RSS

Monthly Archives: May 2007

“Summer Ball” by Mike Lupica

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Travel Team's" star point guard, the great — but short — basketball player Danny Walker, is back in author Mike Lupica's latest sports novel, "Summer Ball." This time around, it's the summer after eighth grade, and Danny and his best friends Will and Ty are about to head off from Middletown, Long Island to a high-rated, highly competitive basketball camp in rural Maine.

When Danny arrives at Josh Cameron's Right Way Camp, it seems that everything is stacked against him. His opponent from the travel team's national championship game, Rasheed Hill, is a star at the camp, and he's still angry with what he thinks of as Danny's "flop" to get a crucial foul called. Instead of getting assigned to a cabin with his friends, Danny, who's already sensitive about his small size, is placed with younger kids. Right away, Danny makes an enemy of his coach, Ed Powers, who won't even give Danny a chance to prove himself on the court among his bigger, stronger teammates. And worst of all? The Kobe Bryant-like Lamar Parrish, a flashy, cocky player, taunts Danny at every opportunity … and he has the skills to back it up.

But there are some good things for Danny along the way, too, including new friend Tarik, young camper Zach Fox, and, perhaps best of all, his friend / girlfriend Tess Hewitt, who is spending part of the summer just across Coffee Lake from the camp.

The book builds toward the inevitable championship game, in which Danny and his teammates are matched up against Lamar's squad. Once again, Danny will have to prove himself when it matters most, with the entire camp, his friends, Tess, and his parents all watching. Although the ending is a bit predictable, I really enjoyed this book and basically read it in one sitting. Danny Walker is a good but real kid. His temper and stubbornness are nicely contrasted by his big heart and courage. I can't believe there's a reader around who wouldn't be rooting for him. Plus, the relationships between Danny and his friends ring true throughout the novel, and there's plenty of exciting basketball action to keep the story moving along at a brisk pace.

This book is a natural for fans of "Travel Team," but it would also be great for newcomers, too. Middle school boys and girls alike, particularly those who enjoy sports and basketball, should love this book.

 
19 Comments

Posted by on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

“Twisted” by Laurie Halse Anderson

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Many of you may know author Laurie Halse Anderson from her previous novels, including "Speak" and "Fever 1793." In this book, we get the first-person story of Tyler Miller, a senior in high school who, over the course of a long summer of landscaping and manual labor, has transformed himself from an unseen dork into a handsome, tan, cut young man. This change is quickly noticed by Bethany Milbury, the daughter of Mr. Miller's boss and the twin sister of class bully Chip Milbury.

From a literally painful start at a summer party, Tyler and the popular, beautiful Bethany become closer as the school year progresses. Bethany evens begins sitting at lunch in the cafeteria with Tyler, his nerdy best friend Yoda, and his freshman sister Hannah. Unfortunately, things soon take a dramatic turn for the worse. Shortly after a wild party, when a sober Tyler resists a very drunken Bethany's advances, scandalous photos of a passed out Bethany are posted on a website. Since Tyler is still on probation from an idiotic graffiti prank the year before, everyone, including his father, classmates, teachers, and principal, immediately thinks he's the culprit. Tyler is quickly segregated at school, forced to study by himself all day long in a lonely room, while Chip and his friends threaten and attack him at every chance. The absolute worst may be the reaction of Tyler's father. While Mr. Miller has always been something of a demanding jerk, his constant insults and tirades truly begin to break Tyler down, to the point where he thinks not only about running away but about ending his own life.

The devastating scenes where Tyler holds his father's gun are easily some of the best in the book. In fact, what's really great about "Twisted" is how real the entire book feels, from Tyler's awkwardness at school to his giddy pursuit of Bethany to his downward spiral. I really believed that Tyler's world could fall apart so quickly and completely, and I think other readers will, too. This is one of the best books I've read in a while, and I would absolutely recommended it to high school readers.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

“Kira-Kira” by Cynthia Kadohata

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Kira-kira means "shining" or "glittering" in Japanese. It's a word that Japanese-American sisters Katie and Lynn use to describe much of their world growing up in 1950s Iowa and Georgia. Blue skies, corn fields, butterflies, starry nights, and even colored tissues floating to the ground are all kira-kira.

