Monday, December 29, 2008

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I loved this book. Right from the start the premise hooked me (and not just because I have teenagers :-)!) I'm not sure where to start! First off, I thought the whole way of looking at the abortion issue was extremely creative and unique. Talk about thought provoking! I could easily see this being used in a US history or Government class. It also made me want to sign up to be an organ donor, just so we would never become so desperate, as a society, for donor parts, that we would need to resort to such measures!

I felt that the plot moved quickly with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. But what I loved even more were the characters. I felt they were very well developed, I grew to feel for all of them in turn...I even grew to like and sympathize with the Admiral (I cried at the "birthday party!"). I was especially intrigued with Risa and Connor and their relationship. I think Shusterman did a great job in developing their connection. One of my favorite passages occurs shortly after they arrive at the Graveyard. The passage goes, "A lot of that has to do with Risa, because every time he forces himself to think before acting, it's her voice in his head telling him to slow down. He wants to tell her, but she's always so busy in the medical jet-and you don't just go to somebody and say, 'I'm a better person because you're in my head.'" I loved the language in the book. Some of the passages were very poignant, I often found myself stopping to reread lines.

I think one of the most memorable parts of the book, and one of the hardest to read, was the section where Roland is unwound...yikes!!! And, I also liked how the author developed the subplot involving the issue of Tithing, and how Lev's character develops and grows.

If you liked this book, I am told you will also love Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series. I haven't them, but the kids love them. I am looking forward to recommending Unwind to fans of this genre.

I will stop here as I am anxious to hear what everyone thinks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

I was intrigued by the premise of this book. Falling, hitting your head and getting amnesia and a chance to reinvent yourself. What a concept! What would it be like to have a blank slate with which to start your life over? What high school student wouldn't love to be able to reinvent themselves?! The reviews of this book were very positive, it seemed like a bit of a psychological drama, and even got a STAR review from Booklist. On the surface, a decent read, with lots of young adult appeal, and although I think the story and characters had potential, I was disappointed. Anyone else feel that way?

I thought the author could have delved into Naomi's character a bit more. The author alludes to Naomi's memory lapsed being connected to her parents separation, but she never develops that is tossed out into the mix and then dropped. Her relationship with James seems too pat. They go from being madly in love, to nothing. The section where she is at his graduation taking pictures for the year book with such calm and objectivity seems implausible to me. I was also amused with her relationship with Ace...and did like the way the author brought their relationship full circle in the end. I think the author does a great job of showing us the "real" Naomi, the Naomi who can't figure out what she ever saw in Ace...and why she didn't like her father's fiance. Her amnesic self is more mature and likable than the old Naomi. The story plays out like a rebirth, and that I did like.

I also liked Will's character. I feel the relationship between Naomi and Will is the most developed. I thought her description of Will, "Will instantly feels 'comfortable and broken-in like favorite jeans...'" very telling, almost foreshadowing. I felt terrible about the way she treats him as she struggles to find herself, but love the way their character reconnect. I liked the line, towards the end, as she discovers her feeling about Will, “I had thought the way I felt about Will was just a room, but it had turned out to be a mansion.”

I will stop here, and wait to see what you all thought, and then jump back into the conversation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

FALL into Reading!

As the weather get a bit chilly, and the hectic "back-to-school" pace starts to slow down, it's time to start reading! Thanks for participating in our latest YA Book Blog. This year we are exploring some great new titles to share. Our first book will be Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Check back by Nov. 17th for the starter blog. Happy reading.

Monday, August 18, 2008

THe Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier

Unsettled...that's how I feel right now. I finished this book last night and I'm still shaken by it this morning. This sparsely written novel by Rob Cormier (written just before his death) has really unsettled me. I started reading it weeks ago and was so disturbed by where it was going I had to stop. I just picked it up this weekend to finish it. I found it to be chilling and terrifying. There were parts of the book I found to be implausible...more on those later...but over all felt the book was succinct and intense. Cormier managed to portray and develop two very gripping characters (Jason and Trent) in this short psychological thriller. Very reminiscent of his earlier book- I Am the Cheese. If you liked this book I would highly recommend that title.

There are so many things I would like to bring up- but first of all can anyone explain the reference to "Rag and Bone Shop?" I believe it is from a poem by Yeats?

One of the things that most upset me was the Jason a psychotic killer in the making. Could Trent's actions have manipulated him that much? Very scary.

I had a few problems with the book, starting with- where the heck were his parents??? Before and after the interrogation. Yikes. I know most YA novels downplay the role of adults...but this book took it to an extreme. And...I wanted to know more as to why Brad killed Alicia. Cormier left that just hanging. I was hoping for some closure on that issue.

