06. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, read by Courtney, on 07/01/2014

A group of friends, Ethan, Elizabeth, Jackson, and Luke, are all seniors at Selwyn Academy, a prestigious art school and the filming site for the current season of “For Art’s Sake”, a competition-style reality show. No one in the group is competing in the show, but that doesn’t stop the show from interfering in their lives in a number of frustrating ways. Ethan, the narrator, accidentally witnesses the show being filmed and realizes that not only is the show impeding actual learning and creativity, it’s also mostly scripted. Ethan doesn’t hesitate to share this information with the group. When Luke’s critical review of the show is rejected by the school newspaper for being unfavorable to the show (and the school’s participation in it), the group decides they ought to do something to make a statement. It’s not until they begin studying Ezra Pound that they figure out how they’re going to make their statement. Inspired by Pound’s Cantos, the group creates the Contracantos, a delightfully funny and scathing long poem. They then illustrate, hand-letter, print, and distribute the first installment of the Contracantos. Then they wait for a reaction. Imagine their surprise when Luke, the poet of the group, is approached by the show’s producers and subsequently added as a contestant. With Luke gone and not speaking to the rest of the group, Ethan and his friends must find a way to carry on. Good thing they’ve got the help of a gerbil named Baconnaise, who will prove to be surprisingly heroic for a rodent.
I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Ethan and crew are an intelligent and sarcastic bunch. I can’t help but feel that the secondary characters could have been better developed, but they may also have been a stylistic choice as the narrator has difficulty viewing others as much more than an archetype. The idea of a reality show essentially taking over a school, no matter how artsy, is abhorrent to me. Of course, I’m not a fan of the reality show genre in the first place, so this book may have been preaching to the choir in that sense. It definitely has a satirical tone to it. The whole “vigilante” artist thing is quite clever even if it’s hard to imagine someone who writes poetry as being fodder for a reality show. A fun and engaging read, complete with amusingly-named house pets.

04. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Apocalyptic, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

The Living by Matt de la Pena, read by Angie, on 08/04/2014

Shy is working on a Paradise Cruise ship when a man jumps overboard right in front of him. The story picks up on the next cruise and this time people are asking questions. A mysterious man in a suit starts asking about Shy and what the suicide victim might have said to him. Shy’s room is searched and the man keeps following him. We have no idea what this is about. Then a big storm approaches the cruise ship and we learn that “the Big One” has hit the west coast of America. A tsunami is headed towards the ship and in fact three waves hit and cause it to sink. Shy ends up on a broken lifeboat with no supplies. He rescues an older man and a young girl. The man has been bitten by a shark and eventually dies. The girl is a rich snob who picked on Shy on the ship. Addi and Shy have to come to terms with each other and fight to survive. Just when all hope is lost they are rescued and taken to a mysterious island where things just get even stranger. 

This book felt really disjointed like it wasn’t sure what kind of book it was going to be. The beginning was a realistic story about people from different backgrounds and socioeconomic status mingling on a ship and how they react to each other. The second part was pure apocalyptic with the earthquake and the tsunami and having to survive at sea. The end was a bit sci-fi mystery with the secret island and the weird scientists and the sickness infecting survivors. I think any of those books would have been interesting but together they were a bit of a mess. I wish the whole evil corporation bit would have been left off of the story because I think it would have been stronger with just the other two storylines. However, since this is the beginning of a series I guess you really needed somewhere to go. 

04. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Paranormal, Teen Books · Tags:

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, read by Angie, on 08/02/2014

Maggie is getting ready to start high school. She has been homeschooled and now must make the transition to public school. Her three older brothers are already there. Her dad is the new sheriff and her mom has taken off. And there is a ghost following her around. Maggie finds high school overwhelming and has a hard time making friends. The only people who will hang out with her are a brother/sister pair of punks. They become her group and they go to the movies and hang out. Of course her oldest brother doesn’t approve. Maggie has to navigate the mine field of high school and a home life that isn’t what it used to be. 

I really enjoy this graphic book. I thought Maggie’s experience with high school rang true. High school is overwhelming and scary to a lot of people and Maggie’s reactions completely mirrored that. I also liked the fact that Maggie and her brothers were portrayed very realistically. They fight, they have issues, but they stick together. I thought the ghost storyline was a bit confusing and I am not really sure what its purpose was other than to get Maggie and her friends in trouble. 

03. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books · Tags: ,

In Darkness by Nick Lake, read by Angie, on 08/02/2014

In Darkness is the dual tale of Shorty and Toussaint at two pivotal points in the history of Haiti. Shorty is a young gang member who is recovering from a gun shot wound in a hospital when the 2010 earthquake traps him in the rubble. While stuck in the darkness he has visions of Toussaint in the past. Toussaint is the slave who brought freedom to Haiti. He learned from the French Revolution and worked to overthrow the French in Haiti and end slavery. He brought both blacks and whites to his side and even though he was betrayed by Napoleon and died in prison, his vision eventually became a reality. Both men tell their stories in alternating narratives; explaining how they came to the end points of their stories. 

I had a difficult time with this book. I had to actually put the book down and do some research on Haiti, both past and present. I will admit that it is not a country I know much about and I had no idea who the people were that were discussed in the book (Aristide, Dread Wilme, Lavalas). I found Toussaint to be a much more sympathetic character than Shorty; at least he was fighting for a goal whereas Shorty admitted he liked killing people. I think the most disturbing thing about the book was the realistic descriptions of what live in Haiti is like. It truly does seem like hell on earth and the UN doesn’t seem to be doing any good there. Not sure what the situation is like after the earthquake, but I don’t expect it has changed all that much. It is sad when the gangs are the ones caring for the people and the UN is killing the gang bangers which leaves the poor with even less than before. I am not sure about the appeal of this book. I can’t see a lot of teens sticking with it or even picking it up in the first place, but then a lot of award-winning books are like that.

01. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, Jane, Teen Books · Tags:

Elemental by Antony John , read by Jane, on 07/29/2014

A lost colony is reborn in this heart-pounding fantasy adventure set in the near future . . .

Sixteen-year-old Thomas has always been an outsider. The first child born without the power of an Element—earth, water, wind or fire—he has little to offer his tiny, remote Outer Banks colony. Or so the Guardians would have him believe.

In the wake of an unforeseen storm, desperate pirates kidnap the Guardians, intent on claiming the island as their own. Caught between the plague-ridden mainland and the advancing pirates, Thomas and his friends fight for survival in the battered remains of a mysterious abandoned settlement. But the secrets they unearth will turn Thomas’ world upside-down, and bring to light not only a treacherous past but also a future more dangerous than he can possibly imagine.

01. August 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Apocalyptic, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Books

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block, read by Angie, on 07/31/2014

Weird, wonderful, confusing, lyrical, strange, magical, incomprehensible…how to describe this book. The language of the story is beautiful and lyrical. The journey of the book is magical and schizophrenic. The story is a bit of a mess mixed with the Odyssey. On one hand I liked it, but on the other I thought it was a disaster of a book. 

This is the story of Pen (Penelope) who lives in LA with her mom, dad and brother Venice in a pink house by the sea. The end comes in the form of an Earth Shaker which destroys the world. Pen is left alone in her pink house with the sea even closer. She hides out until she is forced to leave. Then she sets off on a journey that mirrors the journey of Odysseus in the Odyssey. She blinds an one-eyed giant, gets stuck in the lotus-eater hotel, meets sirens and witches and seers. She is joined on her journey by beautiful Hex (boy who used to be a girl with a lot of problems) and tragic Ez and Ash. She is searching for her family. Turns out their is also an evil genius who created and cloned these flesh-eating giants and has a vendetta against Pen’s family. There is all kinds of crazy going on which just forces Pen to toughen up. She loses an eye but that only makes her able to see even more. And of course her entire journey is based on the path of orange butterflies. 

If you are confused by the description, just imagine how confusing the book is! The writing is beautiful and Pen’s story is fleshed out through flashbacks to her life Then (before the Earth Shaker). This is not your typical post-apocalyptic novel. There are magical forces at work here that make the story just a bit incomprehensible. It is interesting and beautiful, but definitely confusing. I thought there was just a little too much reliance on The Odyssey. The characters quote from it constantly and are way more familiar with the story than your average teenagers; they also say things like “this is just like the Odyssey” which I thought was a little too obvious. I’ve finished the book and am still not 100% sure what I thought of it. I liked it and disliked it. 

28. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fantasy, Fiction, Teen Books

Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce, read by Angie, on 07/27/2014

Battle Magic is the story of Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy in Yanjing. The events that are alluded to in The Will of the Empress are explained here. They become involved in a war between countries; fighting on the side of the God-King of Gyongxe. They are forced to become battle mages and use their ambient magic to help win the war. 

