Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: Five Flavors of Dumb

Five Flavors of Dumb
Antony John
2010; Dial (Penguin); ISBN 978-0-8037-3433-3 (hardcover)

Summary:  Being the manager of the hottest rock band at her school should be a good gig.  For eighteen-year-old Piper, though, managing Dumb is hard work.  First, there's her long-standing goal to be invisible.  Then there's the band members, whose unharmonious personalities could destroy the group.  Trickiest of all, Piper can't tell if Dumb is even any good--because she's deaf.  Agreeing to manage Dumb because of a challenge, Piper is going to get the band a paying gig, partly in hopes of restoring the college fund her parents raided to pay for her sister's cochlear implant.  She's really only in it for the money, but Piper will find that friends, family and music can't be given a price.

A great premise is enriched with an eye-opening look at deaf culture in Five Flavors of Dumb.  Piper is a gutsy, dynamic teen who slowly learns to come out of her bubble and learn about people.  It's not just the band members of which Piper gains a deeper understanding; she also sees her family in a different light.  For a family that has multiple ways of communicating but aren't really talking, Piper's newfound knowledge lets her break through some walls.  The ups and downs experienced by the band, along with Piper's voice, keeps the pages turning.  Both Piper and Dumb find success, but in unexpected ways.  Hand Five Flavors of Dumb to fans of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin or Born to Rock.

Other Reviews
There's a Book:
Abby (the Librarian):
Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
Ruta Sepetys
2011; Philomel; ISBN 978-0-399-25412-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Lina has her whole life ahead of her.  She has art classes, spending time with her cousin, and even a first date.  But then her homeland of Lithuania is invaded by the Soviet Union, and she becomes a criminal in the eyes of the Soviets.  Her father, a university official, is arrested, and the rest of Lina's family--her mother, her little brother Jonas, and Lina--are sent on a slow, horrific journey to Siberia.  They suffer horribly, facing starvation, sickness, and heartbreak.  Lina uses her art to keep her hopes up of seeing her father again, of surviving the camps, and reuniting her family in Lithuania.  But is art and hope enough to survive the brutal Siberian winter?

In sparse, moving prose, a little-known piece of history is examined in Between Shades of Gray.  After the Soviet invasion in 1941, thousands of Lithuanians--doctors, teachers, lawyers, librarians, anyone considered anti-revolutionary--were subjected to inhumane treatment and outright murder.  Ruta Sepetys vividly brings to life the people who did everything to resist the Soviets' attempts at destroying their spirits.  Lina slowly matures, learning to have compassion and hope in spite of her hardships.  Lina's mother, elegant and saintly, is an example to anyone facing mistreatment.  Other characters like Jonas and Andrius, Lina's friend and romantic interest, serve as other approaches to dealing with persecution.  Sepetys, the daugher of a Lithuanian who managed to escape the fate of Lina's family, crafts a story about people facing darkness with the light of hope.  Pair Between Shades of Gray with a novel of the Holocaust, like The Devil's Arithmetic, to begin a conversation about human suffering and endurance.

I was lucky enough to have Ruta be a speaker during my presentation at the 2010 YA Literature Symposium, and it was a great pleasure to read the novel that was based on the stories and research she shared during that presentation.  To find out more about this novel, visit the book's official website.

Other Reviews
Reading Rants:
Frenetic Reader:
Thirst for Fiction:
Wall Street Journal:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Fun: Links of Interest

A new feature here at librarian by day--Friday Fun as a way to kick off the weekend.  This week, have some links!

The Godmother of Chick Lit: read about Francine Pascal's return to Sweet Valley.

28 Vintage Book Club Mailers: who else did complex economics in order to get the most books for the money your parents gave you?

SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian: consider technology from a librarian's perspective, thanks to this article from The Atlantic.

On the Gender Divide in Children's Books: Sarah Pekkanen reflects on books and boys in a Washington Post article.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guest Post: Sarah Bean Thompson, Candidate for Printz 2013

Note from Melissa:  I met Sarah at ALA Midwinter this year, after hearing her name in librarian circles for quite a while.  I've become a big fan of her blog, so I'm happy to present this guest post from Sarah, who is running for the 2013 Printz Committee.

Hello to all you librarian by day readers! Thanks to Melissa for hosting me! My name is Sarah and I blog over at GreenBeanTeenQueen. I’m also on the ballot for the 2013 Printz Committee (yep, the same committee that Melissa just served on and awarded some very deserving books! I’m still jumping for joy over the honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz-loved that book!) I asked Melissa to help get my name out so hopefully I can get some votes and serve on the Printz Committee. It would be a librarian dream come true.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Fixing Delilah

Fixing Delilah
Sarah Ockler
2010; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-05209-2 (hardcover)

Summary: Delilah Hannaford has a workaholic mother, bad grades, and a nonboyfriend.  She feels lost and doesn't know how to find herself.  Then her mother uproots her for the summer, to return to the Vermont lake house that belonged to Delilah's grandmother.  Nana has just died, after eight years of estrangement from Delilah and her mother.  Along with Delilah's aunt Rachel, the three remaining Hannaford women need to clean up the lake house and plan Nana's funeral.  Over the summer, Delilah will make new friends, rediscover old relationships, and learn about the aunt she never knew.  Best of all, she will figure out just who she is.

Anyone with a complicated family will connect with the story in Fixing Delilah.  As the characters struggle with old secrets and new challenges, the reader follows along, wondering if these people will ever form a connection.  Delilah labors with her feelings about her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt Stephanie, who died before Delilah was born.  Slowly, she learns that the beauty of family is that there can be another chance to repair broken bridges.  The family drama is lightened by Delilah's romance with the charming, handsome boy next door.  The end of the summer sees Delilah making her peace with her family and her past, allowing her to focus on her future.  Pair Fixing Delilah with other family novels like The Sweetness of Salt by Cecelia Galante (read my review).

