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Monthly Archives: July 2008

“Shug” by Jenny Han

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Our girl "Shug" is one Annemarie Wilcox, a twelve-year old in Georgia who is slightly freaked out because (a) she's about to start junior high, and (b) quite suddenly, her lifelong sidekick, Mark Findley, seems like way more than a friend. Unfortunately for her, Mark still sees Annemarie as a flat-chested tomboy who rides bikes and shoots hoops. He's much more interested in Shug's perfect older sister, Celia, and his pretty, popular, "girly" classmates like Mairi Stevenson and Hadley Smith.

While Shug struggles to sort out her feelings for Mark, she must also deal with some typical seventh grade dilemmas, including an English teacher who hates her, an obnoxious bully she must tutor, and a best friend who gets a boyfriend and leaves Annemarie behind. Shug also has more serious problems related to her home life; mom drinks far too much and dad is almost always away, allegedly working. On the rare occasions when her parents are home together, Shug must wear headphones to drown out their vicious arguments.

This is a great story for young girls who are likely facing many of the same issues as Shug. Seventh grade can be a real turning point, a time when some girls start dating boys while others, like Shug, just want to remain kids a little longer. While there's nothing groundbreaking here, I liked the book's sensitivity, its accurate portrayal of middle school politics — including the minefields of sleepovers, lunch tables, and dances — and Shug's authentic, proud voice. The family drama was dropped rather abruptly at the book's end, but Shug's first steps towards becoming an adult are wonderfully and often shatteringly portrayed. I recommend this believable, often humorous, and always honest tale of first love, friendship, and seventh grade to all middle school girls. With one notable exception (a curse is gratuitously included), this is an inoffensive, mild book that should have wide appeal.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Artichoke’s Heart” by Suzanne Supplee

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

I had an advance copy of "Artichoke's Heart" probably since last January or so. From looking at the cover image of miniature chocolates imprinted with little hearts, hair dryers, and birds, I assumed this would be one of those mindless chick lit novels that are fun and frothy. That's not a complaint. Believe me, I have nothing against chick lit! When I actually got around to reading "Artichoke's Heart," I was so impressed with the depth of the story, the complexity of the relationships, and the strong, clear voice of the lead character, Rosemary. So, although this story involves one girl's first love, it's not just one-dimensional chick lit. I guess I really do need to get over this whole judging a book by its cover issue! 😛

Rosemary Goode is a great student, a capable helper at her mom's beauty salon, and, when she finally gets the chance, an awesome friend. But most folks — including Rosemary's pushy Aunt Mary and her well-meaning but somewhat distant mom — can't seem to look past Rosemary's weight. While her family nags her and classmates tease her, Rosemary takes comfort in eating, even though she feels terribly guilty after each binge. Despite her best efforts, Rosemary simply cannot stop obsessing about food and gorging on snacks and desserts. When an obese salon customer suffers a heart attack shortly after Christmas, it jolts Rosemary out of her cycle of overeating. She secretly starts drinking Pounds Away shakes and, on her mother's urging, visits a counselor. Rosemary even begins exercising in public, a brave move for a girl who knows full well just how big she is. Along her journey, Rosemary unexpectedly becomes friends with the perky and popular Kay-Kay. Even more shocking? "Delightfully Enormous Strapping Boy" (aka football player Kyle Cox), Rosemary's secret crush, seems to actually like her … even when she's at her absolute heaviest.

I loved nearly everything about this book, from the Southern flavor to the realistic mother-daughter relationship to the beehive of activity that is the Heavenly Hair salon. As I mentioned above, Rosemary has a clear, authentic, and compelling voice; she's devastatingly honest about herself yet remains guardedly hopeful. In short, she's a fantastic character. Her small triumphs — including standing in front of Kyle in a bathing suit — are so well earned that I kept rooting her on and on. I was also so pleased that Kyle isn't one of those completely perfect, completely false love interests that tend to populate teen novels. He's definitely enough of a jock goofball to seem like a real high school boy.

If you're looking for a book that will make you laugh as well as put a lump in your throat, this might be the story for you. I'd gladly recommend "Artichoke's Heart" to girls in middle school and up. I hope you like it as much as I did!

FROM A KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWER:

I liked this book because it is fun to read and keeps you wanting to read more.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Year of Secret Assignments” by Jaclyn Moriarty

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Without a lot of fuss, let me just get straight to the point and say I loved this book! Do I need to write any more? 🙂

Ok, seriously, "The Year of Secret Assignments" is a delightful, quirky novel about three best friends who live in Australia. Lydia, the budding author, is smart, sarcastic, and the de facto leader of the group; her "secret assignments" are clever methods to repair small wounds in the girls' friendship. Emily is stubborn but kind, super funny, and secretly afraid that she'll never be a successful attorney like her parents. Finally, Cassie is a sweet, somewhat shy teen still struggling with the death of her father a year before.

