Hrdlitschka, Shelley. Sun Signs. Orca, 2005. ISBN 978-1551433387 195 pp. $7.95
Told in emails, journal entries and horoscopes, this story of a group of distance learners helping a ‘net friend with her science project tackles the adage that “on the internet, everyone is a dog.” Fifteen-year-old cancer patient Kayleigh is a Gemini who writes letters to her twin on another plane (one that she isn’t eager to join). She convinces her professor to let her study astrology and asks her fellow online classmates, all Leos, to track their horoscopes and report back to her as to the accuracy of the predictions.
Mixing issues of identity and mortality, Hrdlitschka shows that everyone has secrets to hide. Friendships develop and are challenged as truths are revealed, and two of the three teens don’t take the project seriously, skewing the results and testing the scientific method Kayleigh is required to follow. As an entertaining and lighter subplot, Kayleigh tries to determine her professor’s sign through process of elimination.
The author’s choice to make the emails realistic by interspersing a few slang terms and abbreviations is uneven and inauthentic (either use “u” or you, but stop having the same character alternate – either spell it out, or don’t! Argh!). Still, the story is engrossing and unpredictable. Kayleigh frequently calls for standard or “school” English for the reports she demands, and her journaling is always clear-voiced and her letters and emails to an astrologer who never writes back are heartbreaking. Lurlene McDaniel fans will enjoy this more complex, yet ultimately lighter fare.
Review by Beth Gallaway
Waters, Eric. Juice. Orca, 2005. ISBN 978-1551433516 $9.95
Michael “the Moose” Monroe has just been named MVP of the year for a season’s worth of sacks, playing with heart, and scoring the winning touchdown at the Division Two championship game, but the victory is bittersweet when his a coach and mentor announces his retirement following the team’s victory. The replacement shows up before the end of the school year and makes a lot of changes, including state-of-the-art equipment, a specialist in nutrition and bodybuilding, and homemade smoothie concoctions of milk and ice cream laced with vitamins, protein powder–and steroids. When the assistant coach approaches Michael about adding “juice” to his regime to give him an edge, he quavers, but the adult preys on Michael’s football dreams.
Like other Soundings titles, the pace is fast, plot tight, and characters boiled down to their essences. Opportunities for discussion abound–drug use, good sportsmanship, steroids in professional sports, and personal ethics all come into play.
Drama and action are balanced well and the author avoids a heavy-handed moral tone by cleverly relaying the negative side-effects of steroids as Tony shoots them down one by one during a conversation with Michael.
Less edgy than other titles, this is a book clean enough for middle school students, and is timely to boot. This hi-lo book has a reading level of 2.9 and is recommended for school and public library collections.
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.
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.
Olsen, Sylvia. Yellow Line. Orca, 2005. ISBN 978-1551434629 128 pp. $9.95
This disturbing novel explores racism in a village abutting an Indian reservation. Divided physically by the yellow line on the road, native peoples and whites avoid one another, segregating themselves on the bus, in the community, in school. Then Sherry falls for a boy from the reservation, and folks get upset when the lines so carefully maintained begin to disintegrate.
The narration, from the point of view of Sherry’s cousin Vince, allows a slightly objective viewpoint. Vince is torn between many things: the prejudice of his father against native peoples, the defection of Sherry to Steve, the catcalls about his hairy white skinny legs during a basketball game. When his two best friends brag about assaulting the native girl Vince can’t stop thinking about, the one with the luscious lips and pretty eyes, the time comes for him to make some choices about right and wrong.
Too many characters and an abrupt introduction to the problem make it hard to keep the large cast sorted out, but a 100 page limit doesn’t leave a lot of room for physical descriptions and character development. The author effectively writes scenes that leave the reader squirming for a positive resolution, and shine a light on intolerance and stereotypes. Kudos for addressing tough issues in a accessible manner,
Polak, Monique. Home Invasion. Orca, 2005. ISBN 978-1551434827128 pp. $
Josh is struggling to accept his mother’s new husband, a scatterbrained artist who experiments with traditional recipes and signs Josh up for basketball camp so he can have quiet to paint. He dislikes Clay for not being his dad, and they have nothing in common. Josh longs for what he perceives as a real family-–two parents who give him the love and attention he needs. He finds solace (and an adrenaline rush) in sneakily observing neighbors to find the happiness he thinks everyone else has.
It ’s bad timing for breaking and entering though no matter how innocent the reason – it turns out that a burglar is breaking into neighborhood homes and terrorizing families! Josh can understand a little bit why the guy enjoys the rush, but if he isn’t careful, he’s going to find himself as a prime suspect.
Polak delivers a tightly written about developing new relationships, learning to trust, and taking responsibility. Subplots include a possible love interest; a girl whose family life isn’t as idyllic as it seems. Like other Soundings titles, Home Invasion presents a realistic teen with a problem that lends itself well to discussion. The pivotal scene is a bit too coincidental to be believed but empowers the protagonist while resolving the story neatly, if conveniently, in just over 100 pages.
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.
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.
Kicked Out. Goobie, Beth. Orca, 2002. ISBN 978-1551432441 92 pp. $
After Dime’s older brother is relegated to a wheelchair as a paraplegic after a car accident, Darren’s situation seems to hit his sister harder than in hits him. Dime, a motorcycle enthusiast with a dyed pink Mohawk, acts out in a attempt to live loud and fast instead of trying to live up to her good brother’s reputation. When things get too tense at home, their parents allow Dime to accept Darren’s invitation to move in with him for a while, but will distance alone solve their problems?
Like other books in the Orca Soundings series, the slim volume tackles an issue that might be appropriate for a rousing class discussion: in this case, differently abled / family relationships. This is a high-low book that has a vibrantly colorful main character, and every teens dream: getting some freedom from Mom and Dad in a safe environment. Simple yet varied vocabulary and language realistic enough to keep the attention of teens while remaining clean enough for classroom use are highlights of all the books in the series. Canadian author Goobie has a particular flair for creating dramatic yet believable situations, and is a rising star on the forefront of YA literature.
School and public librarians will be overjoyed to discover this high quality new series for reluctant and struggling readers. Highly recommended for middle school and up.
Goobie, Beth. Sticks and Stones. Orca, 2002. ISBN 978-1551432137 112 pp. $9.95
Jujube becomes the target of a vicious gossip and bathroom wall graffiti when her dance date doesn’t deny the rumor that she slept with him on the their first date. Refusing to become a victim, she uses her class assignment on Ways We Communicate to fight an administration that refuses to take the matter seriously.
Sticks and Stones is part of Orca’s Soundings series. Written by award winning Canadian authors, the short thematic novels are designed for classroom use with special appeal for the reluctant reader. Large print type and simply constructed sentences combine with a flashy neon title and striking color photograph to hook. Characterization is a bit flat, perhaps because of the brevity of the novels, but the plot is strong (if not complex) in both novels. Sticks and Stones has a sympathetic character and universal theme. Based on real life events, are ideal for discussion and could even create a neat segue into current events. Highly recommended.