Wednesday, December 17, 2014

YA Wednesday: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key (Joey Pigza, #1)Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a strange combination of hilarious, serious, and deeply disturbing. I've had a few people recommend it to me, and I knew it was about a kid with ADHD, but that's about all I knew about it. It started out really funny, and my son loved it.

As it went on, I started to wonder if it was a bit much for a third grader. My son didn't really 'get' some of the disturbing scenes--he didn't understand why I said it was a sad book. But then, he said he thought the grandma was a good grandma and that having a timeout in a refrigerator would be 'cool.' Everything was presented in such a light, matter-of-fact way that it made the abuses this kid suffered even more horrifying. And I think it makes them sort of easy for a kid to overlook or not take seriously.

The characters in this book were loveable and hateable and very relate-able. I loved Joey, although I'm not going to lie and say I'd want Joey for a son or a student. But he's completely loveable, and nuts, and so freaking sad. He'd been through so much, and it was so believable that it broke my heart. I absolutely adored his teacher and his mom, too. She'd made mistakes, and in a way, the abuses he suffered were partially her fault for leaving him, although she didn't know what he was living with while she was gone. But his mom was also doing the right thing, and she was so good with Joey, exactly what he needed. It was hard not to love her, despite her shortcomings in the past, because she was so real and she'd tried so hard to turn her life around and be there for her son. And not just that, but she was doing a pretty amazing job at it. Better than I'd do with that kid, no matter how loveable, that's for sure.

Content: 10+ for some physical and emotional abuse and themes.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

YA Wednesday: Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Usually, when I read a book I really love, I find myself wishing I'd written it. I don't wish I'd written this book. It is too perfect, and if I'd written it, I might have changed one word, and one word different would make it less than perfect. I would not want a single word of this book different.

Usually, when I read a book I love, I want to eat it. I didn't want to eat this book. I wanted to hold it to my chest and squeeze it so hard it became a part of me, absorbed into my heart.

This book made me want to use adjectives like whimsical, magical, musical, and lovely. But those words do not do it justice. This book made me clutch my steering wheel as I listened, heart thumping, for the book to race to its conclusion. It made me ache with wanting what Sophie wanted. It made me burst into tears at the last line.

I can't begin to do this book justice with a review. I fell in love with every character, with every twist, with the language the author uses. I never wanted it to end, but I couldn't wait to see what happened next, to see how it would turn out. When it ended, I felt like I'd been clubbed in the heart. I just wanted to sit there, stunned, saying "Oh my god, oh my god," over and over, because I couldn't think of a single other thing to say.

I don't know who I would recommend this book to. It's too special to me to say that I'd want everyone to read it. Some people might not 'get it,' might not fall in love with its loveliness. But it is now on my list of favorite books of all time, with the likes of Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird. It's that good. It transcends the 5 star rating. There should be a special category for books this good, an exemption that lets readers give a 6-star review. Even that would not be enough.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

YA Wednesday: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I saw this book in a classroom library about 5 years ago, and I've wanted to read it ever since. I should have gotten to it sooner--this book rocks.

Some people have complained that this book wasn't feminist enough, but since I didn't go into it with any inklings of it being a feminist novel, that didn't bother me. It's about a 15-year-old girl who is just now beginning to realize that life isn't fair--because she's a girl. She's not a feminist. She's only beginning to be bothered by life's double standards, by the guy's-only exclusivity of her school. She has barely begun to think of these things, so how can she be a feminist?

Frankie is in love with a guy, although their relationship never feels very deep to me. Maybe it's because of all the secrecy that keeps them apart, as he's a member of the secret (male-only, of course) society on their elite boarding school campus. Frankie hates the secrecy, and the doors that are closed to her in all areas of her life, but most of all, that she can't become a member of this society and become even closer to her boyfriend, to share everything with him. Does this sound feminist?

I thought Frankie was clever and a fun protagonist to go along with. Sure, she's a bit nuts, and a bit of a stalker, but still, she was fun. I don't think this book should be some kind of guide for feminist thinking or anything, but I do think the author did a good job in showing the double standards of society, of pointing out that kind of exclusive thinking and how unfair it is. I think she does a good job of showing how it feels to be in this minority party, to show how it can drive a person nuts that they can't do anything about it.

I loved Frankie's antics, but I think if this was a feminist novel, she would have wanted to start her own club for girls, which I kept waiting for, but it never happened. Also, I think our protagonist would have had to have a better reason for wanting to join the boys than wanting to impress her boyfriend's friends and get closer to him. She would have had to be a better friend to her roommate, and the other female characters would have been better developed. Thinking of this book as some kind of intro to feminism is probably not a good idea. Thinking of it as an excellent read with a fun, engaging protagonist and a fast-paced plot, along with a bit of an examination of the unfairness women face every day in things as inconsequential as high-school bonding rituals makes for one of the most unputdownable books I've read this year. For a while, I've been running across big disappointments in the contemporary YA section. I've been waiting for a book that would suck me in and not let go, and this was the one.

Rating: 10+ No cursing, very mild sexual situations (think kissing), and no violence.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: Leverage, by Joshua Cohen

LeverageLeverage by Joshua C. Cohen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is as hard-hitting as the steroid-infused, foul-mouthed, warp-minded football players at its center. A very, very intense read that is not for the faint of heart. Although it is marketed as YA, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 16 due to the extremely graphic language and violence.

