Wednesday, October 29, 2008
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 minuses...it 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
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: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art
ed. Jan Greenberg
Poetry. 78 pp.
Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2001.
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
by A. M. Jenkins
YA fiction. 218 pp.
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.
The Book Muncher
Thursday, June 26, 2008
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
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
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.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Anderson, Laurie Halse. 1999. Speak.
It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.
Meet Melinda. A ninth grader, a freshman. Maybe her experiences will remind you of your own high school days. Maybe not. But whether you were popular or among the outcasts, Speak has something vital to offer readers. Her story is powerful, yet not without humor.
Speak places high school life under the microscope. In minute detail, the reader sees what high school is like perhaps from a perspective that is new to them. (Or perhaps one that feels all-too-familiar). The teachers. The students. The classmates. The classes. The cafeteria. The bus rides. Melinda isn't happy, and it shows, but she's an example of how appearances can be deceiving. Labeled a trouble maker by a few of her teachers and some of the administration, despised by most of her classmates, she would be easy to brush off, to cast aside as just another lazy, rebellious teen. A teen that needs discipline, punishment, stern lectures, but never a teen that needs compassion and mercy and understanding. But there is always more going on underneath the surface. Always.
THE FIRST TEN LIES THEY TELL YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL
1. We are here to help you.
2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.
3. The dress-code will be enforced.
4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.
5. Our football team will win the championship this year.
6. We expect more of you here.
7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.
8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.
9. Your locker combination is private.
10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.
I think Speak should be required reading for any adult who is working with teens or who plans to work with teens. As for requiring it for teens within the classroom setting, I'm not so sure. For one, any time a book is required it loses its power. If you "have" to read it, then it strips away most of your natural inclinations to like it. I certainly never "liked" any of my assigned reading. The message of Speak might lose its resonance if it is forced. Especially if it is dissected and analyzed for hidden messages and symbolism. That being said, I do feel it's a true must-read. And it does have much that would be discussion-worthy.
What do I love about Speak? Well, it's authentic. And it's thought-provoking. If you're an adult, it makes you remember (or is prone to making you remember) your own high school days. Rather those days were painful and you're still a bit bitter or if you were one of the rare who actually remember high school "as the best time of your life." It's all in the details. The small things. The small daily interactions of how you relate with others, and how they relate to you. All the little things that add up to create the big picture. I didn't read it as a teen. The book was published when I was in college. But I would hope that the book would help those teens who are going through some of these situations not feel so alone, so isolated. I would hope that they'd feel understood. And for those teens that are bullies, I hope that the book would make them think about their actions a little more, take time to think about how these "little" things are adding up to big-time misery for those that are 'beneath' them. I'm not naive enough to think that this book will have the same impact on every one who reads it. It is just one book after all. But I hope that those who do read it, it will have a strong enough impact that the story will stay with them for a while.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Going, K.L. 2003. Fat Kid Rules the World.
I'm a sweating fat kid standing on the edge of the subway platform staring at the tracks. I'm seventeen years old, weigh 296 pounds, and I'm six-foot-one. I have a crew cut, yes a crew cut, sallow skin, and the kind of mouth that puckers when I breathe. I'm wearing a shirt that reads Miami Beach--Spring Break 1997, and huge, bland tan pants--the only kind of pants I own. Eight pairs, all tan.
It's Sunday afternoon and I'm standing just over the yellow line trying to decide whether people would laugh if I jumped. Would it be funny if the Fat Kid got splattered by a subway train? Is that funny? I'm not being facetious; I really want to know. Like it or not, apparently there's something funny about fat people. Something unpredictable. Like when I put on my jacket and everyone in the hallway stifles laughter. Or when I stand up after sitting in the cafeteria and Jennifer Maraday, Brooke Rodriguez, and Amy Glover all bust a gut. I don't get angry. I just think, What was funny about that? Did my butt jiggle? Did I make the bench creak so loud that it sounded like a fart? Did I leave an indentation? There's got to be something, right? Right?
So it's not a stretch to be standing on the wrong side of the yellow line giving serious thought to whether people would laugh if I threw myself in front of the F train. And that's the one thing that can't happen. People can't laugh. Even I deserve a decent suicide.
