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Cher-y-lynne {sher-uhl-lin} –noun 1. One who formerly sold and recommended children’s books at a bookstore; a specialist in young adult, middle grade, and picture books. 2. A para-educator at a middle school. 3. A struggling young adult writer. 4. A lover of chocolate and popcorn. Archaic: An Audiology and Speech Language Pathology major at Brigham Young University. Questions? Suggestions? Books you'd like me to review? E-mail me at cherylynne1 (at) gmail (dot) com.
This is a blog for my ranting, raving, and occasionally brilliant opinions. You have been warned. Enter at your own risk.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2003.

“Eat,” said Merlot.
“I couldn’t possibly,” said Despereaux, backing away from the book.
“Um,” said Despereaux. “It would ruin the story.”
“The story? What story?” Merlot stared at him. A piece of paper trembled at the end of one of her indignant whiskers. “It’s like Pa said when you were born. Something is not right with you.” She turned and scurried from the library to tell her parents about this latest disappointment.
Despereaux waited until she was gone, and then he reached out and, with one paw, touched the lovely words. Once upon a time.
He shivered. He sneezed. He blew his nose into his handkerchief.
“’Once upon a time’” he said aloud, relishing the sound. And then, tracing each word with his paw, he read the story of a beautiful princess and the brave knight who serves and honors her.
Despereaux did not know it, but he would need, very soon, to be brave himself.

Despereaux has never quite fit in with the rest of his mouse family. But when he falls in love with a human princess, it is simply too much for the mouse world. He is thrown out and sent to be eaten by the rats.

What a beautiful story. It felt so magical. The only part that was difficult for me was the constant switching of point-of-view. I just wanted to stay with one story. I guess that's the way it had to be, and I did enjoy it once I got to the end. I loved the characters. All the rat names were a little confusing to me for some reason, but maybe I just need to read slower. This was one of those books where it feels like every word is in place. It's the perfect novel for anyone who loves fairy tales, and maybe even for some that don't.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.

“Tell me about the celebration.”
“Well, there was the telling of his life. That is always first. Then the toast. We all raised our glasses and cheered. We chanted the anthem. He made a lovely good-bye speech. And several of us made little speeches wishing him well. I didn’t, though. I’ve never been fond of public speaking.
“He was thrilled. You should have seen the look on his face when they let him go.”
Jonas slowed the strokes of his hand on her back thoughtfully. “Larissa,” he asked, “what happens when they make the actual release? Where exactly did Roberto go?”
She lifted her bare wet shoulders in a small shrug. “I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does, except the committee. He just bowed to all of us and then walked, like they all do, through the special door in the Releasing Room. But you should have seen his look. Pure happiness, I’d call it.”
Jonas grinned. “I wish I’d been there to see it.”

Jonas lives in a dystopia world where everything is perfect. No sickness. No death. No poverty. Nothing but cheerfulness, polite manners, and...mysterious disappearances.

But Jonas has been selected as a Receiver, the highest honor given in their community. But what he must "receive" is more horrifying than anything he could have ever imagined.

I loved it. What else can be said about it? Everyone loves this novel. My husband, who hates to read more than anything in the world, loved this book. It's outstanding. I wish they would get rid of that horrible cover with the old man. That cover kept me from reading this novel for 22 years. If you can just get a kid to ignore the front cover and read a single page inside, they will be hooked. Plus, it can be a boy book. (Are you kidding me, a Newbery winner that boys will actually read???)

If you haven't read this book, you are depriving yourself. Drop whatever you are reading and run, don't walk, to the nearest bookstore to pick it up.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review: If I Forget, You Remember by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. If I Forget, You Remember. New York: Delacorte Press, 1998.

“Granny, this is Elyse.”
“Who?” Granny seemed really surprised, like I should be Addie.
“Me. Elyse. Your granddaughter.”
“I’ve dialed the wrong number. Who’d you say you are?”
“Elyse Donaldson, Granny.”
“I haven’t called Addie Webster?”
“No ma’am. You’ve reached your daughter’s house. And this is your granddaughter. “
Granny was quiet; then she said, “But what about that dirty old man? I tell you I’ve seen an old man staring in at me every time I look out the window.” Granny sounded like she was getting scared.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I think you’re seeing your reflection in the window. There’s no way an old man could climb up your apartment building wall, not even if he had Spider-Man suction cups on his hands and feet.”
Granny took in a deep breath. When she spoke I knew she wasn’t scared anymore. She was just plain angry.
“Addie you can rot in hell. I am no one’s granny, as you say. I am as young as you are. In the prime of my life and you know it. You’re saying those nasty things because I won Miss Strawberry Days and you didn’t.” Granny slammed down the receiver. There was silence.

