Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The List

Every year at Mount Washington High School, a list is posted with the names of the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade. No one knows who makes the list, but it changes high school for each of the girls who is singled out. Siobhan Vivian's novel, The List, spends a week in the life of the eight chosen girls.

At first I had a hard time distinguishing between the eight different narrators, and kept flipping back to the front of the book where the actual list appears. After reading a chapter about how each girl discovers she was on the list, however, I was invested and eager to know how it would play out. Siobhan Vivian is such a great writer; I loved Not That Kind of Girl, and The List is another title I will be recommending to others. One of the best things about her novels is the feminist approach she takes to discussing current high school issues. There's no one doing it quite like Vivian.

That Cover Girl has an interesting interview with Vivian about how the cover came to be. Since it was the cover was the first thing that hooked me about the novel, I was excited to learn more. I love the expression on the main girl's face, and that although I've read the book, I can't tell which character it is, or if it is an unnamed girl who didn't make the list.

Vivian's in-depth treatment of each character endeared them to me, although my favorite had to be Lauren, a home-schooled sophomore who is named prettiest. Unfamiliar with politics of high school, the list ensures that she is instantly popular, but her awkward attempts to keep up with her new clique made me cringe and hope that she could find her own place in Mount Washington.

There is great potential for discussion here, particularly between parents and daughters. I highly recommend checking this book out.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Anna and the French Kiss

En la universidad, me especializé en los estudios hispanicos, entonces leí muchos libros en español. Además, hace once años que no uso la lengua mucho. Estoy entusiasmada porque me mudaré a Colombia en julio y tengos ganas de mejorar mi español. Decidí leer una novela y escribir una reseña en español. Perdona mis equivocaciones…hace un largo rato!

Anna and the French Kiss, por Stephanie Perkins, es un libro que todo el mundo adora. He oído buenas cosas sobre el libro, entonces sé que era el libro perfecto para leer en español. Perkins escribe en un tono casual, muy distinto de García Lorca y Cervantes, cual leí en la Universidad. Me dió la oportunidad aprender palabras como ‘apestar’ y ‘fruncir’; de veras, tengo una lista de palabras nuevas.

¡Me encanta este libro! Los personajes son tan autenticos y chicos que me hubiera gustado tener como amigos en el colegio. Anna es una chica normal, con todos los problemas que vienen con la adolescencia. Uno de estos problemas es que ella se encuentra enamorada con su nuevo mejor amigo, el hermoso St. Clair. Desde el principio, es obvio que ellos les gusta el uno a otro, pero Perkins desarrolla la relación lentamente y en una manera deliciosa. Sabía que los dos terminaran juntos, pero no sabía como ocurriría. ¿Me quedó satisfecha? Sí, y deseando más de esta autora.

Siento que quizás faltó un poco en leer este libro en español, porque Perkins escribe la voz de una joven perfectamente. Ya compré su proxímo libro, Lola and the Boy Next Door, para disfrutar—en inglés esta vez.

¡Gracias por tolerar mi español rudimentario!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Wild Book

Margarita Engle continues her streak of novels in verse about life in Cuba after the wars for independence from Spain. This charming story will appeal to middle grade readers who enjoy poetry and anyone who has struggled to read.

Fefa has word blindness (dyslexia), and is tormented by the fact that she cannot read well. Her many siblings tease mock her handwriting and tease her. In her words,
"I help herd cows, brush horses,
and feed chickens.
The only chore I never finish is
reading OUT LOUD
to my big sisters,
who laugh
and call me lazy.
I hate hate hate it when they assume that I do not really try."

Fefa is extremely persistent in her desire to become a stronger reader and writer, filling a blank book with her attempts at poetry. Engle frequently has the more challenging words spelled out phonetically, although this technique fades later in the book as Fefa becomes more confident. When she realizes that she is improving, Fefa says, "When I consider the happy possibility that maybe someday I will feel smart, I grow a little bit hungry for small, tasty bites of easy words." I've seen this happen in my classes, when developing readers find the right book for them and are eager to find more like it.

The novel begins slowly, meandering through Fefa's life on the farm, so initially I wasn't as bought in as I was with The Surrender Tree. Once the central plot was established, I was engaged and surprised by how Fefa's slow and careful reading is the key to her family's safety. As always, Engle's details about Cuban life in the early 1900s are the best parts of the book. I learned that wives of rebel soldiers hid messages inside giant flowers during the wars and that men would have poetry duels to see who could recite the most affecting poem. While I wish there had been more details like this, I still enjoyed The Wild Book and will keep it on my shelf for struggling readers as encouragement.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

Jennifer E. Smith’s TheStatistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a gem. Over the course of twenty-four hours, the novel tackles many different kinds of love: romantic, parental, hopeful, and even love in spite of disappointment. This is an optimistic and heartwarming novel that you will speed through.

