Monthly Archives: January 2011

Doing It by Melvin Burgess

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Doing It by Melvin Burgess

Burgess, Melvin. Doing It. Henry Holt & Company, 2006. ISBN 978-0805080797 336 pp. $8.99

***

This book proves true the urban legend that men really do think about sex once every six seconds–and teenage boys, twice as frequently. In Doing It, three 17-year old male hormonal time bombs fantasize, expresses their fears, and attempt to get lucky. Along the way, they fall into real relationships: Ben with his drama teacher, Dino with the popular beautiful girl he’s chased for years, and Jonathan with a sweet but overweight girl.

The cover alone is provocative enough to make one local library send it back, unread and unreviewed. It took me a second glance to confirm that yes, the characters are wearing clothes (a standing boy with his back to us holds his girlfriend in his arms, her legs wrapped around his waist). The back cover shows the same couple (no pun intended!) from the opposite view, the cartoonish image cleverly hinting at the multiple points of view within.

Although Doing It made this reviewer swallow and blush several times, in truth it is about as sexy as a how-to manual and more crude talk than hot action. However–I confess to recalling the days when even a textbook or dictionary definition was titillating. I am sure there are those out there who will accuse Burgess of writing pornography for teens, however, this novel, with its horrifically embarrassing toe-curling details, is accurate. Teens are sexual creatures. They have questions. They have desires. And they talk about them, agonize over them, and sometimes act on them, all healthy, normal and vital developmental steps towards adulthood (speaking of which, the adults in the book have their own sexual issues: Dino catches his mom having an affair; Miss Young, shagging students, obviously has some baggage; and Jackie’s parents allow her to stay overnight with her boyfriend eight years her senior).

Blunt books like Burgess’s are few and far between, and it is brave of him to tell this tale of lust and the pursuit of punanni. Doing It provides a few laughs, answers questions along the way, is well-written, if not sensitively written, and most of all, assures boys AND girls that having sexual feelings is okay. Still, purchasers should be prepared to defend the presence of this book in library collections–the key phrase here is “meets the developmental needs of teens.”

Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks

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Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks

Sacks, Adam. Salmon Doubts. Alternative Comics, 2004. ISBN 978-1891867712. 128 pp. $19.99

***

The life cycle of a salmon serves as a metaphor for the human condition in Salmon Doubts. Fish struggle to survive hatching, make connections, be unique, explore the world around them, hit puberty, try to fit in, find a mate and return home to die. Focusing on basic questions such as “Why am I here?” this philosophical tale with its themes of identity and purpose in life will have special appeal to teens. Very highly recommended – a real quality addition to your graphic novel collections.

Review by Beth Gallaway

Ninety Candles: A Graphic Novella by Neil Kleid

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Ninety Candles: A Graphic Novella by Neil Kleid

Kleid, Neil. Nintey Candles: a graphic novella. Rant Comics, 2004. $5.99

*****

Conveyed entirely through images and dialogue, Ninety Candles is an experiment, begun when author Neil Kleid challenged himself to create a panel a day, unscripted, for three months. This sequential tale follows the life of a child who loves to draw, discovers comics, and takes the leap from aficionado to artist. Unconventional circular panels act as peepholes into pivotal moments of protagonist Kevin Hall’s life, illustrated with soft edges.

Ninety Candles is a perfect introduction to the graphic novel genre because it is easy to follow and explains a lot about the business of making comics. This is a fantastic and inexpensive add that will add depth to manga and superhero collections and appeal to a broad readership.

Further Grickle by Annabel Graham

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Graham, Annabel. Further Grickle. Alternative PRess, 2003. ISBN 978-1891867552. 128 pp. $

Further Grickle is a stand-alone companion to Grickle (Alternative, 2001), consisting of a series of tragi-comics featuring the difficulties of various types of relationships: neighbors, co-workers, friends and lovers. Ultimately, readers will recognize themselves and see the futility and humor in struggling to hold a job, have a life, and make connections with others. The stick figure style art manages to be energetic and expressive in spite of the economy of line. Suitable for most public library collections with strong appeal for twenty-somethings.

Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever by James Kochalka

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Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever by James Kochalka

James Kochalka. Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever. Alternative Comics, 2003. ISBN 978-1891867460 280 pp. $

*****

Peanut Butter and Jeremy’s Best Book Ever is a whimsical collection of the adventures of a naive workaholic cat (who thinks he is an office employee) named Peanut Butter and a sarcastic trickster crow named Jeremy. Peanut Butter, who takes himself much too seriously, needs a nemesis-pal like Jeremy around to bring him back down to earth. Character development here is excellent–the two epitomize their species and display charmingly human affectations as well. The art is smooth, featuring simple lines and velvety black backgrounds.

Appropriate for children in that the themes, dialogue and artwork are easily comprehended, some of the plots and jokes may go over their heads. Saavy teens and collegiate intern-types will probably get the most out of Peanut Butter’s career track and Jeremy’s meanness. Some parents of young children may object to the name-calling and threats of violence throughout, but they are true to Jeremy’s character and should be taken lightly.

Bad Girls by Alex McAulay

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Bad Girls by Alex McAulay

McAulay, Alex. Bad Girls. MTV Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0743497336. 320 pp. $13.00

Anna is a good girl gone bad, and when her father, author of a popular Christian series, has had enough of her shenanigans (sneaking out, talking back, and oh yeah, getting knocked up) he sends her away to Camp Archstone: a reform school for wayward girls on a remote island in the Bahamas. Apart from time spent with nature, the only “camp” of Archstone is its boot camp style. Run by ex-military, the girls are up at 0500, put on strict schedule heavy with exercise and reflecting on what brought them here. On day two, a hike through the jungle comes to an abrupt end when their chaperone is shot to death before their eyes. The girls scatter, left to fend for themselves. A few of the original group of unlucky thirteen band together, and the power struggles begin.

Although fairly strong on plot, the book is weak on character development, relying on cliched archetypes: the smart girl, the quiet girl, the mean girl, the lesbian. Requisite violence, sex, and language are so overabundant their impact is deadening, and rather than using the f-word for effect, as in M.T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2001), it seems kind of pointless in this title. If these are bad girls, it’s a given they use foul language–do we really need to hear it? The ending wraps up with a paragraph telling the reader that “Anna’s thoughts had grown clear”–it would have been nice to see this process, instead of being told. The third person limited point of view never allows us to get as deeply inside Anna’s head and makes the action read like a B-movie.

McAulay references William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies (Perigree, 1954) several times throughout the novel, and like films Mean Girls and Heathers, this novel demonstrates that girls are crueler to one another than boys, and faster to turn on you. The vivid writing, fast pace, neon cover and MTV endorsement will make this a popular choice.

Review by Beth Gallaway

Prep by Curtis Sittenfield

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Prep by Curtis Sittenfield

Sittenfield, Curtis. Prep. Random House, 2005. ISBN 978-0812972351. 448 pp. $14.00

****

A coming-of-age story told by a Midwestern girl attracted to the idyllic New England boarding school life by the glossy catalogs. Through her detached observations as she longs to belong to the culture at Ault, Lee discovers it’s not so different from school back home–she is the loner who doesn’t quite fit in here, either.

Prep follows our heroine through such high school rites of passage as unrequited love, struggles with algebra, and a friend’s suicide attempt, with an undramatic matter-of-factness that is refreshing and believable. And no matter what Ault throws at her, Lee remains steadfastly her complex self throughout.

Don’t let the cute pink & green belt on the cover fool you–the story is classic and funky, but not neat or pretty. Sittenfeld deflty weaves issues of class, race and ethics throughout this fish out of water story. Her tangible details of the dining hall, a boy’s room, the nearest mall are so evocative the pages reek of New England private school.
Some fast-forwarding to the future in spots jars the reader into thinking this is a narrative, but the voice, consistent and authentic and wonderful, makes it a forgivable flaw. Recommended for A/YA collections for mothers and daughters to fight over.

