Sunday, January 29, 2012

What if You Were Hunted?

The Hunt
Imagine a world where humans are extinct and only vampires survive. Of course they don't exactly enjoy life without human blood, but they don't have much of a choice. Then imagine being a human who hides in plain sight, a warm blooded person living amongst the very monsters that hunt him. Andrew Fukuda describes that terror so keenly in The Hunt, you won't sleep at night!

Gene is a survivor. His world is surrounded by vampires. He shaves meticulously, is careful about his mannerisms, and is careful to make sure he doesn't sweat or smell like body odor. All these things are what keep him hidden in plain sight- a human (known to the vampires as a heper) amongst ravenous vampires. These vampires aren't the kind who twinkle in the sunlight or lure you in with their beautiful faces and honey-dripped words. These vampires smell one drop of blood miles away and they will rip you apart before you have time to scream. The vampires assume humans are extinct, but when the leader announces a Heper Hunt, all the vampires are drooling at the chance to be in on the hunt (literally- these things drool a lot... nasty). 

Gene assumes his chances to be picked are next to nothing, so he doesn't worry much. he just puts on a good show, lots of drooling, some growling, etc. But when his random lottery number is chosen, he can't really believe he has been picked to hunt and kill other humans. Worse yet, he is whisked off to the Heper Institute to prepare for the hunt without getting a chance to get his necessary tools for hiding his identity- soap, razor, etc. Now he finds himself at the Institute, surrounded by the very vampires that will most likely kill him when they realize who he is without his masking tools. He sees the hepers who are housed in a sunlight triggered dome, their only protection against the vampires who want to rip them apart. When he gets to know them, he finds they aren't the cattle the vampires always made them out to be... they are just like him. So how can he hunt the last of his kind?

Oh boy. This was one serious, heavy, violent, intense story! I was dragged right in from the first page and couldn't stop reading. The world Fukuda described is so terrifying, it gave me nightmares. The idea of this boy out there, all alone, one human amongst all those monsters, is worse than anything I can imagine! The author does an amazing job of describing everything meticulously without getting too dull and drab with too much description. The characterization is very interesting, in particular the way years of living amongst vampires gives Gene a bias against the other humans he meets. But most unique was the description of these particular vampires. The way they laugh (scratching their wrists), the way they are intimate (I won't even describe that one because you have to read it to believe it!), even the way sleep and eat- everything was so innovative. Especially in a genre with so. many. vampires. 

I wouldn't give this to any student who has delicate sensibilities, because it is seriously violent, bloody, and gory. I think it would be a great story to get those older boys, who hate to read and think everything out there is "so uncool", reading (I won't use the word my students use, but you get the picture). In fact, I bet they will scoff at first and then devour the book. There is nothing childish in this story. In fact, I commend Fukuda for not being patronizing to young adults. This is a grown up story, so be aware of that when you give it to someone. That being said, I love the adult feel of the story. I think it is the key to getting an older, reluctant student reading. You need something that is going to make them feel like they are reading something mature while still being accessible in terms of reading level. I definitely plan to keep this book around for my older students. So don't give up on vampire books just yet, because Fukuda has given you a book full of vampires you haven't seen yet... and you will see them again (in your nightmares!). 

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Girl Grows Up Quickly

The Girl Who Owned A City (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) (Laurel-Leaf Science Fiction)
While we may think the post-apocalyptic and dystopic trends in YA literature are relatively new, we seem to forget those gems like The Giver, White Mountains, and others. There might be a lot of YA out there these days, but there were some good ones out there before "the big YA boom"! O.T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City looks at a world without adults where kids have to grow up quickly... or not grow up at all.

When the adults all die of a flu that doesn't affect children under the age of 12, the children are let to fend for themselves. They can't drive, no one is making or delivering food anymore, and there is no electricity. many kids are starving, but Lisa has to take care of her brother. She is very crafty and won't let her age keep her from keeping what's left of her family alive. First she starts out by raiding nearby farms, but she quickly realizes that won't last forever. When she finds a grocery warehouse, she knows they can make it through the winter. What she doesn't expect is just how far hungry kids will go to get some food.

