Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Girl Parts

Girl Parts
John M. Cusick
2010; Candlewick; ISBN 978-0-7636-4930-2

Summary: David and Charlie might be in the same class, but that's where their similarities end. David is the son of a rich computer mogul and the most popular guy in school; Charlie's dad is a professor and Charlie's called a freak. They're drawn together by Rose, who is no ordinary girl. She's actually a Companion, a robot bought by David's parents in order to treat David's dissociative disorder. Rose is designed to teach David how to take his time and relate to a girl--because if he goes faster than Rose's Intimacy Clock permits, she gives him an electric shock. When David realizes that there's a limit to how far he can go with Rose, he dumps her. Found by Charlie, Rose struggles with her heartbreak and discovers why she's not like any other Companion. But will her uniqueness save her, or make her too valuable to the corporation that created her?

A lighthearted yet sensitive take on the girl robot concept, Girl Parts is an enjoyable page-turner. Capturing the teen boy mindset from two different extremes, Cusick also manages to let Rose be more than a Stepford girl. Instead, she's a quirky, sweet girl who just happens to be a robot. Set in the near future yet inspired by today's concerns about Internet-obsessed and emotionally disconnected teens, Girl Parts is perfect for sci-fi fans who want something lighter than Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Smile

Raina Telgemeier
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-13205-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Raina is running to her front porch when the sixth-grader falls and knocks out her two front teeth. This accident starts several years of dental drama for Raina, including braces two separate times, headgear, a retainer with two fake teeth, and more. It's a lot of pain and discomfort, made worse by the friends who tease her all the time. Raina struggles to deal with being true to herself without losing her friends. By the time she reaches high school, something's got to give. When Raina finally has normal teeth again, she decides to make a fresh start.

A touching comic book memoir, Smile goes one better of the traditional story about getting braces. With gentle humor and a fine sense of middle school society, Telgemeier tells her story. The artwork is bright and cheerful, with a cartoon-like style that still feels very real. Best of all is how we see the young Raina slowly realize that her friends are not really her friends, and how she manages to assert herself. A must-read for any middle schooler, Smile is bound to be snapped up by fans of Telgemeier's earlier work: the graphic novel adaptations of The Baby-sitters Club.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Call for Contributors!

During the month of November, librarian by day is going wall-to-wall YA historical fiction. Why? To promote the release of my book, Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide!

Reviews and discussion of historical fiction titles and trends will be posted all month long. But I'd love some help, as well as getting other perspectives! If you'd like to write a post on historical fiction for librarian by day, or post at your own blog and have your article highlighted on librarian by day, please email me at dettiot at gmail dot com to discuss your intended subject. Don't have an idea, but want to write a post? Let me know and I can give you some ideas.

Please email me by Friday, September 17 if you're interested. More information about the process will come after your initial email.

Thank you, and I hope that everyone will look forward to the wealth of posts coming in November!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Rose Sees Red

Rose Sees Red
Cecil Castellucci
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-06079-0 (hardcover)

Summary: Rose has been especially depressed since she started at the New York High School for the Performing Arts. Everyone seems to be a better dancer than she is, and she can't find it in her to apply herself. Going to Arts ended her friendship with Daisy, and she's been too miserable to make new ones. Then, one night, Rose finds a new friend: Yrena, a Russian dancer who lives in the building next door. Yrena climbs into Rose's room from the fire escape, asking Rose to help her explore American society for a night. Rose is hesitant at first, but impulsively decides to go with Yrena. Together, the two girls will stay out all night, go to a party, and find that political differences fade away in the face of friendship. And in finding a friend, Rose finds herself.

