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“The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

I rarely review books written for the adult market, but I must make an exception for debut author Kevin Powers’ exceptional new Iraq War novel, “The Yellow Birds.” This is a devastating novel about the effects of war, a topic, sadly, that remains ever relevant. Our local high school students read Ernest Hemingway’s WWI novel “A Farewell to Arms” and Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam War short story collection, “The Things They Carried.” “The Yellow Birds” is at least as relevant, at least as gut wrenching, and certainly as timely as those now-classic novels. When our nation’s wars are primarily being fought by teenagers and those in their early 20s, high school students should damn near be required to read a book like “The Yellow Birds.” In my humble opinion, anyway.

Private John “Bart” Bartle, a 21 year old native of Richmond, Virginia, has been deployed to Al Tafar in the Nineveh Province of Iraq in the fall of 2004. This is a volatile region, with streets taken and surrendered in brutal fashion, with random violence, mortar attacks, gunfire, and, everywhere, without end, death. The action flashes back and forth to Bart’s pre-war training in Fort Dix, his drunken despair at a German bar / brothel with the heroic and deeply flawed Sergeant Sterling, and Bart’s lonely disconnection and unraveling at home in Virginia. We know early on that Bart’s closest friend, 18 year old private Daniel “Murph” Murphy, is dead. We slowly discover what happened and how Bart failed to fulfill a spontaneous promise to deliver Murph home safely. What we see clearly, even without knowing the details of Murph’s death, is Bart’s pain, his jagged grief at his perceived cowardice, the disorientation of living in a constant war and adjusting afterward, and the soul-crushing burden that witnessing, causing, and ignoring so much death creates.

There are many scenes that depict the terror and chaos of war: an interpreter is shot on a rooftop in mid-sentence; a disemboweled boy dies in agony after a gunfight in an orchard; a human bomb explodes, raining human matter down on a bridge; and a young girl feebly tries to drag an old woman’s dead body across a dirt road. There is dust and blood and all manner of sickening odors and deafening sounds. Everywhere. All the time. Powers, a veteran himself, does an astounding job of conveying how war floods the senses, overtakes the brain, and strangles even basic human compassion.

There is a stark grace in Powers’ word choice and descriptions. He mainly writes in spare, evocative language. This quiet lyricism is contrasted with long, almost run-on passages as Bart delves into his inner turmoil. In these instances, we are caught in a swirling midst of Bart’s cycling thoughts and his version of psychic tail chasing. These philosophical ramblings — Bart’s breakneck effort to reason out a meaning in memory, guilt, death, and forgiveness — are extraordinary. I had to stop and re-read so many passages in an attempt to distill their larger meaning, digest their emotional weight, and savor the beauty of the words used to describe such ugliness and pain. These are two of my favorite sections, in which an agonizingly depressed Bart has returned to Richmond and is completely broken:

You want to fall, that’s all. You think it can’t go on like that. It’s as if your life is a perch on the edge of a cliff and going forward seems impossible, not for a lack of will, but a lack of space. The possibility of another day stands in defiance of the laws of physics. And you can’t go back. So you want to fall, let go, give up, but you can’t. And every breath you take reminds you of that fact. So it goes …

Or should I have said that I wanted to die, not in the sense of wanting to throw myself off of that train bridge over there, but more like wanting to be asleep forever because there isn’t any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to actually kill them and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone and knowing from being taught your whole life that there is no making up for what you are doing, you’re taught that your whole life, but then even your mother is so happy and proud because you lined up your sight posts and made people crumple and they were not getting up ever and yeah they might have been trying to kill you too, so you say, What are you gonna do?, but really it doesn’t matter because by the end you failed at the one good thing you could have done, the one person you promised would live is dead …

Powerful stuff. For all barbarity of war and the awful claustrophobia of alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder, Bart achieves a measure of peace by novel’s end, giving “The Yellow Birds” a kind of quiet victory in simply showing the soul’s ability to survive. Some years later, alone in a mountain cabin, Bart is able to, as he says, become ordinary again. “There are days ahead when I won’t think of him or Sterling or the war.” Yes, that’s a small triumph, but it is still a hopeful note in a novel about how violence ravages its victims, perpetrators, and our larger society.