After her brother is attacked, Lisa organizes the other kids on the block, promising food if they all work together to protect their street. This lasts for a short while until the gangs burn her house to the ground as a warning to join them or suffer the consequences. Lisa won't be bullied, and with a few other trusted kids, she schemes to take over the one defensible castle she knows- the school. They secretly move to the school after reinforcing it to be a fortress, and create a community complete with a secret tunnel. But the gangs won't give up until they have what Lisa has created, at any cost. 

This book was written in the mid-1970's, and you can certainly tell that as you read it. I remember reading young adult stories when I was young, and with the exception of a select few, they were never really as exciting or polished as YA books these days. This book felt a little clunky and childish at times, and I think it might be too "40 years ago" for our skeptical students. As a post-apocalyptic novel, it was really interesting how some kids gave up and others persevered. It also really explored the good and bad morals between working for what you have (although got a little preachy at times) and stealing from other people.

I think the reading level for this is certainly middle school, but I probably wouldn't give this dated story to a kid unless they had rampaged through my PA and dystopias already. Maybe for a little context of how far the genre has come in 40 years with a strong reader? But if you are a fan of dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories, give this one a try! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Jungle Full of Adventure

Jungle Crossing
Can you imagine your family taking you to the Yucatan for the summer?! Now what if that trip meant you would miss the one opportunity you had to go to the mini-camp the most popular girl in your class invited you too... Would you still want to go? In Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter, a summer in Mexico is the last thing Kat wants to do for the summer.

Kat doesn't want to go to Mexico and eat probably contaminated food and possibly get kidnapped by bandits and most likely end up lost in the jungle forever. But she doesn't have much of a choice when her father takes the whole family back to the place he traveled to when he was young. Everything from her annoying little sister Barbara to the rude Mayan tour guide Nando makes Kat angry. She is missing Fiona's mini-camp back home which is the key to not being a social pariah for the entire 8th grade. When her mother signs her and Barbara up for a kids-only tour, Kat finds herself just where she expects to be when she returns home- as the loser of the group everyone makes fun of.

On the days-long tour, Nando clearly expresses his annoyance with all tourists and all Americans. Kat doesn't understand why he is so grumpy all the time. Barbara, in all her childish innocence, coaxes Nando into telling a story about the ancient Mayans he comes from. He begins to tell the story of a Mayan princess who was captured and enslaved by another group of Mayans. During this princess's capture, she learns a lot about herself and her culture. While Nando tells Barb and Kat the story, kat learns a lot about Nando, his culture, his life, and most importantly, herself. It seems that the trip she most vehemently protested may have been the most pivotal point in her short life.

I am not going to lie, at first I struggled with this book. Kat is such a cranky brat that I almost didn't want to go on. All she does is gripe and complain about this amazing trip her family took her on. She thinks all the food is poisoned, everyone is out to get her, is horribly mean to her little sister, and writes these absurd postcards to the mean girls back home begging them to remember her. I hated Kat at first. But luckily, the story of the Mayan princess started, which really caught my attention. It paralleled much of Kat's story about a privileged girl who didn't appreciated how good she had it. The moral is there, I think Salter just made Kat too unlikable at first. She was wretched! 

This is a middle reader story that appropriately handles the gruesome Mayan culture for the age group. Some of the nastier bits with the sacrifices are handled well and although still remaining true to the culture, don't overdo it. The transformation in Kat is a good one, but I can see some kids being just as annoyed with her as I was and not wanting to go on with the story. Perhaps Salter's portrayal of Kat was just a little too heavy handed and might turn the reader off before giving her a chance at redemption. I guess you will just have to see for yourself!

Supernatural Like You Have Never Seen Them Before

Department 19 (Department Nineteen)
If you couldn't tell from the cover of this book that it was an intense story, then you need some lessons in visual imagery! Will Hill's debut young adult novel Department Nineteen kicks off a fast-paced trilogy about the British Department in charge of maintaining supernatural order. Don't worry, the US has one too, but you won't believe the usual suspects who make an appearance!

