Wednesday, May 30, 2012
A Year Without Autumn, by Liz Kessler
Combining a touch of magic and time travel with middle reader standard themes of friendship and family, this story is very approachable. The flaws are minor and countered by its strengths. It deftly maneuvers most of the complexities of time travel (although Kessler's insistence on doing so sometimes overextends the authenticity of Jenni's narrative voice in the explanations she provides). Keeping the focus of the story solidly on Jenni's and Autumn's friendship helps to alleviate the onset of reader boredom. Somewhat more annoying are the psychological pep talks that Jenni and Autumn have about grieving. Again, these are overly complex (most adults would lack the introspection that Jenni's freely espouses) and the discussions didn't drive the story very well. A side plot about an old woman who has spent her life regretting her own mistakes didn't quite gel either, but serves to illustrate the dangers that Jenni and Autumn face. So, in spite of the tendency towards excessive expository writing, the novel is quite readable.
Posted by Paul at 8:52 PM No comments:
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The Cupcake Queen, by Heather Hepler
While the story starts out strong and has a good heart throughout, there's no getting around the fact that it is largely recycled. Hepler doesn't really have much new to say about divorce, moving to a new town, or trying to deal with relationships. The story itself is uneven. The cupcake angle really could have been played up much more, the endless bullying from Charity gets tiring and could have been reduced, and the boy interest is largely wasted. The relationship between Penny and her friend Tally is more interesting, but again strangely underdeveloped. What Hepler does have is a breezy style and a sense of fun, but she seems to have struggled with the story.
Posted by Paul at 7:55 PM No comments:
Monday, May 28, 2012
Once A Witch, by Carolyn MacCullough
Then a handsome man shows up at her family's store while Tamsin is working and, mistaking Tamsin for her older sister, asks her to help him locate an object. Flattered, she enlists the help of a friend to do the work and makes a fateful mistake that changes the future irrevocably (and also provides some clue about what her talent truly is). With barely any knowledge of what she can do, she now must draw on everything she has to save her family from a dangerous curse.
While the story is a bit rough at points, this is truly a clever book for the way it combines teen angst and insecurity with a decent fantasy story of witchcraft and magic. That won't seem like much since almost all good YA fantasy makes a point to take on a teen's perspective and priorities, but MacCullough does it in an impressively seamless fashion. Without sacrificing the story, Tamsin's struggles to discover herself and to figure out her place in her family are true coming-of-age material to which any teen (regardless of their own special talent) will relate.
Posted by Paul at 7:49 PM No comments:
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Between Here and Forever, by Elizabeth Scott
But when Abby's plan to use Eli goes awry and Abby discovers some hard truths about her "perfect" sister, the perfect world that Abby has created comes unglued. And in the chaos that emerges, Abby discovers some truths about herself.
Well-written with strong character development. It is a story well-told. However, I'm not sure it was a story I necessarily was interested in. Abby is a hard heroine to like. While she certainly grows and expands her horizons throughout the story, she's so self-centered and clueless about other people, that it's hard to feel that her suffering is anything other than self-inflicted. And it's harder still to feel much sympathy for her self-abuse. By the thirtieth time she whines about how no one could ever love her, you really wanted to strangle her with an IV tube!
Posted by Paul at 8:13 PM No comments:
Saturday, May 19, 2012
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth
But when Cameron is outed and sent to a boarding school to be re-educated (and have her sinful past exorcised), the story takes a turn into very dark territory. The school she finds herself in isn't itself such a horrible place, but the sheer milieu (where anxious and fragile teens are bullied by prejudiced and clueless adults) is disturbing reading. In spite of the challenges she faces, Cameron remains true and insightful enough to recognize the hypocrisy of the adults around her, even as she stays honest and recognizes that she hasn't figured everything out either.
The result is a striking book that reads far too authentically (and detailed) to be merely fiction. Whether Danforth based the story on her own life, the life of a friend, or an amalgam of both isn't very clear, but it must be true. And while it really shouldn't matter, it bothered me throughout the entire book. The story is outstanding, but if it is simply autobiography than it could be a one-hit wonder.
Danforth has a fluid and florid style which displays great talent at writing beautiful prose. She is tempted a bit too often for my liking with the need to drag everything out (as witnessed by spinning a 470-page story!), but no one could fault her crazy skills. Not a single character in the story remains undeveloped. While more than a few are hard to like, you come out at the end truly understanding each and every one. That shows a sensitivity for the complexity of fear, homophobia, hormones, and uncertainty that underlie so many of the actions in the story. Yes, Danforth certainly has an agenda here, but one would be hard pressed to fault the care she takes to explore various points of view. That much of this insight comes out of older-than-her-years Cameron's narration is a bit regrettable, but it can be forgiven in the beauty which it is delivered.
It's hard to fault such a well-written and powerful book (especially if LGBT literature is something you support). I will do so, but simply out of taste (the book was too long and the story too drawn-out). I cannot claim this is a bad book, but simply one I didn't like. You may well find it incredible. Regardless, it is certainly worth reading.
Posted by Paul at 9:23 PM No comments:
Saturday, May 12, 2012
The Pledge, by Kimberly Derting
Charlie is a young woman with a terrible secret: she can understand all of the languages. It's a talent that could get her killed and she hides it at all costs. But when she meets a man named Max at a local rave who speaks a language she's never heard before (but immediately understands), he recognizes her for what she is. To her surprise, rather than turn her in, he promises to defend her.
Billed as a dystopian novel, the story is actually more fantasy, with a mixture of other genres thrown in. It's also something of a narrative mess. The novel shifts gears at least three times, each time nearly completely tossing out the storyline in favor of a new direction. This ratchets up the suspense, but makes less and less sense. The characters suffer as a result and by the end, I found myself losing interest in who was doing stuff. I liked the linguistic basis of the story, but even it becomes largely unimportant by the end.