It has been a while since I read The Will of the Empress and Melting Stones (the two previous books in this series), but I do remember that Briar is portrayed as suffering from horrible PTSD because of the things he was forced to do in this war. He is so traumatized that he can’t sleep alone and has flashbacks and nightmares. Imagine my surprise on reading this book to find nothing that truly traumatizes him, except maybe thinking Evvy is dead. I was happy to return to the Circle world even though I have always enjoyed Pierce’s Tortall books more. However, I am not sure this book lives up to her others. For one, the narration skips around a lot. I am fine with multiple narrators because it gives the story more depth, but the narrators not only switch between chapters but within them as well. It ads a level of confusion that was unnecessary. The other thing that was surprising was that there was really no character growth for Briar, Rosethorn or Evvy. They all seemed exactly like the characters they have been in the previous books. The secondary characters also seemed to fade together and no one is a real standout. 

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this book. I did and stayed up way too late reading it. I liked learning more about what Briar and Rosethorn have been up to. However, I wasn’t impressed with the story or the battles really. The way it played out the group was essential to winning the war. Sure there were soldiers fighting and even some other mages, but Briar and Rosethorn and Evvy’s magic was the deciding factor, because they are so powerful and no one knows how to combat their ambient magic. Seemed a little to perfect to me. 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley. 

23. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, read by Angie, on 07/22/2014

Josie lives in New Orleans in 1950. She is the daughter of a prostitute and has no idea who her father is. However, she doesn’t get along with her mom and lives on her own above a bookstore where she also works. Charlie, the owner, has been like a father figure to her. Charlie is now sick (with dementia or Alzheimers) and his son Patrick runs the store. Josie’s second job is to clean the house of Willie Woodley, the madam of the local whorehouse. Willie is like a mother to Josie; she provides for her and protects her. Josie meets a nice gentleman in the bookstore one day and has an instant connection to him. She dreams he might be her father. So she is disturbed when he turns up murdered. The police think her mom may have something to do with it. Mom skips town with her abusive mobster boyfriend Cincinnati. Josie also dreams of leaving town and going to college. She is focused on Smith after meeting a nice Uptown girl who goes to Smith. Josie tries to figure out if her mom really did have something to do with the man’s death and how she can escape and go to Smith. 

Ruta Sepetys really has a way of making a story come alive. Once I started reading this book I was enthralled. I wanted to know how the Memphis man was killed and why. I rooted for Josie to get into Smith. Josie was such a well-developed character that you couldn’t help but root for her. She was a tad naive when it came to some things, but also very aware of the underbelly of New Orleans. I thought it was interesting that all the prostitutes who worked for Willie where shown as happy and healthy. It was a bit of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” vibe. They were all prostitutes with hearts of gold; they looked after Josie and tried to help her when they could. Really Josie’s mom was the only true whore among them. She was a murder and a thief, even stealing from Josie. I thought this book really brought New Orleans to live; it showed the fabulous parts of it as well as the nasty bits. 

22. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fantasy, Fiction, Kira, Teen Books · Tags:

Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington, read by Kira, on 07/14/2014

livfor  Liv is a scholarship student at a rich school. You know that Liv has been killed at the start of this novel.  The question is why did she die, and why have there been so many mysterious deaths in the past.  This was a fun read, not particularly deep, but I like ghost characters.  The ending of the book leaves the possibility of sequel, but this probably won’t happen.Huntingdon-College-CC-Spyder-Monkey-e1351559840834The_Haunted_Mansion

22. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Mystery, Noelle, Teen Books

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, read by Noelle, on 07/16/2014

Each summer the wealthy, seemingly perfect Sinclair family meets on their private island. Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are a unit, especially during “summer 15,” marking their fifteenth year on Beechwood– the summer that Cady and Gat fall in love. Cady became involved in a mysterious accident, in which she sustained a blow to the head, and now suffers from debilitating migraines and memory loss. When she returns to Beechwood during summer 17 issues of guilt and blame, love and truth all come into play.

 

22. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Fiction, Noelle, Science Fiction, Teen Books, Thriller/Suspense

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy, read by Noelle, on 07/03/2014

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

21. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Gilt by Katherine Longshore, read by Angie, on 07/20/2014

This is the story of Catherine Howard, the doomed 5th wife of Henry VIII. It is told from the perspective of her friend Kitty Tylney. Cat schemes and plots her way to court and then into the heart of Henry. Once there she brings her girlhood friends to court with her. Her schemes don’t end with becoming queen. She continues to scheme and fool around and basically doom herself by her selfish actions. Kitty is loyal to her friend Cat, but becomes disillusioned as Cat’s plots bring them closer and closer to destruction. 