Meet Troy Billings. Told in first person, the novel is one of life lost and found. Troy, ready to jump, or at least ready to think about being ready to jump is a young man who thinks he has nothing to live for. Until. And I love this until. Until he meets the most unlikeliest of friends. Curt MacCrae, a homeless teenager of legendary status in the music world. A former student at Troy's school, Troy knows--or thinks he knows--all about Curt MacCrae. The coolest of the cool. But also the skinniest of the skinny.
In this relationship, it's never quite clear (to them or to the reader) who is saving who. 2 kids. 2 sets of problems or issues. 1 unlikely dream. Curt wants--or needs--Troy to be his drummer. The problem? Troy doesn't know how to drum. He has the dream--most boys his age do--of being in a band, a punk band. But he doesn't have the know-how. But Curt is there to see that this is one dream becomes reality.
It's an unlikely pairing. It's an unusual book. But I liked it. I really liked. I had my doubts. His family, Troy's family, seems a bit dysfunctional, a bit disconnected in the beginning. Which of course mirrors how Troy feels about his family life. But as he discovers who he is and what he wants and needs, Troy's family is there with him. His brother. His father. Both are there and willing to stay there, to stay a part of his life. Troy finds out day by day just how lucky he is.
Troy has a big problem. He thinks of himself as 'the fat kid.' His self-esteem (his self-confidence) is non-existent because he believes the lies he tells himself. Through his relationships with Curt and his friends as well as his changing relationships with his family, Troy is becoming someone he can like, someone he can respect, someone he can love.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
A girl is sent to London because her family doesn't know what to do with her. No doubt from her dad's point of view she is anorexic and irrational, but we're not reading his POV, we're reading Daisy's. From her view, her soon-to-be-stepmother was trying to poison her, and at first that was why she stopped eating. Later, it became a means of power. So, she goes to the country outside London to live with her mother's sister and her cousins that she'd never met before.
Almost immediately her aunt travels to Oslo for peace talks, but the war breaks out while she is gone. The war is never defined clearly. We don't find out who attacked cities in England and the US. Even Daisy is unsure. This is a story that could happen a few moments in the future, or in the world just parallel to this one. All that doesn't matter: the war is backdrop for her life as it unfolds with her cousins, and the fierce loving larger-than-life bond they find for each other.
Not until I reflect on the whole story do I realize that this is a re-telling of a certain fairy tale. I'll leave that for the reader to discover. For a much better review, see Dewey's.
Here's the link to mine.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The main character, Daisy, is a fifteen year old girl from New York. Her mother died when she was born, and her father's new, pregnant girlfriend hates Daisy and all she stands for. Poor Daisy is shipped off to spend the summer with some cousins and an aunt she's never met, somewhere in the countryside in England. Daisy falls in love with her new family, as did I. Little Piper, especially, is so sweet and loving that I wanted to adopt her. The rest of the family is just the opposite of what Daisy has been living with back home: warm, gentle, caring. Their constant offers of tea remind me of my husband's family. And the way they paid attention to who Daisy really is as a person, which was novel for her, is so endearing.
Unfortunately, war strikes. Daisy's aunt is in Oslo giving a presentation when it happens, so she's trapped there. The children (the oldest, I think, is 16) are left on their own. For a while, it's idyllic, isolated as they are out in the country. But eventually, adults figure out they're alone, so they're separated, and then they're up close and personal with the war.
Mark Haddon called this novel, "That rare, rare thing, a first novel with a sustained, magical and utterly faultless voice." You know whose first novel I think has a sustained, magical and utterly faultless voice? Mark Haddon, that's who. But also Meg Rosoff. I was surprised to see that this was the 2005 Printz winner, yet I'd never heard of it until this year. It just seems like the world should have been swooning over it so loudly and so enthusiastically that I would have noticed. And my library only got it this year. I'm not sure how both my library and I failed to realize that this book had been around for four years, but I'm putting Rosoff's newer novels straight on to my wishlist. I also put this book on my wishlist, because I know I'll want to read it again, and soon.
I think what I love most, after Daisy's cousins and aunt, is the language. In this novel, people aren't simply dreaming, they're "strolling around" in their "unpleasantly populated subconscious." And spring on the farm is described as "Walt Disney on ecstasy."
