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Monthly Archives: June 2008

“Repossessed” by AM Jenkins

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Cute cover alert! "Repossessed" features an adorable, grinning devil wearing a white t-shirt and jeans. How can you not love that? Better yet, while the cover is intriguing, this novel also has a semi-official stamp of quality; it was a runner-up for the American Library Association's 2008 Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature.

"Repossessed" is narrated by Kiriel, a demon from Hell (or, as he prefers to think of it, a "fallen angel"). Kiriel takes an unauthorized vacation from the eons he's spent mirroring the sorrows and guilt of Hell's tormented souls, because he just needs a break, you know? On a whim, Kiriel inhabits the body of a mostly good-hearted teen slacker named Shaun mere seconds before Shaun's death in an accident. Kiriel wants to know what it's like to live, to taste and touch and feel, like an ordinary human being, and he's willing to risk the wrath of the Creator (or, worse, the Boss) to experience all that.

The repossession essentially goes off without a hitch. While Shaun's cat Peanut notices a difference, the other folks in Shaun's world — while occasionally getting an odd vibe from the now polite, tidy, and unexpectedly philosophical teen — don't realize that Shaun is long gone. Besides basking in sensory pleasures like warm baths, fries with ketchup, and soft clothes, Kiriel also decides to leave several small marks upon Shaun's world. He reaches out to Shaun's sullen, isolated younger brother Jason; tries to save a bully from an eternity of suffering; and falls in love (or, possibly just lust) with the nerdy Lane.

I was surprised by how deep and thoughtful this book turned out to be. Yes, Kiriel is a guy, and there are plenty of musings on sex throughout the story. But there's also a pervasive strain of joy (Kiriel exults in the daily experiences and surroundings we take for granted) and muted hope (he realizes that people — even souls — have the astonishing ability to change). Throw in a teen male narrator with an original voice and a wry perspective, and I can understand the Printz Committee's selection of this novel. It's unique and easy to read, and it's the rare book that can be funny, authentic, and almost solemn in parts. I'd definitely recommend this one for older middle school and high school readers, especially boys. Happy reading!

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Posted by on June 26, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Generation Dead” by Daniel Waters

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Generation Dead" has one of the great covers around right now. Scroll down to the image directly below this review and take a look at the forlorn zombie cheerleader. How awesome is that, right? I figured "Generation Dead" would be a campy, fun diversion — the flap actually reads, "Phoebe is just your typical goth girl with a crush. He's strong and silent … and dead." Alas, there's nothing remotely breezy or fun about this story, which alternately stretches to be an issue novel, a coming-of-age tale, and a love story. Unfortunately, it's not terribly successful on any of these fronts.

Quick plot setup: Phoebe is our goth girl, living in a USA where, with some frequency, dead teenagers return from the grave. These undead are called everything from "differently biotic" to your straight-up zombie label, which reflects their controversial position in society. Some folks want to burn them at the stake, while others see human beings struggling with a kind of life after death. The zombies have varying levels of functionality. Some, like the beautiful, diamond-eyed Karen, can pass for living humans, they are so graceful and expressive. Others, like Phoebe's once friend Colette, are stiff, awkward, and incredibly delayed in their thoughts and reaction times.

Phoebe is cast as an outsider in this novel, but we never sense any real distance from her classmates, other than the obnoxious bully Pete and his sidekick TC. Phoebe and her best friend Margi's dark looks are treated more like an ironic fashion statement than anything else. Her best friend is her neighbor, Adam, the popular football star who was once friends with Pete, but who has changed after a summer of karate and deep thoughts. This all seems pretty typical, right? The only wrench thrown into the mix is the presence of the zombie teens, particularly one Tommy Williams, who always seems to be staring longingly at Phoebe from across the hallway. Phoebe finds herself intrigued by this handsome, kind dead boy, and I figured their seemingly doomed relationship would be the crux of the story.

Except, not so much. Honestly, it's amazing how quickly the wheels come off this whole novel, as Tommy morphs from a quiet, serious boy who cares only for Phoebe into this rather one-note crusader for undead rights. Phoebe and Tommy's relationship goes absolutely nowhere, the triangle with Adam doesn't quite get off the ground, and a bizarre subplot about a zombie research institute and possible government conspiracy is explored and then dropped completely. Hrm. The tone of the book veers wildly about as well, spinning from playful scenes between Phoebe and Adam to dark, violent moments and back again. Also, and I guess I should have seen this coming, but I tend to get a little cranky when a 392 page book crashes to an abrupt halt after a prolonged buildup, apparently to be continued in another novel.

In the end, the concept here is much better than the execution, which is a shame. If you do give "Generation Dead" a try, I think it's pretty squarely a late middle school / high school book. Nothing too offensive sticks out in my mind from reading it, aside from the occasional curse or outbreak of violence. See what you think … maybe you'll like it more than I did.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Scholastic has high hopes for Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games," which is to be published in the fall of 2008. After feverishly reading this novel — on a plane of all places! — I can absolutely see why they're so excited. Action, romance, drama, social commentary, future dystopia sci fi … truly, this book has something for everyone, male and female readers alike. To put it simply, I loved it.

