23. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags: , ,

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, 279 pages, read by Angie, on 03/20/2015

Lucky Linderman isn’t lucky at all. When his grandma died she asked him to find his grandpa. Problem is grandpa was a POW in Vietnam and never came home. Lucky has been dreaming about rescue missions to save his grandpa ever since. Lucky is also being bullied by a horrible kid named Nadar McMillan. Nadar is one of those kids that every kid knows to avoid, but all the adults love. It doesn’t help that his father is a sue-happy lawyer. Nadar started bullying Lucky by peeing on his shoes when he was seven and hasn’t stopped. Lucky’s parents know he is being bullied, but can’t seem to find the energy or the drive to do something about it. His dad is a chef, works all the time and only wants to talk food when he is home. Dad has been so traumatized by growing up without a dad that he can’t seem to become one himself. Mom spends all her time in the pool swimming laps to avoid her unhappy marriage and her unhappy child.

It is not until Nadar physically harms Lucky so that others can see that mom finally does something. She doesn’t call the police or Nadar’s father; she takes Lucky and leaves. They head to Arizona and her brother’s house (mainly because it has a pool). Things seem to be looking up there. Lucky is bonding with his uncle and lifting weights and he meets a girl who helps build up his confidence in himself. Only problem is that the aunt is CRAZY. She is positive Lucky is suicidal and keeps wanting to help him in her own inept way. In Arizona Lucky learns some truths about himself and his family and starts to gain the confidence he needs to stand up to Nadar.

This is a book that might not be for everyone, but if you stick with it you are going to be rewarded. A.S. King always seems to write about the misfit characters who come into their own in her books. Like her other characters, Lucky is a real kid with real problems. He is picked on and bullied and misunderstood. Sure he dreams about rescuing his grandpa from the jungle prisons of Vietnam and sure he has a chorus of ants who offer commentary on his life, but that doesn’t make him crazy. In fact, the dreams and the ants help him work through what is going on around him. The ants offer a bit of light-heartedness to an otherwise fairly dark story.

12. October 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Twice As Nice by Lin Oliver, 224 pages, read by Angie, on 10/12/2014

Charlie’s friends aren’t talking to her ever since she told on two boys who started a fire. Her twin Sammie thinks this is for the best since mean-girl and leader of the pack Lauren isn’t nice at all. Charlie just wants to be part of the in-crowd though. When Lauren decided to form The Junior Waves club she needs Charlie to increase their chances of getting approved. Charlie is excited to be back in the group and will do pretty much anything even if it means going against what she knows is right.

This book was pretty cliched with no likable characters. I know it has a nice message about not giving in to peer pressure and bullying and being true to yourself but the delivery had the subtlety of a sledge hammer. Pretty much any cliche you can think of was in this book and you knew how the story was going to play out from the beginning. There are much better books out there that deal with these topics.

19. March 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction · Tags:

B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy) by Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple, 328 pages, read by Angie, on 03/16/2014

Sammy Greenburg is bullied at school. He has a smart mouth and can’t seem to help mouthing off to the bullies. He makes friends with new kid Skink who helps a bit with the bullying situation, but isn’t always around. During bar mitzvah lessons he learns about golems. He decides to make a golem to help him out. Gully, the golem, does protect him from the bullies and he becomes his friend. Sammy, Skink and Gully form a band and get a gig performing at school. Of course Sammy’s rabbi tries to warn him about the danger golems can be to those around him. Sammy has to decide what to do about Gully and the bullies.

There are parts of this book I really liked. I liked the lessons on bullying and making friends and making good decisions. However, this was kind of a clunky book to read. It starts with a chapter on golems going crazy in Isreal featuring Sammy’s rabbi. Doesn’t seem to fit with rest of the story except when the rabbi tells the story later to illustrate how dangerous golems can be. I also didn’t buy just how horrible the bullies were. Bullies are of course mean and terrible and they do really bad things, but do most 6th grade bullies try to kill their classmates? I don’t think so. I found it strange that no one questioned Gully’s appearance (which is gray down to his teeth) or the fact that he just shows up and starts going to school nor do they question his disappearance. Even though this book isn’t supposed to be exactly realistic, it has so many realistic elements that the fantastical bits really stood out and didn’t work.

