Friday, January 26, 2007

The Girls, by Lori Lansens

Rose and Ruby are twins, but not the normal sort. They are conjoined at the head. And if you've ever wondered what that is like, this novel explores what it is like to have your sister always with you. The book traces three decades of sisterhood, covering the highlights of the girls' lives (family, loves, losses, etc.). It is not so much that anything specific happens in this novel, but more that it is a realistic story of a type of life that is hard for any of us to imagine. And more than being a story about them, it is also about the people they live with and growing up in a Slovak household in southern Ontario.

At 345 dense pages, this is a very long read. It is not a bad read (except maybe towards the end where it just starts to drag and drag), but given it's essentially lacking a plot, it can grow a bad hard to plow through. That said, I found the subject matter so totally interesting that I have to give it a recommendation. There are so many things about being a conjoined twin that never would have occurred to me and that this novel addresses. And a book that opens a new world is always a valuable literary contribution.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Firefly Cloak, by Sheri Reynolds

After her brother dies, 15 year-old Tessa Lee goes looking for her mother. Mom left her and her brother seven years ago and Tessa Lee is just trying to fulfill a promise to her brother to find her mother. However, her Mom has become a drug addict and an alcoholic and denies Tessa Lee when they first meet. Told in alternating voices (Tessa Lee's, Mom, and Grandma), this story traces an attempt to reconstruct Tessa Lee's family.

I'm not quite sure how I tripped over this book, but someone must have thought it was YA (it isn't, despite having a teenaged heroine). I found it a bit gross to be frank, and I'm not that much of a prude. And the alternating narrative could get very hard to follow as the author would often switch voices without identifying who had taken over telling the story. Those sorts of distractions, plus some overall clunky writing, made this a bit of a chore to get through.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Wall and the Wing, by Laura Ruby

Gurl is the only child at the Hope House orphanage who cannot fly, but she has a cat (a truly rare thing!) and an ability to make herself invisible. This power attracts attention from various evildoers. Before her story is done, she and her friend Bug must deal with punks in the subway, the Sewer Rats of Satan, Sweetcheeks Grabowski, the Professor, and the Richest Man in the World.

This fantasy story gets high marks for originality and liveliness and I'm sure it has its fans. However, it never engaged me. The characters were not very interesting and their adventures seemed too random and unpredictable to capture my attention. Instead, I found myself simply drifting through the story.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Baby Blue, by Michelle D. Kwasney

13-year-old Blue is struggling to keep her family together (or rather, what remains of it). Since her father drowned and her mother remarried to the abusive Lyle and her older sister Star has run away, this is a pretty big undertaking! If only she could convince her mother to stand up for herself!

This is pretty much a by-the-numbers abuse story. We get a series of abusive episodes that escalate and esclate, but also the predictable resolution and starting over again. It's an OK story and well-written, but no earth-shattering revelations or novelty.

The Somebodies, by Julianna Baggott [N. E. Bode]

In this third installment to the series about Fern, her friend and "brother" Howard, and the magic hidden in books, Fern and Howard must flee from their parents when the Drudgers decide to send them to military academy and the Blue Queen makes her move on the kingdom, located underground, under the city of New York.

The series has lost a bit of its lustre as it continues. The latest installment is more clunky and heavy-handed but most of all the novelty of books springing to life has declined. The message this time is about the sacrifices that writers make to create stories that transport you, but it is a message delivered with a sledgehammer. This time, the author has forgotten to liberally spread the joy and fun around that was in the previous books (replacing it with weirdness and unpredictable and meaningless plot twists). Re-read The Anybodies and give the sequels a pass!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Toys Go Out, by Emily Jenkins

Lumphy, StingRay, and Plastic all belong to the Little Girl who sleeps in the top bed. In this series of six related stories, the three of them have a series of hilarious adventures involving peanut butter, dictionaries, a washing machine (and dryer!), the sea, and a birthday party. Of course, they're all three of them just toys, but what fun adventures they can have!

For younger folks, you'll probably think Toy Story or its descendants, but these stories reminded me much more of Winnie the Pooh with their whimsical and clever nature. I'm not entirely sure that little kids will really understand the stories, but they are so cute and adorable. Highly recommended!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Drawing the Ocean, by Carolyn MacCullough

Since Sadie's twin brother died when they were 12, she has felt his presence wherever she goes and her habit of talking with him has gotten her in trouble at school. But when her family moves across the country, Sadie has a chance to start her life over again and carves out a new identity for herself as a normal and popular girl. But the more she succeeds at being popular and building a relationship with a jock named Travis, the more she feels drawn to an outcast Ryan and a life that might be too much like what she left behind.

MacCullough has not had a good track record with me. Both Stealing Henry and Falling Through Darkness were good but nothing terrific. This third novel, while less original and far more formulaic than her predecessors, is actually the strong thing she's written so far. You can probably guess how the story will end up, but that does not diminish the beauty of the writing or the engrossing nature of the read. When I had to put this book down, I genuinely regretted having to do so. That is a mark of a good book!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer

When an asteroid collides with the moon and shifts the moon's orbit erratically closer to the Earth, the effect is catastrophic to the ecosystem. For 16-year-old Miranda, it is hard to understand the significance of the event and how it will change her life. But as civilization begins to fall apart and Miranda and her family struggle to stay alive, she begins to realize how precarious life is and what really matters in this world.

An extremely depressing and downbeat story of survival. This may shock the more innocent and naive, but overall I found it to be tedious. Not that I suppose that survival in such circumstances for an average family would be all that exciting, but the day-after-day repetition of hunger, boredom, and endless new agony just really makes the book's 337 pages a bit of a chore. A powerful story, but not a very entertaining one.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Kiki Strike Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller

As the back of the book says, "Five delinquent Girl Scouts/a million hungry rats/one secret city beneath Manhattan/and a butt-kicking girl superspy-welcome to the world of Kiki Strike." That gives you a taste of the most original YA book of the year. Kiki and her band of Irregulars fight the nefarious evil powers let loose in Gotham and save the day, conquering evil Chinese gangs and snooty girl cliques for a direct head butt. These girls can blow out doors, become mistresses of disguise, jimmy any lock, and finish off anyone in their way.

My only complaint with the book is that it's terribly long (390 pages) and probably at least two books in one (the story is wide open for a sequel and perhaps a series), but the writing is fresh and fun (the technical advice given in each chapre is useful and adds flavor to the story). The heroines of the story are an irresistable bunch -- everything you typically expect from a group of 12-14 year old girls but with a good non-nonsense approach to battling evil thrown in. On one had, realistic and on the other completely over the top. This book is clever and fun. Did I mention that I like it?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Head Games, by Mariah Fredericks

Judith has been engrossed in the Game for months now. It's an online game and in it Judith can be a stronger person than she ever feels able to do in real life. But when she discovers that one of the people she plays with is actually a next door neighbor, the Game becomes real in ways that she never imagined possible. And she learns to find some strength in the real world that she had only tapped before in her fantasy world.

An engaging story with a realistic voice. Judith isn't an anybody, but her shy resolve will resonate with young book readers. Fredericks knows how to tap into that psyche, but moreover how to spin a good combination of teenage cynicism with some hope thrown in. The story does begin to drift off tangent at the end (almost as if Fredericks got worried when she passed the 250 page mark and wanted to wrap things up quickly), but her characters are such winners that you'll forgive the sloppy ending.