30 June 2011

June 2011 Books

What I have Read This Month

Paper Towns          305
By: John Green

Waiting for Superman: How We Can Save American's Failing Public Schools          279
By: Karl Weber

American Born Chinese          233
By: Gene Luen Yang

The Graveyard Book         312
By: Neil Gaiman

The Hunger Games         374
By: Suzanne Collins

Fever 1793          251
By: Laurie Halse Anderson

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian         230
By: Sherman Alexie

Your Own, Sylvia          250
By: Stephanie Hemphill

Ariel         85
By: Sylvia Plath

Blood and Chocolate         264
By: Annette Curtis Klause

The Chocolate War         253
By: Robert Cormier

Fire         461
By: Kristin Cashore

Librarian's Book of Quotes         118
Compiled By: Tatyana Eckstrand

Total for June:   3415
Total for 2011:   17,484

**As always, any questions, just ask. I think most of these got reviews this month. All but two I believe, and the "Blood and Chocolate" book, I hope to get to this next month.  Happy Reading!!

29 June 2011

Fire by Kristin Cashore


Cashore, Kristin. Fire. New York: Dial Books, 2009.

Grade: 7-12

Fire is a fantasy young adult novel, based in a place called the Dells. Fire is a monster, a human monster, or at least that is what the people of the Dells call her. Her hair is so red, with so many different highlights, that it literally resembles Fire. Oh, and she can read and change people’s minds. She is also the last of her kind. Fire is an extraordinary character. She is both perfect and completely flawed all at once.  The one flaw with this book is that although Fire is technically a teenager, 17/18 at the beginning of the book, due to her personal experiences, she seems a lot older than that, and while some teenagers may be able to relate to this, this puts the book on the borderline for YA. However, this does open the book up to a much wider audience. It is something that both young adults and adults can enjoy. Also, while being fantasy, this book is so compelling; one tends to forget that this isn’t a real place Afterall. Fire truly struggles with the responsibilities of her gift, can she really use it for good without destroying herself, and while teens normally don’t face something as drastic, there are times when we all wonder if the talents we have can truly make our world better without destroying a piece of ourselves.

Character wise, Fire is the best developed. Cashore reveals Fire piece by piece. One doesn’t really know that she is responsible for what happened to her father until the last half of the book, although it is suggested. Cashore uses foreshadowing very well in this way. She allows Fire to unfold as the book progresses. The plot line moves very fast and a lot of things happen in very few pages. While being well paced and quick, at the end one is left wanting more and as of right now there isn’t anymore. This particular book is actually a companion book to Cashore’s first novel, Graceling. While complementing each other well, they both leave you feeling like the story isn’t over yet. This lends a new dynamic to the idea of what makes a serial (especially when one considers that Cashore is currently working on another book that will be a companion to these two, not an addition to a series). While every book could probably be continued if an author felt compelled to do so, this particular companion really doesn’t feel like a stand-alone novel. 

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Knopf, 2004.

Grade: 10-12

This book officially reached the “almost thrown across the room” status. Now, the only reason it didn’t get chucked was due to the fact that I categorically refuse to throw books, after all that breaks them and I don’t break books. There are so many books in the YA category nowadays that deal with the same subject matter and yes, sometimes they don’t end “happily ever after,” but this book ended with a “don’t fight the system, don’t try to change anything because no matter what you do you will fail.” What a horrible message for teenagers. Yes, things may not work out, and sometimes no matter what you do there is no happily ever after, but the one thing everyone should be encouraged to maintain is hope simply because without hope what would our world be like? I don’t even want to know! Also, I found it interesting that the latest criticism of YA adults is that they are too much of certain graphic topics. This book, written in 1974 and every other page has some boy masturbating or smoking. Now these topics are not ones that personally bother me, but it really didn’t seem to add anything to the story other than to show how boys will be boys.

