Just as it took me WAY too long to get around to listening to this audiobook, it has taken me WAY too long to post my review… Not cool, Chrissie. Not cool! (Especially since it won a Printz Honor and that should have been excuse enough to post about it.) I need to do something about my back log of books to be reviewed, and some of my readers are on February break this week, so I need to get down to business and start pumping out some extra book reviews. Enjoy!
Eleanor & Park takes place in 1986, so it is technically “historical fiction” to the teens I serve today… I mean, they weren’t even BORN yet! (Wow, that makes me feel old!) Though it was fun to reminisce about big hair, bold makeup, “Walkman” tape players, and phones on a cord, this story was not a fluffy look back on the 80s. It was a touching story about how one person can make all the difference when the whole world seems to be against you. About how halting conversations about shared interests, like comic books and music, can open the door to friendship. And about how a barely-there friendship can blossom and turn into love. Park’s family is “Leave it to Beaver” perfect, and he is relatively popular at school. Eleanor’s home life is horrid and the kids at school take great pleasure in bullying her about her clothes, weight, and unruly red hair. And yet, Park can’t help himself. He doesn’t care what everyone else thinks about “his” Eleanor. He only knows he will do whatever it takes to try and make her happy.
To be completely honest, there was only one thing I didn’t like about this book… It ended! Seriously, though, I *really* hope that the ending was not just a “form your own opinion about what happened” thing but, instead, left it open for a sequel. A girl can hope, right?!? ;-)
I absolutely LOVED Code Name Verity, so I had a feeling that I would enjoy this book too. Enjoy feels like a wrong word to use, though, considering all the terrible things that happen. The story is narrated by young Rose Justice, an American ATA pilot who got lost, landed in the wrong airfield, and ended up a Nazi prisoner in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Though there was so much more to the Holocaust than Rose ever could have seen or experienced in her abbreviated stay in the one small portion of that one particular women’s camp, the horrors still added up rather quickly. I was especially sickened to hear the details behind the medical experiments that were done on the “Ravensbrück Rabbits.” I think readers who haven’t yet learned about the Nazi doctors and the Nuremburg Trials may find these details especially disturbing, since I found it hard to listen to even though I already knew a lot of what had been done. Despite the darkness she revealed, though, I found it heartening that Wein managed to shine a spotlight on the friendship, generosity, and hope that helped so many people survive against the odds.
It’s evident that Elizabeth Wein was very thorough in her research, and the author’s note at the end of the story was a lovely added bonus. I especially liked hearing about how Wein’s stay at European Summer School at the Ravensbrück Memorial site affected her. (You can read journal entries about this stay on her website — http://www.elizabethwein.com/my-visit-ravensbr%C3%BCck-august-2012.) There were only two things that I honestly didn’t like about listening to the audiobook. One was that I had to pull over to cry a couple of times. (That happened with Code Name Verity, too, so I came into the story expecting it would happen again.) The other was when the narrator jarred me out of the story by saying “skuh-lee-tle” as she described the survivors of the concentration camps. I re-played that sentence probably 4 or 5 times before I realized she had mispronounced the word “skeletal”… All of Wein’s tireless research to get the story right, and everyone involved in the audiobook production missed this egregious mispronunciation — and not just once, but twice! /sigh
I was very resistant to use an e-reader for quite some time, but recently got a Kindle Fire so my nearly-4-year-old daughter could have a tablet to play with while her older brother plays video games. (She doesn’t quite get how to play yet and always gets frustrated. But, I digress.) The main point is that I still didn’t really anticipate that I would actually use my tablet to read ebooks. Until, that is, my director told me the first chapter of Cress was available on NetGalley! (For those of you who don’t know, Cress is book three in the Lunar Chronicles — which began with Cinder and Scarlett.) It was amazing… but it was only one chapter. So, I decided to see what else was available. As I was browsing through titles to request, I found this book. Talk about kismet! I was anxiously awaiting the new season of Downton Abbey and just *knew* this would give me a quick fix. I was not disappointed!
