Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just One Wish

Just One Wish
By Janette Rallison
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009. 264 pgs. Teen fiction

Annika's younger brother Jeremy has to have surgery to have a brain tumor removed, and Annika convinces him that she has a genie that will grant him two wishes beforehand, the first being whatever he wants and the second being that everything will work out for the surgery. She think his first wish will be for a Teen Robin Hood action hero, which she's managed to buy, and that when he gets that, it'll convince him that the wish for a successful surgery will work, too, and the power of positive thinking will ultimately make everything okay. Her plans go a little haywire, though, when instead of asking for the action hero he's been obsessing over, Jeremy wishes that Robin Hood will come to teach him how to shoot a bow. Annika has to figure out how to meet Steve Raleigh, the actor who plays Robin Hood, and convince him to come meet her brother, all in a matter of days.

This book is sad and sweet and funny all at once. While readers have to suspend disbelief a little to believe Annika's antics and attempts to meet Steve Raleigh, no one would have trouble believing that she loves her little brother enough to resort to desperate measures to help him. While she can be a little bit grating to the nerves, she's a realistic character. Steve's a cutie, and Jeremy pretty much steals the show.

4 stars.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Can(t) Wait

What Can(t) Wait
By Ashley Hope Perez
Carolrhoda LAB, 2011. 234 pgs. Teen fiction

Marisa wants to graduate high school, get accepted to UT-Austin's engineering program, and get out on with having a life of her own. However, her parents have very different expectations for her; neither of them even went to high school, let alone graduated, so they don't understand her need for education. They expect her to be a willing helper in their family by cooking, baby-sitting her niece, and working as many hours as possible at her part-time job to help support the family. Marisa's best friend, boyfriend, and favorite teacher tell her she needs to work for her dreams, but Marisa doesn't know how she can if it comes at the expense of her family, especially her adorable niece who needs all the attention she can get.

This was a gripping book; I was pulled into Marisa's struggles, charmed by her boyfriend, and frustrated by her family. This realistic, intense story is one that many teen readers will enjoy. (As a small side tangent, though, I have to say one scene is really bothering me; when Marisa's dad gets upset about Marisa being out with her friends, Marisa's best friend--also Latina--explains that it's different for her, since her mom is Cubana and not Mexican and doesn't let her dad push her around. That's a paraphrase, but it illustrates the point. Anyway, I just felt like that was stereotyping Mexican men and women, and while the stereotype might be true in a lot of cases, I think it particularly bothered me because we don't get a whole lot of literature that take us beyond that stereotype...and I'd like to see that.)

3 stars.

Friday, July 29, 2011


By Patricia McCormick
Push, 2000. 151 pgs. Teen fiction

Thirteen-year-old Callie is in a treatment facility (nicknamed Sick Minds by the patients) because she's a cutter. Callie won't speak--not in group therapy, not in her one-on-one sessions with her counselor, not even during recreation times. But there comes a point where if Callie wants to heal, she'll have to speak up.

I read this book in one sitting. I was just really drawn into the story and Callie's struggle, trying to understand where she was coming from and why she would want to do something like cut herself. It's an engaging story on an important topic, and it's really well-done.

4 stars. Clean read.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The River between Us

The River between Us
By Richard Peck
Dial Books, 2003. 164 pgs. Teen fiction

Just at the outbreak of the Civil War, two girls, Delphine and Calinda, arrive in Grand Tower, just across the river into Northern territory. Tilly and her family take the two girls in, despite the fact that they are Southern and Calinda is black. They stir up the Pruitt family and the town itself. And soon, Tilly's twin brother heads off to war and their mother sends Tilly to get him back.

This is short book, but it's jam-packed with good things. There are secrets, family relationships, and insights into life in rural Illinois at the outbreak of the Civil War. Wrapped into Richard Peck's storytelling, there's not a single wasted word.

