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Sara Reads

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When I Was a Solider by Valerine Zenatti [02 Apr 2006|03:26pm]

anachronism
5Q-4P (ages 15-18)
Zenatti, Valerie. When I Was a Soldier. Trans. Adriana Hunter. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005. 235 pages.

In Israel, everyone must join the army when they turn 18 and serve for two years, including the girls. When Valerie leaves her friends and family behind and goes off for military training, she is apprehensive, but excited since being in the army is a rite of passage and part of growing up. She soon finds herself in the monotony of routine and drifting away from her friends while trying to patch things up with her ex-boyfriend. When Zenatti receives her job as an intelligence officer, interpreting Jordanian air transmissions, she feels a surge of importance and throws herself into her job, all the while counting down the days until she is released from the army when she turns 20.

Readers will have to remind themselves that When I Was a Soldier is a memoir and not a work of fiction; Zenatti’s account of her life during her army service reads like a novel, even when she includes entries from her personal diary. She is a lyrical writer and her descriptive writing is fantastic.

When I Was a Soldier is a coming of age story in the truest sense. Through her experiences with the Israeli army, Zenatti learns much about herself, her abilities to cope, her friends both new and old, and what it is to be free. Even though Zenatti never experience combat (girls never do), she still had to endure the rigors of military life and never glorifies her experiences; however, she does not complain or whine too much either.

The cover of the book is a photograph of a half a bust of a young woman wearing an army uniform. Her eyes are closed, which makes the cover that more compelling and intriguing. The cover also makes great use of fonts: the word “soldier” is in a blocky stencil font that is reminiscent of what is used for army vehicles and structures.
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Deliver Us from Evie by M.E. Kerr [02 Apr 2006|03:26pm]

anachronism
3Q-3P (ages 14-16)
Kerr, M. E. Deliver Us from Evie. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. 177 pages.

Parr’s older sister was always a bit different from the other girls in their small town; she dresses in men’s clothes, prefers to help out her father on the farm, and plans to take over running the family’s farm eventually. However, Parr begins noticing changes in Evie’s behavior after the family attends a Halloween party thrown by the Duffs, who own most of the land in Duffton. Soon after the party, boyish Evie begins spending a lot of time with feminine Patsy Duff, much to her family’s consternation. After Parr begins going steady with Angel, the daughter of a strict religious family, rumors begin to fly about Evie’s relationship with Patsy, and Parr’s life is turned upside down. When Parr and Cord, another farmer who has feelings for Evie, destroy her reputation, Evie and Patsy flee and Parr is left feeling guilty in the aftermath of it all. When a flood destroys much of Duffton, including the Burrman farm, Evie returns and the family is able to reconcile after the Burrmans accept Evie’s sexuality.

While homosexuality is an important issue and should be addressed in young adult fiction, Evie is an extremely stereotypical lesbian: she is more masculine than some men, she has short-cropped hair, and listens to lesbian musical artists. Patsy seemed like a much more well-rounded lesbian character, as she was not defined strictly by her sexuality. However, Deliver Us from Evie accurately depicts how families react and struggle to accept family members after they “come out of the closet.”

Even though Parr brought Evie and Patsy’s relationship to the forefront in their small town, the reader cannot hate him for his actions, as he was only reacting to the fact that he was destined to take over the family’s farm by default. Parr narrates the novel, but the story being told is definitely Evie’s, not his, which was disappointing in some ways.

The cover of the novel is stark white with a small picture of an androgynous woman standing on the side of a highway. The cover is not likely to attract much attention because of the large amount of white space.
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Who am I without Him? by Sharon G. Flake [02 Apr 2006|03:24pm]

anachronism
5Q-4P (ages 13-16)
Flake, Sharon G. Who am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives. New York: Jump at the Sun, 2004. 168 pages.

From the true to life first story “So I Ain’t No Good Girl” to the heart wrenching “A Letter to my Daughter,” Flake introduces an entourage of memorable female characters and the boys in their lives. These girls all come from a variety of backgrounds and places, but they all share one thing in common: the guys in their lives are often difficult to deal with and may be completely clueless of their feelings.

