Friday, July 29, 2011

The Treasure Map of Boys

First things first, I love everything E. Lockhart writes.

That said, I think she made some interesting choices with the third book in the Ruby Oliver series. The Treasure Map of Boys has Ruby facing challenges that aren't limited to the Tate Universe of her private school, and often, Ruby doesn't come out looking like a good person. At first I was disappointed by some of the choices she made, feeling like "Hey, you promised you weren't going to flirt with that boy your friend likes! What are you doing?" or "Of course your therapist has a life outside of your sessions! Start talking and stop wasting your parents' money!" I wanted Ruby to be the same character that I had enjoyed in the previous two books: someone who occasionally missteps but is headed in the right direction.

Then I realized that the more grave decisions that Ruby made in the novel were intentional on Lockhart's part. Ruby is older and her problems can't always be resolved with an apology. Ruby is impetuous, especially when it comes to boys, and the consequences are steeper when you are a junior in high school. If I liked Ruby less in this novel, it was just because she was even more realistic. I look forward to reading the fourth (and final?) book in the series, Real Live Boyfriends, as soon as I can track it down.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye is the tenth of Sarah Dessen's novels about teenagers relating to parents, finding themselves, and falling in love. They all inhabit the same universe where they cross paths at the beach in Colby, eat at the Last Chance diner, and log on to Sticking to her typical formula, Dessen adds Mclean Sweet to this world.

After Mclean's parents' divorce, she and her father move around the country while he consults on restaurants. The pair thrive on reinvention, with Mclean choosing a new identity (and nickname) in each new town. When they land at the Luna Blu restaurant, suddenly Mclean finds herself unwillingly putting down roots by making quirky friends, getting involved in a community project, and (of course) meeting a cute boy.

The secondary characters in this novel interested me far more than Mclean and her embattled parents. Nearly all of them seemed to have more depth and fascinating backstories. I applaud Dessen for the friendship between Dave, Mclean's love interest, and Riley, another girl in the circle. Platonic friendship is rarely explored in YA novels and is such a rich source of material. By far, my favorite character was Deb, who was layered with so many surprising traits. I would love for a novel about her, but I doubt SD will do that because Deb is far too normal a name!

Sarah Dessen is a pro at what she does, but What Happened to Goodbye felt more like a 'paint by numbers' Dessen book than the real thing. I would love for her to write a novel with a male main character, a collection of short stories, or do something else that mixes things up for the reader and challenges her as a writer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Summer I Turned Pretty

I know anger is not the appropriate response to not having read a book, but man! How could I have missed this one? The Summer I Turned Pretty has everything that I like in a YA book: the beach, a cool narrator, crushworthy guys, and sadness. I wish I could remember who recommended it to me so I could hug them.

Belly's life has always revolved around her summers at the beach with her brother and their family friends, Jeremiah and Conrad. Through flashbacks, the reader learns of Belly's lifelong love for Conrad, as well as her flirtatious and sweet friendship with Jeremiah. During her 16th summer, all of Belly's relationships change, and none of the changes is easy.

The characterization in the novel is wonderful, particularly the adults. Belly's mother breaks the mold of a typical YA mom; she is quietly devoted and mysterious. My favorite character was Jeremiah and Conrad's mother, Susannah. She is fun, thoughtful, and generous--the kind of woman that all teenagers wish they had in their lives. As a "mature" reader (ahem), I quickly tired of Conrad's moodiness, but can understand why that appealed to Belly. I also found Belly's desire to change her role to be realistic. She wanted to be accepted by the boys, but kept slipping into the position of "kid sister". At times, I wanted to shake her and say, "They are never going to like you if you keep sticking your tongue out at them!" Belly's flaws make her more dynamic and surprising.

