Most recent reads:
East by Edith Pattou
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clement
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Most recent reads:
East by Edith Pattou
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clement
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Clark, Catherine. Frozen Rodeo. Harper Teen, 2004. ISBN 978-0064473859 304 pp. $6.99
Fleming is stuck in the summer from hell. No driver’s license, due to two car accidents. A Doberman who wants to take a chunk out of her. A crap job pouring java at the Gas N Git. An Olympic hopeful father who wants her to trade her roller blades for ice skates like her namesake Peggy Fleming. A summer school French course whose instructor is MIA. Constant last minute babysitting for snot-nosed siblings. A pancake house waiter who seems to have forgotten she exists. Lamaze with her mother. Can Fleming’s life, like, get any worse?
Whip a little more drama to this concoction: her dad is working on a secret program for the annual Rodeo Days that includes livestock on ice, and a bunch of gas stations in the area are getting held up.
In spite of all this, ambitious, overextended Fleming manages to confront a jerk, come clean with her parents, create a dent in the debt she owes for car repairs, make new friends, learn a little French, and sink a golf cart. With humor and wit, Catherine Clark shows how one teen rises above her own angst and self-centeredness to make her cow town a place worth living in, not just to escape from.
Goobie, Beth. Who Owns Kelly Paddik? Orca, 2003. ISBN 978-1551432397 128 pp. $9.99
Kelly, newly arrived at Marymound School for Girls, wants nothing except to run away, from this place with the high fences and wire enforced glass windows, from her past, from her life. When she accidentally gets hold of Sister Mary’s master keys, will she stay in one of the first safe places she has known, or flee?
Part of Orca’s hi-lo Soundings series, Who Owns Kelly Paddick? is a contemporary problem novel about a girl abused by her father who thinks only suicide will help her escape her anger. Details about behavior of teen girls in abusive situations seem well-researched and authentic, even if the plot is quickly resolved as Kelly learns she is not alone.
Goobie is successful at presenting an engaging story in a limited amount of space, using a simple vocabulary that doesn’t talk down to reluctant or struggling readers. On the contrary, lines like “Her eyes were that pale kind of blue that looks like the sky died in them,” and “yellow leaves blew down the streets like sadness, like freedom,” elevate this book from passable to excellent.
Although this book is not as well suited to class discussion as other titles in the series, it is highly recommended for all secondary school and public library collections.
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light. Clarion, 2019 (reprint). ISBN 978-0358063681 416 pp. $9.99
Inspired by Dreiser’s classic-based-on-a-true-story An American Tragedy (New American Library, 1925), this historical novel about a 1906 murder in upstate NY is told from the point of view of young Mattie Gokey, a hotel waitress and aspiring college student saddled with caring for her motherless siblings and holding the family together. Mattie is spunky, resourceful, and truth-seeking, surrounded by believable, complex and dynamic friends, family and neighbors. She is best friends with a fellow word-lover and black boy whose mouth and temper sometimes get him into trouble. And she can’t believe that the most handsome and popular boy in town is courting her.
Mattie’s strong voice captures the period closely – neighbors work together to help one another, blacks are still not seen as full citizens by many, and girls aren’t always given their due. When a hotel guest slips Mattie a packet of letters to destroy, Mattie, a writer and bibliophile, can’t do it. The letters reveal the love and desperation of a sad young woman and call into question the circumstances of her death. They are the call to arms that Mattie needs to pursue her own dreams.
The author’s own passion and empathy for the victim of a famous murder case shines through this gem of a book. It is well-deserving of it’s Printz honor award, and is a quality book that is engaging to teens and will win a nod of approval from teachers as well–AND meet curriculum frameworks!
Review by Beth Gallaway
Another take on A Northern Light.
Prose, Francine. After. Harper Teen, 2004. ISBN 978-0060080839. 352 pp. $9.99
When a shooting takes place at Pleasant Valley, a high school fifty miles away, Central High and it’s surrounding community gets an “it could happen here” wake-up call, and a frightened school administration hires psychologist Dr. Willner to come in and crack down on the students. The institution of security checks, locker searches, dress codes, and a host of unfair new rules create some dissent, but smart jock Tom Wilson struggles to keep his nose clean, especially when disobeying and disruptive students begin to disappear, supposedly sent to a boot-camp-style place to work on their self-discipline and respect for authority. A little investigation reveals that the students of Pleasant Valley have all but been eliminated, and it seems Central is next.
Rather implausibly, it turns out that parents are being brainwashed to accept these rights-violating policies through the nightly emails sent from Dr. Willner (apparently, everyone has a PC at home). Luckily, Tom’s dad has viewed the emails as a waste of time, instead of subscribing to the “they know best” theory like the other parents. What will happen when Dr. Willner realizes the Wilsons are on to him?
First time YA novelist Prose presents an authentic teen view of overprotective adults while hinting that uninvolved parents may be the root of the problem of alienated teens gone wild. The view of attending high school in the post-Columbine novel is hauntingly realistic and highly disturbing. The conclusion lacks confrontation or resolution: tool for discussion, or cliffhanger for a sequel? You decide. Recommended for most collections.
Efaw, Amy. Battle Dress. Harper Teen, 2002. ISBN 978-0060279431 304 pp. $
On the ride to West Point, Andi’s siblings bicker and her mother tries to get out of the speeding car at 65 mph and then throws her dad’s glasses out the window so he will be forced to let her drive. With a family like this, it’s no wonder Andi welcomes the grueling six week boot camp experience, known discomfortingly as “Beast.” Anticipation quickly turns to tolerance as she is verbally abused to relearn how to walk, talk, even eat. The fear that she will fall into the category of dropout like a third of her class haunts her almost as constantly as she defends her boy-crazy roommate.
