Flashback: April 2012

A look back at what I reviewed in April 2012: 

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin & Lisa Brown. From my review: “Jennie Lovell’s loved ones left to fight in the Civil War: her twin brother, Tobias; her fiance and cousin, Will Pritchett; and her other cousin, Quinn, Will’s brother. She knew the moment Toby died: could feel it. She never suspected Will’s death, not until a wounded Quinn came home and told them his brother Will had died. Jennie wishes she could feel Will’s presence the way she does Toby’s. Will’s grieving parents, Jennie’s Aunt and Uncle, seek out a photographer who can capture the images of departed spirits. Jennie begins getting strange messages – is it Will? What is he trying to tell her? As Jennie struggles with the loss of Toby and Will, she also struggles for her future. Her Aunt and Uncle had never looked kindly or generously on their orphaned niece, and now her position is even more precarious. To make matters even more confusing, Quinn has returned from war a changed man. It’s not just that he’s physically injured: he seems almost a different person. War changes a man, he explains. Would falling in love with Quinn be a betrayal of Will?

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones. From my review: “Polly Whittacker, 19, is packing for college when she begins to read a book that she thought she had already read. Only the stories are different — something is missing — it doesn’t seem quite right. One of the stories, one of the ones she remembers, is about a man with two sets of memories. Polly realizes that her memories don’t match up with facts, and begins to recover memories. Memories of a man named Thomas Lynn. Memories of danger from the wealthy Leroy family. People that she thought she’d just met, she’d known for years. Things had happened — unbelievable, fantastical things — that she didn’t remember. People, places, and things come back from age 10, 11, and onward. Thomas Lynn was in danger. The dual memories stop at fifteen. What did she do that erased Thomas Lynn from her memory? Is it too late to save him?

The List by Siobhan Vivian. From my review: “Mount Washington High School has a tradition: each year, before Homecoming, a list is made. The four prettiest girls in school, one in each grade. And the four ugliest girls, one in each grade. This year’s anointed pretty girls: Abby, Lauren, Bridget, Margo. The ugly girls: Danielle, Candace, Sarah, Jennifer. The List is their story, of how it impacts each girl. Eight story lines are juggled; eight points of view come together for one story about the power of words and labels. The List is also about casual, everyday cruelty; a meanness that here is in high school, brought to the forefront because of the list, but it could happen anywhere or anytime. Some people are “broken” by the list; some are made stronger; some embrace it; others, reject it.

After Etan: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive by Lisa R. Cohen. From my review: “The story is heartbreaking: six year old Etan disappears during the short walk to his school bus stop. Etan never arrived at school that morning, but the school didn’t call his parents, so it wasn’t until Etan didn’t come home that his mother knew he’d gone missing. After Etan is about those first few days, yes, but it also the months and years and decades after. It is about Etan’s parents. It is about the change in society, in knowledge, in laws.”

Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston. From my review: “I adored Polly — the new Polly. I’m not sure what I would have thought of Polly-That-Was, with her future set in stone and all her choices made because those choices, like her life, were nice and easy. Polly was a much wanted only child; she met Bridger at a dance her freshman year of high school and they’ve dated and Planned their lives ever since. Two nice kids planning a nice life. . . . Once Polly got sick, Bridger and his family disappeared. . . . Polly has lost everything, especially the niceness that used to define who she was and what she wanted out of life. Her future is lost to her. Her present, also. . . . Catch & Release is about Polly picking up those shattered pieces.

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha. From my review: “An action adventure steampunk Jack the Ripper mystery set in New York City!

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks. From my review: “Sunday morning, at 7:16 in the morning, Rain is woken up by a phone call from Wendy Geller’s mother. Wendy’s mother sounds like someone who is scared but is trying not to be scared: Wendy didn’t come home last night. Does Rain know where she is? Ms. Geller doesn’t realize that Rain and Wendy haven’t been friends since freshman year, two years ago. It’s not till later that night that Rain hears the news: Wendy’s body has been found in Central Park. She’s been murdered. It’s Day One. And even though the two girls were no longer friends, Rain feels she owes Wendy. No matter what it takes, Rain will find out who killed Wendy.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 2: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood, illustrated by Jon Klassen. From my review: Miss Lumley and young Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia now venture off to London, armed with a slightly-odd Guide Book. How much trouble can they get into, really? The three children wear their clothes, do their lessons, and only start howling when there is a reason to, such as the moon or a tempting squirrel. That incident at the Christmas ball — well, best not talked about, right? It turns out that London has secrets of its own; or, rather, is an occasion for Penelope and her three charges to discover secrets about themselves.

