I was shocked to see that this book was a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist. Not because I didn’t think it was deserving, though, but because I was shocked it didn’t actually win! Shane Burcaw’s self-deprecating sense of humor and unwavering positivity in the face of adversity have already garnered tens of thousands of readers for his blog [laughingatmynightmare.tumblr.com], so it comes as no surprise that the book has also been universally well-received. Continue reading
You may have noticed that I am doing daily reviews this week, as opposed to my typical weekly post, and that is for several reasons. First of all, I have a lot of book reviews to catch up on! Secondly, school vacations are the perfect time for tweens and teens to read for fun, and I wanted to help out the people who might want/need extra suggestions. Last but not least, I realized that I was inadvertently on a roll with books that took place in summer… Since I still have a few more books that fit the bill, I decided it would make sense to keep with it and to help us all escape the winter blues, one book review at a time. :-)
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
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!
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.
From looking at the cover of this book, I assumed it would have been a historical romance novel. I honestly thought it would have read like The Luxe or Manor of Secrets, and I was hoping for a Downton Abbey fix. And though there was a touch of romance, my assumption was pretty far off. Gemma Doyle’s experiences in a London finishing school [in 1895] were historically accurate, and she did experience some romantic entanglements, but the plot was primarily focused on the supernatural forces at play in Gemma’s life. While part of me wishes I knew about this book when it first came out, part of me is happy that all three books were already published and available as audiobooks so I could listen to them in rapid succession!
Gemma had a fairly uncomplicated life until the day a strange creature attacked her mother in an Indian marketplace. Rather than be captured by the creature, her mother committed suicide. Gemma’s father insisted on telling everyone that his wife died of an illness, but Gemma knew the truth and was racked with guilt over the fact that her mother was only in that area of the marketplace because she (Gemma) had run off in a snit. After witnessing the attack/suicide, Gemma started having visions — and the visions only got worse after she was sent off to Spence Academy. Trying to make new friends and to succeed in finishing school while also figuring out what was behind the visions proved extremely challenging, but these challenges were no match for Gemma’s pluck and determination.
When this book won the 2013 Newbery Award, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to read it. It just sounded too depressing. Luckily, a friend read it and said it was actually funnier than it sounded, albeit sad at times, and that she thought my son would also enjoy it. I decided to get the audiobook because my son and I share 60-90 minutes of audiobook time per day in the summer driving together to my library and his day camp. (We share a parking lot with the Y!) This was our first audiobook of the summer, and it was a *HUGE* hit. So much so that my son was pretty much devastated any time that his sister was in the car and requested that we “waste” any of our time listening to music.
Although Ivan and the other animals were being held captive in less than desirable conditions, their actions and stories they told one another were often funny. The humor sprinkled throughout the story definitely helped to keep it light. My son’s favorite new vocabulary word, and the discussion of which he often used to try to convince his sister to listen to the story with us, was me-ball. You may be asking yourself, “What’s a me-ball?” Why, it’s a rolled up, dried out ball of poop that gorillas like to throw, of course! ;-) He thought that was hilarious, and he loved the loving friendships between the animals. The best part of the story, in my opinion, was at the end when the author’s note explained that this story was based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan. I think it will do a lot to help readers understand that, though the thoughts and specific stories told by the animals in this story were fictional, animals surely want (and deserve) companionship and appropriate living conditions.