Monthly Archives: November 2005

Snitch by Norah McClintock

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Snitch by Norah McClintock

McClintock, Norah. Snitch. Orca, 2005. ISBN ‎ 978-1551434841 128 pp. $

****

If his former friend Scott hadn’t tattled on him, Josh wouldn’t be on his last chance to turn his life around, living with his brother Andrew, wife Miranda and nephew Digby in a cramped apartment. Beating up Scott for ratting him out landed Josh in a program to train dogs while learning anger management. In spite of venting in a group therapy session and keeping his nose to the grindstone, trouble continues to find Josh as he breaks Miranda’s favorite mug and has multiple run ins both with puppy-kicking bully Travis. When Scott gets beaten up again, and one of Josh’s personal belongings are found at the scene of the crime, all evidence points to him, but he knows who the guilty party really is. Will he tell?

Josh’s frustration is palpable as he slowly progresses, with a few setbacks. He learns the right lessons along the way, such as trust needs to be earned, that impressions can be changed with patience and kindness, and that sometimes snitching on someone is warranted. Supporting adults are drawn realistically as flawed characters, and somehow McClintock finds room to drop relevant details about Josh & Andrew’s own turbulent upbringing that are very relevant to the situation at hand. Action and character development are nicely balanced in this well-paced novel about a kid in trouble who is still worth saving.

Hippie by Barry Miles

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Hippie by Barry Miles

Barry, Miles. Hippie. Union Square, 2005. ISBN 978-1402728730 384 pp. $

Is this a history of the 1960’s, a musical biography, or both? Can you really talk about one without the other? Apparently not. Hippie is a broad biography of an era that examines the clothes, the art, the politics, the bands, and the generation that tuned in, dropped out and changed the world in 1965-1971. Covering not just entertainment, Hippie is also a history of issues: women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, and the right to gather peaceably.

Interviews with Ken Kesey, Abbie Hoffman and Bob Dylan paired with photos of ephemera yield primary source material about the counterculture of the times. The number one fact that sticks with me after reading it is that Dylan turned the Beatles onto hard drugs.

Although Woodstock is prominently featured, the book has a California-centric focus. It’s not big enough or colorful enough to be called a coffee-table book, about half of the 600 illustrations are in black and white. More for browsing, there are no page numbers, making this a difficult title for reports, although one could read the volume straight through or skim. Might make a nice gift for someone who lived through it but doesn’t remember it.

Beachmont Letters by Cathleen Twomey

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Beachmont Letters by Cathleen Twomey

Twomey, Cathleen. Beachmont Letters. Boyds Mills Press, 2003. ISBN‎ 978-1590780503 224 pp. $

***

Before Operation Dear Abby, kindly English teachers invited their students to write to soldiers serving in WWII, never dreaming of the heartache they might cause when their female students fell for the lonely, frightened and traumatized men they befriended through airmail. Sensitive and lovely Eleanor, recuperating physically and emotionally from a restaurant fire that left her face and upper body permanently scarred and took her father from the family, finds it is easy to relate to a stranger on paper, and Robert, the soldier she is assigned, falls for her humor and honesty–and the picture she sends him that is two years old.

In between shifts at the local drugstore, Eleanor lives for her letters from Robert, telling him the things she can’t say to her mother or seven-year-old sister or nosy neighbor or co-workers, about how hard it is to be her, and how much she missed her physician father, without revealing the details of her disfigurement. In fact, the reader only gets those details as Eleanor herself comes to terms with her accident, a deft storytelling trick by the author.

Twomey sensitively captures this historical portrait of a girl on the brink of womanhood in a challenging time; local details give this story set in Revere special appeal for Massachusetts readers. A tearjerker coming of age story with a solid plot and strong character.

Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters by Paul B. Janeczko

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Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters by Paul B. Janeczko

Paul B. Janeczko. Blushing: Expressions of Love in Poems and Letters. Orchard, 2004. ISBN 978-0439530569 112 pp. $

*****

This beautiful collection of love poems and letters is artfully arranged and perfectly chosen by poet Paul Janeczko, appropriate for Valentine’s Day or year round. As best poetry is universal, the variety of authors included demonstrates that love is indeed the same for queer, straight, black, white, old, young, in the past and in the present.

