Monday, June 30, 2008

The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer

This novel, like Lisa McMann's Wake, is nominated for Best Book for Young Adults. It will, unfortunately, not be receiving my vote as it fell flat in its attempt to stand out.

The story is told through four different points of view. First there is "the man" who has an obsession with five sisters. He watches them on the street as he goes to work, daydreaming about them although never going into any detail about what he might do with them. Then there is the oldest sister, Beauty, sharing her view of wanting more than the little town of Mallory. She dreams of heading to Chicago and making something of her life, or, at the very least, having a boyfriend like her younger sister Stevie. The third point of view is Fancy, the special needs sister who doesn't fully comprehend what is happening. The last, and most important narrator, is Autumn, the youngest sister to whom the main conflict occurs.

In terms of the actual plot, The Herbert family is struggling with money since the father fell off a roof and hurt his back. The five sisters go through their daily life, hoping everything falls into place, completely unaware that someone is watching them. In order to make/save some money, the family decides to "lend" one daughter, Stevie, to their aunt. On the day Stevie is supposed to leave, Autumn goes for a walk and ends up lost. She asks a man she met at the duck pond for help, but he's more interested in helping himself than her. Before she knows it, she's his hostage and her family is frantically looking for her.

The story has a lot of potential, but I don't feel that the author pulled it off. The different points of view led the story to be choppy. It takes a long time for the plot to actually take shape, probably due to character development, but, at the same time, it felt as though there wasn't enough development. The story didn't flow as smoothly as it could. At the same time, because of the chunking, it felt like there needed to be more action and thought. I wanted to know more of her experience. What did he really do to her? There needed to be more depth to the story to make it as powerful as I feel the author wanted. "The man" also wasn't as threatening as I feel he could have been. It all seemed too easy.

This book turned out to be a disappointment. For being nominated as a Best Book, I expected more power behind the story. The choppiness of the format overall left it lacking.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wake by Lisa McMann

This novel has an interesting concept that I'm not sure if it is entirely possible, but it's intriguing just the same. While it starts off a little slow, once the plot takes off, it really grabs your attention.

Janie has a unique ability to enter people's dreams. If anyone around her falls asleep and dreams, she gets sucked in as an observer, watching someone else's inner desires and fears play out. While this disrupts her daily life, what troubles her is the inability to help these people when their dream self asks for assistance. As her senior year begins, she forms a love/hate relationship with a neighbor, Cabel, who over the summer transformed his image. On a trip to Canada with her class, Janie becomes bombarded on the bus ride with dreams. Cabel witnesses this and tries to help her as much as possible. With all the he sees, though, Janie doesn't have a choice but to fill him in on her secret. Cabel does a few things to hurt Janie, such as forming a relationship with a girl she thought he hated, but it turns out she's not the only one with secrets. Right around the time she finds out what he's hiding, she learns that she's not the only one with this dream ability and has to figure out a way to harness her power to help people.

This novel started out really slow. After a while it became boring watching Janie go in and out of people dreams. I understand that it's character development, but I think it took just a little too long. When we find out Cabel's secret, though, the story really begins to take shape. It seems that until that happens, the story really didn't have a plot. His secret (I feel like I should reveal it, but then what's the point of the reading it yourself) combined with Janie's ability help to turn this novel into the beginning of a series, which I think has potential. When I started reading the book I didn't think it would go anywhere or would prove to be a very redundant series, but after finishing the book I actually look forward to a sequel. One thing, though, that does bother me is the writing style. The novel is chunked in days and then by hours, which make it very choppy. The reading felt very fragmented. It works, I guess, but I personally prefer more of a fluid flowing story.

