30 December 2008

Craptastic ending!

Lowery, Lois. (1993). The Giver. New York: Bantam Books. 192 pages.

Jonah is growing up in a world where there is no war, no poverty, and everyone lives happy, simple, "beige" lives. Meh. All sexual urges and stirrings are cut off by medication as soon as they start in adolescence and marriages and children are prearranged. All for the greater good. Even your future career is chosen for you and at the age of twelve you begin your apprenticeship. This is where Jonah's neat, tidy package of a life starts to unravel. Skipped over in the ceremony naming the internships, Jonah is brought up on stage and named the new Receiver of Memory. This prudent society, with it's Elders and their rules, has deemed it appropriate to store all the memories of the society BEFORE the order was imposed in the mind of one person. One person knows the ups and downs of emotions, the joy of music and the pain of physical injury. Jonah will stop taking his medication restricting his basic urges and begin the process of taking the memories from The Giver.

I will freely admit to being sucked into the seeming utopia that Lowery creates. Everything is laid out for you in a very orderly, calm fashion, lulling you; like world she is creating. Soon, though it's hard to pinpoint exactly when, the feeling starts to creep to the forefront of your mind that something just not quite right. That feeling continues to grow and grow as you read. Unfortunately it is quickly squashed by a real pisser of an ending. IMO. I think they die. I don't think it sounds like anything else. To think they live doesn't really fit with the tone of the rest of the story. Someone told me that Jonah makes an appearance in the sequel to the book, Gathering Blue. I'm not sure I'm going to read the next two books in the series though.

This would be a great book for junior high. They (probably) have not read 1984 or Brave New World and may not have experienced a dystopian novel yet. The discussions you could have about the society portrayed in the book and it's "right or wrongness" would be a great classroom discussion. I'd book talk it in that way, advertising the "unbelievableness" of the society in the story and as an introduction to dystopia.

06 December 2008

Dead Girl Walking

Hurley, Tonya. (2008). ghostgirl. New York: Little, Brown and Company. 328 pages.

Charlotte Usher has a mission. It's the first day of school and she has worked all summer to change her outward appearance to be more like that of the "popular" girls and get the guy. She's registered for all the same classes, signed up for cheerleader tryouts, and as fate would have it ended up being his Physics partner for the year. Until she chokes on a GummyBear and dies that is.

Enter "Dead School" where you learn about being dead. Housed, conveniently, in the old, condemned wing of the same high school. A fact that you don't actually learn until towards the end of the book. You also don't learn exactly what it is that this group of dead high school kids has to do to pass over to the other side until the end. It's alluded to and somewhat explained, but not really. I did a lot of "reading on faith" with this book, in that I just kept reading with all the questions forming hoping that they'd be explained eventually. Could it be that too much had to be chopped on the editor's block? Not convinced.

So this whole book had me wondering, "When am I finally going to start liking this main character?" I have to say I never really did. I was very ambivalent about her. She was very shallow and ignorant of the feelings of anyone else other than her own. Maybe she was supposed to be? I'm not convinced. The secondary character, Scarlett the little, goth girl sister of the head cheerleader, was much more likable.

This book is sure to piss off many a librarian with it's awkward size (9.3" x 5.2" x 1") and thrill most any tween with it's cut-out cover, cool goth end papers, and silver gilt edges (not real of course) . This book is all about image, both literally and figuratively. Which really doesn't surprise me when you take a look at who wrote it. Tonya Hurley is a publicist and a film maker, she also does all sorts of stuff with those Mary-Kate and Ashley people. I think the writing in the book definitely reflects that pop culture influence and focus. I worry that with so many period specific reference made (Brangelina, Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie) that the longevity of the book isn't going to last. Not that I'd be sad to see it go...

I don't know if I'd booktalk this one. I'd definitely recommend it to the right kid who was into this genre, it's definitely a wanna-be spooky (think all the books about vampires, zombies and the like that are hot right now) girlie book. Junior high all the way.

05 December 2008

Just You and Me Punk Rock Girl

Cohn, Rachel and Levithan, David. (2008). Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Nick is a straight guy who plays the bass in a queer hardcore punk band. Norah is the daughter of a very rich music agent. Both are "straight edge" (they don't drink or do drugs) and have a passion for music that turns a random five minutes into one of the most interesting nights either has ever had. In a whirlwind of broken relationships and broken hearts, true friendships and the quest for the perfect punk rock experience Nick and Norah discover a lot about themselves and each other. Mosh pits, swearing, cross dressers, and a Yugo; I can't think of a better night to be had. The "realness" of the story is helped by the alternating chapters told from Nick and Norah's point of view, David Levithan writing as Nick and Rachel Cohn writing as Norah. Sometimes books by two authors can feel choppy and disjointed, Cohn and Levithan did a fantastic job at avoiding that. Each author stayed true (and more importantly consistent) to their characters voice.

