Thursday, October 23, 2008

Paper Towns by John Green

Paper towns by John Green
ISBN: 9780525478188

Plot: The book opens as nine year old Quentin and Margo Roth Spiegelman (one of those names you say all in one breath) find a dead body in the park. Then jumps to senior year of high school, where Quentin, now called Q, is still enthralled by Margo Roth Spiegelman, who has become one of the 'in' crowd. She dates the right guy, hangs out with the right people, and doesn't speak to Q, though he suspects that she's the one who keeps the bullies from leaning too hard on him and his band geek friends. Then one night about a month before graduation Margo show up outside Q's window and leads him on a night full of pranks before disappearing and leaving only a few mysterious clues, an upset best friend, and angry parents who seem just as happy she's gone.
Q with the help of his two best friends and Margo's best friend follow the clues a bit farther than Margo expected and skip graduation for a wild road trip from central FL to central NY state in just a little over a day.

Thoughts: I wasn't a huge fan of Green's before reading this. I admired what he did in Katherine's and in Looking for Alaska, but they were by no means favorites of mine. I've read reviews and comments where readers (both professional and teen) ask why Green keeps writing books about the 'ideal' girl who teaches the boy something and if all the books aren't just rifts on the same story. I don't get how they can say that after reading _Paper towns_ though. I would argue that Margo doesn't teach Q a thing. Oh, yeah she takes him out and gets him to loosen up on their night of pranks and he feel drawn to the clues she left, but he learns so much more once she's gone. He learns it from the journey, from looking into the clue, from the process of learning that the Margo he saw wasn't real. Ultimately, he learns about himself from himself and his friends NOT Margo. And Margo, as little as you see her, learns from Quentin. The reader doesn't find this out until the end of the novel, but Margo learns that the person she thought of as weak and cowardly, was probably the bravest and most daring person she never knew.
This novel is at turns serious and thoughtful and at others it's hilariously funny. In the end, these two teenagers learn that people who were the corner stone of their lives and definition of themselves are real people and had very little in common with who they thought they were.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
ISBN: 978-0-7636-3931-0
Candlewick Press

Todd Hewitt is the last boy is Prentisstown. All the men in Prentisstown can hear the thoughts of other men and animals. These thoughts are called Noise. As Todd nears his 13th birthday, he learns that even when you can hear other men's thoughts that there can be secrets. His adopted fathers send him running for his life from power-hungry Prentiss and his men. Once he's on the run, Todd finds the first girl he's ever seen, Viola. Viola crashed in a nearby swamp and join Todd on the run from the men of Prentisstown. On their travels Todd learns that everything he knew was a lie and now he and Viola are racing to warn the new settlers of the dangers that lurk on New World.

If your looking for a fantasy where the main character speaks with intelligent animals and good always wins, don't look here! Ness begins the book by slapping the reader in the face with the reality of hearing a dog talk and that's about the nicest reality check you get. That's not to say there are not good people or good moments in this book, but it is stark cold reality with no punches held back. The reality is not ours obviously, but it sucks the reader in and doesn't let go.
When Viola enters the story, she is the first silence that Todd has ever known. To extend that to the readers, she doesn't speak and so she remains as silent a blank to the read as she does to Todd. As Todd slowly gets used to reading her face and body language, she slowly begins to speak more opening herself as slowly to the reader as she does to Todd. Ness, also, strategically keeps ideas and images which Todd doesn't want to believe from the reader so that even in a first person narrative there are secrets as there were secrets even though everyone could read other's Noise. At times this drove me nuts, because I wanted him to give up the good and let the 'sad history' of Prentisstown out into the light, but overall that's a minor quibble with a very well written opening to what I'm guessing will be a trilogy and an excellent coming of age story.

Friday, October 03, 2008


Mock Printz: Wake
Title: Wake
Author: Lisa McMann
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4169-5357-9
Review - Nominated for BBYA 2009

Plot: Ever since she was eight years old, high school student Janie Hannagan has been uncontrollably drawn into other people's dreams, but it is not until she befriends an elderly nursing home patient and becomes involved with an enigmatic fellow-student that she discovers her true power. Working in the nursing home is a way for Janie to save for college, but sometimes it's torture when the residents pull her into dreams of wartime and it's getting worse. School isn't any better, when classmates regularly nod off in class or in study hall and drag Janie with them. You see Janie can't escape the dreams and when she's dragged in she often passes out or appears to be having a seizure. After one incident at work, she's forced to go to a doctor and he begs her not to drive. She, of course, ignores him and buys a car. On the way home one night, she's dragged into a boy's nightmare and in time she find out it's the cute skater guy who came to her rescue the spring before. As he and Janie become friends and more the lies and complications mount until it climaxes in an unbelievable, but happy ending for the main characters.

