Category Archives: you think you’ve got problems?

Aside

It’s so funny how things work out sometimes.  After finishing this audiobook two days ago, I saw [yesterday] that the author was featured in a CNN article about 10 visionary women!  I am taking this as a sign that I need to post … Continue reading

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl with Lori and Wayne Earl

this star won't go outEsther Grace Earl was an exceptional teenager.  She was a kind, thoughtful, and generous Nerdfighter who managed to bring out the best in herself and the people around her while simultaneously battling thyroid cancer.  Esther bravely endured lengthy and painful treatments with the hope that she could live long enough to “make a difference, to help someone.”  Well, she definitely succeeded.  Not only did she inspire people while she was alive, but her legacy continues via a charity called This Star Won’t Go Out.

This book is a collection of Esther’s blog posts, letters to her family, CaringBridge entries from her family, and reflections from people who knew her, interspersed with photos.  There is an introduction by John Green, which explains how he met Esther and the role she played in inspiring him while he wrote The Fault in Our Stars.  I found it difficult to read this story because I found myself getting depressed and angry about the unfairness of it all.  How can there be healthy “bad people” in the world while innocent children and teens die from cancer?!?  As I finished the book last night, and I came to the section where Esther’s parents recalled her final words and moments, I couldn’t help but sob.  Thankfully, there was a small samples of stories Esther had written to lighten the mood at the end of the book.

Happy Reading!

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach [ARC]

fat boy vs the cheerleadersIn honor of Teen Tech Week, I decided to review a book that I read as a digital ARC.  (If there are any teachers/librarians out there who would like to get digital ARCs, by the way, I highly recommend checking out Edelweiss and NetGalley.) Though I was reluctant to use an e-reader, I really have come around.  Though I still prefer “real” books, I am learning to appreciate my e-reader — especially when it means that I will have a better chance of receiving, and sometimes even instant access to, a review copy!

I don’t recall where I first saw the cover of this book, but I was intrigued by both the title and the cool cover.  I wanted to find out more about it and whether it might be a good fit for my library’s YA collection, but I couldn’t find any professional reviews.  So, I decided to get a digital review copy from Edelweiss and read it myself.   I am SO glad I did!  I loved the main character, Gabe/Chunk, and thought the unique way the story was told — in the form of a written statement/police interview — worked surprisingly well.

Gabe’s “friends” call him Chunk [a reference to a character from an 80s cult classic, The Goonies], and he has long accepted that moniker.  After all, he is fat.  Huge.  Beyond hope.  After his mom left, he and his dad both began to feed their feelings.  One of Gabe/Chunk’s biggest problems is his addiction to soda — but the money from the soda machine in the school cafeteria helps to fund the school pep band, so he is OK with wasting his money and drinking all the extra calories… until the day he finds out that they’ve been bamboozled.  Without public knowledge, the school board decided to take the money from the soda machine and give it to the cheerleaders for a new dance squad!  Gabe/Chunk decides that he is not only going to enlist the help of his friends to win back the money for the band, but he is going to let his grandfather [a former champion body builder] help him win back his body.  Though I admit that the description sounds like it could get a little preachy, I am pleased to report that this story was often hilarious and that Gabe/Chunk had an authentic teen voice.  I’m definitely hoping for more from this author.

Happy Reading!

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Maggot MoonThis was one of those audiobooks where I didn’t really feel like I completely “got it” but I kept on listening anyway.  It won a 2014 Printz Honor, so I figured it must have literary merit even if I wasn’t feeling it, right?  Either way, I now have the ability to “booktalk” it to any library patrons who might ask what it’s about, and that is always key.

Standish Treadwell lives in an alternate reality in which “the Motherland” [England?] is in a race to the moon and operates much like WWII Germany — with ghettos of people segregated from the rest of the population and forced to work in labor camps for mere scraps of food. (Especially since I had just listened to Rose Under Fire, the constant deprivation and brutality definitely reminded me of the Holocaust.)   He lives in Zone 7 (one of the poorest areas) with only his grandfather, since his parents ran away in an attempt to escape the totalitarian regime.  Standish attends an all-boys school in which teachers openly favor kids from well-to-do families and those who come from families of government informants.  It’s not uncommon for kids to pick on or beat up on one another, and teachers often discipline via corporal punishments like caning.  Though he seems to be concerned that he has a learning disability of some sort [dyslexia?], Standish is quite clever and determined to figure out a plan to stand up to his government for the good of all mankind.

Happy Reading!

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & ParkJust 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?!?  ;-)

Happy Reading!

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under FireI 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

Happy Reading!

