Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Cashay

Margaret McMullan
2009; Houghton Mifflin; ISBN 978-0-547-07656-0 (hardcover)

Summary: Cashay and Sashay might live in the projects, but they're not going to be like their mother, a drug addict, or like other girls who get pregnant. But when Sashay is shot and killed, Cashay's anger starts to overwhelm her. Why can't she have what she wants? How can she go on without Sashay? But thanks in part to her mentor Allison, Cashay willd iscover how she'll be able to escape the projects.

Three Things to Know about Cashay

#1: How do you adapt when your life changes?

Cashay is an insightful look at one girl dealing with taking control of her life. The death of Sashay derails Cashay's original plan, of taking care of her sister and staying together. Even though this plan held Cashay back, it allowed her to make sure both of them were safe and able to succeed. But with Sashay's death, Cashay is alone--and left to formulate a new plan. It's a difficult transition, but Cashay will slowly create a set of goals.

#2: There is a need for mentors.

Teens need parents and teachers that care and support them. Equally important is the presence of adults that don't fall into either of these two categories: adults that can help teens by serving as mentors and role models. Cashay is helped as she creates her new life by Allison. Described as a skinny white woman, Allison volunteers at an afterschool program where she is paired with Cashay. Allison opens Cashay to a whole new world, where women can act like men, staking lots of money on a reading f the stock market. Through Allison's influence, Cashay starts to create a plan for herself and herself alone.

#3: We can't always save the ones we love.

The death of Sashay doesn't just hurt Cashay. Their mother, who had been clean for three years, gets hooked again, letting her drug dealer move into their apartment. She loses her job and isn't able to help Cashay deal with her grief. And Cashay tries to help her mother, but she's not able to get through to her. Making it even worse, Cashay's mother gets pregnant and gives birth to a drug-addicted baby. If Cashay hadn't had the influence of Allison in her life, she might have put her dreams aside to help her mother. But Cashay has seen that sometimes you have to let someone save themselves. Cashay's mother gives the baby away and is sent to rehab, to start the slow process of getting clean for good. And that's a journey that Cashay can't help with, beyond giving her mother support.

With a lot to say, Cashay is an eye-opening novel about coming of age. With an authentic voice that doesn't fall into cliches, Cashay's hopes and fears come through vividly. In stop sand starts, Cashay is able to lay the groundwork for her future. That happens with the help of Allison as well as Cashay's aunt and teacher. Plus, the inner-city setting shows that there's more than hopelessness in the projects--there's also community and dreams. Cashay will appeal to readers who have enjoyed Coe Booth or Walter Dean Myers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: It's Not You, It's Me

It's Not You, It's Me
Kerry Cohen Hoffman
2009; Delacorte (Random House); ISBN 978-0-385-73696-1

Summary: When her boyfriend Henry breaks up with her, Zoe is devastated. She had organized her whole life around him and now he doesn't want her? She just can't handle not having Henry in her life--she has to get him back. Over the next thirty days, Zoe's going to try a lot of things to get Henry to come back to her. And during that month, Zoe will maybe discover that it's not Henry that will make her whole.

Kerry Cohen Hoffman explores the ending of a first relationship, showing what happens when a girl hears "It's not you, it's me." Zoe's pain, the heartbreak that makes her temporarily crazy, is vividly presented. Her impulsive, goal-oriented personality makes her throw herself into this new project of getting Henry to come back to her. While her friends, her parents, and a teacher all try to help her by encouraging her to move on, Zoe doesn't listen--she can't until she's gone way too far. Only then is she able to start putting her life back together and learns that you can't be true to anyone if you're not true to yourself first. A fast read with a positive message, It's Not You, It's Me will be picked up by anyone who likes books about relationships.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Going Bovine

Going Bovine
Libba Bray
2009; Delacorte (Random House); ISBN 978-0-385-73397-7 (hardcover)

Summary: Cameron doesn't want or expect much out of his life. He drifts through school and gets high with his stoner friends. He goes to work and to the local music shop. His family isn't close and he has a crush on a popular girl. But then, Cameron is told he's going to die, because he has the human form of mad cow disease. Now, he is full of questions: how can he die when he hasn't really lived? Is all the wisdom of the world to be found in the movie Star Fighter? And just what is real? Cameron sets off on a journey to discover the answers to these questions--and maybe find a cure for what's killing him.

Two Things to Know about Going Bovine

#1: We are all oddballs.

During his journey, Cameron meets a variety of people. There's Dulcie, the punk angel who starts Cameron on his quest. There's Gonzo, the hypochondriac dwarf who breaks out of the hospital with Cameron. There's teens who value happiness over anything else, physicists attempting to travel to alternative universes, and a blind jazz trumpeter. And there's also Balder, a yard gnome who's immortal. These unusual characters reflect that all of us have a part of ourselves that's a bit out of step with others. Cameron himself is a huge fan of a Portuguese ukulele player known as the Great Tremolo. It's not something he can share with just anyone, because it's a risk--but when Cameron does take that risk, he learns something about not just the other person, but himself as well.

#2: Reality is what you make of it.

Cameron's road trip is slowly unraveled as being in his head, a hallucination caused by the disease destroying his mind. Yet this doesn't mean it's not real. The experiences that Camera has are those that we all strive to gain: times with friends, falling in love, exploring new places. Without the time to do these things, Cameron's mind creates a way for him to do all these things and more, all the while his brain and body is weakening. In such a situation as Cameron's, would anyone deny the reality that he creates for himself?

