Sunday, January 27, 2008

Unfinished Portrait of Jessica, by Richard Peck

In this YA classic, Jessica (granddaughter of the namesake of the title) hates her mother for driving her father away, and when she gets the opportunity to go to Acapulco to see him for Christmas, she jumps at the chance. But the fantasy she has weaved about her father falls flat as his true colors are revealed. Jessica comes to realize that while he may not love her, there are others that do.

Fairly predictable and sanctimonious story about a spoiled child who grows up. Written without much of an authentic voice, I can't help but wonder why this was once a popular novel, but it is an instructive read: a good example of what YA once was like, before authors really took teen voices seriously. An interesting piece of literary history and a quick read, but flat and uninspiring.

Friday, January 25, 2008

This Is What I Did, by Ann Dee Ellis

Perhaps better titled as "this is what I didn't do," this is a story about a boy named Logan who is incapable of doing anything. A modern day Oblomov, Logan spends a lot of time telling us what he would like to do but very little time doing any of it. He once witnessed a horrible crime that involved his best friend and that event has haunted him and prevented him from defending himself in the future. As a result, he is bullied by other boys and their friends. Only a similarly outcast girl who loves palindromes will take to him.

The book is clever enough, I suppose, and you may enjoy it, but I found Logan completely maddening and useless. Watching him get beat up for 150-odd pages is not my idea of a good time (or a good read). Without real character growth, I just found myself terribly frustrated and tired by this book.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Country Girl, City Girl, by Lisa Jahn-Clough

Phoebe has managed on her farm in Maine just fine, taking pictures and telling fairy tales to the animals. It's true that she's had to manage without a mother and that she does not have a lot of friends, but things have generally been fine. But when sophisticated Melita arrives from the Big Apple, that world gets turned upside down. It isn't just that Melita is pretty and wears fancy clothes, but Melita pushes Phoebe to break out of her shell. And as Phoebe does break out, she realizes that her feelings for Melita are becoming more than just friendship.

The surprise find of 2007 for me was Jahn-Clough's unconventional novel Me, Penelope so I was definitely looking forward to reading this earlier work. Country Girl, City Girl is a more predictable story, but does not disappoint. The characters are nuanced and real, the plot is hardly formula (but still satisfying), and there is a nice dramatic arc to the story. Phoebe's jealousy is hard to relate to (but jealousy is always a challenging emotion to make sympathetic to an outsider). I give Jahn-Clough very high marks for breaking free of traditional YA tropes. You will enjoy these characters and they will seem familiar, but they will not necessary fit the stereotypes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Miss Smithers, by Susan Juby

OK, back to the reviews....

It's been a year or so since Alice, I Think left off, but in this sequel, Alice McLeod is still muddling through life in Smithers BC. Her younger brother may be the one who is all together, but Alice is sorting out how to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Goose, finding a pair of leather pants, learning how not to hold her liquor, and proving that even a freak can compete in the Miss Smithers Pageant. As before, Alice is a crazy mix of fantastic insight and crazed misconceptions, and you have to love her energy and commitment.

Clever and fun writing, you either love Alice or you hate her. Several of my friends can't buy her character and hate these books, but I admire her stamina and drive, and just enjoy her twisted view on life. Juby is a genius writer in my book and these quirky books are uniquely pleasing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Small Request

Not a book review, but more of a request to folks reading my BLOG: while I don't mind having comments on my posts (and in fact, I would welcome more discussion about the books I am reviewing), I do get tired of people posting that my comments are irrelevant because of my gender or my age.

I fully understand that my tastes may differ from people a generation removed and I acknowledge the differences between male and female preferences, but to suggest that I can't appreciate a book that is targetted towards a teenage female audience is not true. 95% of what I review here is targetted towards teen girls, and I have enjoyed the bulk of what I have reviewed (I've only panned 36 out of 420 books to date).

I will like some books that you may hate and you may like books that I pan here. That's fine and I openly welcome comments that contradict my reviews. But let's keep the discussion on the merits of the book and avoid personal attacks on the reviewer. Thanks!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Falcon's Prey, by Kristina Coia

I haven't had a chance to read much lately, but I did mange to get this slim novel in...

Ana is the princess of Prantarr, but when a natural disaster triggers a war between Prantarr and Delmaa, she and her brother must flee for their lives. Befriending a Delmish boy, they fight against merfolk, dragons, and other beasts in the course of the trek. The journey opens Ana's eyes to the truth of her kingdom and the challenges of the world.

I found this book through a strong recommendation and I wanted very much to be stunned by it on its own merits, but I'll offer this split review instead. If you consider that the author was only in 8th or 9th grade when she wrote the story, it is an amazing achievement -- a very creative story with a good attempt at character development and a deep message about transcending our differences. However, as a work of literature, Coia is still a developing author. The text is heavy with cliche and clunky. The story needed more fleshing out and revision. A writer's group and a good editor would be valuable allies. All of which is intended as praise, becuase any high school freshman who is ready for an adult writer's group is a serious asset. Expect great things to come!