Monthly Archives: February 2007

“Story of a Girl” by Sara Zarr


Right at the beginning of "Story of a Girl," we find out that the main character and narrator, Deanna Lambert, has a reputation in Pacifica, California as the school slut. Turns out that several years earlier, Deanna's dad caught her and a senior guy named Tommy Webber having sex in Tommy's car. The twist? Deanna was in the eighth grade at the time, and Tommy was the only boy she's ever been with, before or since. Still, her peers and classmates treat Deanna like a punching bag, teasing her in incredibly vicious and hurtful ways to the point where she's basically an outcast. As Deanna enters the summer following her sophomore year of high school, she has just two friends — Lee, a sweet, religious girl, and Jason, a longtime pal whom Deanna has come to look at as possibly more than a friend. The main problem? Lee and Jason are a couple.

Meanwhile, Deanna's home life is a complete mess. Her dad has never recovered from the shock of finding her with Tommy, and his response has been to essentially ignore Deanna for years. Deanna's mom works long hours at a department store to help make ends meet, and her beloved older brother, early 20-ish Darren, is living in the family's basement with his infant daughter April and girlfriend Stacey. Needless to say, Deanna's father is not happy about this living arrangement.

Author Sara Zarr follows Deanna's story through that one long summer, as Deanna takes a job at a local pizza parlor only to find that Tommy works there, too. Over those summer months, Deanna learns a lot about redemption and forgiveness, as she hurts her friends, watches Darren and Stacey's relationship self destruct, confronts Tommy, and finally speaks up about her dad's icy behavior. Although nothing truly unpredictable happens here, the story is nicely, almost gently told, the characters generally act in believable, imperfect ways, and it doesn't feel like one of those awful books with a heavy lesson to teach. Plus, it's great for the reader to see Deanna start to regain some of her old spark, since she's such a compelling, fully drawn character.

While the storyline here is a bit mature, there are no graphic scenes and little foul language. Truly, the story revolves more around the aftermath of Deanna's mistake, and how hard it is to repair both damaged self-esteem and damaged relationships. Definitely recommended for teen girls.

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Posted by on February 20, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“M or F?” by Lisa Papademetriou and Chris Tebbetts


Frannie Falconer and Marcus Beauregard are best friends. These "brain twins" are so close they can basically read each other's thoughts and complete each other's sentences. When Frannie starts crushing on Jeffrey Osborne, a progressive, socially conscious classmate, Marcus helps her develop a plan to win Jeffrey over. Thus begins a modern day twist on the classic tale of Cyrano de Bergerac, where one friend uses another friend's words and ideas to make someone fall in love with them. Here, Marcus IMs Jeffrey night after night, all the while pretending to be Frannie. Jeffrey and Frannie have amazing chemistry online, but when they're hanging out together in person, both find it difficult to connect and have fun. Which only makes sense, since all those wonderful online conversations are actually being conducted by Marcus, not Frannie!

"M or F?" is a fun, frothy, lighthearted story about friendship, falling in love, and the dangers of making assumptions about people. Marcus and Frannie narrate alternate chapters, and both are amusing and entertaining characters. It's particularly nice that Marcus's homosexuality isn't treated like some awful, oppressive issue. It's just who he is, and it very believably complicates the story once Marcus finds himself falling for Jeffrey online. "M or F?" is essentially a comedy of errors, and most readers, from middle school up, will have a fun time watching Marcus, Frannie, and Jeffrey figure out exactly what's going on.


Posted by on February 8, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“Anatomy of a Boyfriend” by Daria Snadowsky


Have you read or at least heard about the Judy Blume classic "Forever"? To this day, it's still one of the most banned books in the US, with critics objecting to its frank portrayal of a teen sexual relationship.

