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Monthly Archives: November 2006

“Sins of the Fathers” by Chris Lynch

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Lynch is the author of the summer reading staple, "Slot Machine," so some of you might already be familiar with his work. That book, besides providing an often hilarious view of the conformity of summer camp, also offered a realistic look at a very genuine friendship among three teen boys.

Similarly, at the heart of "Sins of the Fathers" is the strong and often beautiful friendship of three Catholic school thirteen year-olds in Boston. Drew, who narrates the story, is essentially a regular kid: he delivers papers in the morning, loves ice hockey, and occasionally gets in trouble at school. He is also a steady, faithful, and almost fatherly friend. Drew is regularly woken up for late night trips to the river by the nutty, manic Skitz Fitzsimmons and/or the deeply religious, somewhat violent Hector Fossas. Drew, Skitz, and Hector are a "tribe," and it's their fervent belief that if one of the tribe members falls behind, the others must take care of him.

Drew thinks of the three priests who run the Blessed Sacrament school as "the Franchise." One of the priests, who Drew calls "Father Mullarkey," is a newcomer. A huge, music-loving hippie, the Jesuit Father Mullarkey acts like more of a friend to the boys than a stern taskmaster, which clearly sets him apart from the strict and humorless Fathers "Shenanigan" and "Blarney."

As the story progresses, Skitz starts behaving in an even more bizarre fashion, and the once rock-like Hector becomes increasingly sick and distant. Drew is left to try to figure out exactly what's happening to his friends, which may or may not include sexual abuse. Can the friendly Father Mullarkey actually be trusted? Why is Father Shenanigan always at Hector's house? And, if something is going on at the school, what can Drew do about it?

This is a believable, gripping account of friendship, trust, and loyalty. The bond between Drew, Skitz, and Hector is so real that it pulls the reader right into the story. "Sins of the Fathers" is a must-read for anyone, middle school age and higher, who is looking for a memorable book on what it means to be a friend.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“Saint Iggy” by K.L. Going

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

K.L. Going is the author of "Fat Kid Rules the World," and here she provides the story of another high school misfit. Iggy is a sixteen year-old freshman (he's been kept behind twice), who gets expelled from school shortly before Christmas after allegedly threatening a teacher. Iggy only has a few days to prepare his case for a hearing with the school superintendent, but there's really no one to help him. Iggy's parents are both junkies — his meth addict mom has, in fact, just disappeared again — and a violent dealer named Freddie keeps showing up and threatening him. Iggy's apartment in a high-rise project is a roach-infested mess, and when he decides to leave, he quickly finds he has no place to go. Iggy turns to his only friend, a Zen-spouting college dropout named Mo. Unfortunately, Mo also happens to be a pothead. When Mo graduates to harder drugs, which he can't afford, Iggy has no choice but to help Mo come up with $2,000 in one week or risk a violent confrontation with Freddie.

The boys end up staying at the posh NYC apartment of Mo's mom, where Iggy at last finds some comfort and kindness. Mo is terribly mean to his mother, constantly arguing with her about her "materialistic" ways and rejecting her every attempt to improve their relationship. Mo's mom, who is both compassionate and generous, tries to help Iggy instead, even encouraging him to visit a local church and investigate different technical schools. Looming over Iggy's small bit of Christmas cheer, though, is Mo's increasing drug use and the approaching deadline to pay off Freddie.

This is a very thoughtful, rather sad book filled with some interesting imagery involving vibrant colors. Since the story is narrated by Iggy, the reader sees exactly how alone and confused he is. Iggy's attempts to change his life — he imagines all sorts of scenarios where people will realize they were wrong about him — are poignant failures. This is an "easy" read in the sense that it's a fairly short novel; it is, however, quite intense and thought-provoking. To be honest, at times I didn't know if it was worth it to continue reading such a depressing, seemingly hopeless story. High school age readers who are looking for a thought-provoking novel might find "Saint Iggy" a worthwhile read. Anyone looking for something light or fun, however, would do best to avoid it.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp” by Rick Yancey

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Are you familiar with the legend of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the sacred sword, Excalibur? If you're interested in a modern take on that ancient story, then "The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp" may be the book for you. Alfred, the title character, is a sixteen year-old who has recently lost his mom to cancer. Alfred has bounced around to a few different foster homes, before ultimately ending up in Knoxville, Tennessee at the house of his Uncle Farrell. Alfred, who is neither popular nor a great student, reluctantly agrees to help his uncle steal a sword from Samson Towers, the office building where Farrell is the night security guard. Farrell is to receive $1 million from the very shady Mr. Arthur Myers for "returning" the sword to him. Of course, things go horribly wrong, and all too late Alfred realizes that he has helped a truly evil man acquire a weapon of awesome power. No army or device — no matter how advanced — can stand up to the sword's power.

Alfred then embarks on a mission with Bennacio, an older man who is a keeper of the sword and a descendant of one of the original Knights of the Round Table. On their way from Tennessee to Canada to England, Alfred and Bennacio are chased by all manner of bad guys in an assortment of very cool vehicles, including helicopters, Ferraris, and tricked-out motorcycles. It all builds up to a big showdown in the cave of Merlin between the wretched Arthur Myers (whose real name is Mogart) and the teenage Alfred Kropp.