Elyse has the perfect plan for the summer--she's going to write a brilliant novel, with each chapter written in a different color. But then Granny moves in with them. At first, Elyse is thrilled, and ready to have long, fun conversations like they used to. However, she quickly realizes that Granny's mind is growing further and further away from the present.

This story made me so sad. But there was a lot of humor too, like the chapter headings. Great characters, great obstacles. It felt very real, I think it affected me so strongly because I could so easily see my own grandmother (who, thankfully, does not have Alzheimer’s, knock on wood) in the same position. This novel is able to grip the emotions without sinking into sentimentality, a true sign of quality writing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: Adeline Street by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. Adeline Street. New York: Delacorte Press, 1995.

I felt as if we were being disloyal to Kelly. I like Christmas and all, but Kelly went wild over it. She just liked giving. She'd save all her money for months. She'd make gifts at school ir sit in our walk-in closet, working on stuff for me and Momma and Daddy and papa. She would hide the presents in secret places, all wrapped up. Then, when you were right in the middle of a good show on TV, she'd say, "I know what you're getting for Christmas," in a singsong voice. It used to irritate me. Now I wouldn't mind if she'd do it just one more time.

Since her sister Kelly's death, everything has seemed different to Leah. She wakes up from nightmares she doesn't remember, only to see her younger sister's empty bed and realize the nightmare hasn't stopped just because she's awake.

Really interesting structure. The first half of the novel felt like a collection of short stories, just little moments that stood out, whereas the rest of it flowed more like a typical novel. I thought that mirrored the grieving process well, it was like a little lesson in psychology. There were some great sense of place moments. And I was surprised by how much I got into certain parts. Like when the wind was blowing and then just stopped, I started freaking out. “Holy crap, get the heck out of there! I’ve never even been to Florida and I know something’s wrong with that!” Yeah, I yell at my books. It’s not usually a problem unless I’m reading during class. Anyway, this is an excellent book for middle graders dealing with the death of a family member.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. The Chosen One. New York: St. Mark's Griffin, 2009.

But instead I have a horrible thought.

I see each of my sisters married to the oldest man in the Compound, Brother Nile Anderson. Married to him. He has to be 150 years old. In my head, I can see his spotted hands, yellowed nails, and those fat blue veins that look like they might pop any second. This comes into my mind because of last night. Of course it does. Because that is what our lives are, I realize, holding on to my little sister.

We are here for the men.

I try to make my mind remember the last time there was a marriage of a young man and a young woman. I can't think of any, not any, not for a long time. It seems all the old men are marrying the young girls.

Like my uncle and me.

13-year-old Kyra has been raised in a polygamous community with her three mothers and twenty (soon to be twenty-two) siblings. But she has a number of sins on her conscience, including reading forbidden books (which is all books but the Bible), secret, unchaperoned meetings with a boy, and even idle thoughts of killing their Prophet. This, she believes, is the reason God is punishing her. Her punishment? The Prophet has had a revelation: Kyra is to marry her sixty-year-old uncle, an apostle and a cruel man who already has six wives. And the more she resists, the more violence and persecution comes upon her, her family, and all those she cares about.

Horrifying. Chilling. Brilliant.

There is not a single word wasted or out of place. The prose is as perfect as the concertos that Kyra loves to play on the piano. Carol Lynch Williams opens the door to a dystopia that exists within our own society. With such a huge cast of characters, it seems inevitable that a few will be left two-dimensional--but they aren't. Even when the villians are at their worst, we believe that they think they are the hero of their own story. And because of the loving family Kyra is born into, we are able to see why this kind of society has been able to function, as well as being able to see how things are changing, and why a new regime would cause a sudden onslaught of rebellion. Certain aspects of the novel are absolutely horrifying. For instance, the God Squad, a task force in charge of ensuring that everyone is behaving properly, is as terrifying as the Spanish Inquisition.

