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.
Nell and Layla were extremely close when they were little. So close, in fact, that Nell got confused and started calling her sister and herself by the collective name Nellaya. Now that they’re both in high school, things have started to shift. Though they attend the same school and play on the same soccer team, Layla has become more closed off and secretive. Nell is doing her best to be her own person instead of living in her sister’s shadow, but she misses the closeness they once had. Though Layla used to tell her everything, she feels like Layla isn’t telling her *anything* anymore. Nell wonders what could be causing this change in her sister and fears it has something to do with the rumors that Layla is dating the cute, young art teacher whose supposed conquests of students are frequent fodder for gossip. She wants to know the truth, but she is also afraid of what she might learn. After all, what will/should Nell do if she finds out the rumors are true?
Though I don’t think this book was written as well as The Things a Brother Knows or Harmless, I thought Reinhardt did a good job writing about the struggle between loyalty and honesty.
After her boyfriend’s death, Zoe is so overcome with guilt that she finds it hard to function. People assume that her reclusive behavior is owed to the fact that she’s grieving for Max, and she finds that their sympathy actually makes her feel even more guilty. In an attempt to unburden herself, Zoe decides to confess to Stuart Harris — a Death Row inmate in Texas who was listed on a website of prisoners seeking pen-pals. She thought writing to Stuart would be a good idea for a few reasons — 1. he killed his wife and would likely understand what she’s going through, 2. he is in the United States while she is in England, and 3. she could use a false name and address to avoid being turned in to the police. (Yeah. Her name’s not really Zoe.) Through her letters to Stuart, which she writes while hiding out in the shed in her backyard, readers learn about the events that led up to Max’s death and why she feels responsible. I’ll admit that I found myself getting a little frustrated at times, but I don’t think it was poorly done or anything. I was just too impatient and wanted to know what happened! I recommend this one to people who enjoy a little romantic drama with their mystery.
Is it getting hot in here, or is it just this book?!? For my final I Read YA Week post — What should characters read? — I decided to go with a book that I think teens, real or fictional, should read before they become sexually active. While plenty of YA books talk about sex and have scenes in which characters lose their virginity, they aren’t often as sexy as this story. Sex is so often treated as a taboo topic in this country, and it’s good to know that there are authors out there who don’t shy away from how great sex can be when it’s part of a respectful, loving relationship. Last night, I was contemplating how I would handle this book review, and then I saw an article a friend posted to Facebook — What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure? One part in particular struck a cord with me:
“Our son asked why they didn’t tell him this stuff at school. The mate explained that adults stupidly think that if you tell children the truth about sex, they’ll have sex earlier than they really should. He added that the evidence indicates otherwise.”
Since so many parents are squeamish about talking to their kids, and schools focus on the doom and gloom — unintended pregnancy! diseases! — I think books like this are a great way for teens to learn about how wonderful sex can be. And, let’s be honest. I would much rather my children learn vicariously about sex via books instead of watching R rated movies with their friends — because their brains will only fill in the details they are ready to process, and it’s easier for kids to walk away from a book they aren’t comfortable reading than to explain to their friends that they don’t feel ready to watch that movie yet. When they’re ready to start having sex, nevertheless, I hope they will do it for all the right reasons, with the right person, safely, and enjoy every moment of it like Charlie and Wren.