Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Readin, Readin, Readin

What I have read in the last few weeks in order from bad to good:

Ship Breaker-Bacigalupi
This novel had such a good set-up, futuristic society, gave me a feeling of Waterworld-esque style-then they took a turn for the worse and wasted a really interesting plot development.

It's Kind of a Funny Story-Ned Vizzini
A very good grasp of teenage interaction, particularly since it was written based on the author's experience of being put in an adult clinic due to depression. It's about his experiences there, but through the eyes of a fictional teenage boy. Well done. One of the best teen books I have read.

Gregor the Overlander series 1-3-Suzanne Collins
If you loved the Hunger Games like I did, you are craving more Suzanne Collins. This won't quite quench your thirst, but it is her earlier series, meant for a younger audience. Still, though the plot can be a little predictably twisted, the writing style in excellent.

Little Brother-Cory Doctorow
Teenagers in a slightly more modern America decide to fight against an ever-increasingly suffocating government. I have a soft spot for rebellious teenagers sticking it to the man when the need presents itself, and this book was an awesome read. Reminiscent of Ender's Game, and very technical, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I am a new Doctorow fan.

I am currently reading outside of YA fiction. I felt compelled to dive into some serious sci-fi, and am trying my brain out with a Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. It is a litt
le tedious, but interesting and challenging. A nice change! And a weird cover, check it-

What's not to love?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and Going Bovine

This cover has enticed me for months-the colors and title are so eye-catching and memorable. I was curious about the book, then it received several awards, making me that much more curious. However, upon reading it last week, I have been disappointed.
The book is not memorable-it is the epitome of normal. A forgettable plot with predictable characters and an anti-climactic ending. Very. Disappointing.
It was written in the style of a slightly peppier Little House on the Prairie novel, but they added a hint of Darwinism and the theory of evolution. Just a hint.
A tomboy named Calpurnia Tate dreads becoming the lady she is doomed to become as she grows older, and she learns to hope for more in life after studying nature with her eccentric grandfather. She wants to be a scientist, but the book ends with her being no closer to that goal or even being able to hope for it since her parents are both wanting her to become a traditional young lady, wife, and mother.
I kept reading, just waiting for the worthiness of such high awards to become clear.....alas.
Calpurnia Tate is a tease of a cover and title. Such a shame.

On the other hand...

Going Bovine was a very intriguing novel. The main character, Cameron, discovers that he has contracted a fatal disease-essentially Mad Cow for humans. There is no cure, and he will slowly fall into a state of hallucinations, then his brain will completely shut down and he will die. No hope. He is an average loner high schooler with no friends and an inability to show concern for anything or anyone. He ends up going to the hospital, then travelling a long, crazy journey to search for a cure he hopes will work. The state of the story is always questionable, whether it is a hallucination from his rapidly decreasing mind or just an insane reality is hard to tell. But he begins to learn what it is to truly live.
The story got a little out of hand for my taste, and I got bored by the end, but the plot was not the jewel of this novel. Nor the characters.
The most impressive aspect of the novel is the way the author grasps the language, attitudes, interests, and actions of a modern teenager. She writes very believably, and I found myself completely entranced at her ability to so accurately portray a teenager, being far removed from that generation herself.
I have read many novels "about teenagers" and their "real lives", and they have all come short of striking the reality of their moods and actions. I thought she was incredibly accurate, and I intend to read some of her other novels to see if this trait carries through.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I am alive.

OK-so I have decided to restart blogging on books I am reading for you, my 3 avid followers to enjoy. yep. Partly because I work in a Barnes and Noble now, and I get unlimited access to new, exciting books. Mostly because I have time again to read and write and read some more! I am 4 pages till the end of The Brothers Karamazov, then back to YA/Child Lit.....
Book discussions likely to be posted soon for those interested:
Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay
Megan Whalen Turner, author of The Thief, The Queen of Atolia, The King of Atolia, and her newest!!!
Going Bovine-my next book to read

