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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.

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.