Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Book Thief review by Heidi

The Book Thief The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

rating: 5 of 5 stars
It makes sense to me that Death would not want to get involved in the lives of humans. He must do his job, be dispassionate. He explains quite carefully how he finds distractions in the colors, distraction from the ones he leaves behind, the survivors. So why does he choose to tell a story of a girl in Nazi Germany, a book thief?

Death first sees her when her little brother dies. Her mother is leaving her in the care of others, foster parents. Since this is Nazi Germany, I immediately wondered what would become of her. The girl finds her way with these new parents, with her new school, and you learn she can't read. Her foster father begins to teach her, with her first stolen book, "The Grave Digger's Handbook." Perhaps the title is what caught the attention of Death. Is it her innocent spirit that gets his attention? Is it her knack to find color in the world?

Even while a war rages and Nazi political-correctedness hovers over the lives of Liesel and her friends and family like stink over garbage, kids still go to school, compete in games, and find amusements to relieve their boredom. They also have secrets.

The language of the book is beautiful and compelling, and the reader, Allan Corduner, does do it justice. Listening had its pluses and made the storytelling compelling...but it's not so easy to backtrack if you think you missed an important bit. Indeed there's at least one drawing in the book that I didn't see while listening. I look forward to reading the book as well, which I will do for my book group in April '09. I listened to it quite a while ago but am quite behind with my book remembrances.

View on my blog here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Abundance of Katherines

Green, John. 2006. An Abundance of Katherines.

An Abundance of Katherines is about nothing and everything all at the same time. If it has a message at all, the message is that you write your own message, tell your own story. Our hero is recent high school graduate, Colin Singleton. And Singleton's problem is that he's single. He's got a long history of being the dumpee (as opposed to being the dumper). He's been dumped nineteen times--so he says--all by girls named Katherine. We first meet Colin after his nineteenth break-up.

Hassan is the best friend a half-Jewish boy could ever hope to have. (Did I mention he was Muslim?) He is Colin's sidekick. And their relationship--this friendship--is quite the motivating force behind the narrative. Two individuals who on their own might be a wee bit odd, but together they make a great team. A hilarious team. Colin is stuck within himself. As a person. He defines himself as the boy who's doomed to fall in love with Katherines and get dumped. That and he defines himself as a child prodigy (high I.Q) who's bound to grow up and NOT be a genuius, NOT matter. He defines himself as a failure. He hasn't found true love. He hasn't made a difference in the world. Half the time he doesn't even know if it's possible for his life to matter when it all comes down to it. He's stuck focusing on himself. All the time. Worrying about his future. Worrying about who's going to dump him next. Worrying if he's ever NOT going to be dumped.

Fortunately, Hassan wants Colin to get it. To learn that life is for living. So the two embark on a road trip. A road trip that soon takes an unexpected turn to an out-of-the-way town of Gutshot. There he meets Lindsay. A girl who while not a Katherine may just be the best thing that ever happened to him. Maybe. But first, he has to stop and ponder the meaning of the universe and write this unbelievably complex theorem on why his love life is so ridiculously awful.

First sentence: The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Monday, September 1, 2008

Heart to Heart review by Edgy


Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art
ed. Jan Greenberg
Poetry. 78 pp.
Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2001.

flap copy:
Like valentines sent from one heart to another, the poems inspired by the images in this unique collection offer a special look at art and poetry. Written by forty-three distinguished American poets, these specially commissioned poems expand on twentieth-century American art, highlighting not only the strength and diversity of the works, but also exploring the story of our national experience throughout the past century. The poems combine with the artwork of such artists as Edward Hopper and Kiki Smith to create a distinctive connection between image and word.

The paintings, lithographs, sculpture, mixed media, and photographs gathered here represent the most important artistic movements of the past century—from American modernism to abstract expressionism to pop art. Prompted by these works, the poems narrate, describe, and explore; they vary from such topics as dreams, childhood memories, and issues of race and gender to reflections on the artist and the visual structure of the images. Each poem allows the reader an opportunity to see the works from a new and exciting perspective.

Whether playful, challenging, humorous, or sad, each poem and image connects the reader and the viewer, the writer and the artist, and celebrates the power of art to affect language. Pairing the work of some of America's most prominent poets, from Jane Yolen and Siv Cedering to X. J. Kennedy and William Jay Smith with the best of American art, from works by Jacob Lawrence and Georgia O'Keeffe to Jackson Pollock and Louise Bourgeois, this book will delight and inspire readers of all ages.

Completed June 8

Initially, I thought this book was amazing and had decided I was going to get a copy for the kids to have. I really liked that you had poetry inspired by and about art. I also read this a little while after we'd finished going through a pretty solid poetry unit with the Boy. Following that assignment, I felt compelled to find poetry books for the kids to have so that they could broaden their minds a bit and start to become intelligent and worthwhile persons. (I'm sure people who knew me when are rolling their eyes at my advocacy of poetry. Or they're on their knees repenting since The End Must Surely Be Nigh. Either or. But exposure to editorgirl will do that to you.) So I was excited when I found this book that married poetry with my other academic love—art.

Now that some time has passed, I find that my feelings of love and adoration have quelled significantly. There was more poetry in there that didn't impress than there was that did. At least in terms of what I remember. I think the organizational breakdown for the book is a good concept but ineffectively realized.

