like to keep secret. Spencer realizes that she has a major crush on her snotty sister's boyfriend, Aria has fallen in love with a young English teacher, Hanna is stealing and dealing with image issues, and Emily might be falling in love with the new girl in town. As the girls struggle with these problems, all begin to receive messages from someone named A, referring to things they'd only shared with Alison. Could she have returned even though many believed her to be dead? If it wasn't Alison, then who could be contacting them? What would it mean if their secrets were revealed? Soon everything starts to unravel and the girls struggle to make sense of everything happening in their lives.

When I picked up this book, mainly to find out what all the hype was about, I expected to read a shallow, prep school, high society novel. It turns out, though, that this book has so much more to offer. Yes, these girls go to a ritzy school and shop at places like Tiffany's and yes, there's drinking and some sex, but this novel has so much more going on than just boyfriend stealing and backstabbing. Each character is developed and has her own complex story and struggles. I'll admit that it takes a little while to develop each character, but the wait is worth it. No one is more important than the other. At the same time, each story is different and, in a way, something the reader can relate to. That's not to say everyone is sleeping with their teacher, but I feel like these characters speak to complicated world some teens face. Then, besides the great struggles of each character, this novel has this amazing umbrella conflict of who A is and what does she want. On top of that, there's some "Jenna Thing" that haunts all four girls. The suspense and interesting story lines really makes this novel stand out.

So much about this book has me enthralled, but I think most of it comes from the fact that it didn't turn out like I expected. I like the characters and it has me intrigued to find out what happens. This novel is a great draw-in to a new series.

Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn

Cyd is a mad at the world, at her mother, at her "real" daddy skips school, out of control wild child. she claims to not really know why. She is daddy's special girl. Her younger sibs are cute and fun to watch, her mom not so bad. She throws herself at any guy she considers a hunk that is older than she and willing. There are teens like this, totally contrary. I find them unbearable not funny as the reviews say. Plus, even though the story is a quick read and probably something other disenfranchised teens could relate to - they would never accept my or any other adult's recommendation so this has to be discovered and passed around among themselves.
When Cyd makes everyone's life unbearable after she is grounded for skipping school, staying out too late, sneaking out of the house... she is shipped off to her biological father which is just what she wants. In her time there, she suddenly grows up, stops raging, reconciles with her mother, solves the problem with skipping school, decides on her future, decides not to hit on any more older guys, based on...not sure what. The wrap up is way to fast and shallow for the rest of the book. I will say this, Cyd got herself "in trouble" with her wild behavior while away at boarding school. She took care of the problem without help from mom or real dad, without their even knowing. Both the abortion and her lack of information about her biological dad seem to be keys to her behavior. Oh, throughout the book she relates to a ragdoll she calls gingerbread as if it is a living friend. I have seen this before in real life but the kid was emotionally disturbed and unable, not unwilling to relate to the non-imaginary world. jdw 10/29/08

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Day I Killed James by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Have you ever blamed yourself for something you had no control over? Or punished yourself even though you've already been forgiven? This novel explores the guilt we place upon ourselves and the struggle to forgive the one who means the most.

James was in love with his next door neighbor Theresa but she didn't feel the same way about him. When her boyfriend takes another girl to a party they had both been invited to, she uses James' affections to get back at her boyfriend. When her plan succeeds and her boyfriend returns to her, a heartbroken James rides his motorcycle off a cliff, killing himself. Theresa, however, blames herself for his death because he wouldn't have died if she hadn't been so careless with his heart. Unable to cope with his death, she runs away and tried to re-invent herself, but he still haunts over her. She changes her name, becoming Annie Stewart (her middle name and James' last name). Then, she meets a young girl who struggles with a neglectful mother and turns to Theresa for help. One night, when Theresa was elsewhere and unable to protect her, the girl accidentally killed her brother, thinking he was breaking into their home. Theresa then realizes she couldn't keep running from her troubles and returns home. The girl shows up on her doorstep a few days later with no place else to go and the two work together to forgive their toughest critic - themselves.