The characters in this book range from sympathetic to vague and extremely disturbed.  Jerry is very sympathetic. Cormier allows insight into who Jerry is through revelations of his parents and through Jerry’s thoughts. Out of all the characters, Jerry is the most developed. Jerry would definitely be the protagonist of the story, but he represents more than just himself. Jerry is the representation of righteous antiestablishment, anticorruption. One would expect such a person in a YA book to “win” in the end, but he does not. This is probably more a reflection of the times in which the book was written than anything else. Now, Archie is the antagonist.  He is a complete sociopath!! However, Cormier, while allowing Archie half of the tale and some of his thoughts to come through, neglects to really develop the character. One has no idea why this kid is the way he is, and one is left hollow at the kid’s victory. The plot is fast moving, the book is not very long, only 253 pages.  The point of view shifts throughout the story, making this book a more difficult read for reluctant readers, this is why it was placed in upper high school. Actually, due to the treatment of certain subjects, I would doubt most English teachers nowadays would include this book in their lesson plans. While well written as a whole, the book was disheartening, and would be open to censorship demands. 

23 June 2011

Your Own, Sylvia a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill

Your Own, Sylvia

Hemphill, Stephanie. Your Own, Sylvia: a Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Grade Level: 10-12

Your Own, Sylvia is an intriguing weave of poetry and biography. The poetry itself was largely based on the form of some of Sylvia Plath’s poems, adding another dynamic to the story of Sylvia Plath’s life. However, the poems are Hemphill’s poems. The one major problem with the book is that if you do not know much about Sylvia Plath or are unfamiliar with her poems, some things can be truly lost in the reading. The book itself does, however, make you want to know more about the woman. The story of Sylvia Plath is not necessarily a happy one, and the outcome of a life that might have been saved by just one person taking more notice cannot be lost on readers of this particular book. This particular aspect of the book can help teenagers to perhaps question what they could do or not do to help one another. One does never know what that weird girl in the back of the classroom could do with her life, if only one person would smile at her. The sense that just one person could have perhaps saved the life of a troubled person is strong in Your Own, Sylvia.

To introduce this particular biography of Sylvia Plath, one would first have to introduce Sylvia Plath. What about her poetry can speak to you? It may even be of benefit to choose the poems in Hemphill’s book that are specifically mirroring certain Plath poems, reading them side by side to a class, to get a sense of both person and poetry. This type of book is highly conducive to teaching teens about poetry and specifically about Sylvia Plath poetry in a high school English class. Although Plath’s life ended in suicide, which can be a difficult topic in High School, the book isn’t about her death, but really about her real life—what in her life really drove her, and that allows another level of insight into the woman’s poetry.

17 June 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Grade Level: 9-12

Harsh, honest, and perhaps a minor bit abrasive that would be the best way to describe Sherman Alexie’s book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Junior tells his story the way a normal 14 year old boy who was generally comfortable with his audience would tell it. He doesn’t hold back on topics that may make some people uncomfortable. Although the protagonist is Native American, anyone can put themselves in Junior’s shoes. There are things in life that destroy hope, and only when we give into those do we lose ourselves. Junior learns that to have hope, he does have to leave a piece of himself behind, that part of him that makes the Indians around him lose all hope and drown it in a bottle; he must walk away and perhaps only be a “part-time Indian,” but at least he may just be able to become “full-time” himself. The part of the book where Junior speaks of expectations, about adults having high expectations for kids, and when they do, those kids want to meet them is so very true. Too many places in this world, adults have given up on kids; it’s not that they are not capable, but that they know no one really believes they can so what is the point. This book can teach both kids to have hope and adults to share theirs.

The plot covers a very short amount of time, Junior’s first year of high school. The plot is peppered with flashbacks of personal experiences had by Junior that have helped to shape how he sees people, his reservation, and his world. Right from the beginning you understand just how much he feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere. The cartoons that are spread throughout the book serve to enhance how Junior sees the world and how he deals with the world. Half the characters in the book you want to smack and the other half you want to hug, and this is totally interchangeable. Alexie creates an Everyman in the character of Junior, a Spokane Indian who was never supposed to leave the reservation.  He also uses the more minor characters to reflect pieces of Junior. He weaves them all together, and one is able to gain a minor understanding into this kid’s world. The language is genuine. Junior speaks the way one would expect from a 14 year old boy from a small town, who happens to be pretty smart. He does leave out Junior’s speech impediments, but mentioning them allows one to imagine how he may sound to those around him, and how that may add to his struggles. 

