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Monthly Archives: January 2007

“Beast” by Donna Jo Napoli

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Author Napoli is well known for her creative takes on traditional fairy tales (her "Bound" transports the Cinderella story to China and "Zel" places the tale of Rapunzel in sixteenth century Switzerland). In "Beast," we meet Orasmyn, a Persian prince who, due to his arrogance in sacrificing a camel at a ritual, is cursed by a fairy. Orasmyn literally becomes a lion, and, although he is often controlled by violent animal instincts, he still maintains some of his previous self. The reader follows Orasmyn as he leaves Persia and journeys through the Middle East and India, learning how to hunt, groom, fight, and generally survive as a lion, while still seeking to find some way to return to human form.

Eventually, Orasmyn settles in France. He moves into an abandoned castle with a grand library, where he plants and tends a rose garden and becomes a surrogate parent to a young fox. When he catches a local man stealing his beloved roses, Orasmyn spares his life in exchange for having the man’s daughter, Belle, come live at the palace. Can the frightened Belle learn to live with the wild beast? And, just as importantly, can Orasmyn curb his violent lion ways and become a gentle and compassionate being again?

Although you’re all likely familiar with this story, "Beast" is a great read because it is told entirely from the lion’s perspective. Orasmyn narrates his own story, so the reader sees firsthand what it's like to hunt and feed. We also get to understand Orasmyn's inner struggles, as his animal savagery challenges his deeply held Islamic beliefs. There are many beautiful, captivating descriptions in the book, and the author helpfully provides a glossary of unfamiliar Persian and Arabic words. "Beast" is recommended for middle school readers and up, particularly those who are looking for a strikingly different, almost lyrical story about ancient Persia, Islam, and the human capacity for acceptance and redemption.

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Posted by on January 30, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“A Thief in the House of Memory” by Tim Wynne-Jones

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"A Thief in the House of Memory" is a good, short mystery novel set in Ontario, Canada. 16 year-old Declan (Dec to his friends) dreams of becoming an architect. In the meantime, he has a few issues to deal with — his mother left the family when he was ten, sending only two postcards after her disappearance; his father, Bernard, has preserved the uninhabited Steeple Hall, the family's imposing mansion, as a museum, with each room a time capsule view of its former inhabitants (for example, Dec's room as a little boy still has his red sneaker bed, map of the world cover, and childhood books); Bernard, the wealthy heir to an industrial fortune, spends all his time holed up in his shed, recreating miniature models of famous battles; and, oh yeah, Dec and his little sister Sunny find a dead truck driver in the entryway of Steeple Hall, crushed under a shattered bookcase and a bust of the philosopher Plato.

Once he discovers the dead man's body, Dec begins to remember more and more about his mother, Lindy. He "sees" her at Steeple Hall, pulling pranks and complaining about feeling smothered. As Dec's memories of his mom increase, he begins to question everything Bernard has told him about Lindy's disappearance. While Dec tries to solve that mystery, as well as understand the truck driver's bizarre death, he begins to suspect that his father is both a liar and a murderer.

This is an interesting, engaging story about memories and how they affect a person's ability to move forward in life. The mystery is compelling, and the author provides a series of clues and red herrings (that is, fake clues) that should keep most readers guessing. In addition, Dec's relationships with his friends — the compassionate, sort of offbeat Ezra and the smart, eccentric Viv — seem sweetly genuine, and so make a story about dead bodies and hidden family secrets all that much more believable. Definitely recommended for boys and girls in middle school and up.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Notebook Girls”

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"The Notebook Girls" is printed as an actual composition book with lined pages and handwritten entries. It's (allegedly) the true story of four teenage friends (Courtney, Sophie, Lindsey, and Julia) who attend Manhattan's prestigious Stuyvesant High School. Over the course of almost two years, beginning in their freshman year, the girls pass the notebook back and forth, writing about everything that is happening in their worlds and commenting on each other's entries.

You may have caught my "allegedly" up there in the first paragraph. I found it hard to believe these essays were the actual, unedited writings of four teenage girls, written as they were experienced. So many of the entries seemed contrived or forced to discuss certain "hot button" issues, including body image, religion, the Iraq War, drug use, homosexuality, and oral sex. Something about it just didn't seem authentic to me.

