Sunday, January 20, 2013
My Life Next Door, by Huntley Fitzpatrick
That would have made a nice and unremarkable romantic storyline (boy and girl from opposite families find love and overcome the objections of their families), but Fitzpatrick kicks the story up a notch with an out-of-nowhere plot twist that raises the stakes dramatically. By the end, Sam has to make some difficult decisions about where her loyalties lie and what really matters. This last-minute twist adds some intensity but doesn't really add to the story in the end, becoming a distraction from the conclusion towards which we were heading anyways.
The meandering and unfortunate plot detour aside, I enjoyed the characters. Jase and Sam had authentic voices (emotional, but not dumb) and were generally sympathetic. I found them a bit precocious in their ability to maneuver amidst the Garrett larvae (I'd believe that Jase would have that talent -- having grown up with them -- but Sam comes out and says that she has little-to-no experience with smalls, so the adeptness with which she handles Jase's younger siblings defies belief), but it's cute that they do have these skills. And the interactions with the littler kids add humor and pathos to the story. As for the adults, they have flaws but come through in the end in a way that fulfills the YA lit need for kids to be on top, but without sacrificing the reality that grownups are not without problem solving skills of their own.
Posted by Paul at 5:54 PM No comments:
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Jumping the Scratch, by Sarah Weeks
Despite that, Jamie resists the attempts of a girl in his neighborhood to befriend him. She's a bit strange and insists that she can hypnotize him. While an odd statement, Jamie is curious: could hypnosis help his aunt regain her memory? Secretly, he is actually hoping that her tricks might help him forget an even worse thing which has happened to him.
The story (and how it ends) is never really in doubt and most readers will have figured it out long before it ends. However, that doesn't detract from a story that is fun and sweet. The characters are memorable and Weeks keeps the story short and spare. The gentleness makes the story suitable for younger readers, but it is far from childish and older readers will enjoy it as well.
Posted by Paul at 8:07 PM No comments:
Friday, January 18, 2013
Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne
With obvious tribute to Lord of the Flies, the twists and turns of this surprising and entertaining book keep up a high level of energy. There are numerous implausibilities (most notably the premise of the particular Armageddon proposed by the story), but the characters are interesting and distinct enough to follow. Unfortunately, the central figure Dean is actually the least interesting of the bunch. But the others have merit and with so many characters, the reader never gets stuck with any one of them for very long. I did not care for the ending (which was rushed and more of a last-minute attempt to generate a cliff-hanger for the sequel), but the story had a lot going for it. Once Laybourne gets this series out of her system (I try to avoid series books like the plague that they are!), I look forward to reading her future work.
Posted by Paul at 8:47 PM No comments:
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Take A Bow, by Elizabeth Eulberg
In this take on the story, we focus on the kids' final year and have only four characters: driven but obnoxious Sophie who is going to succeed whatever the costs; sweet talented Emme who sits in Sophie's shadow; Carter, the child actor superstar who is fleeing his fame to have a "normal" life in high school; and Ethan, the dark brooding bad boy with issues but a soft spot for Emme. Very quickly, Sophie establishes herself as an evil bitch and the reader spends the rest of the book just waiting for justice to lower an axe on her. Famous boy Carter doesn't really have any issues that can't be resolved with some conversation. So, that leaves us with the starcrossed lovers of Emme and Ethan. By the last fifty pages, every character in the book (along with the readers) are basically shouting at the pair to just get over it and shag each other! In sum, not much of a plot, but it keeps moving and is oddly enticing enough to make you want to finish.
There are some nice stylistic twists (Carter always speaks in script, as a way of hitting us over the head with a clue-by-four that he sees his entire life as a performance) and Sophie is consistently loathsome, making it easy for us to hate her. This isn't a book that makes you think. Just some good escape literature.
[Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Scholastic/Point and will be donating my copy to our local public library after I have finished with it]
Posted by Paul at 10:26 AM No comments:
Friday, January 11, 2013
Zombies vs Unicorns, eds Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black
The stories range widely, but most of them are quite dark, which means that the zombie stories generally come across better. Modern YA writers are apparently more comfortable with brain-eating zombies than with unicorns. The best zombie stories in this case came from Carrie Ryan (a complex story of a Carribean island's attempt to survive), Alaya Dawn Johnson (a homo-erotic view of the undead), and Libba Bray (imagining prom night amongst the survivors). Most of the unicorn authors re-imagined unicorns as mean and nasty, and most of the stories dragged a bit. The notable exceptions were Meg Cabot's satire (despite its gratuitous mention of the SCA) in which a rainbow-farting unicorn rights all wrongs at a birthday party and Kathleen Duey's melancholy look at the perils of immortality. While mentioned, the obvious subject of virginity doesn't feature as much as one would expect.
Most of all, I was disappointed that there was no story with zombies taking on unicorns directly (which I assumed from the title and the cover was the original intent). I was hoping to see whose powers were stronger: flesh-rotting zombies or health-restoring unicorns? Now that would have been a cool story!
Posted by Paul at 2:36 PM No comments:
Saturday, January 05, 2013
It's Our Prom (So Deal With It), by Julie Anne Peters
Needing help, she enlists her friend Luke. He's busy staging a musical drama based on his coming out story ("Closets are for Mothballs"), which is slated to premier days before the prom. Luke and Azure take turns (in alternating chapters) telling of their struggle to take control of the conventions of proms and make theirs more inclusive.
The story is a bit convoluted (and far more than just a story of staging an unconventional prom and play). There's a love triangle of sorts, some familial struggle with sexual identity, a little school politics, and a very silly conclusion. The book has got heart and Peters has certainly made another stride into the territory of books about LGBT characters who are incidental (rather than having the story be solely about their identity). However, this particular story is so random and unstructured, and the ending so completely silly (and half-baked) that the book never came together for me. The characters, including Azure and Luke, are underdeveloped and two-dimensional. And there's not much point to the story beyond imagining how much fun kids could have at a prom that featured poetry slams and drag queens.
Posted by Paul at 6:56 PM No comments:
Prairie Evers, by Ellen Airgood
When I asked the girl who introduced me to this book what it was about, she gave me a blank look. I now understand why: it's not really about anything. There's plenty of activity, but no real plot beyond "this is how I survived my first year up north without my Grammy!" More problematic than the lack of a storyline is the lack of development in the characters. It's a pleasant enough story, but rather dull.
Posted by Paul at 1:07 PM No comments:
The Girl in the Park, by Mariah Fredericks
There are plenty of suspects (being brash and fearless can earn you plenty of enemies!) and early evidence points to the bad boy at school with whom Wendy had a fling. But as Rain digs deeper, she discovers some dark secrets about her school, her friends, and herself.
It's a nicely-paced whodunnit, with a bright and interesting girl solving the murder. I found myself a few pages ahead of the characters in figuring the whole thing out, but that is mostly because the story follows the predictable conventions of a classic mystery novel (i.e., just think of who's getting a lot of attention in the story but is not a current suspect). However, while the story follows conventions, I enjoyed Rain's intelligent insights on her peers, as well as her weaknesses (mostly adolescent insecurity) that made her a bit more vulnerable than Miss Marple.
Posted by Paul at 12:57 PM No comments:
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