Pure by Julianna Baggott. From my review: “Pressa’s and Partridge’s world is one destroyed and shattered; even the Pures untouched and isolated and protected within the Dome do not live in a familiar society. Pressa’s story of survival is told while Partridge dreams of a way to escape the Dome and his father and find his mother. Not only does the reader learn more about their worlds, just as important, the reader learns what they do and don’t know about those worlds. Pressa doesn’t know much beyond her tiny neighborhood, but she is knowledgeable about the dangers of that world. Partridge has no idea the reality of life outside the Dome, and what he’s been taught isn’t always accurate.

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. From my review: “What better way to reinvent oneself than travel? Bria Sandoval, 18, does just that, following a bad break up and disappointing college decisions. Carefree travel, seeing new places, meeting new people — heck, maybe she’ll even follow her friends’ advice and pursue a random, no-emotions-invested hookup with some cute guy who means nothing. Perhaps all you need to know about Bria’s personality is that the way she implements her plan is by signing up for a guided tour. Yes. An eighteen year old on a guided tour of South America.

 

Flashback March 2006

A look back to what I reviewed in March 2006:

Nothing but the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley. From my review:Patty Ho is half-Taiwanese, half white. She was born in the United States, but she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. At home, there is her ultra-strict mother and overachieving going-to-Harvard brother; there are less than a handful Asian kids at school (and certainly no half Asians), all who are “China Dolls” — something Patty is not. When a fortune teller predicts that Patty will end up with a white guy, Patty’s mother decides she can change fate by sending Patty to Math Camp at Stanford. . . . What Patty also finds is what many teens find the first time they are truly away from home — that she has the freedom to not so much reinvent herself as to discover herself. And, that finding yourself does not mean abandoning your self or forgetting where you started.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. From my review: “I’m in love. I’ve fallen in love with characters before — I think Will Stanton was my first book boyfriend. And there have been others, like Mr. Darcy. But it’s been a while…. until I met Gen. Oh, yeah, the plot. Gen is a master thief — in prison because while he may be a master thief, successfully stealing the King’s seal, he then boasted about it. In public. Including showing the King’s seal to one and all. And thanks to the boasting, he is now in prison. He’s lost track of time, until the King’s Magus comes to him with a deal: Gen will be let out of prison. Provided he helps Magus steal Hamiathes’s Gift. Gen says yes — hello, it’s getting him out of prison, of course he’s going to say yes — all the while plotting, wondering how he can make this situation work for him. Top on the list, of course, is not returning to prison.

The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint. From my review: “New School Year, New School, New Home: Imogene has resolved to start over. She’s putting her bad-girl, gang-member past behind her. Everything is going according to plan: she’s made friends with the shy and smart Maxine and she is not causing trouble, no matter what the popular jocks and cheerleaders say or do. Then Imogene meets Adrian — the school ghost. Which attracts the attention of the fairies. Who feel a little threatened by Imogene and Adrian’s friendship. And as we all know, fairies aren’t always cute little creatures out of a children’s storybook. They can be mean. But the fairies have chosen to mess with the wrong girl.

Sing, Nightingale, Sing! by Francoise de Guibert, illustrated by Chiaki Miyamoto. From my review: You know how frustrating it is to read about a sound being described, but how you just can’t “get it” because it’s a sound, music, a bird call? Or at most they give you an Internet link that may or many not still be working, and that depending on your connection you may or may not hear? Not to worry: find out what all the birds really sound like thanks to the included CD, with music by Daniel Goyone. It’s birds and music; way cool.

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. My reviews of the Honor and Award titles for that year. Including my concerns about gender in the books — boys build and swim! Girls cook!

Darkhenge by Catherine Fisher. From my review: “Rob is a talented artist. Right now, he’s using his art as an escape from home. Home has been little more than a house he lives in, ever since his younger sister, Chloe, was in a riding accident. For months, she’s been in a coma. Rob’s talent brings him a job, at an archaeological site that has found something truly unique: an ancient upside down tree. What is the connection to Chloe? And who is the mysterious man, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, and what is his connection to all of this?

