Seriously? I Read That?

jumpedTold in three alternating perspectives, Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of one school day in the life of three very different girls at an inner city high school: Dominique, the tough basketball player determined to teach another classmate a lesson; Trina, the pretty and artistic girl unaware of what she’s in for once the final bell rings; and Leticia, the observer of it all from start to finish who must decide to take action and warn Trina, or just let it happen.

This novel shines. The prose is honest, and at times has almost a Slam poetry feel to it. But the real centerpiece of the novel is the characters. Jumped is almost a character study in a way. Each of the three girls are much more than they seem. The writing never stoops to stereotypes or caricatures.

For me, Leticia is the one who brings everything together. Her observations reign the other girl’s perspectives in and put small details in focus. At one point, Leticia sums up the crux of the novel, the reason Trina is getting jumped, a fact of life that Trina is not aware of, and Dominique follows without verbalizing:

“When you’re an outsider, you should know your situation. Know who you are when you step out. Know what you can and can’t do.”

However, Leticia’s observations are not meant to influence readers into judgments of the characters. Readers are really left to decide for themselves what to think of the characters and their actions.

Jumped is a gritty, compelling novel from start to finish. I’d consider this award-worthy.

Rating: 4.5 sketch books out of 5.

Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia
Published: March 1st 2009 by Amistad
Binding: Hardcover, 176 pages
ISBN: 0060760915
Reading Level: Young Adult

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The Book of MichaelIs life something that can picked up where you left off? The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce tackles that very question. After being wrongfully accused and convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Lisa, sixteen year old Michael’s life is over. Or so he thinks. After six months in prison Michael is released. The real killer confessed. But for Michael, freedom isn’t what he imagined. Innocent is still guilt in some people’s eyes. Michael is forced to live and grieve in a world that let him go to prison for a crime he did not commit.

Oh, I’ll admit it took a good number of pages for this book to grow on me. Initially, reading The Book of Michael reminded me of the Covenant House books my grandmother used to get in the mail. Good boy from good family meets bad girl from bad family. Bad girl introduces good boy to bad things like rap music and baggy pants. Good boy gone bad smokes a little weed and next thing you know he’s in prison. Thankfully, that tone didn’t continue for too long, and the novel transformed into a rather well-done piece of work. I was even pleasantly surprised at the relatively positive portrayal of teen sex and the importance of libraries in prisons.

There’s a nice twist at the ending that might polarize readers, but I thought it added something extra to the book. It shows that sometimes redemption and justice isn’t something juries, judges, and lawyers can give. Sometimes it’s something that has to be internally created on one’s own terms, as Michael finds:

“at times the world is not such a terrible place after all. It has given us permission to get on with our lives as best we can. And I am convinced that this is enough.”

While not the best piece of literature ever written, I think The Book of Michael is a necessary work, and would probably make a good fiction companion to No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin.

Rating: 3.5 books on I Ching out of 5.

The Book of Michael by Lesley Choyce
Published: October 4th 2008 by Red Deer Press
Binding: Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN: 0889954178
Reading Level: Young Adult

Tales from Outer Suburbia

“Eventually we decided there was only one solution: go and see for ourselves. We shook hands over a mighty twenty-dollar-bet, a staggering amount to gamble even on a sure thing, and planned an official scientific expedition to the mysterious outer suburbs.”

Welcome to outer suburbia, where strange animals roam, backyards house hand painted missile silos, and the absurd is a way of life.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan, of  The Arrival fame, is a collection of 15 illustrated short stories. The stories are stark but poignant. Some are even quite humorous. More than a few of the tales ruminate on home and what home really means. Some delve into seemingly political realms, but not in a heavy-handed lecturing way. Some read like myths. All are almost magical.

The drawings range from simple sketches to more elaborate pieces incorporating a wide variety of media.

I highly recommend this quirky, delightful book. It’s beautiful for all ages.

Rating: 5 homemade pets out of 5.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
Published: February 1st 2009 by Arthur A. Levine Book
Binding: Hardcover, 96 pages
ISBN: 0771084021
Reading Level: Young Adult

Shift

The summer between High School and college is an exciting, often scary time for most teens. With one foot in childhood and one in adulthood, it’s a time for change, burgeoning independence, and new experiences. For best friends Chris and Win, a cross-country bike trip is the epitome of a transitional summer that went wrong. So wrong that only one of them comes home. So wrong that an FBI agent follows Chris to college demanding answers. Shift by Jennifer Bradbury is an exploration of not only a life-changing trip, but also what it means to be a friend.

I adore this book. Besides being an incredibly well-written and well-done, it’s a highly believable book. The characterization is great. That fact that I found myself alternating between loving and despising Win, is, I feel, a testament to just how realistic and three dimensional Bradbury’s characters are.

The ending was an ending that needs a day or two to sink in. It’s not a “happy ending”, but it’s the right ending, even if all along I hoped for something different. At first I felt that there was no real closure, but the more I thought about it, I realized that maybe that sense of non-closure made the novel even better, more real, more honest. Ending aren’t always clear. People don’t always act like they should, and punishment can be a relative term.

Highly recommended. This is a great entry in a genre that needs more compelling male narrated books.

Rating: 4.5 coded postcards out of 5.

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury
Published: May 20th 2008 by Atheneum
Binding: Hardcover, 256 pages
ISBN: 1416947329
Reading Level: Young Adult

Skeleton Creek

Something strange is going on in Skeleton Creek and Ryan and his best friend Sarah are determined to find out what that something really is. There’s just one small problem: Ryan is trapped in his house with a broken leg after an accident at the local dredge, the apparent hot-spot of strange happenings in Skeleton Creek, and his and Sarah’s parents have forbidden them from contacting each other. But Ryan and Sarah decide that the risk of getting caught is outweighed by the importance of what they must do. Ryan and Sarah continue digging into the mysteries of Skeleton Creek, aware of the danger they may already be in.