As mentioned, this story contains many elements from the King Arthur legend, and they're nicely updated for a modern story. The book moves at a very fast pace, with each short chapter packed with dialogue and action. Alfred is a good character to follow, since he's sort of a regular kid who gets caught up in a battle to save the world. While there's a good deal of violence here, it's mostly just mentioned and not described in any detail. There's also a nice theme running through the story about taking responsibility for your decisions (including bad ones, like Alfred stealing the sword) and moving past your mistakes. This book might be a good choice for middle school readers who are fans of the "Alex Rider" series. If you like it, "Alfred Kropp: The Seal of Solomon" is due out in the Spring of 2007. In the meantime, check out the Alfred Kropp website.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

John Green is the author of "Looking for Alaska," which won the Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. This time around, Green is telling a bit of a different story. Colin Singleton, former child prodigy, has just graduated from high school in Chicago. Unfortunately, he's also just been dumped by his 19th Katherine. To clarify, over the course of his lifetime, Colin has only dated Katherines, and every single one of those girls broke up with him. Katherine XIX, as he calls her, has truly broken Colin's heart. The only remedy appears to be a road trip with no purpose and no destination, accompanied by his best (and only) friend, the outrageously funny, outrageously large Hassan.

The boys end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, after stopping to see the alleged grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. They land summer jobs collecting oral histories for Hollis Wells, who is the richest lady in town, owner of a local factory and pink mansion, and mom to the smart, spunky, and very cool Lindsey Lee Wells. During his time in Gutshot, Colin learns how to tell a story, develop a mathematical formula to predict the course of relationships (the "Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability"), get over Katherine XIX, and, perhaps most importantly, see himself as more than just a failed genius.

This is a great book for high school-age teens, particularly those who enjoy math and bizarre trivia (like why shower curtains aren't held down by the spray of the shower!). There's some crude language here, but mostly the boys use their own substitute curses, which are hilarious. In fact, this is one of the funniest books I've read in quite some time. There's no way anyone can keep a straight face while Colin and Hassan are lost in the woods being chased by a wild hog they call the "Satan Pig." Lots of laughs, and a nice view of friendship, make "An Abundance of Katherines" a great read.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“High School Musical” DVD

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Yeah, I know, I'm probably the last person in the known universe to see this movie!

I figured I'd review it here, since the movie, book, and soundtrack are so insanely popular among teens and tweens. For anyone who has been living under a rock the past year, here's a quick summary of "High School Musical": Basketball star Troy and math / science whiz Gabriella fall for each other after meeting at a ski lodge on New Year's Eve. Back at school in New Mexico, they decide to try out for the lead roles in the school musical, despite getting tons of grief from their friends, classmates, and even teachers. And the entire cast sings and dances … a lot!

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll be the first to admit that pop music is not my thing. At all. Most of it seems so artificial and manufactured. Having said that, I couldn't help but get caught up in this particular pop music extravaganza. You know exactly where the story is going, but the songs are so much fun and the dancing is so energetic that it's easy to forgive the story for being fairly predictable. My favorite numbers were the two huge group scenes in the lunchroom ("Stick to the Status Quo") and during the finale at the gym ("We're All in This Together"). Just the scope of it — the sheer number of kids singing and dancing — is outrageous. Everywhere you look, there's something going on, and yet it doesn't look like chaos.

This is a very enjoyable film that everyone in the family can enjoy.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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“Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Two popular YA authors team up here for a love story that takes place on one night among the punk clubs on New York's Lower East Side. Nick is the bassist in a band, and he's having a hard time getting over his ex, the beautiful but somewhat heartless Tris. When he spots Tris at the show — with a new guy! — Nick tries to save face by asking a random girl to pretend to be his girlfriend for the next five minutes. That girl turns out to be Norah, a super smart, super knowledgeable punk fan (her dad is a music executive) who initially hangs with Nick because she needs a ride home for her drunk best friend, Caroline. Pretty soon, though, Nick and Norah realize there's something special about the way they connect, even if they're both scared and hurt and confused. They spend the rest of the night (mostly) together, going to clubs, diners, and (gasp!) even the corporate world of midtown Manhattan. Along the way, both Nick and Norah learn that they need to let go of the past if they're going to have a real chance at the future.

This book is narrated by Nick and Norah in alternating chapters, so the reader knows just what each is thinking about the other. It's a great method, since it allows us to see how insecure, nervous, and, at times, brave, each character is. While Levithan wrote Nick's chapters and Cohn Norah's, the book is not at all disjointed.

The scenes involving music — whether in the pit at a club or talking about it afterward — are absolutely perfect. Music fans will marvel at how well the authors capture the pure joy and exhilaration of a great show. And the characters are remarkably complex. Tris, who at first seems like an awful "mean girl" cliche, turns out to be so much deeper. In fact, she eventually plays a pivotal role in getting Nick and Norah together. "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is a book for older teens, since the language and some of the situations might be too much for younger readers. It's one of the better books I've read in a long time, and it's definitely one that can be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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