Let me set up the concept so you can see exactly what I mean. In some future time period, North America as we know it is called "Panem," a vast country that has been divided up into thirteen districts. Well, strike that. It's now twelve districts, since the Capitol, located in the protective confines of the Rocky Mountains, had punished District 13 for its rebellion by obliterating it in a nuclear attack. As a vicious reminder to the remaining twelve districts to respect the Capitol's power, each year an event called the Hunger Games, which is basically a bloody death battle, is held. One boy and one girl (ages 12 to 18, if I remember correctly) from each district are selected to participate via a random lottery. Ah, but there's a catch. The Capitol cruelly rations food and oil to the outlying districts to such extremes that folks are literally starving to death out there; to secure an extra ration for the family, the child's name is entered an extra time into the drawing.

The story begins as sixteen year-old Katniss returns from an illegal hunting trip just in time for the Reaping, the dour festival that includes the drawing of names. When Katniss' beloved younger sister Prim is picked based on her single entry, Katniss immediately steps in to take her place as the female representative from District 12. The male representative is Peeta, the quiet baker's son who years before had shown a hungry, frightened Katniss a rare bit of kindness.

Katniss and Peeta are whisked off to the Capitol, where they are fed, pampered, and trained for the Hunger Games. And what exactly are the Hunger Games, you ask? Nothing less than gladiator-style battles between 24 boys and girls who literally fight to the death before a live television audience. If the players are popular, sponsors might pool their limited funds together and provide them with needed food or medicine. Otherwise, they are left to survive on their own in conditions that the gamemakers can manipulate to their every whim.

Throughout the games, Peeta is gentle and affectionate toward the tough, scrappy Katniss, who assumes that his feelings are part of a larger ploy to make the pair favorites of the home audience. As the games progress with an extraordinary amount of cruelty and violence, Katniss and Peeta are eventually thrown together and must rely on each other for their very survival.

I won't give out any other plot details, but, trust me, this story rocks. The futuristic setting is dynamite, the game details are compelling and awful (at the same time!), and Katniss' character is beautifully developed as a resourceful, tough, heartbroken survivor. Honestly, I can't imagine a reader not getting completely swept along by this story, which moves at such a crisp, vigorous pace that you literally won't be able to put it down. I tell you, I was sorry when the plane landed! The book ends on a twist ending and a cliffhanger, which may annoy you a bit. Since this is the first of a promised trilogy, I'd say there's lots more story left to unfold here, and, for that, I'm enormously grateful.

Look for "The Hunger Games" in October!
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2009 SUMMER READING REVIEW

FROM A KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWER:

It's exciting, realistic (for a sci-fi book), and action packed. You will be on the edge of your seat through the whole book. READ IT!
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2010 SUMMER READING REVIEWS

FROM KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWERS:

Review #1:

I liked "The Hunger Games." It had lots of action and lots of description. It gives you a cliffhanger ending, but somehow also provides a little resolution. This book is so great! It has characters you love and hate.

Review #2:

I enjoyed "The Hunger Games." Author Suzanne Collins' topic is interesting and her characters are fun. Her ideas pulled me in. I can't wait for her next book to come out!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Skulduggery Pleasant” by Derek Landy

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Skulduggery Pleasant" features on its cover a jauntily dressed skeleton clapping a ball of fire between his hands. Sold!

Regular blog readers know that I'm no fan of fantasy. But here's another crack in that facade — what have you started Harry Potter? — because I thoroughly enjoyed "Skulduggery Pleasant." Maybe I've really been a closet fantasy lover all along? Who knew!

The story here is pretty simple. Well, strike that. There's some complicated mythology about, among other things, elemental magic, the power of names, Elder Mages who maintain a longstanding truce with the followers of the evil Serpine, and a potentially devastating weapon called the Scepter of the Ancients. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't always able to keep it all straight. But that's okay, because the plot (mostly) makes sense in the end. Even better, along the way, we're treated to a delightful mix of biting, sarcastic humor (which I love!), puzzle-like mysteries, loads of whiz-bang action scenes, and the development of a grudging friendship between our young heroine, Stephanie, and Skulduggery, the skeleton detective who assists her in uncovering the truth behind her Uncle Gordon's death.

I loved that Stephanie is such a spunky yet believably tough character. She insists on accompanying Skulduggery on visits to the Sanctuary of the Mages, and she even breaks into a museum (guarded by vampires!) with him. Although Stephanie has no magical powers — unlike Skulduggery, who has the very cool ability to manipulate fire and water — she still manages to outsmart villains and hold her own in a series of rough encounters. She's clever, resourceful, and quietly brave, which is a fantastic combination in any character. Throw in her ability to trade barbs and sarcastic comments with Skulduggery, and we have all the makings of a great heroine.

"Skulduggery Pleasant" is a lively, rollicking, action-packed read. It's a great choice for middle school readers, boys and girls alike, who enjoy either action or fantasy. Truly, I think there's enough here for fans of either genre to sink their teeth into. Also, if you're like me and kind of on the fence about fantasy in general, this book is an accessible, sharp entry into the fantasy realm. Give it a try and see what you think. If you do find yourself loving "Skulduggery Pleasant," the sequel, "Playing with Fire," is out now.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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