Friday, November 25, 2011

Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare

Shan, D. (2000). Cirque du freak: a living nightmare. NY: Little,
      Brown, & Company.
LS5385 YA Lit / teen boy choice

Tee hee. I will admit that I gathered suggestions from several of the teen boys in my family, and I picked this one because it's the easiest and cheesiest read! (Other suggestions were The Power of One and Fight Club. Quite honestly, my brain is tired of challenging, thoughtful reading. :-)

So, I had a ball with this book.  It definitely is geared towards the younger of the young adult, and the writing level might be at fifth grade level, but I enjoyed it.  Yes, there are some enormous holes in the storyline, but I didn't mind. I did keep trying to make the cover art fit in with someone in the story, but that never happened. Vampires don't grow fangs after all. . . or so we're told.

I liked the spin on the misconceptions about the vampire and the idea that maybe they could exist under the book's definition and parameters.  This series is the only series of books my youngest son has ever read (not counting Dark Horse, graphic novels) in full. . . twelve volumes?  How I wish I could find something else to pique his interest and hold it like these books did.

Any kid who enjoys the macabre and idea that there are monsters and freaks among us will like this book. I was satisfied with where the book ended, so I probably won't read any of the sequels, but I understand why kids will want to find out what adventures lay ahead for young Darren.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Brashares, A. (2001). The sisterhood of the traveling pants. NY: Delacorte Press.
LS5385 YA Lit / Teen choice

Oh, I just loved this book and the reminder of the power of the female bond.  The friendship these four main characters share is so realistic and multi-faceted.  These girls know each other so thoroughly and so deeply, and over the years, each has fallen into a position in the foursome.  Their commitment to each other and to the group as a whole is wonderful, and the magic pants keep them connected when they are forced apart for the first time in their lives.

I really could feel the pain and angst and loneliness each of these girls went through over this particular period of time in their lives, and the additional characters were all fleshed-out well enough that I actually teared-up reading the story. 

I think teenaged-girls and young adult females alike will love and relate to this story. (shoot, I'm OLD and I related).  It's a testimony to the power and comforts of real friendship, and it also has some great life lessons that some learn and face sooner than others.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Anderson, L.H. (2009) Speak. Unabridged production. NY: Random House Audio Publishing Group.
LS 5385 YA Lit/Censored (fiction)

So, I checked this out from the local library as a book on tape (er, book on CD. Man, did I just date myself or what?).  After hearing my classmates' reviews, and asking their recommendation, I think this may not be a good audio book for me.  So, back to the library it will go and I will put the book on my "to read" list. . .Don't hold your breath!

Brave New World

Huxley, A. (1932). Brave New World. NY: Harper & Brothers.
LS5385 YA Lit / Censored (speculative fiction)

What a cool book!  Brave New World was amazing given that it was written in the 30s! Oh, the imagination and foresight Huxley had to envision the things that are probably scientifically possible right now (or quite nearly possible), though thankfully morally/ethically impossible to be authorized.  A classmate of mine pointed out that Huxley even projected paparazzi and the way the media act around celebrities.  I breezed right past that when reading, but upon reflection, I realized that in the 30s, they most certainly didn't have the media flying over celebrity's homes and invading their privacy; however, Huxley had that in the book.  Amazing.

I must say it was a pleasant shift to have some more advanced vocabulary and sentence structure from many of the other books I've been reading; however, the shift was enough that I wonder if it would be a turn-off to young readers. They typically aren't used to working that hard with their pleasure reading. It is NOT an easy read, but I think those kids who take the time to read and think about what they're reading would really enjoy it.

The censorship gods I'm sure have a hey-day over this book with a society of drug induced happiness and promiscuity being the norm. Again, the sex isn't graphic at all, but the suggestion of sex with a variety of partners and on a regular basis is probably just too much for those who are trying to protect the innocent children and who deem themselves capable of making the best judgment calls for acceptable youth literature.