I think high school students, or those young people with the maturity to handle some incredibly jarring — but never gratuitous — imagery and language, should read, analyze, and discuss “The Yellow Birds.” In a mere 226 pages, Kevin Powers has created what is destined to become a masterpiece of modern fiction. Please read this National Book Award-nominated novel now. You will never forget it. And keep this stunning book in mind the next time some politician somewhere argues for the deployment of US troops.

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Posted by on October 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Pact” by Jodi Picoult

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

So I was on vacation at my very favorite beach in the entire world, sitting under an umbrella, listening to the sounds of the waves … and, duh, obviously reading a book. I am a librarian, after all! I read an absolutely fabulous new novel, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?,” that is clever, insightful, quirky, and weirdly heartwarming. Check it out! Alas, I do not review it here, because it is an adult novel with little YA crossover. [But the narrator is an eighth grader AND I LOVED IT. Hee. That is all.]

Luckily — or unluckily! — for you good people, I also read Jodi Picoult’s 1998 teen-themed novel “The Pact,” and that, my friends, I am all over in the review department. It’s the story of lifelong friends, teenagers, who become a couple because of love, remain a couple because of expectations, and ultimately confront a promise of mutual suicide. Yeah, that’s heavy stuff, and Picoult, for all her many literary talents, does tend to dip into the old melodrama at times. But, overall, “The Pact” is a gripping novel that deftly explores the complex web of family, friendship, love, hatred, and grief. If it’s a little soapy at times, eh, so be it, because when it’s good, it’s seriously, ridiculously good.

Chris Harte and Emily Gold literally grew up together, as we discover in a series of extended flashbacks. Their moms, Gus Harte and Melanie Gold, are best friends and next-door neighbors who are both pregnant at the same time in 1979. [Remember, folks, this book is a little old, but other than a few jarring technological details — Gus has a beeper! — it’s not at all outdated thematically.] While Chris and Emily begin life as instant friends and constant companions, they eventually fall in, out, and sort of back in love again. I know “The Pact” is a book about suicide — and I’ll get to that issue, I promise! — but I felt that aspect of Chris and Emily’s relationship, that pressure to be something together at almost all costs, was so strikingly real. Emily’s crushing disappointment in not living up to that long-ordained love, in loving Chris but not LOVING him, sends her to a dark place. That pain, coupled with buried sexual abuse, an unexpected occurrence, and a crushing bout of prolonged depression, leads her to contemplate not just her own suicide, but Chris’ as well. Indeed, as the book opens, Emily tells Chris, “I love you,” which is followed by this line:

And then there was a shot.

So the kicker here — and there’s really no way to avoid spoiling it, because it happens at jump — is that following the night of the pact, Chris remains very much alive. While he’s suffering from a gaping but hardly life-threatening head wound in the ER, Emily arrives DOA. As the respective families (and friendships) just about disintegrate from pain, rage, and confusion, we start to learn more about Chris, the survivor at the center of this storm. Chris was the stalwart one, the reliable, smart, kind boy who excelled at two things: swimming and loving Emily. When Chris is arrested for Emily’s murder, it’s not too hard for us to believe that while he may not have killed her out of malice, he clearly could have done so from a toxic mix of adoration and perceived loyalty. Chris’ arrest further rips apart his family and the Golds, while also strangely bringing Chris and his distant, repressed father closer together.

Chris is imprisoned for months while awaiting trial. Picoult flashes back and forth from his prison life, filling in more and more details of Emily’s deepening pain and Chris’ ceaseless devotion. While the jail scenes can play out as a bit over the top, Chris’ pervading sense of fear and heartache is nicely conveyed, and the legal wranglings are easily comprehended. We’re ultimately set up for a splashy trial, complete with surprise witnesses and “shocking” testimony. While perceptive readers will likely view Chris’ confession as telegraphed, the details themselves — and his palpable shame and guilt — trump any obviousness. I saw much of this coming and was still utterly shocked by the depth of Chris’ misguided loyalty and sacrifice.

