Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

A student recommended this to me. I haven't read much of Anderson's work since she published Speak (one of my all-time favorites), but the student recommendation (while I was subbing--heaven of all heavens--in the high school library) pushed me to go to the public library for this book. I marvel at Anderson's ability to create such different characters from book to book (despite some very telling stylistic tendencies). In Twisted, she tells the story of a smart kid who did something stupid (but not particularly harmful) in order to get some attention, and who is now paying ten-fold for his prank when some nasty things happen to a girl in his school. His father, a workaholic who works for the girl's father, blames his family for making his life difficult, doesn't necessarily believe his son is innocent of what he's been accused of doing.

I think the only real faults I found in the book are at the end. The suicide contemplation seems less involved than I imagine such contemplation would be and the father very promptly (and conveniently) in the end apologizes for being an emotionally abusive father and husband and promises to do better. It's not that I believe people can't change--I just don't know that the guy's going to change without some serious therapy, which was never mentioned.

More readable than Catalyst (which took a little bit of patience) but not as good as Speak, I would still recommend Twisted to any teen looking for an intense and involved reading experience. Books that are (kind of) in the same vein? Sharon Draper's Tears of a Tiger and Paul Fleischman's Whirligig.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book has won Sherman Alexie the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. I haven't read any of the other books that were nominated, but I am glad that this book has gotten so much attention. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about a kid who grows up on the rez, the kid nearly everyone picks on because of some physical problems he has (stuttering, lisping, and having a big head). But when Junior's teacher makes him consider options he didn't realize he had, Junior decides to take on a different future--he decides to attend school off the reservation, and though he was never a favorite child of the reservation's people, he pretty much becomes public enemy number one (traitor) for daring to have dreams and to go after them.

Though there were some things in the book I was skeptical of (the extent of his post-birth brain injury, for example), the truth is in the characters--the way his best friend reacts to his enrolling in a school off the rez, the way Junior finally sees the rez from a bigger perspective than as an inhabitant of it, when he realizes just how screwed up his life could be and the things he can do to keep from falling into the trap that was long ago set, and how people not on the rez have their share of problems, too.

Perhaps the best surprise of the book are the illustrations. Junior is a cartoonist, and he shares his doodlings, which are "taped" to the pages of his story. (The cartoons also make this book a fast read. I read it over the course of a day of substitute teaching while students were working on review sheets and watching a video.)

Fans of both Sherman Alexie and Chris Crutcher should definitely read this book. (Yes, I got a very Chris Crutcher feel from this book; maybe because of the significance of the basketball team to Junior's life.)

**Though the cover says that this is Sherman Alexie's first young adult book, his book
Flight was published last spring. Does that mean that this book initially had an earlier publication date intended? I don't know, but for some reason, it bothers me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

This book is a fun, fluffy read. If you approach the book with a lighthearted, playful spirit and expect a typical happily-ever-after sort of story, you will enjoy it. Well, most of it, anyway. The magic is fun; a little heavy on laying out the purposes of plants (I didn't really need or want to know and it felt a little Ophelia-like in one part), but I loved how each Waverly had her own niche. Evanelle and the apple tree (yes, the tree qualifies as a character--it had far more personality than several of the humans) were more fun than the two Waverly sisters around whom the book centers. I would even go so far as to say that they made the whole book worthwhile. Without them, this review would be very, very different.

I'd give it four (out of five) stars if it had a more satisfying ending and slightly stronger main characters, but as it is what it is, I give it three.