05. February 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags: ,

The Saturday Boy by David Fleming, 240 pages, read by Angie, on 02/04/2014

Derek’s father has been deployed to Afghanistan for months. Derek’s only communication with him is through letters. He keeps all of his dad’s letters in a Knight Rider lunchbox and reads them whenever he needs his dad. Derek is also having a tough time at school. His friend Budgie is only nice to him when they are alone. At school he makes fun of Derek and is very mean to him. Derek lives a lonely life filled with superhero comics and cartoons. Then one day he finds out that his father’s helicopter has been shot down and he did not survive. Derek’s world turns upside down and he and his mom have to figure out how to cope.

I really enjoyed this story. II thought it was touching and sad and funny and all the things you would want from this type of book. However, it wasn’t perfect. Derek seems to be a bit immature for his age (5th grade). He still believes in Santa Claus and is obsessed with his favorite cartoons. Derek also seems to have some behavioral problems where he acts out without thought. I thought the bullying from Budgie was well done and showed just how insecure kids are at this age. It is the time where they are growing out of being a child and becoming young adults. This is the period when they become more aware of what others think of them and how they are perceived. Budgie isn’t a bad kid, but he doesn’t have a lot going for him. So he bullies Derek and others to make it seem like he is more secure than he is. Derek tries to deflect the bullying, but can only take so much. This is a story about a boy trying to become a man without his father around, but it is also the story of a boy just trying to be himself. Great message and a great read.

20. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Fiction · Tags:

Odd, Weird & Little by Patrick Jennings, 160 pages, read by Angie, on 12/20/2013

Woodrow has always been the weird kid that gets picked on in school. Then Toulouse shows up. He is even weirder than Woodrow. He is tiny, doesn’t speak much English, wears suits and gloves and hats, and is just plain strange. Woodrow and Toulouse become friends and discover they have a lot in common besides being picked on by bullies. Toulouse also has a secret; a secret that explains a lot of the things he does. Together Woodrow and Toulouse are stronger than they are apart and they become good enough friends to stand up to the bullies.

This is a charming little story about being comfortable with who you are and not letting the bullies win. I loved the unique quirks exhibited by Woodrow and Toulouse. While Toulouse’s secret might not make this book very realistic the situations are and the message is a good one for all those kids being bullied.

I received a copy of this book from netgalley.

06. December 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Angie, Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction · Tags:

Odd Squad: The Bully Bait by Michael Fry, 224 pages, read by Angie, on 12/06/2013

Nick is super short kid who gets bullied by Roy. Turns out tall-girl Molly and Safety Patrol Karl are also bullied. The counselor brings them all together for Safety Patrol in the hopes that they will be stronger together. Safety Patrol becomes a lesson in spying and revenge as the kids decide to take down Roy. Nick has also been using his Memaw’s phone to text-torture Roy and chat with Becky, his alternate universe girlfriend.

Bully Bait is all about how kids are bullied at school and what happens at home and how to deal with it. It is fun, crazy and a great read. The book is illustrated throughout and will definitely appeal to Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans. Despite all the humor, there is a great message about bullying and bullies here. Nick discovers Roy isn’t the only bully at school, he only needs to look in the mirror to find another one. He also discovers that Roy isn’t all bad and that they can get along if they try. Great message and a fun read.