If you're familiar with "Forever," then think of "Anatomy of a Boyfriend" as a more modern version of that teen classic. In "Anatomy of a Boyfriend," 17 year-old Dominique Baylor meets 18 year-old Wes Gershwin when she literally falls on her face at an athletic event held the day after Christmas in Fort Myers, Florida. Dom is a future doctor and current member of the Science Quiz team at Shorr Academy, while Wes is a track star at East Fort Myers (EFM) High. Dom's best friend, Amy, also attends EFM, and after Dom and Wes begin trading e-mails, Amy arranges an in-person meeting at a New Year's party. The first part of the book follows the very beginnings of Dom and Wes' relationship, which, frankly, is fairly predictable. You know from the get-go that these two will become a couple, so it's a bit tedious slogging through the e-mails and IMs that comprise their early communication.

Once Wes and Dom start going out, they act like regular teenagers, which is always nice to see in a teen novel. They start kissing in the back seats of cars and on couches while their respective folks are out. Things quickly progress from there, and there are many honest, fairly graphic descriptions of the couple's sexual relationship. It'll probably be reassuring for most readers that Dom and Wes are both nervous and insecure as they become more physical with each other.

For me, this is where the book sort of fell apart. There's a large jump in time from the couple's prom night to the end of the summer, when Dom and Wes head off to their individual colleges, she to Tulane and he to NYU. The reader only gets a few e-mail transcripts to cover the gap in time, and this method of plot development absolutely ruins the dramatic tension of the story. The rest of the novel, which depicts the couple gradually drifting apart, is incredibly flat and almost boring. Even worse, Dom's character becomes the worst kind of nagging, obsessive girlfriend, and she'll likely alienate readers with her behavior. As for me, by the end, I honestly couldn't have cared less about her, which is a shame.

I'm sure this book will be popular, and it's admittedly a super quick, page-turning read. The "sex ed" information is handled in a realistic manner, and, for much of the book, readers will root for Dom and Wes. It's just too bad the characters, who are both a bit one-dimensional to begin with, are treated so poorly by the author towards the end of the story. All in all, a decent enough read.

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Posted by on February 7, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“Raiders Night” by Robert Lipsyte


For older teens (due to the themes and language here), "Raiders Night" is a great book about the underside of high school athletics. Matt Rydek is the senior co-captain of the Nearmont High Raiders football team. He's also a member of the "Back Pack," a group of football players who lift weights and shoot steroids at a local gym. The story begins at the very end of the summer, just as the Raiders are about to leave for a five-day mini camp.

Matt is, quite frankly, a mess. He's the team's star player — in fact, one of the best in the area — but his entire life has become about football. Matt's dad is a former player and current caterer who pays for his son's steroids, pesters him constantly, harasses officials, obsessively compiles lists of scouts and colleges, and generally puts a world of pressure on the teen. Matt is cheating on one girlfriend and ignoring another. He pops the painkiller Vicodin like it's candy, hides a flask in his duffle bag, and occasionally walks (and drives) in a complete stupor. While he's clearly falling apart carrying the weight of his teammates', community's, and father's expectations, Matt is actually a pretty good kid. He's just often too overwhelmed to challenge those around him.

During "Raiders Pride Night" at the preseason mini camp, Matt's co-captain, the loud, abusive, and completely underhanded Ramp, takes a freshman hazing prank way too far. Chris, the transfer student who is the victim of the prank, goes from being a flashy, confident player to a shell of himself; he misses practices, stays home from school, and avoids his teammates. Matt soon realizes that the team's coaches, boosters, and even some of the parents know about the hazing, but all choose to ignore it so the team can continue to thrive. Matt is faced with a choice: betray his teammates and reveal the truth, or keep quiet and watch a young man self-destruct.

As I said in the opening, this is a gripping book about the negative effects of all the hoopla surrounding high school sports. There is tons of sports action here, both in the Raider practices and games, that football fans will surely love. Matt is also a very real teenager, a believable combination of "big man on campus" and decent guy. Author Lipsyte weaves many issues throughout the story (drug and alcohol abuse, casual sex, parental demands, sexual abuse, etc.), but none of them overwhelm the story. This is ultimately a compelling story about one teenage athlete's attempt to do the right thing. "Raiders Night" is strongly recommended for high school age readers.


Posted by on February 6, 2007 in Uncategorized


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