Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Dark Water

Dark Water
Laura McNeal
2010; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-84973-2 (hardcover)

Summary: Life in the southern California town of Fallbrook should be like living in a paradise.  But for Pearl, it's not so great.  Her parents have recently divorced, and Pearl and her mother live in the ramshackle guest house on her uncle's avocado ranch.  She's growing distant from her best friend, while her friend and cousin Robby is distancing himself from her.  Then she meets Amiel, a migrant worker who doesn't talk but juggles and mimes to express himself.  He captures Pearl's attention, making her chase him even as he tries to keep her at arms' length.  When a wildfire sweeps through Fallbrook, Pearl will choose Amiel over safety--with devastating consequences. 

This National Book Award finalist showcases the development of one young woman.  Pearl is confused and uncertain due to the changes in her life.  Falling for Amiel leads Pearl to bad decisions, as she does anything to attract his attention.  Laura McNeal presents in a sympathetic manner a young woman grappling with her life and making choices that others wouldn't make.  Other characters like Pearl's mother, her uncle, and Amiel are equally well-drawn in this thoughtful novel.  With its sense of foreboding, Dark Water keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
2010; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-86659-3 (hardcover)

Summary: It all starts with a red notebook.  Lily leaves it at the Strand, the famous New York bookstore.  Dash finds it by the Salinger novels and follows its instructions.  Over the holiday period from just before Christmas to just after New Year's, Dash and Lily will have a friendship built on their notes to each other in the notebook.  As they exchange it back and forth, they will have a series of adventures.  Whether it's creating a Muppet, visiting Madame Tussaud's, or getting locked in at the Strand, Dash and Lily will discover new things about themselves as well as each other.

If a novel could be hot chocolate, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares is hot chocolate.  It's a sweet treat that you enjoy, thanks to the talents of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Quirky, affectionate Lily and intelligent, reserved Dash are memorable main characters, each having their opportunities to tell the story.  Other characters, like Dash's puppy of a friend Boomer and Lily's Great-Aunt Ida, known as Mrs. Basil E., add extra fun to the story.  Readers who are not ready for the mature themes in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Cohn and Levithan's first novel together, will embrace Dash & Lily's Book of Dares.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Yummy

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
G. Neri; illustrations by Randy DuBurke
2010; Lee & Low Books; ISBN 978-1-58430-267-4 (paperback)

Summary:  Victim, villain, or both?  That's the question in 1994 as an eleven-year-old killer draws attention to Chicago's gang problem.  Nicknamed Yummy due to his love for candy, Robert Sandifer accidentally shoots a teenager in his Southside neighborhood.  The shooting exposes to the world at large many problems: gang warfare, broken homes and neglect, and children killing children.  In hiding after the shooting, Yummy just wants to go home to his grandmother.  But as the gang tires of protecting him, they know they can't let him go home.  Instead, they kill him.  Through the eyes of Roger, a classmate of Yummy's, a senseless story is told. 

With authentic language and stark black and white illustrations, the early 1990s are dramatically captured in Yummy.  The Roseland neighborhood, where stores close at 4pm to allow owners to get home before dark, is a tough, dangerous one.  The gangs and crime turn neighbors into strangers, removing a resource for when the government safety net fails.  Yummy is bounced in the system, never receiving from social workers or his grandmother what he gets from being a member of the Black Disciples.  The questions asked in Yummy are difficult to answer, giving readers an opportunity to consider ethics, morals and choices.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Virgin Territory

Virgin Territory
James Lecesne
2010; Egmont; ISBN 978-1-60684-081-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Dylan is an unhappy transplant to Jupiter, Florida.  Never mind that it happened almost ten years ago: he's still upset that his father moved them away from New York City.  It was supposed to be a fresh start after the death of Dylan's mother.  Instead, Dylan is drifting, working at a golf course and isolated from others.  Then, a sighting of the Virgin Mary at the golf course changes Dylan's life.  He meets a girl named Angela, he makes new friends, and he reconnects with his father.  Is it because of the Virgin Mary, God, or another powerful being?  Or maybe it's just Dylan figuring things out . . .

With its cast of likable characters, Virgin Territory looks at the intersection of faith and life.  Mary followers, who travel all over the country to sighting locations, arrive in Jupiter and create upheaval in the small town.  Thanks to his new friends, Dylan slowly begins to recover from his mother's death, which occurred the day before the 9/11 attacks.  This recovery also allows Dylan to start repairing his relationship with his father.  Pair Virgin Territory with The Patron Saint of Butterflies for two examinations of spirituality in modern life. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Dark Song

Dark Song
Gail Giles
2010; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-06886-4 (hardcover)

Summary: Ames has a great life.  Her dad is rich and gives her anything she wants.  She has an adorable little sister and a great best friend.  The only fly in the ointment is her rocky relationship with her mom.  That's what keeps Ames' life from being some disgustingly sweet story.  But then, Ames' near-fairy tale life becomes a horror story.  Her father is fired, losing all their money.  Before she knows it, Ames is with her family in Texas, cleaning an old drug house to live in.  She's angry and resentful, and the only person who seems to understand is Marc.  Dark, obsessive Marc, who offers to kill her parents so it can be just the two of them.  Ames faces a choice: what will she decide?