Blackthorn Winter by Kathryn Reiss. From my review: “Juliana, 15, is upset at her parents’ trial separation. Her father had gotten busier and busier at work; her mother is an artist. So her mother decides to move to a small arts colony and pursue her art. Unfortunately, that means leaving California for her mother’s native England, to a small seaside town, Blackthorn. Juliana’s younger brother and sister, Edmund and Ivy, are excited about the move, but Juliana misses her friends and her family. Shortly after the family arrives in Blackthorn, someone is murdered. Juliana decides she has to investigate, whatever the cost.

Fly on the Wall : How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart. From my review: “Gretchen Kaufman Yee goes to a New York City high school that specializes in the arts. She’s an only child, rather fierce in her individuality and independence; her preferred art form is comics, her preferred character Spider-Man, and she’s not about to let teachers tell her that that comics and graphic novels are not art. Gretchen is not comfortable around the opposite sex; to her, they are a different species entirely, not quite trustworthy. One day she wishes that she could be “a fly on the wall of the boys’ locker room,” just to find out what the guys really talk about. And the next thing she knows… she is. A fly. On the wall of the locker room.

Flashback March 2008

A flashback to what I reviewed in March 2008:

Quid Pro Quo by Vicki Grant. From my review: “Cyril is probably the youngest person to attend law school: “I started going to law school when I was ten years old.” But, wait for it — “I love saying that. I love how people look at me like, this guy must be some kind of genius.” But, Cyril isn’t a genius. He’s the son of a teen mom; a girl who ran away from home, lived on the streets, and grew up as her son grew up. She’s only 15 years older than her son. And when his mother couldn’t afford a babysitter, Cyril came along to class with her. “You think math class is bad,” Cyril says. “Law school is unbelievably boring.” But it’s thanks to his quasi law school education that Cyril solves the mystery in Quid Pro Quo and saves his mother’s life.

Acceleration by Graham McNamee. From my review: “Duncan’s summer job seems boring; he’s working at the lost and found for the Toronto Transit Authority. OK, it doesn’t just seem boring; it actually is boring. There’s only so many times you can check out the lost sunglasses, practice with the abandoned golf clubs, read the books.  . . . Except this book is a journal. A bit hard to read. But then… It’s the journal of an almost serial killer. The almost killer recounts killing animals and stalking people, looking forward to his first murder. Can Duncan stop a murderer before he kills?

 

 

Flashback March 2009

A look back at what I reviewed in March 2009:

Mothers & Children. From my review:This is a smaller book [than a coffee table book]; more intimate, less showy, easier to hold, to look at together, to share. The photos are of mothers and children, small and grown, from around the world and different times. Credits give the location of the photograph and the name of the photographer; by omitting the names of the people in the photos, and by not saying anything about them, the people — despite age, race, ethnicity — become every person. A photo album for all of us.

The Real Benedict Arnold by Jim Murphy. From my review: “The Real Benedict Arnold details the many battles and military actions Arnold fought in. I love learning more about history; like how Arnold was quite successful but had no military experience before 1775. Apparently, being involved with the Sons of Liberty so having some political connections, along with the wealth to fund oneself and one’s troops while waiting for payment from the Continental Congress, were the important criteria for military membership. Not to mislead about the wealth — Arnold was, indeed, born to wealthy parents; before he was twenty, that money was gone, both parents were dead, and Arnold was supporting his sister, Hannah (three of his siblings having died before then). Arnold went into business; his money was earned.

Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. From my review: “Daniel Aguilar, 17, lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with his mother and younger sister; he has a cute girlfriend, Courtney; he plays in a band; is on the soccer team. He’s about to change from your typical American teen. Dan’s father is coming home, after six years in prison. Dan and his family are from Chile; it’s 1986, and Marcelo Aguilar was a political prisoner in Chile. After six years of imprisonment and torture, he’s coming home… Except it’s a home he’s never been to, since Dan, his mother and sister left Chile for America years ago.

Flashback March 2011

A flashback to what I reviewed in March 2011:

Bayou Volume One by Jeremy Lo. From my review:Charon, Mississippi, 1933. Two ten year old little girls are playing, Lee and Lily. One black, one white. One lie results in Lee’s father arrested and a lynching feared. To save her father, Lee leaves her familiar world behind for a world of monsters,a world just as dangerous as the segregated south she leaves behind.

Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell. From my review: “This is a story of two friends, Collette and Iris, with Iris (the narrator) still interested in their imaginary world while Collette will play only when boys can’t see. When Iris tells Ben “we can call up the dead tomorrow,” she does it to embarrass Collette and keep Ben away. Collette initially hushes her until she realizes Ben is interested. Then, Collette uses it. The triangle of Iris, Collette, and Ben is a quiet one, one that is equally about children growing unevenly to adulthood as it is about the feelings they have for each other. Iris is annoyed at Collette’s attention to Ben, Collette gets angry if Iris isn’t nice to Ben then gets jealous if Iris and Ben get along too well, and Ben … Ben is a fourteen year old boy, and he flirts with Collette but also with Iris. Each is growing into who they are, leaving behind childish things.

Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman. From my review: “Rosie, 15, and Skate, 16, are left alone in a falling-down Victorian when their dad, a drunk, serves three and a half months for shoplifting.  Their cousin Angie moves in to help out. Rosie, the shyer of the two, goes to meetings and hopes that this time her father stays sober. Skate, more cynical, moves in with her boyfriend’s mother while he’s away at college.  Together and apart, they try to figure out their lives.

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. From my review: It would be easy to say that The Queen of Water breaks your heart; when a seven year old is taken from a family and shown a dirty rug to sleep on. When she realizes her parents aren’t going to bring her home. The first time she is hit. The second time. When her desire to learn to read is mocked. When the person she trusts betrays her. When she realizes that she is caught between two cultures, without a home. Virginia doesn’t want your pity. She doesn’t want to break your heart. A stubborn child, she uses that willfulness to adapt, to learn, to grow despite all obstacles, even when those obstacles are her own fears and insecurities. This is a story of triumph, of hope, of finding one own’s way, and being true to oneself. Being true to oneself is never easy, because first you have to know yourself. How can you know yourself when your parents give you away? When the world you live in and is told is “good” labels you and your heritage “bad”, “stupid,” “ugly”?

 

Flashback: February 2006

And now a look back at what I reviewed in February 2006:

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff. From my review: “A retelling of the Trojan War. Some people don’t understand reading something when you know the end. I’m one of those who will always read a book about Troy, even tho I know how it ends. I like Sutcliff’s version of Homer’s Iliad because it is a classic retelling. It doesn’t introduce new characters; it doesn’t give a modern spin; it doesn’t change anything. I love that it tells the story as it is. I find it hard to appreciate versions such as Troy by Geras or The Firebrand by Bradley without knowing the original tale as it was told.

Birdwing by Rafe Martin. From my review: “In The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm, six brothers are turned into six swans. They are eventually returned to human form; except for the youngest brother, Ardwin, who is left with a wing for an arm. Martin tells the story the life of Ardwin, who has to live with the tangible reminder of the curse. . . .  Martin stays close to the original tale, because all that happens before the book begins. Ardwin, the youngest son, has returned home to his father’s castle. As can be imagined, life with one arm and one wing is not easy, and Ardwin works hard to accomplish physical tasks. But always there is a longing — to return to the swans, to the freedom of flying, to belonging, instead of being the freak, the outsider. Ardwin learns that you can’t go home again; that the past, and childhood, is another country. “I was confused by childhood memories. Things had seemed so good, then.” But the swans are no more welcoming than humans, and now that Ardwin is unable to return to the past, and has no future — what to do? Where to go?

Raising The Griffin by Melissa Wyatt. From my review: “Alex is happy with his life in England. There’s some family stuff going on that never had much to do with him; his father was always quite clear that their grandfather’s dream of reclaiming the past was just that, a dream. But then the dream becomes a reality, much to Alex’s dismay. He’s totally unprepared for it. The dream? Turns out Alex’s family used to be the rulers of an Eastern European country. They fled with their lives over 80 years ago. And now — the family has been asked to return and resume the monarchy. Alex is now Prince Alexei.

