Thursday, July 25, 2013

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

It feels like it would be impossible to write about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl without comparing it to The Fault in Our Stars, one of my favorite YA novels of all time. Both feature teens with cancer, are told from a humorous and sarcastic perspective, and make the reader's feelings run the entire range. I had the spectres of Augustus and Hazel on my shoulder as I read, but it didn't prevent me from enjoying Jesse Andrews' entertaining novel.

I was fortunate to spend much of high school hanging out with boys who made funny and disgusting jokes, obsessed over bizarre movies, and showed their sweetness in unexpected ways and moments. All of these descriptions apply to our narrator Greg and his best friend Earl. When Greg's mother forces him to hang out with Rachel, an acquaintance who was diagnosed with leukemia, the goofy movies that they make take on more meaning. The embarrassing films make Rachel happy and help Greg and Earl find more direction in their lives.

The plot meanders in a fun way, but the best part of the novel is Greg's voice. He is sarcastic and self-deprecating, with comments sprinkled through the book like, "This entire paragraph is a moron" and "I wanted to eat a power tool." The disgusting comments that the boys make are too graphic for my sixth graders, but older readers will eat it up, especially male reluctant readers. They had me cracking up and thinking of to which friend I should recommend this book first.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I was definitely freaked out by I Hunt Killers, so when my friend Amy wrote me, "OMG. Have you read the sequel?" I hopped on my kindle. Game, Barry Lyga's second novel in the series, was even better than the first.

The stakes are higher for Jasper Dent now that his father has escaped from jail and is on the loose in New York City. Now that their twisted relationship has been established and the reader is comfortable in Jasper's mind, the author has been set loose, too. The information on serial killers has been meticulously researched, and is used to keep the reader guessing. I love when I am fooled into a suspecting someone falsely, and Lyga pulls this off multiple times in Game.

This book is seriously creepy, and I'm not sure why I decided to read it the week that I am home alone. It had me double checking the locks before going to bed and freaking out when the wind slammed a door shut in my house. Bravo, Mr. Lyga.

A new addition is chapters from the perspective of Jasper's best friend, girlfriend (love that Connie), and father. It kept the story moving and gave me more insight into why people would get mixed up with someone who has so much baggage. I hope this continues into the next novel. Considering that Game was just released a month ago, it will be awhile before I find that out. Hurry up, time, and pass!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lessons From a Dead Girl

It was a hard adjustment to Lessons From a Dead Girl after reading Sarah Dessen's latest novel. There is nothing pastel-colored nor seaside about this outing from Jo Knowles, who said she was inspired to write it when she learned about abuse between children. They say that abusers hold power over their victims; what happens when the abuser is also the best friend?

Laine has always been the invisible one next to Leah Greene, wondering why she was chosen to be the best friend of this vibrant girl. The truth is devastating and will affect Laine for the rest of her life, long after Leah is gone. Knowles paints a world of isolation, where secrets are always simmering just below the surface and threaten to break out. They say that once something is said aloud, it is less painful. When Laine and Leah try, however, everything falls apart.

I was not as enchanted by Lessons From a Dead Girl as other books by Jo Knowles. I found the writing to be simplistic and the ending not to be as satisfying as I'd hoped. I guess this is good news for me as a fan of the author, as this is the oldest of her books that I've read. She keeps improving and I will keep reading.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Moon and More

Confession time: I always like the "bad guys" in books and movies. I wanted Winona Ryder to end up with Ben Stiller's character in Reality Bites. I thought Suzanne Collins assassinated the character of Gale in Mockingjay. So when I saw that the protagonist of Sarah Dessen's latest, The Moon and More, would be caught in a love triangle between her hometown love and a New Yorker visiting for the summer, I figured I would end up really liking Theo, the urban filmmaker, and then be disappointed by him in the end. Thankfully, Sarah Dessen is better than that and gave me characters and an ending which I did not see coming. 

I've written about Dessen's formula before, but it's successful and keeps me coming back for more. It's interesting to see her novels evolve as Dessen ages: parents play more of a role, there is more frequently a young child character, and the protagonist tends to resemble the author's Type A personality. I like these changes, as it rounds out the world of Colby, North Carolina, where all of her novels are set. It's always fun to get glimpses back into the lives of past characters, and Dessen is generous in building the world for her readers. 

As for The Moon and More, I liked it. I read it in one day and found myself telling loved ones, "I really like my book" when I occasionally came up for air. Emaline, the protagonist, is on the brink of many changes in her life as she ends a relationship, starts a new one, prepares to leave for college, and gets reacquainted with her long-absent father. That's a lot to handle in the course of two months, and a lot to tackle in a novel. Dessen is up to the task, showing how the mounting stress in Emaline's life affects her and those around her. I wanted Emaline to be a bit more joyful, but that isn't who the character is and I respect that. I look forward to checking in on Emaline in future novels, but continue to wish that the secondary characters were the focus, as they are usually more interesting! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Breadwinner and Mud City

It's a goal of mine to one day a teach a course with a world literature component. While I wish there was more YA lit about normal kids going about their daily lives in other countries (think E. Lockhart or John Green, but in Colombia), I think that the big issues tackled in world literature are important for adolescents. I'm still figuring out how the course should look; maybe students will have to read a book from each continent or they could focus on one area of the world and read about multiple countries. No matter what I end up doing, I know that I need to read a lot more books that are set in other countries so that I can make recommendations to my students.

The first novel in my new quest is The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. In my limited experience, Ellis seems to be the queen of YA world literature. I've already read The Heaven Shop, set in Malawi, and was impressed by how she took a challenging topic like the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and made it accessible to children. The Breadwinner is the first novel in a trilogy set in modern Afghanistan. Parvana is a young girl who has been forced out of school and inside her house because of the Taliban's rule of her country. When tragedy strikes her family, Parvana's only option is to pretend to be a boy and become the family's savior.

I learned a lot from this novel about the limitations placed on women under Taliban rule. As a sociology major, I took a lot of classes on women's issues, but that was before the Taliban became a focus. I was saddened that women have to be accompanied on the streets by a male, even if he is far younger. There's so much to discuss in The Breadwinner, apart from the plot, which is captivating.

I wanted to continue reading about Parvana, but couldn't track down the second book in the trilogy. The third novel, Mud City, shifts its focus to Shauzia, Parvana's friend who is single-minded in her desire to escape Afghanistan and live in France. To me, Shauzia's story is sadder than Parvana's. The desperation of Shauzia's life on the streets is something that Parvana never faced. Reading both novels would be a great opportunity for students to practice comparing character motivations and how the same external forces affect each one.

I finally joined Goodreads (my username is Miss Kelly) and was excited to see that many novels based on their setting. I'll be using that as a resource in my search for more world literature books.