Sunday, September 21, 2008

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

Arnold, also known as Junior, is poor. He was also born with an array of mental health problems. None of this really gets in his way though, because Arnold refuses to let all the crap in his life get him down. Like the fact that he is Indian and life on the reservation seems to be made to make sure he never survives. There is also the fact that his best friend is always angry and punching things, even Arnold. Also, his sister has turned into a hermit and is living in the basement. Or the fact that everyone he knows seems to be an alcoholic--a bad one. All of these things, coupled with many other hardships that Arnold needs to deal with on the rez, finally breaks him when he realizes that his school books are older than his mom. He loses it. Mainly because he knows that if he is ever to break the cycle of death, anger, and just being broke he needs to leave the rez. And this is the hardest decision for an Indian to ever make. How will Arnold survive when he is not accepted by the white man, yet shunned by his own people as well, just for wanting to better his life?

It has been a long time since a book has made me crack up at the same time as making me feel as though I should shed a tear or two. You really feel for Arnold and root for him to win; yet you feel so bad that this type of decision even needs to be made. It almost makes you feel...wrong about how things can go uncorrected for so long in a countries history. The matter-of-fact language used is realistic compared to how high school students currently speak. The book also contains drawings made by Arnold to visually explain certain things, and they are hilarious; they fit in perfectly with the story. This was an amazingly quick read, because I did not want to put it down at all. This book is highly recommended and can be used to appreciate other cultures and ways of life. The author, who is Indian, has stated that this was partially based on his life; something to know as you are reading this tale. A lesson without seeming like one, this book teaches many things, and you won't even realize that you're learning something because it is just that good!
Gr. 7-10

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1) by James Patterson

Max is like any other girl. Except she has lived most of her life in a cage. And she is super strong. Oh, and she is being chased and followed, possibly to her death. And she has five family members, but she is not really related to them. She also has voices in her head telling her what to do, but not in the creepy death way. Oh yeah, and she has wings that let her fly. So maybe Max is nothing like other girls, but she still wants what they have. A safe house, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and some parents who love her. Max is fourteen, but instead she feels like a mom to the other mutant genetic freaks she calls family. Fang, Iggy, Nudge, Gazzy, and Angel also had their DNA intertwined with bird DNA. The six of them do whatever they can to stay safe, and alive, while being chased by erasers (creepy wolf-men), and find the secrets to their past: who did this to them, why, and did they ever have parents or were they just lab-created test-tube babies? Join Max as she finds out.

Warning! You may want to get all of the Maximum Ride books at once so you can continue reading, because once you start--you won't want to stop! This is the first of five books in the series and it leaves you wanting more! Max has a sarcastic persona about her that makes you feel as though you are really 14 and doing everything right along with her. All the characters are intense and have amazing individualistic aspects to them. Whether it's learning what makes them tick or figuring out their new ability right along with them, you feel for these freaky, mutant bird kids. This book is a perfect, action packed, sci-fi novel, especially for those who claim to hate the genre. Max narrates, in first person, and other alternate characters are narrated in third person. It moves really fast with short, interesting chapters that make you want more. I highly recommend this series for anyone who enjoys action, adventure, danger, sci-fi, fantasy, or teenagers in their stories. It really captures everything you would want in a book.
Gr. 6-11

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sold by Patricia McCormick

This is the heart-wrenching story of Lakshmi, a poor fourteen year-old girl who lives with her mother, brother, and stepfather in Nepal. She tries to live a normal life, but she is always worried about food, clothing, and the roof over their heads. It does not help that her stepfather seems to gamble away the little money they have and makes none of it himself. Then he convinces Lakshmi's mother to send her away to the city to be a maid. Neither mother nor daughter wants this, but sacrifices must be made, so Lakshmi leaves with Auntie. Where she ends up is horror filled as she discovers she has been sold into sexual slavery. Forced to sleep with men, she is beaten nearly to death if she tries to fights back. Lakshmi is devastated, knowing that her stepfather did this to her, and her mother had no idea what has happened. Just a young girl forced into adulthood; will she survive? Should she risk her life to leave this awful one behind? Is there any help anywhere?

This book was finished within hours because of the format and because it was wonderful. Novel in-verse is like poetry, but no rhyming. Instead each page has a title and there is a paragraph that explains that title in detail. Put them all together and you have a book. This was an amazing story; McCormick never fails to make me believe the characters and the situation. She sends powerful messages in small books that impact us like no other. The horror on my student's faces is real when I tell them that sexual slavery still exists today, and Lakshmi does not live in the early 1900's, but instead, the early 2000's. This book will keep you glued until you finish.
Gr. 7-11

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4) by Stephenie Meyer

Book four of the popular Twilight series starts where Eclipse left off. A wedding is in the works with the promise of immortality to come. Questions start to get answered from the very beginning, yet more questions arise as well. Where is Jacob; will Bella ever see him again? How are her parents reacting to the engagement? Will she get turned? How will she handle her first year? What will happen to the werewolf/vampire pact if she is turned? Will she kill anyone if she is turned? And will the Volturi be paying a visit anytime soon?