Set in the early 1980s, Rose Sees Red is an intriguing look at friendship during a time of upheaval. Rose is a complex girl who auditions for the performing arts high school, but then has trouble once she arrives due to her depression. It's only when she takes a chance on friendship--offered by Yrena and by other students at Arts--that Rose is able to start climbing out of her depression. The political tension between the US and the USSR squaring off is contrasted by the easy friendship that develops between Rose and Yrena. New York in 1982 is vividly captured by Castellucci, showing that she is equally adept at the past as she is at contemporary Los Angeles. Hand Rose Sees Red to your arty patrons or to anyone who liked The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Accomplice

Eireann Corrigan
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-05236-8 (hardback)

Summary: Finn and Chloe have a plan, one that will help them get into elite colleges more than all the good grades and community service will. They will pretend that Chloe has vanished, creating a media frenzy around the disappearance of a pretty teenager. Then, Finn will rescue Chloe, creating a heartwarming story of friendship. But, as Chloe hides in the house belonging to Finn's absent grandmother, Finn slowly sees that what they're creating affects not just the two of them. The plan begins falling apart and Finn starts questioning what they're doing and her friendship with Chloe. Even though Chloe will return home safely, nothing will ever be the same.

A tense psychological drama, Accomplice derives much of its tension not from Chloe's disappearance, which the readers knows is all a sham. Instead, the conflict comes from Finn seeing the impact of this "victimless" crime--one that was supposed to make Chloe and Finn's lives better. Instead, their friendship will deteriorate as Finn grapples with her guilt and the reality of Chloe's true nature. Even the best friendships can have a toxic element, one that can poison the relationship unexpectedly. This tale of friendship and family will be welcomed by readers looking for a warts-and-all approach to life.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
Margi Preus
2010; Amulet Books; ISBN 978-0-8109-8981-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Manjiro and his companions are shipwrecked on a tiny, deserted island. They don't have much hope for rescue--because even if they are saved, they won't be able to return home to Japan due to their country's isolationist policies. But then, they are saved, by an American whaling ship. Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is very intrigued by these "barbarians", who have such a different approach to life than the Japanese. Slowly, he becomes part of the crew, even the adopted son of the captain. Manjiro, renamed John Mung, will be the first Japanese to visit America, will serve on other whaling vessels, and will discover many new opportunities. But will he ever be able to return to Japan and see his family?

Prejudice is a social ill that has plagued many societies. Often it's based on a fear of an unknown, like coming face-to-face with foreign devils or being the only Japanese boy in a New England town. Based on a true story, Heart of a Samurai is an engaging read for middle school readers. Manjiro's innate curiosity, which is seen as rude and unseemly by other Japanese, is seen as a positive trait by Captain Whitfield and other Americans. And it's through Manjiro's curiosity and intelligence that he's able to achieve so much. Pass this book to readers who have finished Laurence Yep's Golden Mountain Chronicles and are looking for more stories about Asians in America.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Review: The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton

The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton
Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
2010; Clarion Books; ISBN 978-0-547-23630-8 (hardcover)

Summary: How many writers have lives more exciting, more dramatic, than their books? Edith Wharton did. The child of influential parents, a pillar of Old New York society, Edith grew up in a world of propriety and luxury. Her love of reading and learning conflicted-it was thought-with doing what was proper. At first, Edith did the "right" things: honored her mother's wishes, married a well-bred young man, and acted as a society wife. But Edith's desire to write pulled her away from what society thought was best. Her mother thought a woman's name should appear in print only three times: when she was born, when she married, and when she died. But Edith's name would appear in print many times during her life, earning her respect, money, and prizes. She lived through a tumultuous, exciting time on her own terms.

Evoking a sense of Wharton's novels-of a woman struggling to be free of the cage of rules-The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is a compelling biography. Reflecting recent scholarship on Edith and her relationships with the circle of men she drew about her, Wooldridge explores how the guidance and support of these men shaped Edith. Born and raised during the excesses of the Gilded Age, Edith was able to use her intelligence to make a new life for herself once the rules of Old New York were swept away. Throughout the biography, Edith's personality shines through, from the quotes drawn from her own letters and writings to the photos of her beloved dogs and homes. The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton would be an excellent companion to any of Wharton's novels, whether assigned to teens or discovered on their own.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Review: Life, After