Fate is a favorite subject of mine. I love the movie “Sliding Doors” and thinking about how one slight difference can change everything. In Hadley’s case, she misses her flight to her father’s wedding in London by four minutes. These four minutes lead to her meeting Oliver, a cute British boy who will figure very importantly in her life. Over the course of the flight, the pair discusses topics both heavy and light: her father is marrying a woman that Hadley has never met, Oliver attends Yale as a way to rebel, Hadley has a fear of mayonnaise, and Oliver’s favorite animal is the eagle. Smith captures the immediate intimacy of the couple, leaving the reader grateful that Hadley missed her flight.

Hadley’s relationships with her parents are realistic. She feels betrayed by her father, who went to teach in Oxford and ended up staying permanently. Hadley is defensive of her mother, who is rebuilding her life and has found happiness again. It seems that everyone is better off after the divorce except Hadley, which leaves her resentful. It feels very authentic for her to lash out at them, regret it, and not know how to makes amends. Readers will see themselves in these interactions and feel heartened by how they are resolved.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight will appeal to many readers. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han novels will enjoy this entry to the YA romance genre, and everyone has to love that amazing cover. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The New Rules of High School


That's what I said out loud after finishing Blake Nelson's The New Rules of High School. This coming of age story felt aimless and like it trailed off, which is fairly appropriate for a story about an adolescent, I suppose. Still, I was left wanting so much more.

Max Caldwell has spent his whole life being perfect: straight A's, President of the Debate Club, Editor of the school paper, and one half of the couple. In his senior year, though, he finds himself not caring about any of these things and slowly distancing himself from the Max that everyone loves. That's basically it. The novel follows Max through his senior year, a constant stream of parties, extracurricular activities, family moments, none of which he wants to engage in.

Nelson's depiction of suburban malaise is accurate, yet unengaging. Older readers usually want their YA novels to have more drama or some sort of lesson; readers of Max's age will find no escape or wisdom in this book. Skip it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chasing Brooklyn

Last year, Brooklyn's boyfriend Lucca died in a car accident. His best friend (and the driver) Gabe has just passed away of a drug overdose. Unlike Lisa Schroeder's other novel in verse, I Heart You, You Haunt Me, Brooklyn isn't being visited by the ghost of her boyfriend...instead it's a terrifying version of Gabe hunting her in her dreams.

Lucca is doing some haunting, but he is visiting his brother Nico, urging him to help Brooklyn. Both Nico and Brooklyn refuse to admit to each other that they see ghosts, which is the only thing that would help them move on.

Told from the perspectives of Brooklyn and Nico, this book supports my belief that having a plethora of novels in verse will hook readers. Chasing Brooklyn is a companion to I Heart You; the characters attend the same school and briefly interact with each other. I love when authors do this, and it gives me hope that I will see Brooklyn and Nico in future books. In my opinion, Chasing Brooklyn is a much stronger novel: the dual narrators flesh out the story, the reactions to the hauntings are more realistic, and Schroeder has found her groove as a writer.

I particularly enjoyed that all the characters are likable and their response to Lucca's death evolved gradually and subtly. While death plays a central role in the story, the main message is about hope and perseverance. I am excited to add this to my library and share it with readers who enjoy romance, the paranormal, and novels in verse.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Resistance: Volume One

One of the best units I ever taught was a reading workshop on the theme of WWII. Students had to read at least five books about this time period, which gave them a broader knowledge base than just reading one class novel. Some of the most popular books included The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Numberthe Stars, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and Art Spiegelman’s Maus series. Although the Maus books are challenging, my developing readers devoured them and learned so much. Resistance, the first volume in a collaboration between Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis, would be another graphic novel I would recommend to these readers.

Set in the unoccupied French countryside, Paul’s family runs a vineyard and is great friends with the Levys, a Jewish family who runs the hotel next door. When the Levy parents disappear, everyone is concerned about what happened to them, especially their son Henri, who was playing in the woods at the time. Paul and his younger sister Marie decide to hide Henri, which leads them to meet members of the resistance and get sent on a dangerous mission.

Resistance has a cover that will grab readers. Purvis’ illustrations emphasize the tension of the era. His rough lines and expressive faces suit the circumstances. In addition to his own illustrations, Pruvis creates Paul’s sketchbook, which he uses to express the character’s true feelings in a time when putting on a mask is essential.