Ms. Williams also makes use of symbolism and foreshadowing in poignant ways. For instance, when the Prophet speaks of his revelations and talking with God, he always points upwards--but never towards heaven. He points instead to lightbulbs and ceilings. To me, this is almost an allusion to Shakespeare's famous lines from Hamlet: "My words go up, my thoughts remain below/Words without thoughts never to heaven go." Prophet Childs may believe that he is God's mouthpiece, but we know he isn't, because as Joshua (the boy Kyra is in love with) says, "God would never demand this."

I could go on in this same vein, but I'll stop here and leave the analyzing to the English majors for years to come.

Written in present tense, this gripping story makes you feel as though you are there, watching every moment as it unfolds. And it makes you desperate to get to the next page. I began reading just before getting ready for bed, and I literally had to have my husband read it out loud to me while brushing my teeth, because I couldn't bear to put it down for that long. I had to continue reading until it was finished. These characters get under your skin, into your head, and refuse to let go. Even after I finished the novel, I tossed and turned for hours wondering about what happened next. I know I am one of many that hopes for a sequel.

One word of warning: This is very much a young adult book. It may be short and relatively easy to read, but the emotional impact may be too intense for children. When something is labelled as "young adult" for themes, it usually means it includes of one three things: sex, violence, or bad things happening to good people. I'll say this--it has no sex. But for those that are able to handle this emotional ride, it will be well worth it. Carol Lynch Williams manages to drag us through the depths of hells and yet somehow--somehow--leaves us believing in heaven.

I've debated over which rating to give this novel. I've read "perfect" novels before, but I've never read anything that is both this well-written and courageous. And when I look at the other novels I've given a four star rating to, I realized that they all are lacking in comparison to The Chosen One, either in writing style or emotional intensity. So I'm breaking my own rules, and giving The Chosen One a rating of its own. Never before has a novel rocked me to my very core like this one has.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon by Cowell Cressida

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2003.

"Hiccup will be leading you, although he is, admittedly, completely useless, because Hiccup is the son of the CHIEF, and that's the way things go with us Vikings. Where do you think you are, the REPUBLIC OF ROME? Anyway, that is the least of your problems today. You are here to prove yourself as a Viking Hero. And it is an ancient tradition of the Hooligan Tribe that you should--" Gobber paused dramatically--


Ohhhhhhh suffering scallops, thought Hiccup.

Hiccup Haddock the III is the son of the Viking tribe's chief, Stoick the Vast, but he is not your typical Viking hero. To the dismay of his father, instructor, and the tribe in general, Hiccup dislikes being mean or cruel to anyone, including the pet dragons that each boy is supposed to be training. He decides to take a different approach to training, which includes speaking Dragonese, a language known only to dragons. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as well as he had hoped, since his dragon, Toothless, is lazy and rude. But when it comes to life or death, can Toothless be trusted?

This was a cute little book. Predictable, sure, but so much fun. I kept hoping that “heroic” type things would happen to poor Hiccup, but no, they didn’t really. He made everything happen. And little Toothless…what a great character. I’m glad it’s hard to train a dragon without yelling at it, and it’s not actually easier. I was worried that’s where the whole thing was going. My little brother is a reluctant reader, but he eats up these books. How can he not, with character names such as "Dogsbreath the Duhbrain?"

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Review: Pretty Like Us by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. Pretty Like Us. Atlanta: Peachtree, 2008.

“Alane, Beauty,” Mr. Borget said. “Beauty, Alane.”
“Beauty?” Alane said. “That’s your real name?”
I nodded. In slow motion I started across the classroom floor, as if my eyes were pulling me in for a better look. She was so small. And shriveled. Like fruit left outside. Like she was seventy years old.
“How cool,” Alane said. “My name means almost the same thing, ‘fair one,’ or ‘beautiful.’”
I tugged at my shirt, stretching it down the way Grandma always tells me not to. Her? Beautiful? If anyone in our class found out what Alane’s name meant, well, she was done for. They would sacrifice her to the teasing gods without a second thought. “That’s great,” I said.
I heard him wrong, I thought. He must have said this is Alane’s grandmother.
Now I was close enough to see her hands. They were tiny, like her whole self—small and frail—except for the knuckles. Those were knobbly and swollen looking. And her fingers were all crooked, like they had lost their way growing.
I wiped my own damp hands on my blue jeans.