The bond the cousins feel with nature, while they're living on the farm or foraging for food during the war, is magical. Only someone who has really lived close to the earth could have written this. It felt familiar to me, the rhythms of the seasons, the growth of the plants, and all the little details that only someone who really loves the outdoors would ever be aware of.
You can read an excerpt here and an kids' Q&A with the author here. After reading How I Live Now, I had a little crush on Rosoff, but then I saw in the Q&A that when asked what fictional character she'd like to be friends with, she picked Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes! And so my crush grew to inspire the smitten ravings you see before you. Here's what she said: "He's wild, non-conformist and completely uncivilized, has a fantastic imagination, a very loyal tiger, hilarious parents, and is never ever ever ever boring."
Cross-posted in my blog.
Winner: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean: "Fourteen-year-old Symone's exciting vacation to Antarctica turns into a desperate struggle for survival when her uncle's obsessive quest leads them across the frozen wilderness into danger."
Dreamquake: Book Two of the Dreamhunter Duet by Elizabeth Knox
One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke
Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins
Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill
McCaughrean, Geraldine. 2007. The White Darkness. (First U.S. edition, 2007; originally published in 2005).
What can I say about The White Darkness? Really? It was strange. Odd. One-of-a-kind. There were moments when I was really loving the oddness of it. After all, how many writers begin off their novel like this:
I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now--which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and then the age difference won't matter. Besides he isn't dead inside my head. We talk about all kinds of things. From whether hair color can change spontaneously to whether friends are better than family, and the best age for marrying: 14 or 125. Generally speaking, he knows more than I do, but on that particular subject we are even. He wasn't married--at least he wasn't when he died, which must have substantially cut down his chances. (1)
Who is Titus Oates? Why has he--though dead--captured this young teen's heart? He was an Antarctic explorer in Robert Scott's expedition in 1911/12. Her uncle fueled her interest in the Antarctic through books and dvds. Now, she is mesmerized and a tad obsessed. It must run in the family.
Her family. Also odd. There is her father who died after months of strange behavior. There is her "uncle" Victor who while no blood relation, takes the family under his protection. And there is the mother. The mother who is almost always silent. The author has almost chosen to give her no voice in this novel. And then there is our narrator, Symone. She is odd. She is to some extent deaf. She cannot hear anything without her hearing aids. That doesn't make her odd necessarily. I'm not suggesting it does. But wearing hearing aids at such a young age, does make Sym--as she calls herself--feel a little out of place with her peers. That and the fact that she is almost constantly in conversation with a dead man. Sym and Titus. An odd combination of narrators. He does play a vital role in the story. But whether that is because he provides some relief and normalcy from the other actually "real" characters...or if he is just proof of her insanity...is debatable.
The story. What happens. Uncle Victor surprises Sym with a trip to Paris. But this isn't an ordinary trip to Paris. Without telling anyone--her mom, her school, etc--he is planning to head off to Antarctica with his "niece." Symone doesn't know either, not at first. And when she does find out, she tries to contact her mother--but there always seems to be some circumstance blocking her. The phone doesn't work. The radio is out. The two, Victor and Symone, are part of a group of tourists--or are they??? What is Uncle Victor's real motivations in dragging his "niece" all this way? And why is Symone only now beginning to see just how strange her uncle truly is?
I hesitate to describe any more of the novel. I don't want to spoil the plot. But I do want to say this. The further into the novel I read, the more uncomfortable I became. The less charmed I was by the quirkiness of the narration. It became evident fairly early on that we were talking of a severe case of mental illness. The narrator's mental status also being up for debate. The other characters? All equally strange and unexplainable. There was no one normal. No one trustworthy. No one that you could actually relate to or like. Everyone was either odd, weird, strange, quirky, or eccentric.
Do I like the novel? Not really. Why? I found the characters a little too odd. Too extreme. I just didn't connect with them. Yes, I kept reading the story. Yes, I suppose I wanted to know what happened. But it was more about closure--I didn't want to leave them stranded out on the ice without learning how it was resolved. I didn't like the characters. I thought they were all crazy.