The short story format is sure to attract teens’ attention because each story can easily be read in a single sitting, such as during a study hall. Flake accurately depicts teen behaviors and speech patterns throughout her short stories without the dialogues seeming unnatural or forced in any way; teens will recognize that fact and appreciate her attention to detail. Flake’s characterization is also spot on; she is able to illustrate the emotions of both male and female characters flawlessly.

“So I Ain’t No Good Girl” immediately captures the reader’s attention and Flake holds that attention throughout her collection, as the stories flow into each other well. Even when Flake’s stories are serious in nature, almost all of them have humor infused throughout them, putting a realistic spin on all the issues addressed in the stories. Teen girls will certainly relate to the characters in the short stories, whether they reflect the readers themselves or someone they know.

The cover of Who am I without Him? Is a collage of photographs featuring African American girls, boys, a small child, and girls and boys together. Each picture is surrounded by a colorful “frame” and all are on a black background. While the cover is somewhat generic, the photographs and the colors will attract attention and is inviting.
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Invisible Enemies by Jeanette Farrell [02 Apr 2006|03:24pm]

anachronism
4Q-3P (ages 15-17)
Farrell, Jeanette. Invisible Enemies: Stories of Infectious Diseases. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2005. 259 pages.

Smallpox, leprosy, plague, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and AIDS are profiled in vivid description, accompanied by photographs and drawings from the times each disease was most prevalent. For each infectious disease, Farrell examines the misconceptions surrounding the disease, how it was treated when it was prevalent, who and how a cure was discovered, and how or if the disease has evolved and its impact on our current lives.

Invisible Enemies is written in lyrical prose that reads more like fiction than nonfiction and readers will be astounded by the detail with which Farrell writes; she often focuses on minor incidents that show mankind at its best and worst. Because Farrell focuses on several diseases that teens may have heard of, but never knew much about (leprosy, tuberculosis), she will capture teens’ interest and maintain it throughout the book. Perhaps the section on AIDS is not necessary, as most teens have been learning about AIDS since their elementary school health classes; I realize that AIDS is an pandemic that is important to learn more about, but Farrell did not present any information that would not be talked about in a classroom.

The cover of Invisible Enemies features writhing, tortured bodies from a variety of time periods melded into the shape of a skull, all on a black background. The cover is extremely eye-catching and equally appealing. This book will definitely be noticed on the shelves.
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InuYasha by Rumiko Takashi [02 Apr 2006|03:18pm]

anachronism
4Q-4P (ages 13-16)
Takashi, Rumiko. InuYasha. Vol. 1. VIZ, 2003. 182 pages.

Kagome, a modern Japanese teen, is transported back into Japan’s ancient past when she is dragged back through a well by a demon. Kagome’s family lives in an old shrine and her grandfather is always trying to teach her about ancient artifacts, but skeptical Kagome wants nothing to do with any of it. However, once she finds herself living during Japan’s feudal period, she wishes she would have paid more attention. Once in the past, Kagome meets Inu-Yasha, a dog-like half demon who was bound to a tree by who seems to be Kagome’s ancestor. It soon becomes apparent that Kagome was not pulled to the past by some mysterious accident; a demon yanked her through the old well because she possesses the mysterious Shikon Jewel, a powerful stone that could be used for great good or terrible evil.

InuYasha is an exciting story of adventure and mystery with some fantasy throw in for good measure. Kagome is a character many teens can identify with because of her flippant attitude; however, Kagome’s character goes much deeper than that, and Takashi reveals that she is also a scared girl in an unfamiliar place. Takashi has created an entourage of memorable characters in InuYasha, including the graphic novel’s namesake; even though Inu-Yasha is a demon, one cannot help but enjoy his antics.

The artwork throughout InuYasha is breath-taking and extremely detailed. Takashi draws facial expressions extremely well, but she also accurately depicts landscapes and animals as well. One could definitely understand the story by merely focusing on the pictures alone, as Takashi’s illustrations clearly relate to the story at hand.

The cover of InuYasha depicts a running Kagome superimposed on a close up of Inu-Yasha’s face. While the cover is not particularly striking, it is colorful and will attract teen readers who wish to find out more about the boy with dog ears.
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Feeling Freakish? [02 Apr 2006|03:18pm]

anachronism
4Q-3P (ages 12-15)
Le Jeune, Veronique and Philippe Eliakim with Melissa Daly. Feeling Freakish?: How to be Comfortable in Your Own Skin. Illustrated by Princess H. Trans. Sophie Hawkes. New York: Abrams, 2004. 112 pages.