Something about this book made me think of the movie Wall-E, and how in it, humanity has turned automated and controlled.  Keep the people plump and happy in Wall-E, keep the people sexed and happy in Brave New World.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What My Mother Doesn't Know

Sones, S. (2001). What my mother doesn't know. NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

LS5385 YA Lit/Censored (fiction)

Aren't these different covers interesting, and don't they each send a different message about what the book's about?   The first cover is the one that was available at both my public library and the high school library. Pretty innocuous I'd say and not much indicator of what's inside . . .

Amazon carries the second cover for its hardcover and the third cover for paperback.  Cover two says, "tee hee. naughty me." Don't you agree?

And cover three is more the image of the sneaky, mischievous teen. Would you guess what she's up to by that look??

The fourth is an Indonesian cover (Ssst -- Jangan Bilang-Bilang Ibuku). I like the Indonesian "Ssst!" and the cover art gives a hint that there's something up.  The boy's face might give us a hint of fun to come, huh? But the drawings are more innocent.

Fifth is the French cover, and of course, stereotypically, it is categorized as "Histoires de coeur" - love stories.  Before I read the book, based on the cover blurb, this one seemed the farthest from the story. And the translation is more like "all that which I have never told my mother," which may indicate a bit more depth.

Finally, the sixth cover came off a German website, so I guess that's their version which screams "ah, the fun of love and lust as a fourteen-year-old. Good times!"

Okay, so I'm being a bit sarcastic especially given that all I've read is the cover blurb.  We will see if I am feeling more tolerant after I read the book. . . Stay tuned.
 - - - - - - - - - - -
Wow! What a completely cute book and not at all what I thought it was going to be.  I think that since I've read so many YA Lit books about loose morals and flaky teens, I assumed that this was going to be about a girl who was sleeping around.  To my delight, it's not at all! It's very much about the fickle, love him/hate him feelings that girls have at that age - and all about kissing.   One day the boy's adorable and all-consuming, and the next day everything about him makes the main character (Sophie) crazy. On to the next crush! 

Now that I've read the book, I'd say covers one and five most fit the story.  It is yet another story written in first person, free verse (like Crank, Blankets, and Out of the Dust), but it worked.  I enjoyed Sophie's insights and how she laughed at herself for being so fickle.  There was a sadness in her reflections about her family, but pure joy in her friendships.  The only bothersome aspect of the book was the rather abrupt ending, but I guess it was apropos.  Sophie follows her heart, and for once, her heart and body and mind are all lined-up with the right choice for a boyfriend.  The reader just has to assume that it all turns out great because it was meant to be.

Teenage girls will love this book because it's a very quick read (like an hour, hour and a half despite being 259 pages), the main and secondary characters are very recognizable, and Sophie's self-doubts and also her up & down confidence are something most teens can relate to.  And of course, she finds her love and seems to live happily ever after.


Hopkins, E. (2005). Crank. NY: Simon Pulse.
LS5385: YA Lit / Fiction - Censored literature

Crank Book Trailer

To get an indication of how quickly you get pulled into this book, I will share what happened to me.  I was in Dallas for a race packet pick-up, and unfortunately, I hadn't paid attention to the pick-up times and was early.  I had not brought a thing with me to do - no book to read, no notes to write, nothing - but as luck would have it, the SMU campus Barnes and Noble was just a few doors down.  They did have two shelves of young adult literature, and somehow I remembered that Crank  was on the list. Seriously, even with that title, I knew nothing about it.  I picked it up, plopped down, and came out of the fog two hundred and twenty-two pages later!  (Packet pick-up was well under way.)

The story is told in first person verse, with the words wandering around the page often to mimic the main character's (Kristina's) musings.  Though that style really limits the ability to much develop secondary characters, I enjoyed the change of pace and how quickly the story unfolded.  LOTS of white space made the book less daunting, which I think it would otherwise be since it's about three inches thick.

I noticed that the author said the story was based loosely on her own daughter's, so while reading I frequently wondered if the author was speculating or was speaking from real knowledge gained via her daughter's experiences.  As a parent, I was horrified at how Kristina's real father, with whom she hadn't had contact since she was five or so, really enabled his daughter to go down this path of destruction.  A three week visit with him results in his sixteen-year-old daughter smoking, drinking alcohol, losing her virginity (and by way of unprotected sex with a drug addict), getting a tattoo, and ultimately using and becoming addicted to meth.  Her loving father even "parties" with her! I was disgusted.