Alane has progeria, a rare disease that causes her twelve-year-old body to age too quickly. When she moves to Beauty’s town, Beauty finds herself desperate for a new friend, to the point where she attempts to overcome her shyness in order to talk to Alane.

There were some powerful moments in this story, particularly in the mother-daughter relationship. I even got teary-eyed at a few parts, which almost never happens. Great writing, great character development, as always. I do wonder if there is a sequel coming, though. Some parts of the story didn’t quite feel finished.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Book Review: Kelly and Me by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. Kelly and Me. New York: Yearling, 1993.

“Ohmyheck,” I said, and stood up.
Papa was back out the second-story window, Spider-Man fashion, and using Momma’s good sheets as a rope. Momma was not going to like that at all. We ran over to where he was inching his way down the clapboard and looked up at him. Lots of people say Papa is pretty darn spry for a seventy-two-year-old man, and I guess that they’re right.

Leah and her ten-year-old sister, Kelly, are having a summer of adventures down sunny Florida. Egged on by "Papa," their recently widowed grandfather, Leah and Kelly do everything from driving to skinny dipping to attempting a mystical cure for warts. But tragedy is on the horizon for the Orton family, when everything is about to change forever.

Great writing, like always, loveable characters, fun anecdotes. It honestly feels like you’re down on the beach in Florida for summer vacation, free of all worries. Nice and relaxing until the end, when you’re thrown a twist you never saw coming. I think kids would have a lot of fun with the antics, and it's a great discussion starter for death and loss.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book Review: The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. The True Colors of Caitlynne Jackson. New York: Delacorte Press, 1997.

Cara doesn't know her crying at night wakes me up. And there's not a lot I can do, 'cause I'm scared, too.

Caitlynne and Cara live in perpetual terror of their abusive and unpredictable mother. And when their mother abandons them for the summer in order to work on her novel without distractions, Caitlynne is torn between fear of being alone and relief at not worrying about her mother's mood swings. Left with nothing but a refrigerator of food and forty-three dollars to live an entire summer on, Caitlynne and Cara must rely on each other to survive.

A balancing act between the horrifying and the downright fun. I think juveniles always love the idea of being left on their own, and there are some fun things that happen during that time. But the mother is terrifying. I wish we could have seen a little more of her being kind. Her past kindness is alluded to, but I wonder if the narrator is just unreliable,because she truly does love her mother. It seems to ring true of how kids trapped in a abusive homes really are. I liked the question of what kind of person the grandmother is, that gives the reader some room to debate. And I love the boy. He’s adorable. I wonder sometimes if the neighbors were irresponsible, but I suppose it makes them more realistic. People rarely want to get involved in other people's problems. There are plenty of things to keep you thinking long after you finish the last page.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. The Goose Girl. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003.

Then the queen said, "Do not fear that this sad day means more than the end of this king's life. We will go on. I will continue as your queen and keeper of the realm. An in that distant day when you will carry my body to this place, my noble and capable son Calib-Loncris will be ready to take up the scepter and crown."

Ani looked up, her mouth slightly agape. Selia at her side pinched her arm.

"Did you hear that, Crown Princess?"

Ani shook her head slowly. "She made a mistake. She must be...she is confused in her sorrow, that's all."

"Calib doesn't look confused," said Selia.

The Goose Girl is a retelling of a lesser-known Grimms's fairy tale. Ani is the crown princess of Kildenree, trying desperately to overcome her natural affinity for animals to please her mother and become accepted as the future queen. But when her mother betrays her and ships her off to be a strange prince's bride in a neighboring country, she realizes that she will need whatever skills she has to save herself from the onslaught of betrayals that will come from those she once trusted.

