Monday, January 26, 2009

Feathered by Laura Kasischke

Anne and Michelle were destined from the beginning to be friends. They met when they were three years old and have been friends ever since. Now seniors in high school, the girls are searching not only for adventure, but also to find themselves in a big world where colleges and distance will separate them. What better way to take a taste of the world than to go on spring break?
Anne and Michelle’s mothers are protective, to say the least, but also want their daughters to spread their wings. Armed thoroughly with advice, which both girls take seriously, they begin to prepare themselves to leave Glendale, Illinois behind and venture to Cancun Mexico. Together with their third but secondary friend Terri, they get on the plane and are ready for fun in the sun.
From the moment they land, the girls know that life as they knew it is over seven hours away and thus begins their spring break. The first time they see the Hotel del Sol, they realize that all the advice their parents instilled in them was for a reason. They stay together for a whole two hours before Terri disappears, only to be found at a bar with a guy going to USC. Michelle and Anne decide not to partake in the fun and instead find themselves alone by the pool, enjoying the blue they see everywhere and the experience of being responsible for their adult actions.
But their actions are soon put to the wayside when Michelle meets a father figure who asks them if they’d like to ride with him to the ruins of Chichen Itza. Both girls rely on the other to make the right decision, but it never appears. And the next day when they get into the car with a strange man, Anne’s alert bells go off. But it may be too late for both of them. On the second day of their spring break, the unthinkable and irreparable happens to the girls…
This is a cautionary tale told in differing timelines, from Anne’s past experience and Michelle’s current one. Sometimes teenagers feel invincible, and this book shows the vulnerability of teens when the lines are blurred and caution is thrown to the wind. The author allows the readers to use their imaginations to go through certain situations, never leaving behind the gratuitous encounters that would have marred the writing. A perfect fusion of Middlewestern teen life and Mayan history, this book is filled with symbolism taken from the title. Highly recommended.

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale; ill. by Nathan Hale

When you think you've read another retelling of a fairy tale, along comes a graphic novel with a twist, and Rapunzel's not your ordinary princess.

In this graphic retelling, Rapunzel indeed does live in a palace with her evil stepmother, Gothel, but then the differences begin. Gothel has the power over the lands she rules where she can create lush farmland or barren deserts, depending on her whim and how much she pulls in from taxes. Rapunzel isn't aware of any of this until she climbs over the palace walls and sees the huge gap between her life in the castle and those who work the mines or try to make a living off of the land. And it is in the mines that she reunites with her mother and her memories come back.

Of course, Gothel has been trying to indoctrinate Rapunzel into taking over her kingdom and becoming evil herself, but when she realizes the impact of Rapunzel's reunion, it's time to ship her off. Where? To a tall huge tree in the middle of a swamp where Rapunzel becomes a teenager, and in her lonliness, finds a multitude of uses for her long tresses, including roping, tying, and whipping.

After her escape from the tree tower, Punzie runs into many characters, among them a thief named Jack, who, of course, has a stolen goose. And there the adventures begin, from traversing the kingdom to escaping the clutches of Gothel's evil servants to finding the heart of the magic Gothel uses to destroy people and communities.

A colorful and animated graphic novel, this is one that will please junior high audiences with some appreciation for lower high school graphic novel readers. This graphic novel pulls from fairy tales and tongue-in-cheek humor and readers watch Rapunzel grow up from a child to a teenager and finding herself along the way. Not quite the wild west (it has elements of fantasty intertwined), this story has illustrations that show the strength and depth of the main characters as well asd depicting minor ones just as well. Interestingly, teens I've given this too have all commented on how much the back cover illustration reminded them of Annie paced, this will fly off of junior high shelves. Recommended.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Exposed by Susan Vaught

Chan Shealy hasn’t had a great year at school. Her reputation has been shattered, she has only one friend in the world, and she’s beginning to worry about her weight. But nothing has been as bad as seeing her ex, Adam-P, with Ellis, the blonde and beautiful majorette nemesis.

Chan also feels so disconnected from her family. She’s embarrassed of her father’s weight, her mother’s ridiculous political shirts, and her eight year old sister Lauren’s goth frame of mind. In short, Chan feels totally isolated. The only thing that keeps her company is her love for all things Emily Dickinson and her best friend, Devin.
Factor in the emotional and family disconnect, add a lot of pressure from her coach, the Bear, to win regionals, sprinkle in the fact that she caught the gift that never goes away from her loser ex, and Chan goes to the only place she feels beautiful, protected, and loved – her fantasies.