One of our neighboring school districts requires high school students to read “The Pact” over the summer, and I can see why. From a purely cautionary standpoint, it provides lots of useful information about the warning sides of suicide, and it depicts, with incredible emotion, the devastation left behind in the wake of such a death. Chris and Emily’s evolving relationship — complete with all its joys and disappointments — is also incredibly authentic and will likely resonate with many teens. Perhaps best of all, this book is a page turner, y’all. Beach or no beach, I would’ve devoured it in a day. It truly is that engaging.

“The Pact” is out there, so please give it a read if it now seems interesting. I should note that this one is definitely a high school book, as it contains sexuality, language, drinking, etc. If you really like “The Pact,” the Lifetime network created a movie version a few years back. Check out the trailer below. Happy reading! Wouldn’t you like to be back at the beach right about now? Sigh.

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“The List” by Siobhan Vivian

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

Shame on me, because “The List” was my first introduction to author Siobhan Vivian, who has written three other novels for teens. If any of her other books are even remotely as captivating and incisive as “The List,” then I need to get on them asap, y’all. Because “The List,” about a yearly list of the ugliest and prettiest girls in one high school, is a total winner. I am still thinking about this book a full week after I finished it!

One Monday in September, Mount Washington High School is plastered with an official, embossed copy of The List, designating which girl is the most and least attractive in each grade. The List is an annual tradition at Mount Washington, and, aside from it bearing a Mount Washington seal, no one knows who is behind it or how the girls are chosen. All anyone knows for sure is that inclusion on The List dramatically changes each girl’s life. What we learn in this novel is that those changes, for the favored and the ostracized both, can be surprisingly complex.

Throughout the novel, we follow the eight girls’ lives as they intersect in the days following publication of The List. Of these eight characters — loners, freaks, popular girls, a homeschooled transfer student, brats, athletes, etc. — four-time ugliest designee Jennifer Briggis is one of the most intriguing. Jennifer was once best friends with the beautiful, popular Margo Gable, who is, of course, the prettiest girl in the senior class. After a freshman year meltdown at being named ugliest, in each succeeding year, Jennifer has tried to make it seem like she’s in on the joke here and thus unbothered by The List. But when Margo’s friends reach out to Jennifer in sympathy and include her in shopping trips and parties, we start to see how clingy and, perhaps, devious this perpetually bullied girl is. It’s shocking stuff, frankly, and one of the most compelling portraits of a teen bullying victim that I’ve ever encountered.

The other girls are depicted in equally nuanced manners. We have freshman swimmer Danielle DeMarco, who had always prided herself on her strength and athleticism but who now sees herself as ugly and mannish. When Danielle’s boyfriend becomes distant and avoidant post-List, Danielle is devastated. She tries to become stereotypically feminine, but ultimately reacts in a more powerful, life-affirming way. Junior Bridget Honeycutt is the most heartbreaking character. Bridget views her “prettiest” label as a validation of the eating disorder she had developed over the summer, and so she plunges headfirst back into the world of starvation and juice “cleanses.” Bridget’s final push to wear a smaller dress size — and her emptiness at achieving this awful goal — is gut wrenching.

Then there’s Sarah Stringer, the ugliest girl in the junior class, who is really just an outsider with a punk edge and a fake aura of toughness. The night before The List’s publication, Sarah had slept with her best friend, the quietly attentive Milo. After The List, Sarah pushes everyone away in just about the most effective manner ever: she stops bathing, brushing her teeth, and changing her clothes. The mythic List makers and popular kids will have to literally suffer her existence. Sarah’s attempt to strike back really amounts to her donning an extra layer of armor in protection against further hurt. When Milo finally breaks through Sarah’s defenses and reaches the vulnerable girl inside … oy! Didn’t I say this was a compelling novel?

