Thanks 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.
This 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.
With 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.
Anthony “Antsy” Bonano was one of the few people in the world who ever noticed Calvin Schwa (aka The Schwa). As Antsy said, The Schwa was “functionally invisible,” and it seemed that he was right. Kids would walk right past him without seeing him, even if he wore ridiculous clothing. Teachers would look past his raised hand or even mark him absent despite his presence/attempted participation in class. And his own father would often not realize he was home. Antsy first tested his hypothesis — with the aforementioned ridiculous clothing — and then he did his best to capitalize on The Schwa Effect. He figured people would pay good money for someone who was able to spy without getting caught or who was capable of slipping a late assignment into a teacher’s bag unnoticed, and he was right. The only thing he didn’t really consider was the fact that The Schwa was a person with emotions like everyone else. Sure, it was cool that he could sometimes get away with things other kids couldn’t… but being invisible can get pretty lonely, too.
Fans of the Unwind Dystology might have a hard time believing that this book was written by the same author, but they won’t likely be disappointed — as long as they can appreciate a wry/sarcastic sense of humor, that is. Here’s a little taste of Antsy for people who are on the fence:
“Life is like a bad haircut. At first it looks awful, then you kind of get used to it, and before you know it, it it grows out and you gotta get another haircut that maybe won’t be so bad, unless of course you keep going to SuperClips, where the hairstylists are so terrible they oughta be using safety scissors, and when they’re done you look like your head got caught in a ceiling fan. So life goes on, good haircut, bad haircut, until finally you go bald, and it don’t matter no more.
I told this wisdom to my mother, and she said I oughta put it in a book, then burn it. Some people just can’t appreciate the profound.”
After reading and enjoying Surf Mules and Ghetto Cowboy, I was looking forward to seeing how Neri would handle this topic. Once I downloaded the ARC and started reading it, though, I second-guessed my decision. Some of the depictions of violence literally made me sick to my stomach. When I got to the very first knockout, I had to put the book (well, Kindle) down and just read something else because I was so utterly disturbed. I was talking to a friend about it and saying that I didn’t know if I could handle reading this story, but he reminded me that this is an important story to have available to teens and that pushing myself beyond my comfort zone to finish this story would make me better able to recommend it to those who needed it. After all, this isn’t a fantasy or science fiction story with gratuitous violence; this is a contemporary, realistic story about an actual problem in urban neighborhoods. Real teens are “playing” the knockout game, and Neri’s story can help people — whether players or outsiders — better understand the factors that lead people to play and the faulty logic many players use to justify their participation. People who don’t actually read the story might fear that Neri glorifies the game, but anyone who reads the whole book will understand that, though he humanizes the players and explains the motivations they might have in playing this deadly game, he makes it clear that their cop-outs and excuses do NOT justify their destructive actions. So glad I made myself go back and finish this one. Hopefully, the timely publication of this book will succeed in educating and deterring would-be players.
I think this would have been an excellent book to have read the summer before I went away to college. Although I am not an overly shy person, I was kinda freaked out about the concept of rooming with someone I had never met before. I find it odd that it never crossed my mind to try to get in touch — and that my college didn’t really try to foster early communications either. Things may have been strained that first semester, but I still lived to tell the tale.
Aside from the obvious worries about classes and living with a stranger, Elizabeth and Lauren also have family relationships and friendships that are about to change. Lauren is only moving about an hour away [from San Francisco to Berkeley] so staying in touch with family and friends should, theoretically, be easy enough. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is going to be moving across the country [from New Jersey to California], so she won’t be able to take any quick visits home to see her mom or her friends. Still, distance is not the only factor that determines how hard a move will be. Lauren is leaving her tight-knit family full of younger siblings whom she typically helps to care for and worries that she will miss them too much or that they won’t be able to manage without her. Elizabeth, on the other hand, is all too used to being alone in her house and is excited to get away from home. She is also hoping to spending some quality time with her father [who owns an art gallery in San Francisco], but doesn’t really know how to start up a relationship with the father who’s never really been there for her. Readers get to peek into the minds, and emails, of each of the girls as she prepares for moving in with her new “roomie.” I’m certain that fans of Sara Zarr (Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, How to Save a Life, Lucy Variations) will love this, and I’m desperately hoping for more YA from Tara Altebrando.
With all of the attention The Fault in Our Stars has been receiving lately, many people are looking for read alike books. I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the same category, since it is magical realism as opposed to contemporary realistic fiction. (If you’re looking for another realistic contemporary read alike, you should check out Somebody Up There Hates You.) Despite the magical realism, though, I think many TFiOS fans will find that Noggin is “close enough” in that it’s a smart and funny book that challenges your preconceived notions of the world around you. Also, Travis Coates is a teenager who had cancer.
Because Travis Coates’ body was riddled with cancer and the treatments weren’t proving to be effective, he didn’t really have many options left. He could continue trying every experimental treatment possible, which often left him weak and ill; he could give up fighting and try to enjoy the time he had left; or he could go rogue and let some scientists cut his head off, cryogenically freeze it, and hope they could develop the technology to successfully reanimate his head on a donor body. Although they didn’t think they would have the technology to reanimate him before all of his friends and family were very old or gone altogether, Travis liked the idea of dying on his own terms. Potentially living again would just be a bonus. Imagine his surprise, then, when we wakes up and finds out that it has only been 5 years since he “died.” He’s still 16, but everyone he knows and loves has aged 5 years, and nothing is at all as he left it.