Other Reviews
A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy:
Persnickety Snark:
Ten Tantalizing Questions with Sarah Ockler at The Book Butterfly:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review: Between Sisters

Between Sisters
Adwoa Badoe
2010; Groundwood Books; ISBN 978-0-88899-996-2 (hardcover)

Summary:  The future looks bleak for sixteen-year-old Gloria.  She's failed thirteen out of fifteen final exams, so she can't graduate from secondary school, can't pursue her dream of being a Somebody.  Even worse, there's little money since her father lost his job, her mother is sick, and her older sister Effie is busy with school and friends.  Then, Gloria gets the opportunity to leave Accra and live in Kumasi with Christine, a doctor who needs help taking care of her son Sam.  In exchange for two years' of work, Christine will pay for Gloria to attend sewing school.  Gloria finds all kinds of exciting changes in her new life: there's plenty of money, time to be a singer in a band, her new friend Bea--even a first love.  Yet when Gloria is faced with accusations and questions, she learns that being like a family isn't the same as being family.

Set in mid-1990s Ghana, Between Sisters transports readers to this coastal African country.  Richly peppered with foreign phrases and pop culture references, the novel keeps the story moving in spite of these new concepts.  Gloria is a believable teenager, both responsible and impulsive.  She hesitates to get sucked into easy credit by buying clothes on "small-small", yet falls into a relationship with the older playboy doctor Dr. Kusi.  Other characters like Christine, Effie, and Bea are well-drawn, capturing different aspects of being a woman in Ghana.  There's not enough YA literature set in contemporary Africa.  With its strong female characters, well-structured story, and thoughtful treatment of some of Ghana's challenges, Between Sisters is a welcome addition.

My copy of this novel had the above cover, but this alternate cover is featured on Barnes & Noble's website. Which do you prefer?

Other Reviews
Adwoa Badoe's blog:
Amy Reads:
Talking to Myself:
Buried in Print:
Westchester Library Services Teens:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: Trapped

Michael Northrop
2011; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-21012-6 (hardcover)

Summary:  In New England, they're used to snow.  Scotty doesn't think much when the snow starts falling, other than worrying about the basketball game that gets cancelled.  But then he's trapped at school, along with his friends Pete and Jason and four other students.  They're not too worried at first; it's almost an adventure, spending the night at school.  They're sure that their parents will arrive in the morning.  None of them know that rescue won't be possible.  For the snow will continue to pile up for the next seven days, leading Scotty and the rest of the students to a horrible decision . . .

A gripping thriller, Trapped is an engrossing look at survival.  For many of today's teens, survival seems more like something out of Robinson Crusoe or the TV show Lost: stranded on a desert island, struggling to find food and shelter.  Yet survival can also mean facing and outwitting the elements of Mother Nature.  This struggle is vividly presented by Northrop, as the aches from sleeping on the floor, the lack of fresh water due to frozen pipes, and the slowly encroaching cold are all faced by Scotty and his friends.  Pair Trapped with Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick for another look at cold-weather survival.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Review: The Vespertine

The Vespertine
Saundra Mitchell
2011; Harcourt; ISBN 978-0-547-48247-7 (hardcover)

Summary:  Amelia is excited to travel to the city of Baltimore.  She's supposed to be learning how to be a lady, in order to attract a good husband whose position can assist her brother.  Once she arrives, she quickly becomes friends with her cousin Zora and even meets a young artist named Nathaniel.  And in Baltimore, Amelia discovers a strange talent: in the moments during sunset, she can see the future.  At first, Amelia doesn't see the harm in using this gift.  Yet as her visions grow threatening, and her love for Nathaniel outstrips all propriety, Amelia will discover that the golden light of sunset only leads to darkness.

An engaging combination of historical fiction, romance, and the paranormal, The Vespertine examines the perils of the choices made by Amelia.  Like many teens, she uses her visions to help her friends and meet new people.  Yet when one of her visions comes true, Amelia's new life begins to unravel.  The Baltimore setting lends a moody and atmospheric air to the novel, giving extra weight to the spiritualism craze in the late 1800s as shown in the story.  Mitchell's second novel shows a talent for bringing history to life.  For readers who enjoyed We Hear the Dead by Dianne Salerni or Distant Waves: A Story of the Titanic by Suzanne Weyn, The Vespertine will be well-received.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Review: The Duff

Kody Keplinger
2010; Poppy (Little, Brown); ISBN 978-0-316-08423-9 (hardcover)

Summary:  Bianca is smart, cynical, and realistic.  She knows she's not as pretty as her friends Casey and Jessica, but she's not exactly expecting to find her true love in her small town.  But things change when man-slut Wesley Rush tells her she's the DUFF: the designated ugly fat friend.  The insulting nickname makes Bianca hate Wesley even more.  But Wesley--and his lips and his hands and his body--are a great distraction from the problems in Bianca's life: the return of the older boy who broke her heart; her mother serving divorce papers on her father; her father's fall off the wagon.  Can Bianca stop trying to distract herself to turn her enemies-with-benefits relationship wtih Wesley into something more?

Keplinger's smart debut novel offers realistic teen characters and dialogue.  From Bianca's pointed cynicism to Jessica's peppy positivity, the characters in this novel sound like real teens.  Bianca slowly realizes that she can't push her problems away, maturing into a young woman who's willing to face challenges head-on.  Equally refreshing is Bianca's firm belief that love takes years to develop--she's no starry-eyed romantic.  The DUFF stands above most written-by-a-teenager novels, thanks to its strong characterization and efficient plot.  Pass this novel along to readers who want a coming-of-age story that feels real.