Monthly Archives: April 2007

“The Taker” by JM Steele


If you're one of the many high school students stressing about the SATs, your GPA, and where you'll go to college, "The Taker" might be just the book for you. It's a breezy, fast-paced novel about high school junior Carly, who bombs the SAT and then contracts with the shady, mysterious Taker to re-take the SAT for her. There's one catch, though. Taker, who Carly only meets once in a shadowy corner of a mall parking lot, insists that Carly take an intensive SAT prep course so that people won't be surprised when her scores jump astronomically. Carly decides to have her geeky but sweet neighbor Ronald Gross work with her one-on-one. Ronald's methods may be a bit unusual — he takes her "duck" bowling and constructs his own tailored problems — but, ever so slowly, Carly begins to do better on the practice tests. More importantly, she starts to actually understand the questions and answers. As Carly's confidence increases, she decides she wants out of her hasty deal with the Taker. The problem? The Taker has disappeared and his e-mail has been deactivated.

I really enjoyed this novel. Carly is a very authentic, believable character, and the reader can completely understand all the pressure she's under from her parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and friends. Carly's blossoming friendship with Ronald — and her growing disgust with her jock boyfriend Brad — are nice touches that make the story ring true. Even better, the ultimate "lesson" of the book, that you really can only do your best and then just accept the consequences, is a good one to remember. Especially when everyone else seems to have forgotten it!

I think this is a great novel for high school age readers. There's nothing terribly offensive here, aside from a few instances of harsh language, which seem fitting for the story. Definitely recommended.

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Posted by on April 30, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“Wide Awake” by David Levithan


David Levithan is the author or co-author of several novels for teens, including "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," "Are We There Yet?" and "Boy Meets Boy". In his latest novel, "Wide Awake," Levithan takes us to America roughly forty or so years from today, at a time when a gay, Jewish candidate (Abraham Stein) has just been elected President by a razor-thin margin in the state of Kansas. Duncan Weiss is a sixteen year-old high school student who volunteered for the Stein campaign. As a gay, Jewish teenager, Duncan is ecstatic about Stein's victory … until the day after the election, when the Governor of Kansas announces a challenge to the results. Duncan, his boyfriend Jimmy, their "Jesus Freak" friends Mandy and Janna, and several other campaign volunteers and friends eventually decide to travel to Kansas to take part in a massive demonstration for would-be President Stein. The road trip from New Jersey to Kansas and the sometimes heated protest there comprise the bulk of the novel.

I'm still somewhat unsure of my reaction to this book. On the one hand, I thought Levithan did a superb job of taking current political and social tensions and crafting them into a believable, relevant story. I loved the fact that the Jesus Freaks I mentioned above are not the ultra-conservative evangelicals that many of us today would associate with that negative term. Instead, this group embraces the somewhat derogatory label and takes it as their mission to be examples of Jesus in all ways — being compassionate, forgiving, and loving — even to those who preach hatred and division. I thought that was a terrific way to take a current stereotype and explore its meaning.

My problem with this book lies in the fact that all too much of it reads like a political diatribe. Some of the speeches — and there are many in the book — are touching, compelling, and quite thought provoking. Far too many, however, are simply tedious for the reader to slog through. They often feel like the same thoughts and ideals re-expressed over and over again. I guess I wanted something more to happen in the book than simply page after page of various characters giving speeches on politics, unity, and acceptance.

There's a lot to like in this novel and some genuinely heartfelt moments as well. I'd say if you're a high school age reader who is looking for a timely novel with a political theme, this might be a good choice. I just wish it had been a richer story.

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Posted by on April 12, 2007 in Uncategorized


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