Finally, how gorgeous is the cover? It looks like a book that has been left on the windowsill of a beach house, faded and welcoming. The plus side of reading a novel two years after it was published means that both sequels are already available. I am going to start It's Not Summer Without You as soon as I post this.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Beauty Queens

When I heard Libba Bray's latest novel was about teenage beauty queens stranded on a deserted island, I hustled to get a copy. I love the idea of a female Lord of the Flies meets Lost meets Robinson Crusoe meets Drop Dead Gorgeous. I was not disappointed--this book is a delight.

Sprinkled with funny footnotes, fake commercials mocking consumerism, and surveys completed by the title characters, Bray packs a lot of material into the novel. There are layers of references that had me consulting google and appreciating the author's efforts. Beauty Queens tackles many social issues, which at times can feel similar to the platforms that pageant contestants have to choose. Each main character was fairly stereotypical, with her own issue to overcome. Those who don't have an internal battle are just lumped together (they're all named Caitlyn Ashley) and called by their respective state names.

Still, the issues that Beauty Queens confronts are important to teenagers and add to the feminist spirit of the book. It is a fascinating idea to consider what life would be like for these girls who have always been judged on their looks, when the constraints of boys, parents, and society are removed. Bray's view is optimistic; the girls bond and are able to accomplish amazing things.

While too mature for middle school students, Beauty Queens is a book that high school students (and beyond) will breeze through.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Nerd Girls

Meet Maureen, a self-described baked potato. She's the reluctant leader of a trio of misfits, also known as the Nerd Girls, just trying to get through the eighth grade without further persecution by the ThreePees (for "pretty, popular, perfect"). After a humiliating youtube video of Maureen goes viral, the girls decide that the best revenge is to take on the ThreePees in the school's talent show. This would not have been my decision, but it makes for a fun plot.

Nerd Girls is author Alan Lawrence Sitomer's first foray into middle grade fiction. My students have loved everything he's ever written, so I am eager to share Nerd Girls with them, although this book will definitely appeal to a different demographic than Hip Hop High School. Still, as a teacher, Sitomer has a gift for adolescent language and common humiliations. My students will love Maureen's snarky sense of humor. At times, her sarcasm towards her new (and only) friends seems excessive, but ten minutes at a lunch table with eighth graders shows it to be realistic.

At 224 pages, Nerd Girls felt longer than necessary, with some repetitive dialogue. I'm interested to see how students feel about the novel's length--and I will see, as this is definitely a book I will add to my library. The first in a five-part series, I predict that it will be very popular with the sixth graders I'll be teaching this year.

Monday, July 4, 2011


This is a controversial one!

Bumped takes place in a future when everyone over eighteen has a virus that leaves them infertile. The result is that pregnant teenagers become the most important members of society, competing to "go pro" and get pregnant for cash. Perfect teen Melody has her contract arranged is awaiting her chosen partner, when her religious and estranged identical twin Harmony arrives and everything falls apart.

Clearly this isn't going to be going on the shelves at my middle school. Discussions of sexuality and religion dominate the novel, and early adolescents can't process the satire involved in Megan McCafferty's book. Despite its heavy topics, Bumped is actually quite funny and engrossing. The dystopia crafted by the author has incredible details, like cafeteria food rich in folic acid, and girls trying to raise the $250,000 for their first year of college. There are aspects of the technology and culture that seem very realistic, from the instant messaging to the multicultural character names.

Still, it is a satire and none of the characters come off very well. The Christians who live in "Goodside" are portrayed as fanatics and everyone else in "Otherside" is materialistic. Even the twins, who alternate chapters that detail their character growth, seem unrealistic. Naming them Harmony and Melody had me confused and wondering (even at page 300), "Which one is this again?" Also, I was unaware that this is the first book in a trilogy, so the ending seemed abrupt and unsatisfying.

Despite these quibbles, I really enjoyed Bumped and am eager to discuss it. Usually I can predict the plot of YA novels and this one held many genuine surprises for me. While I think that thirty more pages could have tied up the entire storyline pretty nicely, I am bought in enough to anticipate the next novel and what happens to the twins.