Golden, Christopher. Head Games. Simon Pulse, 2000. ISBN 978-0671775827 256 pp. $
New Englander and college frosh Jenna Blake lands a job as a diener (look it up!) and in between her classes and her social life, assists with autopsies and crime-fighting. In this fifth title in the series, there are TWO mysteries: the mayor of Jenna’s hometown has been murdered, and local teens seem to be having breakdowns that result in homicide. With her support system home for the holidays, can Jenna crack these cases? Are they related?
As it turns out, they are not. The title refers to the second set of murders, and the first case occasionally becomes a distraction. Had the only focus of the book been the teens who murdered their families as if brainwashed or drugged, the book may have been stronger. The dual plot does show how well Jenna and her boss work together as a team and how much they have come to rely on one another as colleagues, not just teacher/student.
Golden makes an important statement through his heroine in Jenna’s passionate soapbox speech about the media’s readiness to blame violent behavior in young people on video games and the internet, when factors such as environment and biology/genetics play an obviously larger role (Golden’s acknowledgment of Columbine perhaps?) Yay Jenna! Yay Chris, for being such a youth advocate!
Body of Evidence is an excellent mystery series for teens. The cultural and topical references are fun and up to the minute. Golden builds suspense with scene shifts that allow the reader to catch a glimpse into the murderer’s psyche–or the victim’s. Jenna is only a freshman, and has 3 1/2 years of college ahead of her… plenty of stories left to tell. How lucky for fans of the series!
Levine, Gail Carson. Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep. Harper Collins, 1999. ISBN 978-0060280642 112 pp. $12.99
Levine relays the story of Sleeping Beauty with humor, style and wit. As in her other fairy tale retellings, the heroine has both beauty and brains, and attempts to take charge of her own destiny. Further plot twists include a know-it-all princess, a dimwitted suitor, and an explanation for why fairies are no longer invited to naming ceremonies to bestow gifts.
Charming illustrations reminiscent of Lang’s fairy books add to the text and extend the story. The novel is attractively packaged in a non-standard size format with delicate scrollwork, regal gold lettering, and soft colors decorating a book jacket fit for royalty. Although the story isn’t as strong as Levine’s Newbery-award-winning Ella Enchanted, fairy tale fans will enjoy both this title and her retelling of the Princess and the Pea, The Princess Test.
Sheldon, Dyan. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Candlewick, 2005 (reprint). ISBN 978-0763628277 272 pp. $7.99
Mary Elizabeth “Call me Lola” Cep is the new girl at Dellwood High in NJ. A star at her old school in New York, she discovers the role of drama queen at Dellwood is already taken–by her soon-to-be rival Carla Santini. The two girls vie for the same part at auditions for the school play, and compete for invitations to a party given by THE band of the minute.
This is a funny, funny story. Sheldon is dead on with her insights into teen fashion and pop culture, high school social hierarchy, and parent/teen relationships. Lola is a likable character with a strong voice. Her melodrama and tendency to twist the truth, even outright lie, make the story a giggle-out-loud riot. Supporting characters are uneven, some realistically zany, some weak and predictable. There isn’t enough humorous fiction published for teens, and they badly need a dose. Pass this one on to someone who needs to laugh.
Hoff, Syd. Where’s Prancer? Harper Collins, 2007 (reprint). ISBN 978-0060276003 32 pp. $
Cheerful and charming illustrations pair with a simple story about a missing reindeer to create this amusing and touching picture book. The cadence of the text works well with the humorous dialogue, and the ending has a warm and fuzzy feeling. The topical references to the City of Brotherly Love don’t limit the audience, although the book may have special appeal for Philadelphia natives. Very young children may not get the humor, but will still enjoy the story and illustrations. Pair with “Olive, the Other Reindeer” by J. Otto Seibold and Vivian Walsh for a quirky reindeer storytime for the older preschool set.
Holzer, Howard. Abraham Lincoln, The Writer: A Treasury of His Greatest Speeches and Letters. Calkins Creek, 2000. ISBN 978-1563977725 106 pp. $16.95
This compilation of primary source materials is arranged in chronological chapters, with the table of contents acting as an outline of what is to come. An excellent introduction creates a vivid context for the period. Many pieces are not in their entirety, but excerpted. Holzer’s vibrant writing is a fascinating mix of biography and political history that provides setup and commentary for each selection to put the piece in context. A wide range of samples includes poems, letters, and speeches (both famous and lesser known).
The editor’s authority of and admiration for his subject is evident and the volume is well arranged; unfortunately, some poor editing choices detract from the text. Photos are abundant, well-selected, and well-placed; however, in two instances the same picture was obviously cropped and reused with a different caption. Photo credits are inconsistent. Sometimes they appear under the picture, sometimes they don’t. A complete list of photo credits appears at the end. Including the original captions along with the page numbers would have been a nice touch. Because this is not the first book one would start with if one were to do a report on Lincoln, a list of recommended books would have been a welcome addition.
According to the credits, Holzer only consulted one source for this book. While he is the author of fourteen books (eight about Lincoln), one would think he would mention other sources–even his own. An incredibly detailed chronology will thrill teachers struggling with curriculum frameworks. Not a necessity, but a solid addition to collections where there is a demand for presidential biography, political/government history, or civil rights information.
