Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Being Bindy, by Alyssa Brugman

Bindy starts off eighth grade being abandoned by her best friend Janey in favor of the most popular girl in the class. But that is just the beginnings of her woes, as her former best friend becomes her greatest enemy, and then - potentially - her step sister, when her Dad and Janey's Mom start dating. Bindy's Mom isn't helping matters either as she begins to meddle more and more in Bindy's life. All in all, it's hard for Bindy to just be Bindy!

A bit heavy on the youthful slang, which is a bit hard for someone from this hemisphere to get through (the book is set in Australia), but the story is surprisingly engaging. No major new ground broken here as everyone behaves pretty much as you expect and the ending is similarly predictable, but it's a charming and enjoyable read.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Get Real, by Betty Hicks

Dez is neat, her parents are messy. Her best friend Jil love's Dez's parents, but Dez would rather live in Jil's neat clean home and take piano lessons from Jil's Mom. But there isn't much to do about one's parents, is there? Except that Jill is adopted and when her birth mother contacts her, Jill gets to choose who she wants to spend her time with. Dez meanwhile watches her friend slip away and wonders what it all really means to be a parent, and to be a friend.

It has humor and strong characters, but the plot developments are a bit too convenient and the ending far too neat. So, a really mixed bag here. You'll like the humorous story of Dez's attamept to babysit her brother, but you'll get annoyed at the stupid mistakes she makes along the way and the predictable resolution.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Leaving Jetty Road, by Rebecca Burton

The story of three girls (Nat, Lise, and Sofia) in their last year at an all-girl's school in Australia. Sofia is the one who's rebellious and sure, Lise is insecure and developing an eating disorder, while Nat just "drifts" through life, jealously watching the others "swim" off. Told from only the viewpoint of Lise and Nat, we never quite learn if Sofia really is together or if that's just the other girls' impressions, but it is clear that they all struggle a bit with relationships (boys, parents, and each other) trying to stumble their way through life. Along the way, there are jobs, parties, and school to deal with.

The story has no real plot per se, but it does have a number of nice observations about human nature. Each of the girls is flawed in painfully realistic ways. It doesn't do much to make any of them likeable, but you will sympathize with their plights and their feelings. It is a bit annoying that we never really hear Sofia's voice. I would have rather liked to have heard what she was thinking. But, all in all, given my incredibly poor luck with Aussie YA, this is a pretty outstanding book. Not as much fun as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which it owes an obvious debt to), but more realistic and true to the heart.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Defining Dulcie, by Paul Acampora

When Dulcie's dad dies in a freak janitorial accident, Mom pulls up their roots and transports Dulcie to the other side of the country, but it's all too much for Dulcie and she runs away back home in her Dad's old red pick-up truck. Back in her old home, she goes to work for her granddad, fixing up the school over the Summer (he's a janitor too) and befriends another girl with a troubled homelife.

It's a story with a lot of promise and some amusing bits (certainly all the stories about cleaning and fixing bring to mind a bit of Joan Bauer's style). It has decent characters and lots of nice anecdotes, so what's the problem? Well, it just doesn't hang together very well. Some of the writing is excellent but other parts drag and the uneveness wears at you. Acampora has promise, but this book doesn't quite reveal it yet.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Kiss Me Tomorrow, by Susan Shreve

In this sequel to Blister, Alyssa (aka "Blister") has moved on to junior high and subsequent problems of both a romantic and legal nature. Her friendship with Jonah is threatened by his desire to hang out with cool boys, while her mother's decision to move in with her boyfriend Frank threatens her life at home. In short, things are changing and Blister hates change. But when Jonah is accused of shoplifting and runs away from home, Blister knows that some things do not change and she has to help her old friend.

I wasn't too taken by the original book. If I remember correctly, the heroine bothered me because she was stubborn to the point of utter stupidity so I lost sympathy for her. But the sequel suffers from muany more problems -- a plot that is all over the place and very sloppy writing. Even if I was sympathetic with Blister's character (and some folks apparently find her witty and funny), I think this story falls on its face.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hill Hawk Hattie, by Clara Gillow Clark

In the late 1800s, Hattie and her father eke out a living in the mountains, chopping down trees and floating them down the Delaware to Philadelphia. It's a hard life, but one made much harder by Hattie's anger at her mother for dying, and her father's unwillingness to accept her (in an odd twist, he treats her as a boy, not allowing her to wear a dress).

An unusual historical novel (with way too much to tempt a teacher to assign it for a book report), this shows off a period and a way of life which is probably little known. It's actually a decent breezy read too, but a bit repetitive (the author's favorite metaphor is hawks and she pretty much brings it up every two-three pages or so).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pandora of Athens: 339 BC, by Barry Denenberg

Pandora is 13, betrothed to a first cousin she does not love, and bored with her cloistered life in Ancient Greece. But then a chance meeting with Socrates and his servant Phoenix opens up options that may change her life.