This is one of those books I think all parents should read, though. I was told it was a male version of Speak, but it's much more than that. It is an incredible, intense, heart-stopping book that will make your jaw hit the floor on more than one occasion.

There were a few times when I found a character's actions unbelievable, such as when Ronnie tries to get the boys to talk about his assault. I can't see a boy wanting to talk about such an extreme occurance of bullying, especially with the stigma and shame attached to victims of that sort of attack. However, most of the book was perfect, and although at times it was a bit predictible, it was the sort that made you HAVE to keep reading to see if you are right. You will think you know what's going to happen, but you won't be 100% sure and you won't be able to stop yourself from finding out for sure. Once you start this book, you won't be able to not finish it. And you'll be glad you did--the ending is so, so, so completely perfect that it leaves you smiling despite all the horrible things that happen to the characters throughout the book.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review Wednesday: The Beckoners by Carrie Mac (Contemporary YA)

The BeckonersThe Beckoners by Carrie Mac

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books I've picked up several times at the library, but never opened it because I'd never heard of it. So even though it sounded good, I'd end up reading something else I got at the same time. Silly me.

Here is this undiscovered gem of a book. All I kept thinking as I listened to it was, HOW THE HELL IS THIS BOOK NOT A PRINTZ AWARD WINNER!!!???? It is so good, and exactly like what they always pick. Except way better. I know it doesn't have the best reviews, but THIS BOOK ROCKS!

It was so grungy and grimy and sad and brutal and depressing and just all around...amazing. One of those books that, as I read, I kept thinking, "Man, I wish I'd written this book." Not in the way of, "I could have done it better," but in the way of, "I wish I was Carrie Mac."

I will never understand why this book isn't rated higher. I loved it. I loved the characters, I loved the evilness of children portrayed here. It's like a modern Lord of the Flies, about bullying and bad parenting and reality. And girls. And cruelty. And conformity. People have complained that it's written strangely, but I had the audio and couldn't tell (and sometimes, you can...ahem *sarahdessen*). It sounded great to me. I liked the reader, and the prose flows well. People have also complained that it dealt with too many issues, but I didn't even notice. I was too busy going squee squee squee all the way home.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Veteran's Day Review: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book, and I'm not sure why. It's not very long, but it seemed really dense. I'm not sure I could have told you if I liked the book as I was hearing it, but somewhere towards the end, I just fell in love. I think it was when he told about the girl who went to Vietnam and became addicted to it. That part rang so true that the whole thing, all the talk about war stories and how they didn't have to be true, it all fell into place. I understood what he meant. Just as there is truth in fiction, truth to the stories, truth to the characters, so could a war story be true even if it wasn't, in the strictest sense, factual in all parts.
After the story of Maryanne (pardon if I'm a little off on names, I listened to this one so my spelling might not be correct), I wanted to hear all about the rest of the characters. And it was the characters who really made this story. It's not so much a story, in the linear-progression, plot-arc kind of way. But all the stories together made something beautiful. I wanted to hear all about Jimmy and Henry, about the suicides and the 'accidents,' about the medics and Tim and the shit-fields and, yes, the things they carried. It didn't matter a bit which parts actually happened.
Really the book wasn't so much about what happened or didn't happen, it was about the characters and about humanity, about maintaining humanity in the face of the most horrid circumstances, about finding joy in the sickest places imaginable, about the horror and pettiness and cowardice and beauty not of war, but of the human spirit and of life.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review Wednesday: Torn by Stephanie Guerra (contemporary YA)

TornTorn by Stephanie Guerra

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year I've been reading contemporary YA like it's the only thing ever published. Which is different for me, because that's what I write, and when I was writing fantasy, I avoided reading it at all cost. However, I cannot get enough of this genre.

This book made me happy that I went on a library binge and grabbed pretty much every book in this genre that I could carry (about 10 at once, no exaggeration). This book made me want to wallow in it. It made me want to go into it and never come out. For a book that is so focused on character, and really not a lot happens, it was compulsively readable. So much so that I actually wanted to do stretches so I could listen to it. So much so that I found excused to do laundry so I could listen to it while folding clothes. In short, I found every excuse I could to hang around the CD player.

If there was anything bad about this book, it's that some parts of it were a little cheesy. I liked the character, but she could be pretty saccharine at times. Still, it was nice to read a strong female lead who isn't 'hard'. Stella was sweet and caring, but she also didn't let people walk all over her--and when she did, she recognized it. She admits at times that Ruby was using her, but she was letting it happen. Sometimes that did bother me, esp. when she was doing something really stupid for Ruby, who was kind of evil to her for most of the book.

Audio note: Great reader on the audio--just a trace of an Hispanic accent, perfect for the character (half Mexican but raised by her white mother since early childhood). Highly recommend the audio.

Overall, this was a great read, if you're into reading about friendship (I'm taking a romance break), and if you don't need a ton of action in your books. It was one of those that sneaked up on me and suddenly I'd well up (esp. the parts with her sister, who I adored beyond words--I wish I'd written that character).

Content: mature language (including F-bombs), adult situations (including statutory rape and hard drugs), included but not explicit.

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