Charlotte Edmonds is expected to be a perfect lady. After all, how will she land the perfect husband if she doesn’t dress, speak, and act exactly as society expects? She seems to be a constant disappointment to her mother, Lady Diana, who has her sights set on a marriage proposal from Lord Andrew Broadhurst before Charlotte even makes it to her first season. Even though her best friend, Fran, seems content to play by the rules and to hope for a marriage proposal from a suitable man, Charlotte longs for more — for fun, spontaneity, and a career as a writer. When Charlotte spies a scullery maid, Janie, sneaking away from a garden party to wade in the lake on a hot summer day, she decides to try it too. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between the girls. Secret rendezvous and rule-breaking abound as Charlotte and Janie try to find a way to live the lives they want instead of the lives they’ve been pigeonholed into, and all of The Manor’s secrets come spilling out. The ending is tidy enough, but just begs for a sequel.
I know I am always telling people not to judge books by their covers, but I am certainly guilty of this infraction from time to time. Somehow, I saw the cover of this book and thought it would be more fantastic than it was. Maybe it was the banner that says “Believe in the unbelievable…” Maybe it was the castle in the background. But, somehow, I had my mind set that those kids would be involved in mystical time travel. Yeah… Not so much! Although, there were chapters that took readers back to the early 1900s to discover the history of the Water Castle and the ancestors of the main characters, those main characters most definitely did not travel through time themselves. And that was OK. Even though this story wasn’t what I thought it would be, I still thought it was extremely cool.
Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s family relocated to Crystal Springs, Maine, after his father had a stroke. Though his mother had inherited the house quite some time ago, Ephraim and his siblings had never been there before. His mother decided to move to Crystal Springs because she had hopes that a specialist who lived in that area would be able to help her husband with his recovery. After their arrival, though, Ephraim became obsessed with the possibility that the local water had special, mystical properties and that he could use it to cure his father. After all, that was how the “Water Castle” came to be in the first place; his ancestor, Orlando Appledore, built the house because he was convinced that the Fountain of Youth was in Crystal Springs. After floundering to find his niche in the new town/school, Ephraim became part of an unlikely trio — with Mallory Green, whose family has always worked as caretakers of the Appledore property, and Will Wylie, whose family has long feuded with the Appledores. First brought together by a polar explorers research project, the three banded together with a determination to find the fountain of youth themselves.
To say that Josie Moraine has a very unusual life would be an understatement and a half! Though she is only in high school, she already lives on her own and works two jobs — as a clerk at a local bookstore and as a maid of sorts for the brothel where her mother works. That’s right… Josie’s mother is a prostitute. Not to mention a cold, calculating, unloving woman who only ever seems to think of herself. And, as if that isn’t bad enough, Josie’s mother also happens to be in love with an abusive gangster-type. So, when her mom disappears from the French Quarter the very same morning that a man turns up dead, Josie isn’t sure what to do or what to believe. She has never wanted anything so much as a chance to get out of the “Big Easy” and to get a good education, but her mother and her mother’s foolishness always seem to get in the way.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was how the entire cast of characters was so well fleshed-out. I get annoyed when authors skimp on developing the supporting characters, but Sepetys did not disappoint! My favorite was Willie — the brothel madam who knew Josie was bound for bigger and better things, regardless of the fact that many people assumed/hoped she would simply follow in her mother’s footsteps. I loved that Willie did her best to support Josie and to encourage her to want more from life instead of being upset that Josie didn’t want to join the [ahem] family business. If you like historical fiction and/or mysteries, this is a book you won’t want to miss.
It wasn’t exactly easy to be an independent teenage girl in New York City in 1911, but Aurora Lewis wouldn’t let societal norms dictate her life. She refused to give up on her musical studies to attend a “finishing school” because she was determined to play violin in a symphony someday. When she arrived at violin lessons one Saturday morning, though, she found the studio a mess and the window open — despite the winter chill in the air. Looking down from the window, she found her teacher dead on the sidewalk… and was accused, by street hooligans, of having pushed him! Although the police cleared her when they deemed his death an accident, Aurora wasn’t satisfied with that result and decided that she and her friends would have to solve this murder themselves. This book was well written, fast-paced, and full of interesting musical and historical facts. I bet even reluctant readers would get lured in to this story!
