Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life As We Knew It

I just finished reading Life As We Knew It for the Forever Young Adult book club. As I was searching for a cover image for this post, I realized it is the first in a series of books that are already out! I am so excited and headed to the book store today to pick up the rest of the series.

Okay, I'm back from Books-a-Million now; I seriously had to buy the sequel to read poolside today. When I read the first few chapters of Life As We Knew It, I thought it would be boring While I love novels written in diary format, the main character, Miranda, didn't capture me. But, once an asteroid knocks the moon closer to the earth and everything starts to fall apart, I was riveted.

Susan Beth Pfeffer creates an incredible atmosphere (ha ha), creepy and claustrophobic. As Miranda's world gets smaller, the drama increases and I found myself flipping ahead to make sure that there was still dialogue from some of the characters, assuring me that they would live. I'm never like that! I love the way that she subtly shows the dynamics of familial relationships changing, such as the younger brother Jonny slowly becoming "Jon" and the older brother Matt taking a paternal role.

There are a few places that Life As We Knew It could fit into the curriculum. It would be a great lynchpin in our science fiction unit. Even more interesting, however, would be to read it as a companion to The Diary of Anne Frank. Both feature families in peril with limited resources, little hope, and an ever-decreasing amount of freedom. It would be interesting to see the parallels that students would make between this novel based in the future and Anne's nonfiction work from the past.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Feed

Sometimes I wonder how it took me eight years to read amazing novels like Feed by M.T. Anderson. Then I remember that there aren't many copies floating around Greek elementary schools and Bahamian middle schools. What are the amazing novels of 2010 that I won't read until 2018?

I am so glad I didn't go another day without reading Feed. I really think that this should be required reading in all U.S. high schools. There are so many important messages and warnings in this deceptively short novel. A passage that I would underline: "One Saturday...there was this promotion, where if you talked about the great taste of Coca-Cola to your friends like a thousand times, you got a free six-pack of it, so we decided to take them for some meg ride by all getting together and being like, Coke, Coke, Coke, Coke for about three hours so we'd get a year's supply." Guess who ends up getting thirsty and buying Coke themselves?

I was frightened by the dystopia that Anderson presents, especially since many of his predictions have come true in the past eight years. The characters all speak in slang with imperfect grammar; I was most affected when the words "like" and "dude" are overused by the parents. People are able to "chat" by sending messages in their heads and very few people can actually read words. M.T. Anderson's creativity and intelligence is inspiring. I know that one day Feed will be considered a dystopic classic that stands beside Brave New World and Animal Farm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Everlost

As soon as I heard the premise of Everlost, I was hooked. In a world between life and death, only children exist and if they don’t move constantly, they get sucked into the earth. They are led by a girl named Mary Hightower (who lives in the Twin Towers) and fear a monster named The McGill. Our heroes are Allie and Nick, two strangers who are killed in the same car accident and band together to figure out more about their new lives as “Afterlights”.

Neil Shusterman grabs the reader immediately and doesn’t let up. I loved the world of Everlost and couldn’t wait to see what Shusterman dreamed up. It was intense to think of the consequences of not being able to stop moving, not having to breathe, and not needing sleep or food (but still wanting it). 

The characters of Mary and Allie are both strong role models; brave and clever leaders with realistic flaws that don’t detract from their storylines. Mary’s relationship with the children that follow her is particularly interesting. She tries to maintain impartiality and almost succeeds, but the cracks in her veneer are what make her interesting.

The novel ends with a twist that I did not anticipate, but it took awhile to reach it. Each character grows and I am eager to see what the sequel, Everwill holds for them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Identical

Yuck.

I had seen Ellen Hopkins' books in stores before and was intrigued by their girth, provocative titles, and the fact that I heard that kids love them. When I saw Identical at the library, I picked it up. I suppose I am happy I've read one of her books (I hesitate to call it a novel) so that I never buy one for my school.