Other readers may have a different take on the novel. It may appeal to them in a way that it doesn't for me. I can only say that this novel wasn't quite my style. We didn't really click that well.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Some of those memes that make the circuit of the blogging world are reading challenges. People commit to reading a certain number of books from a certain list in a certain amount of time. In fact, one of the challenge bloggers I'm joining is "absolutely obsessed with reading challenges." I've decided to participate in the Printz Award Challenge. I can handle reading 6 young adult books that I just might read anyway. I have until the end of the year. Indeed I've previously read 3 of the Printz books: Skellig by David Almond; Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, by Louise Rennison; and A Step from Heaven by An Na.
My list to read before 2009:
- The Book Thief (audio) by Markus Zusak [2007 Honor book]
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; v. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson [2007 Honor book]
- how i live now by Meg Rosoff [2005 Winner]
- The First Part Last by Angela Johnson [2004 Winner]
- Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going [2004 Honor book]
- Monster by Walter Dean Myers [2000 Winner]
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The White Darkness
by Geraldine McCaughrean
YA fiction. 363 pp.
the flap copy:
Sym is not your average teenage girl. She is obsessed with the Antarctic and the brave, romantic figure of Captain Oates from Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole. In fact, Oates is the secret confidant to whom she spills all her hopes and fears.
But Sym's uncle Victor is even more obsessed—and when he takes her on a dream trip into the bleak Antarctic wilderness, it turns into a nightmarish struggle for survival that will challenge everything she knows and loves.
I read this book because it won the Printz this year and because I added it to my Printz Award Challenge. It took me a bit of time to get into it, but I'm glad I continued to work through it, even if I did interrupt the reading with other books along the way.
I had initial difficulty getting into it because I just didn't like Sym. Fortunately, one thing she had going for her was that I could tell that I would more than likely end up liking her. I had to work at this, because she adores her uncle, who I could tell was a very bad seed from the get-go. And she's very passive, which I find to be an amazingly taxing trait to tolerate. She was also a bit slow on figuring out what was going on. I've noticed that I can handle this in third-person narratives, but I don't take it quite as well in first-person narratives.
Perhaps the oddest bit about this book is Sym's relationship with Captain Oates. In fact, it's the second British YA I've read in the last couple months where the protagonist has a real person as an imaginary friend. Whereas in Slam the imaginary friend only speaks in sentences lifted from his autobiography, in this one, Sym actually converses with Oates. On the one hand, that was weird. On the other hand, it brought Oates to life for me in a way that makes him rather intriguing.
After my experience with the beginning of the book, I was having difficulties understanding why it had won the Printz. By the end of the book, when I was actually liking the protagonist, I was able to notice the excellent use of language, and that is where I think the beauty of The White Darkness lies.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Previously, I mentioned that I was participating in the Printz Award Challenge over at Dewey Monster. As you may or may not recall, the challenge is as follows:
To participate in the Printz Award Challenge, choose 6 books that have won the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature OR one of the Honor books. The challenge runs from January 2008 to December 2008. . . .I chose six titles to read, clutching to the "change your list at any time" clause in that four or five books would be added to the list in January.
You may overlap with other challenges. You may change your list at any time.
Titles have been added, and so I'm changing my list. For starters, I am reading The White Darkness because it won the award this year. Unfortunately, it's a bit blah and I interrupt my reading of it with other titles, such as Repossessed, another book I can add to the list as it's an honor book this year and it has a much cooler cover than Darkness. (I also already finished reading it today, so it helps me come one book closer to completing the challenge.
Anyway, my new challenge list is as follows:
Edgy's Printz Award Challenge
- The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean
- Repossessed, by A. M. Jenkins (Completed today.)
- Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt (Another blah book, but since I already own it and have started reading it, it stays on the list.)
- Heart to Heart: New Poems Inspired by Twentieth-Century American Art, by Jan Greenberg Abrams
- A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly (I read the first chapter of this just after it was put on the award list, but it was another book I just couldn't get into. However, since I own it . . . )
- John Lennon: All I Want Is the Truth, a Photographic Biography, by Elizabeth Partridge
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
(This review was originally posted at Abby (the) Librarian.)
I'm gonna warn you. You might have to read this one twice. I mean that in a good way, of course. Read it the first time for the story. Meet these great characters. Characters that might be written off by the people in their lives, but who find a place to come together. Then read the section at the end that talks about the poetic forms used in the book. Then start over and read each poem again now that you know something about the traditional forms of sestina and sonnet.
