Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where She Went

Gayle Forman's If I Stay was the novel that inspired me to start a blog. I needed a place to keep track of all the books I've read, so that when I had to build a classroom library, I'd know which books are essential. If I Stay, with its story about a girl in a coma who must decide between following her beloved deceased family and staying alive for her future, is at the top of that list.

I just learned about the sequel, Where She Went, and made it my mission to track it down and read it immediately. I loved the decisions that Forman made: to set the novel three years in the future, to change the narrator to Adam, to have the main characters beginning their promising musical careers. The reader can tell that Forman loves each of the characters because they are so beautifully crafted and real. I love that I was able to relate to this twenty-year-old male rocker as much as with the cello virtuoso.

I was reminded of how wonderful a plot device the "last night" is. Similar to the movie "Before Sunrise" and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" (oops, I've only seen the movie), when Adam and Mia explore New York together to give themselves closure, their true feelings come out. I loved the small moments that they shared when they went bowling, and really hurt for them when they realized how much they have changed in such a short time period.

While Adam was depressed for most of the novel, I found it to be more upbeat than If I Stay. I don't expect a third book about these characters, but am so grateful that Forman wrote this sequel.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rhymes With Witches

I really like Lauren Myracle's writing. I think she excels at sharing the bittersweet aspects of growing up and her characters are realistic. Rhymes With Witches is a departure from her novels that I've read, this time with a creepy mystery about popularity.

The title clique suddenly adopts Jane, a nearly invisible freshman. As she spends more time with them, she realizes that their popularity isn't due to their sparkling personalities, but rather the witchcraft they are taught by their strange teacher. I love the movie "The Craft", so the mean girls as witches plotline really appealed to me. I appreciated that Myracle didn't shy away from the less desirable side of popularity--the peer pressure, insecurity, and the fact that a lot of the popular guys are actually not that cool.

Not everything about Witches worked for me. There was a plotline about feral cats that didn't really get explained and the conclusion was abrupt and unsatisfying. My main issue was that the characters were less developed than in Myracle's other novels. I wanted to like Jane more, but was turned off by how quickly she ditched her friends. I know witchcraft was involved, but it still didn't endear her to me! On the other hand, it seemed like she never really liked her original friends to begin with, and the reader can't blame her.

I know there is a prequel called Bliss, but I am going to skip it and search out other Lauren Myracle books like Thirteen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Living Dead Girl

I think a lot about censorship, as a teacher, classroom librarian, and frequent recommender of books. In my previous school, I was the main person providing books to students aged 10 - 14. Our island did not have a bookstore nor a library, the majority of parents were not reading YA books, and the society in general was religious. Finally, we had a limited budget for books, so I needed to order books that would be suitable for as many students as possible. All of these factors led me to skew fairly conservative when recommending books. I don't believe in banning books, but it turns out I am quite the censor! I am not sure how to reconcile this, except that I try to do my best for my students.

Living Dead Girl is definitely a book that brings out the censors. Elizabeth Scott's searing story of a girl who is kidnapped and spends five years being sexually and psychologically abused hits the reader right in the gut. It has been listed as ages 16 and older, which sounds right to me. While the descriptions in the novel are not explicit, it is very obvious what is happening to Alice, almost on a daily basis.

At only 176 pages, Scott makes all of her words count. Living Dead Girl is gripping and beautifully written. Still, I wonder what the reader gets from the experience, aside from a haunted feeling. The bleak ending offers little hope and leaves the reader feeling powerless. Maybe that was Scott's intention, to give the reader a sense of how futile Alice's situation seemed to her. It left me feeling watchful, shaken, and hopelessly sad. Written for readers far older than my students, I don't have to think about recommending this book to my students. If I was teaching high school, I wonder if I would.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Boyfriend List

At what point does this just become an E.Lockhart fan website? Probably at about 1:00 a.m. when I finally put down The Boyfriend List. Don't be surprised if the next book I review is by Lockhart as well. Eventually I am going to be tracking down her college essays to review, because I really love her that much!

Ruby Oliver is a sophomore whose world has suddenly collapsed. Her boyfriend broke up with her, her best friend and everyone else hates her, and she keeps having panic attacks. When her new therapist suggests that she make a list of all the boyfriends (real or in her head) that she has ever had, the story unravels and the reader learns where things went wrong for our girl Roo.

Ruby is one of the most likable heroines I've come across. She is popular enough, but is also never quite comfortable at the tony Tate Prep. Her parents are loving, but overwhelming and neurotic. Her friends can actually be very cruel to her. There are so many aspects of Ruby that are relatable, that make the reader cringe in recognition. These traits can be reassuring, as well. Ruby likes making out with boys, and would sometimes prefer to do that than to actually talk to them. She realizes that going on a date can be hanging out in your sweatpants, eating lollipops. She knows that there is a world that is bigger than her high school, even if it doesn't feel that way.

The real reason I would pass this book along to my older students (there are some healthy sex references in the novel) is that E. Lockhart's words are exactly what I would want my students to read while nursing a broken heart. When reflecting on her first boyfriend, Ruby says, "I still think about him every day. When I see him, my heart jumps up in my chest. I long for him to talk to me, and whenever he even says hello, I feel a thousand times worse than I did before. I wish he was dead. I wish he still liked me" (197). Those last two sentences pretty much sum up everything there is to say about a breakup. Wouldn't it be revolutionary if all fourteen-year-old girls knew this is what breaking up feels like? It's my new mission that they read something by E. Lockhart and learn this.