06. November 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Romance, Teen Books · Tags: ,

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell , 328 pages, read by Courtney, on 10/24/2013

I have so much love for this book, I’m not even sure where to start.
Omaha, NE 1986:
Park is something of a misfit. He’s half-Korean, loves underground music and is a comics aficionado. He tries hard to tune out the idiots so he can get through high school unscathed.
Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother. Which means she is also living with 4 younger siblings and an emotionally abusive stepfather in a one bedroom house. She is also a misfit. She’s got bright red, curly hair and is a bit larger than a lot of the girls she sees. She’s just trying not to get kicked out of her house again.
When Park sees Eleanor the first time, his heart goes out to her. He knows she’ll never fit in at North High School. When she sits next to him on the bus, he only hopes that she doesn’t draw attention to him. Eleanor doesn’t want attention any more than Park does, but her appearance makes her an easy target. She continues to sit by him on the bus every day, even though they rarely exchange a word. Gradually, something gives and they begin to talk. Once they start to know each other, it’s game over. They’re head over heels; they drive each other to madness; they understand the power of love for another person. It’s unlike anything either of them have ever experienced. It provides a shield against all the pettiness of high school melodrama and allows these two to be unafraid of who they are.
It’s a beautiful book, as gut-wrenching as it is at times. Rowell had created two characters for the ages. Readers will fly through the pages of this book with baited breath, desperate to know whether these two will be OK in the end. Moments of tragedy are buffeted by humor and tenderness. The mid-’80’s setting is perfect for this story as the two bond over punk and new wave music; as they read each new installment of Alan Moore’s Watchmen together. I’m pleased to report as an Omaha native that the details of the city are spot-on and gave me a massive dose of nostalgia for my hometown. A lovely read, through and through.

08. October 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Fiction, Teen Books · Tags: , ,

Reality Boy by A.S. King, 368 pages, read by Courtney, on 08/09/2013

Gerald Faust hates his life. But, really, when it comes right down to it, he was never given much of a chance. When he was 5, his mother enlisted the aid of a TV show that brings an appropriately-British nanny into a house to address the behavioral issues of the children living there. The producers and cameras move in soon after. Audiences love the show; the Faust family is decided messed up. But the cameras only show one side of the story. The side of the story that ends with Gerald becoming known as “the Crapper”, which winds up being Gerald’s identity throughout the rest of his childhood and adolescence. If things had been edited differently; if Gerald’s parents (particularly his mother) had acted differently; if the nanny had been an *actual* nanny and not just an actress playing a nanny; audiences would have seen the circumstances that led to Gerald’s infamous habit of defecating on various household surfaces. The audiences might have seen his eldest sister threatening to kill Gerald and his other sister. Audiences might have seen his mother constantly siding with his psychopath of an older sister. In case the point needs to be made clear: the behavior problems were never Gerald’s, but they made for better TV.
We’ve all seen these shows, right? Well, what happens when the subject of one of these shows grows up? What kind of life do they lead when every single person in their hometown associates these kids with the nightmares they were portrayed as on TV? In Gerald’s case, it causes him to have extreme anger and anxiety issues. It’s also landed him in the special education program at school. It’s caused him to be a loner, because no one wants to be friends with “the Crapper”. It’s caused Gerald to create an Disney-like imaginary world called “Gersday” to escape to. In other words, life has not been easy. When Gerald is finally forced to talk to his co-worker crush, he’s forced to find a way to relate to the outside world and comes to some staggering conclusions along the way.
I love A.S. King’s work and this one is no exception. It’s a concept that I’ve never come across before and it’s a story told with impeccable pacing and loads of compassion. King writes the sort of books that wind up surprising you no matter how much you think you know what’s going to happen next. This is part coming-of-age, part love story and part family drama. It’s told in chapters that alternate between Gerald’s present and various “takes” from scenes in the reality show that Gerald had no choice but participate in. Bit by bit, they tell a heartbreaking and darkly humorous story that feels as unique is it does familiar. Highly recommended.

I received this book after stalking the publisher at the ALA Annual Conference and am not compensated in any way for my review (other than the sheer joy of reading). This book comes out in September 2013.