I know that teenagers can have brutal lives, but the existences of the twins in this book is so farfetched that somebody would have to notice. Without any spoilers (this is all in the book description), Identical describes incest, date rape, anorexia, bulimia, cutting, alcohol and drug abuse, absent parenthood, and a whole host of psychological problems. Raeanne and Kaeleigh (argh, the vowels!) spend the book in a spin cycle of crazy.

I understand the appeal of teenagers on the brink--that's what gets me reading Laurie Halse Anderson, but at a certain point it becomes exploitative. It saddens me that situations like this exist in the world, but even more that kids are paying $12 to read about it. The worst part is that it's not even good writing! LHA is able to express her characters' pain beautifully, but Hopkins uses gimmicky prose writing which make the text hard to read and explain why it weighs in at close to 600 pages. I strongly recommend you avoid this book.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Twisted

I got a bit of whiplash, shifting from the world of Sarah Dessen into the world of Laurie Halse Anderson. The two authors whom I have read the most this year might not even exist on the same planet, when it comes to high school life. Leaving Dessen’s pastel summer for Anderson’s brutal school year is rough.

There is a note at the beginning of Twisted says it is not for children. I’d agree with that—it doesn’t belong in a middle school library. I know that high schoolers will eat it up. I was certainly up all night so I could finish it.

Tyler can’t seem to catch a break. Not only was he teased his entire life, but his one small act of rebellion landed him on probation and with the label “freak”. Still, at least his manual labor made him fit and attractive to the girls that ignored him before. While Tyler tests his looks, to the anger of the jocks, he also must deal with a miserable home situation and failing grades. When a sudden accusation leaves him defenseless and ostracized, his thoughts turn to suicide.

This is the first LHA novel that I’ve read from the male perspective. It can be easy to forget how vicious high school can be for boys, whose coping skills are very different from girls. I think that all high school teachers should read Twisted as a reminder of how bullying happens in many different ways.

I always hope that LHA’s novels aren’t truly realistic, but I know they are, so I am happy they exist for those who need them. A high school unit on bullying would be supported well by Tyler’s honest voice.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This Lullaby

This Lullaby is the first Sarah Dessen book I’ve read that I haven’t immediately wanted to add to our school’s library. In fact, I won’t think it will make it there at all. This novel didn’t click with me because I found the characters, both major and minor, to be unlikable.

The protagonist, Remy, is a perfectionist who is soon to head off to Stanford. She is an expert on hooking up and dumping boys until she meets Dexter, a musician who goes against everything she wants in a boyfriend. After much resistance, they get together and she is unable to follow her old rules and end the relationship.

Usually I love the quirky guys in Dessen’s novels and want to root for them. Unfortunately, I found Dexter to be annoying and don’t think there’s any way someone like Remy would really tolerate him. I found Remy’s brother Chris to be much more interesting, a reformed badboy who raises lizards and is dating a shark disguised as a receptionist. Tell more about them, please!

The best part of This Lullaby was getting a small update on Scarlett Thomas of Someone Like You. We learn that she is managing a coffee shop, attending college part time, and happily raising her daughter. I love when characters intersect in an author’s world and Dessen is usually good at giving this to the reader.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

It has been awhile since I have squealed out loud while reading (maybe Catching Fire was the last time), but about halfway through The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks I did just that.

I am a huge nerd because while I was reading I pulled out my journal and started a list entitled Things I Am Interested In (ignore the grammar) and at the top of the list I wrote Secret Societies. Lucky for me, E. Lockhart included plenty of resources at the end of her novel. The New York Times states that the protagonist could change the world; I think she could inspire my students to do it.

I don't want to say too much about the plot and give it away. I'll just say that Frankie is one of the most realistic characters I've ever read, while being one of the most extraordinary at the same time. She is insecure in the face of her older, popular boyfriend, but wise enough to question why she feels that way. The ideas that Frankie has are clever and hilarious, ones that I would admire as a student and as a teacher.