*sigh* Of the gazillions of teen romance books out there this is my favorite so far. A far superior alternative to the catty Gossip Girl books. "Would you mind being my girlfriend for five minutes?" is one of the best lines I've heard in a while. There really wasn't much I didn't like about the book. From reading some other reviews I found out that apparently there are some Manhattan "inside" jokes that those of us who don't live there won't get. The fact that I didn't notice that or it didn't distract me from the story makes me think it's a non-issue.

Someone on the yalsa-bk listserv is collecting ideas for a "Romance for Guys" book list. I would put this book on there in a heartbeat (along with David Levithan's other book Boy Meets Boy). You could book talk it through this angle or through the music theme or even for the novelty of taking place all in one night (an aspect that I REALLY enjoyed).

(oh, the title is taken from the lyrics of a song that pretty much epitomizes my high school years, guess the artist and you'll have my undying love and respect.)

02 December 2008

Out of the frying pan...

Katcher, Brian. (2008). Playing with Matches. New York: Delacorte Books for Young Readers. 304 pages.

Leon has been ruthlessly picked on and ignored since junior high. Now that he's seventeen and a junior in high school he's more or less used to being ignored except for his small group of friends. Always having his nose in a book, Leon plays Dungeon & Dragons, watches Monty Python and is generally considered a "geek" (I can relate to Leon however as I did and still enjoy many of the same things). He's beginning to lose hope that he'll ever get a date, never mind a girlfriend, until he starts talking to Melody. Shunned by all since she started school Melody has severe disfigurement and scarring on her face from an accident when she was a child. Leon begins to see the girl beneath the surface and likes what he sees. Unfortunately he also likes what he sees when he looks at Amy Green, the beautiful cheerleader he's drooled over for years.

This is a great book for guys (good for girls too, don't get me wrong). Leon has a great sense of humor and offers a realistic look into the mind of a teenage boy. True, you want to smack him upside the head when he makes the wrong decision but you know why he makes it and you can understand his reasoning. I can't think of a whole lot that I didn't like about this book. I'd booktalk the book, it has a universal appeal. Tough decisions to be made during a tough time. What happens when you make the wrong decision and then realize your mistake? Things don't always have a happy ending but they aren't all doom and gloom.

01 December 2008

Creepy teen book

Peck, Richard. (1977). Are you in the House Alone? New York: Viking Press. 160 pages.

Gail is a junior in high school and has a steady boyfriend who she is sexually active with. She was smart and proactive and went to Planned Parenthood to get birth control. Everything about Gail is pretty much average. Her looks, her grades, her friends; there is really no reason for anyone to pay much attention to her. Then she starts getting creepy phone calls at night while she's babysitting and receives an extremely violent and sexually explicit letter in her locker at school. Shaken, Gail finds herself with no where to turn and her best friend telling her to "forget it". Finally she makes an attempt at help by going to the guidance councilor at school. Just as she feared she isn't taken seriously. What makes this book both interesting and hard to take at the same time is the ending. Gail is attacked and raped while babysitting by her best friends very rich and boyfriend from a very affluent family. Her family are the only ones who believe her as the police take the side of the boy and his family. This is what irks me, NOTHING HAPPENS. It's implyed that the boy goes crazy and is committed but there are no charges pressed and there is no closure for Gail. She was a sexually active girl in her teens, it must have been her fault. She must have brought it upon herself. So infuriating!

Much along the lines of Judy Blume's Forever, Peck's Are you in the House Alone? is ground breaking for when it was written. Tackling the subject of teen sexuality in a frank and matter-of-fact manner, Peck chose to deal with the darker side and address the topic of rape in a time when women were still "asking for it" if they claimed they were raped. It amazes me that Peck chose to do this and risk incurring the wrath of the feminist movement of the time. I can see where they might have been offended at a man taking such liberties as to try and depict something a man could never experience. I'm just hypothesizing here, I could be totally off base. I think he did a fairly good job all in all.

It would be interesting to have students read this book now. The conversations that you could have with girls (and boys too!) on how this has changed, or not changed, since the book was written and how it makes them feel.