Friday, August 31, 2012

Fair Coin - E.C. Myers

Ephraim comes home from school one day and finds his mother near death after taking pills with alcohol.  Apparently his mom thought that a bus accident victim at the hospital was Ephraim.  It turns out it was Ephraim, but an Ephraim from a different reality.  He sneaks into the morgue to check out the body.  He finds his wallet, library card, and a coin on the other Ephraim.  This coin can grant wishes, and he wishes that his mom would be a better mom.  The next morning his mom is cooking breakfast and there is no sign of pill bottles or alcohol.  He keeps this information to himself not even sharing it with his best friend Nathan.  His next wish is to have the girl who he has had a crush on notice him.  The wish kind of works and she does notice him, but not in the way he wanted it.  He finally tells Nathan and they agree to both touch the coin when either of them makes a wish.  This way they both benefit from it.  After several more wishes Ephraim lands in a reality where Nathan is popular and not his best friend.  He runs into an older version of Nathan who tells him that each time they make a wish and flip the coin they travel to an alternate reality.  There is also a controller which controls which reality they go into and records coordinates of the different realities.  The coin by itself just bumps you into the closest reality to the one you are in.  This younger version of Nathan is only out for greed and money.  He also wants to stop the older Nathan from ever getting the coin and controller back. Ephraim decides to make sure this younger version of Nathan is stopped any way possible.  The only way for Ephraim to get back to his own reality is to have the coin and controller, which Nathan has, and he's not going to give them up without a fight. 

I do love alternate reality books.  They really do make you think about choices the characters have made, or will make and how they affect the story.  Will thoses choices make them a better person, or are they making a choice for their own selfish gains?  Fair Coin can get a little confusing with all the different realities that are visited, but everything sorts its self out in the end.  There is a sequal coming out in October 2012 called Quantum Coin

T.B. 8/31/12

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger

This is the second book of a cute and quirky series. If you are a Star Wars fan you will probably enjoy this book more than the average reader.

In the previous book a kid named Dwight created an origami finger puppet of Yoda - a wise character from Star Wars. Students started going to Origami Yoda for advice and he soon became a huge hit and brought people together. In this book, something Origami Yoda said leads to Dwight being expelled and possibly sent to another school. This book is then a "case file" or a series of arguments and stories as to why Dwight should not be sent to another school. The stories detail how Dwight and Origami Yoda have helped different students deal with difficult situations. In the meantime, Harvey -who is somewhat of a bully - interjects his own comments and judgments, using his own Origami Darth Vader ("Darth Paper") to prove that Origami Yoda and Dwight have not done any good. Will the case file save Dwight or are he and Origami Yoda history?

This is a really quick read and a cute story. It takes place in a middle school and you can definitely hear the voice of the students. That said, there's not much depth or character development, but I don't think any of that's the point of the story. It's just a light, fun book with plenty of moments to chuckle. The pages also have little drawings around the edges which add to the story.

I enjoyed this book. Then again, I'm also a Star Wars fan so I don't know how the average reader will feel about this book.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Although this book was written in the 70s, it is a timeless tale with themes that are still relevant today.

In an all boys school there is a secret society called the Vigils that creates "assignments" for select boys to complete. Archie creates the assignments and is relatively revered in the school. A change is coming at the school, though, when the headmaster is out and the current man in charge, Brother Leon, sets out a plot to sell 20,000 boxes of old Mother's Day chocolates. While the school is used to chocolate sales, it was only half this amount and Brother Leon calls upon the Vigils to make sure every box is sold. There's only one flaw in his plan and it's a new boy named Jerry Renault. At first Jerry says no to selling chocolates because of an assignment but when the time period is over, he continues to refuse to sell. Brother Leon is furious because this boy is disrupting the system and soon others begin the start thinking like Jerry. The Vigils aren't happy either, especially after they told him to start selling and he continues to refuse. Can order be brought back or will free will reign?

This novel plays on a lot of important themes for teens such as peer pressure, bullying, free will and standing up for what you believe in. That said, the message at the end of the book isn't that uplifting, even if it is a bit realistic because sometimes the bad guys to succeed and wills are broken. Some of the ideas in the book are a bit perposterous and the characters caricatures, but maybe you have to go extreme to get your point across. I would have liked a little bit more character development. I wanted to know a little bit more with regards to motivation for certain characters. Most of all though, I wanted to see the bad guys taken down a peg and that never really happened.