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon

Somebody Up There Hates YouWhen people ask Richard Casey what’s wrong with him, he likes to reply that he has SUTHY syndrome.  He waits an uncomfortable beat and then explains that SUTHY stands for “Somebody Up There Hates You.”  After all, what other reason would there be for a 17-year-old to be in hospice care with a terminal cancer diagnosis?  If I hadn’t already read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I may not have believed it was possible that Seamon could have written so much humor into this story.  Between Rich’s wry sense of humor and his bumbling romance with a girl named Sylvie [the only other teen in the hospice unit], I laughed out loud often enough that my cat gave up on falling asleep in my lap — and that never happens!  If you already read TFiOS and need something to hold you over until the movie comes out in June, you will probably enjoy this story too.

Happy Reading!

If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

If you find meCarey grew up to be a remarkably mature teenager.  That’s not exactly surprising, though, if you consider the fact that she spent much of her childhood raising her little sister, Jenessa, in a broken-down camper in a national forest she affectionately referred to as The Hundred Acre Wood.  Although her mom frequently ran off and left the girls to fend for themselves with little more than a meager supply of canned beans, she still managed to brainwash Carey into believing that she was better off living in the squalor of the camper than if they had stayed with her father.  She had Carey convinced that her father was physically abusive and that leaving was the only way to protect themselves.  I thought it was quite clear that Carey’s mom was lying about her father and that she had major mental health issues — after all, what sane mother would leave two little girls to fend for themselves in the woods?  Still, I recognized how easily Carey could have been manipulated in that situation and understood why she just *had* to believe that her mother had the best of intentions, regardless of what her actions indicated.  After the girls were found by Carey’s dad and a social worker, based on clues in a letter from their mother, Carey had a hard time adjusting to life in the “real world.”  She did her best to help Jenessa adapt, but she also did her best not to reveal the harsh realities of what life had been like in The Hundred Acre Wood and why, exactly, Jenessa suddenly stopped talking about a year prior to their discovery.  Though I readily admit that this was an extremely difficult read at times, I can happily report that the ending left me feeling hopeful.

Happy Reading!

I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I am MalalaWhen I first heard of the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, I was in shock.  The fact that the Taliban treated women and girls so poorly was no surprise, but the fact that they actually tried to kill a girl who merely fought for girls to be educated was practically unbelievable.  I was so relieved to hear the reports that Malala not only survived but that her fighting spirit was still intact.  While I find it terribly depressing to know that she cannot safely return to her home, it is heartening to know that Malala has the attention of many world leaders and is being kept safe as she travels the world to continue her work — fighting for the basic right to education.  After watching Malala’s interview on The Daily Show — which left Jon Stewart absolutely speechless — I knew I had to read this book!

While I was already familiar with the general history of unrest in the Middle East, I appreciated Malala’s overview of the formation of Pakistan.  I think it went a long way toward explaining how people could have “let” the Taliban take over; how low literacy rates meant that people had to trust what they were told, and how the intolerance and hatred crept in so slowly that many people did not see what was coming.  The overview of her family’s history, specifically how her own father fought so hard for his education and the education of others, also explained how Malala grew up to be so passionate about the right to an education.  Even though she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, it’s great that she was nominated — her nomination has the possibility to inspire a whole generation.  I can only hope that the youth of the world are paying attention and that Malala’s virtues are contagious, because there’s no limit to what a generation of people with her drive, courage, and enthusiasm can accomplish.

Happy Reading!

Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

StainedSarah had been stared at, teased, and bullied for most of her life because of the “port-wine stain” birthmark on her face and neck.  She often found that adults were just as insensitive as small children.  So she was extremely upset to find out, on the morning that she was to begin treatments to remove the birthmark, that someone embezzled a lot of money from her father’s company and the treatments had to be put on hold.  She felt like her life was over.  Little did she know that her birthmark was the least of her problems.

While Sarah’s insecurity over her “port-wine stain” birthmark reminded me of Terra in North of Beautiful (which I apparently never reviewed), the rest of the story reminded me of Living Dead Girl — namely because Sarah is kidnapped and held captive as a sex slave by a psychopath who admits to having done this before.  Thankfully, the descriptions of her rape are not extremely graphic.  Still, there is no question that she is, in fact, being raped every time her kidnapper visits.  Narration alternates between Sarah and her friend Nick, so readers are able to follow both Sarah’s desperate struggle to survive/escape and her family’s attempts to find her.  So glad I had the opportunity to read this in a single sitting, as I don’t know how I would have torn myself away before getting to the end!

Happy Reading!