I apologize for not having the time to write real reviews for these books, but I just want to get the list out there before I forget what I’ve read lately. I’ve been out sick this week and since I couldn’t feed my stomach, I decided to feed my brain…
Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates (what a powerful book–just as good, if not better than Big Mouth Ugly Girl)
Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen (oldie-but-goodie)
Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen (I think he is one of the best writers alive today!)
Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a bad neighborhood by Hollis Gillespie (talk about heart and heartache and humor and love and friendship and wackiness–this is an awesome adventure)
Cirque Du Freak: Book 1 by Darren Shan (I finally got to see what all these middle school boys are so hyped about. This starts as a fun and playful story and has quite a chilling ending. Can’t wait to see what happens to Darren in The Vampire’s Assistant)
Izzy Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt (We have this shelved in children’s and I really think it should be a YA book. Anyway, Cynthia Voigt just never disappoints. Izzy loses her leg in a drunk driving accident. How will she cope? How will her family cope? How will her friends cope?)
The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney (A classroom pet, Humphrey the Hamster, becomes more than a pet when he starts making weekend visits with the students in his classroom)
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.
Oates, Joyce Carol. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl. Harper Teen, 2003. ISBN 978-0064473477 288 pp. $
Award-winning adult author Oates explores what could happen in post-Columbine era when it can be dangerous not to take every remark seriously. When the class clown jokingly says he wants to [destroy] the school at lunch, someone reports him to the principal and suspension and media frenzy ensues. In spite of the fact that Matt is popular, not one of his friends stands up for him. One person does though–Ursula, a gangly and unattractive misfit basketball player who believes in justice. Their friendship gets off to a rocky start but eventually evolves into trust and then gradually turns to romance.
Told in randomly alternating chapters from Ursula’s first person point of view to Matt’s second person, the reading is fast, sprinkled with emails and chunks of dialogue.
While her protagonists are interesting, something about the way they speak doesn’t quite ring true, and it isn’t quite realistic that the two don’t hook up sooner. Matt’s descent into depression is wholly believable. The kidnapping of Matt’s dog is a subplot designed to expose the tattlers, but lacks drama.
It would be interesting to see how this turned out if it hadn’t been intended for YA’s. I have to be honest, I might have liked the book if I hadn’t read an article from Book magazine w/ Oates in which it was quite clear that neither she nor the reviewer knew anything about YA lit. Oates seemed overly proud that this was the first book to address this topic, but Todd Strasser’s Give a Boy a Gun (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and Ron Koertge’s Brimstone Journals (Candlewick, 2001) both predate her.