Mrs. B's Archives: Sept-Nov 2007
...books that Mrs. Ball has read and enjoyed
by Melissa Marr
Aislinn (Ash-lin) lives with her grandmother in a small rundown town. Like her grandmother and her dead mother, Aislinn has been able to see all of the frightening invisible faeries humans since birth. She has always followed her grandmother's unbreakable rules: Don't stare at them, don't speak to them, and don't ever attract their attention. Yet she finds herself the target of the attention of the faeries' Summer King, Keenan, whose powers have been bound by his mother, the Winter Queen. His powers will only be restored if he can find his one true Summer Queen, who will be able to hold the staff of the Winter Queen without freezing. If he doesn't find her soon, the world will slowly go into another ice age with the Winter Queen in charge, and both people and faeries will die. Keenan isn't a wonderful guy, and Aislinn is in love with her best friend, Seth -- so what's a faery king to do with his evil mother and a girl who thinks he's rotten to the core? Melissa Marr did her homework with the Irish fairy legends. This one's more serious than Into the Wild -- more of a mature Twilight romance type story.
Into The Wild
by Sara Beth Durst
Rapunzel defeated The Wild (a sentient forest) several hundred years ago, and now keeps it trapped under her 12-year-old daughter Julie's bed, where it occasionally grabs items and creates fairy-tale worthy things. The hall closet is full of magic capes, wands, and seven-league boots. The Wild is wished free, and it escapes, expands, and takes over Julie's hometown. It also captures her mother and grandmother, as well as most of the people in town who get trapped in a variety of fairy tale situations. Julie heads off on her quest to save her family, defeat The Wild, avoid poisonous apples, marriage-ready princes, dragons, and other noxious fairytale creatures. A fun story with lots of twists and humor! If you like this one, try The Dragon, The Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey.
by Gemma Malley
It's 2140, and people have discovered the key to living for as long as you want -- at the exact age when you begin taking Longevity drugs. For some, this is a wonderful thing, but it also means that if no one dies, the population of the Earth keeps increasing, and our resources can only support so many people. Therefore, anyone taking the drugs, must "opt in" and sign The Declaration, agreeing to never have children. For children born outside The Declaration, life is grim. They are taken by Catchers and raised in strict government schools, where they are trained to become servants, and brainwashed into believing that they must pay back society for the very fact that they were born. Anna discovers how different she is from the other Surplus children when she is given a diary and she begins to write. Peter's arrival at Grange Hall, where Anna lives, unsettles her as he tells her that she has parents who love her and want her to escape... everything against what she's been drilled with since the age of three. Is it possible? An interesting look at another utopian/dystopian society, where the reason for its existence is not too far out of reach. Very thought-provoking.
by Doug Wilhelm
Doug Wilhelm will be visiting us next month, so check out The Revealers if you haven't read it (one of my all-time favorites). Falling is the story of Matt Shaw, who up until this year was the star of every basketball team he'd ever been on. But this year, he refused to try out. He refuses to even touch a basketball. And no one knows why -- he has withdrawn from everything and everyone. He doesn't even go home after school. He just wanders the streets of Rutland, VT, until he knows it's close to the time that his parents will come home. He's avoiding his older brother and his strung-out "friends" who hang out at the Shaw home all day, and the secret that even his parents don't know. He meets Katie, and his life begins to have choices again -- but at what point do you choose to let go of something that is already lost? And at what point does ignoring a problem stop protecting and instead endanger the ones you love? Great writing, timely subject. This one will make you think. Be sure to check out the author's notes at the end -- Doug Wilhelm had Vermont 8th graders reading drafts of this and giving him feedback.
Getting the Girl
by Markus Zusak
For all the "not first" kids out there -- the ones who are always overshadowed by their older, more publicly accomplished, "for all practical purposes perfect" or just better liked siblings -- this one's for you. Set in Australia, so be ready for some non-American English. Cameron has two older brothers: Steve, the football player, who can walk away from any taunt or insult and still make the amazing play, and Ruben, who is good-looking and has a new girlfriend every couple weeks. He also has a sister, Sarah, who sees more in him than he knows. Cam has no friends to speak of, and considers his brother his best friend, yet not even his family knows what a gifted writer he is -- he won't tell anyone or let anyone in. Rube dates Octavia briefly, and after she dumps him, Cam begins seeing her. Getting the Girl is the story of Cam realizing he is not alone, and he is not a loser like his brothers have said -- he just needs to connect with a special someone. The writing is incredible. Brief description of the aftermath of one of Rube's fights (not the actual fight), and some mildly mature content. For 8th grade definitely, and more advanced readers in 7th grade.