Dealing with puberty is never easy, but the authors of Feeling Freakish? let teens know that their negative feelings towards their bodies are completely normal and they are not alone in cursing their acne, short statures, chicken legs, and thick thighs. Le Jeune and her co-authors include vignettes about real teens as well as quotes from other teens along with factual information to help explain their “ugly” feelings. This book combines factual information about the body transformations associated with puberty with an analysis of teen emotions and feelings towards their bodies delivered in a fun and easy to read book that is designed to help teens cope with the changes occurring in their minds and bodies.

Princess H’s colorful illustrations depicting teens dealing with their appearances are humorous and will allow teens to laugh at their behaviors while they discover that they are not alone. The authors do not belittle teens’ emotions by merely telling them to get over their feelings of ugliness. They also do not paint a rosy picture at the end of the book, stating that it often takes awhile before one can fully accept his or her appearance. The colorful pages full of short blurbs of information will appeal to teens, as they will only have to read bits and pieces of the book at a time.

The cover features a cartoon drawing of a teen with a paper bag over his head surrounded by two teens laughing at him on top of a bold blue background. The characters are drawn in a style reminiscent of a lot of graphic novels, so the cover will definitely catch the attention of teen readers.
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Tangerine by Edward Bloor [02 Apr 2006|03:11pm]

anachronism
4Q-4P (ages 12-15)
Bloor, Edward. Tangerine. New York: Harcourt, 1997. 294 pages.

Paul Fisher has been wearing thick coke-bottle glasses since he was a small child and everyone thinks his near-blindness stems from the fact that he stared into a solar eclipse, but Paul is not so sure he believes that story now that long-forgotten memories are beginning to return. When Paul’s family moves to Tangerine, Florida, his older brother Erik and the rest of the family falls into what Paul calls the “Erik Fisher Football Dream” while Paul struggles to get noticed on his middle school’s soccer team. In the strange and unlucky town of Tangerine, cracks begin to break through the perfected façade of the Fisher family and Paul finally begins to learn the truth about his vision loss and the role his brother played.

Paul is a strong and resilient character; he goes from a meek and mild boy who is afraid to look his brother in the eye to a courageous young man who not only stands up for his new inner city friends but he also stands up to his brother while remembering the truth about his vision loss. Tangerine is truly a book where the little guy conquers and wins big, which gives a positive message to readers. Bloor explores the concepts of good and evil, but does not make clear delineations between each, allowing the reader to come to his/her own conclusions.

The cover of Tangerine features a young adult wearing thick glasses, standing between two tangerine trees in a soccer goalie’s position. Lightning fills an ominous sky and people in the shadows surround the boy. The cover is definitely suspenseful, but because everything is drawn rather than a photograph, some teens may not be interested in the book.
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Skellig by David Almond [02 Apr 2006|03:11pm]

anachronism
2Q-2P (ages 12-14)
Almond, David. Skellig. New York: Delacorte Press, 1998. 182 pages.

When Michael’s family moves into a new house, he is anxious to explore the dilapidated garage that sits next to the house. Because Michael’s baby sister is fighting to survive, his parents are frequently absent from his life; however, Michael never resents his baby sister. In his first exploration of the garage, Michael stumbles upon a strange creature that seems to be neither man nor animal. On subsequent visits, both with and without his newfound friend Mina, Michael discovers bits and pieces of Skellig’s life. After Skellig’s wings unfurl, it becomes clear that Skellig could be an angel, and when he seems to save Michael’s baby sister’s life, Michael and Mina are convinced that he was more than just a man.

Even though Skellig won a Printz Honor, it seemed to be geared toward a much younger audience. There seems to be little character development and, because I never knew what exactly was wrong with Michael’s baby sister, I was not inclined to care about her illness or her survival; she seemed to be an appendage to the story even if she did play a rather defining role near the end. Mina seems to be a rather unrealistic character, as she is approximately 11 to 12 years old and is reciting William Blake and drawing bizarre characters; many teens will not be able to relate to her character because her behaviors are so far removed from typical teen behaviors. Skellig also leaves too many questions unanswered; while some open-endedness is good because it allows for introspection, it just seemed that Skellig left too many convenient plot holes and that Almond wanted to end the book quickly.