With those criticisms out of the way, I won't deny that "The Notebook Girls" is a compelling, engrossing story. It reads almost like a "Gossip Girl" novel, in that privileged teens have incredible amounts of independence, little or no parental supervision, and conduct themselves (wild parties, drugs, sex, etc.) as if they're in their twenties. The friendship between the four girls comes through the pages quite clearly, and they each have a distinct voice and outlook. It was hard not to get caught up in their story, and I eagerly kept turning the pages to find out what happened next. In the end, most older teen girls (the themes are a bit much for middle schoolers) will likely enjoy this very readable story, even if they'll leave — as I did — with a nagging feeling that it wasn't entirely true.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“Weetzie Bat” by Francesca Lia Block

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Weetzie Bat" is considered a classic of modern young adult literature. This short novel, written in 1989, uses a style called magical realism, which may or may not be familiar to you. Basically, there are magical or fantastical elements and rich, colorful images woven through a story that deals with very real issues, including death, grief, love, forgiveness, and even AIDS. Whether you ultimately enjoy this novel will probably turn on how you feel about the sort of other-worldly, fairy tale images and descriptions that form the basis of this novel.

As for the story, it essentially follows the life of older teenager Weetzie Bat in Los Angeles as she becomes friends with the cool, mohawked Dirk; falls in love with her dream man, My Secret Agent Lover Man (that's his name — really!); moves into a small cottage with Dirk, his boyfriend Duck, and My Secret Agent Lover Man; and goes on to star in My Secret Agent Lover Man's movies. Eventually, the family grows to include two children, Witch Baby (yes, Witch Baby) and Cherokee.

There is something sweet about the themes of acceptance, forgiveness, and family in this novel. To be honest, not very much happens in the story, but, for some, the lush, whirlwind descriptions of food, settings, clothes, and cars may be enough. Please note that although this is a short novel, it is definitely geared toward older teens.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“Sold” by Patricia McCormick

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Author McCormick does an outstanding job of conveying the hope, fear, and bravery of a young girl from Nepal who is sold into prostitution in Calcutta, India. Through a series of short free-verse (not rhymed) poems, Lakshmi narrates her life story. The reader follows the girl from her poverty-stricken yet generally happy life in the isolated mountains of Nepal to her bleak, brutal existence in an Indian brothel. Lakshmi's stepfather has wasted the family's meager money on gambling and drinking, and so sells her as a "maid" to a traveling "auntie." Both Lakshmi and her mother actually believe that she will work as some type of servant for a wealthy Indian family. Lakshmi, although homesick and afraid, is eager to become the best maid she can and send some money back to her mother. It's only when Lakshmi arrives in Calcutta that she realizes the awful truth — she has been sold as a prostitute and must now work years and years while locked away in the brothel to pay off her debt. At first, Lakshmi resists the men, behavior for which she is beaten, isolated, and even has her head shaved. Later, Lakshmi is regularly drugged so that she cannot resist the men's advances.

While the poems are often frank, brutal, and difficult to read, there is also a certain beauty in Lakshmi's refusal to surrender. The story provides tremendous insight into a world of poverty and violence that is so different from our own. Just as importantly, it shows so beautifully how one girl's strength and courage saved her life. In the end, "Sold" is an inspiring story of hope that will stay with the reader long afterward. It is highly recommended for readers in high school and beyond.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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“Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

High school student Leo Borlock narrates the story of the new girl at Arizona's Mica High: Stargirl. Yes, you read it correctly. Stargirl. This new student is completely different in every possible way from her peers. She comes to school wearing prairie dresses, carries a pet rat, strums the ukelele, and even serenades strange students in the cafeteria. Leo finds himself falling for Stargirl, admiring the way she performs anonymous good deeds for others. Improbably, Stargirl briefly becomes the most popular girl at Mica High, singlehandedly filling the stands at football games with her unusual cheerleading techniques. Just as suddenly, the very things that make Stargirl so unique begin to alienate her peers. After she cheers for an opposing team's injured player at a basketball game, the transformation is complete. Stargirl is completely shunned by her classmates, to the point where they literally do not acknowledge her existence. Leo is torn between helping Stargirl stay true to herself and allowing her to change and become just like everyone else.

Not every aspect of this story works as well as it could. Readers may very likely find Stargirl herself to be irritating. She's so unbelievably naive about teen behavior that some readers may have difficulty in feeling much sympathy for her character. In fact, I found the character of Leo — the generally good but weak guy who knows what he should do but can't seem to do it — to be more compelling. While it could have been better, in the end "Stargirl" is a quick, decent enough book that explores in great depth the issues of peer pressure and non-comformity.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

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