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Laurie Halse Anderson

I just finished Fever 1793, written by Laurie Halse Anderson, and it left me a little confused about Anderson. Known for writing books about current issues that teens struggle with, I fail to see the message in this novel, other than yellow fever “was really bad”. Sure, the teenage girl had to struggle to grow and become responsible during that horrible year, but what’s the meaning for us today? I felt indifferent to both the plot and characters by the end.
I read Speak and Wintergirls this year, both written by Anderson, in an attempt to get a grasp on this award-winning author. Both books left me with an impression of-“Her intention for this book is blatantly obvious to me, but I am skeptical that it will accomplish its purpose for teen readers.”
Tackling tough issues like rape, suicide, drugs, (yellow fever?) etc. is courageous for any writer, particularly one who is targeting the complicated, critical audience of teen readers. However, Anderson’s novels, though well-written and bursting with symbolism, don’t quite ring true, in my opinion. You finish the book, everything wraps up nicely, and the teenagers move on to happy, healthy lives.
Everyone wants a happy ending, but Anderson just misses the mark of reality. Her goal seems to be to reach these struggling teenagers, relate to their lives, then give them hope. When I read these books, the girls’ struggles were cliché, and the answers to healing were straight out of a psychology textbook-not believable outside of her pages.
I am afraid that these books place Anderson in the category of authors who try too hard to get inside the mind of teenagers but are unable to break through to the real reasons behind their struggles.
Needless to say, Prom and Catalyst are low on my book list. But maybe she'll surprise me..

Friday, September 11, 2009

Books you've heard about but never thought would be worth your time to read.....They are.

The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan (You may recognize The Lightning Thief)

When I student taught in a 6th grade social studies class, I began a Greek mythology unit with all the expectation of being the first to introduce the subject. Rick Riordan had already beat me to it.
Riordan, previously a history teacher, decided to write a series influenced by Greek mythology. The series has become widely popular, increasingly influential to its readers, and is being made into a movie.
80% of my 6th graders were not only familiar with the main characters in Greek mythology, but they also knew the basic plots of various myths due to Riordan's fictional series.
These books will make the subject come alive to middle schoolers and encourage them to study the mythology behind the books on their own.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Don't be misled by the "preteen-esque" cover. This is not just a silly book filled with bubbles, giggles, and general nonsense. Spinelli once again displays a knack for finding new truths in the midst of the most ordinary life situations. Stargirl, the main character, demonstrates a faultlessly innocent character and is predictably punished for her naivete by the cruel world she lives in. However, merciful Spinelli allows Stargirl's unfailing goodness to overcome in the end, something we readers need to see on occasion. Spinelli always gives you a good ending, but rarely in the way you expect. More to come on him.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Started by a novice writer at the age of 15, Paolini is now on the fourth book of the fantasy series and adored by the young audience he has since matured out of. Paolini creates a complicated fantasy world, comparable on a smaller scale to Tolkien's in its totality and independence. The reader experiences the ups and downs of fate for the young hero, Eragon, who has to take on a great responsibility during a dark time. Dragons, magicians, and a medieval setting keep the reader entranced, but this is not an easy read. You truly feel like you've accomplished something by the fourth book.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

I know, I know, it looks like a cutesie mousie bookie. Don't judge the content by the adorable cover and mesmerizing illustrations. It is a whimsical fairy tale, worthy of Hans Christian Anderson, and each word seems to be plucked from a magical tree of enchantment.....HOWEVER, DiCamillo has intertwined heavy themes throughout the sweet storyline that differ from your usual fairy tale stereotypes. You commiserate with the enemy, foul as he is at times, and are never quite sure what or who is good/bad. It is an important step for a young reader to take, into the land of complicated themes and ambiguous character roles. Highly recommended by me and...what is it, OH yes, Newberry something or another....

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oftentimes Misunderstood Villain-Heroes?

It is rare that an author successfully pulls off a character who remains ambiguous until the very end. I was discussing the character Severus Snape, from the Harry Potter series, with a friend, and I began to think about the art behind his design.
Hopefully you've read the final book in the series, or this will ruin it for you. (so stop reading)
Snape was ambiguous throughout all seven books, convincingly corrupt, misunderstood, or innately good at various times. How does Rowling pull this off? There was hardly a moment that I felt I could predict Snape's actions or explain his often odd behaviors. I want to know how Rowling accomplished this literary feat. It's impressive, don't you agree? So I thought about other questionable characters in YA literature.