My new favorite book. I loved it. Yes, the ending was obvious, yes, of course he was the prince (duh) but I don’t care. I wanted a happy ending and I got it. Talk about escapist fantasy. And I love that Ani wasn’t a tomboy being forced to be a princess. She was a sweet smart girl that wanted to be princess, and wanted to be a good one. I can relate to that. I’m not a tomboy, I hate princesses that are like that. And Shannon was able to explain the politics of the society without boring us to tears, which is what usually happens in fantasy. Sleeping Beauty used to be my favorite fairy tale…I think I’ve changed my mind. Shannon has such a lyrical style, I honestly felt like I was in bed listening to my mother read me fairy tales again. Simply beautiful.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book Review: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Hale, Shannon. Princess Academy. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2005.

14-year-old Miri has never been allowed to work in the quarry. She believes it is because of her small stature, and is jealous of her sister and all the others that go and contribute to the village. But when the kingdom's priests divine that the prince will marry a girl from Miri's village, a tutor is sent out to prepare the girls for the more "civilized" world of the lowlands. And now Miri finally has the chance to show her own talents, and perhaps even marry a prince. But with her newfound knowledge comes secrets that the kingdom has hidden from the village for centuries. Secrets that could change everything.

Interesting. Hard to put down. I liked that being a princess wasn’t the happy ending. It’s nice to know that heroines can be happy without getting the prince. I liked that I didn’t know exactly what the happiest ending would be until I got it. I was so torn for so long, and then BAM! We discover the only possible happy ending. Fantastic. Definitely a teenage girl book.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Review: My Angelica by Carol Lynch Williams

Williams, Carol Lynch. My Angelica. New York: Delacorte Press, 1999.

Angelica performed CPR on her Indian lover. His lips were blue. Both of his eyes were closed. At least, Angelica thought they were. One eye was covered by a bearskin eye patch. The other lay limply in its socket.
Angelica's perfectly curled hair trembled with fear. Her white-gloved hands looked even whiter on her lover's bare chest. "Get up, 247 Bears. Get up!" Angelica yodeled like an American Indian banshee.
Suddenly the piece of deer meat spewed forth from his mouth. The dark-haired man breathed deeply, then stood on his own two feet.
Angelica, he signed to her. You have saved me. Will you be my squaw?

15-year-old Sage's mother is a famous romance writer, and Sage knows that writing is her destiny too. She also knows that her character, Angelica, will be her claim to fame, the smart, strong, sexy character that will rocket her to the top. But George, Sage's best friend, knows something that Sage doesn't...her writing is atrocious. He puts up with it patiently for years, but when Sage announces she plans to enter her novel in a writing contest at the school, George knows he must find a way to stop her before she is humiliated.

Quite literally could not put it down. Usually I don’t like clueless girls, but Sage is so loveable. I think maybe it helped that we saw her through George’s eyes, and he showed us the good side of her. I loved George! What a sweetheart. And Angelica! Oh, Angelica! I would feel bad about laughing at her so much, but I know that the first female president would simply wipe away a sensitive tear with a gloved hand without disturbing any make-up and run to her eye-patched lover and press passionately against his perfect chest—without, of course, disturbing a single strand of her perfect curls—and all would be well. So I feel no guilt at laughing at Angelica all I want. Williams's humor will keep you laughing the whole way through. A phenomenal book for teenagers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Book Review: Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

Hartnett, Sonya. Surrender. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2005.

I remember my first sight of him - the sound and scavenger look of him - surrounded by summer; I remember the stillness of the day and the density of the air. Neither of us was older than nine or ten. I was skimming a car along the garden fence when Finnigan crossed the brink of my vision. At first I feigned ignorance or disdain of his presence, but the car beneath my fingertips bunny-hopped and soon stalled. I slid a glance at him. At school we had seen a wildlife film projected onto a wall, and the boy who was watching me was a hyena. His dark eyes were set apart and seemed to have no arena of white. He didn't move or say a thing but I knew, just from his watching, that he could sever my arm. We were the same height and same age and built along similar leggy lines, but he was a hyena while I was a small, ashy, alpine moth. From the footpath side of the fence he stared at me, and my gaze floated grudgingly from the toy. He swiped a fly from his face. "You're that boy," he said.

". . .What boy?"

"You know. That boy. You know. What you did. Everybody knows."