And through a simple chat room, her fantasies begin to come alive, especially when she meets cute Paul, who understands everything she’s going through and says the things she loves to hear. Little by little, their relationships becomes deeper and stronger, and Paul tests Chan’s love by asking for more – more secrets, more photos, more chat time…Chan doesn’t realize that the protected places of her fantasies have left her fully exposed, in a real and dangerous place online.

When teens today think they are extremely savvy at technology, out comes a book that looks at their innocence. Susan Vaught captures the essence of this and then allows the reader to see the dark side of virtual relationships. Even when the reader thinks he/she knows what’s going to happen next, Vaught takes them on another twist and turn, showing how a teen can get so caught up with strangers and the “anonymous” protection of the internet that it can affect all relationships – not just themselves. Once started, this book was hard to put down. Excellent read; highly recommended.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Kristi likes her cat Minie (as in mouse), opera music, unusual practical jokes, and making her own clothes from anything and everything. She doesn’t have the greatest relationship with her mom, her dad split a couple of years ago, and her best friend now hangs out with the popular kids and makes fun of her. And the guy that she crushed on? He now thinks she’s sick. How does she know all of that? She’s psychic, of course.

Going to school is not something Kristi enjoys, but it has it’s defining moments. She does have Jacob Flax as a friend, but he seems to only think about one thing, and life goes on as usual, until she meets the new student, a guy named Mallory, who has defiance issues similar to hers.

School isn’t your typical school. It has Morning Meetings, Explorations in Nature (ie science) and the Contemplation Room. Kristi thinks of it more like a joke than school, but it’s someplace she can get lost in, even if there aren’t that many students. And when her best friend Jacob decides to share with everyone during morning meeting he’s going to improve himself, the principal decides it needs to be an entire school project with partners. And Kristi’s is….Gusty, the golden god and her old crush.

As with anything in life, Kristi meets this expectation by pushing away and making sure her shell remains intact – no one in, herself left out. But the more the project goes on, the more unsure Kristi is of not only her abilities as a psychic, but also about herself and her relationships, especially those with her parents. Can she juggle who she is as well as come to terms with who others think she is? Could Kristi possibly let go and find there is more out there than surface matieral?

Amy Kathleen Ryan has invented a unique, quirky, and strong main character that continues to resonate throughout the book. The more into the story the reader gets, the more layers are peeled back not only in Kristi, but in all of the characters. A fast read with plenty of depth in dealing with issues of friendships, family, and personal lives. If you have readers who loved Cohn’s Gingerbread or Alex Bradley’s Hot Lunch, they need to take a look at larger than life Kristi. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gone by Michael Grant

The small community of Perdido Beach has long been named Fallout Alley because of the nuclear power plant built ten miles up the road. On a typical day, Sam, Astrid, Quinn and Edilio are in class. Sam and Quinn are making plans to ride surf waves while Astrid figuring out the next AP Physics questions. And then….
Poof! The teacher disappears
No one really knows what happens at first glance, but slowly realization sets in. The adults – all of them – are gone. And with that realization come great challenges and responsibilities. What happens in a world when everyone over the age of 15 disappears? Who takes control and who creates chaos? These are just some questions already coming to the forefront of everyone’s minds, but more than that, at the moment, is the chance to indulge in every kid’s fantasy….total disorder with no consequences.
But when reality sets in, from finding dead babies forgotten at home to trying to put out an apartment building fire, the kids and teens start looking for a natural leader, and Sam is put on the forefront. It’s not something he wants to do, and is challenged at the beginning by the bullies in town, especially Orc, who wields power through intimidation.
Sam, Astrid, Quinn and Edilio begin the long journey of trying to find out what happened and soon come against a barrier around their town. Is it something that barricades them from the outside world or are they in an alternate universe? No one knows for sure; the only thing they understand is they are isolated.
Along with the isolation, some of the kids are experiencing some strange manifestations, including the ability to teleport, start fires, read minds and defy gravity. But with power comes great responsibility, and when students from the private Coates Academy with even greater power and less morals descend into town and begin to take over….
The book begins with intensity and slowly loses that intensity only for it to pick up again with the denouement. The reader gets to see distinct personalities early in the book and decide which side of the line the characters fall, with some of them even surprising the reader. An excellent pair with Lord of the Flies, Michael Grant creates the science fiction version of a world gone awry when the only people left to create a new society are kids.