Friday, August 30, 2013

Whirligig Review

Book talk:  Brent was used to being the new kid at school, but it still wasn't easy.  He promised himself that this time would be different.  He would use everything he had learned from all his other schools and make it into the popular crowd.  His plan had worked so far and he had a ticket to the hottest party in town.  He was feeling on top of the world, until he discovered that the party had a theme no one told him about.  Things only went from bad to worse and soon a little drunk and very angry he'd make a decision that would take him beyond regret.

Rocks my socks:  Whirligig takes a difficult and complex topic and represents it in a concrete way.  Brent has to cope with the unintended consequences of his decisions and try to find forgiveness when he's not sure he even wants or deserves it.  His victim's mother decides to ask for a rather unusual atonement that involves building whirligigs across the country to spread joy and wonder as her daughter might have done if she had lived.  The positive effects of these whirligigs are told in vignettes alternating with the main storyline. These vignettes were my favorite parts and I loved the characters contained in them. I'd read full-length novels about any of them.  The main storyline had many interesting elements as well from Brent learning to appreciate the joy of working with his hands to the way he found solace in constellations.

Rocks in my socks:  While I can see what Fleischman was going for by interweaving the vignettes with the main story like a whirligig, I found it difficult to follow.  If he had just labeled the chapters with the year and the character it would have been fine.  I've read other nonlinear narratives that I was easily able to follow thanks to these simple aids.  As it was though it took me longer than I'd care to admit to figure out what was going on and spent a large part of the beginning of the novel confused at how the different characters knew each other instead of being free to really enjoy the story.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this book to teens looking for a realistic fiction novel with some depth.  It would make a great class read because it's short but there's plenty of fodder for discussions.  The book deals with some emotionally complex issues, so I'd save it for at least 7th grade and up.


Paul Fleischman has a site with a bio, Q&A, etc

MacMillan has a site for the book with reviews and more info

Apparently the second annual Whirligig Wars was held in July.  Go to their website to view all of the fantastic and whimsical entries.  Including this magic-themed one:

And this wonderfully detailed Steamboat Willie one (and it's from Eugene--I was just there!)

Source: Copy provided as part of faculty & staff book club

Whirligig by Paul Fleischman: buy it or check it out today!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Matched Review

Matched (Matched, #1)

Book talk:  The world used to be a horrible place, but Society has changed all that.  Society guides each of its citizens down the optimal path: choosing their careers, their houses, and even their spouses.  Society is all that keeps them from the diseases, crimes, and wars of the past.  Cassia is a bit nervous on the way to her Match Banquet, but she knows that Society will choose the ideal match for her and keep her safe.  But then Society makes a mistake, and she realizes that there is more than one path that she could follow, and more than one match she could choose.  Making her own choices means risking everything, but how can she keep trusting Society to choose for her when she discovers the dark secrets they've been hiding?

Rocks my socks: I admit that I judged this book by its cover and wrote it off as another fluffy love triangle series.  Then I needed an audiobook for a last minute road trip with my sister.  I ended up being pleasantly surprised by the depth of the novel and the extent of the world-building.  Even the love triangle served the plot without eclipsing it.  It triggered important actions by the characters, but it was not the whole point of the novel.  Add to this the refreshing addition of parents that are loving and not completely useless, an allusion to Sisyphus (one of my favorite myths), and the fact that the poem "Do Not Go Gentle" (another favorite) was a pivotal to the story and you get a surprisingly refreshing novel that thoroughly entertained my sister and I through vast stretches of Arizona desert.

Rocks in my socks:  The book was predictable at times and strongly reminiscent of The Giver.  Both societies create order by eliminating choice of career, spouse, etc.  Both work to destroy memories of the past and euthanize the elderly at a certain age. Still, Matched provides plenty of details that differentiate it.  Besides, the question of how much freedom people would be willing to give up to ensure their safety is one American society has been grappling with for a long time. Benjamin Franklin famously cautioned "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."  The question remains relevant today as I was often reminded this summer as I travelled and submitted sheepishly to the TSA.  The recent controversy around the Patriot Act has also caused many to question how many civil liberties we are willing to give up for the sake of the safety of society.  So if another book gets today's teens talking about this very question then that's not a bad thing.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to fans of other YA dystopias like The Hunger Games, although this one is more character than plot focused so those just looking for something dark and violent should look elsewhere.  The book is far less violent than most of the dystopian books out there and Society keeps such close tabs on the characters that it never gets too steamy either.  I'd say it's fine for 6th grade and up.


Ally Condie has her own site with the usual blog, FAQ, bio, etc as well a play list of suggested songs for your listening pleasure

The series has its own official website with information about the books and a party pack pdf download with suggestions for throwing your own themed party (including a quiz you can take to see where the dystopian Society would place you.  The marketing department seems to have missed the point of the novels.)

There is also a fansite where you can get info on the books, the author, the upcoming movie, and quotes.

If that isn't enough for you head on over to the tumblr for more quotes, fan art, and other images related to the book.

If you want even more you can head on over to the wiki and get involved in the fan community.