At twenty years old, Gabriel is on his deathbed, looking back on his childhood. When he was only a child, he made a pact with a wild child named Finnigan...Finnigan would be all bad, and Gabriel would be all good. But when a series of arsons begin to break out around their small town, Gabriel begins to realize how dangerous and out of control Finnigan really is.

This is the novel I’ve always wanted to write. I figured out the twist by the second chapter, but the dog threw me for awhile, I couldn’t figure out who was taking care of him. That was clever. And even though I knew he must have murdered someone, I was shocked to find out who. Great climax, I was taken by surprise. She has a great style of writing, but I wonder how accessible she is to teens. I know adults and supersmart teens would like reading it, but what about the rest of them?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review: We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier

Cormier, Robert. We All Fall Down. New York: Laurel Leaf, 1991.

They entered the house at 9:02 P.M. and trashed their way through the Cape Cod cottage. At 9:46 P.M. Karen Jerome made the mistake of arriving home early. Thrown down the basement stairs, Karen slips into a coma. The trashers slip away.

But The Avenger has seen it all.

Jane Jerome and her family arrive home one night, only to discover their house has been vandalized and 14-year-old Karen Jerome thrown to the bottom of the stairs, in a coma. The vandals are no where to be seen. But one person, The Avenger, saw it all, and is determined to make the vandals pay. In struggling to recover from the invasion, Jane finds herself falling in love with Buddy Walker, who, unbeknownst to her, is one of th vandals.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Robert Cormier at his best. Evil teenagers that are too smart for their own good, a psycho “Avenger,” and a boy that causes evil and regrets it falls in love with the victim of the evil…wow, it’s got everything to keep me going. I would get disappointed every time he would change POV because I wanted to know more of what was happening with that situation, but then I’d immediately get all excited again because I had wanted to know what happened in this situation. There were some moments when he would switch POV back and forth and it didn’t work too well. And I know when you read Cormier, you can expect a depressing and surprising ending, but in this case, I think he misled us. He built everything up for a happy ending, then doesn’t give it to us. I think I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t read the last chapter and imagine my own ending.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Spinelli, Jerry. Maniac Magee. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1990.

And another question: Why did he stay here? Why Two Mills?

Of course, there's the obvious answer that sitting right across Schyulkill is Bridgeport, where he was born. Yet there are other theories. Some say he just got tired of running. Some say it was the butterscotch Krimpets. And some say he only intended to pause here but that he stayed because he was so happy to make a friend.

Maniac (born Jeffrey Lionel) Magee is an orphaned child that can run faster than anyone, untie any knot, and see past any skin color. According to legend, that is. When he runs away to Two Mills, he finds himself bridging the gap between the racially divided town, and fighting to show everyone that the two races are not as different as they think.

One of my favorite books of all time. A kid that really and truly doesn’t need adults, what more can you ask of a YA hero? Maniac can do anything, isn’t afraid of anyone, and has a heart of gold. Apart from this, there is an incredible subplot of racism. There isn’t a wasted word in the entire story, it’s brilliant. This novel is a masterpiece.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Review: Heroes by Robert Cormier

Cormier, Robert. Heroes. New York: Delacourte Press, 1998.

Oh, I have eyes because I can see and eardrums because I can hear but no ears to speak of, just bits of dangling flesh. But that's fine, like Dr. Abrams says, because it's sight and hearing that count and I was not handsome to begin with. He was joking, of course. He was always trying to make me laugh.

If anything bothers me, it's my nose. Or rather, the absence of my nose. My nostrils are like two small caves and they sometimes get blocked and I have to breathe through my mouth. This dries up my throat and makes it hard for me to swallow. I also become hoarse and cough a lot. My teeth are gone but my jaw is intact and my gums are firm, which makes it possible for me to wear dentures. In the past few weeks, my gums began to shrink, however, and the dentures have become loose and they click when I talk and slip around inside my mouth.

I have no eyebrows, but eyebrows are minor, really. I do have cheeks. Sort of. I mean, the skin that forms my cheeks was grafted from my thighs and has taken a long time to heal. My thighs sting when my pants rub against them. Dr. Abrams says that all my skin will heal in time and my cheeks will someday be as smooth as a baby's arse. That's the way he pronounced it: arse. In the meantime, he said, don't expect anybody to select you for a dance when it's Girls' Choice at the canteen.