This book is realistic in the point that the good guys don't always succeed, but unrealistic in certain situations. My expectations and hopes left me disappointed with the book, but I think it has merit for the themes that it presents.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford

This is  middle school fast read about friendships and the way they grow and change.  Araminta known as Minty chases after a flash in the woods, sure someone is lurking and taking secret pictures of people.  She stumbles on a hollow tree in which people have been placing their greatest, most painful secrets.  There is something magical about this tree that seems to say if you give me your secrets, I'll take care of them.  Not long after, Minty meets the flash in the woods who turns out to be Raymond.  He has been sneaking around taking pictures and spying on people.  It is his hope to match the pictures with the secrets on the slips of paper from the tree.  Minty decides to assist him in his detective work.  She has her own secrets, her best friend seems to have a new best friend and seems to be leaving her behind. Yeah that one is familiar. Throughout this summer before middle school Minty and Raymond, spy and gradually figure out which secret belongs to whom, mostly anyway.  Minty manages to take some pretty funny action to resolve some of the hurts.  She learns Raymond's greatest secret.  She finds her own worked out just by being herself and helping or tormenting others.  I like the witches house and who the witch turns out to be.  It seems like most neighborhoods have some spooky house to be avoided at all cost.  It seems like kids, not knowing exactly why, make up creepy stories to explain things.  We did in my neighborhood, so did my best friend.  This is great comfort food.
jdw 8/22

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fall From Grace - Charles Benoit

When Sawyer meets Grace for the first time it is at Model UN being held at East High School. She plans on stealing the North Korea treaty for the United States. The only reason for doing this for fun and she is bored. Grace ropes Sawyer into helping her, and after she leaves him a thank you gift in his locker. He admits to himself that it was fun. After this little adventure Sawyers life goes back to normal. His shifts at the ice cream store, hanging out with his girlfriend Zoë, and having his parents make all the important decisions in his life. For example: where he's going to college and what classes he should take during his senior year. A few weeks later Grace pops in at the ice cream shop he works at. She says she's researching law loopholes at the library, but Sawyer isn't believing her. A few days later while Sawyer is at the library doing his career project, he runs into Grace again. They make small talk and plan on meeting at her aunt's apartment to watch The Sting. The watch the movie and afterward he drives her to the library near where her aunt lives where she plans on stealing a painting from the library. After the trip to the library she randomly calls him at odd hours like 1 or 2 in the morning to come and get her. He doesn't ask any questions, but he still has them. Between the random trips to pick up Grace, his father pestering him about calculus, and Zoë asking him questions about who the girl is he's hanging out with Sawyer has forgotten all about the career project. Right before Thanksgiving break Grace plans to steal the painting from the library. All Sawyer has to do is drive her back to her aunt's place. It takes longer for her to get back to the car than she planned, but she has the painting. A few days later Grace and Sawyer are casing the museum because Grace has a plan to steal a painting from there. In the early morning hours on Black Friday Grace attempts to rob the museum. Sawyer goes there because he's worried about her. They end up getting caught and Sawyer is charged with attempted robbery. Sawyer now has a choice to make. Option one: testify against Grace, who he's only known for a few months, and have nothing on his record. Option two: he doesn't testify against Grace, has a record, and possibly faces jail time. Sawyer's life is in his hands. Which would you choose?

I like the way Benoit takes some one who is set on a path in life and throws in a totally opposite person into their life. Sometimes we need that randomness and unexpectedness to make life a little more exciting. Even if it is doing something that you may not ever consider doing on your own. Sometimes when you are with that one person you just say to yourself I'll do it for them.

T.B. 8/16/12

Monday, August 06, 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray should not be confused with Fifty Shades of Grey. The one is about a teen's struggles through the Soviet's evacuation of Lithuania and the other is an adult romance novel, therefore they have no connection whatsoever.

Lina is fifteen-years-old and an aspiring artist when the NKVD knocks on her family's door one night and gives them twelve minutes to pack up and leave. She's then loaded up into a cramped train car with her mother and brother and given a daily bucket of food and water for the entire car to share. Her father had been taken elsewhere and she's desperate to reconnect with him, believing that her art can lead him back to her through clues in her drawings. Lina bonds with her fellow evictees, especially a young boy named Andrius. Soon they are brought to a work camp and forced into hard labor with little rations. There they are encouraged to sign a document sentencing them to 25 years of labor and admitting that they are criminals. Lina and her family fight this and their time in the camp eventually comes to an end when a handful of the people in the camp, including Lina and her family but not Andrius, are loaded into trucks and sent to an area near the North Pole where they are sentenced to work and survive harsh conditions that many do not survive. Lina has to find the strength to survive and hold onto hope that she will make it back to her father and Andrius.

I have never been big on history but I've always known a fair amount about Hitler and the Holocaust although not very much about Stalin and what he did, which is what this book focused on. It was very eye opening to realize that the Holocaust was not the only genocide going on at the time. In terms of the book itself, it was a good story as you struggled with Lina to make sense of this unimaginable situation she's been forced into. I would have loved to have seen her drawings, however. I don't know if that would have detracted from the seriousness of the novel, but she constantly talked about drawings and leaving clues and I think it might have enhanced the story to give the reader a clear visual from the eyes of the survivor, especially because the drawings were mentioned so often. It might have helped us connect with Lina and her situation. I didn't like the ending of the novel. It ends abruptly and then there's a letter written about twelve years later that doesn't answer some of the important questions like: how were you honestly able to survive twelve years in the North Pole? what really happened to your father? how were you rescued? For me it was a very unsatisfying ending. There was some closure, but by no means enough.

This is a great book to help the world realize that the Jews under Hitler were not the only ones in Europe treated like criminals for doing nothing because Stalin was doing the same thing and all you had to do to be a target was live in the country he wanted. This books shows the struggles to survive and hold onto hope that it will all work out in the end.