One of the few girls in the class of 1996, Andi struggles to fit in and gain the respect of her peers, her superiors, and her family. Frequent run-ins with a misogynist cadet bring up feminist issues. West Point ultimately becomes a place where she learns new skills, makes friends, breaks records as a runner, and discovers that her squad leader is human, after all.
The climax of the book, a sequence of trials that puts everything the new cadets have learned together, gets a bit long and drawn out as Efaw describes the step-by-step solution to each problem. Still, this is where Andi really has a chance to shine.
The book is nicely supplemented with a map of West Point, a chart of seniority, and a glossary of military terms and slang. An author’s note puts the book into context (Efaw graduated from West Point in 1989) and explains what was left out in the hopes of simplification.
The hardcover version has an unappealing old-fashioned look; why didn’t the art director feature a West Point cadet’s uniform instead? The West Point badge on the back is very appropriate. Battle Dress offers a unique point of view and lots of action, and will be perfect for anyone, male or female, who wants to know how bad boot camp really is. In spite of intense writing and a strong female character, this book may need some pushing. Purchase in paperback.
Halvorson, Marilyn. Bull Rider. Orca, 2003. ISBN 978-1551432335 128 pp. $
In Bull Rider, Layne defies his mother to tackle the sport that killed his father: bull riding. With the help of a mentor, he might just have a chance at landing a prize–or he might break his neck. Layne’s moral dilemma would make a excellent topic for classroom discussion.
Ninety pages of enlarged typeface doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for details such as setting and character development, but the quick pace, suspense, and sports action blended with a light “love interest” subplot will hold the reader’s attention once the snazzy cover has hooked. While not quite as tightly written as those by Beth Goobie and William Bell (side note: when is Orca going to commission Don Trembath to write a Soundings book?), the series as a whole is highly recommended. The rodeo-themed Bull Rider may not do as well here in New England as in other areas; the Canadian settings generally don’t limit the audience. Recommended for school and public libraries.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Small Avalanches and Other Stories. Harper Teen, 2004. ISBN 978-0060012199 400 pp. $
Oates’ collection of previously published short stories thought to have teen appeal is dedicated “for the bad girls.” Quite fitting, for protagonists include sisters who deliberately destroy their twice-divorced mother’s relationship with a new potential mate; Melissa, who willingly trades a friend’s life for her own; Sunny, whose refusal of a marriage proposal drives a boy to suicide; and Melanie, who lets her beautiful but naïve cousin Steff take off with a man she meets on the Internet. Stranger danger abounds in these stories as girls on the brink of womanhood lose their innocence through interaction with pedophiles, crazy neighbors, and other shady characters.
Oates adeptly portrays that tensions of wanting to be a grownup and a little girl all at once, and chronicles the way girls change sleekly change personas, depending on whom they are talking to. The literary merit of the collection is to be expected from the winner of the Pen/Malamud Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Fiction; the language feels surreal in most stories, and dialogue is not typical casual teenspeak. The stories are technically flawless, but wouldn’t be my first choice for a booktalk; 4 stars for writing, 2 for teen appeal = 3 stars.
Lynn, Tracy. Snow: A Retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Simon Pulse, 2006 (reprint). ISBN 978-1416940159 272 pp. $7.99
Once upon a time, there was a reviewer who loved fairy tales. She discovered a luminous retelling of Snow White complete with a stepmothers jealous vanity, kindly yet isolated miners, and a deathlike sleep, and, after giving the book five stars, lived happily ever after.
When a duke’s wife dies during the birthing of their long awaited child, the motherless darling grows up in the kitchens until her father remarriage (coinciding with her puberty). The duke’s new wife takes the tomboyish Jessica under her wing to become a lady. Desperate to both remain youthful and have a babe of her own, the vain yet intelligent stepmother practices many foul experiments, trading her patronage for the help of Alan, a hired violist. When the mad woman decides the heart of her stepdaughter will bring her heart’s desire, Alan helps Jessica escape to the city, where she meets bizarre creatures of the night who hire her as their maid and caretaker. As one would expect, the evil stepmother discovers her rival is still alive, and seeks her out, eventually spelling her into a long deep sleep that only the famed clockmaker can bring her out of.
The tale is embellished with a bewitched character who lends personification to the mirror, and a turn-of-the-century English setting almost makes the story believable as a historical event that evolved to legend and finally to fairy tale status. The short chapters offer a variety of viewpoints without confusing the reader, and although we know the basic plot elements and the outcome, how Lynn gets there is a bit mysterious from the prologue, which takes place partway through the story. The role of the prince is filled unexpectedly, the explanation of the mirror brilliant, and the industrial revolution and the role of women in society season the plot.
With all her alterations, Lynn remains true to the underlying message that youth is fleeting but true inner beauty is forever (and more desirable), and adds one of her own, culled from Arthurian legend: the key to a woman’s heart is giving her freedom of choice. Superbly done.
Gaetz, Dayle Campbell. No Problem. Orca, 2006 (reprint). ISBN 978-1551435565 112 pp. $
In No Problem, baseball player Curt tries knock-out painkillers for a sore shoulder, and with the enticement of a fast older woman, quickly slides down a slippery slope to cocaine use. School, sports and job all go to hell as he indulges in his new feel-good pastime. Curt’s moral dilemma would make a excellent topic for classroom discussion.
Ninety pages of enlarged typeface doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for details such as setting and character development, but the quick pace, suspense, and sports action blended with a light “love interest” subplot will hold the reader’s attention once the snazzy cover has hooked. While not quite as tightly written as those by Beth Goobie and William Bell (side note: when is Orca going to commission Don Trembath to write a Soundings book?), the series as a whole is highly recommended. The Canadian settings generally don’t limit the audience. Recommended for school and public libraries.