Monday, November 30, 2009

Hate List

Product Details
Hate List by Jennifer Brown is a disturbing premise that is really about hope, healing, and tolerance. Valarie's boyfriend walked into school one day and opened fire on students and teachers. He killed 6, injured many, and permanently scarred the entire town. Valarie saw him aiming at the head cheerleader, a girl she personally despised who picked on her and called her "Sister Death". Despite hating the cheerleader, Valarie stepped between her and Nick, who was wielding the gun. He shot her in the leg. Nick then turned the gun on himself and ended the day none of them would forget.

Despite the fact that Valarie ended the massacre, the Hate List she and Nick created led many to think she was as guilty as he was. The book picks up in the September of the following year with Valarie returning to school. She is scared, still grieving the loss of a boyfriend she loved who is spoken of with disgust by the entire country, and not necessarily wanted back at the school by teachers and students alike. Even her parents aren't sure what to think about Valarie.

This book reaches new levels of a terrifying experience. Yet, it does so with the ability to look beyond the death and destruction and view the future beyond such an experience. While this is certainly mature material, the author delivers the story in a way for the young adult genre to be a perfect venue- children have to consider the consequences of their actions. I have read many books on this topic, but this one was the first to consider the unwilling participant- a young girl who loved her boyfriend and didn't know him as well as she thought he did. It also explores the root of the problem with bullying and tormenting that takes place in every high school in America. But if so many are bullied, what would lead someone to this extreme? As adults, why can't we stop the bullying? As humans, why do we feel the need to humiliate and dominate others? This book is a great way to question the unquestionable.

Monday, November 9, 2009


by Nick Hornby
Contributed by Peter Machera.

Often it seems young adult novels sacrifice quality for accessibility, or vice versa. With Slam, Hornsby has accomplished both, and in effect this novel will appeal to readers of all ages. Most normal adults will not be especially interested in Tony Hawk, as is the protagonist Sam. However, they will appreciate Sam's ironic and sometimes absurd approach to his situation. The teenage skater (no, not ice skating) acts as narrator, revealing that his mother had given birth to him as a teen. Sam reluctantly loses his virginity to a beautiful girl he has met. He shows a precocious, and perhaps finicky sense of morality by supposing that his new friend, Alicia, is using him to exact revenge upon her ex-boyfriend. He rationalizes that being in love is simply the temporary state of not being sick of each other yet, and so their making love is not immoral, in his complex code of right and wrong. 

This novel is a cautionary tale against random teenage sex, without being preachy. The tone is reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, in that the reader feels as though the writer is speaking directly to him. Since, apparently, teenagers don't identify with Holden anymore, they might as well check out Sam. Slam has laugh-out-loud moments consistently, and will keep you interested throughout. There isn't an ounce of fat in the three hundred page book. The author A Long Way Down, and High Fidelity demonstrates in his latest work not only that he is still relevant, but can speak in the voice of the ADD generation with, well, high fidelity. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

King of the Screwups

Liam Geller is on his last, last chance. He succeeds at the all the social aspects of school.  He wears the right clothes, is desired by the most popular girls at school, and excels at sports. Everyone thinks he has it made; everyone, that is, except his father. Allen Geller, is a CEO, with an appreciation for rules, regulations, and societal norms. Liam's mother, Sarah, is a former fashion model who left the modeling world behind to raise her son and usually defers to Allen in matters of child rearing. When Liam is caught in his father's home office, drunk and half naked with a girl Liam doesn't even LIKE, there is no recourse but to send Liam away. It is Allen's plan to send Liam to his grandparents, but Liam manages to wrangle an exodus to his Uncle Pete instead. As he rationalizes, "Living with my cross-dressing uncle in his trailer park will be a hundred times better than living with my military grandfather and the world's strictest grandmother in Nevada."

No one is happy about the arrangement, but Liam heads off to Uncle Pete's where he is taken in not just by Pete but also by Eddie, "the most effeminate man I've ever laid eyes on", Dino "the polar opposite," and Pete's partner Orlando, who is "not so bad" but also turns out to be Liam's English teacher. Liam struggles to get used to his new environment. He decides that the only way to survive school is to be the opposite of who he was at home:  he needs to study hard and be unpopular. When those goals become impossible, we see that Liam has a few more "last chances" left in him as he pushes the limits with his new caretakers, his new classmates, and his new school. He seeks to redefine himself and his family as he grapples with his inability to please his father and learns what it means to be the real Liam Geller.

I have long been a fan of K.L. Going. Her novel Fat Kid Rules the World was one of the first young adult books I read as an adult that truly captivated me. She constantly creates unique characters who somehow remain accessible, and she is the master of one of my favorite themes: how we create family among people in our world who are not our blood relations. In King of the Screwups, I love the opposing forces in Liam's character: a popular boy who doesn't want to be; a boy who wants to please his father even though his father is a jerk; a boy who can't understand how his wonderful mother can remain in a marriage with his draconian father. Adolescence is a difficult enough time without having to reconfigure your entire family to include a ragtag group of uncles and decide whether or not to keep your emotionally toxic father around. This is a must read for anyone who has screwed up.  It's a must read for anyone who struggles to reconcile different aspects of him/herself.  More importantly, it's a must read for anyone who spends time with an adolescent boy, a ragtag friend, or an emotionally toxic family member. Give it a read and then try Fat Kid and The Liberation of Gabriel King as well as St. Iggy so you get an idea of K.L. Going's range.  Bravo, Ms. Going, whatever your K. stands for.