Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dead Connection by Charlie Price

If I had to summarize Dead Connection in one word, that word would be damage. Everybody in this book is damaged in some sense – some due to their own actions, others due the actions of other people.

Nikki Parker is a high school cheerleader who has been missing for some time. At this point everyone pretty much assumes she is dead, but her body has not been found.

Murray Kiefer spends a lot of time in cemeteries. Most people just think he’s weird, but there are reasons why he loves his time there. First, his mother is about as bad a mother as one could imagine. She barely provides for him, and the man in her life is constantly changing. Secondly, Murray’s big secret is that he can hear the voices of several of the dead people in the cemetery. These people are as real as the ones he sees every day. Now he hears a new voice but he can’t quite figure out whom the voice is or where it’s coming from. Could it be Nikki?

Enter Pearl. She’s the daughter of the cemetery caretaker and when she asks Murray what he’s up to, he won’t give her a straight answer. Her attempt at revenge backfires miserably but eventually they team up to try and solve the mystery of the mysterious voice.

There are other characters, including a schizophrenic young man and an alcoholic police officer, who all play a part in the final story. There’s also an unexpected ending.

I enjoyed this book but I didn’t love it. The only character I really felt connected to was schizophrenic Robert – I really liked the way his character was written. All in all, it’s a book that I would recommend to students put I wouldn’t push it as one of my favorites.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Two Boy Books

I recognize that one of my weaknesses is reading books that appeal to boys, especially 6th grade boys. I’m a sucker for teen problem books, but humorous fiction for boys just isn’t my forte and yet I’m constantly asked about them. Here are two books I’ve read recently. One I loved, the other I tolerated.

The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
One of the things I love about the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is the theme of friendship. I also love the humor and the adventure. In this installment, Percy and Grover set out with Thalia and two of Artemis’ Hunters to rescue Artemis and Annabeth and, of course, save the world. Just like the other two books in the series, The Titan’s Curse doesn’t disappoint. It is just a blast to read, and it’s a great series to recommend to reluctant readers.

Qwerty Stevens Stuck in Time with Benjamin Franklin
by Dan Gutman

Qwerty Stevens has a machine that can bring people back and forth in time. He also has a problem with remembering to do things, like his American Revolution report. With less than an hour before the report is due, what choice does Qwerty have but to plagiarize someone else’s report and copy it off the internet.? In the process he accidentally brings Benjamin Franklin to the present time. It’s a shock for old Ben, but fortunately he’s a good sport and even agrees to go to school with Qwerty as “extra credit.” Things are seemingly going well for Qwerty and his friend Joey UNTIL they make the decision to send themselves back to 1776 so that they can accompany Ben and see the signing of the Declaration of Independence for themselves. They forget, however, to arrange for someone to bring them back. Are they stuck in 1776 forever?

I must admit that I can see how my 6th grade boys are going to like this book. It’s silly, and they will certainly be able to relate to Qwerty’s problem of forgetting his assignments. I, however, had a hard time relating to it – the premise of the Anytime Anywhere Machine was just a bit much for me.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

So Tally Youngblood changed the world in Specials. People will no longer be brain damaged when they turn sixteen – they now have control over their own destinies. But what will they do with this new-found freedom?

In Aya’s city, what matters is being popular. That’s what determines your living conditions and for Aya, what she wants is to crack the top 1,000 of the most talked-about people. Unfortunately, at 451,369 she has a long way to go. But Aya has uncovered a mysterious group of girls that called themselves the Sly Girls – girls that avoid being popular but who do crazy, dangerous things like surfing on trains. And while riding with them, Aya discovers something even more horrifying – something that could threaten the existence of all those on earth. And eventually Tally Youngblood and her friends swoop in to help.

I liked Extras, but I must confess that it took me a while to get into it. The entire popularity theme is fitting for today’s world with all of our young stars that seemingly do anything to gain notoriety. I don’t think those at my school will enjoy it as much as they did the previous three books in the series, but I still think it’s worth reading and discussing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher

What we say and do matters. Even the little things. Because sometimes the little things add up to make a big thing – big enough to end a life.

Clay Jensen comes home one day to find a shoebox-shaped package propped against his door. Inside are seven audiotapes. Clay goes out into the garage and finds a tape player and pops the first tape into the player.

“Hello, boys and girls. Hannah Baker here. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And this time, absolutely no requests. I hope you’re ready, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.”