This book was much deeper than I thought it was going to be. Not mentioned in the cover flap info is the alcoholic mother (Janie's), the dead brother (her best friend's), the abusive father (the boy's) and the drug dealing at parties. It mixes fantasy, teen romance, and police drama complete with rich bad girls and teen drama. Sex is talked about but there is nothing explicit and while some of the secrets and consistences just seem too unreal the story was a much better read than anticipated. From the ending of this book, I'm betting that it's the start of a series. And I can't wait to read the next installment.

Lock and Key

Mock Printz: Lock and Key by Dessen
Title: Lock and Key
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Viking, 2008

Plot: Ruby is 'rescued' from living by herself after her mother takes off. At first Ruby resents being told she can't live on her own and believes that she doesn't need anyone, especially not the sister who left for school 10 yrs ago and didn't want Ruby or her mom in her life anymore. But with time Ruby comes to realize that not everything in the past is what she thought it was and that having ties to people who care about you isn't the worst thing in the world. Just about when she's figuring this our she discovers one of her new found friends has a dangerous secret. Ruby has to decide if she wants to get involved or stay separate.

In this coming of age story, Ruby doesn't have to battle to survive in the wilderness or confront a horrible secret in her part, her coming of age is much quieter. Ruby has to admit at least to herself that she DID need rescuing and that her mother had lied to her about many different things. Her moment of truth is when she decides to get involved in other people's lives, but this doesn't happen in one crystal clear shining moment. It happens slowly as different people in her life begin to matter to her. It also isn't smooth sailing, Ruby makes mistakes though the one time her sister and brother-in-law tell her she has to deal with the consequences it doesn't really happen. They ground her and put on restrictions, however as the story continues she doesn't seem all that restricted. She still hangs with her friends and going with her friend/romantic interest while he runs errands for his father's business. So I'm not sure you can say she lives with the consequences of her mistakes.
Overall, I really liked the book with just a few minor points that I thought wrapped up too easily.


Title: eleven
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Publisher: Random House, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-73069-3
Star - Nominated for BBYA 2009

It's Sam's eleventh birthday and for some reason he's afraid of eleven. Sam lives with his grandfather above their woodworking shop in a large building which also houses a deli and restaurant both owned by friends of his grandfather. Together the residents of the building have formed a small family. At the start of the story Sam finds an odd locked chest in the attic when he goes searching for his birthday presents. Sticking out of the chest is an old newspaper article with the word missing and a picture of Sam, but the problem is that Sam has trouble reading and can't figure out the rest of the article. A new girl at school and a great teacher, who understands that different kids have different talents, enable Sam to get help. The new girl - Caroline- becomes Sam's best friend and together they work on a school project and solve the mystery of Sam's article.

This book was nominated for best books for teens, but I think it firmly belongs in the younger section. The main characters are just turning eleven and though the mystery starts as interesting, it pretty quickly dissolves into something that could have been solved if either of the kids had thought to say, "Hey, lets ask any one of the adults involved what happened."
I liked the fact that the teachers in the story were good teachers and that Sam's reading problems were written about without tossing out a name or label (dyslexia - usually) and then dismissed as easily overcome, but that's probably the most interesting and worthy thing in the book. It was a good story and a pleasant mystery for kids who don't like anything too scary, but for your die hard mystery fans? They will be disappointed with such an easy non-mystery ending I think.

Bret McCarthy: Work in Progress

Mock Printz: Bret McCarthy: Work in Progress
Title: Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress
Author: Maria Padin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-375-84675-5
*Star Review in PW*

The Plot:
Brett McCarthy is a fairly normal eighth-grader. She's on the soccer team (and the basketball team) with two close friends and 'the intruder'. Life is going along fine until the prank. A fouled phone prank turns Brett's comfortable life upside down. Suddenly everyone at school hates her (at least SHE thinks so), she's got a permanent lunch date with the principal, and somethings up with her Nonna that no one wants to explain to her. Brett works her way through losing a close friendship, finding new friends, and her Nonna's sickness as well as 8th grade.