Jamie Carpenter watches his father killed right before his eyes, right outside their home. He was told his father was a traitor who was selling information to terrorists. The repercussions are wide spread as jamie and his mother must move time after time once their neighbors realize they are the family of a man who betrayed their country. When Jamie is attacked by a strange woman, he rushes home only to find his mother gone, kidnapped. In fact, Jamie is almost taken as well if not for the arrival of one very large man/monster... complete with bolts on the sides of his neck. Victor Frankenstein saves Jamie from what is clearly a vampire- a very old, very angry vampire who wants Jamie.

Frankenstein takes Jamie back to the hub of Department 19 and explains to him that Jamie's dad worked at the Department, a government agency designed to protect humans from supernatural beasts like vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Jamie's father was indeed a traitor, but he didn't betray his country to terrorists, at least not in the sense Jamie originally thought. He betrayed mankind to the vampires, endangering Department 19, the lives of operatives, and the rest of the unsuspecting humans the Department protects. While Jamie has been disenchanted with his father for years now, he finds this all very hard to stomach, especially when most people in the Department aren't happy to have the son of Julian Carpenter in their midst. But Frankenstein vowed to protect the Carpenter family, and when Jamie insists on traveling all across the continent to find his mother, Frankenstein comes along to protect him. What they don't know is the death of Jamie's father was not the death of a traitor, and that traitor is still inside the Department. Now they are not only battling the creatures who want to destroy people and use them for cattle, they are battling the very people they expect to protect them.

Oh, this book was exciting from the very first page to the last. They bounced all over the continent and between the present time with Jamie's dilemma to the past when Van Helsing and the other founders of Department 19 battled and killed Dracula. And you won't want to miss the hilarious truth behind Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker! I loved the excitement and repurposing of old stories in this action-packed supernatural thriller. In fact, I can totally see this story being made into a killer movie (no pun intended!). 

The story definitely has some violence in it, and it is a rather long story (over 500 pages). I think it would catch anyone's attention once they started it, but it might be too long for a student who struggles to finish stories. I see this as a great book for guys who need action and anyone who is interested in supernatural stories. I am eagerly awaiting the next in the series, as I am sure you will too once you read this one!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Not Just a Daughter

The Daughters
So your parents are famous. So you can't go anywhere with your mom or dad without the paparazzi following you. So you struggle to hold onto that "normal life" you want so much... you should be happy, right? If that's what you think, then you clearly aren't a Daughter. Only the Daughters know what life is like as a Daughter, and there is no one better to tell the tale in The Daughters than Joanna Philbin, Regis Philbin's Daughter!

Lizzie's mother is the supermodel Katia Summers. Carina's father is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Hudson's mother Holla is a platinum record selling pop star (think Madonna!). Together, they are Daughters, and the Daughters have rules. First, only another Daughter understands what it is like to be a Daughter. Second, Daughters can only trust other Daughters. Finally, Daughters never talk to the press. It is hard living in the shadow of you parents, but life as a Daughter is more difficult than you could imagine. 

When Lizzie experiences a case of verbal diarrhea to a reporter and calls her mother's new clothing line "slutty", she is all over the papers... the last thing frizzy-haired, plain Lizzie wants. While this garners her a lot of unwanted attention, it also gets her noticed by some of the right people, in particular, a photographer who is labeled as the "ugly model" photographer. What she really likes are real people, people who aren't size 00, but in the fashion world, anyone who is larger than a size 2 and shorter than 6 feet tall is "ugly". At first, Lizzie isn't sure about going to the shoot, but eventually her curiosity wins the best of her.  She goes and something happens. Plain, forgettable Lizzie loves being photographed. She feels free, she feels beautiful, and it is amazing. Her photographs quickly catch the eye of many people and when she is named the newest, hottest young model in the business, Lizzie isn't quite ready for everything that entails. Luckily, she has the other Daughters to help her through.

This was a really fun story about how fame and fortune affect everyone, not just the person who is famous. It makes you think about all those children like the Osbournes, Drew Barrymore, Rumer Willis and other Daughters of famous people. How do they grow up with everything they do scrutinized and in the public spotlight? I can't imagine! Being a teenager is hard enough, but having to battle the paparazzi in the middle of puberty is simply evil!