I will stop here to see what you all thought and then jump back into the dialog.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This book was chosen as a Prinz Award Honor Book, was winner of the National Jewish Book Award, and received all types of star and rave reviews. But I have to confess, when I first started reading it I was not immediately drawn in. I thought the beginning was very slow going. However, once I got into the story I was able to see why it won such accolades. I couldn't help but to compare it to other Holocaust stories such as Diary of a Young Girl, Night, and Number the Stars. I think this book is right up there with these literary classics!

There are many parts of the book that merit discussion- the character of Liesel, who loses her family, experiences life in Nazi Germany but yet finds something special in books- who loves books and words so much so that she risks her life to steal them. The part of the book where she steals the book from the Nazi's book burning spree had me at the edge of my seat. How could you not love this character?! (We seem to have a theme this year of feisty, strong, female characters!) Her relationship with Hans, her foster father, is also intriguing, their compassion for helping others is compelling.

The whole literary device of using Death as the narrator is fascinating and makes for a unique twist to the traditional Holocaust stories. And Death is a great character! One review I read stated: "First, I think Zusak has created one of the all-time great characters/narrators in Death. I know that sounds funny, but Death, in this story, is human, humane, compassionate, and a bit humorous. At the end of the book, Death says, "I am haunted by humans." In some ways, I think Death is haunted by humanity - both the good and the bad parts. When Death does take children in the story, his compassion and gentleness moved me to tears." I couldn't have said it better myself.

I could absolutely see this as a companion book to Night or Diary of a Young Girl because it does tell the story of the Holocaust from such a different perspective- first of all from the perspective of Death, but also from the perspective of an average German, who had no choice but to endure and survive.

Once again, I loved the epilogue. I was very impressed with the way Zusak pulled all the threads of the story together in such a satisfying way. I like completion so this was a great ending for me.

There are some many aspects of this book I would like to delve into...almost makes me wish we could talk about this one in person!

The down side- I wonder if this book is too advanced for some students? Would any of you recommend it for 9th grade- which is when Night is typically taught? I thought you definitely had to have some knowledge of Nazi Germany to understand the story. And does the sophisticated use of the narrator, of irony, multiple themes etc...make it too challenging for high school? I am anxious to hear what everyone else thought.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton

I was very moved by this novel and am not surprised that it was a Prinz honor award winner. I loved the character of Chanda, I thought she was smart and determined, I really came to care for and believe in her. I loved that she had the courage to face the situation and overcomes the secrecy and shame associated with the disease. I wanted to know more about her and what happens to her. I realized that there is a sequel to the novel titled Chanda's War, which picks up 6 months after her mother's death and centers around a civil war in their country and rebels invading their village. I am anxious to read it. I also liked the character of Esther! And was thrilled that Chanda was willing to stick by her friend. I also liked that she had the courage to be tested for AIDS.

I felt the description of the situation in modern-day Africa was extremely vivid and convincing. I don't know that students would realize right away that the setting of the story is contemporary...they might need some background information regarding this before reading the story. Is this an issue they deal with in Global II? Maybe Cathy P. could answer that? I thought the connection to the diamond minds might trigger something in the students...since they may have seen the movie Blood Diamonds. I think this is an excellent book for the Global II book list.

Again, I thought the author did an excellent job describing life in this African village- the horrific conditions the family lives in, and the poverty and the devastion of AIDS victims comes across very clearly. I felt this was the strongest part of the novel. I was surprised to learned, after I read the book, that the country depicted in the novel is fictional. I was disappointed, then thought that this was probably a tool the author used to make a point...that AIDS is a tremendous problem throughout all of Africa...that it is not limited to one country.

Overall I felt the book brings to light a topic that is definitely ignored in our society. I thought the ending was perhaps a bit too pat...her neighbors, especially Mrs. Tafa, all quickly coming out in the open in support seemed a bit unrealistic. But I'm a sucker for an ending like that so I liked it. I bit different than StarGirl! :-) Anxious to see what you all thought.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I first read this book in 2000 when it first came out and loved it, I didn't analyse it or think too hard about it...I just liked it. I always had a place in my heart for Stargirl...the girl who dared to be different! (I think I was a bit jealous.) This year the companion novel- Love, Stargirl was published and my interest in this novel was renewed, which led me to think it might be a good book for our blog. I reread the book this week and all the memories I had when I first read it came flooding back. Yes, I still loved it! Some might think it is a bit schmaltzy and her naivete annoying, but I just want every high school student who thinks about being different, is different or is trying to excerpt their individuality, to read it.

