Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Savage End

Sometimes we don't stop and think about all the things that could go wrong in our precious, carefully orchestrated lives. When a mega-tsunami creates a chemical leak that changes the Four Corners are forever, a group of kids must learn to grow up quickly. In the Monument 14 conclusion, Savage Drift, Emmy Laybourne wraps up the story of those kids and how they had to change with the world. 

It wasn't easy, but Dean, Alex, Niko, Astrid and the other kids made it to Canada. In the refugee camps, life isn't easy, but it is far better than where they came from, running from criminals, looters, and worse, the compounds that changed them with every exposure. They have carved out a little life in the camp, but they never expected to see someone they thought was dead in the papers. When Niko finds the picture of Josie in the news, he insists they must go get her out of the O concentration camps they are keeping everyone who might go crazy in. Josie lost it to save their lives, and they can't leave her there with all those criminals. 

At first Dean and Astrid refuse to entertain the idea. They can't leave the kids behind, and with Astrid's pregnancy, it is too dangerous to travel, especially with the rumors of "drifts" where the compound was collecting and moving with the wind. But when they catch on that exposed pregnant women are being taken without their permission for testing, Astrid worries about her unborn baby's life. When they finally make their way out of the camp, the world outside is no longer as they remembered it. Things have changed, but so have they. 

This series has always been a little juvenile and unsophisticated. It has been a good alternative to the darker PA stories for middle school students, but it did reveal Laybourne's struggles to conclude and stretch the story simultaneously. I think older students would find it too tame and childish, but my middle school students who wanted to read a PA story seemed to like it, and I didn't have to worry about mature content. Unfortunately, that juvenile quality also made the story a little one dimensional. And the ultimate conclusion, while not that bad, felt rushed and predictable. 

Ultimately, I think the story would have been better if it had ended with their arrival in Canada. This installment wasn't really necessary, and that showed. It felt like the push to squeeze out a trilogy along with every other author out there, and the stretch showed through. It was interesting, but I think the story would have been better if the first two books had been combined as one and ended in Canada. I originally picked this story up for the content, but I am not sure if I will read Laybourne's next book, although I imagine it would be a decent middle reader for that age group. I just don't think I am partial to her writing style. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Huck How Huck Would Have Appreciated!

We all know Huckleberry Finn. He is the boy whose adventures, alongside Tom Sawyer, are read in almost every school in America. It is also the Mark Twain story that sparks racial controversy every time it is added to a curriculum. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a story we are all familiar with, but is it always accessible to students?

Huck's father comes and goes, but Huck doesn't mind when he is gone. It means he doesn't hit Huck. When Huck is taken in my a kind neighbor, he appreciates everything she is doing for him, but he struggles to remain proper. In particular, he struggles to remain confined inside four walls. When his dad returns to town, there is an adventure of epic proportions complete with a murder mystery, con men, Jim, the runaway slave, and treasure. 

The great thing about these Campfire stories is how they take a large, possibly dry story and abridge it into a fun, short, graphic novel. I don't usually like abridged versions, but more and more, I see the merit in these graphic shorts. They can inspire students to pick up the full story when they are ready for it, and even if they don't, they at least give them exposure to the story. Sometimes, because the story is heavily abridged, it feels a little choppy or disjointed, but that is the price you pay for this kind of adaptation! I like this series, and hope to pick up a few more. But one thing is for sure... this is the kind of fun, quick story a boy like Huck, who can't be in the same place for too long, would appreciate!

Friday, June 13, 2014

On a Wing and a Prayer

High school is hard enough, but if you are a 14 year old junior in high school, you can expect some pretty ridiculous situations to live through. Ryan Dean West is a 14 year old junior who is starting his school year in O-Hall, the hall for the "juvenile delinquents". Unfortunately, those are the same people who make his life miserable, including his brand-new roommate! Winger is a hilarious account of Ryan Dean's year in all its awkward, hilarious, and heartbreaking glory!

When Ryan Dean is put in O-Hall, he knows he is going to be ducking and dodging Chas, his new roommate, for the rest of the year. All he wants is to move back with his friends, Seanie and JP, but now he is stuck in a room with the meathead. Add to that his best friend, Annie, has no idea he is madly in love with her, and you have the recipe for one seriously sucky year. But then something bizarre happens. Chas is a turd, but sometimes, he is less turdy. Sometimes, he just isn't so bad. When Chas's girlfriend, the hottest girl at school, starts flirting with Ryan Dean, he doesn't have any clue what is happening. but he is also not stupid enough to question it!

In O-Hall, he even finds himself enjoying his time with guys like Kevin and Joey. Sure Joey is gay and all, but everyone seems to know it and not give a crap. But even when things seem to be going OK, there is always the chance they are going to take a turn for the hilarious and horrible worse. From late night poker games and the two-beer hangover that almost kills him the next day, to doing something he knows he shouldn't but can't stop himself, to using humor to convince Annie she really should consider dating a 14 year old, Ryan Dean is a tricky guy, a funny guy, but just don't call him "little boy"!