Skellig’s cover features a drawing of a hunched over man surrounded by an owl and two children (a boy and a girl). Because the children do not appear to be teens and look rather young, teens will probably pass the book by, believing the book to be a juvenile fiction book that was misshelved.
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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini [02 Apr 2006|03:11pm]

anachronism
5Q-3P (ages 16-18)
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003. 371 pages.

Told in the form of long-forgotten memories, The Kite Runner chronicles the life of Amir and the life he left behind when he and his father fled Afghanistan to America. Amir grew up in 1970s Afghanistan, during which the children did not know of war; Amir and his friend, Hassan, his father’s servant’s son were inseparable until an unspeakable event occurs that leaves a rift in their friendship. When Amir is called back to Afghanistan by a family friend, he must confront his cowardice and learn to make amends for past misgivings.

The Kite Runner is a gritty, brutal tale that leaves nothing to the reader’s imagination. Hosseini is not afraid to tell it like it is, giving credence to the world and the characters his has created. However, this book will not appeal to all teens. The reading level is rather difficult and some situations may not be appropriate for some readers.

Even though The Kite Runner is purely a work of fiction, it reads like an autobiography, which is proof of Hosseini’s gift of descriptive writing and characterization. Readers also learn more than a little historical and cultural information while Hosseini brings the Afghani traditions and customs alive.

The cover of The Kite Runner is a photograph of an Afghani cityscape with a kite floating high above it. The cover is not particularly eye-catching, but it does prove some insight as to the setting of the book, which may be important to some teen readers; however, the cover’s rather dull colors may be offputting to some.
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Vegan Virigin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler [02 Apr 2006|03:08pm]

anachronism
5Q-4P (ages 14-16)
Mackler, Carolyn. Vegan Virgin Valentine. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2004. 228 pages.

Mara Valentine is in control of her life: she’s vegan, is set up to become the valedictorian of her class, is heading to Yale in the fall, and has a great relationship with her parents. However, everything comes crashing down when Mara’s sixteen-year-old niece V comes to live with her family and Mara begins to fall in love with James, her boss at a small coffee shop. Even though Mara resents V’s appearance in her life, through V, Mara learns that she would enjoy life more if she would stop trying to be in control at all times. Because of V’s influence, Mara stops answering her parents’ phone calls and moving on with her life and V also learns a lot from Mara.

This coming of age story is full of humorous interludes and memorable characters; even though Mara dislikes V at the outset of the book, V is a character who is impossible to hate because she is so full of life and it is obvious that Mara needs some life breathed into her. Mara’s internal dialogue throughout the book is extremely humorous and proves to the reader that there is more to her than being a perfectionist.

The reader will appreciate the transformation Mara undergoes because, as the book progresses, she becomes a more realistic and well-rounded character. While some teen readers may object to Mara’s seemingly perfect character at the beginning of the book, they will come to like her character more as she breaks out of her shell.

The cover of Vegan Virgin Valentine is bright pink and the title is written in silver glittery text. While the cover does not reveal much about the book, it is certainly eye-catching and will attract teen girls.
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Many Stones by Carolyn Coman [02 Apr 2006|03:06pm]

anachronism
4Q-4P (ages 13-16)
Coman, Carolyn. Many Stones. Asheville, NC: Frontstreet, 2000. 158 pages.

When Berry Morgan’s sister Laura was murdered while volunteering in Cape Town in South Africa, her absent father suddenly reappeared and began running the show. A year and a half has passed since Laura’s death, but Berry is still reeling; when Berry and her father embark on a journey to South Africa to attend a memorial service in Laura’s honor, all of her emotions come rushing back. Will she be able to reconcile her differences with her estranged father and move on with her life amidst the troubled terrain of South Africa?