See Anna’s take on Prep!

The Wereling (Resurrection #3) by Stephen Cole

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The Wereling (Resurrection #3) by Stephen Cole

Cole, Stephen. The Wereling (Resurrection # 3). Razorbill, 2005. ISBN 978-1595140432 272 pp. $5.99

*****

If all of your enemies were gathering in one location, you should probably head in the opposite direction right?  Not Tom and Katie.  When they learn that Takapa is planning something in Chicago, they know that they must head there to stop him.  Once there, they find out Takapa is planning to resurrect a terrible creature from the past to help him with his revolution.  Joined by old friends and new allies, Tom and Katie set out to destroy Takapa once and for all.

This trilogy is awesome!  This finale book was just as great as the previous installments, Wounded and Prey.  The fast-paced action, strong characters, horror and suspense will keep readers involved and interested to the end–even though the general outcome is obvious (of course they are going to defeat the bad guys!).  Great for reader’s with an interest in supernatural characters or those who enjoy horror stories.

Review by Alissa L, originally posted at http://www.hiplibrariansbookblog.blog-city.com

Boy 2 Girl by Terence Blacker

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Blacker, Terence. Boy 2 Girl. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2005. ISBN 978-0374309268.  304 pp.

After the death of his mother, Sam moves to London to reside with his aunt and her family. His cousin Matthew is reluctant to include charmingly abrasive Sam in his social circle after a few awkward situations. They gang decides that Sam must prove his friendship to the “Sheds” before he can join their clique. The hazing: dress like a girl for a week at school. Sam, slight with longish hair, assumes the persona of Samantha with more ease than they are all comfortable with; he manages to soften his male friends and empower his girl friends in one fell swoop. A tough boy with a lot of baggage, the unruly Sam finds that passing as a girl allows him to express his bottled up feelings on a variety of subjects.

The plot complicates when the hunkiest guy in school falls for Sam, and so does a cute musical girl in his grade. No one dreamed that the crossdressing would come in useful when Sam’s dad, newly released from jail, comes to London seeking his son–and his son’s inheritance. The amusing premise has an unexpected depth, and the humor is balanced out with serious issues of honesty, depth, family and gender.

Kudos to Blacker for a unique tale and memorable characters. The story, told from multiple points of view, creates a complete portrait of Sam, whose voice we hear only through the mouths of the other characters. The foreign setting shouldn’t create problems for the average American reader; short chapters make the pages fly by, but it takes a little while to get into the swing of the pace and the voices of all the characters, which tend to blend together. The ex-con path the plot takes is not wholly believable, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Jailbait by Leslea Newman

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Newman, Leslea. Jailbait. Delacorte, 2006. ISBN 978-0385734059 256 pp. $17.95

***

In her desperate need to matter to someone, a naive loner is sucked into an inappropriate relationship with a strange older man who abuses her sexually and verbally. Andi, a stereotypical overweight and unpopular tenth grader, nurtures a relationship with a moody adult stranger who offers her a ride home one day. As their relationship progresses, Frank manipulates her into posing for cheesecake photos, losing her virginity and performing sexual acts on him.

This squirm-inducing tale is not sexy or gratuitous, but the content is certainly provocative. Middle class-suburbia offers no protection from pedophiles; the book drives home the reality that an estimated one in three girls are sexually abused before the age of 16. The tragic events of the story are a good jumping off point for a discussion about respect and self-esteem.

Set purposefully in 1971, slang, music and cultural details do flesh out the story, but it’s unclear why the author chose this particular time for the setting of the story. The clever cover of a teen’s face with a censor mark across the eyes indicate the mature content, the “it-could-happen-to any-girl” possibility, and the utter blindness of a young women who mistakes attention for love.