The Thieves of Ostia, The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. From my review: “Rome for Middle School. These books are a mix of mystery, action, adventure and history. The four main characters are ages 8 to 12 and are a multicultural mix: Flavia is a middle class Roman; Nubia is African, and in Book 1 is Flavia’s slave; Jonathan, the next door neighbor, is Jewish; and finally there is the homeless boy, Lupus. Flavia frees Nubia, and the four have adventures and solve mysteries, and travel from Rome to Pompeii, meeting anyone and everyone from Pliny to assassins. The kids take action; they do things, rather than having adults do things for them. They ask questions, get in trouble, and work things out. As far as I can tell, Lawrence has done a superb job of keeping these books correct historically. The kids do act older than they seem; I keep picturing them as older than they are. It works, tho, because of historical and cultural differences. Kids back then were older than today; for example, Miriam, Jonathan’s sister, is only 14 but is engaged to an “old” man in his 30s. So it makes sense that these kids who are 8 to 12 are acting more like they are 12 to 15.

The Queen Of Cool by Cecil Castellucci. From my review: “Libby is the Queen of Cool. She is so cool that she’ll tape a pen to her shirt and by the rest of the day, everyone else has taped pens to their shirts. Except by then the cool kids aren’t doing it. As you may imagine, someone who is now taping pens to her shirt is a little bit bored. But what’s the Queen of Cool to do, when her life is perfect: she’s popular, her parents are well off, she has the right clothes, the cute boyfriend. Libby volunteers at the zoo. With geeks. When Libby starts learning some truths about herself, cool kids, and geeks, will the girl who was brave enough to walk thru the school formal in her underwear be brave enough to risk not being the Queen of Cool?

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. From my review: “Hunter is a “cool hunter,” always on the lookout for the Next New Thing. It’s not that he’s a victim to cool; rather, he’s someone who gets asked to focus groups to decide whether a product and its ad campaign are cool or not cool. In his “pyramid of coolness”, he’s close to the top: a Trendsetter. At the top of the pyramid? Innovators, the people who do the things first who inspire others. Hunter meets Jen, an Innovator, and finds himself falling for her — and getting pulled into a mystery when his friend Mandy disappears. Missing people, sneakers so wonderful they take your breath away, weird ad campaigns, purple hair, a chase across rooftops — Jen’s an Innovator, and about to turn Hunter’s life upside down. Hunter’s pyramid; starting at the top, Innovators; Trendsetters; Early Adopters; Consumers; Classicists; Laggards. This is anti-consumer; but with its approach to how trends are invented and sift thru the culture, it also acknowledges the importance and impact of trends in people’s lives. It’s much more than “brands are bad,” because some of what happens isn’t brand-related. It’s about those people with the “shine” of new ideas, and those who honestly think those ideas are interesting, and how that trickles down. Yes, it’s anti-consumerism; but I also think its anti-snobbery, skewering all levels of the pyramid. It laughs at both the person wearing last year’s pants and the person jonesing this year’s cell phone, but at the same time understands the want and need.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone. From my review: “Josie, Nicolette and Aviva are 3 different teenage girls who each fall for the same bad boy, TL. A book in verse. . . . Each girl struggles with the conflict between how TL makes her feel — emotionally flattered and physically turned on — and what her head is telling her. Because with each girl, there are signs that TL is indeed bad: a manipulator. A liar. A user. And each girl, for one reason or another, refuses to see the truth of the situation because of emotions and hormones. Hears the whisper, this isn’t quite right, yet ignores it. Is a bad boy good for a girl? Each girl is left a little older and wiser. Wiser about herself. And while I hate to talk about “messages” and prefer to let the story speak for itself, I hope that the teenagers reading this will be able to apply this to their own lives and recognize the bad boys before they get hurt.

a brief chapter in my impossible life by Dana Reinhardt. From my review: “Simone is a junior in high school. She thinks her life is full and complete: Mom’s an ACLU lawyer, Dad’s a political cartoonist; she has good friends, and her younger brother Jake just started high school. The family defines normal, and her problems fall under that category also: what club to join at school? what to do about her best friends new relationship, with a guy Simone doesn’t like? especially when her friend starts sleeping with him? and what about the guy Simone may like, who works at the coffee counter and may or may not have a girlfriend? Then another problem falls into her lap. Her parents announce that Rivka wants to get in contact with Simone. Rivka — Simone’s birth mother. Simone has no desire to find out anything about Rivka; she’s quite satisfied with life as she knows it. But her parents won’t let it go and now Simone is getting answers to questions she never wanted to ask.