I am gushing and for good reason; get this book!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

That Summer

That Summer begins with a poem by Dannye Romine Powell, “At Every Wedding Someone Stays Home”, that made me gasp and say “Oh my God”. It is one of the few times that I have instantly connected with a poem and needed to copy it down for the future.

I’ve been working my way backwards through Sarah Dessen’s oeuvre and have arrived at her first book. That Summer is a coming-of-age story about Haven, whose parents are divorced and restarting their lives while her older sister gets married. Haven longs for the past when her sister had a charming boyfriend (Sumner, one of the most crushworthy YA characters I have come across) and her life was simple.

While I enjoyed it, I can say that Dessen’s writing has come a long way (of course). At times, That Summer is repetitious in its references to Haven’s bony physique and descriptions of her dad’s new wife, TV’s Weather Pet. I found myself wanting more interactions with Sumner and less of bridezilla Ashley’s selfish screeching.

Still, I think all YA lovers should have shelves lined with all of SD’s novels, because they are full of gems like “You can’t love anyone that way more than once in a lifetime. It’s too hard and it hurts too much when it ends. The first boy is always the hardest to get over, Haven. It’s just the way the world works.” Sing it, sister.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Someone Like You

We all know that I love Sarah Dessen. Now that I am back in South Carolina with regular library access, I overloaded the interlibrary loan cart with the titles I haven’t read. Someone Like You was the first to arrive and it is a classic, as in very early Dessen. It is fun for me to see how her style began and developed into Along for the Ride and others.

Halley and Scarlett are best friends that see each other equally while the rest of world sees them as Scarlett and her shy friend Halley. When Scarlett falls in love with a boy, he dies, and she gets pregnant (none of these are spoilers), she needs Halley to be the stronger one. Halley wants to, but she is also falling in love and making decisions on her own for the first time.

I love the way that Dessen writes high school friends; they are all people that I would want to spend time with. Halley makes a big deal about the fact that she and her mother were best friends, but the only side we ever see of her is overprotective and shrewish. I wish there was more character growth from the mother, although it makes sense not to show it when our narrator is her long-suffering teenage daughter.

Someone Like You was combined with That Summer (next on my list) to make a Mandy Moore film called “How To Deal”. I’ve never seen it but will now! I also wanted to point out how much better the current cover of the novel is (although there isn’t any beach love in the book) than the copy I took out of the Myrtle Beach library. NOBODY wants to read a book with this cover!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Necklace of Kisses

My kingdom for a day in Francesca Lia Block's world!

When I was in middle and high school, I was obsessed with Francesca Lia Block. Her writing sparkled and the world she spun was so different from my soccer practice-shopping at Filene's-watching "Full House" lifestyle. I wanted to hang out with slinkster cool surfers in LA while wearing dresses I had made out of children's sheets. I wanted to drive around in my vintage car while eating fusion food with my dreadlocked friends. About fifteen years have past since my Weetzie-loving days and my life has become a balance between those two extremes. One thing that remains the same is that I am fascinated by Block's California fairy tales.

Necklace of Kisses reintroduces us to Weetzie as a 40 year old woman with a fashion boutique, leaving home because she has fallen out of love with Max (aka My Secret Agent Lover Man). She moves into a fabulous pink hotel with a cast of characters that allows Block to showcase her gift for descriptive language ("He was holding a bottle of silver polish, which he had grabbed from the manicurist, and running in circles around a giant golden Buddha with offerings of silk lotus blossoms and glass mangoes at its feet" (59). Every sentence packs a punch of gorgeous imagery, so much that I want to re-read the book just to review what Weetzie wore.

At my former school (that's right, I had my last day and am moving on), we didn't have any Block novels because I didn't think they would appeal to my Bahamian kids. I see now that it's not fair, because no one would have guessed they'd be my style when in fact, they were exactly what I needed.