Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pretenders by Lisi Harrison

Pretenders is a new series by Lisi Harrison, author of The Clique and Monster High series. This series is filled with a cast of unique characters all trying to make their mark in high school through whatever means possible.

The novel is made up of journal entries from five students who eventually become the “Phoenix Five,” a group of five students who are truly outstanding in school. One student is Lily, a former home schooled girl who just wants to be normal while obsessing over her neighbor Duffy. The boy-next-door is another student whose journal is featured in this book. Duffy is a basketball star struggling to make his mark as a freshman on varsity, especially after learning about his family’s financial woes. He’ll do whatever it takes to stay on the team, even if it means compromising his image for money. He seems to like Sheridan who can be a bit of a drama queen as she tries to find the right persona that everyone will love as she models herself after actors or characters she has seen elsewhere. All she wants to do is fit in and be popular, which is becoming even more difficult as her best friend’s summer friend shows up, proving to be everything Sheridan wants to be. It doesn’t help that her best friend now has a boyfriend, orphan Jagger whose parents are in jail for taking care of a bully. He’s now trying to survive on his own while steering clear of someone who might want revenge for his parent’s actions. Aside from the journals of Lily, Duffy, Sheridan, and Jagger, there is also Vanessa who is struggling to maintain her status as the best-of-the-best, which she feels will keep her parents from fighting. She’s willing to do anything, even possibly illegal activities to maintain her G.P.A. Before long, it seems as if all of the characters are in over their heads, each moment documented in their journals.

This novel does a good job of creating five unique characters, each one individual and fully developed. At times, however, they seem a bit like caricatures and cliches. Duffy is the jock, Lily is the sheltered home schooled kid, Vanessa is an overachiever obsessed with grades, Jagger is the mysterious loner, and Sheridan is the actress. Sheridan to me was the hardest to swallow. Her obsession with being someone else was a bit much to digest. It really went over the top when she wanted to channel “Massie Block from the straight-to-DVD movie The Clique” (59), which is a not too subtle nod to the author’s other series (there is also a Monster High reference later in the book). It read as a desperate move from the author to promote her other works. Plus it alienates people who don’t know her books. The other character Sheridan wants to channel are more pop-culture, but even the Gossip Girl reference will date the book. Her whole character was a little too much, so it was nice come the end when she starts to be more herself than someone else. Lily’s stalker tendencies also got to be a little much, although I’m sure a number of girls can relate to the obsessive quality of having a crush on a boy out of your league - even if Lily takes it to extremes. Jagger is the least developed character, but I think that all works towards him being the most mysterious. The characters become more likable as the book progresses and their true stories develop and grow conflicted. It all culminates to one night when everything gets out of control, and then the book ends in a cliffhanger.

For the most part I wasn’t impressed with the book - at least for three-fourths of the novel. It feels a bit like a watered down attempt at Pretty Little Liars with less extreme secrets. I wasn’t going to pick up the next book, but I might just to see how it all turns out - thanks to the cliffhanger at the end. All of the characters seem to have the best intentions, their desperation just got in the way of making smart choices. We shall see in book two how it all turns out.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti

Waiting for You is all about the complicated life of a teenager. Marisa is dealing with everything most teenagers face - finding a boyfriend and fitting in. She has the slight complication that she has an anxiety disorder which nearly destroyed her freshman year, but now that she’s a sophomore, she’s got it all figured out, or so she thinks. Things start to get complicated when she becomes lab partners with her neighbor Nash. At first it’s an amazing friendship, but then he has to go and like her more than she likes him. Now that friendship is on the rocks. Then she gets her dream boyfriend Derek, but that puts a strain on her friendship with her best friend Sterling who doesn’t have a boyfriend. On top of that, Derek is still awfully friendly with his ex, which has Marisa questioning his commitment to her. To make matters even worse, Marisa’s parents - whom she always thought were the perfect example of parents - are getting a divorce. While Marisa fights to keep her cool through all of this drama and not give into her anxiety and depression, there’s a podcast by DJ Dirty Dirk, the only guy who genuinely seems to understand everything she’s going through.