Maybe you already know about sestinas, but I definitely didn't. At first I didn't even realize that the poems were written in a strict traditional form. It looked like free verse to me. Once I knew a bit more about the structure of the poetry, I had a whole new appreciation for the book.
Keesha's house is a safe place. In actuality. it's not even her house. The house belongs to a guy named Joe. Joe knows what it's like to need a safe place to sleep, so he opens his house to kids in need. They can stay as long as they want. No one bothers them. So, the house is really Joe's, but Keesha's the one spreading the word whenever she senses one of her high school classmates might need a place to crash. So the house becomes known as Keesha's house.
Through poems, Helen Frost gives us the perspective of six different kids, each finding themselves connected to Keesha's house for different reasons. Stephie is pregnant and not sure what to do about it. Jason is Stephie's boyfriend, a basketball star who's not sure he's willing to give up his dreams to be a dad. Dontay is a foster kid whose foster parents don't seem to give a damn about him. Harris's father disowned him when he found out he was gay. Carmen's been arrested for a DUI. Katie's running from her mom's abusive boyfriend. Although there's some depressing material in here, the book really has a hopeful slant. If a place like Keesha's house can exist where these teens can find support and rest their heads, maybe it's possible for them to turn things around, for them to overcome the huge odds stacked against them.
Two parts of the book are written from the perspective of adults. These poems are written as sonnets, an effective way of showing how very differently the adults see the world. It would be a great book anyway, but I really love that Frost used traditional poetry forms. I don't always get novels in verse, but this is one I could really get on board with.
I read this for the Printz Award Challenge.
Friday, February 8, 2008
2007 Printz Award Winner.
With its themes of race, identity, and self-acceptance, this graphic novel (only the second I've ever read) was a great follow-up to my read of the novel Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies). Three separate stories that come together in the end, this is a quick read. I started it on Tuesday while sitting in the high school parking lot waiting for my daughter and finished it last night while eating an egg roll and a fortune cookie. The more I think about the book, the more I like it. Author Gene Luen Yang's discussion of the origins of the book (here) brought me nearly to tears. I think this is a book that everyone ought to read!
Cross-posted from my book blog.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Grades 6 and up.
(Originally posted at Abby (the) Librarian)
If you're looking for an engrossing fantasy-adventure with believable characters and a well-detailed world, look no further. I'd been meaning to pick this one up for a long time and I'm so glad I finally did.
Young Matt Cruse, cabin boy on the Aurora, has always dreamed of flying an airship. He was born on one and he feels more at home in the sky than anywhere else. When he helps rescue a dying man from a balloon over the ocean, Matt sets into motion a series of events that will change his life forever.
There are a few things about this book that really stuck out in my mind as I read it. The first is imagery. I noticed it from the very beginning. Oppel's detailed writing really made me feel like I was there watching all of this happen. Take this bit about stars (on the very first page):
The sky pulsed with stars... So when I look up I see a galaxy of adventures and heroes and villains, all jostling together and trying to outdo one another, and I sometimes want to tell them to hush up and not distract me with their chatter. I've glimpsed all the stars ever discovered by astronomers and plenty that haven't been. (pp 1-2)
Right from the start, I was with Matt Cruse as he stood on the crow's nest and looked out over the ocean, seeing billions of stars as far as he could see. I was in his world. I was hooked.
Another thing I loved about this book are the characters. My problem with some kids' books, especially mysteries and adventure, is that I don't always believe that these kids can really do the things they're doing. I want to shake them and tell them to go get a grown-up to help them. But with Matt Cruse, 15-year-old cabin boy, I honestly believed that he could do all the adventuring and taking charge that he does in this book. Oppel gives him a history with the ship, a history of being in the air. You know that Matt has a passion for this airship and that he will quite literally do anything he can to save her.
Another of the main characters is a spunky girl named Kate de Vries. She's a passenger on the airship who also has passion for the things she loves. She also happens to get Matt into trouble a lot. I love that Matt has a love-hate relationship with her. She's high class and pampered, while he's poor and has had to work hard for everything he's ever gotten. Although he's immediately attracted to her, there are also times when he sees how different they are and he doesn't always like her.