Flashback: February 2008

A look at what I reviewed in February 2008:

Ancient Inca: Archaeology Unlocks the Secrets of Inca’s Past by Beth Gruber; Johan Reinhard, Consultant and Ancient Greece: Archaeology Unlocks the Secret’s of Greece’s Past by Marni McGee, Michael Shanks, Consultant. From my review: “This series explains archaeology, the process, the finds, how there is always something new to be discovered or a new interpretation to be made. I like the photos; I like the time lines; I love the resources. And I like how there is something unique about each book.

Adventures in Oz (founded on and continuing the famous Oz stories by L. Frank Baum) by Eric Shanower. From my review: “Five stories continue the adventures of Dorothy & Co in Oz. And this is Baum’s Oz, not [Judy] Garland’s. Fans of the movie may be both disappointed and puzzled; fans of the book will love it.

 

Flashback: February 2009

And now a flashback to what I was reading in February 2009.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. From my review: “December 1941. Eighteen year old Ida Mae Jones is cleaning houses, saving to go to Chicago to pursue her dream of flying. She’s black; but that’s not why the local instructor in Louisiana won’t pass her and give her a pilot’s license. It’s because she’s a woman. The flight school in Chicago will give her what she wants — a chance. Pearl Harbor changes everything. Her older brother, Thomas, drops out of medical school to join the Army and asks her to stay home to help their mother and grandfather on the farm and to look after their younger brother, Abel. Fast forward two years, and Abel tells her about WASP: Women Airforce Service Pilots. Ida Mae can fly and serve her county. She’s going to have to leave home, leave her family and her best friend. And she’s going to have to deny she’s black. Light-skinned with “good” hair, if she dresses the right way, says the right thing, she can pass as white. And fly.”

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. From my review: “Mary’s life in the village is predictable. The Sisterhood, the Guardians, and the Guild keep the secrets and protect the village. People follow the rules, whether it’s staying away from the Fence or marrying the person you should, not the person you want. When Mary loses her parents and her family, she begins to ask questions and to want more than to love or be loved. Before she can figure out the answers, the Unconsecrated threaten to overrun the village.”

 

 

Flashback: February 2011

A look back at what I reviewed in February 2011.

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. From my review: “The Piper’s Son left me breathless with heart pounding — it is a beautifully written love song about the flaws and strengths of family and the long journey of grief, about the love and laughter and disappointments that tie people together.

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones. From my review:It seemed like a good idea. Mimi Shapiro escapes New York City after an eventful freshman year that included an affair with an older professor who won’t stop calling. Mimi goes to the Canadian cottage of her father, artist Marc Soto, expecting solitude. Instead she finds musician Jackson “Jay” Page, 22, who has been using the cottage as a music studio. Jackson, rather than reacting like a squatter who has been caught, acts as if Mimi is the intruder. He suspects her of the odd things that have been going on: a dead bird and snake skin left at the cottage. What Mimi and Jay don’t know, as they eye each other with suspicion, is that someone is watching from the shadows.

Jazz In Love by Neesha Meminger. From my review: “Meet Jasbir “Jazz” Dhatt, high school junior. She’s book smart, part of the Future Stars and Leaders Program at her high school. She has two best friends, Cindy Reda-Rodriguez and Jeevan ”Jeeves” Sahota.Then there’s Tyler R., the cute new boy at school. A pretty good life. Except for that little arranged marriage thing. No, seriously. Jazz’s parents have decided that the way to ensure Jazz’s future happiness is to arrange a marriage. Really. All Jazz has to do is figure out how to be true to herself (which means hanging out with her friends and flirting with Tyler R.) while being the good daughter at home who plays along with her parents’ arranged marriage plans.

Night Road by Kristin Hannah. From my review: Lexi Baill is 14 when she goes to live with her great aunt Eva in Port George, Washington. An absent, drug addicted mother and foster homes have taught her to not rely on much or expect much, especially from a relative she didn’t know she had. It turns out that Eva has what Lexi needs most: love, support, family. It doesn’t matter, not to Lexi, that Eva has little money. Jude Farraday is the mother of fourteen year old twins, Mia and Zach. “She’d been criticized for holding the reins of parenthood too tightly, of controlling her children too completely, but she didn’t know how to let go.” For Jude, her investment in her children is proof of her love. It’s also the way to ensure that their lives are as perfect as she can make it. A stay at home mother, wife to a successful doctor, she has created the perfect home, perfect house, perfect life to ensure happiness and love for her children. The lives of Lexi Baill and the Farradays intertwine, ending in a tragedy that changes all of them and makes them question just what love, motherhood, and forgiveness mean.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King. From my review: Vera Dietz, 18, hates and loves Charlie Kahn, her dead ex-best friend. Hates, because he died. Because before he died, he stopped being her friend, started hanging out with people who hated her and tried to make her life miserable. Hated, because he abandoned her. Loved, because from the time she was little, he was her best friend. Loved, because she was always in love with him and was just waiting and hoping for it to be something more. Loved, because she knew his good and his bad. As for Charlie — his life and death haunts her. What happened in those twenty four hours before he died? Did he really burn down the pet store at the mall? All she has left of Charlie is his secrets. Should she tell?

