Monthly Archives: September 2007

“Hero” by Perry Moore


In some ways, Thom Creed is a typical teenager. He loves playing basketball. He has a part-time job as a dishwasher. He fights with his dad a lot. He volunteers time working with kids at a local community center. And he has a pretty fierce crush on one of his fellow tutors, a rival basketball player with piercing eyes named Goran. Interestingly, it's being gay that makes Thom so different from his peers — not the fact that he has a superhuman ability to heal people.

Set at some unnamed point in the near future, "Hero" is set in a world where superheroes regularly step in to rescue mere mortals from all manner of crime and evil. Thom's abilities, which are a bit random and out of control, attract the attention of the League, the official organization of superheroes. Thom is invited in for a tryout, and he soon becomes a probationary League member, assigned to a team of misfit heroes that includes a man with the power to infect others with disease (Typhoid Larry); a cranky, chain-smoking senior citizen with the ability to see the future (Ruth); and a bitter, sarcastic pizza delivery girl who can burst into flames (Scarlett).

The League is a source of national pride, so you would think Thom's dad Hal would be delighted at his inclusion in the group. The problem? Hal is a fallen superhero himself. As Major Might, his decision to sacrifice an office building to save the world from an invading alien resulted in thousands of deaths. Although Hal had no choice, the public blames him for the tragedy. In total disgrace, Hal has had to scrape by for years with warehouse work. Hal hates the League and would never allow Thom to join up. Father and son have such a strained, tense relationship to begin with — Thom lives in mortal fear that his dad will discover he's gay — that Thom hides his League involvement from Hal. As you might imagine, Hal eventually discovers both of Thom's secrets, although with results that may surprise you.

I actually liked this book, but I'll be the first to admit that it can be all over the place. The mash-up of sincere coming-of-age novel with comic-like action elements doesn't always work successfully, as there are sometimes jarring shifts in the tone of the story. But "Hero" is such an interesting novel packed with likeable, quirky characters that you'll probably be willing to forgive its failings. Author Perry Moore does a fantastic job of showing how Thom gradually learns to accept and explore his homosexuality, giving him plenty of obstacles and missteps along the way. Thom's relationship with the enigmatic Goran develops in a slow, believable fashion, and the contrast between the prejudices Thom faces and the joys of that first love are beautifully portrayed.

There are also plenty of scenes of superheroes flying, zapping, and otherwise fighting villains. These action sequences are so over the top that they feel like reading a comic book without the pictures. The various superheroes have talents ranging from gross to cool, and seeing Thom's team evolve as crime fighters is both sweet and fun. Lastly, Hal, Thom's dad, is one of the more complex parental figures I've seen in a teen novel in quite some time. It's a credit to the author that he makes a character who at first seems like a cold, bigoted bully develop into something so much more.

As I said, although flawed, this is a very entertaining, engrossing novel. There's probably enough here to appeal to both comic fans and teens who like more realistic, heartfelt stories. One word of caution — this is definitely a book for older teens. There is an abundance of harsh language (much more than necessary, in my opinion) and some very adult situations. The publisher recommends a target age of 13 and up, which seems about right to me.

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Posted by on September 13, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“Eclipse” by Stephenie Meyer


Unless you've been living under a rock somewhere, you already know that "Eclipse" is the third book in author Stephenie Meyer's teen vampire saga. In this novel, the cold, beautiful vampire Edward Cullen and the awkward, plain human Bella Swan are back as a couple, determined to stay together despite some very real obstacles in their path. Victoria, the evil vampire on a mission to avenge her lover's death, is busily tracking Bella, waiting for the right moment to strike. The mysterious Voltori, a clan of Italian vampires, are still angry that Edward's past behavior threatened to expose their very existence. An "army" of newborn vampires is killing scores of people in Seattle, and according to the clairvoyant Alice Cullen, they're headed toward Bella's town of Forks, Washington. Jacob Black, Bella's former best friend, and his werewolf pack are as wary as ever about the presence of the Cullen "blood suckers" near their reservation home of La Push, and the uneasy truce between the vampires and werewolves may soon be broken. Bella's dad, Charlie, continues to despise Edward … and he doesn't even know what Edward really is or that Bella has decided to become a vampire, too.