Even though this novel takes a while to actually get going, it's an interesting concept and definitely worth a shot. I'm interested to see what's to come with the series.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Alchemist {Secrets of Nicholas Flamel} by Michael Scott

This is first of a new fantasy series. In the 1300's and 1400's a form of magic was believed in and practiced. This was alchemy a chemical philosophy that believed in the transmutation of metal into gold. Two of the most famous practitioners were Nicholas Flamel and Dr. John Dee. You can look them up on the internet as Twins Sophie and Josh Newman, heroes of this story, did.
Dr. John Dee seeks to control the world. Possession of the BOOK OF ABRAHAM and help from evil like minded characters can make this happen. Nicholas Flamel has long been in possession of the book. Using the book to rule the world would mean the end of mankind. Dr. Dee is almost successful in stealing the book. He gets all but a couple of pages torn out by Josh during a struggle over it. The race is on Dr. Dee needs those pages and Flamel needs to save the world. A prophecy of two who are one that will keep evil away seems to point to Sophie and Josh. Nicholas must hide them from Dr. Dee, unlock their powers and get them trained to use their magical abilities before its too late. There are several battles here in which the good side lose very good folk. I enjoyed this fantasy and the melding with actual history. The next book is out this summer!
JDW 6/26

The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Aldington

On a different planet in the not too distant future, dna testing has separated the population in three groups based on their supposed evolutionary status. The Atsumisi (red) are considered the most advanced. They have a gene expression no other group has though no one knows what the advantage of having it might be. Manizzi (blue) are second. They have the gene but it is inactive. Galrezi (green) are without the gene and considered inferior though the possess great artistic ability the others lack. I wonder if shedding the gene really makes Galrezi superior. Maybe the authorities have it backwards because they do not want to be of the inferior class.
In any case it doesn't take long for authorities to start deporting Galrezi to work on water projects elsewhere. Those who go seem to just cease to exist. Then Galrezi are blamed for water shortages at home, war that isn't fully explained and for protest against the government and are "punished" with curfews and limits to their freedom. The reader learns all this from a diary left behind by one girl who had fallen on hard times after being labeled Galrezi. The diary is found after the final clearance of the area in which the last of the Galrezi once lived. The worker assigned to help with the clearing and eventual rebuilding of the area takes risks by keeping and reading it. It is through him that we learn much of what happened to Galrezi, Pelly and her family - but not all. Is it possible that gene mapping could lead us to another massive genocide like the Jewish Holocaust? Will we ever learn to be truly tolerant? CHERRY HEAVEN is a companion to this novel for teens.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Urban Literature selection

The following is an annotated list of three African American novels:

Tyrell by Coe Booth
Tyrell is a teen who has faced some hard times and is struggling to turn things around. His pops has been in jail three times and is currently in prison, leaving his mom, brother, and him without support. His moms believes that the man is supposed to take care of the family, therefore placing an extra burden on Tyrell since she doesn't have her act together. Now forced to live in a run-down, roach-filled hotel, Tyrell tries to make things better for his family. As he develops a plan to DJ a party and make the money needed to find a new apartment, he deals with a girlfriend who won't allow him to fully be her man and a new girl who proves to be a little more temptation than he needs at this moment. While all this is going on, Tyrell struggles to avoid becoming like his father.

This novel did a great job of capturing the character of Tyrell. It utilizes Ebonics or the language variety of English that African Americans tend to use. The language really helps to develop the characters and make them more three dimensional. This novel was very real. You could envision Tyrell's struggles and sympathize with his anger and frustrations to make things right. Even the ending fits perfectly with the life he's leading. While this wasn't my normal book to read, I feel this is a great piece of urban literature. For another review see August 07.

The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake
This is an older novel but another good character driven story. The main character is Maleeka, a young girl made fun of because she's too black. Her life suddenly gets turned upside down when a new teacher, Miss Saunders, comes and tries make the school better. Miss Saunders also turns Maleeka into her own special project because she can relate to the young girl. She too was made fun of because she has a large stain on her face. She tries to show Maleeka that she has talent and potential to be more than the students make her. Part of Maleeka's problem, though, is that she hangs out with a girl named Charlese who is a bad influence, forcing Maleeka to do things she doesn't want to do. Will Maleeka ever stand up to Charlese? Will she ever learn to be comfortable in her skin?

This novel also utilizes Ebonics but I felt Tyrell did it more convincingly. In fact, Tyrell was an overall more convincing novel. The Skin I'm In ends too happily ever after, but maybe that's because this novel is more about becoming a better person and more of a lesson novel while Tyrell is more of a character study. I'm not entirely sure, but this novel is good for helping kids reach their potential and developing their own self-esteem. One slight drawback with this novel is that it seems more geared for middle school, early high school. I don't think that older teens connect as much with the novel.

Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper
This is another older novel, but I read it because it was a favorite novel of some students. Gerald's life from the beginning wasn't easy. His mother neglected him at an early age, forcing him to be removed to the custody of his aunt Queen at the age of three. Aunt Queen loved him like her own and showed him what it was to be cared for. When he turned nine, though, his world changed when he mother re-entered his life and Aunt Queen died suddenly. Now he's forced to live with his mother, his step-dad Jordan, and his half-sister Angel. While his mother isn't as neglectful as she had been, Jordan is abusive to her and molests Angel. Gerald becomes a source of comfort for Angel, showing her the love Aunt Queen taught him, but he can only do so much to protect her from Jordan. When that becomes too much, he gets the police involved and Jordan istaken away, but only for a few years. Soon he returns but claims to be a changed man. Gerald knows, though, that it's only a matter of time before he slips up and their terror returns.

This novel was enjoyable and I could see why the students liked it. Gerald can easily stand for a source of strength for kids facing a similar situation. Their life wasn't easy, even in the end, but the novel showed that you don't have to put up with that abuse. It also instilled the importance of having outside resources and outlets for release. Gerald had a friend's father who became a father figure and someone he could go to for help. He also had basketball and Angel had dancing, an outlet where both of them to forget their troubles and just be themselves. This novel did a good job capturing their struggle.

All three novels have their strengths. Tyrell is a great at capturing the struggle that some African Americans might have, both in living their daily life as well as in their personal relationships. The Skin I'm In is a good resource for developing self-esteem while Forged by Fire is nice for dealing with abusive families. Some might be better examples of truly urban literature, but all are a sampling of African American characters.

Friday, June 20, 2008

breathe: a ghost story

The unexpected tragic death of Jack's father seems to have helped make him sensitive to the spirit world. Touching old objects, walls of houses and so on gives him a sense of the people who once held the objects or lived in the houses. To help Jack with his grieving, his mother moves to a very old house where they get much more than they bargained for. In the house are the souls of four children captured by a once good mother who has turned very evil and creepy. She wants to stay earth bound forever by sucking energy first from the kids and later from Jack's own mother. It will keep her out of the nightmare passage but send the innocent kids there. Jack's increasing sensitivity makes possible communication with the ghost kids and the evil mother and he takes risks to rescue them. This is a nicely spooky tale for middle school kids. There is a sequel as well
JDW 6/21/08

Cherry Heaven by Adlington

This one is for fans of Lois Lowry's book THE GIVER and her other dystopian society books.
Cherry Heaven is a home and a cherry orchard that was once quite successful. It went into disuse when a terrible tragedy took place. This wasn't fully explained. There has been a complete gene mapping, everyone falls into one of three categories and wear metal wetware attached to the back of their hands. The Atsumisi(red) are the most advanced evolution - wise and green Galrezi are the least advanced though supposedly it makes no difference. Just like ethnicity makes a difference in our world, though we don't want it to, Galrezi are looked down upon. New arrivals to the planet have just been given Cherry Heaven as their residence. Their planet had been damaged by warfare. The main part of this story revolves around the escape of a Galrezi girl from a factory that utilizes slave like labor tactics. The factory bottles flavored water that is all the rage with Atsumisi. People are somehow mislead to believe no other water is really safe to consume. The girl wasn't always a slave, her clever escape was unheard of. Authorities are hot to get her back. She is hot to get revenge on all who have done harm to her and her family. She is the only survivor of a murder spree. People from her past recognize her and protect her. The new arrivals get involved because one of the girls is in love with the son of those helping her and because they are living in her home. There's a little sibling rivalry between sisters both with interest in the hottest boy on the planet. There's romance, there's mystery and many vivid characters. But, I don't really know what makes this world go round, except for slave laborers, wealthy folks who apparently got wealthy building a dam, there isn't much business, science, history, commerce and there are secrets surrounding everything. THE DIARY OF PELLY D apparently is a sort of prequel to this and I am reading it in hopes of getting a better understanding of this future world. It held my attention.
JDW 6/21/08

The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez By: Alan Lawrence Sitomer

This is a novel of a Latino teen called Sonia, who wants to excell in life, and be the first in her family to graduate from High School . She encounters many problems along the way, and in fact drops out of high school, because of family problems. After a few months, she (Sonia) goes to a Counselor at the high school to talk about how she can reach her goal of achieving her high school diploma.

