Monday, November 20, 2006

Stop Pretending by Sonya Sones

Sones, Sonya. 1999. Stop Pretending: what happened when my big sister went crazy. New York: HarperTempest.

A younger, 13 year-old, sister has a difficult time adjusting to life after her older sister has a mental breakdown. The story is told in a sequence of short and intense poems that detail the younger sister's feelings of isolation, disbelief, despair, and hope. Beginning with the shock of her older sister suddenly transformed into a stranger on Christmas Eve to the horrors of visiting her in the psychiatric hospital, it details very real feelings of worrying what friends will think when they find out or if she too could become crazy, to poignant memories of what life was like before the breakdown. As her sister begins to recover, the girl begins to find hope and happiness in herself and in her own life.

At the end of the novel, there is an author's note where we learn that many of the poems found in this novel detail the true experiences the author when one of her older sister's went crazy and was diagnosed as manic-depressive. She explains some on how the book came to be and offers a list of places where one can seek help and support if your worried about yourself or someone you love being mentally ill.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan

Shan, Darren. 2001. Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant, book 2. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

The second book in the Cirque du Freak series, Darren returns to the freak show - Cirque du Freak - after traveling with Mr. Creapsley, the vampire that turned him into a half-vampire. The sequel deals with Darren's issues of not being able to make 'normal' friends, which is why they return to the freak show. Mr. Creapsley thinks that being around others that are in a similar situation will help Darren to cope. Darren learns more about being a vampire in this book and fights his need to drink human blood, thinking it will make him evil if he does.

I'm still not loving this series, maybe because the books seem so simplistic (I checked it out today and finished it this evening) and the forshadowing is everywhere, making it easy to second guess what will happen - at least as an adult. I've come to the conclusion that this would be a great creepy series for reluctant readers and can even go a little younger than the 'young adult' age range - say maybe 4th grade level. As the series develops, I would like to see Darren develop more as a character, so far the narration from him seems superficial and without much depth. There are some moments that are jarring emotionally for him and it would be nice to see some character development from them, as it is, Shan leaves the ending hanging just enough so that you'll want to go check out the 3rd one just to see what will happen to Darren, Mr. Creapsley, and the Cirque du Freak next.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Give credit where it's due...

Just a note to give titlewave the credit for supplying the photos of the covers of the books in the reviews below. Thanks!

Also...a thanks to Dr. Hilbun for bearing with all the html links in my document I turned in - I only just figured out how to do them and now that I know I love it! :-) Isn't technology grand?


Friday, November 10, 2006

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro, Kazuo. 2005. Never Let Me Go. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Alex Award Winner for 2006, Never Let Me Go, is a book about a woman, Kathy, and her being reunited with old school friends from Halisham, a private school. Upon getting back together, they are forced to face the truths of their existance. I could leave it all murky and dark...and if you hate spoilers then read no further...but the meat of the story is that Kathy and her school mates are all clones, created by the government for the sole purpose of organ donations.

Ugh! I almost evoked my right to put this one down and pick a new one. If I hadn't read the verso page I would have been clueless as to what was coming in the book. As it is, you have to stick with it all the way to page 81 before any light dawns and things are even partially explained. It doesn't get too detailed, and certainly isn't forthcoming in information as to what is going on and why, so it is unclear if the clones are randomly created just as an organ supply or if they are created for certain people who want to prolong their own lives with organs from their personal clone. I think that the central idea is a great one and could have been explored better with a more straight-forward plot that doesn't wander back and forth from one point in the past to a different one to the present.

I don't particularly care for this book, I think the writing style is very meandering, and frankly I'm surprized it is considered an Alex award for 2006 considering how casually sex is treated and the confusing, meandering plot. I don't think this would keep a YA's attention at barely kept mine.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cirque Du Freak: the saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan

Shan, Darren. 2001. Cirque Du Freak: the saga of Darren Shan, book 1. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Two boys who are best friends, Steve and Darren, visit an illegal freak show, where encountering a vampire and deadly spider forces them to make life-altering choices.

The first book in this series is poised to grab the horror-loving audience who are tired of the R.L. Stine Fearstreet type books and are looking for something new in the dark and twisty category. A fast-paced read, I could not put it down - I think I read it in a day. While the spider part did gross me out, it was never so gross to where I couldn't stand reading it, besides the twists and turns of the plot made me read on. The characters could be more well developed and don't always give reasons for why they feel or act a certain way but maybe that will be explored better in the following books. It definitely leaves the reader hanging and thirsting for more...the end is only the beginning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, Chris. 1991. Athletic Shorts. New York: Greenwillow Books.

