Thursday, February 16, 2012
Mona: Hey Barb. I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved Beauty Queens when I first read it. I laughed at the tongue in cheek and enjoyed the unrealistic yet entertaining series of events. I was surprised at the indiscriminate killing off of various characters, which just added to the surreal experience on the island.
Barb: Well Mona, I agree that the idea was clever but I felt the book got more annoying as it went along. Did you actually read all those footnotes??
Mona: At first I read them all, and I will admit that I started skimming as the story progressed. I tried not to take any of it too seriously, and was in it for the laughs. There was a serious side though - in that the book dealt with parent issues/pressures and the various responses of the girls to that pressure. Warning for prudish- there was a lot of sex, but the story also dealt with love and sex, both gay and straight in a reasonably sensitive and humorous manner. What do you say to that, Barb?
Barb: That was part of the problem. Libba Bray tried to deal with everything, plus the kitchen sink. She could have used a good editor. I just think it went on too long. I could find people to recommend this to, but it's not one I would recommend often. If you have this book in a junior high it would need to be in a section reserved for mature readers. For me this book was kind of like a stupid movie. You have to be in the mood for it.
Mona: So I guess I was in the mood for it. I would also be careful of who I would recommend it to.
So now on to A Monster Calls. What did you think of that one Barb?
Barb:I LOVED IT!!
Mona: ME TOO!!
Barb: It's the best book I've read in a while.
Mona: I thought so too. I was sure I was going to vote Beauty Queens through to the next round, but once I got caught up in A Monster Calls, Beauty Queens was dead to me!
Barb and Mona: The Fairy Tales that had no message (ha ha) were compelling (actually the whole book was compelling). It was a clever combination - dealing with bullying and death together in the book. We were never sure where imagination ended and reality began, but that was okay. It was actually part of the magic that drew us into the story.We both laughed at times and shed a tear at times as we followed the main character, Conor, through the story. Little things, like a sapling growing out of a knot of wood in Conor's room, or berries covering Conor's floor were enticing little tidbits that added to the whole. The illustrations were completely amazing. They enhanced and were an integral part of the story.
If you haven't figured it out by now, we both loved A Monster Calls and give it two votes to move on to the next round. (And they say JP doesn't like anything). The decision now rests on you, Fred and Robin. (But if you don't pick A Monster Calls, two monsters from JP may come calling!!)
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
We could find students to recommend both of these books to but we wouldn't want to see either of them win.
Guantanamo Boy was predictable right from the beginning. When the family decides to go to Pakistan you know that Khalid will be arrested. He is interrogated and tortured (surprise, surprise) in Pakistan and then again in Guantanamo Bay. It seems like the author wanted to make the book longer so she repeated the exact same torture scenes in a different location (although we did learn a lot about water-boarding).
Though it is a work of fiction Guantanamo Boy is based on fact and some students (especially boys) would be interested in reading it.
Revolution is a story of teen angst, family problems, time travel, redemption, music, and the French Revolution. We both enjoyed the premise and the story line but it went on a bit too long. If you are a history buff or have an obsession with the French Revolution this is the book for you. If you don't, and have insomnia this is also the book for you.
And so, Revolution moves on only because it's the book we disliked the least.
Mona & Barb
Monday, February 6, 2012
Sunday, February 5, 2012
I’d just like to note that, at this point last year, I was choosing between two books that were mediocre at best. This year, two pretty impressive reads in Round Two, which only promises a great next few rounds!
Yummy: G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke
This short graphic novel, grounded in a real-life story of gang-riddled Chicago not-so-long-ago, is powerful and, at times, moving. Although the work is narrated primarily by Yummy’s classmate, Roger, Neri does an impressive job of capturing a myriad of voices in the community, disparate voices attempting to reconcile the bifurcated nature of Yummy: boy or man? victim or perpetrator? These are the most intriguing and effective moments of the work, perhaps best encapsulated by a quietly devastating moment where two grandmothers embrace, one of a victim, the other of the murderer. The paradoxical nature of Yummy is addressed both through text and image, and the reader’s challenged sympathies continually shift as more is revealed of Yummy’s life and actions. Neri never lets the reader of the hook; there are no easy solutions or easy reconciliations (O.K.--maybe one), and although the ending is cautiously optimistic, a sense of perpetual violence and despair remains.