Author Vivian perfectly captures the impact of labeling teen girls in both seemingly positive and negative ways, and shows how that labeling can quickly create pressure to fulfill false expectations in either direction. She also expertly conveys the fragility of each girl’s sense of self worth, but never in a didactic fashion. I especially loved the ambiguous ending here. What is the real cost of popularity? Of anonymity? And is either worth it? While there are few neatly tied bows to the individual stories, you will think — A LOT — about each girl long after you’re finished reading. If that’s not the sign of a good book, I don’t know what is.

“The List” is most definitely geared toward high school girls. There is age-appropriate language, some drinking scenes, and sexuality. I wholeheartedly recommend this timely, thought-provoking novel, which will resonate with so many young women. “The List” is out now. Read it!

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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

Cassius:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

John Green is a rock star in the world of YA lit and likely needs no introduction from me. [But, side note: I seriously cannot overstate my love of both “An Abundance of Katherines” and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson,” so maybe it did need some saying!] I was at a Penguin Young Readers preview back in October 2011 when I first heard about “The Fault in Our Stars” (hereinafter, for the sake of my typing, “TFiOS”). Mentioning a new John Green title to a room full of librarians and educators created a bit of a frenzy, as you might imagine; we’re talking sharks with blood in the water, only with books. Penguin placed a strict embargo on “TFiOS,” which was finally released last Tuesday. Y’all, this is a book. Lev Grossman, a legit bestselling author in his own right, labeled “TFiOS” an “instant classic” in a blog post, and I agree wholeheartedly. Just go out and read it, already.

Hrm. Not sufficient, you’re thinking? You need to know more? Fine, I will oblige.

At the most basic level “TFiOS” is a cancer book. But it’s also not, not really. You’ll just have to trust me on this, ok? It’s not morbid or cloying or otherwise uplifting in an icky, artificial way. It is, rather, deeply touching, meaningful, flat-out hysterical, and just so achingly lovely that I kept going back to savor passages again and again. It is a remarkable novel for any genre or audience, let alone as a piece of teen literature.

16 year old Hazel, a pretty average teen living with her folks in Indianapolis, had thyroid cancer that spread to her lungs. Although technically in remission — Hazel survives on an experimental drug — her lungs were so badly damaged that she can only breathe with the aid of an oxygen tank. Hazel dropped out of high school and got her GED when she was gravely ill, although she does take some classes at the local community college. Depressed and sort of isolated, Hazel mostly watches bad television with her mom, reads (and re-reads and re-re-reads) her favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction,” and attends a weekly teen cancer support group at a neighborhood church. Lanky teen Isaac, left with one functioning eyeball after contracting a rare eye cancer, is the only saving grace at these meetings, as he alone seems to share Hazel’s sense of sarcasm and irony at the whole miserable experience. When Isaac brings along his gorgeous, athletic friend Gus, a survivor of a type of bone cancer that resulted in the amputation of his leg, support group suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Gus is handsome, charming, smart, kinda nerdy / cool, sensitive … you know, typical John Green protagonist. He’s also deeply into Hazel from jump, which, flutter. Even sick girls can fall in love.

At first, Hazel tries to resist Gus’ advances. He’s the very picture of health (er, minus the leg), just so vibrant and athletic. Meanwhile, Hazel, weak and lugging around an oxygen tank, worries that she will be a “grenade,” ultimately exploding in Gus’ life, dying, and wounding him irreparably. But Gus isn’t so easily deterred. He’s into Hazel and knows the risks. Gus uses his old dying kid wish (think Make-A-Wish Foundation) to take Hazel to Holland to visit Peter Van Houten, author of “An Imperial Affliction.” Hazel and Gus are determined to find out what happened to the characters after the novel’s mid-paragraph end, and the reclusive Van Houten, they believe, holds the key. Except, nothing goes as planned, Van Houten is an embittered shrew, and, oh yeah, Hazel and Gus fall totally in love amidst the canals and tulips and just about the most spectacular meal ever created. It’s pretty awesome. Or, as Hazel says, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

