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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, 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.