Notes From The Midnight Driver
by Jordan Sonnenblick
Great first line! "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Alex, angry at his divorcing parents, decides to drink some of his dad's old vodka, take his mom's car keys, and drive over to his dad's and tell him off for breaking up the family. Unfortunately, he instead ends up driving up onto a neighbor's lawn, decapitating a concrete lawn gnome, mouthing off to the cop who shows up, and then vomiting all over the same cop's shoes. The judge sentences Alex to 100 hours of community service, which he serves out at the Egbert P. Johnson Memorial Home for the Aged as a companion to Solomon Lewis, resident Captain CrankyPants of the place. Alex discovers that Sol enjoys music, and he brings his beloved Fender Stratocaster in to play guitar for Sol. He also brings his best friend Laurie, and they discover what each of them can bring out in the other. Lots of humor, believable characters, and all of us folks without the blessing of older Jewish relations can pick up some interesting Yiddish phrases. Lots of fun!
Fire From the Rock
by Sharon Draper
Sylvia Faye Patterson is finishing the ninth grade in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, and her teacher, Miss Washington, asks her to consider being one of the first black students to integrate Central High School the following school year. This is the story of what happened in Little Rock from a student's point of view, with the expected rampant racism of white segregationists. But this story has something different -- it also shows the conflict between those who believed in nonviolent protest, and those who believed that integration was going to take sudden, violent, and drastic action. One of Sylvia's lifelong friends is Rachel, whose father survived Auschwitz. They own a local grocery store and are also targets of racism (swastikas painted on their door). Rachel will be attending Central High School -- but will Sylvia join her given the amount of hate and threats against her and her family?
by Chris Crutcher
Ben goes for his annual sports physical the summer before his senior year, so that he can run track and go to State. When the doctor leaves a message that he needs to talk to him and his parents, Ben drops in - alone - to the office. The doctor gives him devastating news -- he has a rare and aggressive form of a blood disease, and even with the most current treatments, he has about a year to live. Ben's mother is a manic-depressive, his father holds everything together singlehanded, and his brother Cody is the star quarterback. Ben decides that he doesn't want to tell anyone, even after a second opinion and a required trip to the therapist. He's got his doctor in a corner because he's turned 18, and legally the doctor can't reveal his medical information without his permission. He wants to have the most "normal" last year of his life possible. What would you choose to do if you knew your senior year would be your last? And what's more dangerous than a permanent smartmouth who really doesn't have anything left to lose? 8th grade -- mature content and some language.
by Alex Flinn
A modern retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, set in New York City. Kyle Kingsbury, son of network news anchor star Rob Kingsbury, is perfect-looking on the outside, but shallow, vain, selfish and cruel to others. He meets Kendra Hilferty, a Goth-looking girl who says to him after a conversation on the voting process for homecoming king and queen, "You'd better hope you never get ugly, Kyle. You are ugly now on the inside, where it matters most, and if you ever lost your good looks, I bet you wouldn't be smart or strong enough to get them back. Kyle Kingsbury, you are beastly." Kendra is the immortal witch in disguise, and Kyle's story follows the fairy tale track, with some excellent modern twists. Banished to a Brooklyn brownstone by his father, Kyle discovers an online chat room at a website run by "Mr. Anderson" where other transformed beings post about their experiences including "SilentMaid" " GrizzlyGuy" and "Froggie". See if you can identify which fairy tales they belong to by their posts! There's also Will, the blind tutor, Magda, the housekeeper, and Lindy, who isn't beautiful by Kyle's original standards. Kyle has a lot to discover about himself, and about love. Excellent writing and characterization.
The Schwa Was Here
by Neal Shusterman
I met Neal Shusterman at the Westport Library's Rabbit Hill Literature festival dinner in October, and he was hilarious! We might be able to get him to come for a visit next spring -- hope so, because he's a phenomenal speaker and has a great sense of humor. That's evident in The Schwa Was Here. Anthony "Antsy" Bonano tells how he discovered Calvin Schwa, a fellow student no one else noticed, because he has an almost supernatural ability to go unnoticed. Antsy and his buddies run some scientific experiments and discover that "Four out of five people do not notice the Schwa in your standard classroom." Everything short of a metal bar in the Schwa's pocket as he goes through metal detectors at JFK airport works! The boys start making money by running bets as to what the Schwa can get away with given his apparent powers, and they end up on the wrong side of Old Man Crawley, powerful restaurant owner and agorophobic (he doesn't leave his apartment). Shusterman's storytelling is funny and rich with Brooklyn details, but it also will make you think about people who seem to be on the fringes -- ones most people pay no attention to at all. I loved re-reading this one, and I highly recommend picking up any of his other books.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
by Gabrielle Zevin
Naomi Porter wakes up in an ambulance with a vicious pain in her head and a boy sitting next to her whom she doesn't recognize. What she discovers is that she fell on the marble front steps of her high school, and hit her head. Her injury has caused amnesia, and she has lost all memory of everything from sixth grade on, including her parents' divorce, her mother's remarriage and new baby, who her friends are, even the memory of her boyfriend. What would it be like to lose all of the memories that make you who you are? What would it be like to have the ability to start over -- to choose differently if you wanted? Naomi discovers that her boyfriend Ace is not the greatest guy, that most of the people whom she was apparently friends with are shallow and cruel, and that the people she now would rather be around are those she actually has something in common with. That includes James, who has a past he wishes he could forget, and Alice, who is directing the school play. This is a great book that asks a great what-if question... who would you choose to treat differently if you could?