This book has a great message but failed in the execution. It starts off very fragmented between Theresa's journal entries and sections of events leading up to James' death, although, based on the journal entries, he's already dead. It wasn't hard to follow, it was hard to get invested. Once you made it past the first part and she reinvented herself, the story became more interesting. At some points, though, you just wanted to smack Theresa and tell her to get over it. I think that's part of the guilt, though. No one else understands how she feels, so everyone thinks she's just being irrational. The girl she meets is a great addition because she's the anchor and dose of reality that Theresa needs. She helps her heal and, in the end, the road to recovery is almost complete.

This novel has a really strong message about forgiveness and realizing that there are bigger things at work in the universe besides ourselves. The story grows in strength, but you have to struggle past the first half to realize the power behind the story.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lily Dale Awakening - Wendy Corsi Staub

Calla was all set to spend part of her summer in California with her mom and dad at a beach house, but all that has changed when her mother dies in what seems to be one of those random house accidents. It is decided that she will go and spend the rest of the summer with her grandmother in Lily Dale. Lily Dale is a town of psychics, which includes Calla's grandmother. People come from near and far to see if they can contact family members who have passed on. From her first steps in Lily Dale she sees spirits on a daily basis. She also has a recurring dream about dredging the lake to find the truth, which she has no clue what it means. She is seeing the ghost of a girl who was kidnapped six months ago and whose mother came to Lily Dale to see if someone could make contact with her. Calla figures out where the girl ended up dead and helps the girl's mother find peace.

This book was o.k., and it did hold my interest. It seemed to be more of an expository book to introduce the setting and place of the series. I would have liked more of plot in the book. I hope the next book is more plot driven than expository.

T.B. 10-14-08

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Whale Talk By:Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher has a good grasp, and know how for teens. He spent 5 years as the Director of an alternative school K-twelfth grade in Oakland, California. This is a School that helps troubled teens make it through High School. Crutcher has received many outstanding honors for his novels.

This novel basically, has to do with a High School swim team, and all their adventures during training, and competing for trophies. The irony of Cutler High is that the High School had no swimming pool, so the teens had no where to practice in the water.

The bus that transported the swimming team, became the spot or place, where the boy's slowly began to open up to each other, and talk, and get to know each other better. Of course Cutler High Swim Team, at the start, does not excel, but improves slowly. The team trains very hard, and in the end of the season becomes a champion. In fact, the Cutler High Swimming Team trains ardently on land doing the motions of swimming strokes.
I myself have been on a swim team, so I know how important training is. I never received a gold medal, I only earned bronze medals.
This novel to me is super interesting. It shows courage, and endurance to teens. I recommend this novel to teens interested in sports.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sucks to be me - Kimberly Pauley

Mina, named after the character in Bram Stoker's Dracula, has always known her parents were vampires. She is almost 17 and her parents spring it on her that she has only a few weeks to decide if she wants to become a vampire or not. She meets with Ms. Riley, the Northwest Regional Vampire Council new member indoctrinator, who tells her that she's got to attend vampire classes and that her Uncle Mortie is her sponsor. If she chooses not to turn her memory is wiped of vampire knowledge and she's taken away from her parents. On top of all that she is studying Dracula in English class, where her teacher dresses up as a different character each day, and she is hanging out with Nathan, who she's had a crush on since kindergarten. Mina wants to tell Serena, her best friend, but humans aren't supposed to know about vampires. She only has her fellow candidates along with her family to talk to about being a vampire. The vampire classes are boring, but there is a cute guy, Aubrey, who makes Mina want to attend them just to see him. As she learns more about vampires Mina starts to make up her mind about whether to turn or not. Prom is also in a few weeks and she wants to go with Nathan, but he wants to go with Serena. George her classmate and fellow vampire candidate, wants to ask Serena, but ends up asking Mina after Nathan asks Serena to the prom. I'm guessing your wondering if Mina turns into a vampire or not, well I'm not going to spoil the ending for you. You'll just have to read and find out.