Coman captures Berry’s feelings and emotions adeptly, brining her to life as the reader learns of Berry’s unique character traits, such as piling stones on her chest so that she feels weighted. While Berry believes this trip with her father is sure to be a disaster, the find themselves growing closer together as they realize how insignificant their problems are in relation to the greater issues plaguing South Africa. However, Coman realistically portrays their reconciliation by allowing Berry to slowly come to terms with both Laura’s death and her father’s behaviors before and after the murder; Berry does not break through her carefully controlled façade until the end of the novel.

The cover of Many Stones features a photograph of an underwater view of a teenaged girl swimming laps. Beneath the swimming girl, a black and white photograph of stones fades into the photograph of the swimmer. These two photographs represent Berry’s escape methods, and since the potential reader would not realize the significance of these two photographs, he or she may just write the book off as another book about a swimmer.
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33 snowfish by Adam Rapp [25 Mar 2006|03:58pm]

anachronism
[ mood | busy ]

2Q-2P (ages 14-16)
Rapp, Adam. 33 snowfish. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2003.

Custis, Curl, and Boobie are on the run after Boobie killed his parents and stole their car and his baby brother. Each member of this motley threesome is staring down their own individual demons: Custis, a boy no older than 13, has recently escaped from his “owner,” sex-crazed pedophile Bob Motley; Curl is a 15-year-old prostitute with a sexually transmitted disease and a drug addiction; and Boobie is pyromaniac who conveys his emotions through bizarre drawings. The trio plans to sell Boobie’s nameless baby brother and make off with the cash, but they eventually find themselves living in an abandoned school bus in the middle of a brutal winter. When Curl dies of what appears to be pneumonia and Boobie disappears, Custis and the baby are on their own, but are soon taken in by Seldom, an elderly African American man.

33 snowfish is an extremely dark novel that is often difficult to read because of Rapp’s writing style. The frequent run-ons and jumbled paragraphs accurately depict the characters’ tumultuous feelings and mindsets, but I found the novel difficult to follow and it often read like the ravings of a madman.

Throughout the novel, the characters make many mistakes, but they never appear to learn from them and continue making the same mistakes repeatedly. While teens face real issues such as poverty, abuse, drug use, and crime, the characters in 33 snowfish do not seem to behave realistically throughout the book.

The cover of 33 snowfish features a drawing of Curl, her sunflower dress stained with sweat and other bodily fluids, surrounded by snowflakes. While the cover is not particularly interesting, it is artistic and may capture the attention of some teen readers.

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The Afterlife by Gary Soto [25 Mar 2006|03:02pm]

anachronism
[ mood | busy ]

4Q-4P (ages 14-16)
Soto, Gary. The Afterlife. New York: Harcourt, 2003.

When 17-year-old Chuy is unceremoniously stabbed in a club after complimenting another teen’s yellow shoes, he thinks that his life is over, but, in reality, his life is just beginning. As he floats around his hometown of Fresno, California, he begins to put the pieces of his random murder together, but there is nothing he can do with the information he discovered. Through his death, Chuy discovers that his family and friends truly did love and care for him as well as true love with Crystal, a young woman who has committed suicide. Together, Chuy and Crystal come to terms with their deaths and move on to the afterlife.

While most authors do not kill their characters off within the first few pages of a novel, Soto captures the reader’s attention by describing the random hate crime in vivid detail through Chuy’s eyes. Some events in the book are left unresolved, such as the issue of Chuy’s murder; the reader never discovers if his murdered was punished. However, as the novel progresses, Chuy’s murder becomes less important as his quest for self-understanding and self-acceptance is brought to the forefront.

Because Chuy and his friends and family members are Hispanic, the book is riddled with Spanish words and phrases; if the reader is unable to discern their meaning via context clues, he or she can turn to the glossary in the back of the book. Even though The Afterlife is rather dark in nature, Soto does his best to keep the book lighthearted, infusing it with frequent instances of humor; for example, when Chuy first becomes a ghost, he finds himself caught in the wind, causing him to end up in many comical situations.

The cover of The Afterlife features a Hispanic teen sprawled on a tile floor surrounded by a puddle of blood. This enticing cover art is sure to attract a lot of teen readers who wish to discover how this boy came to be lying on the floor.

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Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going [06 Mar 2006|12:26pm]

anachronism
3Q-4P (15-17)
Going, K. L. Fat Kid Rules the World. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003.