The Daughters is a series about these daughters, and I am looking forward to the other books in the series. It is great for any middle reader girls inching their way to young adult novels. Any girl who liked Ally Carter's two series' Gallagher Girls and Heist Society would like these stories. I see them as books for the "Gossip Girl" circuit. They are fun and goofy, and really have some strong morals behind the glitz and glam. And for all those real girls and women out there, I can never hear enough "no more size zeroes"!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From a Bully's Perspective

After finishing The Fault in Our Stars, I really needed to read something different. I had bought this book on a whim, at first scoffing at it, then intrigued by it. I was torn between being impressed by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson writing about his early start as a playground bully and being annoyed by this ghost written story pumped out to make more money. Now that I have read Playground: A Mostly True Story of a Former Bully, I think I am more impressed than annoyed...

Butterball is a big guy. Junior High is rough enough for a kid, let alone a fat kid, so you have to be tough to make it through. When Maurice, Butterball's only real friend at school, starts telling people something truly horrible about Butterball's family, he does the only thing he can. He defends his honor. He bashes Maurice's face in with a sock filled with D batteries. Now Butterball has to go to a social worker twice a week and talk about his feelings- the last thing he wants to do.

Butterball and his mother moved out of the city to Garden City when his parents split up. He still goes to the city occasionally to see his father, but his dad is usually preoccupied by his latest girlfriend. Butterball's mom works constantly between her time at the hospital and college classes to become a nurse. Mostly he spends his time with Evelyn, his mom's friend who make gross vegetarian stews and rags on Butterball to behave himself. At school he has gotten a lot of attention, some good and some bad, for what he did to Maurice. Now a group of guys wants him to do it again to a guy Butterball has never met. But Butterball doesn't understand- this guy hasn't done anything to him, so why would Butterball bash his face in? 

I wouldn't say this was a great story, but it was one that has a good moral and is told form a different perspective than others of its kind. I like the fact that 50 Cent took the time (via a ghost writer) to get his story out there about his own bullying, why he did it, and how it affected him later. As an artist many kids look up to, it is great to put yourself out there and try to be a positive role model to them. I think it was important for him to stress that there was a reason behind Butterball's actions. While the reason doesn't condone the actions, it helps someone understand and address the situation properly.

I would probably keep this book around, even though there are better stories out there, because it would appeal to some kids where other books might not. They may pick it up and read it just because the author is someone they know and look up to. And to be honest, the moral of the story is pretty strong. Overall, not a bad book but definitely one that has a place on my shelves. But I'm not going to lie... still feel silly calling him 50 Cent (what a ridiculous name!).

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
With such an amazing title and simple cover, I wasn't sure what to make of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. What I uncovered was a book that I can't really explain with any great justice. It was a book that overwhelmed me with emotions and a book I simply could not put down. Quite simply, it was one of the best, if not the best book I have read in a long time.

Hazel has cancer. She can tell you more about the particulars, but basically she is cancer. She isn't fighting a battle with cancer, she is made of cancer and her cancer is made of her. She stopped going to school years ago and got her GED, but she goes to Community College, which is her only real interaction with people other than her parents. Her mother wants her to have a normal(ish) life, so she encourages (makes) Hazel go to a cancer support group. At the support group, Hazel watches a revolving door of cancer people come and go (and by go, she means "from this earth"). What she didn't expect to happen on this particular day was that she would meet Augustus, a boy who lost his leg to cancer.