I hate to give away huge plot points, so can we still be friends if I give you a SPOILER ALERT? Because I’m going to do it anyway. Consider yourself warned. Here’s some SPOILER SPACE, just in case you were skimming:
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And here we are. Strong, healthy Gus gets incredibly sick, incredibly quickly. He becomes, for all intents and purposes, the grenade that Hazel so feared she would be. Gus’ cancer, long in remission, unknowingly returns and invades his entire body. Probably the most brilliant portions of “TFiOS” involve Gus’ physical degradation. This isn’t pretty soap opera dying; it’s vomit, pee, confusion, messy dying, and it’s not easy to witness. But it’s always true, which makes Hazel and Gus’ continued, doomed romance all that more authentic and beautiful. I can’t think of a better, funnier, more touching scene than Gus’ “pre-funeral,” in which Isaac and Hazel eulogize Gus while he watches. Hazel begins by discussing infinite sets of numbers and says:

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

I told you, it’s a lovely book. I will add that “TFiOS” can be ridiculously, wonderfully funny, as when Isaac and Hazel play voice-activated video games, trying to get the characters to do all manner of filthy things, or the teen support group meets in a church location that the kids call the Literal Heart of Jesus. It’s also full of some pretty sharp social commentary about the celebrity of mourning, including Facebook postings of glorified dead kids, which are so far removed from the ugly reality that they’re almost, sadly, laughable. Throw in fully developed parental figures, admirably complex secondary characters, and a gentle exploration of such larger, philosophical ideas as making an indelible mark on the universe and, somehow, being remembered, and you have a damn good novel.

I loved just about every aspect of “TFiOS” and would gladly recommend it to teen readers (and adult readers!), all genders, really from older middle school and up. There’s some language here and a discreet sex scene, but if you can handle the difficulties of death, then you’re good to go. “TFiOS” is such an unbelievably good novel. I can’t see you being disappointed. Now will you go out and just read it already? :-p

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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“Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

Lauren Oliver's "Before I Fall" immediately landed on the NY Times Children's Bestseller list, an impressive feat for a first-time author. This book was another ARC that I received back in November but only recently read. I can't believe I was so dumb! "Before I Fall" is "Mean Girls" meets "Groundhog Day," a potent, tragicomic look at high school cliques, friendship, bullying, regret, and forgiveness. It is every bit as devastating as Jay Asher's suicide novel "13 Reasons Why" and as touching as Gayle Forman's life after death story, "If I Stay," yet it's wholly unique in its own right. "Before I Fall" is, for me, the first great teen novel of 2010, which makes me again want to kick myself for waiting so long to read it!

Sam Kingston wakes up late on "Cupid Day," the pre-Valentine's day ritual when students at her Connecticut high school give and receive roses as symbols of friendship, love, and, above all, popularity. Sam has no worries in that last regard, since she is a member of the four-girl clique that basically rules her senior class. Dominated by the brash, bitchy Lindsay, Sam, Ally, and Elody run roughshod over dorky classmates, bully their way into choice parking spots, spread rumors about a slutty underclassman, painfully ignore their inferiors, and essentially torture school freak Juliet Sykes on a daily basis. Sam is just as harsh and cruel as her friends, which makes it difficult to like or even sympathize with her at first … this despite the fact that Sam dies in a car accident the night of Cupid Day after a party at nerdy, offbeat Kent McFuller's house.

Yes, you read that correctly. Sam dies the first night we meet her. Her painful death is followed by a strange, otherworldly falling sensation, after which she wakes up in her bed on the morning of Cupid Day. That's right. For the next six days, Sam relives Cupid Day, always retaining the knowledge from each previous day while her friends, family, and classmates blindly move about the day for the first time. It's an intriguing premise, and it's expertly developed by author Oliver. She knows just when to immerse us fully in all aspects of a Cupid Day and when to gloss over details to maintain the tension and avoid any trace of tedium. I really loved how Sam tried different strategies each day, at first frantically attempting to play it safe only to later try life as the ultimate bad girl, giving in to a skeevy teacher's advances, stealing her mom's credit card for a shopping spree, and drunkenly crashing Kent's party. This reckless behavior contrasted beautifully with the quiet, almost mournful Cupid Day Sam spends with her often-neglected younger sister and her folks.