14 June 2011

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Fever 1793

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Fever, 1793. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000.

Grade Level: 5-9

Mattie is at the heart of Fever 1793. One learns and feels their way through the Yellow Fever epidemic through her personal experiences. Just a child really at the age of 14 (15 in December), she must grow up all too fast in a world that spins out of control all around her. The book hovers between the absolute depressing, mainly in the manner in which everyone turns on everyone else in their own personal fear, and the sadness of loss, and finally the calm of survival. The book is not about joy, but about peace.  The sorrow of loss and the harshness of human nature may be hard on young readers. However, the actual reading level begins more around the 4th grade. Due to subject matter, a teacher may wish to wait until they have a class that can really take the emotional weight or until the kids are older.

The plot of Fever 1793 is simple, chronological, and smooth. There is no abruptness or superfluous additions. The characters are very plain. Although Mattie is obviously the main character, Anderson is very vague in her details. While this may be a problem with some novels, one can see that Mattie, while being the protagonist, is also every man, woman, and child that lived through that awful time. Her lack of completeness as a person only serves to enhance the experience of the story. Some of the dialogue and expressions are an attempt at the language of the time, but it seems to be inconsistent throughout the entire novel. It would almost be better left out then the haphazard attempt in the book. (It took me a couple uses of the word to even figure out what a “necessary” was. After the second time, it started to click, but at first it left me wondering what is this? I’m not sure that most teenagers would pick up this particular quirk of language as quickly.)

The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games, Book 1
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Dystopian Fiction/YA Fantasy
Grade Level: 10 +
Pages: 374

This is the second time around reading this one, and it still packs a great big punch. Meaning, I still bawl like a baby from cover to cover. I had to reread this for my YA literature class. The below review is what I had to turn in. If you have questions as to plot, let me know. Most of the reviews you will be seeing in the next couple of months come from this class and as such, do not include a plot summary (since my professor is adamant that that not occur), so if you have questions, do not be afraid to ask!!! I'll answer anything you need to know.

The Hunger Games is an intense emotional roller coaster. It falls under fantasy, sub-category: dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction is fiction of our own world in the future is a far more dysfunctional state than it currently is. The Hunger Games, for me at least, is so very intense, simply because it does not seem to be all that unreasonable of a future.  Collins has a tremendous talent in pulling one into the story and keeping you there. One even roots for the characters one knows will die, simply because one cannot help it. Katniss is a strong woman, qualifying for that title not by chronology but through her experiences. District 12 is not a place for the soft-hearted to grow up; well, the soft-hearted would never actually “grow up.” Katniss is the focus of the story, although even the “minor” characters are strong characters. Katniss is not perfect though. She is very easy to relate to in her imperfections. She does what it takes to take care of those she loves, and beyond that, she doesn’t think all that much of anything else, simply because she doesn’t have time, not because she is uncaring. What teenager wouldn’t love to feel like they can truly stand out as a hero even with all their flaws? What adult for that matter? 

Dystopian fiction is only truly successful if it seems plausible. Too far off the mark, does not illicit the type of emotional response that is one of its goals. Collins achieves this mostly in the development of her characters. Even when a character is an obvious foil for Katniss, and one knows they will meet a terrible end, one cannot help but feel attached to them, like in the character of Rue from District 11. There are a couple of moments in the plot that require a huge leap on the part of the reader, but since Collins has already drawn in through the development of the characters, a reader can almost pass those by and not notice them. It takes multiple readings to really notice those moments that don’t seem as plausible as the rest of the story. Collins’ use of flashbacks and memory are artful in their placement. She has even found a way to tell the audience what really happened and simultaneously say what the character actually reveals. Seeing the duality in what happened and what a character is willing to reveal is very telling of the character themselves. The plot generally flows very well, although things move quite rapidly. However, instead of being a drawback, the fast flow simulates the desperation of all the characters.