In latin culture, family is priority over all. The father of Sonia works three jobs. Her Mother does not work, and spends the day watching soaps all day on television. Sonia is the oldest
child , then she has a brother , and brand new baby twins. Sonia also has an alcoholic Uncle that lives in their house. He is a problem for Sonia being that he has wandering eyes. Sonia is scared to tell her Mother , because he is her brother . He ( the drunkard) was named "drunkle".

Sonia has a boyfriend called Geraldo who she hardly sees. Towards the end of the novel, Geraldo , who she hardly sees. Towards th end of the novel, Geraldo saves Sonia, from being actually raped by her intoxicated Uncle-Drinkle.

The novel is an excellent tool for 9- 12 graders. It has a moral to this novel, you must work hard for everything hard in life. I enjoyed the book very much.
LRD 6/20/08

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

This novel is basically Gossip Girl in 1899. It had the sex, scandal, and double crossing that Gossip Girl is known for (at least the TV version because I haven't read the books to honestly compare).

The main character is Elizabeth - a pure and proper girl who has a not so pure secret (she's having intimate relations with a servant). Will, the family's stable boy, wants to run away with her, but when she learns of her family's money troubles, she knows she has to do something. Enter Henry - the town's wealthy playboy whose father threatens to disinherit him if he doesn't change his ways. In order to please his father, Henry has to marry Elizabeth, not Penelope - his current lover and Elizabeth's best friend. Even though Elizabeth is in love with Will, this marriage proves a solution to her family's troubles. Penelope, though, plots revenge because she loves Henry. Two other characters then come into play: Diana - Elizabeth's sister who shares a genuine love with Henry, and Lina - Elizabeth's scorned servant who knows too much and is all too eager to use it to get what she wants. Will true lovers be together? Or will society get in the way?

Most of the novel is a flashback leading to the death of Elizabeth that's presented at the beginning of the novel as a hanging mystery. The mystery, though, was a little too predictable. I, for one, predicted it shortly after meeting the live Elizabeth. There's already a sequel (Rumors) and the ending is enough to draw in readers. The time period works well for the scandalous nature of relationships and the restraints imposed on the characters. I don't think it's prove as powerful today.

Even though the novel didn't send me over the moon, I think Gossip Girl readers will find this new series worth their time.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett

This novel is a fictionalized account of Mary Shelley's life. What is so tantalizing about this novel is the fact that all of what occurs in one way or another honestly happened. All the scandal and love isn't made up simply to be a page turner.

Young sixteen year old Mary believed in the radical ideas of parents and thought the only worthy lover was a poet. One day, in her father's bookshop, she met the young and attractive poet known as Shelley. Soon he came to call upon the family, taking Mary and her sister Jane on walks. Before long he seduced her, despite the fact that he was already married, bringing shame to Mary's family. She, though, deeply loved Shelley and the two ran off together with her sister. And so begins the passionate and scandalous affair, highlighted with the repeated births and deaths of their children, travels, and the rejection of her own family. They also form a friendship with Lord Byron, known to them as George, who fascinates Shelley and seduces her sister who suddenly changes her name to Claire. All the while Mary is haunted by a story that she heard on a boat about an alchemist who used dead body pieces to create another person. Inspired by the story, Mary eventually puts pen to paper, writing her most popular story: Frankenstein.

This book in and of itself is an enjoyable read. There are few slow points with the repeated ups and downs of Mary's life as she struggles to make sense with the love and life she's leading. I wouldn't say that the story is "haunting" as the cover claims, but it is still a fascinating tale. What really blows my mind about the novel is the truth behind it. Granted, the author did take some liberties (like the order of certain events and exclusion of certain characters in Mary's life) but the majority of the intriguing aspects of Mary's life are true. While there is an author's note that speaks some more about Mary's biography, this book drove me to look up more about Mary Shelley. It is just unbelievable all that this woman went through.

Angelmonster turned out to be a really interesting novel. While not all information is historically accurate, it is an entertaining way to learn about the author of Frankenstein. Definitely worth the read.