3.5 stars. Clean read.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


By Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2007. 335 pgs. Teen fiction

A couple generations in the future, a war has been fought over whether abortion is acceptable or not, and unexpected compromise has been reached: babies can't be aborted but when a child is between the ages of 13 and 18, parents can choose to have them unwound, which is the process of harvesting all of their parts and transplanting them to other humans in need of those parts. Connor's parents choose to have him unwound because of his behavior; Risa is an orphan who is deemed as not quite good enough to be allowed to continue existing, and Lev is a tithe, being unwound because of his family's religious beliefs. The three teens cross paths, and soon, they're trying to figure out how to survive in a world that says they don't deserve to live.

Ah! Why did I not read this book 4 years ago when it came out? I don't know, but I'm glad I finally got around to it! I really, really liked this book (which sounds funny to can you like about about unwinding people, right?). It's thought-provoking, it's edgy, it's emotional, it has great characters (I loved Connor and Risa, and Lev is a good secondary character.), and it says a lot about how we value life. From the first page, I was hooked. I love the fact that this isn't just a book about an issue; it has real, well-developed characters and while it makes a statement, it also makes you care about the people in the story.

4.5 stars. Clean read (I think...maybe there's a little language...and there it's implied that two characters might like to go past kissing but they don't.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eona: The Last Dragoneye

Eona by Allison Goodman

Eona: The Last Dragoneye

By Allison Goodman

Viking, 2011. 637 pgs. Teen fiction


In this sequel to Eon, Eona and Lord Ido are the only two dragoneyes left alive, which means they are also the kingdom's only hope against Sethon, who, after slaughtering most of his family, has made himself emperor. Ido has been captured by Sethon; Eona has escaped to find Kygo, the true heir, but she is still untrained and doesn't know how to use her power, and she's discovering things both about her ancestors and herself that frighten her. While Kygo trusts her enough to make her his highest advisor, others are wary of her and even Kygo's feelings seem mixed. Eona must figure out how to control her power and how to even trust herself to make the right choices if Kygo has any chance of defeating Sethon and restoring peace to the kingdom.


Readers will be drawn once again into the Empire of the Celestial Dragons. Eona's internal struggles (including what her morals are, how she's willing to use her power, who she trusts and even who she's attracted to) are well-portrayed and make her into a round, but not always likable, character. Fans of Eon will like the conclusion; those who haven't read Eon will definitely need to read it first or they'll be completely lost in this intricate fantasy.

3.5 stars. Not squeaky clean but I don't remember anything excessive.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


By Kathryn Erskine
Philomel Books, 2010. 235 pgs. Middle Grade Fiction

Ten-year-old Caitlin's has Asperger's Syndrome and is she's struggling to develop social skills from small things such as looking people in the eye to larger things like actually making friends. At the same time, she's dealing with the recent death of her brother, who was killed in a school shooting, and is trying to find closure for herself and for her father.

It's no wonder this book won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Caitlin's voice is so real and the message of the book is inspiring and moving. Caitlin is both a naive narrator, since she doesn't understand much of what others take for granted in life, and a refreshingly honest narrator who opens the reader's eyes as much as the eyes of the other characters in the book. This would be a great choice for class discussions.

4 stars. Clean read.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


By Cat Patrick
Little, Brown, 2011. 288 pgs. Teen fiction

London Lane can't remember the past; every morning at 4:33 a.m., her memory of the past is erased. However, she does have "memories" or glimpses of things to come in the future. Using these glimpses, along with notes that she records for herself, she gets by. However, when a new boy, Luke, shows up and London doesn't see him the future, she's concerned--she's drawn to him and they start dating, but each day, she has to "remind" herself that he even exists. At the same time, she gets a dark glimpse of a funeral in the future and is trying to figure out what is going to happen, why she can't "see" Luke in the future, and if the two things are related--and what secrets her mother is keeping from her.

This book started out really well; I was immediately drawn in by the premise of the story. The plot was intriguing and I really liked the budding relationship between Luke and London. However, inconsistencies in the book started to frustrate me, and in the end, I felt like the consistencies kept the story from even making sense. For example, why can't London see Luke? Even if she can't see Luke in the distant future, why wouldn't she be able to see him the following day? She mentions that she gets through school, knowing where to sit and where her locker is, etc., by "remembering" the following, why can't she remember Luke from the next day, if they date for over 6 months? That doesn't make sense to me.