Thoughts - including some spoilers!
This book wasn't bad....and when a commentary starts like that you know it's never good! Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress was a decent book. While there were a great many young YA/girl book cliches here, there was also some warm and funny characters which many readers will connect with. One of the cliche elements was a best friend that is growing away from the main character. This often happens in books, because it happens in real life! What I hate is that the friend who chooses the cheerleaders/popular crowd/etc is usually written as a mean, hateful, or snobby character and a lousy friend. Padian takes the cliche and adds something to it. Brett is the one who is not the best friend, but then what 8th grade girl is? Even at the end of the book, the girls are still not friends, but they do reconnect and Diane stands up for her choices. I liked that, just wish that Diane was more of a real character in the beginning of the book.
Another cliche is the sick mother/grandmother/close relative of choice. In this, Padian didn't do so well in my opinion. I loved Nonna as a character. She was great and interesting and fun. I liked her birthday party and the lighthouse, but as soon as doctor visits were mentioned I knew she was doomed. Worse, I didn't see Brett dealing with it. It was like, I'm going to ignore it and just deal day to day then poof, Nonna's accepted she's dying and so I'll accept it too. The parents seemed to do more grieving and dealing with the issue than Brett did.
I applaud the author for resisting the cliche of having the girl realise that her geeky long time male friend is really cute and the perfect boyfriend. Even though I loved Michael and rejoiced when he stood up and told Brett how much her casual teasing about being a nerd, geek, or Einstein bothered him, I would have booed if they had coupled off in the end. I thought it was great when Brett stood up for not only him but all of the gifted students and it was equally great when he came to her rescue at the climax, but it was nice to see a time when a boy and a girl can be friends with out thinking they are 'in love'.

So in the end, this is a book I will give my tween readers who want a taste of those teen book. Where the drama here is phone pranks and the most violence that happens is a punch in the nose. It's a bit melodramatic for me, but I know many who will adore it.

The Fold

Mock Printz: The Fold by An Na
Title: The Fold
Author: An Na
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-399-24276-2

A Korean American teen, Joyce, is offered plastic surgery on her eyes by an Aunt who has come into some lottery money. Joyce has always been the plain sister and is tempted by the surgery which would give her eyes 'the fold'. Joyce debates the idea of getting the surgery with her best friend, Sam (a boy who lives in her apartment building who struggles with severe acne), and her older sister who has always been the pretty and smart one.
Joyce's aunt railroads her a bit and makes appointments with a plastic surgeon before Joyce has made up her mind. Her sister thinks she's insane to even consider it, her best friend thinks that she is insane NOT to do it, and Sam won't weigh in - but it's clear he's been crushing on Joyce. At the surgeon's office, Joyce gets some much needed impartial information and gets to see what a difference the surgery will make. The doctor glues her eyelids into place as they would look after the surgery.
The normal teen dramas happen: Joyce's new eyes are a hit and she's rocketed to the in crowd for an afternoon at the beach and her best friend feels left out, she disses Sam, realizes that the 'in' group isn't all it's cracked up to be, learns there is more to her sister than pretty, and eventually makes up with her friend and Sam and her sister.

Even now after at least a week of thinking about this book I am still unsure of it. There are times in this book that the stereotypes drove me nuts. But as soon as I was about to be truly fed up, Na would lift the curtain and give a peek behind the curtain. Whether it was the pretty and perfect sister who was studying to be a doctor (though it sounded from the text more like a therapist than a doctor), who was hiding the fact that she was 'in love' with her best friend and that she was afraid to come out of the close because she would embarrass the family, or the bossy aunt who everyone thinks is addicted to plastic surgery because she's vain and has had many American husbands, who reveals to Joyce what happened when her first husband brought her to America and how she was treated. The biggest twist was at the end....

SPOILER - for any who care

Joyce decides at the very last second not to do the surgery, but she keeps the glue the doctor gives her because sometimes she might want an adventure. She asks her aunt to give the money to her friend to help her get clear braces instead of regular metal ones. So does substance win over beauty? A very intriguing book which will definitely get readers talking about issues of beauty, family, stereotypes, and lots more.