You know the ending of this story before it starts. You know Cat will not make it to the end with her head intact, but the journey there is an intriguing one. Anne Boleyn seems to be the wife that gets all the attention. The others all seem to fade into the background. It is nice to see a story about one of Henry’s other wives. This was a fun guilty pleasure type book. I had no idea until the very end whether Kitty was going to follow Cat to her end or not.

18. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Velvet by Mary Hooper, read by Angie, on 07/17/2014

Velvet is an orphan who works in a laundry in Victorian London. She comes to the attention of Madame Savoya, a famed medium, and starts working in her household. Life with Madame is definitely different from the poor conditions Velvet was previously used to. She comes to like the finer things in life and is enamored with George, Madame’s assistant. Velvet starts out as a firm believer in Madame’s powers over the Other Side. However, she does come to suspect that Madame may not be quite as in tune with the spirits as she seems. Velvet has to decide what is more important: the truth or her new life. 

I sometimes find books like this difficult to read, not because they are poorly written or bad books but because the characters in them are so different from people today. Hooper does a great job making her characters into true Victorians. They are firm believers in spiritualism and there is an innocence in them that makes them less suspicious than modern people. As a reader I clearly saw that Madame was a fake and that there was something suspicious about George. But Velvet with her Victorian sensibilities is oblivious. I like the fact that Hooper really did her homework on how the mediums of this age practiced their art and how gullible their clients were.

14. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Steam-punk, Teen Books

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, read by Angie, on 07/13/2014

Sophronia is being sent to finishing school. Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality to be exact. Sophronia would rather be figuring out how things work than learning how to curtsey, but her mother has other ideas. Her mother would be appalled at what she is actually learning at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. Not only does Sophronia learn how to curtsey and act appropriately in social situations she also learns how to poison someone and the fine art of gathering intelligence. Her other skills come in handy when she and her friends must figure out what has happened to a communications prototype that is wanted by a lot of nefarious characters. 

I like this Victorian steampunk world a lot. I have read Souless, the first in Carriger’s adult series, but didn’t really remember it a lot. This series is set in that same world. The school is a giant balloon that floats across the moors. There are vampire and werewolf teachers. And there are flying skypirates who attack the school. I found the whole thing fun and ridiculous and really enjoyable. There is just enough steampunk, just enough historical fiction, just enough zaniness to make this a really fun read. 

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Teen Books

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, read by Angie, on 07/11/2014

Ari is a young man filled with anger and silence. He comes from a family with a father scarred by war, a mother devastated by a son’s actions and a brother who has disappeared from their lives since he went to prison. Ari has no friends and is melancholy. His only desires are for a truck and a dog. He likes to run and workout, both solitary activities. It all changes when he meets Dante. Dante is vibrant and chatty. He likes to draw and read poetry. He asks hard questions and truly wants to know the answers. Ari and Dante become best friends. Dante brings Ari out of his shell and gets him to talk and makes him realize it is ok for boys to cry. They are there for each other even when Dante moves to Chicago for a year. Their friendship holds up even when Dante confesses he would rather kiss boys than girls and would really like to kiss Ari. Ari cares so much for Dante that he saves his life and goes after a boy who hurt Dante. However, Ari is still conflicted and angry even if he doesn’t know what he is angry about. 

I thought this story was wonderful. I loved the friendship of Ari and Dante and the fact that Dante being gay really had no affect on it. Ari accepts Dante for who he is and who he loves. They are friends no matter what. I also loved the parents in this book, which is something I don’t often say. I thought both Ari and Dante’s parents were some of the best. The relationships were realistic and touching. I also really enjoyed the dialogue of this book. It is snappy and relevant and reminded me of the dialogue on some of my favorite tv shows. This is a great story about acceptance, both of others and yourself. It is a love story, a story about families, a story about self-awareness and a story about growing up into who you are meant to be. 

12. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Going Over by Beth Kephart, read by Angie, on 07/11/2014

Ada and Stefan are young and in love. Unfortunately they are separated by the Berlin Wall. It is 1981 and there are still many years before the wall will fall. Ada, in the west, works at a daycare during the day and graffitis during the night. She lives with Omi (grandmother) and Mutti (mother) in a squatters flat close to the wall. She urges Stefan to make his escape when she sees him every 3 months. Stefan lives with his grandmother in the east. His mother escaped to the west and hasn’t been seen. His grandfather tried to escape and was killed. Stefan is cautious despite his love for Ada.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It is unique, which I enjoyed. I don’t believe I have ever read a teen book about Berlin during the time of the wall. I thought Ada really represented my image of a young German Punk with her cans of paint and bright hair. Stefan seemed to be her exact opposite but also somewhat of a stereotypical reserved German. I liked their love story even if I didn’t always buy its authenticity. I also liked the secondary storyline of the Turkish women and children brought into West Germany as second-class workers. I thought it helped flesh out Ada’s character and make her become more fully realized. Stefan felt a little flat to me because of the lack of more story on his part. I also liked/disliked the writing style. I liked the sparse prose but I thought it left holes in the story. I wanted more information on who these characters were, especially the secondary ones, and what their motivations were. I felt like the story lacked the details that would have made it great. 

08. July 2014 · 1 comment · Categories: Angie, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Poetry, Teen Books

Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald, read by Angie, on 07/07/2014

Odette lives in Paris with her mother and father. They are non-practicing Jews and have a good life in Paris. Then the Nazis come into power and things begin to change. First her father joins the French Army and is taken prisoner by the Germans. Then the Nazis start rounding up the Jews of Paris. Odette’s mother is prepared however and Odette gets sent to the Vendee countryside with several other little girls. They are going to hide in plain sight not as Jews but as Christian girls escaping the violence of Paris. Odette must learn the Catholic prayers and the sign of the cross and never tell anyone she is Jewish. Odette considers this just one more secret she must keep. Her mother soon joins her in the country which makes things even more difficult. They spend the war safely ensconced in their country cottage, but suspicions still follow them. After the war they are able to return to Paris and their home, but life will never be the same. 

I really enjoy novels in verse and thought the format really worked for this book. Odette’s Secrets is based on the true story of Odette Meyer and how she and her family survived the war. Odette was able to blend in as a Christian girl and actually came to enjoy praying and different aspects of Christian life. It is amazing how adaptable people, especially children, can be. I am always fascinated by the stories of how people survived during WWII. These stories make me wonder if I would be as strong or as brave as those who fought against the Nazis and did what they must to survive.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready, read by Courtney, on 06/19/2014

David and Mara used to have a fairly ordinary life. Then, their older brother joined the armed forces and was killed. Now, the family is a complete mess. Over the course of their grieving, David’s parents first turn to the Evangelical Church for answers. It helps, to an extent. David is “saved” and his parents start to come out of their depression. David and Mara are taken out of the public schools and put into a religious homeschooling group. Over time, the church ceases to be enough for David’s parents and they find solace in a group that believes in the end of the world. Instead of calling it the “Rapture”, this new group calls it the “Rush” and claim to know exactly when it’s going to happen. David and his sister are dubious, but their parents appear completely convinced. As the date for the “Rush” draws nearer, David’s father becomes increasingly unhinged, speaking only in Bible verses. In the forty days before the “Rush”, David and his sister are asked to give up everything worldly to prepare for their salvation. Aside from not really believing that the end of the world is coming, David has some other problems with this situation. He’s a baseball star with college scouts following his every pitch. He’s got a girlfriend that he’s absolutely crazy about. In other words, he really doesn’t want to give up his entire life.
When the book opens, it is the night of the “Rush” and David and Mara have missed it. Instead of being at home with their parents on the night that they are supposed to be taken to Heaven, David and Mara have gone to an after-prom party and missed the deadline. When they return home, their parents are gone. No messages or notes. Their clothes laid on on the bed under the covers as though they had simply vanished. Needless to say, David and Mara are concerned. They don’t believed their parents have been “Rushed”, but something is clearly not right. Now they need to figure out what happened to their parents before word spreads that two teenagers are living by themselves.
The premise of this book is fascinating to me. I’m not a religious person, so it was interesting to see how a practitioner would view the world. Smith-Ready miraculously manages to keep this story from either glorifying or vilifying those of faith, but always remains critical of those who would use faith to achieve their own ends. I’m not 100% sold on the parents’ reaction to their eldest son’s death, but a catalyst was needed and grief is a powerful one. David and Mara make a great sibling team. David is a person of faith, while Mara is a skeptic who manages to play the part of a religious person to avoid confrontation with her parents. David’s girlfriend, Bailey, provides a great foil to David. Bailey is not religious either, but is curious and considerate when the topic of religion comes up, which happens frequently. I will admit that my brain fuzzed out a bit during the baseball-heavy portions of the book, but overall, this was a very engaging take on faith and religion. Would likely make a very good book club read.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Teen Books

