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“The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

As if being an unpopular sixth grade girl isn’t difficult enough, try adding the slowing of the Earth’s rotation — and all its cataclysmic effects — to the mix. That’s the premise of Karen Thompson Walker’s remarkable debut novel “The Age of Miracles.” While I don’t normally review books written for the adult market, “The Age of Miracles” should appeal to teens, as it is essentially a coming of age tale set against a dystopian backdrop. Although more subtle and literary than novels geared directly toward teens, its subject matter and almost cringe-worthy realism should win over many younger fans.

We meet Julia and her family on an ordinary sunny Saturday morning in California. Except, this particular morning isn’t so ordinary after all, as Julia soon learns that the Earth’s rotation has slowed overnight. The slowing will continue to increase to a point where sunlight — and darkness — will last for long days on end. As the Earth slows even more, vegetation dies, animal life is depleted, strange weather patterns emerge, sunlight becomes toxic, and people begin to suffer from “gravity sickness.” If all this sounds terribly bleak, quite surprisingly, it’s not. These events are all filtered through Julia’s sensibilities, and she presents much of the horror in a stark, matter-of-fact manner. Julia’s almost detached observations place the slowing in the background as a quiet force that is never sentimental, overpowering, or showy. The real drama, interestingly enough, occurs among the human beings.

A conflict erupts between “clock timers” (folks who adhere to the dictates of the clock, regardless of sunlight or darkness) and “real timers” (those people who follow the natural rhythms of sunrise and moonrise, regardless of when they occur). It’s a classic “us against them” struggle, with all the attendant fear outsiders can generate in a trying time. A class schism also erupts, as those with money can afford artificial lawns, personal greenhouses, steel shutters, and sunlight radiation shelters. But none of these are the central source of human tension in “The Age of Miracles.” Instead, it is the family interactions and middle school relationships that form the real heart of this novel.

Here’s what I found most amazing about “The Age of Miracles”: middle school kids can be just as horrible, careless, and insensitive as ever, even when life as they know it has been catastrophically altered. Julia is bullied at the bus stop, dropped by her best friend, used by a popular classmate, and excluded from the birthday balloon tradition at school. She pines away for Seth Moreno, the mysterious skater boy who lost his mother to cancer and is alternately warm and indifferent toward Julia. She worries about her unshaved legs and buying her first bra. She tries to mediate the cold hostility between her philandering father and controlling mother, all while seeking her own small piece of independence. Above all, much of “The Age of Miracles” is about one girl’s overwhelming loneliness, which almost trumps the fact that her entire world is, literally, falling apart around her. And you wondered why I called this a “remarkable” novel? Because it is!

I’ll give nothing else away, because Julia’s story should be savored by the reader. Walker is a beautiful storyteller who uses spare language and quiet emotion to convey Julia’s fears, pain, and small triumphs. There is not one moment here that is artificially rendered. Everything is conveyed with an almost heartbreaking honesty and stillness. Although written for adults, aside from a bit of language, minor drinking, and the themes involved, older teens should do just fine with this novel. “The Age of Miracles” is a stunning, haunting book about growing up. Please go out and read it now.

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Scat” by Carl Hiaasen

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

I love the snarky satires Carl Hiaasen has written for adults, and I got a huge kick out of his delightful "Flush." Naturally, I figured I'd adore his latest book for young people, "Scat." I was right!

"Scat" is a typical Hiaasen book … and I mean that statement in the best possible way! It takes place in Florida, has a strong pro-environment theme, features plenty of laughs, and, my personal favorite, allows the good guys to triumph while ensuring the bad guys get their hilariously fitting comeuppance. The advanced copy of "Scat" I have is nearly 400 pages long, and I consumed it in basically one long sitting. I was actually sort of sad to see it end, which tells you just about everything you need to know.

Oh, what's that? You'd like some actual plot details? Fair enough. Our young hero is Nick Waters, one of those genuinely good (though not smarmy or self-righteous) kids who tries to do the right thing, even when that means standing up to ultra-demanding biology teacher Mrs. Starch. When Mrs. Starch and class delinquent Duane "Smoke" Scrod both disappear after a school field trip to Black Vine Swamp, Nick and his pal Marta decide to investigate. While searching Mrs. Starch's house — which, incidentally, is a taxidermy paradise — the kids meet Twilly Spree, a back-to-nature guy (think a sort of eco-crusader) out to, among other things, prevent the shady Red Diamond Energy company from drilling in Black Vine Swamp. Also, as a total side note, if you've read Hiaasen's "Sick Puppy," you'll remember Twilly; I was half expecting another old Hiaasen favorite, the roadkill-eating Skink, to make an appearance!

Anyway, I'm leaving loads out, including Nick's dad, a National Guard captain serving in Iraq; the blowhard owner of Red Diamond and his sidekick, Jimmy Lee, who, let's say, should definitely know better; Smoke's macaw-loving, beaten-down dad and wealthy, streetwise grandma; and, maybe best of all, the endangered Florida panther herself. Hiaasen weaves all these characters and plot elements together and delivers a satisfying, funny, warm, and charming tale. I especially loved how Hiaasen showed each character's innate humanity, including the once-feared Mrs. Starch, the reformed arsonist Smoke, and even the greedy Jimmy Lee. Fully realized, three-dimensional characters help ground what might otherwise have been an almost slapstick story.

I would absolutely recommend this book to middle school readers, both boys and girls. "Scat" has abundant humor, realistic — if admittedly eccentric — characters, plenty of adventure, and a big old heart. I hope you all like it as much as I did!
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SUMMER READING REVIEW!

FROM A KINNELON LIBRARY TEEN REVIEWER:

I liked how "Scat" had a lot of information about nature and endangered animals. It was a great mystery!

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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“Flush” by Carl Hiaasen

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Noah Underwood's dad, taxi driver / fishing boat captain Paine, loves Key West so much that he sinks a polluting casino boat in a misguided effort to save the environment. When Paine ends up in jail, Noah and his little sister Abbey decide to catch Dusty Muleman in the act of dumping the "Coral Queen's" sewage tank into the clean waters of the marina. It takes some time, but Noah and Abbey — with the help of tough yet kind-hearted bartender Shelley — come up with a foolproof plan. They're going to flush fuchsia food coloring down the Coral Queen's toilets and then alert the Coast Guard to the brightly colored trail leading straight back to the dumping ship. The only problem? How to actually sneak on board, flush the dye, and get away without being spotted by Dusty's violent bodyguard, Luno.

This book is entertaining and funny, but it also provides real insight into the complicated problem of environmental pollution.

Did you read "Flush"? Did you like it more than "Hoot"? Why?

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2006 in Uncategorized

 

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