Augustus is that rare individual who transforms every life he touches, but he does so in such an unassuming way, you can't help but absolutely love him. As he and Hazel get to know each other, she reveal's her favorite book. An Infinite Affliction is about a young girl dying of cancer, but it is real. It isn't the type of book to romanticize the disease or create martyrs of innocent children because of the disease, but instead it tells the truth of it all, scary parts, sad parts, horrible parts and all. And then it ends. mid-sentence, it just ends. Whether because the girl died or was too weak to continue, it just ends. Hazel shares this story with Augustus, and neither of them can stop thinking of what happened to the people the girl left behind. Hazel has tried to contact the author before, but she was never as determined or crafty as Augustus. With his ability to charm himself in or out of anything, Augustus finds the reclusive author and manages an invite to go to Amsterdam and meet him. Although Hazel spent her one Wish (the wish given to dying kids because adults can't bear to see them die) years ago when she thought she was dying, Augustus has never spent his, until now. Although the trip to Amsterdam is crazy, whimsical, and inherently dangerous for a girl whose lungs are intent upon drowning, they go on the adventure that will make their short lives full to the brim. It isn't exactly what you would expect, but it was a Wish that was granted in some strange and life-altering ways.

I am not sure how to describe this book because it really affected me in so many ways, so I will describe the emotions it made me experience. I was angry, so very angry. I was angry for Hazel and her swimming lungs, Augustus and the fact that cancer could hurt a boy who was so simply wonderful, for Isaac who lost both his eyes to cancer (and subsequently his girlfriend). I was heartbroken when Hazel worries that she is a "grenade" who will scatter shrapnel into everyone's lives she touches and scar them forever. I was happy, beyond happy, to watch Augustus take Hazel's life, much of which was filled with not living, but rather going through the motions, and make her live, love, hurt, breathe, and live again. I cried because of the poetic ending, and I laughed at Augustus' and his way of making you laugh even when you should be crying (or sobbing). But even now, I experience a feeling that doesn't really have a name. It is the feeling in your gut and in your throat you get when you remember a book or movie or song that has affected you so deeply, you want to pick it up and start all over again. It is the feeling that you get when you think about that book or movie or song that makes you smile and brings tears to your eyes at the same time.

I loved this book. I can't tell you enough just how much I loved this book. John Green is not only a master, but he is an author who has the ability to change your life. This is a sad book, as its premise clearly tells you, but it is beautiful and happy as well. Don't discount this book as depressing or "too much" for a student, because it isn't. Sometimes I am skeptical about giving a book with a premise such as this to a kid who has experienced loss or grief, but this book would actually help a child who has lived through such a tragedy. It doesn't romanticize the illness, it just tells it like it is. At one point Augustus talks about wanting to leave a legacy when he is gone and Hazel disagrees with him. She just wants to live, live normally. She doesn't need to shape the world, she just wants to make it to her next birthday (which her family counts in half birthdays because a year is too long to wait for). The candidness of this book will affect you deeply, I warn you, but you will be better for it. So give it to everyone who will read it, young adult, (not so young) adult, ill, not so ill, anyone who will read it. Why? Because when you read a book like The Fault in Our Stars, you have to share it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bloody Battle Comes to a Close

Bloodrose: A Nightshade Novel

Going against all you ever known is not only incredibly brave, it is incredibly terrifying as well. In the first two books of the Nightshade series, Calla has struggled to find out who she is and what she believes in. Now that she knows who is bad and who is good, she is willing to risk everything for what is good and right in the world, even if it costs her everything. In Bloodrose, by Andrea Cremer, Calla and the other wolves are preparing for the battle of their lives.

The Nightshades that have come with Calla to join the Searchers know to trust their alpha. So when she brings back Ren, her former mate, they know he is necessary for the mission. Only Shay, the boy Calla loves, can't help but be bitter by Ren's presence. Since all three are alphas, this is not a pleasant love triangle to be a part of. But despite their own personal problems, the alphas and their pack have bigger problems at hand. 

Now that they know Shay is the Scion, the only person alive who can banish the demon who is responsible for the evil the Keepers use, they must find the the four elemental pieces of the Scion's weapon. The four pieces that are separated and protected by other guardians who don't believe in Calla and the pack's cause, come together to form two swords. Those swords are the key to banishing the evil lurking in the world for good. The pack has a plan to get each piece, but each piece becomes harder and harder to get. When Calla is taken hostage by the Keepers, she thinks the mission is over. What she doesn't know is that a lot more people than just her small pack of wolves want to help rid the world of the Keepers and their evil. But until all the pieces come together, the Keepers cannot be defeated. Can they do it?

