Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos

Sometimes you need to step away from yourself to figure out who you are and what matters. Dark Dude explores that journey for one teen.

Rico is a young Latino boy growing up in 1960s Harlem. The problem is that he looks like a white boy, which leaves him torn in his identity since he's not white, but the Latinos don't count him as one of them either. When his struggles in school lead his parents to threaten military school, Rico makes a drastic decision to run away with his best friend who nearly died in a horrible accident while on drug. Looking for a fresh start, they head to Wisconsin to stay with an old buddy of Rico's. While Rico and his friend start to find their places in the world, Rico discovers that you can't escape all of your problems.

Although this novel takes place in the '60s, it is a timeless story about identity and family. Aside from mentions of hippies and full-service gas stations, it's easy to imagine this story happening now. The target audience definitely feels male, but the message is for anyone. It speaks of the people of the world and how even the most picturesque place will have its problems. It talks of overcoming your demons and finding your place. And it talks about family and the undeniable draw they have on your life.

This book has the potential to speak to a number of impressionable teens as they fight to figure out where they fit in their cultures, family and the world in general. It looks like a long book and that might deter some readers, but it is easy to get through and worth the time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Evil Librarian - Michele Knudsen

Cynthia stares at Ryan throughout Italian class.  Annie teases her for not having the courage to talk to him.  At the end of the day Annie doesn't meet her like normal.  Cyn finds her staring lovingly at the new librarian.  Annie has a crush on him, but Cyn doesn't think much of it.  There is no mention of him over the weekend and on Monday Annie is keen to get to school early.  Through out the day Annie doesn't respond to any of Cyn's texts and she finds her in the library.  When Cyn pulls her out into the hallway she acts like her normal self again.  Cyn heads to the auditorium as she is tech director for the school musical Sweeny Todd.  Ryan comes up to her and apologizes for running into her in the hallway earlier.  After rehearsal she goes looking for Annie in the library.  Annie isn’t there and she has a strange conversation with Mr. Gabriel.  Her mind is telling her to get out as fast as she can.  She talks to Annie after she gets home and tells her about the conversation she and Ryan finally had at rehearsal.  Cyn passes by the library in the next morning and sees several students in a trance like state.  Even in Italian Annie is in the same state for a few minutes.  After class they notice a lot of the students in the same state Annie was in at the start of class.  Sensing something might be wrong Cyn doubles back and finds Mr. De Luca in the same state as a lot of the students.  He comes out of it after a few minutes.  Cyn tries to talk to Annie about Mr. Gabriel, but Annie thinks she is jealous and doesn’t want to hear anything bad about Mr. Gabriel.  After school Ryan's friend Jorge is in the same state as a lot of the kids were earlier.  He sees Cyn and she tells him her theory about Mr. Gabriel being a monster, or demon, or psychic vampire.  Ryan doesn’t believe her, but she tries to convince him to come to the library.  Ryan says he should check on Jorge.  As Cyn heads back into the school, Ryan catches up to her.  As they approach the library they see Mr. Gabriel in not human form with blood all over himself and on the floor.  Ryan is hypnotized, but Cyn isn't.  Mr. Gabriel calls her a super-roach since she has extra resistance and can’t be controlled easily.  Cyn gets Ryan out of there and he becomes his normal self.  He wants to call 911, but saying there is a demon in the school will make him sound crazy.  They head to Ryan’s house, and go over what they know and decide to find an adult who will listen to them.  Later that night Cyn hears on the news that Principal Morse is dead.  While the whole school is mourning the loss of the principal Cyn and Ryan are trying to make sure they stay alive.  Both of them make it through the day and to rehearsal.  Mr. Gabriel pops up in the auditorium and tells Cyn to back off and she and Ryan will live.  Cyn tries to get Annie out of his control, but he needs her to be his bride.  She is also told that the cast and crew won’t be killed before opening night of Sweeny Todd.  Mr. Gabriel needs them for something bigger.  Cyn tells Ryan about her conversation with Mr. Gabriel.  As they leave they see Mr. De Luca having an argument with himself.  Cyn suspects he knows something about what is going on.  They follow him to his house and explain their theory to him.  He has to find out more information, but it seems like Mr. De Luca will help them.  At school the next day Cyn and Ryan are relieved when Mr. De Luca pulls into the parking lot.  As she heads to math class Mr. Gabriel is there waiting in the hallway.  He tells her to keep out of his way, and he had to take care of Mr. De Luca.  Ryan finds Cyn, cut class, and head to Mr. De Luca's home.  There’s no answer at all, confirming their suspicions that he is dead.  They go to classes the next day and later while Cyn is in the auditorium Annie finds her.  Cyn tries to convince her that Mr. Gabriel is bad news and that he has killed two people.  She doesn’t want to hear it and tells Cyn to stay away from her.  After school Cyn and Ryan head to his house to do research on demons.  They come across an occult store a half an hour away, and head over there to talk to Aaron, the proprietor.  He tells them they have to sever Annie’s connection to the demon and then banish him.  They get all the ingredients need for the banishment.  On Sunday night they have Annie tied up and lure Mr. Gabriel to the library at midnight.  They are ready to banish him when Aaron shows up and wrecks everything.  Mr. Gabriel says Annie will be his queen after he wins the war for the demon throne.  Just before he disappears with her he tells Cyn not to tell anyone else what is going on, otherwise he will kill her family, Ryan’s family, and everyone at school.  Can Cyn and Ryan find a way to defeat Mr. Gabriel and save Annie, or is the end of everyone they know and love?

 I absolutely loved and enjoyed this book, and it was a fun read.  From the first page all the way to the end it had the feel of Buffy The Vampire Slayer to it.  It didn't surprise me when I looked on the authors website and found out Buffy is one of her favorite TV shows.  Even if you don't know who or what Buffy is I think you will enjoy this book.  This book is on the YALSA Best Fiction for 2015 list.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Silent Alarm by Jennifer Banash

When it comes to school shootings, sympathies generally turn to the victims' families. What about the shooter's family, though, that's just as blindsided by what happened as the victims? This book focuses on the aftermath of a shooting from the point-of-view of the shooter's sister and does a wonderful job showing the family's struggle.

Alys's brother Luke brought a gun to school and killed fifteen people. She survives, but carries the guilt of what her brother did and her inability to see it coming or stop him from hurting people. While she struggles with the loss of her brother and the fact that he's been labeled a monster, she finds that she has no one to turn to given that her boyfriend's sister is a victim and her best friend can't wrap her mind around the whole situation. Given that Luke killed himself at the end of the shooting, the town has no one to blame except for Alys and her family, a fact that takes its toll on everyone in her house. Alys is left wondering whether or not they have a right to carry on as usual given what happened - what right to they have to be happy.

This is a very powerful novel, especially given the fact that in the face of a crisis, people look for someone to blame. If a child comes out wrong or does something horrible, the first person to blame is the parent because they raised this person and had the ultimate influence over his life. While that seems like the easy answer, the truth can easily be that they were just as oblivious to the person's reality as the rest of the world. They're carrying their own guilt over what happened and accusations and attacks don't make things easier for them. Alys also struggled with reconciling her brother with this "monster" from the shooting. She has all of these wonderful memories of their time together that it's hard to think of him as a murderer, but is it wrong to still love a killer? Her guilt manifests in the form of hallucinations of her brother and a victim she might have had a chance to save. She struggles to confront this guilt and regain control of her life because the reality is that her brother was the killer, not her.

This book is beautifully written and does a wonderful job bringing the family's struggle into focus. We seem to forget that the family is suffering and this book is very eye-opening without making their pain any more important than those of the victims. It's very balanced with a good message.