Leila was just a random girl in a red car who was driving across the country (from Louisiana to Alaska) to see the Northern Lights. But, to the people who she met along the way, Leila was also a huge help. Well… Her interaction with Hudson could actually be construed as less than helpful, but she definitely helped the rest of the people she met along the way! I like how the story was broken down into five distinct sections, like short stories, since the other characters that Leila interacted with didn’t cross over at all. These adventures were five different episodes in her life, if you will. I also appreciated the fact that, though the interactions were life-changing for the people she met, Leila often left feeling just as lost and confused as when she first arrived. I mean, it just felt so much more genuine to me that Leila *didn’t* have all the answers. Because, who does?
I first thought about reading this book when I helped a student request it for her summer reading assignment about ten and a half years ago. Since there was a wait list of students who needed it for their assignment, I decided not to add a hold for myself. (I thought it would be unfair to the kids who really needed it.) Every summer I thought to myself, “I need to remember to read that when summer is over.” And, every year, I’ve had such a long “to be read” pile when summer reading ended that this book was added to my “I’ll read this book someday” list. At the end of the summer this year, though, the planets finally aligned. I only had one week left before I was on vacation with my family, so I wanted an audiobook short enough that I could finish it before the week was up. Even though it was still summer reading season, this audiobook was available on OverDrive, and I went for it! Continue reading
I think I’ve mentioned on my blog that I no longer review all of the subsequent books in trilogies and series that I read because it’s often hard to summarize without spoiling the earlier books in the trilogy/series for people who haven’t read them yet. (If not, I have now!) Plus — let’s be honest — it also helps me not to fall behind so badly on my reviews if I don’t include every book I read on this blog. But, I just can’t let this book go without comment! Neal Shusterman has completely BLOWN. MY. MIND! If his story is not enough, in and of itself, to show you the insane path that humanity is blazing into the future, the included hyperlinks for stories which make the case for a future in which “unwinding” actually happens will scare the hell out of you. The thing I am most grateful about with UnDivided, nonetheless, is that the story is actually done. I have spent far too long wondering what happened to Connor, Risa, Lev, and the rest of the gang, so THANK YOU Neal for finally giving me closure!
People sometimes make the mistake of asking my what my favorite book is. As in, “What’s your favorite book of all time?” Seriously? I don’t think I could pick a single favorite book from the books I have read so far this year, let alone all of the books I have read in my lifetime! Maybe there are some people out there who could name their favorite book. Some could probably do it without any hesitation, but I am most definitely not one of those people! I can’t even pick one favorite book from a single author. Case in point — a teen asked me the other day which of Ellen Hopkins’ books was “the best,” and I just stared back at her with a tilted head and squinty look of confusion. As a matter of fact, I probably looked a lot like this dog:
Chris Crutcher is most definitely one of my all-time favorite YA authors. Not only is he not afraid to tell it like it is in his books, but he also tells it like it is in the “real world” via Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, Stotan Unplugged. No matter how controversial a topic may be, he doesn’t feel the need to censor himself. He believes (and I fervently agree) that teens should not be sheltered from the harsh realities of the world. If teens have the potential to *live* something, who are we to tell them they shouldn’t *read* about it? Sadly, I don’t have a review for the first Chris Crutcher book I read — Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes — because I read it before I started this blog. But, I have reviews for several other books that I’ve read since then [Angry Management, Deadline, King of the Mild Frontier, Period 8] if you are not familiar with his books and would like a little primer. I have no idea how I managed to work nearly 10 years as a Tween & Teen librarian before reading Ironman (and without yet reading Whale Talk and Stotan!), but I suppose I just need to pace myself and I will get there.
Ironman is the story of a seventeen-year-old guy named Beauregard Brewster (a.k.a. Bo) who is training for a triathlon. Balancing home life, school work, and training would be challenging enough for most teens, but Bo also has to deal with a father who constantly belittles him and even schemes to try and make him lose that race. Many times, teens who experience problems at home find that school is a safe haven, but Bo has issues with his English teacher and former football coach, Coach Redmond, as well. Fortunately, he has a couple of adults in his life who actually have his best interests in mind — Mr. Serbousek, who teaches Bo’s journalism class and also coaches him in swimming, and Mr. Nakatani (aka Mr. Nak), who runs the anger management group Bo has to attend in order to avoid a suspension over an argument with Coach Redmond. While it can be depressing to read about the [based-on-reality] terrible parents that some kids have to deal with, books like this also serve as a beacon of hope for teens who are living through similarly terrible situations. Whether it’s just realizing that their situation is not unique or finding hope that the situation can actually get better, albeit with lots of time and plenty of work, books like this definitely matter to teens. Here’s to hoping you only need this book to make you aware of other people’s problems…
Happy Teen Read Week!
In October of 1962, my mom and dad were 7 and 13, respectively. They’ve told me stories of the old “duck and cover” drills they had to do in school and how frightened they were about the potential onset of a nuclear war, but I don’t think I truly appreciated what they went through until I listened to this audiobook. Experiencing the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously through a character in a book, even knowing how the entire thing ended, was enough to make me anxious. I can’t imagine I would have fared well if I actually had to live it. (I probably would have had panic attacks all day, every day!) Such is the power of this extremely well-written book and it’s wonderfully produced audiobook. I was curious how the scrapbook pages would translate in an audiobook, and I was very pleased with the way sound bites were interjected into the story and sometimes woven together. (It actually reminded me quite a bit of the commercials in MT Anderson’s Feed.)
More striking than the anxiety this story induced, nevertheless, was the hope that it inspired. One quote, in particular, made such an impression that I pulled over during my evening commute to write them down. (Because my OCD self was concerned about accuracy, nevertheless, I found a print copy of the book.)
“There are always scary things happening in the world.
There are always wonderful things happening.
And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going
to approach the world…
how you’re going to live in it, and
what you’re going to do.”
Though Franny’s sister, Jo Ellen, was responding to Franny’s fear over the Cuban Missile Crisis, her words can truly be applied to any person’s response to any terrible situation. And, especially since this book goes beyond the facts of the Cuban Missile Crisis to explore Franny’s relationships with her family and friends, I think this book has a much broader appeal than just fans of historical fiction.
Lucky 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.