The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, read by Courtney, on 06/13/2014

The Midnight Dress is a gorgeously rendered tale of murder, friendship and sewing. When Rose arrives in Leonora with her father, she is not expecting to stay very long. She and her father have been driving around Australia in their RV for years, never staying in one place for very long. She grudgingly enrolls herself in the local high school and does her best to avoid everyone. She unwittingly winds up friends with Pearl Kelly, the lovely and gregarious girl who smells of “frangipani and coconut oil”. Rose is unaccustomed to having friends and her gruff demeanor is designed to keep it that way. Pearl has a way of getting under one’s skin though and, as the Harvest Festival draws nearer, Rose finds herself heading to the seamstress Pearl recommended to have a dress made. The seamstress is an elderly woman named Edie who lives in a giant, dilapidated house at the base of the mountain. She was once a dressmaker of some renown, but has since become regarded as a witch. Rose, in spite of herself, continues to come back, week after week to help Edie hand-stitch the beautiful midnight-blue dress that Rose will wear for the Harvest Festival parade. Through it all, however, the reader knows that one of these two girls will not survive the night of the Festival. Who, how and why remain a mystery.
Each chapter begins with a flashback showing a tiny portion of the fateful night, but the information is meted out so deliberately that the reader is driven to push on in order to find out how the pieces fit together. The rest of the story is told in a more linear fashion, but is no less mysterious. Pearl and Rose make such a wonderful pair. Pearl is sweetness, dreams and light. Rose is twilight, introspection and nature. Edie’s backstory expands the world inhabited by the girls. The landscape of their coastal Australian town is as much a character as any of the humans. While there’s nothing explicitly magical about this tale, there’s something about the writing that feels as though this might be magical realism. The narrative may move slowly, but this is not a novel to rush through. Readers who stick with it will be richly rewarded by the dazzling writing, vivid landscape, and memorable characters.

07. July 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, read by Courtney, on 06/07/2014

Sophie’s mother runs the only bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so vacations spent with her mother are anything but ordinary. On one of her excursions outside of the sanctuary, Sophie comes across a man with a baby bonobo in a cage. Seeing the poor physical state of the young bonobo, Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. She takes out her spending money and barters with the man. She arrives back at the sanctuary with a lighter wallet and a very ill baby bonobo who may not even survive without its mother. Sophie’s mother is infuriated as Sophie’s action likely prompted the man to poach more of the endangered species. A penitent Sophie is determined to be the best surrogate she possibly can be. Towards the end of her scheduled trip, her mother has to leave to take a group of bonobos to a release site upriver. Due to a variety of factors, the release cannot be delayed simply because Sophie’s flight is scheduled at the same time. Sophie doesn’t mind; it will give her that much more time to bond with the baby bonobo that she’s named Otto.
A few days after her mother leaves, civil war breaks out in Congo. The president has been killed and the resulting power vacuum has caused the UN to evacuate all westerners. Sophie is told she will be leaving early. When the UN van arrives, however, Sophie cannot bring herself to leave Otto and jumps from the van as it pulls away from the sanctuary. By the time she gets back, rebels have encroached on the sanctuary. Sophie manages to hide with Otto in an electrically-fenced enclosure. She’s temporarily safe from the rebels, but the adult bonobos are another story.
It quickly becomes evident that Sophie cannot stay, so she makes a daring escape and is followed by several of the adult bonobos from the enclosure. Together they make their way across the war-town countryside as they head for the release site where Sophie’s mother went. The journey takes Sophie across dozens of miles of the DRC. At every turn, Sophie is confronted with the realities of war: child soldiers, starving families, violent militia men, death, destruction.
Endangered excels because it focuses not just on the astonishingly-human bonobos (who share nearly 97% of our DNA) and their plight, but because it refuses to operate in a vacuum. The DRC is a country with a complicated history and is also home to the largest population of bonobos in the world. When a country with vast natural resources has been traditionally mismanaged by colonial powers, however, everyone loses. Sophie’s journey is harrowing, unexpected and strangely beautiful. The narrative moves quickly without sentimentalizing. Sophie is a relate-able main character; she often acts according to her heart, which opens the doors for consequences that are often surprising and formative. Readers will appreciate the swiftly-moving narrative that utilizes popular literary elements like survival and eluding armed militias and grounds them in a very real context. The ending ties up a bit too tidily and Sophie gets extremely lucky on more than one occasion, but these foibles can be easily overlooked. The rest of the story is totally solid though not for the faint of heart.