Monthly Archives: September 2010

“Paranormalcy” by Kiersten White


Kiersten White's "Paranormalcy" isn't just another teen paranormal romance. Ok, yes, it is a teen paranormal romance, in which an Empty One and a Shapeshifter fall in love — I'll explain, I promise! — but it's also lively, funny, and charming. I read "Paranormalcy" at the beach, and I found myself completely engrossed by this winning novel.

Quick plot rundown. Our teen heroine is Evie, who besides being a smart, spunky orphan, also possesses the rare ability to see through the glamours of paranormals (vamps, werewolves, hags, etc.). Evie can see the true being beneath whatever pretty face is being shown to the world, which is handy at a time when the government is capturing and neutralizing paranormals to protect human society (heh … they are "bagged and tagged!"). Evie works for — and has basically been raised by — a secret government agency called IPCA, the International Paranormal Containment Agency. Under the guidance of director Racquel, Evie is dispatched around the globe to locate paranormals, confirm their hidden nature, and tase them for shipment back to IPCA.

Evie isn't particularly brave or strong — in fact, she's often frightened and vulnerable — but she bucks up and gets the job done. Along the way, she has to dodge the increasingly icky advances of a fairie named Reth, who's like a stalker with a backstage pass (fairies can pretty much open portals anywhere for transport along the fairie paths). Reth is seductive and creepy, but not necessarily evil. Or is he? I loved the shading of Reth's character and how we're never quite sure if he's helping or hurting Evie.

After a shapeshifting teen named Lend breaks into IPCA, Evie finds herself questioning everything she thought about paranormals, their containment, and her own status and nature. Why can she see through glamours? Is she a resident at IPCA … or a captive? Evie slowly begins a relationship with Lend, who can wear bodies like others wear clothes but still lives in the normal world. Lend shows Evie the wonders of high school life and the prom, and, besides the watery appearance part, this sweet, nurturing boy is probably most girls' dream guy. 🙂

Oh, yeah, there's also some big evil heading Evie and Lend's way, a beautiful Empty One who is massacring paranormals and sucking out their souls. Cool! Vivian has a strange connection to Evie, even entering her dreams, giving the story a nice bit of tension as it ensures that Evie is never really safe … even when snuggling on the couch with Lend.

I loved the snarky touches here — Evie is addicted to a teen drama and bonds with an unreformed vamp over it; she bedazzles her taser and nicknames it "Tasey" — as well as the real moments of intense action and gripping suspense. It's a great mix, and author White pulls it off brilliantly. Yes, some of the secondary characters are cardboard — Evie's best friend Lish, Racquel — but that's a minor complaint. "Paranormalcy" is a wonderful blend of action, romance, humor, and the paranormal, and it's sure to be a hit with readers in middle school and up. I hope you like it as much as I did!

PS – Check out the book trailer!

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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


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“Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper


Sharon Draper's middle school novel, "Out of My Mind," reads like a younger, more hopeful version of Terry Trueman's groundbreaking "Stuck in Neutral." In this book, fifth grader Melody has cerebral palsy, which has mostly rendered her body useless. Although she retains full movement of her thumbs, Melody has a form of quadriplegia that requires her to use a wheelchair; be fed, put on the toilet, and bathed by an assistant; and which makes speech nearly impossible. Melody's parents have always believed that there's an intelligent, capable mind beneath that limited exterior, but her elementary school has kept Melody in a special ed room where — except for one great teacher — she is left mostly ignored and uneducated. The true shame here? Melody is whip smart, with a nearly photographic memory and a thirst for knowledge. She just has no way of fully letting the world know everything that's going on in her mind.

Yes, Melody can communicate in a rudimentary fashion by using her thumb to point to words on her wheelchair's tray. But this crude, imprecise method often frustrates both Melody and those around her. Kindhearted neighbor Mrs. V, who babysits Melody and her toddler sister Penny, challenges Melody by exposing her to a range of music, new ideas, and vocabulary flash cards, while new school aide, Catherine, a college student, also strives to push Melody further. Yet, despite their efforts, Melody still cannot fully participate in life around her.

All that changes when Catherine, Mrs. V, and her parents help Melody obtain a communication device. When Melody is connected to her Medi-Talker, she can use her thumbs to create whole sentences and ideas. At long last, Melody can express herself, and she's just about bursting forth with the desire to share and participate. In her inclusion history class, Melody can finally display some of her smarts by entering a multiple choice trivia quiz. At first, her classmates — and, unbelievably, even her teacher — think Melody must be cheating by having Catherine change or provide her answers. When Melody again takes the trivia quiz challenge, alone, she scores the highest in two grades and makes the team.

From there, Melody sees her tentative friendship with able-bodied classmate Rose develop, while two other classmates and team members, Claire and Molly, overtly mock her at every opportunity. Because Melody narrates her story, we see her fears at joining the quiz team — both academically and socially — as well as her frustrations with the limitations of her body (she drools, spills things, sweats, etc.). Draper perfectly captures the angst of middle school, with all the petty slights and cravings for acceptance, all of which are amped up for Melody because of her disability. So while bratty Claire can throw up at a team dinner and survive with her popularity intact, the fact that Melody's mom has to feed her mac and cheese freaks everyone out and becomes a lasting source of shame.

Joining the team gives Melody her first real sense of freedom, of belonging, and it's intoxicating for the reader to experience that as well. Again, Draper expertly conveys Melody's voice here. Later, when Melody's teammates betray her in an almost unimaginable way, Melody's heartbreak is incredibly real and painfully shared by the reader.

In fact, what I LOVED above everything here was the unflinching realism in Draper's portrayal of characters and events. The author never shies away from showing us the ugliness (or, more often, the weakness) of folks of all ages who really should know better. But she also gives us small kindnesses and momentary victories. Melody is brave and fragile at the same time, smart, shy, bold, scared … she is an incredibly rounded, believable character. I was absolutely blown away by the big quiz team finale in Washington DC; Draper avoids the pat "overcoming obstacles and winning" climax and instead gives us something so much more authentic and compelling.

Read this book for the wonderful characterizations, the precise narrative voice, and the absolutely beautiful use of language and metaphor throughout. I think "Out of My Mind" is a must read for teachers, librarians, students, parents — really anyone — who wants to better understand how challenging and fulfilling life can be for a child with a severe disability. This lovely, hopeful book will provoke lots of discussion and maybe, just maybe, open some minds and hearts as well.

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Posted by on September 1, 2010 in Uncategorized


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