Such an interesting end to the story! I am not going to lie, there were a few times when I was not happy with the ending, but when all was said and done, I was quite impressed with the risks Cremer took to end her story. It may not be the picturesque perfect ending, but it certainly is an interesting, strong ending. At times I was a little perturbed with the love triangle between Ren, Calla, and Shay, but it was mostly because I just wanted to get to the final battle. Looking back, it was a necessary subplot to tackle, so I get why it was dealt with so frequently. I can't say I would have changed anything about this series, but honestly I can't say I would end it this way either. I think if you read the series, you are either going to love or hate this ending. There will be no such thing as an ambiguous sentiment towards Bloodrose!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
Love at First Sight. Now be honest, your first instinct is to be cynical. "What nonsense... love at first sight. It's not possible!" You want to blame it on attraction, on pheromones, on anything but kismet, fate, serendipity. But then there is that little voice inside, that optimistic, romantic person inside of you who wants to believe in Love at First Sight. It is the stuff of all those books we read and movies we watch. Jennifer E. Smith lets you answer the question, what is The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight?

Hadley hates small places, so the idea of flying to London is like the seventh layer of hell for her. Add to the hours long ride in a metal tube thousands of feet in the air that she is going to her father's wedding and you have a perfectly miserable trip on your hands. In retrospect, there are many things that made Hadley miss her original plane by four minutes, and without them all happening, she would have caught her plane and never met Oliver. Instead, she misses the plane. And she meets Oliver. And her whole world changes.

Oliver makes the plane ride more than tolerable. He and Hadley talk all night. They tell each other things they haven't told anyone else because they have a connection both can feel but neither fully understands. They are drawn to one another and feel like they have known each other forever, but they have only known each other for hours. When the plane lands, Hadley feels an overwhelming sense of loss knowing they must both go their separate ways. But do they have to? What are the chances of anything working out between two people who just met on a plane? But then again, would she be able to forgive herself if she didn't at least try?

Oh it was love at first sight alright. I saw this book and knew I would love it, and by golly, I was right! Hadley and Oliver are just so perfect together. They might not admit it right away, but you know it the minute they speak to each other. Neither lives the perfect life, and both have their own skeletons in the closet, but when they are together, those skeletons don't seem quite as scary as the used to. You will find yourself just as in love with this couple as they are with each other... it is kismet!

This is a great book for any middle school through high school student, although probably more likely to appeal to girls. The story is just ridiculously adorable, as are the two main characters. The subplot of Hadley's parents' divorce and her father's remarriage is handled really well. It shows the resentment Hadley feels along with the supreme sadness of no longer knowing her father. It also shows how Hadley has become the support for her mother and how that changes their relationship. This is a great story on so many levels, but the love at first sight is what will make you smile. The beauty of this book is that it catches you with the title and keeps you with the sweetest, most adorable story.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Those Bloody Vampires

Blood: Book One of the Mercian Trilogy
Vampires have been done. They have been done over and over again. Yet, we still find ourselves drawn to the vampire stories out there (or at least I do!). Maybe it is the vampire allure that helps them capture their victims... we just can't help ourselves! So even though vampires have already been done, K.J. Wignall had the right idea in giving us what we wanted- more vampires in Blood: Book One of Mercian Trilogy.

Will has "survived" the last 700 years by going through the motions. After he was bitten and succumbed to the "sickness", he awoke many years later in a grave. Fortunately, someone had created chambers for him to crawl out of the grave and into. Those chambers have been his home for centuries, and he assumes they will be for all of eternity. Each time he wakes from hibernation (sometimes 10 years, sometimes 100), he needs to feed. Everything this time is normal, but when he finds his victim, a vagrant who won't be missed, something happens. He puts the vagrant in a trance, but the victim says something- when people are in Will's trance, they never talk. The vagrant tells him Lorcan Labriad is waiting for Will. The problem is Will has no idea who Lorcan Labriad is. 