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. From my review: “Illustrated short stories, set in the familiar world of the suburbs. Only, not so much. Each of these short stories takes place in the suburbs, but for each there is something just a little — off. Not quite typical. The suburbs, but looking at it sideways, out of the corner of your eye, thinking both “that is strange” and “no, it’s not” at the same time.

House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block, illustrated by Barbara McClintock. From my review: “Dolls Wildflower, Rockstar, and Miss Selene live together in their house, which was first owned by Madison Blackberry’s grandmother. The three dolls are happy enough, with Wildflower’s boyfriend Guy and Rockstar’s B. Friend, and all three have wonderful dresses made by Madison’s grandmother. Then, one day, Madison becomes bored — bored and jealous of the attention the dolls get as “family heirlooms” with their fancy dresses. Madison’s grandmother has never made her a dress. The combination of boredom and jealousy is a dangerous thing. Especially when the person feeling those things is so many times larger than  you are.” Madison begins by taking away Guy and B. Friend. It doesn’t end there, and it turns out, it didn’t begin there, either. What can the dolls do?

The Things a Brother Knows by Dana Reinhardt. From my review: “Three years ago, Levi Katznelson’s older brother Boaz surprised his family and friends by announcing that rather than going to college, he was joining the Marines. Boaz has returned from his tour of duty, back from the fighting, back from the war. But is he really back? Boaz spends all his time in his room, communicating more with people online than he does with his family or friends. Levi, seventeen, doesn’t know what to think or do especially because no one wants to say it out loud: that the Boaz who came back is not the same person who left. When Boaz announces his intention to go on a lengthy hiking trip, Levi, concerned about what Boaz isn’t saying, forces himself along on a trip that becomes one of discovery for both brothers.

Nothing by Janne Teller. From my review: “This is a bleak, dark book. It is not double rainbows and ponies. Personally, I was blown away by it and think it’s a great book and am pleased to see it get recognition. That said, many people will hate it — not because it’s a bad book but because it is not a happy, hopeful book. Bad things happen.I can easily see people confusing their distaste for where this book goes (and it goes there) with a judgment on the book itself. That would be a mistake.  Nothing is unsettling. It won’t be for every reader, true. But those readers who it is for? Will adore it; will love that there is something out there that is more than sparkle and false hope and romance. They will love a book that asks hard questions without easy answers, a book that will give them a safe place to grapple with tough questions. It is for teens who are already reading bleak, sad, haunting books, of course. You know you have them in your library. Let them know up front: this book will bother you. This book will make you mad. This book will make you think.

Flashback: January 2006

A look at what I reviewed in January 2006.

Boy Proof by Cecil Castelluci. From my review: “Victoria, 16, prefers to be called “Egg” like the character in her favorite science fiction movie. She’s smart, she’s confident, she’s not afraid to dress like the character she loves. . . . Egg is vocal and strong in her likes and dislikes and her passions. Slowly, she begins to see that she is using her passion as a shield, to keep people out. This is not a book about someone giving up on passion; rather, the realization that its OK to need friends, and to be a friend, and use that passion to include others rather than exclude. It’s OK to be alone and solitary; but not when it’s the result of fear. And not when it’s the result of being excluded. Egg find the balance between being herself and being part of a community, and never loses her integrity.”