Skeleton Creek book 1 is presented as Ryan’s journal. Inside are clues and remembrances of his accident and research he and Sarah have undertaken. As Sarah continues her own investigating, she sends Ryan passwords to videos she has uploaded to her website. Readers are invited to view the videos, using the passwords provided in the book.

Like Cathy’s Book and The 39 Clues series, Skeleton Creek is an interactive book. The story exists in print and in online videos, making the book more of a live experience. Ryan’s journal is narrated as it happens, so readers are sucked right into the action.

Skeleton Creek is a voyeuristic experience. While reading the journal and watching the videos it is as if you’ve come across something you shouldn’t really be privy to.

Skeleton Creek is a quick, fast-paced read with plenty of creepy, atmospheric suspense. The sense of creepiness is only heightened by the videos which add a nice dimension to the book, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. Quite a few moments made me a jump a little. Very well-done.

It should be noted that while the book can be read and understood without the videos, the videos should be watched to get the full experience (not to mention to see the amazing cliff-hanger).

Book 2 comes out this fall. I’m positive many readers will be counting down the days until they can get another glimpse of the mysteries surrounding Skeleton Creek.

I’m very curious to see how the rest of the series will play out, both in terms of plot and execution.

Rating: 4.5 “little birdies” out of 5.

links:
sarahfincher.com
skeletoncreekisreal.com

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman
Published: February 1st 2009 by Scholastic Press
Binding: Hardcover, 144 pages
ISBN: 0545075661
Reading Level: Young Adult

knifeI went into The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness relatively blind. I had only read one brief review and seen the title mentioned on various blogs and other places online. Nothing in depth. I really had no idea what I was getting into, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

At first glance, The Knife of Never Letting Go appears to be just another coming of age tale. Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, is on the verge of manhood. Sounds pretty simple right? Not at all. Throw in the fact the Prentisstown is a town without women. Getting a little more complex, right? Now add to that the fact that everyone in Prentisstown can hear each other’s thoughts. Not simple at all.

After stumbling upon something in the swamp, he never expected to find–a girl, Todd’s life rapidly changes. Soon, he, his dog Manchee, and Viola, the girl he found in the swamp, must flee Prentisstown. Armed with only a knife and a vague directive on an old map, Todd must confront the truth about Prentisstown and the truth about what it really means to be a man.

Besides being a thrilling, emotional read, The Knife of Never Letting Go is a well-done mediation on complicity and moral ambiguity. This is not a black and white novel. Right are wrong are not clear cut. Life, for Todd, is grey and all are guilty in one way or another. What you think you know is not always true, and the truth itself can be false.

Todd’s world is masterfully created, and the concept of Noise, the term used for the never-ending auditory phenomenon on men’s thoughts, is an inventive device. The fact that Todd’s thoughts cannot be hidden adds an element of suspense and danger as Todd, Manchee, and Viola flee Prentisstown. As long as there is Noise, Todd can be found. Noise, to Todd, is something he has always lived with. He does not know a world without Noise. However, this does not keep him from seeing the consequences of living in a world where all thoughts are made public. In a way, the men of Prentisstown use their Noise as an excuse. Sort of a spin on the cliched “The devil made me do it”.
In his own dialect, Todd describes the intrusive, frustrating nature of Noise and how Noise changes everything:

“Too much informayshun can drive a man mad. Too much informayshun becomes just Noise.”

By the end, I’ll admit I was a bit emotionally exhausted. And the ending… the ending came as a punch to the stomach.

I’ll be anxiously awaiting the release of the second book in the Chaos Walking Series, The Ask and the Answer, which is set to be released this fall.

Rating: 5 germs out of 5.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Published: September 9th 2008 by Candlewick
Binding: Hardcover, 496 pages
ISBN: 0763639311
Reading Level: Young Adult

spectacularnow1I’ve learned that feeling unease and discomfort while reading a book is rarely a bad sign. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp proves my theory: the uncomfortable books are the ones that stick with me. The characters that give me a creeping feeling of “something’s wrong here” are the ones that haunt me long after I put the book down.

Sutter Keeley, teenaged alcoholic, is one of those characters. When we first meet Sutter, he’s content spending time with his girlfriend Cassidy and getting (and staying drunk) every day. But then Cassidy dumps him. He’s a little lost (figuratively and literally) when he meets Aimee. Aimee is the type of girl that wears t-shirts with pictures of horses proudly displayed on the front, and Sutter sees her as someone he can change, someone he can save. Aimee becomes Sutter’s “project” as he drags her into his world.

You might not like or approve of what you find once you see what’s inside Sutter, but you will remember him. As he tries to save everyone but himself, as his life spirals away from him, you might have the urge to just look away and put the book down. But you must keep reading.

The Spectacular Now is such an honest book. And in this honesty, many contrasts present themselves. There is beauty here, but there is also ugly things. There is humor but there is also depressing, heartbreaking scenes.

“But just remember this— weird’s good. Embrace the weird, dude. Enjoy it because it’s never going away.”

Sutter’s philosophy on life pretty much sums up this book. It may be weird. It may be uncomfortable. It might not end the way you desperately hope it will. But all you can do is embrace it.

The Spectacular Now is a 2008 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature

Rating: 5 hip flasks out of 5.

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
Published: November 11th 2008 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Binding: Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN: 0375851798
Reading Level: Young Adult

Where else you can find me:

Books That Go Bump in the Night- Halloween and scary books for kids and teens. My other blog.


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