Don't take him wrong, please.He has a great sense of humor and has been trying to get me to develop one.

I have been trying to do just that. But not having much success.

Francis has no face. He has just returned to him hometown from the war in which he threw himself on a grenade. Using his anonymity, he seeks out his old mentor, Larry LaSalle, who is also a war hero. But Francis is not there to rekindle a friendship. He is intent on revenge. He is going to kill Larry LaSalle.

Brilliant, as always. The characters were possibly his most intriguing yet. I don’t know where he gets his ideas. Everything his characters think seem so over the top until you find out why it is that way, and then everything just falls into place. The ending isn’t really open for interpretation, but it is open enough that I can pretend it has a happy ending. The suspense is so intense, it's almost impossible to put down. There are a number of more mature themes throughout, so I would recommend reading it before giving it to younger children.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book Review: The Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier

Cormier, Robert. The Rag and Bone Shop. New York: Laurel Leaf Books, 2001.

The last person to see Alicia Bartlett alive?

Except for the murderer, of course, Detective Lieutenant Braxton quickly added.

The Rag and Bone Shop is Robert Cormier's last novel, published posthumously. It centers around the murder of a 7-year-old girl, found battered to death not far from her house. The police have no leads, but local politics pressure them into finding the murderer...and fast. So they bring a "confessor," a man named Trent who is more concerned with getting confessions than finding the truth. The suspect? A boy named Jason, the last one to see the murdered girl.

If you think you can predict the ending of this novel, you're wrong. You may be able to predict the climax, sure, but not the ending. The best short story writers are able to make the whole story hinge on the last line. Robert Cormier does this with a novel. You can’t believe that what is happening is really happening, but it is. It’s impossible to stop reading. The psychological thrill is exhilarating. And yes, it's Robert Cormier, so it will leave you horrified at the inner workings of the human soul--or as he would say, "Down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag-and-bone-shop of the heart."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Review: I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

Cormier, Robert. I Am the Cheese. New York: Laurel Leaf Books, 1977.

At home, I didn't wave goodbye to anybody. I just left. Without fanfare. I didn't go to school. I didn't call anyone. I thought of Amy but I didn't call her. I woke up this morning and saw an edge of frost framing the window and I thought of my father and I thought of the cabinet downstairs in the den and I lay there, barely breathing, and then I got up and knew where I was going. But I stalled, I delayed. I didn't leave for two hours because I am a coward, really...But at the same time, I knew I would go. I knew I would go the way you know a stone will drop to the ground if you release it from your hand.

The world in this novel is muddled, confused, much like in Adam's mind. It's difficult to figure out where each story fits in time. Is he talking the the doctor (or is he a doctor?) before he goes to see his father? Where are his parents, anyway? And where is Adam, for that matter? We don't know. All we know is that we are pedaling, pedaling to Rutterburg, Vermont, and it is essential that we get this package to his father, and figure out what has happened on the way, if we possibly can.

The story is so passionate. The little stories and clues fit together so well, and build up such an incredible feeling of suspense. It’s as though you’re compelled to turn the page. The character is shy and sensitive without being annoying, which can be difficult to do. The prose is just beyond description. There are a few things we never discover, possibly because Adam will never discover it, and that bothered me. After a quest for answers, I feel like I deserve more than I got. On the other hand, the journey is well worth it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Book Review: Holes by Louis Sachar

Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998.

Stanley was not a bad kid. He was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was all because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!

He smiled. It was a family joke. Whenever anything went wrong, they always blamed Stanley's no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!

Supposedly, he had a great-great-grandfather who had stolen a pig from one-legged Gypsy, and she put a curse on him and all his descendants. Stanley and his parents didn't believe in curses, of course, but whenever anything went wrong, it felt good to be able to blame someone.

Things went wrong a lot. They always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Everything about this story is amazing. The way he handles backstory, bringing everything together at the last minute…It's difficult enough to do that in a short story, and Louis Sachar was one of the few that is able to pull it off in a novel. I love that feeling when all the puzzle pieces fit together and makes a happy ending. And on top of all of that, it’s witty and funny and just plain fun to read. This novel won nearly ever major award for children's books in 1999.