The description may seem short, but I did not want to give too much away for those who have not read it yet. I stayed up late to finish this one, but not because I was loving every minute. Instead, I wanted to see how this ended because I was amazed at what I was reading from the very beginning! I thought that the story line was absolutely ridiculous and way more mature then the previous books. Can middle school and early high school students even relate to Bella anymore? I couldn't and I am an adult. Her whiny nature was also starting to get to me, but I got a break from it. Those of you who have read the book know what I mean. I also felt that the level of sacrifice in this book was nothing compared to the previous three. Not that I wanted everyone to die, but sometimes a writer needs to sacrifice things for the story and to keep the characters consistent. I have many more complaints about this book, but I don't want to give too much away (not that you would believe me if I told you). This is one that can be skipped, though if you are a Twilight fan, you won't. Just don't read it twice. Instead pick up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the 10th time. You'll thank me.
Gr. 9-12

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin

Karina is living in America. To other Haitians this is a BIG deal, but at what price does living the American dream come at? Her grades aren't so good, she doesn't have a lot of friends, and she gets picked on a bit. But still... America! Karina also has a stepfather--The Daddy; her mother married him so that they would have money, a place to stay, and security in the states. Her mother and stepfather work long hours, so it is up to the the three oldest sisters to cook, clean, and take care of the younger ones. But what happens when the kitchen is a bit too dirty or the little one fell and scraped his knee? We find out as Karina's older sister is beaten inches from her life by her stepfather after he discovered that some of the leftovers were thrown out. Do they call the police? Of course not, that would be taking their livelihood away. Who would pay the bills? But, when her stepfather finally is thrown in jail for child abuse, adults (trying to keep this dysfunctional family together) try to convince Karina to lie and take blame for her sister's wounds which would release her worst nightmare back into their lives. What should Karina do? What can she do? After all, she's just a kid. How can a kid speak up and do anything to change the situation. Right?

The first line in this book is “The best way to avoid being picked on by high school bullies is to kill someone.” I wondered who Karina has killed and why; she is so young! As I got into the life of this sad girl I read about atrocities that are happening in her family and how sometimes people can never help those who really need it. This book chilled me deep to the bone and made me think about what goes on in the closed doors of families: fights, screaming, hitting, and abuse--mental and physical. No family is perfect, but Karina seems to be living in a private hell. It was also interesting to see how her family viewed the situation and how much of that was cultural. I learned and felt many things from reading this novel, it was well written and kept me nervous for Karina and her family. I highly recommended it for those who think their life sucks or those who can not understand abuse, how it happens, or why no one does anything to stop it. Actually, I think everyone should probably read it! They won't be sorry.
Gr. 8-12

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ron Koertge

Kevin is at a loss. He has mono. That means resting for a very long time. This also baseball! How will he survive? Before he goes crazy with boredom, Kevin decides to take matters into his own hands. He tries to write poetry. Not because he likes it and not because his father is a writer, but because he is bored. But if Kevin is so bored why can't he stop writing in his journal/poetry book? Kevin writes about all kinds of things: baseball (of course), school, friends, make-out sessions with previous girls, the new girl he kinda likes, and his mom...who is no longer around. Before Kevin realizes it, his mono is gone, the girl he likes may like him back, and he can't stop writing poetry! What is going on!

This was one of those books that surprised me because it was very different than what I ever expected. The book is written in novel in-verse, which has Kevin trying different poetry patterns such as sonnets, free verse, haiku, and much more. Kevin is a normal boy, with normal boy activities--girls and sports. But there is more there and the desire to express himself in some way, because of the pain trapped inside, was wonderful to see. The author does a great job of letting the character come out as the story evolves. I really enjoyed this book and I think it can appeal to all types of readers, even those who never knew poetry did not have to rhyme, and it could tell a story at the same time. This was a super quick read as well, so that made it lots of fun!
Gr. 6-9

Friday, July 25, 2008

How to Be Popular By Meg Cabot

The Red Super Big Gulp ruined Stephanie's chance of ever being popular, or even well liked! Now whenever someone does something stupid, it's always "OMG, I pulled a Steph Landry!" So when she finds an old book in the attic named, of course, How to Be Popular, she follows the rules to a T. And it works! She does become popular, but at what price? Her best friends Jason and Becca are freaked out by her new behavior and wardrobe, while the school Queen Bee, Lauren, is making sure Steph stays at the bottom of the social ladder. Stephanie quickly learns that becoming popular is easy, staying popular is hard. Will losing her friends, family trust, and herself be worth sitting with the A-crowd, and super hot Mark Finley (Lauren's boyfriend), at lunch? Or will her popular guide help her see what was right in front of her face all along?

I love Meg Cabot! Her characters are always so real and slightly geeky. I mean they are never the super popular one or the prettiest one. They are usually the super plain Jane just trying to get by in the world. Like everyone else! Once again she creates a protagonist who makes you cheer for her victories and anguish alongside her when she falls. Steph Landry, as well as other Cabot characters, has a great sense of humor that brings out the understanding nods from anyone reading this book. A great read with wonderful advice that is so not preachy, Steph is a normal 11th grader lusting after boys, popularity, and acceptance.
Gr. 8-11