I loved this book. It was funny, entertaining, and I couldn't put it down. The whole concept of going to vampire classes and deciding if you want to become a vampire or not is not something you read in most vampire novels that have come out in the last few years. Add in going to school, getting ready for and going to Prom, not being able to tell your best friend that you might turn into vampire in a few weeks, along with finding the one you want to be with adds up to a great and funny book.

T.B. 10/11/08

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Crazy in Love by Dandi Daley Mackall

Do you ever feel like you suffer from split personality or hear voices in your head or have a little devil and angel sitting on your shoulder? This book explores the inner conflict that many people have, especially when it comes to the opposite sex.

Mary Jane has two voices in her head: Plain Jane who insists she's nothing spectacular and no one will ever be interested in her, and M.J. who believes she's sexy and worth having. These two voices try to help Mary Jane figure out what to do in the dilemma known as Jackson House. Jackson is dating Mary Jane's two-faced "friend," Star, but now everyone thinks there's something going on between him and Mary Jane. This rumor all stems from the fact that they spent four minutes alone together on a trip for more pop during a friend gathering. Soon Star's spreading rumors and Mary Jane's getting incessant phone calls from boys wanting "a good time," which leads to everyone in school hating her. To make matters worse, Jackson really does like her and the two of them start kissing in his car late at night. According to Plain Jane he couldn't possibly be genuinely interested in her, but M.J. is going crazy with the excitement of where this all could lead. Eventually he chooses Mary Jane and the two start an intense relationship that causes her to question just how far she'll go, especially when a "friend" tells her that Star expects Jackson back when he doesn't get what he wants out of Mary Jane. Is she willing to do it despite her Abstinence in Action pact like her friend Alicia, or will she hold out?

I think this book is an essential read for girls getting into relationships. While much of this book revolves around whether or not she should pursue anything with Jackson, especially with Star lurking around, the subtext of becoming sexually involved is what really makes this novel stand out. Before the world of Jackson for Mary Jane and the world of college for Alicia, the girls made a pact with another friend (Red) known as AIA (Abstinence in Action). They decided to stay virgins until they meet their one true love. For Alicia, that came in the form of Colt who she met in college and she decides to leave AIA for him. Mary Jane now struggles to decide whether or not Jackson is her one. While Alicia is more or less saying "go for it" just like M.J. would, her friend Red emphasises waiting to marriage like she's doing with her longtime boyfriend Alex (Red represents Plain Jane.) This becomes the ultimate struggle that teens face in this overly sexed society and I felt as though this book did a good job of addressing it without being over the top. The reader isn't bogged down with horror stories of what can happen, although there is the casual mention of pregnancy and STDs. At the same time, it isn't encouraging with the mantra that "everyone's doing it." The end of the novel does a good job of representing the emotions felt when "the one" doesn't feel the same way (something hormonal people tend to forget to consider) and describing the awkward conversation of "Will we or won't we tonight."

I enjoyed this novel. I liked the approach to the topic of sex that overpowers certain books. This one has a good message and, overall, just urges us to listen to those voices that we hear because each one presents a side of the argument that we need to hear.

blackbox by Julie Schumacher

The title refers both to the sense that someone suffering from depression is in a black box and also to the boxed warnings on anti-depression drugs. Elena's world changes dramatically when her sister is hospitalized with severe depression. Her parents believe in keeping it a secret. this is a secret that everyone already knows and places Elena in a hard spot. Dora asks Elena to rescue her from her situation which Elena believes means both the depression and the hospital.
The sadness, shame, helplessness sense of responsibility are heavy burdens for Elena to bear. Although Dora is older, Elena has always been the steady one who watched out for her sister. Jimmy, an odd kid who has failed at least one grade reaches out to Elena, befriended her, tried to help her while keeping his own secrets. The climax of the story Elena and Jimmy searching Dora's room after Dora returns home and find a stash of drugs Dora has hidden and discover that Dora is skipping most of her classes. After, Dora tries to commit suicide and Jimmy tells his whole story and Dora perhaps gets the real help she needs. Elena perhaps can begin to set aside concerns for Dora and live her own life but nothing is for certain in this heartbreaking story which is as it should be.
JDW 10/8/08

