Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gentlemen by Michael Northrop

I don't usually choose a book by its cover, but this one, with a boy in a body bag grabbed my attention right away.
Gentlemen tells the story of four boys from the wrong side of the track. They are beaten down by their home life, school and their peers. They have found friends in each other and are just trying to survive through high school until they can graduate and start working.
At school, most of the teachers treat them with disdain, not putting any effort into teaching them anything useful. It appears to the boys that the teachers just don't think they are worth the bother. The exception to this is Mr. Haberman, their English teacher. He treats them with respect, always calling them 'Gentlemen'.
One day, one of the boys loses it in school and when he is sent to the office, he isn't seen again. Not by his mom, his friends or his cousins. It isn't unusual for him to disappear, it is just that usually someone knows he has taken off. Things start to get out of control when the boys left behind start wondering where he is gone. Coupled with the story they are reading in English "Crime and Punishment", and the strange way Mr. Haberman is acting, the boys start to suspect that Mr. Haberman had something to do with the disappearance.
This book is pretty gritty. I found it hard to read sometimes- I think it is best that I don't know what goes through the mind of a teenage boy. The main character, Michael, is likable in many parts, but at times he is vulgar and rude. I did however find myself sympathizing with the boys when Mr. Haberman went on and on about the book they were reading. I could totally understand why the boys hated reading after listening to him state his interpretation of the book.
I'm not really sure I would recommend this book to anyone. It was a pretty depressing read in places.

Raven Summer by David Almond

I am the first to admit that I am not a fan of Almond's writing. His book Skeling was just creepy- although I know many of my friends who have similar reading tastes enjoy his books. The plot of this one intrigued me (growing up, child soldiers, foster care) so I figured I would give it a try.

One of the things that disturbs me about Almond's writing is that the childhood he writes about is always very dark and this book is no exception. He has a very bleak view of childhood and I find that I can't relate to the dark side of childhood, it isn't what I experienced at all and I really wonder if other kids can relate to his writing.
Raven Summer starts off very light, Liam is a boy who is verging on the edge of adulthood, but is still holding onto his boyhood traditions of playing war and make believe even while his friends are becoming interested in music, girls and other grown up things.
When Liam and his friend Max are out playing one day, they find an abandoned baby in a field. Knowing it is the right thing to do, they take the baby to Liam's home where his parents quickly take over, calling in all the proper agencies. The baby is soon taken to a foster home in the city. When Liam goes to visit the baby, he meets with two other kids his age who are in the foster system as well. Oliver, who is looking for refuge status and Crystal, a girl with many problems of her own. The bond between these three is strong and they become friends and visit whenever they can.
In between visits, Liam and Max are growing apart. Max is growing up, and Liam is content to stay the course. Then there is their childhood friend Nattrass who is very focused on the many acts of violence in the world. When the friends meet up with Nattrass one night, they all start to question who they are and what kind of person they want to be.
As I am writing this, I am realizing all the different issues that are brought up in this story, but aren't fully developed.
One other note; the book is set in England and there are a few spots where the 'Englishness' comes through. Younger readers may need some guidance in these spots.
Once again, I find myself not really enjoying David Almond's writing. I would love to hear what others think about his writing.

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Imagine one night, you go to bed, you wake up in the morning, shower and when you go to check yourself in the mirror, you can't see yourself. This is exactly what happened to Bobby Philips one day. He is sure something is wrong with his sight, he knows he is there, but nothing he does makes himself appear.
His parents, both scientists are confused as well. Surely there is a reason for this- but they can't figure it out.
Bobby needs to figure out how to live without a body and all the implications that go along with that.
This is going to be my next read aloud for my class, so I'm not going to say much right now about this book.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

I've been thinking about what my friend Steven wrote in response to Walking Backward about the large quantities of books available to young adults dealing with grief and pain. Steven wondered if it is an attempt to prepare ourselves for what could happen. I wonder if it is so that people can find books that help them get through rough times. You can take comfort from knowing that others have dealt with what you yourself are dealing with. It is also a relief to have someone express your thoughts and feelings in writing if you can't do it yourself.
Hold Still does deal with pain and grief. Ingrid and Caitlin were best friends for years, like all best friends they did everything together and shared all of their secrets. But when Ingrid commits suicide, Caitlin is left reeling. She had no idea, no forewarning for what Ingrid was going through.
When Caitlin starts back to school she is numb to everyone around her. She doesn't want to make friends again because she doesn't know how to deal with people and doesn't want to risk getting close to anyone again. The thing she loved most was photography, but even that is letting her down now, everything reminds her of Ingrid.
Months later, Caitlin finds Ingrid's journal and starts to rediscover her best friend. As she relives moments they spent together, she learns about the pain Ingrid was hiding.
I cried my way through many parts of this book, the raw emotion that Caitlin feels while dealing with losing Ingrid and trying to find new friends was very heartbreaking.
One of my favourite parts of the book is when Caitlin describes how her and Ingrid would go someplace and take pictures of the same event, but have totally different perspectives on what happened. Caitlin learns that this is much like life. What she saw in Ingrid was totally different from what Ingrid saw in herself.
I'm not sure how I would feel reading this book if I had just lost someone close to me. I found it hard to read in many places because LaCour did such an amazing job describing how confusing it can be to lose someone you love.
This book does have some mature scenes and some language, but it is so powerfully written that it would be appropriate for anyone in grade 7 and older.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams

This is the first book I have read by Abrahams, but it won't be the last. This was a great mystery. Cody feels like he has the greatest life ever. He is passing (just!) school without any effort, he is the Quarterback of the high school football team and is dating the most beautiful girl at school. Life is going well. Until, Clea's father decides he is a bad influence on her and he sends her to Hong Kong to keep them apart. Cody and Clea survive the summer apart by texting and emailing each other. They are sure everything will be fine when she comes back for senior year.
But Clea's father has other plans. He has enrolled Clea in a private school in Vermont- 2 days away from Cody. When Cody realizes that Clea is heading in a whole different direction he questions their relationship and tries to learn to live without her.
Then, Cody sees an article in the paper that reads "local girl missing" and realizes that Clea is in danger. Cody leaves everything behind to search for Clea. When in Vermont, he questions everyone and has a hard time trusting anyone. The only thing he knows for sure is that if he doesn't find Clea, nobody will.
I really enjoyed reading this one. There is a bit of swearing, but other than that, it is appropriate for young adults to read. I think the boys will really relate to Cody- he's a well developed character.
I wasn't totally sure where I got this book from, it just appeared on my bookshelf. It
wasn't until I was telling my nephew Bryor about it that he reminded me that he lent it to me.
I love it when that happens!

Walking Backward by Catherine Austen

Up until a few months ago, Josh was a normal 12 year old boy. He fought with his younger brother, loved to play soccer and had a happy family life. Then, the unthinkable happened- his mother died in a car accident. Ever since then, his life has totally fallen apart. It is up to Josh to deal with his brother Sam- who is having a lot of trouble dealing with the death of his mother. His father has taken to hiding in the basement building a time-travel machine. Josh is left dealing with the loss of his mother as well as trying to hold it together for his family.
Everything is different from Josh. He doesn't really know how to grieve, so instead he learns about how other cultures grieve. He doesn't feel right smiling or playing soccer, but he doesn't really know what else to do.
I found this story to be heartbreaking at times. The thought of the two boys going through this alone was so sad. As a character, Josh is totally believable in the way he deals with his grief, at times he is irrational, angry and always very very sad. After I finished the book, there were parts that bothered me. There is an aunt in the story who is very mean to the boys and doesn't help them deal with the situation at all. As well, there are many unanswered questions at the end for me. Of course, I guess that is what happens in life.
I think this book would appeal to both boys and girls, although it does take some stamina to get through it because the book is based solely on Josh trying to deal with his grief.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn

At the Scholastics Book Fair in October, one of my students Morgan picked this one up and lent it to me when she was finished.
Distant Waves is the story of 5 sisters and their very eclectic mother. The main character of the story is Jane. We first meet Jane when she is just 4 years old. Her and her family are looking for a place to settle down. Her mother hears of a village in New York where people with the ability to contact the spiritual world are settling. Jane and her sisters soon find themselves living in Spirit Vale, a village made up almost entirely of women who can channel the spirits of the dead. It is here that Jane and her sister grow up, among tarot and palm readings and people contacting the dead. All the while, Jane follows the career of an inventor named Tesla, a man she had a brief encounter with while travelling to Spirit Vale. When Jane and her older sister Mimi risk a trip to Buffalo to interview Tesla, both of their lives are changed, sweeping the rest of the family on an adventure of their life.

Lush by Natasha Friend

There are several books by this author that I have started to see in all the Scholastics orders. Natasha Friend writes about some serious issues that young adults are facing. Her stories are well written and very believable.
In Lush, we meet Samantha, a 13 year old girl with a problem. Her father is an alcoholic and Samantha is embarrassed and ashamed of him. Another part of the problem is her mother. Samantha's mother doesn't want to admit there is anything wrong. She believes that her father is just going through a rough time at work and needs to drink to deal with it. But Samantha knows better. She knows the danger her father puts her in when he drives drunk, he even drives with Samantha and her younger brother in the car, which terrifies Samantha beyond belief.
Throughout the story, Samantha's anger at her father comes through loud and clear. Dealing with this is very difficult for her. She can't tell her best friends because she is so embarrassed. In keeping this secret from her friends she starts to loose their trust. Instead, Samantha decides to leave secret notes in the library for a girl she thinks will understand. This secret correspondence between these two help Sam deal with her anger and embarrassment.
I love the honesty that Samantha shares with the reader. I think that any young person dealing with an alcoholic relative will be able relate to Samantha's thoughts and ideas. This book is a bit gritty in some places. I would only give it out to students who are a bit more mature.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

This book was suggested to me by one of my students Kaitlyn, I'm glad she did. This book, while set in the near future, really makes links to today. We don't think anything of giving out personal information over the internet, using bank cards and credit cards. Our Health Cards and Driver's Licence also store a great deal of information that is accessible with a quick swipe.
Now, imagine a world 20 years in the future. A world where everyone over the age of 17 is expected to get a 'Bar Code Tattoo'. This tattoo will take the place of your driver's licence, health card, bank cards everything. You won't need to carry any identification or money, it will all be stored on your tattoo. For most people, this sounds great. As a matter of fact, it has quickly become a status symbol to have this tattoo, a right of passage for young adults.
For Kayla however, she is questioning the tattoo. First of all, she doesn't think it is important to have all of her personal information stored on her arm. This doesn't make her popular with her peers at school or with her best friend. Kayla's parents got the tattoo a few months ago as a requirement of their job and things have not been going well for them since. Her father is determined to remove the tattoo by any means- but nothing is working. When he is fired from his job, he blames it on the tattoo.
Kayla's best friend,while at first a huge supporter of the tattoo is shocked when her parents experience hard times and they too suspect it is because of the information on their tattoo.
When Kayla falls in with a group of teens who are fighting against the tattoo and against the government, her life starts to change in unimaginable ways.
This book was fast-paced and exciting. It really made me think about all the information that is out there for anyone to find. I really hope the world described in this book isn't the future for our world.