Besides the incredible insight into high school life — Oliver absolutely nails how teens talk and act — we also get an intriguing mystery. Sam is repeating Cupid Day for a reason, and it involves poor Juliet Sykes, the willowy outcast who suffers a "Carrie"-like moment at Kent's party. When Sam finally uncovers Juliet's middle school friendship with queen bee Lindsay, she starts to understand and even appreciate Juliet's behavior. The book's keen view into the fickleness of popularity — Sam herself was plucked from nerdom by a chance encounter with Lindsay at a pool party — and its sharp portrayal of how popularity both empowers and enslaves those who possess it is truly remarkable. Because we see so many different sides of the characters as Sam repeats each Cupid Day, we cannot help but feel a pang of sympathy not only for the have-nots, but also for the haves, even the seemingly ruthless Lindsay.

I'd prefer not to give anything away on this point, so let me only briefly mention that I'm glossing over a romance that is so unexpected and so tenderly portrayed that it completely blew me away. Besides her wicked insight into the teen mind, Oliver writes lyrical, emotionally charged passages that are as good as anything the great Sarah Dessen has put forth. There are so many reasons to adore "Before I Fall" — the quality of the writing, the multi-faceted characters, the unflinching look at high school life, and the powerful secret at the heart of the story — that a lovely romance is a wonderful bonus.

"Before I Fall" is, in a word, fabulous. I absolutely recommend it to high school age readers, or any middle schoolers mature enough to handle the very strong language and references. My only regret here is that I didn't dive into this book last autumn! Don't make my mistake and wait. I promise, you will love it.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman

TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:

A big thank you (again!) to the Penguin Young Readers Group for sending along the ARC of Gayle Forman's "If I Stay." There's been a lot of buzz on the Internet about this book, most of which I think is well deserved.

Here's the premise: Seventeen year-old Mia, her ex-punk mom and dad, and little brother Teddy are involved in a horrific car crash on a slick Oregon road. What started as a carefree day together ends in tragedy, as Mia's family is killed and she is gravely injured. While Mia's body lingers in the ICU in a coma, Mia's … well, I guess her spirit? her essence? … wanders about the hospital, watching her griefstricken grandparents, snarky best friend Kim, and adoring boyfriend Adam. We learn about Mia's life — her exquisite cello playing, her quirky extended family's strong bond, her deep relationship with punk singer Adam — through a series of flashbacks. It is the revelation of these small moments that allows us to slowly understand the happy, full life Mia had before the accident. In this way, we also grasp the pain of Mia's choice now, as she struggles to decide whether to stay and fight through unimaginable grief and physical torture or allow her battered body and broken heart to die.

Some elements of this setup, particularly the dead / dying girl narrating her life, seemed borrowed from other novels, like "The Lovely Bones," "Elsewhere," and even "All We Know of Heaven." What distinguishes "If I Stay" are the believable, fully developed characters and rich relationships, the beautiful sense of "family" as a broader concept than we might have imagined, and the way music plays such an important role in the story. Mia's love of the cello and classical music, her dad's past life as a drummer, Adam's rising punk band — all are absolutely integral to the story, making music almost an extra character in the novel. In fact, music so permeates the text that I couldn't help but think of the wonderful "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist."

There is a lot of emotion and drama here, but I don't think "If I Stay" ever crosses the line into melodrama. Kudos to Gayle Forman for showing admirable restraint. Her writing is taut, she uses lovely phrases and descriptions, and the story moves along at a good clip. "If I Stay" raises intriguing questions about life, faith, hope, and the kind of love that allows for change and letting go. There is some strong language and one subtle sex scene, so I'd say this book is geared more toward a high school age audience, most likely teen girls. "If I Stay," which comes out next week, is an honest, touching story that's especially perfect for music lovers. I hope you enjoy it, too!

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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“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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