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of 4 Sisters, 2 Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. From my review: “This is an old-fashioned style book about siblings having fun together. Oh, they fight sometimes and are jealous, but at the heart of it they are a group of sisters who love each other fiercely. Their adventures are important to them, but they are not outlandish or overly dramatic; instead, this book captures the fun of the little things that really happen. How they spend the summer is typical; yet, despite being “typical”, Birdsall makes the tale and the sisters compelling. This book has kids you want to know, doing things you want to do.”

mocking birdies by Annette Simon. From my review: “One of my ALA treasures is this picture book, written and illustrated by Annette Simon. A blue bird sings in blue text; a red bird copies that singing in red text. Stop singing my song! Stop singing my song! But after the initial copycat dialogue, the two begin talking: i sing red as the dawn, when the sun peeps hello” i sing blue as the noon, when the sun calls to play” Next thing you know, the two birds are singing together. And red and blue voices overlap to make purpleAnd then the purple bird shows up! And then there’s a green cat. “Skit scat” “copycat” “copycat cat CAT.

Once Upon … 1001 Stories by Lila Prap. From my review:How much time do you have? The story starts with the little girl on her way to her grandmother’s house. Do you want to find out what happens to the girl? Or do you want to find out what happens to a rude little boy? That’s the first in umpteen decisions to make, before reaching the end. “Have you had enough? Then close the book and turn to the back cover,” or decide to go further with the story.

Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot. From my review: “Heather Wells used to be a pop-idol to tweens. But her Mom stole all her money and left the country; her record label dropped her; she lost her boyfriend; and she’s gone up a size or two. Heather’s current life includes being happy being a size 12 (size 12 is not fat!) and working as an assistant dorm director for a New York college, hoping to be able to go back to school and be a doctor. She’s also started writing her own songs so maybe that’s what she’ll do…. She also has a crush on her ex boyfriend’s brother (she’s already named the children: Jack, Emily, Charlotte.) Then one of the girls dies in the dorm, the result of an elevator surfing accident. Heather is convinced that something happened and soon takes up another new career: girl detective.

Babymouse: Queen of the World and Babymouse: Our Hero by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. From my review: “Babymouse is the first of the GNs aimed at the younger set that I’ve read, and it’s fantastic. It has exactly what I like about GNs — good dialogue, pictures that add to the story, and references to books and movies. Babymouse is like an older Olivia. She is a quirky mouse with an active imagination; in Babymouse’s case, it is fueled by books and movies. The plots are the typical school stories: in QotW, Babymouse wants to be invited to Felicia Furrypaw’s sleepover party because Felicia is “queen of the world.” In OH, Babymouse faces that most dreaded of school sports: dodgeball. While not the most popular kid in school, she does have good friends, a funny way of looking at things, and an active dream life. You know when one of Babymouse’s daydreams is happening because of all the pink. (The book is black and white, with the occasional splash of pink; except, as noted, when the Walter Mitty daydreams begin.)

Over and Over You by Amy McAuley. From my review: “Penny has her fortune told, and finds out she’s been in love with the same guy for a thousand years. And she’s going to meet him again, soon. Penny doesn’t believe it. Then the strange dreams start, giving her glimpses of her past lives. And in each dream, her best friend dies. With Penny-in-the-past being responsible. And her best friend in her dreams looks exactly like her real best friend Diana. Even if Penny does believe, can she save Diana? It doesn’t help that Penny is falling in love with Ryan; and it’s Diana’s boyfriend, Rick, who looks like Penny’s dream guy. It’s a love story! With reincarnation! Of course it’s good. The past lives include the famous and not so famous, with the history part being well researched. McAuley also gives a clever reason why the history stuff may not be a hundred percent correct (and why its always in English): “When you remember [the past lives], you’re stuck seeing things through Penny’s eyes, which includes her experiences and preconceived ideas.” I also love that while it’s about Destiny and Fate, it’s also about the ability to make choices and to not be trapped by the past.”

Why? by Lila Prap. From my review: “Why? is an interactive nonfiction picture book about animals that is fun. . . . Each page has a picture of an animal, a question about that animal, silly answers and a real answer. The layout of each page includes a picture of the animal, bordered by the question and silly answers; the questions and answers are in different fonts, which adds to the silliness. The real answer has a star. An example: “Why do crocodiles cry?” “They’re spoiled.” “They cry when they’re sleepy.” “They’re afraid of water.” “Because nobody wants to play with them.” And then, the real answer: “Crocodiles are not sad, and they don’t really cry, but they do like to lie in the sun. Their eyes can dry out when they are not in the water, and the tears help to keep their eyes wet and comfortable.