Zevin also wrote Elsewhere, another excellent what-if book.
by Will Weaver
David is a foster kid who is different. He has a genetic defect which has given him flaps of skin from his back to his arms (sort of like bat wings), oddly shaped ears, a face that doesn't look quite normal, and extraordinary hearing. He wears hearing aids which actually block out most of the sounds for him. He can't really fly, but with his "wings" extended, he can jump off a high place and glide safely. Because of his appearance, he is bullied and transferred through many foster homes and schools. He finally ends up at an alternative school, where he meets Cheetah (Megan). She is an epileptic, and suffers from seizures. David goes with her to the Mayo Clinic, and discovers doctors who have known about his case, and who can surgically make him more normal. When word of his "flying" gets out, David is targeted by the media and religious fanatics who call him an "injured angel", and David must choose between staying different and dealing with all of these people and their expectations, or altering himself to fit in with the world. What would he gain or lose?
by J.A. Henderson
For all my gamers and fans of the Fox series "24", here's a book set up just that way -- hour by hour, it's the story of the last day at Pinewood Military Installation. Pinewood is a secret base where the military develops secret weapons, virtual training simluations and new battle strategies, using a group of teenage geniuses. Most of the base is built underground, and Bunker 10 is the lowest level, in the most reinforced area of the installation. One of the teens, May-Rose, is being kept there. She was bitten by a genetically altered mouse, and her DNA has changed -- she's evolved, and is dangerous as she and the other kids have figured out the mathematical formulas for time travel. The special ops team that has been sent in to destroy the base is under the impression that the base exists only in virtual reality -- and they've had receivers implanted behind their ears. So is it real -- or is it virtual? Awesome suspense and action (yes, there's blood and guts occasionally).
by Neal Shusterman
This one's going to be controversial, and is for mature readers due to the nature of the issue. In a somewhat future USA, there has been a second civil war. The Pro-Life Army and the Pro-Choice Army came to a basic stalemate, and to end the conflict, a set of constitutional amendments was passed: The Bill of Life. Life now legally begins at conception, and anyone finding an abandoned baby is required by law to care for it, or bring it to a state run orphanage. However, once a child reaches 13, parents can choose to "Unwind" a child. This is the process of having all parts of a child surgically separated and donated. Since all pieces are required to be donated and thus are technically still alive, no one has legally died. The story follows three teenagers who are supposed to be Unwound: Risa, an orphan at the state home where due to budget cuts, 5% of the teenage population must be eliminated (unwound), Connor, a teen who's been a problem to his family, and Lev, who as the tenth child in his ultra-religious family is the family "tithe" (or donation). This is a fast paced story that isn't for one side or the other -- it focuses on the compromise and the consequences of it on a personal level (do you still have a soul if you're in pieces?) and on a larger level also. This is one that will make you think and consider both sides of a desperately controversial issue, and I think that's the value in it.
The Killing Sea
by Richard Lewis
Sarah and Peter Bedford and their parents are sailing on a yacht in Indonesia in December 2004. The yacht has engine trouble, and they pull into Meulaboh, a small village near Aceh, where they meet Ruhlan. Ruhlan directs them to his father, Yusuf the mechanic, who fixes their engine. In the hours afterward, an earthquake strikes and the infamous monster tsunami hits Aceh and all of the surrounding villages (and continues on to devastate a vast portion of the region). Sarah and Peter's mother is killed, and their father is missing, as is Ruhlan's. The destinies of the three are intertwined, as they search for their fathers and also for a doctor for Peter, who has become seriously ill. This is an amazing story of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable suffering, and a phenomenal survival tale as well. Richard Lewis was raised in Indonesia, and volunteered in Aceh after the tsunami. This may be fiction, but it is solidly based on what he witnessed there after the disaster. He is also donating a portion of the royalties from the sales of his book to local Indonesian organizations working to relieve the suffering and need there.