JRR Tolkien's character, Golem, is in the same boat. You want to trust him, but at the same time, want the hobbits to be on their guard around him. The reader is hoping for his redemption and turn over, but knows deep down, that both are impossible as long as the ring exists. He gives into temptation in the end, but arguably plays the most crucial role. He is unintentionally the destroyer of the ring.

What about Roscuro from Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux? He only wants to live in the light, despite his role as a rat to stay confined in the dark, hopeless dungeons. Due to an unlucky accident, he is banished from the light, forcing him into the life that he had always avoided. This incident causes him to become resentful of everything associated with the world of light and give into his bitterness and rat-stereotype. Yet, his desire for truth, purity, and most of all light must still be lurking in that rotting mind somewhere. You never know quite what to expect from him.
These rare characters share a common bond. They all found themselves in the midst of the worst evil they could imagine, and they had to face the difficult task of escaping it. Some succeeded, others did not. While they do horrible things and cause immeasurable grief, the reader still has a faint hope that they will return to the light in the end. To me, these are the most believable villains.
All of them played the supposed villain at some point in the novels, and I think their threats are the most convincing. They know exactly the cost of suffering and still choose to allow it. Or they know the cost of their redemption and are always tempted by it.
They are obviously torn characters, and this is why the reader is torn when making an assessment. Life is not an easy recipe to sort out, so why should novels make it easy on us to organize into simple categories of good and evil? We need an occasional ambiguous character to throw us off of our prideful "reader thrones" and make us struggle a little.
I believe that Rowling knew exactly how Snape would turn out, and designed the books to lead to the very appropriate ending. Unike Golem, Snape died a hero. Not many stories would follow the path of a seemingly weak, oftentimes cruel outcast all the way to his victory over the worst evil. Yet, that was the perfect ending for Severus Snape. I am still in awe of her craftiness to surprise me with Snape at the very end, but that is ehy we love these characters.
You never know what to expect from these unlikely villain(?)-heroes(?).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mr. Markus Zusak

I fell in love with Mr. Zusak's style last spring (when the trees were in bloom), when I read my first novel by him, The Book Thief.
I can't even begin to describe this novel's influence over me and my overall idea of what constitutes "young adult" literature. His writing style disabled me from continuing reading during a few delicious moments because I could hardly believe what he was accomplishing with black and white script. His metaphors were utterly mind-blowing, and his descriptions were nothing short of extraordinary and deeply insightful. There were a few pages that I wanted so badly to crawl into his head to try to get a glimpse of his view of this world we live in.

The plot alone would set this book apart from the thousands of other WWII era YA novels, both in character choice and setting. Not to be insensitive to this category, but many of the novels start to blend together. Not this one. Written from the view point of Death, who is imbued with human emotion and unfailing compassion, this story progresses slowly when looking at the actual time span. Yet, the richness and potency of each seemingly insignificant moment in the young girl's (main character) life pulls the reader along hypnotically.

Don't be misled by this first post, I am an avid reader. This book still took me by surprise, and I was glad to be shocked by the quality and originality this author displayed with every one of the 300-400 pages.

He joined the ranks of my current favorite writing voices, Kate DiCamillo and Neil Gaiman.

HOWEVER, I just finished I Am The Messenger, another Zusak creation, and found it ordinary in comparison to the previous. I believe it was one of his earlier works, and there are definitely moments of his unique writing flavor, but they are much more rare. Whereas The Book Thief is a collection of intriguing figurative moments, I found I Am The Messenger to drag on a bit.

Both novels are highly awarded and reviewed, and I Am The Messenger is used in classrooms around the country.

On its own, I would have found this novel to be interesting and unique. Interesting plot, resolved ending, good writing style. Period. Maybe even almost extraordinary. But it sadly pales in comparison to The Book Thief, which I would label Zusak's masterpiece thus far. If you haven't read either, go to the library.

I could write a thesis on The Book Thief and still barely touch the depth of Zusak's artistry. Perhaps I'll try eventually. This novel just asks to be poured over, dissected, pinned, and studied.

Currently reading The Book of Three, the first of The Chronicles of Prydain. Slow start on that one, but it's highly recommended.

Also, I am reading V for Vendetta (Graphic novel, and not necessarily YAL) and listening to The Golden Compass on audio book, narrated by Phillip Pullman himself. Excellent car entertainment. Highly recommend for car trips-but only if you've already read the novel.