There's an official trailer for the book that's appropriately ominous:

Those who have read the book may appreciate this recording of Dylan Thomas reciting "Do Not Go Gentle"

And to round the media extravaganza off, here's a scene from The Muppet Show where Fozzie attempts to recite another poem mentioned in the novel, Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" (stay through the end because Statler and Waldorf's pun is my favorite part)


Bonus Quote:
“Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that.”

Source: Audiobook from a public library

Matched by Ally Condie: Buy it or check it out today!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Mighty Miss Malone Review

The Mighty Miss Malone

Book talk:  Deza knows that her family doesn't have 'it all.'  One day, Deza even catches her mom filtering bugs out of their food because they can't afford to throw it away. Nevertheless the Malones do have a special spark that she knows will lead them to wonderful places. Deza has her intelligence and her writing skills that always leave her at the top of her class, and her brother has the voice of an angel.  Most importantly, they have each other. Deza knows when they gather around for their nightly Chow Chat and her father calls her his Darling Daughter Deza that as long as they have each other, they have everything that they truly need.  But then one morning, they lose that too when Father goes out fishing and doesn't come back.  Everything is about to change for the Malones, will they have what it takes to stick together and weather the storm, or will it scatter them and blow them off course forever?

Rocks my socks:  I loved this book from the first page.  Deza is one of the most charming characters I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  She reminds me of Anne of Green Gables with her pride in being first in class and her love of using longer words than are strictly necessary.  She gets a lot of that from her father who is alarmingly adoring of alliteration.  The historical setting was informative and I was intrigued by the description of life in a shantytown. The book brought home aspects of poverty and the Depression that I had never even considered before (like what it must be like to have your teeth rotting in your mouth because you can't afford to take care of them.)  The Malone family and Deza in particular are so charming and persistent that the book remains entertaining throughout and never feels didactic or preachy and there are moments of humour to lighten up even the worst situations.

Rocks in my socks: zip

Every book its reader:  The book does describe some difficult situations, but they are historically accurate and there isn't much violence so I'd say it's fine for 4th grade students and up.  Fans of Bud, Not Buddy will enjoy reading about a character from the novel and anyone looking for a well-written and engaging historical fiction novel will be glad to meet The Mighty Miss Malone.


Random House has a page for the book complete with a reader's guide.

You can see a video of Christopher Paul Curtis talking about the book below:

Source: ebook from a public library

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis: Buy it or check it out today!

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Great and Terrible Beauty Review

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle, #1)

Book talk:  There is nothing Gemma wants more than to go to London.  The English fashions she's required to wear were clearly not made with India's climate in mind.  Besides, she longs to come out to society and attend the dances she's heard so much about.  But when she finally gets what she wished for, it isn't worth the price and it's not what she expected at all.  Life in a finishing school is infuriating.  No one sees her for who she is. All anyone sees is the young lady they expect her to become: serving tea and smiling and remaining silent.  Which is perhaps why no one suspects a thing when she starts a secret society to explore the supernatural.

Rocks my socks:  I enjoyed reading about life at an English finishing school and Gemma was a wonderful lens through which to view the era.  Her relaxed upbringing in India has left her feisty and bold and everything else a proper young lady shouldn't be.  Watching her adjust to life in the confines of a boarding school was entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed her insights as to why women were treated the way they were in that era.  My favorite part though was the friendships that Gemma developed over the course of the novel.  A lot of emphasis was placed on the changing relationships of her clique of friends and it was interesting to read about and felt authentic.  I appreciated the way Gemma ended up gaining empathy for girls she once hated as she learned more about them and the story progressed.

Rocks in my socks:  I didn't enjoy the supernatural aspects as much as the historical perspective.  The supernatural plot was often confusing and disjointed and strained my credulity.  This is a personal bias of mine though so take the criticism with a grain of salt.  While I love fantasy I'm not a huge fan of the supernatural.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to anyone looking for a supernatural story with a strong female lead.  It reminded me a lot of Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, so fans of one book would enjoy the other.  I'd give it to 7th grade and up.


Libba Bray has her own site with a page for the book as well as a blog, media, and more!

Random House has a site for the trilogy that is loaded with extras.

There is a Gemma Doyle wiki that you can explore and edit.

I love this trailer:

Source:  ebook from a public library

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: buy it or check it out today!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home Review

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Book talk:  June doesn't belong.  She was not meant to live in the 1980's--she was made for the Middle Ages.  Sometimes, when she's alone in the forest, she pretends that she's gone back in time.  She'll stalk silently in the medieval boots her uncle Finn bought her and pretend she's hunting for deer to feed her starving village.  Finn is the only one who understands her.  But soon, she will lose him.  Before he dies, he's determined to paint one last portrait of June and her sister.  June looks forward to these painting sessions more than anything in the world, and she thought Finn did too.  Which is why it comes as such a shock when she discovers that he had a secret life he was hiding from her.

