* * * * * * *

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go

Heck: Where the Bad Kids GoHeck: Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale E. Basye

Read enough books and a person is bound to come across a few that seemed promising at the outset but then failed to live up to its potential or are sometimes just plain disappointing.  So it was with Heck:Where the Bad Kids Go and the sequel Rapacia: Second level of Heck.   When these books first arrived at the library, I chuckled at how clever the title and cover art was.  I’d ordered the books thinking they’d be a fun, humorous addition to our library and would be a good fit for those students who enjoyed Diary of a Wimpy Kid (DOAWK) type books.    It just didn’t happen that way.  The verbal savvy of many students who liked the (DOAWK) books isn’t quite developed enough to appreciate Heck…. A closer match to the level of verbal ability needed to be able to wade through Heck would be those readers who navigated and enjoyed the  Series of Unfortunate Events books.   Don’t get me wrong…not all the word play in this book is super sophisticated (even youngish 6th graders will “get” the reference to Upchucky Cheese restaurant…but the unrelenting word play as storyline device will challenge many teen readers and weary many adult readers.

As an adult reader, I was initially taken aback by what seemed to be one double entendre after another though I did have a few chuckles in seeing some of my own favorite obscure (to teens) references such as “ I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” as well as the hilarious (for a teacher-librarian) observation… “except the stakes are a little higher…Each soul year you’ll be given you SATs—Soul Aptitute Tests.  Based on these rigorous, highly standardized exams, your eternal fate will be decided” .  However, all in all, while the stories were okay, I felt as if I wanted to hurry through the books so I could read something else more satisfying.  I plan to visit with the next students who check out these books to see if they really managed to read all the way through and whether or not they enjoyed the books (and why or why not).

My rating
 Some readers enjoy these...me, not so much

Category: Fantasy

Friday, September 30, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

A "cautionary tale" that just shines...
Wow, "deadliest of all deadly things". I've read about love before, but haven't seen or heard it described like that! This is one dystopian story that focuses on the emotional connection among the characters as much as the society in which they live, which makes for a more personal and interesting story. The author does an incredible job of building a society where love in it's many forms is held up for examination...love between and by parents, siblings, friends and those of the same gender...

The storyline touches on a number of interesting ideas and perhaps the one of greatest impact, what a society is willing to give up in lieu of personal freedoms is seamlessly woven throughout to great effect. The use of characters who had never known another way of life was thought provoking when played against the lives of sympathizers and the "Invalids". As the story unfolds, the reader gets to explore the idea of how ceding human rights and humanity by allowing politicians and governments to determine what is or isn't safe is scary and [for THIS adult reader] too familiar for comfort --"a cautionary tale" indeed.

This book would be a great read-along/compare-contrast for middle school students studying the holocaust. The parallels of how a society goes about marginalizing a segment of its population (Invalids) and then determining that if they can't make them disappear from memory that deadly force against them is acceptable would lead to interesting class discussion.

Along with the bigger ideas presented in the story, other situations more familiar to the daily lives of teens are woven in as well, "I'd never understood how Hana could lie so often and so easily. But just like anything else, lying becomes easier the more you do it." hmmmm....
I will be recommending this book to teens in my library who are exploring this type of fiction. The book's references to running will likely make it 'a sure thing' for girls who love running or cross-country as a sport.

My Rating:     Category: Science Fiction, Dystopian fiction/love story

Friday, September 16, 2011

Outside the Box by Dan Allosso

Okay this one surprised me. I'd bought the book for my middle school library base upon some reviews I'd read. When book arrived, I skimmed the book and read some language and situations in a couple spots that gave me pause. Thought I'd give it a read cover-to-cover (nothing like taking something out of context and basing ones opinion of an entire book on THAT)...[a favorite activity of would-be book censors by the way]. It's true that the first part of the book describes some violent activity but it's in the context of a video game (by the way I'm SO NOT a gamer --ugh) and then the story is developed from there. I will be recommending this book some of my teen readers (probably mature 7th & 8th grade boys) for starters. Well written story and even with my non-interest in gaming the interaction among characters and situations carried the book for me and I found that I'd liked it well enough that I'll also be buying its sequel for my library. This is one of those reads that certain kids will like very much.