Larger than life Troy Billings is about to jump off a subway platform when, Curt MacCrae, a starving artist in the true sense saves his life. The two form a quick, but awkward friendship, and Curt seems convinced that Troy is the next greatest drummer for Curt’s band Rage/Tectonic. The only problem is that Troy does not know how to play the drums, but Curt is convinced that his large friend is capable even though Troy’s father and brother fail to see him as much more than a failure. However, through Curt’s buoyant personality, Troy finds the self-confidence he lacks and is able to be the drummer Curt always knew he could be.

Going delves deeply into the psyche of her characters, and, through Troy’s first person-narrative, brings the readers into the minds of her characters. The novel is both humorous and gritty and Going tackles issues such as drug abuse, homelessness, and self-esteem fairly well; on occasions, Troy appears to be the poster child for correct conduct despite the fact that he had nearly killed himself at the beginning of the book.

It seems as though Troy wears his weight as a label of who he is and uses it to idenitify himself; while it leads to some extremely funny inner dialogue with himself (“Fat kid messes up” and other faux headlines), it becomes tiresome and trite after awhile.

The cover of Fat Kid Rules the World features a small drawing of an exaggerated figure sitting behind a seemingly tiny drum set on a brown background. While the cover is not terribly exciting, it does covey the events in the book. Teens may pass it by for more flashy covers, though.
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A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly [04 Mar 2006|08:27pm]

anachronism
5Q-4P (ages 13-16)
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light. New York: Harcourt, 2003. 389 pages.

Aspiring writer Mattie Gokey dreams of escaping to college in New York City, but because of a promise she made to her dying mother, she has resolved to remain home to care for her three younger sisters while her father struggles to eek out a living on their small farm. Mattie is keenly intelligent, but she finds herself falling in love with handsome but boring Royal Loomis, who cannot even begin to understand Mattie’s desire to attend college. When Mattie starts working at the Glenmore, a summer retreat for the city’s rich, she plays a decisive role in unraveling the mysteries surrounding a young woman’s murder, and through this experience, Mattie gains the courage to find herself.

In this historical novel, Donnelly creates a barrage of strong female characters that do not seem to be bound by society’s constraints; even though A Northern Light is set in 1905, Mattie, her sisters, her friends, and her mentor are decidedly independent and never fail to express their true opinions. Teens will also appreciate Mattie’s role in solving Grace’s murder, as the adults in the book are completely clueless until Mattie presents them with the necessary information.

A Northern Light is a tale of mystery, murder, deceit, and one teenager’s coming of age and is sure to keep readers turning the pages. The subplot of Grace’s life through letters adds a certain richness to the story. However, the novel’s chapters alternate between past events in Mattie’s life that led up to her taking the job at the Glenmore and the present of Mattie’s time at the Glenmore at the murder; some teens may find the flashback style difficult to follow, but the novel would be much less interesting without this complexity to show how Mattie’s views had evolved.

The cover features a photograph of a teen wearing turn of the century clothing transposed over a photograph of a lake at sunset. Faint bits of handwriting appear in the background. While the cover is not bright, it is certainly eye-catching and represents the book well.
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Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko [04 Mar 2006|07:40pm]

anachronism
4Q-4P (ages 12-14)
Choldenko, Gennifer.  Al Capone Does My Shirts.  G. P. Puntnam’s Sons, 2004.  225 pages

Moose does not want to live on Alcatraz, but he has little choice in the matter; his sister, Natalie, is likely autistic, and Moose’s parents are convinced that only the Esther P. Marinoff School can save Natalie.  However, Moose’s parents have been lying about Natalie’s age for years – she has been stuck at age 10 for six years, and it seems like only Moose can bring the best out of Natalie.  Moose is not the only kid who lives on Alcatraz, but he soon realizes that Piper, the warden’s daughter is going to cause him a lot of trouble.

Al Capone Does My Shirts is infused with hilarious humor and situations as Moose and his newfound friends constantly find themselves in sticky situations, most of them caused by Piper.  Choldenko is a gifted writer who is able to capture her readers’ attention through humor, which is often difficult to do.  Moose is complex character torn between his love and dedication to Natalie and his desire for independence; teens will be able to identify with Moose’s confused feelings toward his sister and his need to escape from his parents and Natalie.