The artwork and design of the graphic novel is easily Yummy’s strongest element, and, as a vehicle for teaching the sequential image, would be incredibly effective in the classroom. DuBurke’s clever use of gutters and borders comments on the narrative symbolically throughout; open space, internal framing, and angles reveal much of the world that the characters inhabit. And, perhaps most impressively, DuBurke’s use of near-cinematic lighting is remarkable; his use of chiaroscuro is particularly effective in revealing character and setting. DuBurke particularly excels at capturing emotion on the faces of the Chicago denizens, the grief and the anguish; some of the most affecting moments are those where the picture does the narrative work without text.
Ultimately, though, Yummy feels a bit earnest, a bit The Wire-lite. I’m not sure one can instill a sense of verisimilitude in a work that attempts to capture the gritty reality of gang life in a metropolitan city without a bit more “grit.” I understand the intent (perhaps need?) to write a story of gang life suitable for young adult readers, but it periodically feels a bit sanitized. There is much to be admired though, and I would highly recommend Yummy for teachers who are interested in introducing the sequential image form to their students.
A Monster Calls: Patrick Ness based on an idea from Siobhan Dowd with illustrations by Jim Kay
There are books that are sad, and then there are books that are sad. Like guttural-breath-catching and tears-streaming-down-your-face sad. This is that. Obviously, from the first few pages on, an impending death hangs over the novel, and getting to the inevitable is no picnic. There are moments of such horrible complicity compounding the inevitable (I found the intentional/accidental destruction of a clock particularly gut-wrenching) that A Monster Calls is periodically almost too painful to read. We’ve all been there before: that horrible moment when you act out of emotion, pure affect, even as your mind is trying to veto your heart’s reaction, and that horrible moment of realization after the fact that you have, instinctually or otherwise, grievously hurt someone you love. Gak. And when a reader can vicariously feel the pain of a boy who has done just that, you know you’re in the hands of a pretty special writer, and a pretty special narrative.
There is little respite throughout the narrative; this is, like I have already cautioned, a painful read, and I put it aside on more than one evening when I just felt a little overwhelmed with Conor‘s plight. Also, the text itself is hard to read because your eyes are more than a little blurry throughout (actually, full disclosure, I didn’t even make it through the forward without the room getting a little dusty. This should surprise no one).
Jim Kay’s illustrations are remarkably evocative, like Edward Gorey decided to draw some sort of dark pastoral The Cabinet of Caligari, but not before sitting down with a three quart jar of absinthe. The illustrations are used sparingly and thematically, appearing at key moments of the story, at once beautiful and horrifying. Stunning, really.
The writing? Equally stunning. A Monster Calls is, in many ways, a series of allegories wrapped in a fable, and the syntax is accordingly straight-forward and unencumbered. But the use of figurative language and poetic device is unbelievable, certainly “teach-able.” Honestly, I pulled a few passages that would be suitable for a 30 IB class; not because they are rife with difficult diction and complicated syntax, but because the images are so indelible, bolstered through poetic device. It is a real talent to be simultaneously minimalist and poetic, but somehow Ness pulls it off. And some of the thematic paradoxes on which the novel is structured are worthy of a long philosophical discussion with students of any age.
A Monster Calls does veer close to mawkish sentimentality at times, but, for me at least, Ness circumnavigates around Maudlin Island through sparse prose and unflinching honesty (I really hope, however, that no one ever decides to film this--there is no way that the dialogue could be spoken aloud without running aground on said Island). Predictable? Sure. But the inevitable usually is. And the book isn’t so much about predictable narrative as it is about acknowledging The Truth that sits right in front of you.
Teach-ability for young adults? Hard to say. Annabel, as always, is absolutely correct in noting that this book deals unflinchingly with the saddest events in one’s life, and does so honestly and compassionately. But, good lord, one would have to be careful not to mentally scar the children. I, like Annabel, suspect that one’s affective response will be predicated on your “own experience with loss.” Given the right group of students at the right time in their lives, it would be a real honour to teach this book.
The Final Word?: A Monster Calls moves on. I think. I haven’t seen what Jenni or John think….
Friday, February 3, 2012
Tracy: For those looking for a good read - an interesting character, move-along plot, quirky structure - then pick up The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston. While you may ask yourself how much more can go wrong in this girl's life - as my Smackdown partner wrote, "even the dog died!" - as a reader, I never forgot that at the heart of this story of multiple tragedies is Loa, a character I was willing to invest in right to the end. Her resilience, combined with her wit and smarts, makes her a young woman teen readers will respect.
The employment of interesting physics facts and problems preceding each chapter has a metaphorical connection that will provoke stronger readers into going beyond the book to look up anti-matter, Dolly the sheep, and the freak observer. For those not into the wonderful world of physics, these tidbits can be skipped over with no loss to the enjoyment of the story.