The acknowledgments are meticulous and the introduction invites readers to return to this collection of classic and contemporary works in the various stages of their relationships. Ranging from first glimpse and the newness of love to seasoned passion to the breakup and beyond, romantic words by Shelley, Keats, Bradstreet, Dickinson, Shakespeare, Rumi, Neruda, St. Vincent Millay and more express the experience and emotions love inspires. If high school teachers used this as a basic text for their April poetry units, teens might get more excited about poetry and adult readers of literature might not be on the decline.

Clever black and white photos of prelude each chapter, showing young people taking a plunge, smooching and moping. The script and pink cover screams “girl book!” and it is a shame that romantically inclined young men may miss out on this gem. Recommended for public and school library collections.

MARS: Horse With No Name by Fuyumi Soryo translated by Shirley Kubo

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MARS: Horse With No Name by Fuyumi Soryo translated by Shirley Kubo

Soryo, Fuyumi translated by Shirley Kubo. MARS: Horse With No Name. Tokyopop, ISBN 978-1591828648 208 204 pp. $

This anthology does not deliver the promise of the cover blurb: an exploration of Kira and Rei’s first meeting. That scene does appear, and figures prominently in the plot only because the real focus is on the friendship/competition that develops between Rei and Tatsuya. Tatsuya is Kira’s best friend, and has been in love with her, like, forever. And so, he can’t stand to see anyone treat her badly. He doesn’t know at this point that Kira and Rei are going to get together, but since we do, the dramatic tension is heightened.

The story adds little to the character of Rei, and indeed, may contain spoilers for anyone who reads this before the series. The title story is followed with two short stories that I couldn’t relate to previous characters in the series. An optional purchase.

The Au Pairs by Melissa de la Cruz

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de la Cruz, Melissa. The Au Pairs. Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 978-0689873195 320 pp. $

***

McLaughlin and Kraus’s The Nanny Diaries (St. Martin, 2002) meets von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girls (Little, Brown, 2002) in this high fashion, air-kissing, celebrity-sprinkled whirl of fluff. Three unique chicas –one exotic exchange student (Jacqui), one plain Jane from suburbia (Mara), and one former society girl (Eliza) find themselves sharing a summer nanny job (and a staff bedroom) in the Hamptons. Juggling boys, babysitting, and beaches is a challenge that can only be accomplished if they work together despite their differences. Their reward? A summer of jet-setting at parties and a salary of $10,000.

The author weaves three predictable stories together with ease and allows her characters to have neat, happy endings. The characters genuinely learn something about themselves by the end, and have some effect on their young charges as well. And, their situations and observations along the way are laugh-out-loud funny.

Less snottily sophisticated or scathingly judgmental than its contemporaries, Au Pairs is the perfect beach read for fans of Sex & the City or Gilmore Girls – light, fun and flippant. Libraries on a shoestring budget can wait for the paperback edition.

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish illus. by Barry Root

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The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish illus. by Barry Root

Farish, Terry, illus. by Barry Root. The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup. Candlewick, 3. ISBN  978-0763608347 pp. $

*****

This story of an elderly bass fisherman and his companion cat, both disinclined to show the affection they have for one another, in addition to being a superior children’s book about relationships and love, is also an allegory for romantic partnerships.

The two have lived together long enough for him to read her mind. They share fishing trips, truck rides, and relaxing on the porch, watching the birds. He makes disparaging remarks about her lack of contributions to the household, but his actions speak louder than words as he coddles her with potato soup and an electric blanket.

One morning, the cat doesn’t rouse to go fishing, and the old man leaves her behind, but without the cat on the prow of the boat, nothing goes right. And when the cat wakes up alone, she slips away out a window. Days and days pass, and he resigns himself to getting along without her. Cats have nine lives, don’t ya know, and this one comes back to give him what for.

Farish has a lilt to her voice that makes the story flow smoothly and gives it a folklorish air. Her carefully chosen verbs convey worlds with words like howl, loll, and ramble. Root’s soft watercolor illustrations give the Texas tale an “anytime, anywhere” feel – the setting could just as easily be fifty years ago or fifty years from now. Small details, like a toilet labeled junk mail next to the post office box, are fun discoveries, and the illustrator does a marvelous job of fleshing out the man on a fixed income and the overseeing air of the “uppity” cat. Only a potato soup recipe would have made this charming story more perfect.

Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse by Carolyn Lehman

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Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse by Carolyn Lehman

Lehman, Carolyn. Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. ISBN ‎ 978-0374372828 176 pp. $

*****

If every parent, teacher librarian and child in America read this book, perhaps we could put a stop to the largely silent epidemic of sexual abuse of our children. Even if you are not a survivor of sexual abuse, someone that you know is: one in three women and one in six men are abused sexually by the time they turn eighteen.

Strong at the Heart profiles nine courageous teens and adults who have traveled the road to recovery and found ways to speak up, speak out and begin healing from molestation, rape and abuse. Never gratuitous and shying away from sordid details, these stories will disturb some readers. An author’s note at the beginning suggests finding someone to talk with about the issues raised.

The survivors share what happened to them and the guilt, shame, fear, horror and finally healthy anger that ensued. All of them were fortunate to find an adult who believed in and supported them, even when allegations were made against their own family members. Some delved into unhealthy coping mechanisms before working through their trauma, others turned to creative outlets such as film and music and public speaking. A final chapter tells how three empowered students created a student organization on the campus of Smith College for Survivors and Allies For Education on Childhood Sexual Abuse and Incest (SAFE).

The cover shows half of the face of a woman of color, but every portrait within the pages is whole, a testimony to the healing process. Other photos of survivors with their families and loved ones, enjoying various activities, paint a clear picture of complete beings.

Twenty pages of resources include 24-hour hotlines, organizations and websites for more help. An annotation fiction list offers bibliotherapy resources, while non-fiction bibliography is split into such categories as for men, date rape, sexuality, resiliency and activism.

Breathless by Pam Withers

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Breathless by Pam Withers

Withers, Pam. Breathless. Orca, 2005. ISBN 978-1551434803 128 pp. $

Beverly’s goals while on school break are simple: lose 10 pounds and get a guy. Insecure about her weight and attractiveness, she builds self-esteem by spending time helping her uncle with his dive shop in Hawaii, and more than one guy seems to be sending her interested signals. She likes 18-year-old Garth, whose charming attention and wandering hands are proof of his attraction, no matter what her scale says. Still, she is determined to starve herself to slim down, never guessing about the effects of skipping meals on her athletic diving activities, and inevitably gets into a situation that puts herself and Garth in danger.

The author’s choice to never reveal the true weight of the self-loathing protagonist makes the novel accessible to every girl. Supporting characters such as Uncle Tom and his deaf assistant Weniki are fleshed out well. Readers who had never experienced the life aquatic will share in Beverly’s joy and wonder at tropical creatures, and fear and horror at running into a moray eel and dropping her regulator. Attention to detail and character development are strong in this brief novel.

The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Marcum

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The Cottonmouth Club by Lance Marcum

Marcum, Lance. The Cottonmouth Club. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374315627 336 pp. $

I devoured Robert Newton Peck’s Soup books books when I was growing up, and The Cottonmouth Club was a total throwback to the feeling of those books. Set in the early 1960’s not the 1920’s, The Cottonmouth Club has many of the same elements as Soup: historical fiction with a semi-autobiographical tone, best friends, boyish pranks, a carefree summer, overalls, burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, and farm life.

Having a dad in the Air Force means a lot of moving, and friendships can be few and far between, so Mitch, nearly twelve, is really looking forward to the big plans he’s made with his buddy Tick for the summer after a rough sixth grade experience. Mitch’s mom decides it’s time he and his brother Charley get to know her family, since her Paw-Paw is getting on in years. As quickly as that, Mitch’s plans are derailed and the family sets off from civilized California to rustic Louisiana, where know-it-all Charley bonds with cousin Woody, and Mitch is left to prove himself to a trio of older cousins named Barry, Larry and Gary, and the cool kid in town, Finn. Mitch finds himself treed by a bull, belly flopping into the creek, climbing a water tower and coming face to face with snakes. There are also real bonding moments over monster movies, comic books and baseball.

The humor, adventure and farting make this an appealing book, but the pace occasionally slows to a crawl, and the subplot of a drunk driving accident from several years back mars the coming of age story a little. Still, Marcum delivers the message of forming your own identity and not worrying so much about being cool with grace and subtlety.