I hate to admit that it took me so many years to actually read this book. It would have made sense for me to read it after hearing rave reviews from kids and adults alike. It would have made sense to read it when it was turned into a Broadway hit, or later when it was turned into a hit movie… but what finally made me get the audiobook and listen to this story was the opportunity to meet Michael Morpurgo when he presented the 2013 Arbuthnot Lecture. Since I am the Vice President of the Youth Services Section (YSS) of NYLA, I had the opportunity to sit in the VIP section of the chapel and then to sit at the head table with Michael during the YSS Spring Conference Luncheon last week — I *had* to read this book if I wasn’t going to feel like an idiot! Needless to say, I loved the story AND the lecture. And, fortunately, I can tell you that Michael Morpurgo is a very friendly, down-to-Earth man who had no problem posing for a picture with a geeked-out Tween & Teen Librarian. ;-)
15-year-old Evie Spooner is a bit awkward and wishes she could grow up a little bit a lot faster. She wishes she could be more like her mom, Beverly, whom she sees as a beautiful (albeit over-protective) mother and housewife who is capable of making practically anything look elegant. Being a housewife is more of a recent thing for Beverly, though. During WWII, Beverly had to work in a local department store to help support her family, but her husband/Evie’s step-father is back from the war and is able to take care of his family again. Joe’s appliance stores are doing really well, and he is happy to be back home in Queens, but the sudden appearance of a war buddy [Peter Coleridge] gets Joe acting strangely. Apropos of nothing, he decides to take Evie and Beverly to Palm Beach. The town is mostly shut down because they’re there during the wrong season, but they manage to find a room at Le Mirage — where they end up meeting a glamorous couple, Mr. and Mrs. Grayson [also from New York City]. Secrets slowly unfold, as Evie sees and hears things she shouldn’t… But, by the time Evie figures out what’s going on, she is already caught in the middle of a web of lies. This is a great mystery, especially for people who enjoy historical fiction.
American military personnel found Parvana in a bombed-out school building, so they brought her back to their base as a suspected terrorist. Because she refused to speak, the interrogations continued day after day. During that time, Parvana escaped into her memories — her flashbacks serving to provide readers with further information about her past. With the information gleaned through those flashbacks, it was easy to see why Parvana didn’t feel comfortable talking to the soldiers who were interrogating her. Between her experiences under the oppressive Taliban regime and the further struggles her family faced in the time after the Taliban was ousted, she learned that people in power didn’t always tell the truth and that speaking freely often made things worse. Definitely an eye-opening book about what it means to grow up female in the Afghanistan and how the American military presence has both helped and hindered Afghanistan’s progress.
I thought this would be a good book to review on Valentine’s Day, since it had a lot to do with love. Sadly, though, it was mostly about how love was off limits for Cameron Post. Why? Because of the strict Evangelical Christian views of her family [and the majority of people in small-town Miles City, Montana]. This belief system was so apparent that, even before she truly understood what homosexuality was, Cameron knew her feelings for other girls were unacceptable to the people around her. So much, in fact, that her first reaction to hearing her parents had died in a car crash was relief. Why relief? Because her parents’ sudden death meant they would never find out she had kissed her best friend, Irene, earlier that day. Cameron tried to lie to herself and was able to pass for “normal” for a while, but she finally admitted to herself that she was a lesbian because of a friendship/fling with an out-and-proud Seattle girl she met through swim team.
While it was interesting to read about how Cameron discovered and came to grips with her sexuality, it was devastating to read about her stay at God’s Promise — a church camp that was supposed “cure” Cameron of her homosexuality. Although this story is fictional, it is based on a reality too many young people face. I look forward to a day when all people can feel free to love whomever they love, regardless of gender, but I fear this will not be for a long time yet. In the meantime, at least GLBTQ teens have stories like these to help them through the hard times they are sure to face.
Happy Reading… and Happy Valentine’s Day!