On one hand, this book is full of marvelous detail (and the tie-in to a major historical character is clever). It is the type of book that will get kids interested in Ancient Greek history. On the other hand, the book is so tied up with its history lesson, that it really doesn't have much of a story to tell. What story there is quickly falls apart as Denenberg recreates some of Plato's more famous dialogs (Apology, Phaedo, etc.) -- fascinating for a reader like me with a PhD in Ancient Greek Philosophy (yeah, that's why I work in computers now!), but not likely to be so enthralling to a younger reader (yes, I loved the Republic when I was 16, but at 10??).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Big Sister is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book, by Mary Hershey

Effie Maloney tries to do the right thing, but that's hard when your older sister Maxie is always getting you in trouble. And when Maxie steals money from the Scouts fund (and pins the blame on Effie), she has to figure out a way to set things right. Add to all this mess a mother who is distant, a terrible secret or three, and a struggle to find a new best friend, and you have utter 4th grade hell all over the place (but don't say THAT around Mom if you know what's good for you!).

It is a bit painful getting through the book as Effie goes through a lot of unnecessary suffering, and then the whole thing wraps up a bit too neatly at the end. But moving beyond the torturous plot, there is a bit of charm to the characters. And perhaps what is hard for an adult to read, would actually be fun for a younger reader. There's certainly an honestu and authenticity to this book that makes it charming. And I especially like the portrayal of a religious household that was neither mocking or cloying. It's a book that would please more conservative families because of its stress on morality and godliness, but at the same time Hershey's worked in some good multiculturalism as well (something for everyone!).

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Music Thief, by Peni R. Griffin

Alma has had a tough time since her grandmother died, but the music of Jovita has helped her get through things. Then, Jovita is gunned down in a drive-by shooting and Alma's life seems to fall apart. She struggles with a family trying to stick together amidst an older brother falling into gang life and an older sister who dumps her own daughter on Alma to take care of. But Alma finds comfort next door at the neighbor's house, where she sneaks over while the neighbor is out and discovers a wide world of music.

An oddly amoral story of finding oneself in the midst of the barrio. Things both kind and criminal take place with little acknowledgement of either one. Instead, Griffin keeps the focus tight on this child realizing her own potential and her own failings. Even the ending is left open and ambiguous, as if there was a lot more of a story to tell. I ended up liking this story, but mostly for its originality and vision.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

What Happened to Cass McBride? by Gail Giles

When Kyle's little brother commits suicide, he wants to get back at the girl who he believes pushed him to it: cruel mean Cass McBride. So, he kidnaps her and buries her alive in a box, slowly killing her from dehydration. But as she slowly dies, he extracts her confession and begins to wonder about his own culpability.

Creeping and upsetting, this is not a book for the faint of heart. In fact, it's a rather gross story, but it's also a page turning and if you like psychological thrillers, this is a good book for you. Excellent for its genre.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Evangeline Mudd and the Golden-Haired Apes of the Ikkinasti Jungle, by David Elliott

Evangeline Mudd is brave and strong and she loves to brachiate, but that is a perfectly natural thing to do when your parents are a pair of primatologists. And when the parents go off to the jungles of Ikkinasti to research the Golden Haired Apes and leave you with the CEO of Mudd's Marvelous Minks and his demented retired ballerina wife (who is not letting herself go!) and then all of a sudden they disappear and you have to call in the help of the world's leading expert on Golden Haired Apes to help you find them... well, then you know that you have an adventure!

Lots of fun times and comic adventures in this clever early reader. The illustrations are charming too, but the best part is the cheerful bouncy adventure that everyone is having. A wonderful delightful little story!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I Don't Want To Be Crazy, by Samantha Schutz

In verse form, Schutz tells her story of discovering that she has an anxiety disorder which goes through phases of being utterly uncontrollable. It isn't all bad, but when it is, it's pretty harrowing. In between, she has time to go to college, make friends, find love, lose love, and travel in France. But always, the story (and her life) comes back to her anxiety.

It's an interesting story, and made very direct through the verse form. But free verse writing is tricky business and this is a fairly weak example of it. Here it is used in many ways to avoid going into any great reflective depth. Instead, just as she is approaching a deep personal truth or a revealing moment, she just shuts off. So, instead, we are subjected to countless woes again and again and again. By the end of the story, we really are back where we started (a point that she acknowledges explicitly) but unlike what the jacket claims, we really don't get much of a sense of growth. And that really seems to be the point of the whole thing.