At the beginning of the story, as Katie is about six and Lynn a few years older, the family moves to a cramped apartment in southern Georgia after their small store in Iowa fails. Katie's small, fragile mother and her strong, quiet, capable father each take jobs at local chicken hatcheries, requiring them to work long, exhausting hours. Katie is generally happy growing up in Georgia, even if she occasionally feels shunned by her classmates for not being white. Katie and Lynn stay close as the years pass, even as their parents are increasingly absent; as a little brother, Sam, joins the family; and as Lynn gets a white best friend, Amber, and a white boyfriend. Although Katie sometimes feels babied or dismissed by her sister, she still loves spending time with the smart, sweet, generally kind-hearted Lynn.

Unfortunately, as time passes, it's clear that something is very wrong with Lynn. She becomes weak, fatigued, and sick, needing to spend more and more time resting in bed. Over the years, Lynn's illness starts to break the family apart financially and emotionally. For example, as Lynn becomes gravely ill and is frequently hospitalized, Katie and Sam must often spend their days in the sweltering family car outside the hatchery, waiting for their mother to get off work. When Lynn is home, Katie stops attending school regularly and becomes something of a live-in caretaker / nurse for her sister. In the end, the family must find a way to survive Lynn's illness, and Katie must find a way to become the person her sister knows she can be.

"Kira-Kira" is a beautifully written story about sisters, family, survival, sacrifice, and, in a strange way, hope. It won a well-deserved Newbery Medal in 2005, which is the highest honor in American children's literature. Although "Kira-Kira" describes a Japanese-American family in a very specific place and time, the story is universal, meaning that all readers should be able to relate to the characters and themes involved here. Katie, in particular, is a wonderful character — brave, compassionate, and, at times, impatient and even cruel. Yet these flaws only make her all that more real for the reader. This is a fantastic middle-school level novel that will stay with most readers long after they are finished.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,

“Gone” by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

I'm sure you've all read or heard about romantic relationships between teachers and students. In that sense, "Gone," which tells the story of a destructive affair between history teacher Ms. Timms and recent high school graduate Connor, is a very timely story.

Connor excelled at woodworking and furniture making — but little else — in high school. As the summer after his graduation begins, he's adrift with no real plans for the future. Having survived a difficult upbringing with an alcoholic mother and a debilitated father, Connor seems content to keep living with his great-aunt Syl, working the grill at the Chow Line, and hanging out with his best (and only) friend Zach. But after Connor kisses Ms. Timms during a picnic in a local park, his life changes dramatically. Suddenly, he is making secret plans to meet his former teacher, lying to his aunt and neighbors, and hatching desperate, crazed plans to start a new life with Ms. Timms across the country in New Mexico.

The secrets of Connor's dark past are slowly revealed to the reader as he becomes further wrapped up in his obsession with Ms. Timms. It's easy for the reader to understand Connor's attraction to her. He's a lonely, troubled kid who has been badly hurt in the past, and along comes a young, beautiful teacher who wants him. While the reader gets hints that Ms. Timms has some very real problems of her own, it's not until the end of the story that we learn just how much she has destroyed Connor through her selfish behavior.

I'm not sure I actually liked this novel, although I found Connor to be a compelling and real character. For me, Connor's relationship with Ms. Timms seemed unnecessarily graphic, leaving the reader feeling exploited and a bit cheapened. The ending also felt rushed, as if after all the buildup there was really no place for the story to go. That's a shame, because there are some thought-provoking moments and interesting characters here.

As I mentioned, this a rather graphic story that also contains lots of harsh language. Consider yourself warned. High school age readers may enjoy this book for its insight into the life of a lonely, confused teenager. Otherwise, it's not an essential read.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

“The Amazing Life of Birds” by Gary Paulsen

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"The Amazing Life of Birds," from the author of "Hatchet," is sub-titled "The Twenty-Day Puberty Journal of Duane Homer Leech." That sub-title pretty much gives you the whole story right there. This is a very short novel with some truly laugh-out-loud illustrations, which compare twelve year-old Duane to the baby bird nesting outside his window. Duane would like to be known as "Duey," but his classmates, rather unfortunately, refer to him with the nickname "Doo Doo." Over the twenty days covered by Duane's journal, the reader is treated to one humiliating incident after another, as Duane breaks out, suffers a series of embarrassing falls and stumbles, stammers incoherently each time he sees a girl he likes, and, to top it off, unwittingly starts a panic about a ringworm epidemic at school (don't ask — it involves Duane's unruly cowlick and a truly bad self-inflicted hair cut).