One underlying premise in this story is that straight-laced, straight-A Kristina has another persona, named Bree, just simmering below the surface.  It's possible that Bree would have come out of hiding without the trip to Dad's, but I think she'd been kept in check so long it was doubtful she would have been able to bring Bree to life until she went off to college, out of the watchful, knowing eyes of her mother.  I really don't think this was a split personality thing as much as Kristina wishing she could be someone else, disconnected from her hum-drum life.

One disappointment was that at the end, there seems to be hope.  I know this sounds strange, but I wonder if the young adult reader might think that it all could work out fine he/she does a little experimenting with any number of the things Kristina tries: skipping school, smoking, drinking alcohol, having unprotected sex, drinking blood, doing crank, pot, ecstasy.  Yes, there's a baby born at the end, but the feeling is that the baby didn't have any ill-effects from Kristina's drug use, and of course, the baby's going to be fine with a caring boyfriend (who's not the father) and Kristina's mom and step-dad - and their well-stocked bank account - to take care of it all.  That is usually NOT the reality for any kid that goes down the drug and baby path.

There are sequels, Glass and Fallout, so if the names are any indication, the semi-hopeful ending in Crank will be temporary.  I do think teens would love this because it's written very much in teen-speak and about teen issues and concerns.  "The Monster," as Kristina refers to the meth/Crank, clearly makes Kristina brave enough to go after what she wants, to be confident in herself, and to be sensual and sexual.  This sure makes it sound appealing, and if you can just sleep it off for a few days and have adults who aren't up in your business about why, then I worry that it would draw-in someone who was curious or wanting an "easy" fix to teenage awkwardness and angst. I guess it all didn't sound bad enough for me.  Bad, yes, but not rock-bottom bad.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery

Sheinkin, S. (2010). The notorious Benedict Arnold: a true story of adventure, heroism, & treachery. NY: Flash Point / Roaring Brook Press.
LS5385: YA Lit / Biography
UPDATE: WINNER 2012 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults  
Guess my assessment, written below, fall 2012, wasn't in agreement with the professionals.  See for yourself:

Hmmm. And hmmmm again.  I am very freshly finished with this book and have conflicting feelings about it.  For one, I wasn't really interested in the subject material; admittedly, I read this one because it was available at the library. Secondly, it just seemed poorly written - or perhaps too casually written.  The author uses a bunch of authentic material including quotes and references, but then follows-up with cheesy asides that just don't fit.  Also, when there wasn't evidence to back-up an assertion, the author would say something like "we really don't have any proof of that" or "we just don't know what happened."  The writing style bothered me as well.  Just as it felt like readers were flies on the wall, actually watching the story unfold, the author would insert something to break the spell, pulling the reader back to the present.  Additionally, there would be chapters that seemed completely unrelated to Benedict Arnold and his activities, particularly those about John Andre.  I assumed correctly that these would tie together at some point, but a younger reader might just be confused.

The book is definitely geared towards younger readers, especially in the basic writing style; however, it seems more of a boy read than a girl read.  Plenty of references are made to body parts being blown off by cannons and wolves eating the dead left on the battlefield.  Girls could have been drawn more into the story if a little more time would have been spent on the females in the story.  In particular, I was looking forward to seeing how Peggy Shippen Arnold, who had been courted by John Andre, would correspond with Andre and react when he came to the home she shared as wife of Benedict Arnold. There was  no mention, which could have been because they didn't encounter each other, but in keeping with the spirit of speculation the author showed in other parts of the book, it would have been a good addition.

I did learn a lot about Benedict Arnold and the American Revolution and the author did do a great job researching to be historically accurate. This is the most important aspect to me for a biography, and though I found the speculation distracting, I appreciated that the author stated it as such. The hand drawn maps sprinkled throughout the book were helpful, and for those who wanted to continue into studies about Benedict Arnold, there's a lengthy bibliography and index to help.