Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Big Emtpy by JB Stephens

This book provides a fair foundation for teens' science fiction reading. After a horrible plague decimates the American (and probably the world's) population, martial law is instated by a self-proclaimed President, and the surviving population of the interior US is relocated to the coasts. There are renegades, however, who refuse to leave--and there is a settlement somewhere in the Midwest of people who want to live a different way. The story follows a group of teens who either leave the 'safety' of the military state to look for this settlement, or they just happen across the others who are looking for it.

The number of characters in the book is its only complexity, but for those who are unfamiliar with science fiction, that may be enough. (A simple plot is not necessarily a bad thing, and this is the first in a series, so perhaps it will get more complex.)

At least they stay in one time period--this is not the kind of science fiction that involves time travel, space travel, light sabers or moleculizers.

Teens who like this should try Stephen King's The Stand and Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake.

The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher

This is a book about grief and censorship. Crutcher draws from his own experiences (as always) to mold this story of a boy who lost his father and his best friend within a month of each other, and how books--his right to choose what he reads--helps him to remember and honor his father and his friend through his actions.

I particularly appreciate the way that the narrator points out this this story has no real "villain"--because everyone has good, honorable intentions--even though it's very clear who the antagonists are. No one is behaving badly just for the sake of behaving badly. As so many are, the conflicts in this book are about of ideas and ideals.

I was also amused that Crutcher wrote himself into the story--not just as a fraction of the characters, but as Chris Crutcher the Challenged/Banned Books Writer (in this case, the book Warren Peace).

As always, Crutcher writes to encourage teens to think for themselves, to not automatically buy into the beliefs of family and friends without their own examination of the implications of those beliefs. The book also serves as encouragement to read his other books, since he writes about the aspects of his books that are so often challenged, and as he points out, there's not really a better way to ensure that teens will read these books than to suggest or tell them that they're not allowed to.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography by Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher's autobiography will alter the way you read his books. It is enjoyable, even when he shares some of his more humiliating moments. Know all those things you did when you were young and stupid and you hope they never come up as conversation when you bring your significant other to meet the family because you don't want him/her to know just how stupid you've been, even as a kid? Crutcher confesses to many of those things. Many of these incidents, for Crutcher, seem to have been instigated by his brother (on the premise that the result would be "neat"), and you will wonder, when you've finished, what other stories were cut or left out.

You will also see many of his characters floating through the pages--athletic or otherwise--and you will probably never read his books the same way again, because the characters will become a little more real for you. For me, this is distracting--I would far prefer to be reading this book after I've read all his others, and saying, "Oh, this happened to [this character] in [this book]," instead of reading his fiction and thinking, "I remember--this happened to [so-and-so] when he was in high school," or whatever. Knowing the real background pulls me out of the fiction a little too much. Even when you know that the stories must be based on real experiences Crutcher has had or known, it's very different to know the real stories when you're reading fiction.

So, by all means, read this book. It's funny, sad, and I wish there was more of it. But if you suspect you're like me, wait till you've read all his other books before cracking this one.

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

I found this to be a delightful book. The book follows Lucky, fearless and compassionate, whose mother died after being struck by lightning, whose father doesn't want her, and who is therefore being raised by her father's first wife. Her friends are her dog, her classmate Lincoln who is obsessed with tying knots, and little Miles who takes a copy of Are You My Mother? everywhere.

Lucky is a girl with moxie. Her fear: that her guardian Brigitte is leaving her to go back to France. But Lucky knows what she wants, and she has ideas about how to get it. Misguided though she may be, she's the kind of bold that even adults envy. And she's determined to figure out how to find her higher power--something she's heard about while eavesdropping on various 12-step programs--because she is convinced that finding this mysterious higher power is going to make everything all right.

The unusual setting and the enchanting and well-flawed array of characters make this a warm, memorable book. I especially like Lincoln, and his affinity for proper punctuation.