It's the start of Year 10 (think sophomore year for us Americans). The students in Mr. Botherit's English class at the private all-girls Ashbury High are starting a yearlong program of exchanging letters with kids at the rougher public school, Brookfield. Lydia ends up trading letters with the soccer loving, marginally delinquent Seb. Seb's initial letters to Lydia are requests to spring him from exams. Since Lydia is all about secret assignments, she rather likes the challenges. From there, she plans more spy-like missions for her and Seb, a few of which allow the two to meet for only brief moments. As Seb longs for closer contact with Lydia, she's just too afraid to make their relationship real.

As for Em, what begins as open hostility with the tough Charlie Taylor slowly transforms into a genuine friendship. Em gives Charlie advice about stealing away his dream girl, but over time she finds herself drawn to this funny, surprisingly gentle boy. Meanwhile, Cassie is threatened by her "penfriend," who then takes advantage of her trust in a vicious way. Much of the second half of the novel — in between the revelation of secrets, broken relationships, and reconciliations — involves Lydia's plot to exact revenge on the evil "Matthew Dunlop," who, it turns out, may not even exist.

This is a great story of friendship and first love, full of believable characters and loads of dry, smart humor. The best part of the book? It's told entirely through letters, diary entries, school announcements, and even transcripts of a hearing. It's amazing that a story based solely on documents can be so engaging and complex. Even better, this method gives us so many different perspectives on the happenings in the story, such that we can actually feel Seb's longing for Lydia and Cassie's deep pain and fear. While some of the Australian slang may confuse you at first, I cannot imagine there are many female readers out there who won't enjoy "The Year of Secret Assignments." It's hilarious, clever, and heartwarming, and I definitely recommend it for readers in about 8th grade and up. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Bird Lake Moon” by Kevin Henkes

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

This sweet little novel tells the story of a friendship between two somewhat broken boys. Or, perhaps I should amend that, since we only get the very start of that friendship and the promise / hope that it will continue to survive after one summer at a Wisconsin lake.

"Bird Lake Moon," Kevin Henkes' latest book for young adults, is told in alternating chapters by Mitch Sinclair and Spencer Stone. Mitch's folks have just split up, and he's living with his shattered mom at his grandparents' small lakeside cottage. Mitch spends the beginning of the summer hiding under the stairs of a seemingly abandoned neighboring cottage in a spot where he's made a personal refuge for himself. His parents' breakup has pretty much destroyed Mitch's world, and that dank, cramped area below the stairs at least feels safe and protected. When Spencer's family shows up and inhabits the cottage, Mitch initially tries to scare them off with silly pranks (stolen swimming goggles, the image of a soccer ball painted in white sugar). Unfortunately, Spencer is the only one affected by the pranks, which he thinks may be signals from the ghost of his long dead older brother Matty. It turns out that Matty drowned at this very lake years back, and this is the first summer that Spencer's broken-hearted mom has been able to return.

After all the confusion and distrust at the beginning here — and after Mitch does something really stupid to the Stones' dog Jasper — he and Spencer quickly become good buds. They go swimming with Spencer's little sister Lolly, toss a football, and play card games. Mitch loves it over at the Stones' place, where there's usually so much laughter and warmth; when his grandparents and mom aren't being strangely silent, all they seem to do is fight. The only thing standing between Mitch and Spencer now is Mitch's reluctance to fess up to all his misdeeds that summer. When Mitch finally discovers his courage, it might just be too late.

"Bird Lake Moon" is one of those quiet, touching, almost poetic novels that are probably enjoyed more by librarians than kids in the target audience. I think that's still okay. There should be enough here to grab the attention of middle school boys, as the prank scenes and the football / swimming scenes may reflect some events in their own lives. If some of the subtleties of the novel — the hidden hurts that threaten to swallow whole lives, the small victories achieved along the way, the ambiguous yet optimistic ending — are lost on them, so be it. As for the more sensitive middle schoolers out there, they'll be rewarded with a rich, hopeful story.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Down to the Bone” by Mayra Lazara Dole

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

In theory, an energetic, upbeat novel about a Cuban-American teenager struggling with her sexuality while being supported by an offbeat set of friends seems like a great idea. Unfortunately, "Down to the Bone," while easy enough to read and mildly entertaining, doesn't leave much of an impact.

As the novel starts, Laura is expelled from her strict Catholic high school after it's discovered that a confiscated love letter was written to her by another girl. Laura refuses to reveal the identity of her girlfriend, Marlena, since both are closeted and come from strict Cuban-American families. In fact, both Laura and Marlena initially don't even label themselves as lesbians; they just know they're in love. Mami, Laura's unyielding mother, throws Laura out of the house without a second thought, leaving Laura to take shelter with her wild best friend Soli and Soli's big-hearted new age mom, Viva. Despite Mami's awful treatment — among other things, she calls Laura immoral and a degenerate — Laura wants desperately to be allowed back home so she can again see her younger brother Pedri. But Mami is firm about her conditions, and if Laura remains a lesbian, she wants nothing more to do with her.