While Al Capone Does My Shirts has a fairly stark cover consisting of a drawing of a hanger and a picture of Alcatraz Island on a bright red background, it does contain a humorous and helpful map of the island that appears to have been created by Moose, giving the book a more authentic feel.  Despite the cover’s bareness, I doubt teens will be discouraged from picking it up, as the bright red background is sure to catch their attention.

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Booktalks [04 Mar 2006|06:56pm]

anachronism
Have you ever had a friend who changed your life?

Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1993.

What would you do if you knew your best friend was in trouble, but you promised not to do anything about it? In Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Eric Calhoune must decide if saving Sarah Byrnes is worth risking their friendship. You see, Sarah and Eric became friends because they didn’t fit in. Eric was fat and Sarah, she has scars all over her face and hands from when she got burned after she accidentally dumped a pot of boiling spaghetti on herself as a child. They started drifting apart. Eric tried his best to save their friendship – he even stayed fat for her after he joined the swim team, but there wasn’t much else he could do to stop it. But now, as Sarah sits silently in a mental institution, seemingly unable to speak, she needs his friendship more than ever. Can Eric make the right decisions in time? Is there more to Sarah’s story about her injuries or was she just a clumsy child? How far would you go to save a friend’s life?


Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books, 2005.

Hey, what’s another word for fat? How about Pudge? Yeah, Pudge. That’s me. No, it’s not my real name. The Colonel, he’s my roommate here at Culver Creek boarding school, started calling me Pudge right after we met. I mean, look at me, do I look like a Pudge? Let me tell you about the best day of my life. It sounds kinda silly now, but when it happened, it was wonderful. It was the day after we pulled off a big prank on a few of the Weekday Warriors and we were hiding out in a barn the school owned. We didn’t do anything special, and that’s what made it so perfect. I woke up in my sleeping bag next to Lara, this really pretty – Hungarian girl or is it Romanian? – anyway, she was pretty, and I was cold, but not too cold. And I had a cup of barely warm instant coffee and some dry Cheerios because we didn’t think to bring milk with us. I skipped stones with Alaska and Takumi after we walked through the woods. Like I said, we really didn’t do anything, but that was the beauty of the day. Anyway, that was before, back when it was me, the Colonel, and Alaska. Now it’s just me and the Colonel and it will never be the same. I never should have let her go. Before there used to be laughter, but now it seems like there’s only sadness and anger. I spent the greatest moments of my life with Alaska and I can’t help but think that this all might just be some really big prank. That would be so like Alaska. Why did I ever let her go?


Plum-Ucci, Carol. What Happened to Lani Garver? New York: Harcourt, 2002.

In Looking for Alaska, Pudge and his friends must answer some heavy questions in their religion class. Well, how about these questions? What if angels were real and they walked among us? What if they looked just like us? Would you be able to tell who was an angel and who wasn’t? When a strange new kid shows up at the beginning of What Happened to Lani Garver?, the students at Coast Regional High School have no idea what to think. For one thing, no one can decide on Lani’s gender, and when Lani will only say that he isn’t a girl, rumors start to fly. But that doesn’t stop Claire McKenzie, a seemingly perfect popular girl, from getting to know Lani. Claire has a few hidden demons of her own: she thinks her leukemia is coming back and she’s battling an eating disorder, but her so-called best friends have no idea. But Lani changes all of that and shows her what true friendship really is. When he disappears into the darkness without a trace, Claire can’t help but wonder if Lani was in fact a floating angel. Or is that just her way of dealing with his disappearance?
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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher [04 Mar 2006|06:54pm]

anachronism
4Q-3P (ages 13-16)
Crutcher, Chris. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1993. 216 pages.

Eric Calhoune’s best friend, Sarah Byrnes, is sitting silently in a psychiatric ward and he does not know what to do about it. He wants to help, but she refuses to say a word to anyone. Eric and Sarah became friends in junior high school because they were both outcasts: he was fat and her face and arms were covered in burn scars from when she accidentally dumped a pot of boiling water on herself as a child. Eventually, Sarah begins speaking again, and Eric discovers that she was feigning mental illness in order to escape her deranged father. When Sarah confesses that her father was the one responsible for her injuries, Eric must decide if risking their friendship is worth ensuring Sarah’s safety or if he should leave her to her own stubborn devices.

Even though Staying Far for Sarah Byrnes was first published in 1993, it has aged well and is still pertinent to today’s teens. Crutcher has created likeable characters who find themselves thrust into extraordinary situations. While the book has occasional monologues that insert pithy sentiments into the dialogue, they do not take away from the overall message of the book. Some teens may object to them, but many readers may never notice their existence. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is full of interesting plot twists that will keep readers turning the pages as they struggle to piece together what exactly happened to Sarah Byrnes.

The cover features a young man diving into a swimming pool, which truly does not accurately convey the meaning of the book or its complexities. By glancing at the covers, readers will likely assume that the book is solely about swimming, and while swimming is an important aspect of Eric’s life, it is not the point of the book.
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Looking for Alaksa by John Green [04 Mar 2006|06:52pm]

anachronism
5Q-5P (ages 15-17)
Green, John. Looking for Alaska. New York: Dutton Books, 2005. 221 pages.

When Miles Halter leaves his comfortable home in Florida to attend Culver Creek boarding school, he is searching for his own “Great Perhaps.” The skinny teen is immediately nicknamed “Pudge” by his roommate “the Colonel.” Through the Colonel, Pudge meets Alaska, an attractive girl who immediately steals Pudge’s heart despite the fact that she has a boyfriend she intends on keeping. Pudge and his newfound friends spend most of their time hiding out in the Smoking Hole where they sneak gulps of cheap booze and drags from cigarettes. The group is also involved in a prank war with the Weekday Warriors, the more affluent students who spend their weekends at home. When Alaska leaves her room in a fit of hysteria late one night, Pudge and the Colonel do not stop her, and on her way to where ever she was going, she is killed in a car accident, leaving all of her friends to feel guilty in her wake.

Despite her moodiness, Alaska is an extremely likeable character; when she is not spouting off caustic rhetoric to her friends, she is a deeply loyal and was the glue that held everyone together. Pudge’s character often served as comic relief, as he was very naïve at the beginning of the novel, but by the end, he had become a fully-realized character. Because Green left the ending of the novel ambiguous, teens are able to make their own conclusions about Alaska’s death based on the information unearthed by her friends; while it’s frustrating not to have a concrete ending, interpretation is also important.

Looking for Alaska’s cover is rather plain: it merely features a candle that has recently been extinguished. Even though the cover is symbolic (I assume it represents Alaska’s snuffed out life), many teens will likely pass it by without realizing the significance.
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What Happened to Lani Garver? by Carol Plum-Ucci [15 Feb 2006|11:39am]

anachronism
[ mood | okay ]

5Q-4P (ages 14-17)
Plum-Ucci, Carol.  What Happened to Lani Garver?  New York: Harcourt, 2002.  314 pages.

Lani Garver’s arrival on Hackett Island does not go unnoticed.  For one thing, the student body of Coast Regional High School cannot decide on Lani’s gender.  However, Claire McKenzie, a popular student who also has a soft heart for outcasts, befriends Lani and the two quickly form a strong bond.  Despite Claire’s popularity at school and her seemingly wonderful boyfriend, she is facing some demons of her own: the possibility that her leukemia is returning and an eating disorder that is quickly gaining control of her life.  With Lani’s help, Claire comes to realize the cruelty of her friends and the meaning of true friendship; she also grapples with the probability that Lani was in fact a floating angel.

Plum-Ucci tackles heavy issues such as, homosexuality, eating disorders, chronic illnesses, spirituality, and the dangers of popularity, but does not become preachy at any point throughout the novel; instead, she simply acknowledges that some things can never be explained and leaves the reader to figure things out for himself/herself.

What Happened to Lani Garver? depicts the haunting reality of life of an outcast and what happens to individuals who befriend an outcast in a small town.  While the reader may never be certain as to what exactly did happen to Lani Garver, the messages contained in this novel will not be easy to forget.

The cover of the book is extremely mysterious; it features a teen, but it is unclear if the teen depicted is male or female.  However, aside from the photograph of the teen, the cover is extremely plain and may not attract some teen readers.

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