This novel spans Marisa’s entire sophomore year. You could relate to the characters and cheer for them to figure it all out. While it is jam-packed with drama, it all felt very basic. This is a decent coming-of-age novel for girls struggling to find a balance in high school, friendships and being true to yourself. It is a quick read that hits the bare-necessities of a novel wanting to make a statement about relationships and identity and the things that matter in life. Marisa finds a way to get through all of the drama and her disorder to come to appreciate everything and everyone she has in her life.

Irresistible by Liz Bankes

Irresistible is a novel that explores the draws girls have for the “bad boy.” Mia is fortunate to get a waitressing job at the Radleigh Castle Restaurant during the summer. There she meets Dan, a co-worker whom she immediately hits it off with. However, she also meets Jaime, the attractive son of the owner of the estate. While Dan is a sweet, down-to-earth guy, Jaime is the “bad boy” who doesn’t shy away from ruining people’s reputations. When Jaime and his girlfriend Cleo meets Mia, they draws her into their world of questionable relationship statuses, late night swims, and parties in the pool house, all of which escalates when Cleo goes away on vacation. Mia is torn between the perfect guy Dan and the intriguing Jaime who is simply bored with nothing better to do with his time. Mia is unprepared for what happens when this double life is horribly exposed, risking everything she’s gained, including her friends.

While I understand the appeal of the “bad boy,” Jaime just seemed like a jerk. Near the end of the book, it says that he became a better person when he was around Mia, but I wish that was more prominent in the novel because he just seemed like a mean person. He seemed to show no remorse for toying with others. Aside from him being attractive and the allure of a rich guy, I didn’t understand what Mia’s draw was to him. Her constant association with him even turned her into a person with no regard for her family or friends. Come the end of the novel, while it is left open ended, Mia seems to end up getting her act in gear and realizing what she was risking with this relationship, but I simply didn’t understand the draw to Jaime. I always thought that with a romance the reader would want the characters together - to have some sort of reader appeal with the “hero,” but I didn’t get that with this novel.

This novel is for older teens looking for a more complex/sophisticated relationship or “romance.” While I am all for romances, this one missed the mark for me.

the impossible knife of memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Tags for this title are fathers and daughters fiction; post traumatic stress disorder fiction; family problems fiction; veterans fiction.  The story starts out with a teenaged girl talking about just returning to her grandma's house after of years of absence and no memory of this past.  She and her dad had been on the road, hauling loads in his semi for a number of years.  Now apparently his past war trauma is catching up with him and he wants to settle down or perhaps hide from his memories, let his daughter go to a real school, graduate.  So, I have two people now with possible post traumatic stress disorder.  We need to add the boy who insists on befriending Hayley and the kindergarten friend Gracie who still remembers Hayley and is experiencing serious trauma herself.  All together we have four people experiencing trauma and drama in their lives.  I think all the drama among the teens was enough story in itself, without dad's trauma.  Hayley lost her mother then her grandmother who was raising her, is all of sudden in school after being more or less home schooled.  She is having memory problems, she is rebellious. That's enough trauma to carry the story even without her friends' serious problems.  Dad's drama is just sort of added on to everything else.  Maybe the point of this story is that there is all kinds of traumatic stress in all kinds of lives.  If it was meant to show to teens the effects of war on veterans, I don't think it was completely successful.  I think that gets sort of lost in all the other mess going on.  I read Laurie Halse Anderson books.  I wouldn't say she is a favorite author but her books are ok.  I do not think this one is one of her better books however.  Just my say. 
JDW  5/14