Life, After
Sarah Darer Littman
2010; Scholastic Press; ISBN 978-0-545-15144-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Years of economic instability has made life in Argentina difficult for Dani and her family. Dani worries about her family becoming homeless and her mother's long hours of work for nearly worthless pesos. Worst of all is her father, angry and bitter ever since the death of his sister in a terrorist bombing eight years earlier. Then, the family emigrates to suburban New York, assisted by Dani's uncle and Jewish charities. At first, Dani has a hard time adjusting: English is strange, her school is so big, and she wears the clothes that used to belong to the evil Jessica Nathanson. Slowly, Dani makes friends like cute Brian and intelligent Jon, gets the hang of English idioms, and even discovers she shares a pain with Jessica. Dani finds that her life After can be just as good as life Before.

Set in 2002-2003, Sarah Darer Littman's novel puts a new spin on the post-9/11 story. Revealed to be brother and sister, Jessica's still-raw pain and Jon's distant grief is contrasted with Dani's mourning of her aunt and unborn cousin. The discovery that Jon has Asperger's Syndrome adds an additional layer to the question of grieving that is one of the themes of Life, After. Dani's voice is true and honest, drawing the reader in. Whether it's fearing her father's anger, worrying over her boyfriend from Buenos Aires, or trying to maintain her Jewish faith, Dani's emotions come through. A group of likable characters dealing with unfair actions, Life, After will speak to any teen who's suffered a loss. For readers who want more about the transition to a new country, as well as loss and 9/11, look at Lost by Jacqueline Davies or Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Review: A Little Wanting Song

A Little Wanting Song
Cath Crowley
2010; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-86096-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Every summer, Charlie visits the country town where her grandparents live. She's shy--so shy that she can't bring herself to sing in front of anyone. But at least she has her music to comfort her as she deals with the the loss of her mother, seven years ago, and her grandmother's death last year. Rose lives next door to Charlie's grandfather and is the kind of girl Charlie wishes she could be: feisty, popular, and not afraid of anything. Rose has her own worries, though, like how to get out of this nowhere town even though it'd mean leaving her boyfriend behind. A science scholarship to a city school could be her ticket, but first she has to convince her parents to let her go. Maybe by being friendly with city-dweller Charlie, Rose will find an opportunity. A summer friendship will change both Rose and Charlie's lives.

This layered novel draws inspiration from the music Charlie loves, with various notes and themes combining to create a unique composition. An Australian import, this friendship tale is enriched by the character voices: Charlie is lyrical and metaphorical, while Rose is direct and no-nonsense. As the two girls become friends and begin to change, their voices change as well. Subplots about Charlie and her family's losses, Rose's relationship with her boyfriend, and Charlie falling for Rose's friend Dave add to the story's depth. Hand A Little Wanting Song to fans of introspective novels like This Lullaby.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Review: Bamboo People

Bamboo People
Mitali Perkins
2010; Charlesbridge; ISBN 978-1-58089-328-2 (hardcover)

Summary: Two teenage boys, on opposite sides of a conflict tearing apart Burma, find common ground. Chiko worries about taking care of his mother after his father is arrested for being a traitor to the government. Hoping to become a teacher, instead he is forced into the army and is sent on a mission against the rebel Karenni tribe. Injured by a mine, he is discovered by Tu Reh, a member of the Karenni. Full of hatred for the Burmese soldiers that burned his village, Tu Reh at first thinks he should let Chiko die in the jungle. But something makes Tu Reh bring Chiko to the refugee camp that he lives at. Both boys will find a new path for themselves--one that holds out hope for their country.

Told in the voices of Chiko and Tu Reh, their stories are symbolic of the violent conflict that is currently tearing apart the country of Burma. Each boy struggles internally with ethical and moral issues, slowly finding a way to resolve these dilemmas. By choosing the harder path, both Chiko and Tu Reh mature, each story serving as counterpoint for the other's. Full of heartfelt language that describes both the daily life and the hardships of the Burmese and Karenni people, Bamboo People offers a look at a little-known current event. For more about other Asian conflicts, look at The Clay Marble by Minfong Ho.