...I understood then that hers was a world where she got her own way and nothing was impossible. For a moment I almost disliked her. Could she even imagine how other people lived? (pg 100)
Although Matt may have mixed feelings for Kate, I never did. Kate is an energetic, intelligent, stubborn young lady. She doesn't need rescuing and she's intent on meeting her goals, no matter who she might inconvenience. As the book is set in an alternate history (a date is never mentioned, though the author mentions that he imagined it in the time of the real airships, so somewhere between 1900 and 1930), Kate's gumption is not much appreciated by her chaperon. Matt, however, likes her just the way she is. When he's not almost disliking her, that is.
Class is also a strong element in the book (or maybe I'm just noticing it more because of the recent discussion about class in YA lit). Matt is quite definitely from a lower-class family. He's also very low-ranking on the ship, though he believes that with hard work and perseverance, he can rise in the ranks. It's been slow going for him, though, and it's not easy when a young man with connections swoops in and takes the job that had been all but promised to Matt. Although Matt and Kate are together quite a bit, Matt always feels that wrong-ness of it, the impropriety of him being there with this high-class girl. Kate, however, never seems to think of it.
Altogether, I thought it was a fabulous book. I couldn't put it down and I'm really looking forward to reading the sequel. I'd recommend this one to fans of fantasy-adventure like Peter and the Starcatchers or Gregor the Overlander or even The Golden Compass.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Zusak, Markus. 2006. The Book Thief.
The Book Thief may just be the hardest book I've ever tried to review. It is beautiful. Though it can be ugly. It is intense. It is powerful. It is memorable. The first thing you should know about The Book Thief? It is narrated by Death. This is fitting in many ways since the setting is Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Death is the narrator, and he never lets you forget it. But there are many players--many characters--in the story that Death is relating to his audience all these years later. One of them is a girl, Liesel, and is known by Death as 'the book thief.' These thefts provide some structure to the text. (The structure is one of the odd things about the Book Thief. It isn't chronological. Death doesn't tell a story traditionally. He has his own way of jazzing it up, arranging it so it suits his needs and purposes.) The language, the style, is unique. I think it is written in such a way that you either really love it or you really don't. (It's written in such a way that you could almost open it to any page, and find a sentence or two or a whole paragraph that you want to just lift out and let resonate with you for a time.)
This is how it begins:
First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: you are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me. (3)
People observe the colors of a day only at its beginnings and ends, but to me, it's quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands of different colors. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darknesses. In my line of work, I make it a point to notice them. As I've been alluding to, my one saving grace is distraction. It keeps me sane. It helps me cope, considering the length of time I've been performing this job. The trouble is, who could ever replace me? Who could step in while I take a break in your stock-standard resort-style vacation destination, whether it be tropical or of the ski trip variety? The answer, of course, is nobody, which has prompted me to make a conscious, deliberate decision--to make distraction my vacation. Needless to say, I vacation in increments. In colors. Still it's possible that you might be asking, why does he even need a vacation? What does he need a distraction from? Which brings me to my next point. It's the leftover humans. The survivors. They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them, but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise. They have punctured hearts. They have beaten lungs. Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight, or today, or whatever the hour and color. It's the story of one of those perpetual survivors--an expert at being left behind. It's just a small story really, about, among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fish fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. (4-5)
Before the story gets underway, he invites the reader along for the journey:
Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt, an immense leap of an attempt--to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it. Here it is. One of a handful. The Book Thief. If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I'll show you something. (14-15)
There is depth, substance, to these words, to this story. The descriptions. The details. The powerful sway of the words whether they're describing the beauty of love and family and friendship or capturing the ugly heaviness of hate, anger, and death. It's not an easy story to read. It's full of emotions. It's full of words. It's a book that at it's very heart and soul captures humanity in all its depths--the good, the bad, the ugly. Here is a book that captures what it means to be human.
One of the most memorable passages for me (224-236), and I hope this isn't much of a spoiler--is the hand drawn--hand written--portion written by "Max" for Liesel. I find it so powerful in its simplicity. So hauntingly beautiful. There is a second story specially written for Liesel by Max, this second one is found on pps 445-450. This is how that one begins, "There was once a strange, small man. He decided three important details about his life: 1) He would part his hair from the opposite side to everyone else. 2) He would make himself a small, strange mustache. 3) He would one day rule the world." (445)