Monday, May 12, 2014

Cold Calls - Charles Benoit

It all begins with a call to Eric.  The voice is distorted and there is air popping and clicks in the background.  The person calls several times and in the middle of the night tells Eric to check his inbox.  There is a picture taken from inside his room there in his e-mail.  Eric becomes paranoid and keeps checking his phone and e-mail for the mysterious caller.  After a few days of not hearing anything the mysterious caller calls.  He/she tells Eric they know his secret and to check his e-mail again.  In his e-mail is a picture he thought was gone forever.  If he doesn't do tasks on certain days and times the picture will get sent to everyone he knows.  Shelly got a call from the same distorted voice as Eric.  The caller tells her they know her secret.  Shelly has to complete several tasks and her secret won't get out.  Both Eric and Shelly dump food on kids at their respective schools and get suspended for a week.  They also have to complete a weekend bullying program for them to go back to school after the suspension.  They sit through videos and questions on Saturday.  They also had to write an essay about taking responsibility for their actions.  On Sunday there are only eight kids left.  As they complete paperwork saying they completed the program, Eric and Shelly overhear the teacher telling the security guard reasons some of the kids didn't come back.  The one that stands out is a strange voice called at night.  Shelly talks to Eric after the program.  She tries to convince him that the same person called both of them and told them to do certain things at certain times.  Eric thinks it's done with, but the voice calls him Sunday night telling him the macaroni and cheese task has to be done while he's suspended.  Fatima, one of the girls from the bullying program, calls Shelly.  Fatima finally gets to the point telling Shelly she got the same calls as Eric and Shelly.  When Eric gets back from working out he discovers that the mysterious caller has sent a picture to all of his contacts on his phone.  He finds Shelly's number and gives her a call.  Eric, Shelly, and Fatima meet at the library.  They hope to figure out who is behind the creepy calls before Thursday night to keep their secrets from getting out.  

Just like Benoit's other books I really enjoyed this one.  I liked how Benoit took on the issue of bullying.  I also liked the story being reminiscent of the mystery/thriller books by R. L. Stine, Richie T. Cusick, Diane Hoh, and Lois Duncan from the mid to late 1990's.  It was nice to have the nostalgia in a book set in today's technology driven society.  I would recommend Fall From Grace and You by Charles Benoit. 

T.B. 5/12/14

Friday, May 09, 2014

Painting the Rainbow by Amy Gordon

Cousins Holly and Ivy have been going to the family lake vacation home every summer all their lives.  Generations before them had also done so.  This summer is a little different though.  Ivy and her brother believe their parents are divorcing.  Holly's parents are away teaching summer school and researching a closely held family secret.  Grandpa has brought the Rainbow boat out of storage for the first time in many years.  The girls had never seen it, now they would be helping to restore it to its former rainbow colored glory.  The Vietnam war was in progress and cousins may be called to join the fight or might become conscientious objectors.   The family secret centers on the summer Ivy's father's twin brother died.  That summer WWII was in progress.  One twin was joining up, the other was not.  So in many ways it feels like history is repeating itself.  Ivy, Holly keep finding traces of that long ago summer in letters, pictures, notes stuck in old books.  Randy is asking questions and of course the the rainbow boat had last been used that fateful summer.  Ivy and Holly have issues with maturing as well.  Perhaps Holly is moving on and a once close friendship will either end or change.
This is an easy way to learn about the powerful effects of war on families.  And maybe why secrets should not be kept?  I really liked Ivy and the courage she shows during this pivotal summer.  I don't know that this is a remarkable story or anything.  Issues considered here have been covered before.  But, it is overall enjoyable, short and easy.  I think its worth reading.  Even if you are not into history all that much, the relationship between Ivy and Holly will keep most, girls, especially interested.


End of Night by Paul Bogard

There are several organizations studying the effects of the ever increasing amount of artificial light at night.  They are examining sleeping people, migrating birds, night flowering plants, bats, insects and energy use.  All are adversely affected. This book gives many vivid examples such as a flock of migrating birds mistaking a pool of light on a parking lot for water and diving to their deaths.  Organizations studying safety and night lighting have developed recommendations for the best use of lighting to achieve best results.  People usually just throw more light at a problem which is never especially effective, wastes energy and makes invisible to the naked eye all but the brightest objects in the night sky.  Kids are growing up without the wonder of seeing stars, milky way, satellites, meteors and more.  Even if they go someplace dark enough to see the objects, they cannot adequately
see them as their eyes are not trained to.

Bogard traveled the world to experience the remaining darkest places such as Great Basin National Park.  He traveled to places specially designed with lighting to provide safety as well as preserve the ability to see night sky, sleep in darkness, protect migrants, bats and other flora and fauna.  He talked with the experts on the subject of night and its loss to artificial lighting to find out what they learned about all the adverse effects.  He shares with us his journey in a way I found very fascinating.

I think there are teens, interested in conservation, who would find this nonfiction book fascinating as well.  A person could even set a new career goal after reading it.

JDW 5/9