Nothing about this time is the same. After the strange occurrence with the vagrant, he looks at the man's notebook only to find mentions of himself and pictures of a young woman. When Will heads out into the city, he comes across the woman, Eloise. It seems that something is happening that involves Will and Eloise is a part of it. As they try to piece together what is happening, they realize this Lorcan Labraid and anyone who is involved with him is pure evil. Now Will and Eloise, vampire and orphan, must risk everything to get to the bottom of the mystery. But who can they trust?

As vampire stories go, this wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't the best either. There were times when the story seemed to have too many clues and not enough answers and I started to lose interest a little bit. Luckily, being such a short book, it was able to collect itself quickly and get back to the story at hand. Some parts are a little hokey as well, and I found myself wishing Lestat would come by and show everyone what's what! I know this is a trilogy, but I will probably wait for the next book to go on clearance and my book pile to dwindle considerably before I continue with this story.

Since the story is a little juvenile at times, it might be best for the middle readers who are just starting to read young adult stories. It is a quick read and although there is some formal language (remember, Will is 700 years old!), the language is generally accessible. It wouldn't be my "go to" book, but I wouldn't stop anyone from reading it either. My only peeve, I have to say, is the title... Blood? Really? You couldn't come up with anything more creative for a vampire story?!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Spooks are Back in Town

Unraveling Isobel
If you see a ghost, does that make you crazy? Or is the ghost drive you to be crazy? Are ghosts real, or a figment of our imagination? In Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook, you get to see just how a girl who grapples with her father's mental illness handles the ghostly happenings of her new home.

Isobel doesn't want to move her senior year, but when her mother suddenly remarries Richard (who Isobel affectionately refers to as Dick), she has no choice. Now she is stuck on an island with a new stepbrother, in a creepy old mansion, and the rumors that Dick's wife and daughter didn't die in a accident after all. It is hard enough being the new girl during your senior year, but when you compound that with the knowledge of your father's schizophrenia, there is no easy way to explain ghostly activity.

Isobel chooses a room in the estate that happens to be Dick's deceased younger daughter's room. She has gotten over the creep factor until weird things start happening in her room. Things move, she swears she sees the little girl, seashells show up all around the house, and finally, during a misbegotten sleep over, a Ouija Board incident leaves Isobel convinced the little girl is haunting the house. The strange happenings around the house are easier to explain for her mother and step-father, though. They just assume she is crazy like her father. The only one who believes there is something strange and inexplicable going on is her step-brother, Nathaniel. Now they have to get to the bottom of everything before Dick packs her off to a mental institution, but how can they when everyone on the island thinks she is crazy. 

While this book had a lot of potential and was a fairly interesting premise, it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be for me. I think it was an interesting ghost story and the twists in the end were great, but the story was a smidge more juvenile than I like. I can't really put my finger on why it felt juvenile, but it did. 

The thing I liked the most were the discussions about Isobel's father's mental illness. There is a stigma out there that having a mental illness makes you irreparably "crazy". There is a point where the queen bee of the school outs Isobel for seeing a therapist (and because said therapist is evil girl's father and she listened through the vent, she also announces Isobel's father's mental condition). Instead of running for the hills (although she really wants to), Isobel stands up and delivers a pretty great, impromptu speech about mental illness. It is straight from the heart, candid, and she stands up to the bully by not letting her father be a "skeleton in the closet". It was a pretty impressive stand she took, and I loved that the mean girl's evil plot backfired when everyone openly supported Isobel. That is the thing I wish our students would understand... when you take the power out of whatever the bully is using against you, you beat them at their own game. It was a pretty powerful experience on multiple levels for Isobel. So while this story wasn't the absolute best for me, I think it is worth putting out there and stocking your shelves with, if for no other reason than to open a dialogue or two about some pretty serious topics.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Never Eighteen and Full of Wisdom

Never Eighteen
The worst feeling in life has to be life ended too early. The idea of a young man never able to reach his eighteenth birthday is something we wish didn't happen. Megan Bostic takes this tragic story of a young man who knows his life is ending and what he chooses to do with his last weeks in Never Eighteen.