Even so, I'm pleased that this book won the Printz honor if for no other reason than it puts a book of poetry (much of which is not bad even if I'm not interested in reading it again) in the canon for kids to come across.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Repossessed review by Edgy


by A. M. Jenkins
YA fiction. 218 pp.
HarperTeen. 2007.

from the flap copy:
Don't call me a demon. I prefer the term Fallen Angel.

Everybody deserves a vacation, right? Especially if you have a pointless job like tormenting the damned. So who could blame me for blowing off my duties and taking a small, unauthorized break?

Besides, I've always wanted to see what physical existence is like. That's why I "borrowed" the slightly used body of a slacker teen. Believe me, he wasn't going to be using it anymore anyway.

I have never understood why humans do the things they do. Like sin—if it's so terrible, why do they keep doing it?

I'm going to have a lot of fun finding out!

This is a book I read ages ago (March 8). Consequently, I'm now left with fading impressions. I remember that it read fairly well. It wasn't my favorite book I've read. To be honest, I'm not even sure why it won an award as it didn't stand out to me as something phenomenal.

I like the idea behind the plot in that a Fallen Angel decides to hijack the body of a kid who was stepping out in front of a car and about to die anyway. He then gets to finally have a human experience. I like that this "devil" character actually ends up doing a lot of good in the lives he touches, albeit that wasn't his intention. Yes, he was a bit obsessed with sex (which is the great criticism that I recall coming across from other reviews I had read), but I didn't think it was as bad as the other reviewers made it out be. Besides, so few teenage boys aren't obsessed with sex.

Anyway, it's not my favorite Printz book I've read. It does have one of the sharper covers, but that's not necessarily a reason to recommend it.

Other reviews:
The Book Muncher

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I loved The Book Thief even more than I expected to after seeing glowing reviews everywhere. I rarely say anything like this, because it's hard to know what will last, but this is a book that I expect to become a classic.

My favorite thing about the novel is that Death is the narrator. He's not a bad guy, Death. And his narration, for me, is what really makes this book unforgettable.

The story is set in Nazi Germany, and the main character is a girl who loves to read, named Liesl. She's placed in a foster home with new parents she grows to love. She's friends with a neighbor boy named Rudy. And, being poor and at first barely literate, her only access to books is through theft. The first book she steals, or really finds on the ground, is The Grave Digger's Handbook, which she finds at her brother's funeral and secrets away. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read. The book is also definitely also a war story, though. As with many war stories, I was really struck by the strength of the human spirit and by the ability of some people to be so deeply good during horrifically bad times.

Zusak's writing is unique and gorgeously poetic, and the structure of the novel is intriguing. I also enjoyed the use of subtle foreshadowing to keep the reader alert and engaged. This book is a Printz honor book (along with many other awards) and is commonly considered a YA novel, but it's more than complex enough to satisfy an adult reader.

You can read an excerpt here, although the format lost something being transferred to a webpage.

You can read an interview with the author here.

Other reviews of this book:

Cross-posted in my blog.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Becky's Review of Looking for Alaska

Green, John. 2005. LOOKING FOR ALASKA. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0525475060 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

LOOKING FOR ALASKA is a coming-of-age novel starring Miles Halter and his eccentric cast of friends. Miles had always been different from his peers; for years he’d been searching for the “Great Perhaps” but he finally begins to understand the meaning of life when he ventures forth into the great unknown leaving his familiar home and school in Florida for his new life at a boarding school in Alabama. Miles, like all the characters in LOOKING FOR ALASKA, has his own eccentricities. Mile’s eccentric obsession—besides his love for philosophy—is his fascination with memorizing the last words of famous people. “It was an indulgence, learning last words. Other people had chocolate; I had dying declarations” (11). Miles, nicknamed, “Pudge,” is soon initiated into a close circle of friends including his roommate Chip Martin (the Colonel) and Alaska Young. It is his relationships with his friends—Alaska in particular—that will change his life forever.

LOOKING FOR ALASKA is well written. It is at times laugh-out-loud funny such as when Pudge and his friends are playing pranks on their peers or pondering the glory of the bufriedo, a deep-fried burrito, and at other times deeply touching such as when Pudge and Alaska are discussing the meaning of life and what it means to

Friday, April 18, 2008

review by alisonwonderland

Published in 1999. 198 pages.
2000 Printz Honor Book.

First sentence: It is my first morning of high school.

Last sentence: "Let me tell you about it."

Basic storyline: A traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda's freshman year in high school.

Why I read this book: I put this book on my to-read list last year when I found out about Laurie Halse Anderson's work at The Hidden Side of a Leaf. (Here is Dewey's 2006 review of Speak.) I even picked the book up at the library, but other things took priority and I didn't get to it before I had to return it. As I was compiling 2008 challenge lists, I put Speak on my lists for the Cardathon, the Printz Award Challenge, Every Month is a Holiday, and the Young Adult Challenge. I was determined to read Speak at some point this year! Luckily for me, the host of my IRL book club choose Speak for our April group meeting - and the rest is history.

Why I loved this book: There are several reasons why I really loved this book. First, Melinda's voice is the perfect mix of sarcastic wit and honest pain. She is just so "real." Second, the subtle symbolism and literary references were so great. My favorite was a poster of Maya Angelou on the door of Melinda's secret hide-away; like Melinda, Angelou suffered a trauma as a child and stopped speaking for a time. Third, Anderson's writing is just so powerful. Here is a passage that my IRL book group host particularly liked:
Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen's voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It is hard to breather. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn't say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut - I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.
Finally, I loved this book because it deals with a serious, important issue with such humor.

Cross-posted from my book blog.