Monday, September 30, 2013

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Sometimes, life takes a detour.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Chris and his best friend Win set out on their bicycles, determined to travel across the country before college. Like all good road trips, this trek is bumpy, memorable, and metaphoric. Towards the end of their journey, Win unexpectedly takes off by himself. Feeling abandoned and upset, Chris finishes the trip alone. When Chris comes home without Win, he has to answer to his parents, Win's parents, and the police. Where did his best friend go? Why? What really happened between Point A and B?

As close as he thought they were after ten years of friendship, Chris found himself surprised by some of the things his best friend did during their trip. He learns even more as he unravels the mystery of Win's disappearance. In the summertime sequences, their dialogue is always comfortable, sometimes teasing, sometimes competitive. They are friends who almost act like brothers, but they aren't one in the same. Chris comes from a working class family while Win, whose parents are well-off, obviously has difficulty getting along with his father. Growing up, the boys didn't really think about going their separate ways, but now that they have, Chris must figure out what his friend wanted and what he must do.

Readers will easily navigate through Jennifer Bradbury's novel Shift. Like a good film noir, the story unfolds using both the past and the present: the chapters alternate between the here-and-now, with Chris starting his freshman year of college, and the summer, as Chris and Win make their way across the country. Their friendship and the investigation are accompanied by bicycles, patches, jackets, one glove, small towns, campgrounds, diners, and postcards. Though the element of mystery is always there, Shift is not a whodunnit. Instead, it asks: Why did Win leave? Who is he, really? How well do we really know anyone?

My favorite line from the book reads as follows:

Reality had a disappointing habit of not measuring up to my memories.

I also really enjoyed Chris' assessment of his situation:

[E]veryone kept telling me how much fun I was going to have in college, how much freedom I'd have. I was starting to believe that I'd used up my lifetime quota of both on the trip this summer.

Further Reading
Read my exclusive interview with author Jennifer Bradbury.
Also check out ShelfElf's GLW post about the book.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

It's 1968. Things aren't great on Long Island for Doug Sweiteck, but he has a couple friends, and he has just met the great Joe Pepitone, who gave him, Doug Sweiteck, the hat from right of his head. But then Doug's brother swipes the hat, and his father loses his job and packs the whole family up and moves them to stupid Marysville, way up in the Catskills. Now Doug must navigate the perils of a new school, where everyone thinks he's just a thug like his brother, an abusive father and a host of other problems. He finds unlikely allies, like Lil Spicer, the daughter of the deli owner for whom Doug works as a delivery boy, and Mr. Powell, one of the town's librarians. And while the Doug's story is one heck of an emotional roller coaster, it ends on a note of hope, just as the Apollo 11 mission launches to the moon.

If I were a proper reviewer, I'd write something like, "Okay for Now is a book that is by turns heart-rending and life-affirming, and it will have you rooting for Doug Sweiteck all the way." But let me tell you what this book did to me as a reader. My dog Jack had this stuffed squirrel called Jeffrey. When Jack would play with Jeffrey, he'd shakeshakeshake until Jeffrey's neck snapped, then he'd put Jeffrey down and gently lick his fur and fluff him up til he was ready to play again (unlike the real squirrel he once caught, but that's another story). This is what Schmidt did to my heart. That moment when you find out why Doug won't take his shirt of in front of people? shakeshakeshakeshake When Doug and Lil get parts in a Broadway adaptation of Jane Eyre that Doug inadvertently inspired? It's okay Reader-Buddy! This is gonna be fun! It's gonna be good! And when Doug's brother Lucas comes home from Vietnam? Good, right? But then you learn that he's lost his legs and might be blind? shakeshakeshakeshake And when Lil gets sick opening night and you think it's stage fright, but then you learn the real reason? SHAKESHAKESHAKESHAKE YOUR HEART WILL NEVER REALLY BE WHOLE AGAIN Just kidding, Reader-Buddy! Everything will work out! You'll see! Keep reading! Trust me!

I gave up an evening of grading to finish the book, and the next day, I told my students this book left me totally gutted and they needed to read it immediately. I read the first chapter to my creative writing students, because Schmidt is a master of creating believable and interesting characters, and the voice those characters have is incredible.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, this book is one of the nominees for the 2014 Young Readers Choice Awards. It is also the companion novel to the equally wonderful book The Wednesday Wars

This is cross posted over at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Red Moon Rising by Peter Moore

Most of Danny’s classmates at Carpathia Night High think he’s half-vamp, half-human, and he’d rather not correct their mistaken assumption. True, being thought of as half-human puts Danny near the bottom of the high school hierarchy, but Danny knows how most vampires treat werewolves, so why not pretend he’s half-human.