While much of this may sound awful to read, it's not. Paulsen writes in a gentle, humorous tone, which greatly softens the sting of Duane's mishaps. Even better, Duane never comes off as whiny or annoying. He's just a regular kid going through a difficult time, yet he still manages to be thoughtful and funny. When Duane finally gets his moment to shine near the story's end, the reader will be delighted for him. It's a very real victory, and the ending — just like the rest of the novel — should be reassuring for all young readers who are facing the same changes as Duane. I would definitely recommend this easy-to-read, fun story to boys and girls in grades 5 and up.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , ,

“Replay” by Sharon Creech

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Replay" is the story of a young dreamer named Leo (known also as "Sardine" and "Fog Boy"), his boisterous family, and a school play about a magical porch, an emerald table, and rediscovering your youth. Much of the story involves Leo being overlooked or teased by his family; Leo then re-imagines each incident with him as the star or hero. The book is sort of whimsical and silly, although it is trying to convey a deeper theme of the importance of marching to the beat of your own drummer (or, in Leo's case, marching to the tap shoes hidden by your father in the attic years ago).

On the night of the big play, Leo, who has won the part of the Old Crone — and, yes, that's a woman — finally gets to shine in real life as he has in his own imagination. It's a fitting ending, and there are some sweet scenes that follow between Leo and his father, as each begins to open up to the other. Overall, though, I didn't much care for this book. Yes, it was a quick, fast-paced, easy read with incredibly short chapters, which will undoubtedly make it a popular choice on this summer's required reading list. I simply found the family's wackiness and the whirlwind style of the novel to be annoying and tedious. Even worse, I found Leo himself to be a character to whom I felt no connection at all. Author Sharon Creech won the Newbery Medal (the prize for outstanding American children's book) for "Walk Two Moons." I couldn't help but think that if "Replay" had come from a less prestigious author, few people would be reading it.

If, despite my review, you are interested in this book, it's a very clean, very mild story that is appropriate for even younger readers, say in grades 4 and up.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 29, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , ,

“19 Minutes” by Jodi Picoult

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"19 Minutes" is the latest novel from bestselling author Jodi Picoult, who has written such well-regarded books as "My Sister's Keeper." Although Picoult's novels are written for adults, she has a large teen audience because many of her stories focus on families and teenagers. "19 Minutes" is no exception. Here, we have the story of a school shooting at a high school in Sterling, New Hampshire. In nineteen minutes, sixteen year-old Peter Houghton, a bullied, largely friendless teen, kills ten of his classmates and wounds dozens others. One of the few people Peter spares in his rampage is his childhood best friend, the blazingly popular Josie Cormier.

As you might imagine, the shootings devastate the community at large as well as all the families involved, including Peter's and Josie's. Peter's mom, midwife Lacy, struggles to forgive her son, whom everyone views as a monster, while his dad, college professor Lewis, retreats completely. Josie's single mother, local judge Alex Cormier, fails repeatedly in her attempts to reach out to her daughter, who fainted during the shooting spree and claims to have no memory of the events. Josie is particularly distraught because her boyfriend, Matt — a cruel boy who was one of Peter's biggest tormentors — is dead.

Nothing is exactly as it seems in this story. While Peter is clearly a murderer, it's hard not to feel compassion for him after learning about his long history of being teased, taunted, abused, and humiliated by his classmates. And as the reader discovers more about Josie's relationship with Matt, her grief and heartache become both more and less difficult to understand.

There are lots of flashbacks in the story — some reaching back to before Josie's birth — that help the reader become deeply attached to these characters. As the story builds toward Peter's trial and its shocking conclusion, the reader has learned so much about each of the characters that they seem, truly, like real people. This is a detailed, long novel with very rich language and an honest, unflinching insight into teenagers' worlds. It might not be for all teens, but for high school age readers interested in a complex look at the effects of abuse and bullying, this is a great read.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 16, 2007 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , ,