Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Am What I've Read...

At some friends' suggestions, I created my own Bookprint at Scholastic's YouAreWhatYouRead website. I found myself thinking hard about those books I loved, read and reread, and clearly remember with fondness (and not a few times, tried to bully my daughter into reading those beloveds!). I thought I'd write a bit here about what I realized while picking out the five books that have shaped my life as a reader.

5.  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. 
A secret door into a world where animals talk, an evil witch threatens and four children have the responsibility to save everyone? Plus a majestic talking lion who cheats death?! SOLD! I read and reread this series, reveling in the adventure, the magic and the quests - my love of epic fantasy (Wheel of Time, I'm looking at you)  can be traced back to this enchanting story.  This was definitely one of those books/series I wanted to climb into as a kid...

I did not, however, ever catch the religious subtext back then, as I've always been a bit blind to subtext. And theme. I just went delightedly along for the ride.  :)

4.  The Secret of the Old Clock, by Carolyn Keene.
My earliest and clearest memories of a library are of the one in my elementary school and of my goal to read EVERY Nancy Drew Mystery in the library (early indicator of my occasional bouts with mild OCD?).  I must have done it, as I remember moving on to the Hardy Boys, but those bright yellow hardcovers are what stick out in my mind.  I still love mysteries to this day, and love a smart female lead character, though nowadays I prefer them a bit more feminist than feminine...

3. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle, illustrated by Arthur Robins
Sigh. I did not want to read this book, and I especially did not want to check it out from the library on my card all by myself, but that's exactly what my mother made me do when it was time for me to learn about this 'birds and bees' business. Sent me alone to the checkout desk, this book and library card in hand, face burning, to check out the most embarrassing book EVER.  And now that I think of it, perhaps part of the reason I became a librarian was because that library clerk was so kindly matter-of-fact about my obvious, thanks, mom?

Clearly, the book and the experience scarred me...well, mostly just the experience, as the book handles the subject matter quite well, despite the awkward cartoons.  So, of course, when it was my brother's turn, I laughed and laughed and laughed...

2. The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
I adored this series - a younger brother telling of his hero worship of his clever (and sneaky) older brother Tom, whose adventures were exciting, funny and often dangerous. Making his stories all the better was the fact that the writer based them on his childhood enduring and barely surviving his brother's great ideas. I credit J.D.'s accounts with my love of historical fiction, for those glimpses into what life was like in a different time (the late 1800s, in this case). I also think Tom's brilliant yet sneaky mind got me liking clever and mischievous men, both in fiction and in real life...  :)

This is also one of those titles that comes up often at work: library users needing help finding a book they vaguely remember, a book set in Utah, about brothers, one of whom charges the neighborhood kids to flush his family's toilet, as it's the first and only 'water closet' in town...

1. Bunnicula: a Rabbit Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe, illustrated by Alan Daniel
Ah, Bunnicula.  This is not only a book that shaped my life as a reader, but one of my absolute favorite books of all time.  Why?

A) It's 'written' by the family dog, Harold.
B) Harold's best friend is the family cat, Chester, who is not a little bit crazy.
C) A baby rabbit found in a movie theater showing Dracula might be a vegetarian vampire. Maybe.
D) Chester the cat is SURE that the evil bunny is out to murder his family and so takes drastic steps to stop him, such as draping himself in garlic.
E) Alan Daniel's illustrations are hilarious (check the book for the awesome 'Chester draped in garlic' image.)

This book kept me both laughing and wide-eyed with suspense, and Chester as a amateur detective definitely urged me down the love-of-mysteries road. However, the biggest influence this book had on me is that this is the book that started my fascination with vampires, which then lead me onto nearly all things supernatural.  And if you've checked out my LibraryThing's tag cloud, you'll see that 'supernatural' is a subject that pops up often in my reading adventures!


As I've reread this, I've noticed something else about these titles (beyond my clear preference for series): I've used and pushed these books at kids for years. I still have my personal copies of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (spine broken by my little brother 20 years ago, yet he STILL has yet to replace it), The Great Brain (pages brown with age), and Bunnicula (whose book jacket is torn and wrinkled and still handled with care), and I've nudged my daughter toward them more than once. I once did a library program around The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and I've used both Nancy Drew titles and Bunnicula in my summer book discussion group (in fact, I'm doing Bunnicula again this summer, as my daughter will finally be old enough to join!). Every time I pass the reproductive section of the nonfiction collection at work, I flash back to that moment of checking out Where Did I Come From, and I've recommended The Great Brain so many times over the years to soooo many kids and parents looking for funny historical fiction, books with boy appeal, 'gentle' reads for homeschooled kids...

What are the books that have most influenced you?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Book Review: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

What's It About? identity; transgender; love; terrible parents

Sixteen-year-old Elle falls in love with Frank, the neighbor who helps her adjust to being on her own in a big city, but learning that he is transgendered turns her world upside down.

Why Did I Read It? I've been slowly putting together a LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/questioning) list for my library's teen bibliography page, and the summary sounded intriguing.

What I Thought...
The Elle that begins this story of self-discovery is messed up, but not through much fault of her own. Her wealthy mother is in love with a man who doesn't want a teenager in the house, so Elle's mother moves her across town into an apartment of her own, just days before her 16th birthday. Elle, while feeling betrayed, is also unsurprised, as she's always felt that her thin, appearance-obsessed mother dislikes Elle for being ugly rather than beautiful, as preferred.

The day she moves in, Elle meets Frank, a young, thirty-ish neighbor next door and is immediately disarmed by his kindness. As she begins a tentative friendship with Frank and his girlfriend Molly, Elle finds herself developing a HUGE crush, despite the inappropriateness and complete lack of romantic encouragement from Frank. As Elle is making few friends at her new school, Frank's friendship becomes vital, so when she discovers that Frank is trangendered - female to male - Elle's realization of what that might say about her own sexuality shatters her.

Elle coming to terms with all her feelings - and the support of Frank, Molly and the small group of outcasts from school that befriend her is what makes this novel so compelling. It's a very quick read, but Elle's introspection - as well as her honesty about her fear and discomfort in realizing she's fallen in love with someone who was once a woman, is very realistic. Her friends are, for the most part, well-rounded characters, with definite issues of their own and all of whom envy Elle's independence. Of course, they (realistically) never think about what Elle's mother's readily moving her out could feel like for Elle - a response I think many teenagers would have.

The only issue I had with this book was with Elle's repeated protestations that "I'm not gay!" That she would feel this way, and feel the need to assure others is understandable (as she clearly doesn't want to identify herself as such at first, and frankly, never quite gets to that point, though this is a distinction I am not really clear on, to be fair). However, after awhile, it felt more like the author was hitting me over the head with "methinks the lady doth protest too much." Soon I began replying to Elle's protests with a mental, "yeah, yeah, I GET it. Can we move on with her personal growth, now?"

Overall, I really enjoyed this quiet, introspective book, and recommend it highly, and not just to those interested in LGBTQ fiction.

Recommended to anyone looking for a well-written coming-of-age story.

YA Reading Challenge Count: 3

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver*

What's It About?  friendship; high school; bullying; second chances; redemption

Summary?  After she dies in a car crash, teenage Samantha relives the day of her death over and over again until, on the seventh day, she finally discovers a way to save herself.

Why Did I Listen to It?  It was a pick for the 2011 Maricopa County Mock Printz discussion. If you want to discuss, you read everything on the list! :)

What I thought...
I have mixed feelings about this book. For the most part, I really enjoyed it - not in the 'this is so FUN' way, but in the 'losing track of time while listening' way. The book opens with Samantha's death in a car accident after a boozy party with her friends, and then she begins reliving that day, over and over, until she can get it right.