Literally speaking I like the way Jerry Spinelli tells the story in a type of flash back. It was very powerful to read the epilogue and realize that Leo is now an adult and has been retelling the story from this point of view. This was very thought provoking. Overall,I was very disappointed in Leo! Somehow I was hopeful he would redeem himself, stand up for her, and get her back. I was so sad when he chose conformity and acceptance over Stargirl! I somehow wanted him to rise above that.

Sadly, also, is the realization that high school is a time when kids feel it is so important to "fit in" and not stand out or be different. I think by reading this book it would give students a venue to discuss the issue of individuality versus conformity. However, one reviewer I read commented that he felt the story would have more credibility if Stargirl was less naive or as he said, "But to make it real, Stargirl needed to have at least one foot on the ground." I don't know if I agree with this. (Was this spoken like a true male??? I don't know!) What comes across loud and clear, at least to me, is how hard it is to chose between individuality and being accepted by one's peers. Look at what Leo gives up!

I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the companion book- Love, Stargirl. I think I was hoping for more of a sequel. Sorry- for those of you looking for conclusions...Does Stargirl contact Leo? Does she go to a reunion? What does she do with her life? Sadly, this book doesn't wrap things up in a nice big bow-but it is worth the read.

I'm anxious to see what you all thought. Did the book stand the test of time? Is it a worthy read? Or am I just letting my insecure high school angst cloud my judgement?!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer 2008

We're getting ready for another summer of reading. Thanks to everyone who is participating...both new and returning bloggers! Believe it or not we are still finalizing our list for the summer, I will get you the titles and dates before our last day of school, hopefully by then all the books will be in! Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fade to Black

I have to admit this was not my favorite book of the year. I chose this title to read for two reasons- first because we were looking for books that might appeal to boys and second because I loved Flinn's book Breathing Underwater. This book, however, didn't deliver the punch I thought it would, given the topic. The character didn't develop as I thought they would...they just fell flat. I did think the different narratives were an affective way to tell the story and could see where this book might appeal to reluctant readers.

I am anxious to hear what you all thought. Am I the only who was disappointed?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

I typically like novels in verse, but I confess I had some trepidation about this book. I wasn't sure how I was going to like it- novels in verse is one thing, but novels in rap?? But knowing Walter Dean Myers I thought it surely must be a worthy read. I wasn't disappointed at all. It did take me some time to get the rhythm of the words down, after that I had no problem reading it. And it went beyond rap, beyond the words of the inner city. The rhymes and free verse were incredible. There were times I had to stop and reread passages because the imagergy and language were so powerful, and beautiful.

As I was reading I kept thinking that kids would love this book, and what a great companion piece to Romeo and Juliet it would be. Although, I have to say, I was disappointed in the end...I thought it would be more Romeo and Juliet like. Not that I wanted anyone to die but I thought that was were the story was heading. And, when it didn't go in that direction I wanted Damian to help Junice certainly, but not go with her! Yikes...what was he thinking, he was on his way to Brown. So much for being a romantic! I was torn. But what a great example of love across social and economic lines and the resilience of the human spirit. I also thought this would be a great book to use as a readers' theatre choice, or perhaps to pair with Langston Huges poetry. Lots of potential.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sold by Patricia McCormick

This is one book that has stayed with me long after I finished reading it. I read Sold thinking it took place some time in the past...but as I read it I realized that this was told in present time...which blew me away! I've read about the issue of sex slavery but it truly became real to me while reading this book.

I love the style in which McCormick writes, the free verse and prose is beautiful, powerful and heartbreaking all at the same time. One of my favorite lines is: "I do not know a word / big enough to hold my sadness." Wow. I am so impressed with Lakshmi's resilience...when she says, "I know something else as well. I know that I would endure a hundred punishments to be free of this place." I wanted to stand up and cheer. On the other hand, I felt so very sad for those young girls who stayed and endured their lives.

My heart breaks for Lakshmi- to be so full of hope and excitement for her future and then to be broken down in such a horrible way- her step father invoked such anger in me! And to think, according to the author's notes, nearly 12,000 young girls are sold by their families into a life of just Nepal alone! My only complaint about the book is that I would have loved another chapter, where does she go? How does she make out? Does she heal and move on? Go back to her village? I guess the mark of a good book is that it makes you feel and this book certainly did make me made me want to do something about this horrendous situation! I think Cathy Phelps is looking into the role Amnesty International could/does play in this situation. Perhaps she could explain??

Anxious to hear what you all thought.