I've heard some people say that although this book is funny, it didn't deserve to win the Newbery, particularly in light of the book that won the Newbery Honor that year (A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck). I disagree. I believe that more books like this should win the Newbery. It's gotten to the point that if a book has a Newbery medal on it, you can almost guarantee someone will die. I think books that are considered "distinguished" should be so because they appeal to teens, rather than just being "good for them." It doesn't matter how many "good for them" novels you shove down their throats if they hate every single one of them. Instead, we need to seek out well-written novels that teens will actually read.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book Review: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

Cleary, Beverly. Dear Mr. Henshaw. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1983.
Dear Mr. Henshaw,
I wish somebody would stop stealing the good stuff out of my lunchbag. I guess I wish a lot of other things, too. I wish someday Dad and Bandit would pull up in front in the rig ... Dad would yell out of the cab, "Come on, Leigh. Hop in and I'll give you a lift to school."
Leigh Botts has been writing to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, since he was in the second grade. Now he is in sixth grade and dealing with the divorce of his parents. Through his letters and journal entries (which are still addressed to Mr. Henshaw) we learn of his fears, concerns, and fun adventures.
What a powerful, moving story. And brilliantly told. I want to write to an author. This story just inspires me to start writing, it reminds me of all that is good and beautiful in it. And the personal story is phenomenal. There is so much characterization in such simple words. No one can capture the juvenile voice quite like Beverley Cleary can. There is just enough humor to keep kids interested, and just enough drama to keep the adults riveted. Another Newbery winner, this book is living proof that simplicity is something the most moving.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Book Review: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962.

"Okay, hold it, you two," came a voice out of the shadows. Charles Wallace stepped into the moonlight. "I wasn't spying on you," he said quickly, "and I hate to break things up, but this is it, kids, this is it!" His voice quivered with excitement.

"This is what?" Calvin asked.

"We're going."

"Going? Where?" Meg reached out and instinctively grabbed for Calvin's hand.

"I don't know exactly," Charles Wallace said. "But I think it's to find Father."

Meg and Charles Wallace's father disappeared years ago on a top secret government trip. Now, a trio of unusual old women have blown into their neighborhood. The women convince Meg and Charles Wallace, along with their new friend and Meg's love interest, Calvin, to go with them on an adventure to rescue their father. However, the trip will take them further than they could have ever imagined.

How many stories can really start out with "It was a dark and stormy night" and still turn out successful? You have to be a genius to come up with that, and Madelein L'Engle clearly is. A woman that imagined planets outside our solar system and a fifth dimension before scientists could, L'Engle has an imagination that still grips us. While some parts of the story go a little over the top, the characters are simply amazing. It is so easy to relate to Meg, as are her relationships with Charles Wallace and Calvin. I simply love reading what they’re going to do next. She also does a good job of dumbing down the science for those of us that don’t understand things like tessaracts. Or even dimensions, for that matter.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1989.

"You girls walk a different way to school. Promise me, Annemarie. And Ellen will promise, too."
"We will, Mrs. Rosen. But what does it matter? There are German soldiers on every corner."
"They will remember your faces," Mrs. Rosen said, turning in the doorway to the hall. "It is important to be one of the crowd, always. Be one of many. Be sure that they never have reason to remember your face." She diappeared into the hall and closed the door behind her.
"He'll remember my face, Mama," Kirsti announced happily, "because he said I look like his little girl. He said I was pretty."
"If he has such a pretty little girl, why doesn't he go back to her like a good father?" Mrs. Johansen murmured, stroking Kirsti's cheek.

Annemarie Johansen is a 10-year-old girl living in Denmark during the Nazi occupation. But when the Nazis begin the relocation of the Jews, Annemarie must find a way to help her friend Ellen, no matter what the risk.

Absolutely brilliant. Quite possibly the greatest Newbery winner thus far. Engaging characters, fascinating situation. It’s really nice to read a WW2 story with a happy ending. And it was educational, there were many things in it that I never knew before. It made me cry, which is almost impossible to do. It's the kind of story that will stay with you forever.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Things You Need to Know

Mostly I'll be reviewing YA and middle grade books, because that's what I'm studying and writing right now. I might throw in a section of picture books later on. The ratings are out of four stars.

Feel free to agree or argue with me as you see fit!