Humans, vamps, and wulves co-existed for thousands of years. Over the past century, the status of vamps rose considerably, thanks to the development of synthetic blood for vamps to drink instead of, you know, human blood. But wulves? They have few rights, are often discriminated against, and are generally poorer and less educated than humans and vamps. Worst of all, wulves are required to register with the government so they can be herded into compounds every month during the full moon, when they undergo the Change. The compounds are dirty and brutal, surrounded by electric fences and armed guards. Not registering is illegal, and anyone aiding moonrunners—unregistered wulves—is breaking the law as well.

So when Danny starts feeling poorly—and his headaches are accompanied by enhanced vision and sense of smell—he knows something is not right. Is his wulf side emerging, in spite of the genetic treatments he received as a child? With the full moon coming up soon, Danny doesn’t have much time to figure out what’s going on. Or what he’ll do if he Changes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Boxers & Saints

When Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese was published back in 2006 it received a lot of high praise and a whole slew of awards, not the least of which was the 2007 Printz Award for a teen book, the first graphic novel to win coveted American Library Association recognition. While ABC was widely embraced and helped firmly establish graphic novels as "legitimate" literature for children and young adults. It almost seemed like from that moment on people were looking for the next graphic novel to achieve that same level of recognition, and on some level it must have put some pressure of Yang himself to know how high a bar was set for him by his own work.

I'll be honest, The Eternal Smile (2010), Prime Baby and Level Up (both 2011), were good but they didn't really strike me the same way ABC did. However Yang's latest, Boxers & Saints, an ambitious two-book story covering the Boxer Rebellion in China, may end up overshadowing his earlier work, and the fact that it just landed on the National Book Award shortlist is partial proof of this achievement.

Which is all a highfalutin way of saying Boxer & Saints is a pretty awesome piece of storytelling, graphic or otherwise.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I COULD CHEW ON THIS: and other poems by dogs by Francesco Marciuliano

Last year, the world was taken by storm by Francesco Marciuliano's I Could Pee On This: and Other Poems by Cats, reviewed here in January, 2013. This year, Marciuliano has followed up with the ever-so-slightly less clever I Could Chew on This: and Other Poems by Dogs, featuring an awful lot of poems about chewing, eating and throwing up, as well as things like dog embarrassment, separation anxiety, and more.

The book is divided into four chapters: Inside, Outside, By Your Side, and Heavy Thinking, which contains one of the most poignant poems in this mostly humorous book. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Each chapter page includes a maxim of sorts, and the one for "Inside" is possibly my favorite:

We were wolves once
Wild and wary
Then we noticed you had sofas

Here's a two-page spread with the first poem in the book, "I Lose My Mind When You Leave The House", which pretty well sums up how (at least some) dogs react when their owners step outside:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman

I have never before read a book where the author considers apologizing for the book in the author’s note. (I’ve read too many books where I felt the author should have considered apologizing; that’s for another review.) But a sort of apologizing is what Shawn Goodman does at the end of his powerful young adult novel, Kindness for Weakness:
“I wish I could offer an apology for the fact that this such a sad book…”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Problem now is Waiting for Book Three

In an earlier post this summer I gushed over Maggie Steifvater's Stiefvater's The Raven Boys. Book two of that series, The Dream Thieves comes out on September 17. It provides ample evidence that this is a story unlikely to weaken as it develops.

Spoiler alert: I'll try to avoid major plot revelations from either book, but we're talking about a sequel here. Read forward at your own risk.

The Raven Boys series centers around, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah a group of boys enrolled at Aglionby, an exclusive boarding school in the small Virginia town of Henrietta, and a townie girl, Blue the sole non-psychic resident of 300 Fox Way, a house of psychic women offering readings to Henrietta's residents. The undisputed leader of this group is Richard Gansey--he goes by simply "Gansey"--who hails form a wealthy and powerful old money family from Washington D.C. Gansey is obsessed with finding Glendower, a 15th Century Welsh king whose body, legend has it, has been transported to America and interred somewhere near Henrietta. The rest of the group is nearly as dedicated to finding Glendower as Gansey is.