11 June 2011

The Graveyard Book

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fantasy
Grade Level: 6-10
Pages: 312

Nobody Owens. Gaimen names his protagonist Nobody. This allows the character to become everyone and no one all at the same time. His entire life, the “adults” around him try desperately to keep him safe. His danger is all too real and far more tangible than most young people fact today. This book really can speak to adults in a way that kids may not understand though. Parents understand the fear for their children more than children every seem to. Although, one does hope that a more mature reader can understand this aspect of the book and perhaps understand their own parents a little bit more.  In the end, Bod must go out into the world as an adult and seek his own fortune; his parents cannot follow. The parallel to parenting today is strong. Although parents can watch over their kids more in the “real” world because well, they are alive, unlike Bod’s parents who are confined by the walls of the graveyard being ghosts and all, but that reality that in order for a child to really become an adult, the adults must let them go completely is something both children and parents can really relate to. 

This book really lends itself to a book talk. The song Mrs. Owens sings to her son in the beginning and finally completing at the end truly tells the ultimate story of the novel. 

“Sleep my little babby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken. . .
Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure. . .
Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.” (Gaimen 306)

The person giving the book talk should be a woman and a mother. Why? Simply put, with the knowledge of what it is to be a mother, this song could actually be sung to the audience with real heart. Afterall, what mother doesn’t want her child to be safe and also have the world? Any librarian could do the talk, but to really make it count, one would really have to put oneself in a mother’s shoes. A mother that could never follow or watch over her child again; this would simply be easier if the person giving the talk was already a mum.

08 June 2011

May 2011 Batch

Yeah, I know I'm a week late, but sometimes I just get lethargic. Actually I have to play catch up but that will probably have to come tomorrow. Hopefully I'll be more awake by then.

Beyond Foo: Geth and the Return of the Lithins          214
Book 1
Author: Obert Skye

The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid                     516
Book 1
The Kane Chronicles: Throne of Fire                          452
Book 2
Author: Rick Riordan

The Ranger's Apprentice: The Emporer of Nihon-Ja   438
Book 10
Author: John Flanagan

The Tide Lords: The Immortal Prince                          597
Book 1
The Tide Lords: The Gods of Amyrantha                    493
Book 2
The Tide Lords: The Palace of Impossible Dreams     461
Book 3
The Tide Lords: The Chaos Chrystal                            476
Book 4
Author: Jennifer Fallon

The First Part Last                                                        132
Author: Angela Johnson

May 2011 Total:   3779
2011 Total: 14,069

02 June 2011

Paper Towns

Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Genre: Realistic Fiction/YA Fiction
Grade Level: 11+
Pages: 305

Paper Towns is a book that truly surprised me. After the first section and Margo’s comments about her last string being broken, I really thought, “oh, come on, not another book about how suicide is so horrible because it really affects those who are closest to you.” I don’t know about today, but when I was a teenager, suicide prevention was one of the biggest topics. I still remember hearing over and over again, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I know suicide is an important issue, no matter one’s age, but if the teens today are anything like me, one simply gets tired of hearing about how it affects those who are left behind, instead of focusing on why it really occurs in the first place. As a result, as I got toward the end of the second section of the book, that’s when I really got into it, simply because that was the moment when I realized that this book was not about suicide.  Paper Towns is about the journey, not the destination. It’s about find out who we really are, and being able to accept that about ourselves and others.  The book speaks to teenagers as well as adults, in that, I don’t know too many people who have found out who and what they are at 18 and then magically lived happily ever after. Even as adults we struggle to truly be ourselves. The idea of paper people is used throughout the book to describe how all people tend to show themselves to the world.

The writing in Paper Towns was both honest and educated. In other words, the kids in the book, while speaking like teenagers talk, also took the time to air the fact that they were smart in the use of their vocabulary. I placed the grade level as upper high school because of some of the vocabulary.  The characters were really the focus of the story, and propelled it forward. The use of Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” was a wonderful literary mirror for the journey of Quentin in finding himself by searching for Margo. The setting of Orlando was ideal for the correlation between paper towns and paper people, in that there are few places on this earth that lay the claim as the home to the “happiest place on earth.” The description of the souvenirs sold all around created an interesting illusionary dynamic between the things, the place, and the people.  The plot proceeded in a straight line primarily, allowing for times of memory, which allowed one to enter the story and hang on for the entire ride. I enjoyed the fact that it didn’t constantly start and stop but allowed me to both walk alongside the characters and experience their life the way we all live—from beginning to end, with memories tied in.