My rating:  
 Category: Adventure/Science Fiction

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Choker by Elizabeth Emma Woods

  Yea! A book to recommend to teens who do *NOT* want a vampire or supernatural book. Cara and what her life is like at school provide the story's basic structure. Unfortunately, Cara also happens to be one of those kids that just really doesn't seem to fit into school life very well. A lot of what happens to Cara is outside her ability to control (she is bullied and tormented) but just as sadly, it often seems that Cara's lack of confidence and social skills make he so ill-at-ease with daily situations it's like she becomes her own worst enemy. Story is written so that you *think* Cara's life is going one way...but be prepared for a nice, juicy twist. If you're a reader that just loves a surprise, this is NOT a book to read the ending pages first. On the other hand, if you are a reader who likes to see how an author puts things together in an interesting way and knowing the ending won't spoil the pleasure of the book, by all means...see if you can figure out what's what
My Rating:
  Category: Realistic Fiction

Friday, July 1, 2011

Such a pretty girl

Such a pretty Girl by Laura wiess

Meridith's story is hard to read, but is an important one to tell. Can't say I enjoyed the book, but for the most part it was well written. I'd be hard pressed to find value of any kind in a story about incest if the character's emotional betrayal and pain didn't give the reader pause and cause them to reflect, so in that respect the book makes the grade. The ending of this story lacked a bit of finesse (maybe there were just too many coincidences) and the pseudo "happy ending" was more incredible than happy, but I was rooting for Meridith and was not altogether bummed that her horrendous story ended on a more upbeat note. 

My rating:
 Category:  Realistic fiction

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Little Brother by Corey Doctorow

This book REALLY made me think a lot about privacy issues (especially online privacy)and how much information so many people are willing to give up about themselves on a daily basis when they use social networking sites. I was surprised how much I appreciated and liked the explanation of the fairly involved mathematical ideas inserted as part of the storyline in order for the story's plot to make even more sense.

The whole idea of a society giving up personal freedoms in order to feel some pseudo sense of security reminded me again how drastically older American's lives are post 9/11. When I contrast this current way of life compared to my life as a young teen decades ago--the comparison is pretty disheartening (heck, I'm old enough to remember when flying was a FUN adventure--none of the security lines, scanning or shoe removal). While most teen readers today won't have that perspective, the way the story presents the "other" side of homeland security will resonate and even creep them out. If readers want to know what a number of librarians think about privacy (other than we're big time promoters of the idea, visit website here

My rating:   You're not paranoid if the ARE after you...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Okay, so I started my day by reading this article from yesterday in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Darkness Too Visible," linked here  by Meghan Cox Gurdon. The subtitle is "Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?"

While Ms Gurdon makes some thought-provoking points and I'm quite certain that she would use Looking for Alaska by John Green as an example of what she refers to in her headline, what she would likely miss in the explicit parts of the Alaska's story (which CAN be a bit over-the-top at times) would be the genuine gifts the story offers as well. Teen years are tough and for a teen (even a fictional one) to offer the articulated realization is priceless "...She must have come to feel so powerless, I thought that the one thing she might have done--pick up the phone and call an ambulance--never even occurred to her. There comes a time when we realize that our parents cannot save themselves or save us , that everyone who wades through time eventually gets dragged out to sea by the undertow--that, in short, we are all going."

Instead of this book getting stuck in the tragedy Alaska's story, the patient reader is offered a great deal of food for thought... one tidbit is the unmistakable offering of "life as gift" and "every life makes a difference". As the author states:

"When adults say, 'Teenagers think they are invincible' with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don't know how right they are ....like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations....But the part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail."

This book isn't likely to be one I'll recommend to most of my youngish middle-school readers, but there are always a few for whom this story will resonate and make them pause to reflect and I'll certainly keep this story in my repertoire of suggestions.

By the way another point of view to the teen lit controversy is offered by author Laurie Halse Anderson linked here ... thought provoking!

