Category Archives: contemporary

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

everybody-sees-the-antsLucky Linderman’s father patently refuses to acknowledge the problems in his life.  It doesn’t matter whether the problem is growing up fatherless (his father was a POW/MIA soldier in Vietnam), his failing marriage, or his son’s troubles with a bully named Nader McMillan.  He pretty much walks away and tunes out from life when things start to get uncomfortable — often retreating to his job at what Lucky refers to as “Le Fancy-Schmancy Cafe.”  Lucky’s mom is just as bad.  She, too, refuses to acknowledge that her marriage is falling apart and ignores the bullying situation.  (She just doesn’t have as hefty an excuse as her husband.)  Even after Nader takes things too far and hurts Lucky pretty badly, his parents still choose to avoid confrontation and merely plan for Lucky and his mom to go away for the summer.  Staying with relatives in Arizona doesn’t do anything for fixing the marriage or bullying problems, but Lucky does end up making some friends while he’s there.  He also starts working out, under the tutelage of his uncle, and gains a little confidence in the process.  The only question is whether that will do him any good when he returns home.

Though most of this story is fairly standard for YA contemporary realistic fiction, there’s one thing that pushes this book pretty far into the realm of magical realism.  Lucky visits his [POW/MIA] grandfather in his dreams.  For real.  As in, he comes out of his dreams with physical tokens of where he has been.  (It actually reminds me a bit of The Dream Thieves, which is the second book of The Raven Cycle.)  Though I am sure none of the teens who read this book are actually traveling to visit long-lost relatives in their dreams, I am sure a great many of them can relate to the generalized family issues and bullying Lucky experiences.  I only hope that Lucky’s realizations and growth will inspire readers to be more proactive in response to their own problems.

Happy Reading!

 

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

two-boys-kissingIt wouldn’t be Banned Books Week without a review of a GLBT book, since so many would-be censors take umbrage with the fact that GLBT novels even exist.  So, I am taking this opportunity to finally review a book one of my teens suggested I read during GLBT Pride Month.  The basic premise of this story was that two [gay] boys were attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss.  The strangest thing, though, was that they were not boyfriends.  They were, in fact, ex-boyfriends.  But, Harry and Craig were not kissing merely for the fun of kissing or even just to break the existing world record.  In fact, kissing for 32 hours was a rather grueling experience, both physically and emotionally.  But their 32-hour-long kiss was worth all of the difficulties it presented because it was a statement of support for their mutual friend, Tariq, who was the victim of a hate crime.  Although the “Greek chorus” of narrators — men who had died of AIDS — seemed a bit clunky at times, I think that narration ultimately worked as a means by which to educate younger readers about [late 20th century] GLBT history, the progress the GLBT community has made thus far, and how far we still have to go.  I really enjoyed this story, though I have to admit to shedding a tear or two.  I highly recommend this for fans of other David Levithan books (like Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Every Day) and suspect that it will likely end up on many YA literature syllabi as required GLBT reading.

Happy Banned Books Week!

The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick

sin eaters confessionAfter Del died in a car accident, Ben started helping out on Del’s family’s farm.  While working on the farm, Ben started to look out for and became friends with Del’s younger brother, Jimmy, in a capacity much like an older brother.  After Jimmy was murdered, Ben felt guilty and escaped his home town by enlisting in the armed forces and heading to Afghanistan.  This story is told from Ben’s perspective, in a diary-style letter to someone back home, as he reflects back over the series of events that lead to Jimmy’s death and explains why he feels responsible.  The graphic description of Jimmy’s violent death definitely makes this a book for more mature readers, and I am sure some people would ultimately like to see this book banned.  I think, nevertheless, that this suspense-filled story is a great way to draw in readers who might not otherwise think they’d enjoy a story that explores such heavy themes as homophobia and hate crimes.  A definite departure from the apocalyptic world of Ashes, but equally well written.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

leonard peacockAlthough I read this book back in January, I never remembered to post a review.  Maybe it’s because I typically read more books per month than I review and some titles just slip through the cracks… but I prefer to think my subconscious was just saving this review for Banned Books Week!

I think this book is a likely target for would-be censors for a couple of reasons.  Not only are there the typical objectionable language and sexual situations that many people cite when challenging a book, but there is also the fact that the entire story revolves around Leonard Peacock’s plans to carry out a murder-suicide.  I understand that some people worry about teens being impressionable and mimicking the behavior of a character in a book, but I take umbrage with that reasoning.  After all, studies have shown that fiction can actually teach kids empathy.