Inspired by media coverage about girls helping their boyfriends murder her parents, this new novel from Gail Giles is a timely one.  As high-flyers come back to Earth thanks to the recession, teens who have been given everything have to learn to adjust.  In Ames's family, the good times hid the fact that none of them--except perhaps Ames's little sister--have the coping skills to face hardship without being destructive towards those they love.  As Ames slowly learns those skills to deal with this new life, she becomes isolated from her friends and family by Marc.  It's only when he suggest killing her parents that Ames receives the wake-up call she needs.  Giles's fans will cheer for Dark Song.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Bruiser

Neal Shusterman
2010; HarperTeen; ISBN 978-0-06-113408-1 (hardcover)

Summary:  Tennyson doesn't like it when his twin sister Bronte starts dating Brewster Rawlins.  Better known as the Bruiser, Brewster is a large, hulking boy who keeps to himself.  But Bronte senses something special in Brew, who likes poetry and looks out for his litle brother, Cody.  As Tennyson gets to know Brewster, he starts to understand him.  But as Bronte and Tennyson learn about Brew's strange gift, it not only changes them--it changes Brew.

This accomplished novel adds a dash of the paranormal to a tale of friendship.  Not just a novel in multiple voices, with Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster and Cody each sharing narration duties, but there are shifts in style as well.  Brewster's sections are in poetry, while Cody's captures a young boy's thoughts and feelings.  Tennyson and Bronte are equally well-drawn.  Shusterman shows his talent not just for the unusual, but for the everyday aspects of life.  Bruiser urges readers to look beneath the surface and consider their actions in a compelling story of friends and family.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review: A Small Free Kiss in the Dark

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark
Glenda Millard
2010; Holiday House; ISBN 978-0-8234-2264-7 (hardcover)

Summary:  Twelve-year-old Skip escapes from years of abuse in his foster homes and takes to the streets.  Billy, a homeless man that Skip is friends with, becomes his unofficial father figure, and the two of them watch out for each other.  Their cozy yet uncertain life is thrown into turmoil when a war begins, with bombings in the city they live in.  They struggle to survive, taking in a young boy named Max that they find in the local library.  Eventually, they find a home in an abandoned amusement park, trying to stay away from soldiers who are nearby.  Their family is increased by Tia, a teenage ballerina with a baby they name Sixpence.  But as soldiers approach them, Skip must gather his family together to escape to safety.

An insightful novel with beautiful language, this import from Australia views the destruction of war through a young teen's eyes.  Skip, with his eye for details, notices the light and shadow, color and texture of everything he sees.  In his attempts to find beauty, though, he sees much ugliness, whether it's the bombed-out buildings, the callous actions of survivors, or the cruelty of the soldiers.  He may not understand what he sees, but he attempts to figure them out without losing hold of his new-found family or the hope of art.  In his simple, straightforward manner, Skip draws comparisons to characters like Jonas from The Giver.   A quiet, thoughtful novel, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark offers a hopeful take on surviving disaster.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Review: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June
Robin Benway
2010; Razorbill (Penguin); ISBN 978-1-59514-286-3

Summary:  The worst things for sisters April, May and June to deal with are their names and their parents' recent divorce.  Then they each discover that they have superpowers.  April can see the future, May can become invisible, and June can read minds.  It's hard enough dealing with normal teenage life, like crushes, friends, and family--now the sisters have to figure out their new abilities.  At first, these talents bring out the worst in each girl.  But when April sees a horrible vision, May wants to run away, and June gets into big trouble, the sisters will find out that their powers, like their lives, work best when they work together.

Creating a delightful novel in three voices, Robin Benway has penned an intriguing followup to Audrey, Wait!  Each sister's personality is distinct and clear, from April's bossy good-girl attitude, May's sarcastic and guarded wisecracks, and June's bubbly little-sister voice.  The story hums along, with the sisters learning not just how to use their newfound talents but also adjusting to their parents' divorce.  Most interesting of all is the feel that April, May and June are learning how to be friends and sisters, moving beyond their childhood squabbles and becoming adults.  The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June is an inspiring look at sisterhood and its magic.