Yes, we've seen this before, but Oliver does a great job unveiling teen relationships - friendships and "love" - and bullying, as well as the effects one's actions, thoughtless or no, can carry so much weight.

Sam and two other friends rotate around Lindsay, an alpha mean girl, and as Sam tells her story, it's clear that they are all willing participants to Lindsay's bullying - rumors, name-calling and scrawled messages on bathroom walls included. In the beginning, Sam is seemingly unaware of how hurtful hers and her friends' actions are: she has a very, "We're popular, and this is what popular people do" attitude that is very off-putting. However, as she relives that final day, making different choices each day and discovering how those little changes affect others around her, she begins to notice what she and her friends - most especially Lindsay - have been doing for years. Sam's growing up is a nice thing to see.

There's tons of drinking in this book - Sam's day ends after a wild party at a childhood friend's (abandoned when she met Lindsay) house, and much time is spent talking about drinking, doing shots, keg stands, etc. Very little is mentioned of drug use (though one of Sam's classmates is rumored to be a drug dealer and Sam shares a joint during one of her days), but there's a lot of talk about sex. Sam was supposed to lose her virginity to her crap boyfriend the night of the party, and she spends a lot of time wondering if she really wants to go through with it. Her more experienced friends make plenty of jokes about it, as well...

My reservations about this book: Mainly, I have problems with Sam's friends and her feelings for them. Bullying is a subject that really hits home for me, and Lindsay's behavior (as well as that of Sam's and the other two friends) is reprehensible. She's an evil tyrant, ruling through fear (even Sam admits to being afraid of her), and she drives another student to attempted suicide through years of unrelenting torment. Sam sees this, through her seven days of do-overs, witnesses the fallout of Lindsay's actions, and yet still professes to love her friend. It really sickened me.

My other problem had to do with the audiobook reader. I've found, in a couple of instances, that readers of teen books make a really condescending choice to try to sound too young, and end up coming off sounding childish and whiny. To make believe that all teenagers sound stupid and selfish is pretty rude, and this reader, while she doesn't do Sam's voice such a discredit, gives practically every other teen character a nasal, snotty and/or stoned voice. It's set in present-day Connecticut, but for some reason the she's made all of the unappealing characters, male and female, sound like Jeff Spicoli...

Those problems aside, I found this incredibly engrossing - teens will gobble this like candy!

Highly recommended.

YA Reading Challenge Count: 2

*Disclosure: I read Before I Fall early in January, but I am posting it and others read in early 2011 - I simply didn't have a blog back when I read and reviewed before!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Review: Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin*

What's It About? Faeries; friendship

Phoebe, a member of the wealthy Rothschild family, befriends Mallory, an awkward new girl in school, and the two become as close as sisters, but Phoebe does not know that Mallory is a faerie, sent to the human world to trap the human girl into fulfilling a promise made by her ancestor Mayer to the queen of faeries.

Why Did I Read It? It was a pick for the 2011 Maricopa County Mock Printz discussions - if you want to discuss, you read what ever is on the list! :)

What I Thought...
An intriguing story, Extraordinary definitely kept me interested and was a quick read. The writing was good, though the ending felt a bit like a "moral to the story" ending a la eighties tv shows (Full House, I'm looking at you!). The struggle Mallory has with her 'mission' and her love for her friend, Phoebe, is well done and wrenching, as is the way in which Ryland, Mallory's brother, manipulates Phoebe into withering her self-confidence.

I am a bit confused, though. Early in the novel, the queen asks Mallory whether Phoebe or a classmate is the right girl - if they've known a bargain was made with Mayer Rothschild, why would she think the girl NOT named Rothschild might be the one they're looking for? Maybe a small detail, but enough of one for me to feel this isn't the book of the year...

However, it was an interesting look at faeries and their dealings with and promises to humans. 


YA Reading Challenge Count: 1

*Disclosure: I read Extraordinary early in January, but I am posting it and others read in early 2011 - I simply didn't have a blog back when I read and reviewed before!