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Showing posts from August, 2014

The End or Something Like That - Ann Dee Ellis

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There are a lot of things I don't understand.Like the time I found my mom sobbing in the car in the garage. Or the time my brother, Joe, left the house for three days and no one said anything about it. Or the time Dad decided not to run the 10K he'd been training for eight months to do.I don't understand why armpit hair grows so fast or why boys stand in groups and throw things at people.I don't understand how you can be so close to someone, so close that they know you wet the bed until you were ten. And then feel so, so, so far away.Ellis's deceptively simple narrative tells the story of Emmy, a teenager who recently lost her best friend, Kim. Kim suffered from a congenital heart condition and knew her death would come soon. In preparation, she asked Emmy to to accompany her to a seminar with Dr. Ted Farnsworth, a man who claims to speak with the dead. Kim wanted Emmy to become a medium so that once dead, she would have a conduit back to the world. Emmy is not hav…

Zac & Mia - A.J. Betts

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Zac Meier is sick. He has been stuck in his hospital room for almost a month after a bone marrow transplant, and to make it just that much worse, his mother refuses to go home and leave him in peace. One day, he hears a new voice through the wall; in the next room Zac hears a very angry girl's voice and Lady Gaga repeated over and over and over again. He eventually finds out the girl's name is Mia and she is suffering from cancer in her leg. The two strike up a rather tumultuous but ultimately uplifting and complex friendship over the next nine months. As it says in the official synopsis, "in this tough and tender young adult novel [there's] a lot about love . . . and a little about cancer."

I know what you're thinking. Doesn't this sound a lot like The Fault in Our Stars? And my answer is, perhaps, but without as much emotional manipulation, in my humble opinion. (That's not to say that I don't like Green's novel, but I knew what he wanted me …

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee - Barry Jonsberg

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Candice Phee is the definition of quirky, but she is also a genuinely caring and determined young girl. She means well, even if her actions don't always make sense to those around her. She feels as though her family is falling apart since the death of her younger sister as a child. Not only that, but she is is also dealing with a fish with an identity problem and a friend who believes he is from an alternate dimension. Candice desperately wants her father and her Rich Uncle Brian to get along again, and very much hopes that her mother will stop being depressed.

The narrative is told as an alphabetical autobiography that is supposed to be a school assignment. Her voice is, as I said before, rather quirky, but in a way that is endearing as well as hilarious. The reader will feel for Candice's inability to understand why others find her funny, and yet will find great joy in her observations on life, her family, her friends (and those who might not realize they are her friends.) Ev…

In a Handful of Dust - Mindy McGinnis

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In this companion to Mandy McGinnis's Not a Drop to Drink, readers follow Lucy and Lynn (the protagonist of the first novel), as they leave their home in the wake of a severe polio epidemic that is overwhelming their already devastated community. Set in a futuristic frontier where everyone is fighting to survive in a world with very little fresh water, and almost no surviving cities since various diseases have begun to consume the surviving members of humanity. This companion piece takes place approximately ten years after the end of the first novel.

What I love about In a Handful of Dust is similar to Not a Drop to Drink. McGinnis's writing is subdued and meandering, a style that perfectly suits the overall atmosphere of the text. Lynn and Lucy are friends, but at the same time, Lynn feels incredibly protective and motherly toward Lucy. As they escape their disease-ridden home and venture toward the West to find a new home, Lucy and Lynn meet up with another woman on the run, …

The Red Pencil - Andrea Davis Pinkney

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One--thud!--then another, then one more, until many men and women and boys and girls littered our land.
What fell was anyone who tried to flee on that violent day when bullets flung from no place I know.
Anyone who knows me will understand that while I don't automatically dislike novels in verse, I am rather picky when it comes to such texts. That being said, I was delighted with The Red Pencil and hope that many more will pick up this book when it comes out in September!

Andrea Davis Pinkney is a remarkable author. I don't say that lightly, either. Not only does she give incredible speeches at various conferences and at other author events, but she is a gifted writer of the highest degree. Again, I do not say this lightly. Her descriptions and turns of phrase truly enveloped me into the narrative of The Red Pencil. This story is uncomfortable and will many will find it difficult to read without at least a few tears.

When it comes to schooling, my mother is the most tight-minded of anyone.
Sh…

To This Day - Shane Koyczan

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This book originates from an anti-bullying poem written by Shane Koyczan and performed in February 2013. The poem was written based on Shane's own experience(s) with bullies as a child, and it expressed the lasting effects of bullying and the strength required to overcome just such effects. Shane's poem eventually became a youtube video which garnered millions of views, and his live performance at a 2013 TED Conference led to even greater proliferation of his work. In this new iteration, Shane's poem comes to life accompanied by the artwork of illustrators affected by the poem, coming together to create a powerful work of art for young and old readers alike.