Robin: I enjoyed the wry humour of the narrator’s voice (I always wonder if these aren’t exactly the thoughts going through a kid’s head as I meet with them or teach them), but I did wonder how many problems one kid can have, which almost turned me off at the beginning, but once I finished - Wow! First, I needed to look up a whole bunch of stuff and spent about 30 minutes on the net (incl. the author’s blog and FB page) happily searching and finding images, artists, artwork, and items mentioned in the novel. I loved the way Woolston marries science and plot. I also appreciated the way that she can seemingly just pick a line out of thin air and it just so works, you know?
As I was reading, I remember thinking, “Does this poor girl have no one in her corner?” but then it turns out that she did - a teacher - which made me think about how sometimes we teachers can make a difference when we don’t even know we’re making a difference. I’m sure Mr. B didn’t know. I wonder if Mr. B was based on a real teacher in Woolston’s adolescence? Looking at her blog and FB, she looks like a seriously unique individual - not unlike our “neurotypical” (166) narrator.
Tracy: I really wanted to like this book. As a person who loves speculative fiction, this seemed right up my alley. However, having read other young adult books in the same vein,such as The Hunger Games trilogy, The Uglies, and The House of the Scorpion, Wither was a letdown.
While Katniss and Tally were strong, commanding characters with flaws and virtues that compelled me to turn the pages, as I write this, I have already forgotten the protagonist's name. (Sneaking over to my couch, I have grabbed the book to discover her name is Rhine.)
I even admit to skimming through the last third of the book, so I could read the end where she makes her "big escape". Trust me, this is no spoiler alert, as you are told on the book cover this is part of a trilogy. It's as if Lauren DeStefano took the physical transformation through pretty clothes and make-up from The Uglies, the genetic testing and manipulations from The House of the Scorpion, and a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with haves and have nots from The Hunger Games, and watered down the best elements of these novels to write Wither.
Robin: My thoughts on Wither by Lauren Desterfano. Okay, so I’m not in love with this one. I found it way too depressing and it had that Chick Lit obsession with the description of everyone’s clothes and makeup which I’ll admit was necessary sometimes to plot/character, but I just don’t get into it. This dystopian society is just too much for me and seems much too bleak. I wouldn’t be comfortable recommending it to jr hi students because of the very casual way sex is mentioned in some parts and the creepily sinister sexual predation of the males in other parts. Apparently it is the first of a planned trilogy, and the ending certainly leaves one flat. Don’t get me wrong, I read it with interest and mostly enjoyed it, but I certainly didn’t find enough to recommend it over our other choice, which caused me to think and wonder and research. As escape fiction, Wither is good if you like that sort of thing, but not good enough.
It was a dark and stormy meeting. Andrew’s voice bellowed like so much thunder…Dia and Annabel huddled under the library tables hoping to escape his wrath….till the calmer, redacted (
thanks for the new word Brad)version of Every You Every Me could move on to the next round.
Actually there were five of us at ABM voting and it was a split decision 3 to 2. Andrew was disappointed and even called me a bully – I know shocking but I believe this is just a residual effect from last year’s SD. The whole panel can agree that both books are worth reading and that both books suffered from different weaknesses and strengths. We felt Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin was best when it focused on the introduction of a deaf high school student into a regular high school. When the second half of the book lapsed into a silly Hardy Boys adventure we all lost a bit of interest. We all liked the writing style of EYEM but the angst was very angsty and we did feel that this book would be harder for students to pick up on their own. A reader will have to invest some time but once this story turns to mystery it becomes more successful and you want to know where the pictures are coming from. We disagreed on the ending which I found interesting but others found forced. Why did it edge ahead? I think because there is, amongst the angst, really thoughtful themes that are enhanced by the photography within.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
What Jaylene said...Megan Turner engages her readers by immersing them in the past world of Kings. You find yourself taking the side of Sophos (eternally filled with self-doubt) who enters the heroic journey purposefully misfigured and hardly able to walk. It is all about the battle for land, power, and recognition. Kings who hope to become the next eponymic name spoken on the tongue of all their loyal subjects. Were it not for the section entitled Some Persons of Greater and Lesser Consequence provided at the end of this fourth book in the series, I might have been lost at times with the names (mostly of Greek origin). A great read!
What Vanessa said...see my previous post, I did not find this a great read mostly because the wall I had to climb over to get to the interesting stuff was far to tall and wide for me.
Winner this round: OK for Now