Austin has leukemia. He has been through chemo and all the treatments, but he knows they haven't worked. His mother wants him to continue, but he is finished with treatments. If the cancer is going to take him, he is going to do what he has always wanted to do. He is going to try and fix everyone in his life he knows is broken. Whether or not he knows why his friends or family are broken, Austin believes his unique position and shocking honesty might just save the people he loves. 

Austin also needs to do some things for his own piece of mind before he goes. He has never skinny-dipped or ridden the scariest ride at the fair. Most importantly, he has never told his best friend Kaylee that he is in love with her. As Austin works through his list of things to do, he learns more about himself than he does the people he visits. Not all of it is good, but it gives him the peace he needs to finally say goodbye.

As I first started reading this book, I will admit I thought it was a bit too far fetched. As this boy started visiting everyone, I thought to myself, "Good grief! Is this boy a bad luck charm or something? Why is everyone around him in such dire straights?!" Then I just accepted that it was fiction and the horrible lives of his friends and family were necessary for dramatic effect. When the book finally ended, and I am sure there needs no spoiler alert to how it ends with such a premise and title, I was sobbing. Not just crying, but big, heaving, hiccuping sobs. The final two chapters were so beautiful and so horribly sad, I couldn't stop crying (and my copy of the book is warped to prove it). Bostic might have used a little bit of a heavy hand through some of the book, but in the end, she knew just how to catch you off guard and wrench your heart from your chest. 

This book can be pretty mature both in language and in situations. I think it is best left for the high school YA crowd, as it might be a little too old for younger students. The story is a sad one, sure, but the beauty Austin shows everyone is that life goes on and so must the people someone leaves behind. Death isn't easy, but this book made it mean something more than just loss.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan
Did you ever start a book, not knowing what you were going to think of it, and end up staying awake all night trying to finish it because you just can't imagine putting it down? That was my experience with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I know I had to work the next day, but I simply couldn't stop reading.

Ivan is a gorilla. He is the only gorilla at a small zoo located at the Big Top Mall. Even though he doesn't have any gorilla friends, Ivan still has Stella, the old elephant, and Bob, the stray dog, who make him as happy as two friends ever could. He even has the zoo's cleaner George and his daughter Julia to visit him and keep him company. No one is really happy at the Big Top Mall, but they live their lives the best they can under the circumstances. 

When a new baby elephant named Ruby is brought to the zoo, everything changes. Ruby and her sadness make the rest of the residents of the Big Top Mall realize just how sad they really are as well. Everyone becomes protective of Ruby, even when her constant questions drive them crazy. Stella protects Ruby as though Ruby were her own daughter, but when Stella gets sick, she makes Ivan promise he will get Ruby out of the little, miserable zoo and to some place where Ruby can be happy. Ivan is a gentle giant, but he takes his oath seriously, especially when he sees the zoo's owner, Mack, take out the claw stick on Ruby when she refuses to learn Stella's tricks. Ivan needs to save Ruby, but how can a gorilla who hasn't left his small cage in years get her out of the zoo? 

As I first started reading this book and they described the animals in their cages, I almost put it down. I really can't take anything that involves animals hurt or neglected, so it took a lot of will power to keep going (even though the descriptions aren't terribly graphic, they still made me very sad). I am glad I kept going. The story of Ivan and his friends, both human and creature, was so beautiful, it was heartbreaking. I kept reading because Ivan just had to save Ruby. I needed him to save Ruby. She was so innocent and naive, and seeing her in that zoo broke my heart. Ivan was such an interesting character with his gentle nature and his artistic talents (he likes to draw bananas the most, but draws other things too!). When he uses those artistic talents to save Ruby, you will literally find yourself beaming from ear to ear!

This is a beautiful middle reader story told in simple language from Ivan's point of view. He explains gorillas are creatures of few words, so the story is told in short, simple bursts of paragraphs. Since they are so small, it becomes a great book for a beginning reader who can stop and start with great frequency if they need to (if they can bring themselves to). I might give this story to an older, struggling reader because it is such a touching, beautiful story, but I would make sure it wasn't a student who would be insulted by slightly juvenile writing. The story would keep them interested, but the writing is young. If you need a story to read aloud in class or at home with your child, give Ivan and the crew a chance. You won't be sorry you did!