To This Day is a brilliant text, and a crucial work contributing to anti-bullying efforts around the world. Koyczan is well known for his anti-bullying efforts and inspirational performance pieces. This particular work incorporates his artistic flair and text with brilliant interpretive illustrations from multiple artis…

In Real Life - Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

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Anda enjoys computer games. When a young woman shows up at her school to encourage enrolment in Coarsegold Online, Anda can't wait to sign up. Early on in the game, she becomes attached to her guild leader and together they team up to destroy gold farmers.* But things change when Anda runs into a gold farmer that she starts to befriend, and in the process she discovers that the livelihood of many young people overseas relies on the illegal gold farming operations within the game. This graphic novel grapples with female empowerment, racial difference, friendship and loneliness, economics, strikes and labor unions, online gaming, and social injustice. 

In terms of the story, Doctorow's somewhat typical blend of social and technological critique shines through, but with an attempt to address issues of race and gender as well. Unfortunately, I felt that this much material failed to become fully developed within such a brief format as this particular graphic novel. There is an intro…

Kinda Like Brothers - Coe Booth

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Kinda like enemies. Kinda like friends. Kinda like brothers.

Jarrett's mom takes care of foster babies. There's usually one or two hanging around for a few days or weeks until a more permanent home has been found, so Jarrett has learned not to get too attached. But one day, when his mother comes home with a young girl who just got out of the ER, her twelve-year old brother shows up as well, and nobody knows how long they'll be staying. Jarrett doesn't want to share his room, or his life, with Kevon, who seems to be better at almost everything. While Jarrett has become attached to Treasure, Kevon's little sister, things with Kevon just keep getting worse. Finally, Jarrett's mom and her boyfriend, take the kids on a camping trip to try and help them bond. But since Jarrett and Kevon don't trust each other, and each has secrets of their own, the whole bonding experience is continually undermined until they learn to stop keeping so much from each other. This is …

The Shadow Hero - Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

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Not only is The Shadow Hero a brilliant graphic novel for a contemporary audience, but it is also a wonderful homage to the first asian superhero, originally created in the 1940s, during the Golden Age of comics in America. What was troubling about the original Green Turtle superhero was that his origins were entirely unknown. Not only that, but his Asian heritage was all but erased through the illustrations and storylines at the time. In response, seven decades later, Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew have teamed up to bring us, the adoring public, an origin story for our (no longer quite so) enigmatic Green Turtle superhero.

A second generation American citizen, Hank helps his father to run their family store while his mother (who was a reluctant bride to begin with) works as a maid for a wealthy white family. One day, while running errands, Hank's mother is taken hostage by a bank robber, though she is soon rescued by the Anchor of Justice. Inspired by this encounter, Hank's mot…

Lies My Girlfriend Told Me - Julie Anne Peters

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Swanee is dead. She suffered a sudden heart attack while practicing for track and field. Left behind is her girlfriend Alix, who is devastated and lives in denial for a brief period of time before things start to unravel. When she goes to Swan's house to offer condolences, Alix finds Swan's phone and notices a series of texts from someone with the initials LT. And LT seems to think that she was Swan's girlfriend. Alix manages to piece things together and finds out that LT is actually a girl named Liana who really was dating Swan. In a moment of irrationality, Alix texts the girl as if she is Swan, but it's already two weeks since Swan has died, and Liana still has no idea. Soon Alix's conscience kicks in and she confronts Liana in person to try to straighten things out. As the two girls try to overcome feelings of anger, frustration, and betrayal, they also start to see in each other some of the qualities they never found in Swan, and thus, the relationship begins …

I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson

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Jude and Noah are twins, incredibly close in almost every possible way, at least until Brian moves into town and they begin working toward entry into a prestigious art school. Noah falls for Brian and Jude becomes more and more charismatic and adventurous. In alternating chapters, when Jude is narrating, it's three years later and she is barely speaking to Noah. The alternating narrative allows each twin to tell their own half of the story, but because of this, neither twin knows the whole story, leaving each more than a little bit in the dark.

The prose are whimsical and poetic, filled with explosive imagery that will keep readers at the edge of their seats. Nelson writes in a way that I rarely experience, but which takes my breath away. Character descriptions are rarely simple and often so descriptive that I can't help but feel a bit of magic creeping into the images coming together in my mind. Take this description of Guillermo, for example, from Jude's perspective: My tr…

This One Summer - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

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Rose and her family visit a lake house in Awago Beach every summer, to get away from everyday life and to strengthen their family bonds. This one summer, however, things aren't going so smoothly. Rose's mom is acting strange, prone to distraction, depression, and sudden outbursts of anger. At least Rose has her friend Windy, who's really more like a sister than anything. Rose and Windy seek distraction from the family drama unfolding before them, by renting horror films, trying to unravel the drama in other people's lives, and spending a lot of time at the beach. Together, unravel the mysteries of growing up and what lies at the heart of the family drama unfolding around them.

I have come to expect a lot from the Tamakis every since reading Skim a number of years ago. I was incredibly impressed with This One Summer, I am pleased to say, not only because of the phenomenal artwork, but also because of the honest and emotionally raw story at the core of the book. Rose and …