Posted by Paul at 7:43 PM No comments:
Catching Jordan, by Miranda Kenneally
By all rights, I should despise this book. I have no issue with romances, but the premise from the blurb ("What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out?") is gag worthy. Add in the fact that this is a book about football, and it should send me retching. But sometimes if you take two toxic ingredients and put them together, you can make magic. For me, this is really a book about an unusual young woman who stands up to male chauvinism with aplomb and finds a balance between love and career. Dad is a bit of a two-dimension dweeb, but just about everyone else stands up off the page as a real character. Jordan's relationship with Ty has real life in it and the author does an outstanding job at portraying the ups and downs of teen romance. The boys on the team have personalities and Jordan's relationship with them felt natural and authentic. You really don't need to know anything (or care) about football, although it doesn't hurt.
On a side note, the art department deserves a raspberry for the cover. I might accept the boy on the left as a football player, but there's no way that Little Miss Waif on the right can toss a pigskin as well as Jordan does. Kenneally is pretty clear that Jordan is a big person with a solid build. The girl depicted here doesn't have enough meat on her bones to perform.
Posted by Paul at 12:29 PM No comments:
Friday, May 11, 2012
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, by Jennifer E. Smith
She ends up sitting next to a young Brit named Oliver, who is heading home to London for an uncomfortable family gathering of his own. Naturally, they hit it off wonderfully and have a moment on the flight. But more than that, the experience helps Hadley crystallize her thoughts about her father and how his decisions have affected her.
There's nothing particularly unusual or striking about the story. The territory it covers is well-tread and hardly original. But sometimes, an old tried-and-true formula sparkles in the hands of a good writer. This is a case in point. Hadley and Oliver are nice characters and the reader is drawn into their story. Their growth is tangible and, while not earth shattering, it is nonetheless rewarding. The settings (mostly on the plane, but also some nice London detail) are realistic and entertaining. This is an unremarkable story, which is nonetheless enjoyable.
Posted by Paul at 4:03 PM No comments:
Eve, by Anna Carey
Having realized only a bit late that this was one of those pre-fab YA monstrosities from Alloy, I almost put it down, but I was stuck on a plane without anything else to read and it was a quick page-turner, so I gave it a shot. As one would expect though, the story is formulaic and largely lifeless. The post-apocalyptic scenario lacks originality (plague? oh please!). The situation is implausible (only a pre-teen would believe the baby-farm idea) and exists mostly to serve as an excuse for the inability of any adults to be useful. The romance (this being an Alloy-committee production) is the retreaded forbidden love concept. In sum, you can kill time with this, but the cynical commercialism of the series makes it a last resort.
Posted by Paul at 3:39 PM No comments:
Saturday, May 05, 2012
The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green
Hazel and Augustus are adolescent cancer survivors, a status that they are ambivalent about, partly because of how it pigeonholes them in society, and partly because they don't really believe in survival. Before Hazel's miracle cure with an experimental drug, she was basically a goner. And Augustus's recovery seems similarly tenuous. But for two kids without much hope for the future, finding each other gives them something to hope for. Together, they share a love for a novel called An Imperial Affliction which they agree captures the true pointlessness of their condition and a similar dedication for a series of blood-drenched military novels based a first-person shooter called "Price of Dawn." It's an uncommon match.
Thus, before anyone gets the idea that Green's latest book is a re-make of A Walk To Remember, you can be relieved to find that there's enough attitude here to shake you of that. Self-pity isn't really the name of the game, and these wise-assed kids have enough irreverence to be funny and enough heartache to remind you that this isn't a comedy either. The young people here are wonderfully insightful, realistically reflective, and as anti-stereotypical as you could find. The result is an extremely well-developed character study of what dying means when you are young (and it's happening all around you).
Knowing that a story like this has a sad ending (why wouldn't it?) won't protect you from the devastation that awaits you. But that really isn't the point. Far more important is the message about trying to make a difference in a world where we all die (some just sooner than others).
Posted by Paul at 5:15 PM No comments:
Friday, May 04, 2012
Nature Girl, by Jane Kelley
Then a hike in the woods goes wrong. Initially lost, Megan finds herself on the Appalachian Trail. But rather than use this information to find her way home, she decides to set out on a trip that will change her life.
For what the book is (an adventure book aimed at middle readers), it's a surprisingly effective story. Megan is a bit too annoying at first and her transformation toward maturity doesn't always ring true (for example, when she figures out on her own how to gut and cook a fish), but the storytelling has a predictably pleasing arc. Yes, we all know that Megan will gain perspective and maturity, but it is no less enjoyable to read about it in the knowing. The reconciliation with her friend seems tacked on, but offers additional pay-off in the novel's happy ending.
Posted by Paul at 3:03 PM No comments:
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
You Have Seven Messages, by Stewart Lewis
For a book that could have been so much about internal transformation, this story is awfully cluttered with external (and frequently over-the-top) events. The fact that she is rich and that her father is famous was distracting enough. Once we start name-dropping Drew Barrymore and Orlando Bloom, it all got to be a bit too much. And, as we jetted off to Tuscany and took an unsupervised train to Paris, I realized that we were in teen fantasy land. The story was no longer about growing up, it was about having fun fun fun. I get that it's great to fantasize, but did we have to go so far off the deep end? How much sympathy can we really have for the poor little rich girl?
Story inconsistencies pop up as well (how does a phone carried at the moment that Mom is struck by a car magically end up back at her studio?) and Luna herself is jarringly inauthentic (wiser than her years would ever be, with the subsequent lack of room for growth). The end result is entertaining fluff that is fun to read.
Posted by Paul at 7:30 PM No comments:
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