While I agree, in theory, that it would be nice to be able to shield children from all of the terrible things that exist in our world, I recognize that it’s impossible.  Instead, I feel that it’s important to be open and honest so that my kids and the kids/teens I work with at my library feel comfortable enough to come to me if and when they find themselves in a troubling situation.  Rather than keeping this book out of the hands of teens for fear that a troubled teen who reads this book will decide to plan his/her own murder-suicide, I believe it is extremely important to make this book available.  Why?  Because I believe in the power of biliotherapy and think it is much more likely that teens who are struggling will learn from Leonard’s various mistakes, including his mistaken belief that he should end his life rather than seeking help.  Readers who enjoyed 13 Reasons Why should definitely check this one out.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Love StargirlThanks to this audiobook, I now know that September 8th is the anniversary of the day that Stargirl (aka Susan Caraway) first laid eyes on Leo Borlock.  As she strolled through the Mica High cafeteria with her ukelele and sang Happy Birthday to some other unsuspecting stranger, she saw the fear in Leo’s eyes as he worried that she might come and sing to him.  Of all the stuff that happened in this story, Stargirl’s remembrance of that day was a pretty small thing, but it really stuck with me.  Why?  Because *MY* birthday is September 8th!  Though I seriously doubt Jerry Spinelli wrote that into his book for me, I wonder if he’s friends with Jon Scieszka and used that reference as a shout out to him.  (Yeah.  I share a birthday with Jon Scieszka — and Jo Knowles – how awesome is that?!?)

Anyhow…  I like the fact that this book was written as a letter from Stargirl to Leo in diary form.  It was cool to see things from her perspective this time.  I mean, it was easy enough to see from Leo’s narration (in Stargirl) that she was a free spirit, but it was kinda cool to see exactly how her thought process worked.  I am most definitely a “Type A” personality, so it took a lot for me to get into her head and to understand where she was coming from, but it made a little more sense as she explained herself.  Living without clocks, for example, seems kinda cool — but I think I would go batty after only a day or two.

Happy Reading!

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landlineThis book is kinda hard to categorize by my usual standards.  First of all, it’s technically a book for adults, which I don’t usually read (let alone review on here).  BUT, Rainbow Rowell is a popular YA author and I think some older teens might check this one out after finishing Fangirl or Eleanor and Park.  I mean, if she got *me* to read a book for grown ups, anything is possible!  ;-)  But, I digress…  The main reason this book is hard to categorize is because it’s mostly realistic/contemporary fiction, but there’s a small science fiction/fantasy element wherein Georgie (the main character) is able to use the landline at her mother’s house to call her husband, Neal, back when he was still in college and hadn’t yet proposed.

I think this book resonated so much with me because I have been having a crazy time trying to find a good work/family balance in my life and Georgie’s life is my worst nightmare.  She’s in over her head with work, her kids don’t really seem to miss her when she’s not around, her husband is resentful that she often puts work first, and she isn’t even sure if it’s possible to turn things around enough to save her marriage.  As I read this book, I kept thinking about my own recent choices in which I put work first and wondered whether I had started straining my own marriage.  I must have asked my husband at least 15 times over the course of 4 days whether he was OK with how things are going, so I’m pretty sure he’s happy that I am done with this book and will stop projecting Georgie’s problems into my life!  I think my inability to separate the story from real life, nevertheless, is simply proof that Rainbow Rowell is a great author who knows how to write relatable and believable characters.  If I had had the energy to stay up all night reading, I definitely would have finished this book in one big gulp.

Happy Reading!

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Geography of You and MeWith her parents off traveling all the time and her brothers away at school, Lucy has learned to enjoy being alone much of the time.  Since she doesn’t really have a lot of friends, let alone a boyfriend, and rarely leaves her apartment except for school, her parent’s aren’t even worried to leave her alone in the apartment as they travel the world.  They figure, apparently, that she can’t get into too much trouble on her own.  Lucy’s whole world gets flipped upside down, though, the day she gets stuck in an elevator with Owen during a massive blackout.  Lucy had been heading up to her family’s 24th floor apartment and Owen was heading up to the roof to escape his basement apartment (he lives there because his father recently became the building superintendent).  After getting rescued, the two wander the dark streets of NYC and enjoy the fantastic world in which ice cream vendors give away their melting wares and stars are actually visible above the city that never sleeps.  When the power comes back on, nevertheless, they are jarred back into their very different realities.  Lucy is soon whisked away to live with her family in Europe, because her dad got a major promotion, and Owen ends up heading west with his father, after he finds himself jobless again.  Based on a conversation they had about cheesy postcards (during the blackout), they end up staying in touch via postcards instead of the standard text messages and emails most teens now use.  Fans of Sarah Dessen-style romances should definitely read this book.

Happy Reading!