Lush by Natasha Friend

Friend has two other books Perfect and Bounce that teen girls have discovered for themselves and pass around among friends. Books that teens recommend to each other are the best of the best even if those giving awards don't think so. Finally, I've gotten around to finding out what the attraction to Friend's books is. They're problem novels. This one is about being a teen with an alcoholic parent. But, that's not the attraction to these books, at least I don't think so.

In this book eighth grader Sam is one of a group of four close friends. They do sleep-overs and whisper about unmentionable topics. Sam is a fairly ordinary kid as most kids are. She says 8Th grade boys are jerks (they are) and misses friendships with boys before they became jerks. She locks herself in the bathroom and assesses her looks. She tries a little make-up. She makes herself weird popcorn treats for comfort food. She experiences her first kiss and her first teen party. She makes mistakes, some really bad and apologizes and matures a little. Her father drinks and is in denial at least until four-year-old Luke is hurt by a flying bottle. Sam worries about her parents and Luke and seeks help via letters left in a library book. Who replies and the friendship that develops is really cool. Sam's feelings toward her father and the resolution of this book are very natural. The story has a very real feel to it. Sam is every teen girl, brave, vulnerable, imperfect, very likable. It was a relief for me not to be reading about blond cheerleaders, name brand "everything", mean girls, cliques, current popular teen fare. Yeah I see why kids like Friend. Yes I recommend her books.
JDW 10/8/08

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Last year I read another book by Laurie Faria Stolarz known as Project 17 (October 2007) and felt she did an excellent job with a continued level of suspense. Blue is for Nightmare, which is the beginning of an older series, is another example of how Stolarz creates an enjoyable mystery.

Stacey, a practicing witch, is a junior at a boarding school with an overall normal life besides terrifying nightmares that cause her to wet the bed. What's worse than the bed wetting, however, is the fact that she keeps having dreams about someone trying to hurt/kill her roommate/best friend Drea. After dream spells fail to provide further insight and a card reading confirms the immenent danger/death of Drea, Stacey fights to save her friend, especially since Stacey had been unable to save another friend years ago. Things become complicated by the fact that Drea keeps getting creepy phone calls from a man and then a package of white lillies (the flower for death) shows up with a threatening message. When another student encounters similar situations, Stacey knows this is no game and the stakes are exteremly high. Will she save her friend in time? Or will she have to live with another failure?

Although I'm not a big wiccan fan, this was an extremely enjoyable novel. Stacey only does spells when absolutely necessary and it added to the novel because the magic wasn't crammed down your throat. There were no bubbling cauldrons or apparitions from the beyond. It was very basic and I liked that. In reality, you could probably take away all of the magic (do premonitions really count as magic?) and still have a great novel. The suspense worked throughout, never being overdone or underdeveloped. Once again Stolarz created the perfect balance. I wouldn't say that the killer was obvious but if you really put the extra thought in it and consider the main suspects, it doesn't come as too big of a surprise. But, then again, even the story says after the fact that, "No one seemed suprised it was *** stalking Drea" (277). Does that detract from the story? Not at all! If you go along for the ride, it's definitely worth the trip.

Blue is for Nightmares is a book worth reading if you like mysteries, suspense, and a little supernatural activity. Even if you're not a big fan of witches and spells, this novel is enjoyable. I know that I look forward to reading the other three books in the series.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Up High in Trees by kiara brinkman

The unthinkable has happened to Sebby and his family. We learn exactly what through Sebby's letters to his trusted teacher. As Sebby struggles to feel secure once more in his dramatically changed world, his father spirals downward into depression. This easy to read story is heartbreaking yet hopeful. Its a great read for anyone who feels compassion for others and for those who have themselves suffered unthinkable tragedy.
JDW 10/4/08