Sunday, September 22, 2013

Edge-of-your-seat suspense with The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

On Friday, we finally got the first batch of books that we had ordered before school got out.  They're usually delivered to us over the summer and waiting when we get back to school that last week of August.  A little later this year, but no less like Christmas opening up the boxes and seeing all the possibility in those piles of books.  We'll process them and get them into circulation and watch some of the kids light up-- because there are always those kids who love the idea of unexplored "new" books as much as their librarians do!  I brought several home to read.  Tore through this one... it's edge-of-your-seat suspense.  Here's my review of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die from Goodreads:

She regains consciousness on a hard wood floor.
A tooth is loose and the inside of her mouth tastes like blood.
Her left hand is in severe pain and she soon realizes that two of her fingers are missing fingernails.
The voices of two men argue about whether to kill her.
She has no idea who she is or why she's there.

So begins this roller coaster of a story. One of the men leaves, and the nameless narrator manages to draw on self-defense skills she didn't know she had, overpower the other man, and steal his car and his gun, driving for her life. But her one attempt to go to the police backfires when the officer gets a report that she's escaped from a nearby mental hospital after killing an orderly there. Has she? Is her memory really that fragmented? Who can she trust? Who is going to such effort to draw a net tighter and tighter until they can recapture her?

Over the roughly 36 hours that she is on the run, bits and pieces start falling into place, but can even knowing more about why all of this is happening save her if she can't find someone who will believe her bizarre story?

Chris Crutcher's Whale Talk

Every time I booktalk this one, a student snatches it up afterward, and I always feel like he or she is in for such a treat if they haven't come across Chris Crutcher before.  His books are edgy, humorous, and pertinent.  He's used to being on banned book lists and to irritating adults.  He doesn't back off of tough subjects because he knows that we all need to have the realities of this world acknowledged and our own small worlds stretched.  Here's my review of Whale Talk from Goodreads:

TJ is a third white, a third black, a third Japanese in a very white community in Washington state. He's an athletic guy, but as much as the football coach and the basketball coach hound him about his duty to the school, TJ shies away from organized sports... he's never liked the air of entitlement and superiority that he sees among some of the Cutter High coaches and athletes. But when a teacher he respects asks him to take the lead in starting a swim team, TJ agrees... and goes on to assemble the oddest assortment of misfits one could imagine. But these misfits have a lot to teach the folks of Cutter High about sportsmanship and heroism and truly playing as a team. There's a lot going on in the book other than the sports: child abuse, marital abuse, prejudice, bullying. But Crutcher is at his best when he's directing his sharp, intelligent humor at tough issues that adults don't always want to admit that kids face.

That gray area between biography and incredibly accurate historical fiction

Struggling to understand primary sources and how you can track them down for your research papers?  Want to read a book that bills itself as a "documentary novel" (and so, fiction on some level) and puts you right in the middle of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement from varying perspectives?  Look no further than Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's No Crystal Stair.  Here's my Goodreads review:

Fascinating. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson did extensive research on the life of her great uncle, Lewis Michaux, "the Professor" of Harlem. From his childhood in Newport News, Virginia, through his later life in New York, she uses a multitude of voices to give a somewhat fictionalized account of his life. But the amount of digging she did is impressive, and the fictional text brims with primary source material. I've marked this both as biography and historical fiction, because while Nelson takes some liberties, she's making very educated guesses about conversations and relationships based on the wide variety of sources she was able to track down. Readers are introduced to many of the leading black figures of the early and mid 20th century as they come into Lewis's orbit at his famous National Memorial African Bookstore. In the process, they get a great example of world-class researching and story telling. A powerful narrative of an unconventional man who left his mark deeply.

Monday, September 16, 2013

See Europe... read a book

No, it's not a travel guide-- even better.  13 Little Blue Envelopes tells the story of 17-year-old Ginny, and how a letter from her favorite aunt (who died three months ago) sends her on a whirlwind quest for self-discovery across Europe.  Here's my Goodreads review:

Such a fun read. Virginia's "runaway aunt"-- her mom's younger sister, a flighty, creative artist-- left for Europe several years ago without telling the rest of her family, and they learned a few months ago that she had died over there after a bout with a long illness. But now Virginia has received a letter from her aunt, charging her with setting off on an adventure that will follow in Aunt Peg's footsteps. Before her death, Aunt Peg arranged everything, and Ginny can't take money or a cell phone or anything outside of what will fit in one backpack. First stop-- a Chinese restaurant in New York City, where she picks up a package that consists of 13 numbered envelopes. After she has followed the instructions in one letter, she may open the next. Ginny's adventure leads her first to London, where she meets Aunt Peg's friend Richard, and then to Scotland, Rome, Paris, the Netherlands, Copenhagen, and the Greek islands. Along the way, she slowly becomes aware of how much she is capable of, even after her backpack (and the 13th unread letter) is stolen in the Greek isles. A touch of romance adds to the story but does not overwhelm it. Readers who dream of their own European adventure will love rooting for Ginny and watching her grow during her journey.

Bon voyage!

Monday, September 9, 2013

172 Hours on the Moon-- a potential 2013 "Teens' Top Ten"

I hadn't heard of 172 Hours on the Moon until I was looking over the list from YALSA's Teens' Top Ten nominees for this year-- 28 nominees which will be narrowed down to the top ten by the teens who participate in the voting this month.  Not a bad book, especially if you have visions of a little interplanetary travel yourself one of these days.  Here's the review I posted on Goodreads:

In 2019, 3 teenagers are chosen through a lottery to head to the moon with NASA astronauts. What NASA doesn't tell anyone is that in the moon-travel heyday, some unexplainable stuff happened during the various missions, and they need to get back up there (hence, the "teens win the chance of a lifetime" lottery... get the public psyched about space travel in a time of budget deficits). So Mia from Norway, Antoine from France, and Midori from Japan make their way to the moon and to some incredibly creepy stuff (view spoiler). Character development is definitely not the strong point in this novel, but the book is certainly a page-turner, especially if you like your space travel on the spooky and suspenseful side.

If you are between the ages of 12 and 18 and you haven't voted yet, there's still time.  You can vote online for your three favorites out of the twenty-eight nominees at   The ballots are open through October 19, and the top ten will be announced on the YALSA website the week of October 21.