A novel that is more than it appears to be, Going Bovine shows that life is full of adventures that must be lived. As the situations Cameron finds himself in grow increasingly absurd, the story is grounded by Cameron's honest attempt to fulfill his quest. Libba Bray knows when to add more humor or to pull back and create a tender or moving moment. Worlds different from Bray's previous works, pass this novel to road trip fans who have read An Abundance of Katherines. Or pair Going Bovine with I Am the Cheese for an insightful book discussion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Prophecy of the Sisters

Prophecy of the Sisters
Michelle Zink
2009; Little Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-02742-7 (hardcover)

Summary: The death of her father creates a change in Lia. A strange raised design begins appearing on her wrist, and her dreams are now even more full of flying to strange worlds. As Lia begins to understand what is happening to her, she discovers that she's not in this alone: her twin sister Alice is part of the prophecy that is affecting Lia. But to her shock, Lia will not play the role in the prophecy that she expected. Will it be possible for Lia to overcome her destiny?

A blending of fantasy and suspense with a dash of historical fiction, Prophecy of the Sisters is an engaging novel. As Lia slowly learns about the prophecy, the reader is drawn into the mystery. The struggle that Lia faces, complicated by Alice's actions, creates the tension in the story. Lia must find a solution to this struggle, as she worries about her younger brother and tries to preserve her romance with a local young man. But as Alice shows her hand, Lia must make a choice--one that seems to promise a sequel. With Gothic touches but a modern sensibility, Prophecy of the Sisters would be a hit with readers of the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Review: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Phillip Hoose
2009; Farrar Straus Giroux; ISBN 978-0-374-31322-7 (hardover)

Summary: Rosa Parks wasn't the first African-American to resist the bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. In fact, before Rosa there was Claudette: a smart teenager, a junior in high school who didn't feel ashamed of her race. She chose not to give up her seat to a white woman. And even after she was arrested and called names, pointed out and shunned, Claudette was determined to see segregation end. She was so determined that she'd try again to stand up for all African-Americans, by testifying in court against segregation.

Highlighting a little-known figure in the struggle for civil rights, Phillip Hoose's book draws upon interviews with Claudette Colvin to bring her story to life. In clear prose, readers learn about the background of Claudette and about the segregated buses, the events of March 2, 1955 and everything that followed from Claudette's defiance. Peppered with photos, newspapers and memorabilia, all the risks of opposing segregation are vividly portrayed, along with the courage it took to face those risks. A compelling read for students who might think they know it all about this period of history.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Review: Pure

Terra Elan McVoy
2009; Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster); 978-1-4169-7872-5 (hardcover)

Summary: They're very special, the rings that Tabitha, her best friend Morgan, and their three friends wear. The ring represents the promise made by each girl to herself, to her friends, and to God. Because true love waits. Bu when Cara decides not to wait, it splits the friends apart. Cara's best friend Naeomi turns her back on Cara, while Morgan shuns Cara. Priah follows Morgan's lead, and Tabitha is stuck in the middle. Tabitha doesn't know what to think. Should she ignore Cara for breaking her promise? Or is Morgan being too harsh in ostracizing their friend? Tabitha will have to find the right answer for herself, because with a new boyfriend, friend drama, and problems with her parents, she's got a lot of opinions on just what purity means. And as she figures out what that word means to her, Tabitha will discover more about her faith and herself.

Two Things to Know About Pure

#1: No two teens live the same life.

With all the press about racy young adult literature, it was refreshing to read a novel that had a kind of normalcy about it. Even if it's not a life lived by many teens, the more mainstream lifestyle of Pure does exist. Every teen does not comes from a broken home and lack a support system. By exploring a world with school, after-school activities, church, family time, and talking with friends, the reader gets to see what happens when this structured, black and white world is exposed to shades of gray. Some characters would rather stay in the black and white world; Tabitha, on the other hand, can't help seeing the gray. Writing about this dichotomy, Terra Elan McVoy not only creates a compelling story but provides a bit of balance to the world of YA literature.

#2: Teens question many things.

The events that create a wedge between Tabitha's friends opens her to a greater exploration of her faith. Tabitha is already unique, as her parents are not religious. While they first encouraged her to explore religion, they have become uninterested and even a bit disdainful of religion. While Tabitha has maintained and grown her faith, this doesn't mean she's able to know whether Cara's actions are wrong or right. It's confusing for Tabitha as she realizes that there are no clear answers. Her spiritual search isn't just about her friends, either. As she starts dating Jake, Tabitha discovers the power of chemistry and hormones, and all the temptations there are when you love someone. But through it all, Tabitha wants to live up to all the ideals of her faith--to be both compassionate and pure.

A novel that grounds questions about teen sexuality in religious beliefs could easily have become preachy or didactic. It is a great compliment to McVoy that Pure is neither of these things. Instead, it is a thought-provoking novel with a mix of personalities, each character espousing a different interpretation of the beliefs of what appears to be evangelical Christianity. It would have been easy to show Tabitha losing her faith over the course of the novel; instead, we see how strong faith can be, and the amount of comfort that Tabitha draws from it. Finding a novel that is both spiritual and well-written is a difficult task; happily this novel helps to fill that niche. For teens who are looking for novels about abstinence and want something more serious than Kristen Tracy's Lost It, recommend Pure.