(Side tangent: Luke and London don't sleep together but do discuss how they will in the future...and that's weird to me; if a girl can't remember the guy, shouldn't he be hesitant to sleep with her? Even if he wants to, ethically, isn't there something wrong with sleeping with someone who doesn't even know you?)

Anyway, the inconsistencies kinda took the wind of my sails so to speak. I think this could have been a great book if the inconsistencies were smoothed out and clearer answers given to how London's break works and why.

3.5 stars.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind
By Suzanne Fisher Staples
Knofp, 1989. 240 pgs. Middle grade/Teen fiction

Eleven-year-old Shabanu lives in the deserts of Pakistan, helping her father raise camels. As her twelve-year-old sister is preparing for her arranged marriage, Shabanu is beginning to think about her own arranged marriage, which will take place the following year. Just as Shabanu has come to accept the prospect of marriage and be excited about her future husband, disaster strikes and Shabanu will have to become the fourth wife of a much-older man in order to save her family--or decided to defy them by refusing and leaving.

This book was a tough read--it's fascinating but it's also disturbing. It's difficult to stomach the fact that even in today's world there are children forced into marriages that will make them miserable, that there isn't really a way to have a realistic, happy ending in many cases. So it was hard to read the book, with Shabanu continually facing loss and disappointment and there not really being a way for her to triumph. Yes, she has a triumphant spirit, but it's hard to think of a child facing what she's facing. At the same time, I really enjoyed the look at this culture, so different from my own. It was very eye-opening, and I appreciated the fact that the author showed a very loving family, who wanted to do their best to care for each other even though the restraints of their culture and socioeconomic status forced them to make really difficult decisions.

4 stars. (There's some talk about developing bodies and crossing into womanhood, but otherwise, it's a clean read.)

As a side note, at what point does a book become "historical fiction" instead of contemporary? This book was published in 1989, and I'm not sure how to classify this one. I'd also be interested in seeing what, if any, changes have come about in Pakistan since then--maybe the designation has less to do with the actual number of years but the social, political, and cultural climate...

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen
By Geraldine McCaughrean
Harper, 2010. 324 pgs. Middle grade fiction.

When diphtheria comes to Olive Town, Oklahoma, twelve-year-old Cissy's parents want to get her somewhere safe. Soon, they've enlisted Cissy's uptight schoolteacher, Miss May March, to escort her and two friends, Tibbie and Kookie, to meet up with their former schoolteacher, Loucien Crew, who has recently married an actor and gone on the road with his troupe. The actors have taken refuge in an old paddle steamer, which has run aground but soon sweeps them off down the river, and adventures ensue. They lose several members in a storm and then gain more along the way as they set up a traveling show. However, they're hit with some bad luck, and Cissy, who is desperate to be an actress, will have to give the performance of a lifetime to get them out of trouble.

This book is hilarious! The writing is clever and funny and the characters are a riot! The plot is good, too, and readers will be swept up in the story. This would be a great one to read aloud with a class.

4 stars.


By Laura Hillenbrand
Random House, 2010. 473 pgs. Adult Nonfiction

Louie Zamperini was a hellion as a child--stealing, fighting, failing his classes. His older brother Pete forced him to start running, which Louie initially resented but soon came to love; his natural talent and his training were such that he competed in the 1936 Olympics in an event he'd only run a handful of times. Before the 1940 Olympics, though, WWII broke out and Louie joined the Army and was trained to be a bombardier with the Army Air Corps. Louie and his crew completed several successful missions but one day, their plane crashed on the ocean. Only Louie and two others survived and floated for weeks in rafts in shark-infested waters. By the time they were picked up by the enemy Japanese, only Louie and his friend Phil remained, and the worst part of their experience--being POWs with sadistic guards, little food, hard labor, and constant illness--was still to come.

This is nonfiction at its finest; it's gripping both in the story--Zamperini's story is moving and inspirational--and in the writing, which is engaging and does its subject justice. From the first page, I was hooked and couldn't wait to see how things would play out for Louie. I can't say enough good things about it. It's one of those books that provides the reader with tons of information and, at the same time, sparks the desire to learn lots more. For example, I HAVE to read more about Japanese POW camps after this. Although it was published for the adult market, many teens would be hooked as well.

5 stars.