Garner, Alan. The Owl Service. Odyssey Classics, 2006 (reissue). 240 pp. $
In a pastoral Welsh valley, a tragic love story plays itself out anew with each generation. When three teens discover a set of old dishes with an odd design, the haunting legend is set into motion once more. Can Alison, Roger and Gwyn break the cycle?
The suspense and supernatural occurrences drive the plot. Garner is a master storyteller, weaving the past with the present seamlessly. His use of plot devices such as books and village gossips to drop hints and tell part of the story is natural, never forced. The reader must pay close attention to piece the story–and the relationships of the characters–together. Welsh rhymes and pronunciations and British words may be a bit of a challenge for some readers.
The attractive cover art will appeal to teens. A full illustration of the plate decoration is included. Fans of supernatural, romantic mysteries will love the paperback version of this award-winning classic.
Holmes, Barbara Ware. Letters to Julia. Trophy, 1999. ISBN 978-0064472159 312 pp. $
In this epistolary novel, 16-year-old Liz, an aspiring writer, begins a correspondence with Julia, a real New York book editor. Julia encourages Liz’s work and sees some of herself in her ambitious young friend, and Liz imagines Julia living out the glamorous, hassle-free life she hopes to have one day. Then an argument threatens their mentor/friendship, and Liz is forced to examine her life, and Julia’s actions, with “fresh eyes.”
The novel is nicely put together. Journal entries and chapters of Liz’s great American novel are interspersed with letters to Julia. It’s fun to compare the three difference versions of specific events in Liz’s life as they play out in the various formats: diary, letter, fiction. The mentorship is wonderful and special–every teen should be so lucky as to have a caring and knowledgeable non-familial adult friend–but the idea isn’t completely believable. Liz’s enthusiasm, while refreshing, was sometimes overzealous. She acted less mature than 16 or 17. However, I am certain that teen writers will relate to her passion and empathize with the difficulties of family and the craft of writing. Literary and artistic allusions may alienate some readers, but may inspire them to seek source materials. Cover art is intriguing and appropriate.
Wennick, Elizabeth. Changing Jareth. Raincoast, 2000. ISBN 978-1896095974 192 pp. $3.99
Jareth is a neglected teen on the verge of turning into a statistic: a suicide attempt is triggered by his abusive alcoholic mother (in police custody for beating his sickly younger brother nearly to death). A friend’s stepfather becomes his salvation. The healing process includes learning trust and responsibility through new friends, a job, turning around the life of a younger teen, and developing his artistic talent.
This was an well done book with a lousy packaging. The title stinks… just Jareth would have been better. The misleading blurb on the back implies that Jareth goes into therapy to change. Although he attends two therapy sessions and spends a day in a mental hospital, neither is helpful, and Jareth ultimately is his own catalyst. The cover art, a photo of an attractive, smooth skinned young man, is unappealing. The writing however, is detailed and real. Jareth is a complex and dynamic character, and the supporting cast are well-drawn individuals. Occasionally the author’s voice intrudes, especially at the end of each section, and the epilogue appears tacked on and heavy-handed. Still, teens who can get past the cover will enjoy this survival story.
Appelt, Kathi. Kissing Tennessee: and Other Stories from the Stardust Dance. Clarion, 2000. ISBN 978-0152051273 118 pp. $7.99
The first page issues the invite, but it is Appelt’s evocative poem “Invitation” that sets the stage and brings the reader right back to his or her first dance. Through the characters, we relive the whole melodrama: the anticipation of kisses-not-given, the ecstasy of being asked to dance (and the anguish of asking), the magic that makes you see your best friend in a whole new light, crushes of one kind or another, and the disagreements with parents over what to wear from shoes to ribbons and lipstick.
Appelt intersperses the heavier side of junior high life: one boy is feeling the heartache of missing one who should be there, but isn’t, and one girl comes from an abusive home. In one story eerily similar to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a young woman is hiding out in the ladies room, scratching a list on the stall as she copes with the horror of having just been raped by a football star she snuck out with. A closing poem, “Midnight” reveals the lingering essence of magic that the night custodian clears away until next year.
This is a beautifully written book that includes different and distinct voices and universal experiences juxtaposed with unique, but no less real, situations. Highly recommended.
Lantz, Francess Lin. Love Song (You’re the One! #1). Aladdin, 2000. ISBN 978-0689834202 128 pp. $
In book one of the stand-alone You’re the One series, the female protagonist meets the celebrity she is infatuated with. Stereotypes run rampant–there’s a brooding loner musician, a charismatic paparazzi loving player, and a controlling money-obsessed manager. The three boy band is VERY Hanson-esque. The first person narrative is authentic-sounding, in spite of the lengths the female characters go to in order to meet their heartthrobs.
The unattractive covers feature boys who look much older than their characters. A lighthearted quiz for girls to see if the celeb is THEIR type of guy (and if they are the right one for him) follows each novel. The premises are unlikely, and the stories predictable, but fans of fairy tales and pop culture may enjoy this fantasy romances in between reading unauthorized biographies of their favorite celebrities.