Rocks my socks:  I absolutely adored June!  She is what Anne and I call a 'kindred spirit.'  Not only does she love pretending that she's living in another era, she feels like a naked mole rat at parties, and imagines what words would look like if they were alive.  All of the characters are portrayed with complexity that makes them completely believable.  I felt like I knew these characters personally.  June has a strained relationship with her sister, and at first it seems as though she is just a jerk.  At one point June describes the way she talks as "like a geode.  Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there's something that shines through."  As the novel progresses, however the motivations behind her behavior are examined and she becomes a sympathetic character.  Finn and Toby are wonderfully portrayed as well and I wish they were real and I knew them both.  There are so many things that I loved about this book that I can't even begin to list them all.  It's sad, as you would expect from a book about AIDS set in the 80's, and I cried great heaving sobs while reading it.  But I never felt as if I were being emotionally manipulated, and there is so much more to the novel than the tears.

Rocks in my socks:  I wouldn't change a thing.

Every book its reader:   This is marketed as an adult novel, but the main character is a teenager and I think teens would enjoy it as well.  Especially those who feel misunderstood and as if they don't belong (which, let's face it, is most of them.)  I guess it qualifies as historical fiction, but the 80's weren't that long ago.  Someone looking for a contemporary, realistic fiction story would certainly enjoy it.  It does deal with some intense situations, so I'd probably save it for eighth grade and up.


Carol Rifka Brunt has her own website with an interview about the book, discussion questions, and more.

Pan Micmillan has a reading group page for the book that is loaded with extras from images that inspired the book to playlists suggested by the author.

Brunt lists her top ten favorite outsider girls over at Sugar Scape

I like this book trailer for the book:

Source: ebook from a public library

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: Buy it or check it out today!

Bonus Quotes!

“I like the word clandestine. It feels medieval. Sometimes I think of words as being alive. If clandestine were alive, it would be a pale little girl with hair the color of fall leaves and a dress as white as the moon.”

“That's the secret. If you always make sure you're exactly the person you hoped to be, if you always make sure you know only the very best people, then you won't care if you die tomorrow.”

“That's what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I'm trying to find something interesting to say. And in the end, all I can do is nod or shrug, because the light of their eyes looking at me, waiting for me, is just too much to take. And then it's over and there's one more person in the world who thinks I'm a complete and total waste of space.
The worst thing is the stupid hopefulness. Every new party, every new bunch of people, and I start thinking that maybe this is my chance. That I'm going to be normal this time. A new leaf. A fresh start. But then I find myself at the party, thinking, Oh, yeah. This again.
So I stand on the edge of things, crossing my fingers, praying nobody will try to look me in the eye. And the good thing is, they usually don't.”

“I didn’t want to care, but somehow, like always, I did. She was wired into my heart. Twisted and kinked and threaded right through.”

“It was a nice thing for her to say. In her way. With Greta you have to look out for the nice things buried in the rest of her mean stuff. Greta’s talk is like a geode. Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there’s something that shines through.”

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Steal a Dog Review

How to Steal a Dog

Book talk:  Georgina's life keeps going from bad to worse.  First, her father left, then they were evicted.  Mother gave Georgina and her brother one bag each and told them they could only take what fit in it.  Now the three of them are living in a car.  Georgina has tried to be patient, but her mother still hasn't worked things out.  Now it's time to take matters into her own hands. Georgina's family is desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures.  Which is why Georgina thinks up a plan she would normally never even dream of doing.  She's decided to steal a dog, and use the reward money to move out of the car.  She knows what she's going to do, now she just has to figure out how to do it.

Rocks my socks:  Georgina's story was touching and portrayed with a lot of warmth and humour. Ever since the recent economic recession, homelessness among school-aged children has been on the rise.  According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth there were over a million homeless children enrolled in public schools for the 2010-2011 school year, a 57 percent increase over the 2006-2007 school year.  Yet this isn't an issue that is regularly discussed in classes or juvenile literature.  Georgina's family has fallen on hard times and her mother is working hard to save up the money to get them back on their feet.  The novel addresses some difficult issues and questions about the morality of Georgina's plan, but Georgina is such a vibrant character that it doesn't feel preachy or like a chore to read.  Georgina happens to be homeless at the moment, but there is so much more to her than that.  The theme of appearances being deceiving is further developed as Georgina's target turns out to be unable to raise a reward despite living in a nice house.

Rocks in my socks:  While I loved Georgina, the other characters did not seem as well-developed to me.  The serendipity of certain events also strained my credulity.  Still these are minor complaints for such a wonderful and worthy novel.

Every book its reader:  I'd give this to kids looking for a realistic story, especially to any animal lovers.  It should be easy to sell it to them with the picture of the dog on the cover.  It would make a good class read so that students can discuss the issues presented in the novel.  It'd give it to third to fifth graders.


Barbara O'Connor has a site with a page for the book, a photo album with pictures of her dogs, a blog, and more!

MacMillan has a page for the book complete with a discussion guide.

This book trailer will woo kids with its adorable pictures of dogs:

This story from the moth podcast shows that Georgina was not the first to think of this plot and is terribly entertaining to boot: "The Dog Days of Spanish Harlem"  by Ernesto Quinonez

Source: Copy provided as part of faculty/staff book club

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor: Buy it or check it out today!