Yes, drama. Honestly, I'm not sure all that much happens in this story, despite its length. (It tops out at a hefty 629 pages.) Edward and Bella endlessly debate her becoming a vampire, and what conditions each can impose upon the other before the transformation occurs. At great length, the Cullens form a strategy to oppose the newborn army and the Voltori, yet the climactic battle is over in the blink of an eye. Bella and Jacob have the same conversation a dozen times over, the one in which he tries to convince her that she's in love with him while she refuses to even listen. Eh.

There is some interesting back story on Jasper, Edward's brother vampire, and a nice alliance between the vamps and werewolves, including Edward and Jacob. As has been the case for me with the previous novels, I quite like Jacob as a character, maybe because he is so flawed and sort of ragged. It makes him seem more real. For me, Jake's fiery love for Bella — and his self-sacrifice on her behalf — is the best and truest part of these stories. Edward always comes across as too perfect for my taste. He's so patient, forgiving, and devoted to Bella that there is never any real spark between them. Mostly, they seem to just lay around and talk about how much they love each other.

If you're a fan of the first two books, then by this point, you've probably read and re-read "Eclipse." You're also sure to have liked it more than I did. This book is not bad at all, not by a long shot, and there's enough here to keep even casual fans interested. The action, when it does occur, is mesmerizing, and Jacob's agony over loving but not having Bella is very moving. And if you're rooting for Bella and Edward, then all their romantic scenes and heartfelt dialogue will probably not seem as tedious to you as they did to me. So with all that said, this one is recommended for fans of the series, high school age and up.

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Posted by on September 13, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“Vegan Virgin Valentine” by Carolyn Mackler


Mara Valentine is a high school senior under a ton of stress. She's a super-smart girl in a neck-and-neck battle with her ex-boyfriend, the somewhat slimy Travis Hart, to be class valedictorian. She spends half her school day taking college classes at SUNY Brockport — including a particularly hideous dance class — in the hopes of earning enough credits to enter Yale as a sophomore. Mara also works at a local coffee shop, Common Grounds, mostly because she wants to appear well-rounded. To top it all off, she's a hardcore vegan, albeit one who tends to dream of cheese.

Mara has a much older sister, a free spirit named Aimee who randomly moves around taking short-term, odd jobs and living with various men. When Aimee heads off to Costa Rica, she leaves her teenage daughter, V, with Mara's family. Technically, V is Mara's niece, although she's only a year younger. V is everything Mara is not — impulsive, brash, and a bit of a troublemaker. Mara's parents are delighted to have their granddaughter in the house, and they set about trying to provide V with a more stable life.

Unfortunately, Mara and V are not very close. At all. In fact, they have a hard time doing anything but arguing with each other. It doesn't help matters that V kisses Travis shortly after moving in. For reasons she can't quite explain, Mara still has some feelings for Travis, and V's actions feel like a betrayal. As time moves on, Mara does her best to ignore V and her snide comments, trashy outfits, and pot smoking.

But as usually happens in this type of coming-of-age novel, both Mara and V change as the school year progresses. Mara falls in love with James, the older owner of Common Grounds, and she begins to question her whole overachieving, pressure-filled outlook on school, life, and food. For her part, V wins the lead role in a school musical, starts to attend an SAT prep class in Rochester, and, along the way, begins to believe that she can hope for something more from her life.

Nothing truly unexpected happens in this book, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just because you know where the story is going doesn't mean you can't enjoy the trip. Mara starts off so neurotic and tightly wound that her transformation, played out in small steps, is both welcome and believable. Mara's growing friendship with V is also a delight, as all too often in teen novels, girls remain each other's worst enemies. Plus, romance fans should love Mara's relationship with James, even if that character can, at times, seem too good to be true.

If you're looking for a fairly standard "chick lit" novel, with plenty of warm, funny, and touching moments, "Vegan Virgin Valentine" should be a good choice for you. It's a fast-paced read with a truly nice ending. It's probably best for girls in high school and up. Although it does so in a gentle manner, the book deals with themes involving sex and drug use, which might be too much for most middle school readers. Enjoy!

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Posted by on September 13, 2007 in Uncategorized


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