Athletic Shorts is a collection of six short stories, five of them feature characters from Crutcher's other books and one (the first one) is an original short story that appeared in Connections by Don Gallo. Each story is prefaced with a note from the author that gives some background on the story or tells why he chose that particular character to expand upon with a short story.

I love how Chris Crutcher doesn't shy away from the realities of life. His characters are well-developed and often based on real people or real situations. Also, his humor appeals to me - just the title alone Athletic "Shorts" cracks me up! The majority of the characters here have been in his other novels, but that isn't a restriction; you don't have to have read the other novels to enjoy this book. These stories are able to stand on their own. His themes in this book have great appeal for young adults and adults alike and range from racism to insecurity to father-son friction. He is dynamic on delivering the feelings of the young adult male and yet making the stories approachable for the female reader too. If anything, Athletic Shorts will give you a taste making you want to get to know the characters better through the books that feature them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Define "Normal" by Julie Anne Peters

Peters, Julie Anne. 2000. Define "Normal." Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Upon agreeing to meet with Jasmine, or Jazz as she liked to be called, as a peer counselor, Antonia never dreams that the girl with the black lipstick, purple hair, and pierced eyebrow will end up helping her to deal with serious home issues and become a good friend.

I kept thinking that this book might lean in the lesbian direction, because Julie Anne Peters is well-known for her books that focus on the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered theme, but it never did. I like it and think that the theme it does focus on is so true for young adults today. Basically the theme is that you can't judge a book by its cover. One protagonist - Antonia, is the very straight-laced, straight A's, conservative type girl...but she's dealing with a dysfunctional family life where she is the mother figure for her little brothers (cooking, cleaning, getting groceries, signing school permission slips, etc.), her mom is in severe depression, and her father ran out on them. The other protagonist - Jazz, is the punk-rock, purple-haired, pierced, tattooed type who you would expect to have the dysfunctial family, be in a gang, or deal/do drugs but who actually is from a very well-off, well-to-do family, makes good grades, and plays classical piano. Having to be peer counselors to each other, they solidify a friendship that ordinarily might not have happend. I liked the juxtaposition of these two characters and how it makes you think about appearance and that most of the time those appearances are just something to hide behind.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Yoga for Teens by Thia Luby

Luby, Thia. 2000. Yoga for Teens: how to improve your fitness, confidence, appearance, and health -and have fun doing it. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers.

An informative non-fiction book that explains the philosophy and benefits of yoga and provides color photographs of teens demonstrating, with step-by-step instructions and pictures, a variety of yoga poses.

Thia Luby has studied and practiced yoga since 1972 and is a nationally recognized yoga instructor. The book begins with basic information about hatha yoga, benefits of yoga, an explanation of the chakras, and how to get started. After that are step-by-step instructions of roughly 40 yoga poses from beginner poses moving to more advanced ones. There are also variations for some poses to make them more advanced and even shows how some can be performed with a partner; it wraps up with sample workouts and poses summarized into various categories (i.e. by ability level, to alleviate certain ailments, or by which chakra is stimulated).

A source on her own, sources on the beginning information would lend even more stability to a well-defined, appealing book. My interest in yoga began this year and this book helped build that interest level and answer some questions. The instructions for poses are easy to follow, although I was surprised that some were made up by the author herself (noted in the back of the book). Whatever their fitness level, teens (and teenagers at heart) will find this book informative and inspiring.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

ER Vets: Life in an Animal Emergency Room by Donna M. Jackson

Jackson, Donna M. 2005. ER Vets: Life in an Animal Emergency Room. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

A non-fiction book that describes life in an animal Emergency Room, obstacles faced by being an ER Veterinarian, and real-life animal ER cases. A well-researched book, Donna Jackson portrays the emotional and physical strains working in an ER clinic but balances it nicely with the rewards of the profession and the strong bond between pets and pet owners.

Filled with full color photographs, this highly visual book doesn't lack in the information department. To get the scoop, the author immersed herself at Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital where she watched and interviewed the ER team in action. Case studies (both happily ever after and-realistically-not so happily) keep the book on track and give it a purpose. Profiles of the veterinarians, vet technicians (like nurses), and grief counselors, alternate with the case studies and informative inserts - such as, knowing your pets vital signs, toxic treats, etc. Includes a reading list for further information, websites to check out, a glossary, and an index.

I'm not typically an nonfiction reader, but I couldn't put this one down! The easy pace and short chapters kept my attention and kept me engaged. This is a great book for learning some general information about the emerging career of an ER vet.