While this description might make "Down to the Bone" seem weighty in its tone, it's actually very light and buoyant, perhaps too much so. Laura relates her story in a frantically paced dialogue that barely pauses to acknowledge the seemingly life-changing events that are occurring around her. Everything is quickly glossed over as Laura seems more intent on weaving Spanish words, Cuban food, and silly nicknames into this whiplash-inducing account of her life. Because of this writing style, all of Laura's interactions with her friends, including the transgendered Tazer, come off as woefully artificial. What a shame.

So, yes, there's a fantastic message in here about accepting yourself for who you are, whether that's gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered. That's definitely a message worth spreading around. And it's admirable that a book that could have been depressing is quite fluffy in tone. I'm not crazy about "issue" books, which typically include those discussing sexual orientation, that are overly serious and grim, as if gay teens can never be happy. That's simply not true. Here, as I said, the entire book just never grabbed me with any emotion, relationship, or situation that felt authentic, despite the fact that elements of the author's own life were the background for this story. If you give this book a try, please know that its language and several references probably make it a better choice for high school age readers. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it more than I did.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by JK Rowling

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Yay, I have finally finished Book 7 of Harry's saga! I listened to Jim Dale's audio recording, and that thing is 17 discs and lasts for over 21 hours. I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I'm also tired! Boy, was that book long.

As I stated in my review of the "Half-Blood Prince," I absolutely will not divulge key plot points, despite the fact that the book has been out for a year now. I'm sure lots of folks are just like me, taking their sweet time winding their way through the series. I will say that far too much of the book takes place outside of Hogwarts, which is unfortunate. There's such a sense of camaraderie and, well, magic at the school that I felt the book suffered by ignoring that setting for so long. Also, to be perfectly frank, there is an awful lot of convoluted backstory about the deathly hallows (resurrection stone, elder wand, and invisibility cloak), Dumbledore's misguided youth, and Tom Riddle's / Voldemort's history. I guarantee that I lost critical plot points during much of this, because I kept thinking, "Eh, just get on with the story already!" For me, there was far too much explaining and not nearly enough showing. I mean, Harry, Hermione, and Ron spend months on a completely fruitless, utterly depressing journey, often doing no more than arguing day after day after day. Blech.

Thankfully, the second half of the book picks up tremendously, and we're back to the action, wizardry, and teamwork that are staples of this series. After roughly a billion stops along the way, we (finally!) return to Hogwarts for the climactic battle between Dumbledore's Army and Voldemort's Death Eaters. Before he faces the Dark Lord, Harry learns some shocking secrets about Dumbledore, Snape, and even Voldemort himself. Turns out nothing is really as it once seemed. After the big fight starts, there are some unexpected twists, moments of sadness and triumph, and ample displays of redemption, courage, sacrifice, loyalty, and friendship. Bravo! I'm not ashamed to say I had a huge lump in my throat by the end; I'm quite sure you will, too. Overall, this is a most fitting conclusion to Harry's story, even if it meanders a bit along the way. If you find your mind wandering, stick with it. You'll be rewarded with a touching, thrilling finale.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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“Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

"Boy Meets Boy" — as the title may indicate! — is a love story about two teen guys falling for each other. High school sophomore Paul catches sight of new guy Noah in the self-help section of a local bookstore during a reggae concert. Noah is new in town, a photographer and artist who recently survived a terrible breakup. Paul falls hard for Noah, who seems like the perfect match for him, and their burgeoning relationship is like pure magic. They go on a paddle boat date, pass notes in the hallway, and even paint music in Noah's hidden studio. Loving Noah is like floating joyously along. Unfortunately for Paul, he screws the whole thing up by kissing his ex, Kyle, in a moment of compassion and sympathy. What follows are Paul's clever, heartfelt attempts to win Noah back by showing rather than telling him how he feels.

So that covers the love story portion of the book, but, truly, there's tons more going on here. First off, Paul's world is like something out of a fantastic, candy-colored parallel universe where the high school quarterback (Infinite Darlene) is a transvestite … and no one blinks an eye. The local VHS rental store is shelved according to the owner's whims, a high school pep rally features, like, the chess club, and the big dance requires someone to take a whirl with the portrait of a long dead woman. Still, while Paul's life might be a bit wacky from our perspective, it still features its fair share of bigotry; Joni, Paul's best friend, gets a meathead boyfriend who hassles Infinite Darlene and, in the book's most poignant passages, Paul's gay friend Tony finally stands up to his fundamentalist parents, but in a remarkably understated yet brave way.

"Boy Meets Boy" is in no way a story for only gay and/or questioning teens. It works as a love story, a high school coming of age tale, and, perhaps most effectively, as a story about the true measure of friendship. While parts of the novel are silly, there are plenty of moments of genuine feeling, particularly those involving Tony. I loved how this book moved from absurd elements to hard realities without losing any momentum. I'd definitely recommend "Boy Meets Boy" for high school readers.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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