Clay cannot believe it. He had a crush on Hannah. How could he be one of the reasons why she killed herself? Although he doesn’t want to listen to the tapes he feels compelled to continue. And so begins a long tortuous night listening to tapes and following a map Hannah has prepared of the pivotal places in her life.

I read this book a week ago and have spent the time since thinking about it. As a teacher of middle school students, I am quite familiar with the callous way that kids treat one another. And as a victim of many comments when I was in middle school, I’m quite aware of the lasting effect these comments have on a person. But Hannah didn’t just suffer from terrible comments – there were also actions that damaged who she was. And in the end she couldn’t take it any more and she ended her life. And what makes it even sadder is that this story is so real – it happens all across our country.

I would highly recommend Th1rteen R3asons Why. It’s simply wonderful.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (audiobook)

How would you react if a catastrophic event threatened not only your existence, but the existence of everyone on the planet? I hope that I would have the common sense that Miranda’s mother had.

Told in the form of a diary, Life As We Knew It is the diary of a Miranda, a typical Pennsylvania high school student who is mostly concerned with typical high school worries: getting a date to the prom, fighting with her mom, doing her homework. She’s not all that fascinated with the news that an asteroid is going to hit the moon, but on the fateful night, she dutifully goes out to yard to watch the event. Nobody expects the asteroid to actually push the moon closer to the earth, and nobody is prepared for the aftereffects.

Miranda’s mother realizes that things will not be good. She clears her bank account and buys everything she can think of to ensure the family’s survival. As Miranda, her mother, and her two brothers go into survival mode, the world slowly crumbles around them. Massive tsunamis and earthquakes destroy large sections of the civilized world. Volcanic eruptions block out sunlight and cause an early winter (frost in August, winter quickly follows). There is no electricity, natural gas will soon run out, and there is no food in the grocery stores. Fortunately the boys spend a considerable amount of time chopping wood for their woodstove, and Miranda’s father and stepmother stop by with food on their way out west in search of a safer place to live. As time goes on, the family realizes that in order to survive, they will have to stretch out their food as long as possible. At first that means only two meals a day. Eventually it means much less. And friends around them are dying . . .

I was fortunate enough to get a free copy of the audio version of Life As We Knew It from Susan Beth Pfeffer’s website. I had really enjoyed the book and was eager to see how I’d feel about the audiobook.

Listening to an audiobook is a much different experience than reading the book. I tend to read pretty quickly – Life As We Knew It probably took me about two hours. I listened to the seven hours of the audio version on the way to and from work and it took about two weeks. Listening to the book made me appreciate even more what it must be like to be hungry all the time, and yet afraid that one day there would be no more food, and the family would simply starve to death. I also really loved Miranda. Ms. Pfeffer has done a wonderful job of portraying her character – she is a real, believable (and, at times, whiny) teenager who has to learn to deal with a truly horrible situation. Emily Bauer’s voice is perfect for Miranda. Sometimes I had to turn off the cd player and just think about what had happened and how I would react to it.

A couple of weeks ago I did a student survey with an eighth grade class. One of the questions on the survey was “What is your favorite book?” I was thrilled when one student (the only student at my school who’s had an opportunity to read it) chose Life As We Knew It. I had booktalked it to her class and she picked it out. Seeing a child check out a book that I loved and appreciate it herself is one of the most rewarding aspects of librarianship. I'm thrilled to have such a wonderful book to recommend to my students.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Sometimes it’s really hard when someone in your family is different. Catherine’s younger brother is autistic and it seems that the entire house runs according to what’s best for him. Her parents don’t seem to really consider her needs at all because David needs so much. Catherine also has to deal with David’s embarrassing actions and so she has created a set of rules for him to follow:

Chew with your mouth closed.

Say ‘thank you’ when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).

Sometimes people laugh when they like you. Bus sometimes they laugh to hurt you.

Keep your pants on! Unless Mom, Dad, or the doctor tells you to take them off.

No toys in the fish tank.

Catherine thinks that if David could just follow the rules, things would be ok. She often goes with her mom to take David to occupational therapy. She meets Jason there. Jason is in a wheelchair and he can only communicate with a book that has word cards. Gradually Catherine and Jason become friends but once again this causes her problems. What will her other friends think about Catherine if they find out about Jason?

I really liked this book. It was so easy to feel Catherine's pain. She obviously loves her brother but she gets really frustrated by him. It was also so easy to see why she would feel that she never gets her parents' attention. Raising a special needs child is truly difficult, and it is also difficult to be the sibling of such a child. Cynthia Lord (who has an autistic son) has done a wonderful job of looking into the life of a family with an autistic child.