The reader gets basic information about the Holocaust, but the horrific details are not included. For this reason, it would be a gentle introduction to the subject, or a welcome accompaniment to a unit. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Recovery Road

Growing up, I was obsessed with Sassy Magazine, and Sassy was obsessed with Blake Nelson. The magazine first printed his novel "Girl" in serialized format. I vaguely remember loving those snippets of the novel, but somehow never read any of his books until Recovery Road and its gorgeous cover snagged my attention. I am now officially on a mission to make up for lost time and read all his books, because Recovery Road was incredible.

Madeline, formerly known as "Mad Dog Maddie," has begun her junior year of high school in rehab. She's been through the initial 28 days of detox and has moved into a halfway house, but is still plagued by the need for substances and the anger issues that got her put away. There are only two other people close to Madeline's age at Spring Meadows: Trish, who is desperate for love, and Stewart, who is beautiful and troubled. Madeline and Stewart cling to each other like they are drowning, but when they are back in the real world, their love is not as easy as they hoped.

From the start, we are told that we shouldn't like Madeline; no one else does because her addictions and propensity for fighting have alienated everyone around her. Despite this, she quickly grows on the reader who spend the book hoping she won't backslide and wanting her to get her life together. Madeline has so many things working against her, including her self-image and the opinions of everyone who knew her before. When she discovers that she enjoys academics, we want her to go to college and be more than her circumstances would suggest.

Nelson does not scrimp on the details of what life is like for a teenager returning to school after rehab. The descriptions of drug use and sex (including an attempted rape) make this book appropriate for older readers. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but that's realistic, and something that will make teenagers love the book. It feels true, and it deserves to be read.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Under the Mesquite

As the oldest of eight children, sixteen-year-old Lupita has a lot of responsibilities, but never resents it because her loving family takes care of each other, especially after moving to the United States from Mexico. Lupita excels in drama class, but suddenly her tears become easier to fake. Her mother has been diagnosed with cancer and her entire world has changed. While her beloved mother wastes away, her father becomes stressed over finances and Lupita has to raise a growing family that does not want to listen to her. She finds solace in writing poetry under the tenacious mesquite tree that grows in her mother's garden.

I've been wanting to read Under the Mesquite ever since I saw it reviewed on Mrs. V's blog. I love novels in verse that are written from the perspective of someone from a different culture. (I'm also pretty excited that by the end of the year, I will probably be able to link to a different review for each word in that last sentence!) Author Guadalupe Garcia McCall is a teacher, which makes me even more excited to support her.

McCall's writing really sings; the poems in this novel are longer, stretching over pages and drawing me into the borderlands where it is set. I particularly loved her descriptions of relationships, causing me to see them in a new light. One that caught my eye:

"The six of us sisters
Were round beads knotted side by side,
Like pearls on a necklace,
Strung so close together
We always make one another cry."

And another that feels like the perfect description of lifelong friends who are beginning to develop their own interests:

"Mireya and I have been in school
Together since first grade,
Two chicks cooped up in the same pen,
Pecking at each other,
Sometimes a little too hard."

Many books in the "mothers with cancer" genre don't focus on the financial aspects of treatment. For Lupita's family, the repercussions are harsh and unending. My heart felt for the children as they begged food from family and friends. I need to have this book on my shelf for students who need the reassurance that others have made it through similar circumstances.

Under the Mesquite was worth the wait...check it out!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Not That Kind of Girl

Siobhan Vivian's Not That Kind of Girl is better than its typical teen romance cover would have you believe. Behind the kissing couple you will find a sharp and thoughtful look at sexual politics in high school.

Our protagonist is Natalie Sterling, overachiever and student council president, who hides her insecurity around boys behind a mask of toughness and indifference. Natalie considers it her duty to warn freshman about the ease and dangers of earning a bad reputation, but the current freshmen, including a lively former babysitting charge, don't seem interested in her advice.

Siobhan Vivian's feminism is on display and is a welcome addition to the YA field. She dives headfirst into the judgments that girls make about each other and the hypocrisy of the idea of the "good girl". The judging isn't only done by the students; student council adviser Ms. Bee has her own expectations of how girls should act and is blatant in her disapproval of almost everyone's choices. I saw shades of Irene Stark, the teacher from Lois Duncan's Daughters of Eve in Ms. Bee.

Natalie is desperate to be seen as mature and responsible, to the detriment of her relationship with her peers. In reality, she is a normal teenager and has a hard time reconciling her feelings for Connor, a cute football player who doesn't plan to go to college. Readers may find Natalie to be a prickly character at first. When she says things like, "I cared so much about these girls. And if I could help save them, or anyone else at school, from making a huge mistake, I gladly would," I can see why she comes off as superior to her classmates. Over the course of the novel, her awkwardness grows on the reader, and while she is no Frankie Landau-Banks, I can see Natalie going places.