My ranking:      Alaska...my first summer read :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Luna by Julie Anne Peters

A heartfelt, respectful story about a transgendered boy and his family. Gives readers a lot of background and a way to understand the difference between being gay and being transgendered. As a middle school teacher-librarian, I have known a number of teens over the years who struggle with all kinds of issues. Even though many teens self-censor their true feelings while in public (school), Luna is a reminder of the "back-story" the "unseen" faced by these teens-- a struggle those around them are too often not cued into.

I especially appreciated the portrayal of the family dynamics and the unintentional damage loved ones can cause when their personal expectations are faced with a differing reality. This story was hard to read at times, the pain is palatable and a couple of times I felt like cringing (sort of like watching an impending train-wreck). As valuable and well told as this story is, the subject matter makes it a book for mature teen readers. I plan on ordering a copy for my library because the opportunity to safely explore the topics of tolerance, gender, self-acceptance and respect for differences is too important to pass up.

My rating:      Great story...perspective is everything

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Once upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

As an adult reader of this book for teens, I must say I enjoyed it a LOT. The "fairy tale" nature of the story was fun and well done. I especially liked and was amused by the use (misuse) of common sayings.   I'm not so sure that all my middle school readers would "get" the humor and some readers might instead, be a bit confused or be oblivious to the subtlety,(but what a great way to show kids playing with language can be fun). Book would make an AWESOME read-aloud even for students in younger grades (3rd grade on up). Using the book as a read-aloud would also give opportunity for discussion of the sayings and possible expansion activities beyond sheer enjoyment of the story. While this is a good solid story presented in a humorous straight forward manner, the book also touches on more "meaty" ideas such as class, work and gender roles. These ideas are presented in a seamless way and do not in any way detract from the overall story nor the reader's enjoyment.
My rating:
 A fun story with a fairy tale feel

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kid-friendly approach to history

Many  middle school students love to browse through the books in this series in much the same way they browse through the Guinness World Book of Records. The format of these books makes them especially appealing to  reluctant readers. While certainly not a complete or scholarly overview, these books are great jump-off points and interest generators. Our library has several titles in the series so be sure to check out books in the series all starting out with the title You Wouldn't Want to....
  • ...Be a Crusader;  ...Be a Medieval Knight;  ....Be a World War II Pilot;   ....Be in a Medieval Dungeon;   ....Be  an American Colonist;   ....Sail on the Mayflower;   .....Live in a Medieval Castle 
as well as others in this series if you want to check out the most interesting history in an enjoyable format.

My rating--a great starting point for those curious about history(and they're fun!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan

I was curious about this book after reading the inner jacket and surmising this was a story about zombies as opposed to the usual vampire fare.   Although zombies feature prominently in this story, a number of  interesting ideas  are explored in depth in this book.  One idea examined is how governing bodies can shape our lives with their rules, regulations, expectations and how sometimes even when this is done to promote citizen safety, those regulations can become so invasive that they shape citizen life on every level.  The themes of hope, rebellion and the role of memories are also explored throughout the story.

The main protagonist, Mary is an older teen forced by life's circumstances (the death of both her parents) to follow the prescribed roles her culture assigns, but she does so unwillingly and begins to questions all aspects of her life and the expectations thrust upon her.  Mary's questioning and curiosity of those expectations isn't without cost to herself and in some instances to those she loves.  Despite immense losses Mary's curiosity and hope remains a core part of her personality, though she does come to question the purpose of  hope .
       " I remember Travis pulling me against him and telling me about hope.  His voice in my mind is soft, just out of reach like a spent echo.  I wonder if these memories are worth holding on to.  Are worth the burden.  I wonder what purpose they serve."

The story  moves along at a pace that would probably keep even reluctant readers fairly engaged.  The ending of the story was not my favorite part of the book because it ends rather abruptly-- however the ending is handled in such a way that a sequel seems a definite possibility.   This book is one I'd recommend  to students who want a change of pace from the usual vampire fare.

My rating:
Zombies...gotta love 'em