This is one of the most hilarious books I have read! Ryan Dean's dry sarcasm and wit is so spot on, it makes you want to meet Andrew Smith, because, let's be honest, he HAS to be hilarious, right?! There is no way he can't be. Ryan Dean kept me cracking up right until the final part of the story. Don't get me wrong, there are some serious parts of this book that are difficult and beautifully written, but it is Ryan Dean's outlook on life that makes this book special. He just tells it like it is, and you know those thoughts are going through the mind of every single 14 year old boy! Especially one surrounded by hot older chicks he knows he can't get... or can he?!

There is a good amount of language and sexy times referred to in this book, but not too graphic- mostly Ryan Dean talking about his junk (wait for the fateful rugby game/ball sack incident!). I think this is such a good story it spans gender and age groups, but the humor also ranges from clear gutter humor to really sophisticated wit. I mean, Ryan Dean is a seriously smart guy! But he is also super young! So it just makes sense that he would embody both- the immature doofus who can't stop thinking about sex, and the sophisticated wit that leaves you speechless! I really enjoyed this story, and the end really knocked me for a loop. I am looking forward to the sequel and more of Ryan Dean and his hilarious antics!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Take This One On!

As if you needed one more excuse to sit on the couch all day and read? Well, Katie McGarry does it again in Take Me On, the fourth book in the Pushing the Limits series of companion novels. And you won't be able to say no to West and Haley, mark my words!

Haley was a champion kickboxer, until everything went wrong. She also had a fairly normal life until her father lost his job, they lost their house, and the whole family had to move in with her short-tempered uncle. For Haley, there is no such thing as normal anymore. When she quit her grandfather's gym and started training at the competitor gym, she alienated her entire family on top of that- all for some guy who ended up ruining her entire love for the sport anyway. Now all she can do is pray she can somehow eke out a scholarship to get the hell out of that house.

West is an over-privileged brat, and he knows it. Unfortunately, he is also headstrong, defiant, and always looking for a fight as well. When his impulsive actions send his sister into life-changing danger, he doesn't need anyone to beat him up for it. He is already beating himself up enough. When his father finally kicks him out of the house, no one expected what would come next. West decides to make it on his own. From living in his car while it still has a little gas, to going to the local public school, to finding a job so he can eat, everything changes. But not as much as it changed the moment he met Haley.

When he stops a couple of thugs from hurting her, he didn't realize it would change his life forever. The fight he got into might have been the catalyst for getting kicked out of his house, but it also brought him to Haley. Thinking he was the knight in shining armor, it was like the world had been turned inside out to wake up and realize someone else had done the damage to the other two guys- Haley. Now those guys want to make him pay in the only way they know how- a fight. Challenged to a no-holds-barred fight, Haley must now train West in the hopes he won't get killed in the cage. The problem is, her grandfather owns the gym, and fighting is the last thing Haley ever planned on doing. But she will, to make sure West stays alive!

OK. If you read my reviews, you know I LOVE Katie McGarry. Seriously? I would read ANYTHING this woman wrote. She knows how to write contemporary with a background of romance but a bulk of character and a winning plot like so few authors can today. She belongs in the same crowd as Dessen and Perkins with these books because I a) know I am going to love them and b) am always surprised by what is happening even though I know I am going to love them! She does it to me. Every. Time. So I walked into this story knowing it was going to be fabulous, but clearly curious about how it was going to stack up to Isaiah's story, which I loved unconditionally. Well, West wasn't Isaiah, but I loved him all the same. And Haley? There are no words!

Haley almost reminded me of Eleanor from Eleanor and Park. I loved her for that. She had a clear set of baggage she dragged around with her, and it took you almost the whole book to find out the true depth of those issues. I didn't pity her, but I did struggle with seeing her try to put on a strong, brave face in the midst of everything around her. You just wanted to protect her, but you knew she had to learn to fight back on her own. 

I also loved a few more important themes I found repeating in this series:

1. Romance doesn't need wishy washy woman. I like a romance with a sassy lead, and McGarry always delivers!

2. I love the guidance counselor. So often they are the butt of jokes, but I have known some great counselors, and McGarry always seems to put her in there. She helped Noah and Echo and never stopped! 

3. Boys need love too. None of those stone cold boys in McGarry books. They can be strong and manly and still have deep emotions. I love it! 

4. Girls. Kick. Butt. Cars? Kickboxing? You name it, McGarry's girls do it. I love this gender stereotype busting. It is fantastic and doesn't fail to give new perspective to young woman. 

5. People make mistakes. But you have to forgive and move on. 

So give West and Haley a piece of your heart. And, Ms. McGarry, if I don't get an Abby story soon? There is going to be a kind and praising email that also begs, bribes, and pleads for one! So save us all the time and pitiable begging, and just give Abby a book.... PLEASE?!