Monday, September 29, 2008

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles Halter is a high school junior who is tired of living his life under the radar. Fascinated by famous last words, Miles convinces his parents to enroll him in an elite boarding school in order to search for what Francois Rabelais called "The Great Perhaps" in his own final words.

Once at Culver Creek, he is invited into a close circle of friends by his roommate, Chip, a practical joker who insists on being called "the Colonel." He immediately falls for smart, sexy, and moody Alaska Young. She already has a boyfriend, but hooks Miles up with his first girlfriend.

When tragedy strikes, Miles and his friends must re-examine their lives and friendships as they try to find a way to move forward. Green uses the backdrop of a classroom assignment and a caring but crusty teacher to show how Miles and his friends come to terms with tragedy and each find closure.

The characters are well-realized and multi-dimensional. It is easy to care about them. Introspective readers will especially relate to Miles' emotional journey. Excellent novel, highly recommended for teen (and adult) readers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My lucky day!

After spending an exhausting and frustrating three hours working on a grant proposal with my teaching partner, I finally headed home, dragging a shitload of grading and planning stuff. And students complain about the amount of work we give them. If only they realized the amount of work it takes to plan and prepare, only to get (for the most part) a bunch of thrown-together, minimal-effort crap. Grrrrr...

Anyway, I shuffled inside like the hunchback of Notre Dame, lugging several bags and a pile of books. As I wrestled with the front door, my oh-so-incredibly-thoughtful husband pulled up bearing bags of his own--containing FOOD. Ah, bliss, no more decisions to make or drama to deal with.

Then, as I simultaneously inhaled my dinner and checked my email, I ran across an email from Highbridge Audio. I entered a drawing for a free audio copy of Ellen Hopkins' latest book, Identical, a few days ago and actually WON.

Who doesn't love it when things are free and easy?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

Book six in the Artemis Fowl series.

Artemis's mother is dying. When Artemis tries to use the last of his stolen magic to heal her, he only manages to make her condition worse. After summoning Holly to help, he discovers that his mother has a magical disease called spelltropy. The only known cure comes from the extinct African lemur. Artemis caused the death of the last one while trying to fund an expedition to save his father.

Artemis guilts Holly into traveling back in time with him to undo the damage and save that last lemur. They race against time (literally) to save the lemur before it is too late.

But even with the help of the demon warlock, No. 1, events might get too twisted to ever untangle. Not only does an old enemy reappear, but Artemis must also face a 10-year-old Artemis, who is ruthless enough to sabotage the entire mission.

I was disappointed that Artemis's love interest from the previous book never showed up. I also wanted to know more about the demons. Mulch Diggums is my favorite character and did not have as much fun as in previous books. While the book kept me entertained, the story became difficult to follow as it kept twisting in on itself. That pesky time paradox...

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins, mirror images of each other. They share a terrible secret.

Kaeleigh is the good girl--she does well in school and has a lead role in the school musical. Ian, her sort-of boyfriend, loves her deeply. Her father loves her too, but not the way a father should.

Raeanne knows about her father's visits to Kaeleigh's bed. While a part of her wants to protect Kaeleigh, another part of her feels jealous because her father didn't pick her. She breaks rules at every turn, skipping school, getting high, and having all kinds of sex.

The family was normal until the night of the accident, when their father, a judge, caused a fatal accident while driving drunk. Their mother responded by throwing herself into her political career and freezing out her family. Their parents are still married, but the marriage is in name only.

Their father, lonely and tortured by his own terrible secret, drinks to escape his demons. And he sexually abuses Kaeleigh.

I loved the format of the novel. The poems were beautifully written and the shapes, especially of the mirrored ones, made me slow down and savor the structure.

The treatment of Raeanne's drug use made me a bit uncomfortable, mostly because the negative aspects were downplayed. In Crank, which details a girl's downward spiral into addiction, her drug use is also graphic and descriptive, but the reader could clearly see the path of destruction.

I would have liked to have read more about Kaeleigh's relationship with her father and also about the events in his childhood that set him on the path of the abuser. Also, the twist at the end would have felt more authentic if it hadn't happened so close to the end of the book. I wanted to know more about what happened AFTER Kaeleigh faced the truth.

While this was not my favorite Hopkins novel, teen fans will not be able to put it down. It is chock full of issues and mature content. It's all in here--sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, cutting, mental illness, bad boys, and, like Pandora's box, a small taste of hope and love.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Brian is on his way to visit his father in Canada when the pilot of his small plane has a heart attack. Though Brian manages to gain control of the plane, it goes off course and he crashes into a lake. He survives the crash, but finds himself alone in the wilderness with only the clothes on his back and the hatchet his mother gave him.

As Brian struggles to survive on his own, he gradually gains the patience and skills he needs to keep himself alive.

A great survival story.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Picoult's specialty is the headline-inspired moral dilemma and this one is no exception.

Shay Bourne is on death row, awaiting execution for the murder of a young girl and her father. Miracles began to happen as soon as Shay arrives in the cell block--wine coming out of the faucets, changes in the health (both emotional and physical) of the other inmates, and a bird who is brought back to life. Some believe that Shay is a new messiah, especially after he decides to donate his heart to the 11-year-old sister of the little girl he killed.

Picoult explores religion, capital punishment, redemption, and mother/daughter relationships in her latest page turner.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On the Fringe by Donald R. Gallo (ed.)

Another home-run collection for young adults edited by Donald R. Gallo. Anyone who reads YA lit will recognize the phenomenal authors featured in this collection--M.E. Kerr, Chris Crutcher, Jack Gantos, and Joan Bauer, to name a few.

What I liked best about this collection is that it went beyond the stereotypical tales of puny geeks getting bullied by muscle-bound, light-on-brains jocks. Each story deals with unique individuals who feel like outsiders for a variety of reasons. My favorite stories: "Muzak for Prozac," about a boy who stays medicated in order to deal with his guilt at outing a lesbian classmate and "Guns for Geeks," a horrifying and heartbreaking story inspired by the Columbine tragedy about a boy who is just not going to take the bullying anymore. A painful read, but something that we all need to think about.

Another collection of short stories that I also recommend, edited by Gallo as well, is No Easy Answers.