The discussions of sex are frank, yet realistic, so let the reader be prepared. I loved Siobhan Vivian's message of self-acceptance, but more importantly, of accepting other girls and not judging them for being themselves. I look forward to reading more of her books, especially the recently released The List.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Can't Keep My Own Secrets

Everyone reading this is probably familiar with six-words memoirs, made famous by Ernest Hemingway with the immortal, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Smith Magazine has challenged teens to write their own
six-word memoirs, and their responses are beautiful, heartbreaking, funny, and ridiculous, just like teenagers. I Can't Keep My Own Secrets is a quick read, yet many of the lines will continue to resonate after readers have put it down.

While there are plenty of lighthearted memoirs, the provocative ones are the heart of the book. In six words, these teens manage to express volumes. Some examples that touched me:
"I can't look at babies anymore." - Evie S.
"I walked on eggshells; they cracked." - Katie N.
"The exits were entrances in disguise." - Shannon B.
"In the nest, twigs are sharp." - Justin M.

and my personal favorite, "I traded my bricks for straw." - Laney F.

As a teacher, I am excited by the ways this book could be incorporated into my own classroom, from having my students write their own memoirs, writing them for characters we are reading about, and even just decorating the bathroom stalls with the inspiring words of talented teenagers.
Check out the book trailer and then pick up I Can't Keep My Own Secrets.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Lisa Schroeder's I Heart You, You Haunt Me is exactly why I need to have a 'novels in verse' section in my classroom library. I have a list of girls who don't consider themselves readers that would flip for this book, then eagerly devour everything similar on the shelf. There are so many appealing aspects of this book--the romance, the great cover, the supernatural, the easy writing style--that I can confidently say it is a book that will create readers.

At fifteen, Ava's boyfriend Jackson has died and she feels responsible for his death. Mourning in her home, she begins to feel cold air and see flashes of Jackson in the mirror. Finally, Ava feels alive again and delights in spending time alone and dreaming of her love. Everyone else is concerned about her and tries to get her to see that maybe her self-imposed isolation is no life at all.

While this could be the book for some of my students, I didn't adore it completely. I found it highly readable (and read it in about an hour) and will enjoy recommending it, but it doesn't stand up to the best novels in verse that I have explored lately (I know, "Shut up about Sonya Sones, Miss K!") The sticky part for me was the unhealthy feeling of Ava and Jackson's relationship. The only was he can express displeasure is by trashing her room and slamming doors, usually to make her feel guilty for leaving the house. It felt emotionally abusive and wasn't addressed as much as I would have liked. I also wanted more character development; as I closed the novel, I felt like I really didn't know any of them.

Despite these complaints, I enjoyed I Heart You, You Haunt Me, and am glad that I ordered all of Lisa Schroeder's other novels in verse from my library.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Play Ball

I'm always looking to add sports books to my collection, but the challenge is that I don't always like reading them. There are many sports I don't enjoy, and I would rather be playing the ones that I do. I want to read all the books that I recommend to students, so the sports readers in my class end up with a slim selection. I feel fortunate to have found Play Ball, Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir's newly released graphic novel about a girl who joins her school's baseball team. This is a book which I read eagerly, and that I know my students will love.

After her parents' divorce, Dashiell moves to a new house, along with her mother and her fashionable sister, Arica. A change which excites Dash is that her new school has a baseball team that she is dying to join. Unfortunately, the only person who supports her dream is her mother. Arica fears social suicide, the coach and players claim that it's against the rules for a girl to join the team, the softball team is offended that she won't play for them, and her father won't even return her calls.

Dash is an extremely likable heroine. Although she protests the school's policies about gender and sports, it won't be too radical for young readers; she really just wants to play the game she loves. Dash's talent is undeniable, yet she is relatable. She hides her disappointment behind a mask, lashes out at her mother when she is really angry at her father, and has conflicts with her sister. There are many different aspects to the drama in Play Ball, but the authors are able to resolve them in a satisfying way.

While I would have preferred for the illustrations to be in color, I enjoyed Jackie Lewis' art. Her drawings of the baseball games kept me interested in a part of the book that I might have skimmed if it wasn't a graphic novel. Even better, Dash looks like a normal girl, freckled and unconcerned about anything but the game. Male readers won't be alienated by her character, rather, they will wish that they had a best friend like her.

Play Ball is a key addition to the sports section of my library, a book that bridges interests and will appeal to all readers.