By Shelley Pearsall
A story of prejudice and courage told in alternating voices, Crooked River is set on the American frontier of Ohio in 1812. Rebecca and her four brothers and sisters live in a small cabin with their father, a violent and short-tempered man. Pa is one of them men who brings back Indian John to town for trial in the murder of a white trapper – only there is no jail in town, so Indian john is chained up in the family’s attic. Rebecca begins to question who is right and who is wrong as she sees evidence that the Indian being held for the crime is innocent… but no one will listen to her, least of all her father. Excellent characterization and voice.
The Bloodwater Mysteries: Snatched
By Pete Hautman and Mary Logue
In the small town of Bloodwater, newcomer Alicia Camden has been attacked, and then mysteriously disappeared after her follow-up appointment at the local hospital. High school reporter Roni Delicata is quickly on the trail of what has happened, along with her best friend Brian Bain. Together, the two of them piece together the known fragments of Alicia’s somewhat disturbing life, in hopes of locating her. Alicia’s parents, the police, and others in town all seem bent on keeping Alicia gone and the suspicions away from themselves – so what really happened – and can they save her? A good quick mystery!
Three Cups of Tea
By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber who ended up in a remote Pakistani village after failing to climb K2, one of the most difficult summits in the world. He recovered in the village and was so moved by the people’s kindness to him that he promised to return and build a school for their children. Mortenson literally had nothing, but he was determined to get people to help him. When he returned to the U.S., he began a one-man campaign to raise money for his project. He returned to Pakistan and Afghanistan to build not one, but fifty-five schools for both boys and girls. His is a courageous story of one willing to do what it takes to make a difference in the lives of others. In the face of the kind of prejudice we see commonly today against Middle Eastern peoples, Greg Mortenson shows us a different side of the people we have been told to fear. Everyone should read this at some point (reading level is 8th grade and up).
by Alan Weisman
Another adult book which would be great for some of our advanced readers. Weisman gives us an imaginative experiment: suppose all humankind were to suddenly vanish from the earth? Not in a way that would destroy the earth -- something that would only target humans and leave all else alone. What would happen to all of the buildings and creations of humanity? How long would it take the earth to recover from what we have done to it, and is it possible for natural processes to erase all traces of our existence? Weisman discussed this with all manner of experts: engineers, architects, biologists, nuclear power plant managers, bridge maintenance engineers, religious leaders, art experts, and many more. What items would remain for future archaeologists to find? What would be crushed and destroyed within weeks of our disappearance? The answers may surprise you, in this nonfiction narrative. This was fascinating!
by Conor Kostick
Erik lives in a utopian world where violence has been outlawed and problems are settled only in the virtual world of Epic. Epic is a massive multi-player game ... for the entire planet. Those living there are refugees from Earth, which was destroyed long ago by violence. People now earn their wealth and status through playing Epic, though the world they live in has very little technology. Eric rebels against the system and the rules, creating a character that chooses to act in ways that seem to go against common sense -- but her (yes -- his character is female) actions may help Erik free his father from exile by the Central Allocations committee and show the world that there is another way to think and live. Utopia or dystopia? Lots of action, a must-read for my gamers, but a great story for everyone! This one's gotten rave reviews nationally.
by Gordon Korman
Cap Anderson is 13 and has never eaten meat, watched TV, listened to an iPod, or gone to school. He's grown up at Garland Farm, which used to be a hippie commune with many families, but is now home to just him and his grandmother, Rain. She falls out of a plum tree and breaks a hip, and Cap must drive her to the hospital. Cap driving is only a big deal to the cops who try to pull him over -- he's been driving around the farm since he was 8. Rain has to go to rehab, and Cap must go to a foster home for a couple months until his grandmother is able to return home. Schooled is the story of Cap's adjustment to public middle school -- he is completely clueless about 99% of middle school life, but as he learns about society there, the kid around him learn to see things differently too. Excellent piece of satire, told from many different viewpoints.
by Todd Strasser
Todd Strasser takes on "behavior modification" camps -- those places parents send their out-of-control and/or disobedient children. Boot Camp is the story of Garrett, who finds himself handcuffed and taken by two "transporters" whose job it is to forcibly take children to Lake Harmony, where the full-color brochures promise that within 6 to 18 months, parents will get back the child they always dreamed of in place of the one they shipped off. Garrett believes he doesn't belong at Lake Harmony, and has a lot of trouble following the rules. Because of that, he is subjected to physical punishments and he is abused by the staff and other camp residents. Garrett's growing sense of hopelessness and isolation are well-written, and he and the other characters in the book will resonate with readers. The author's notes are important -- Todd Strasser makes sure he does his homework before he takes on a controversial topic (like he did in Give a Boy a Gun), so make sure you check those out at the end.
Shanghaied to the Moon
by Michael Daley
It's 2165, and at 13, Stewart is in his last year of eligibility for the Space Academy. His mother was a famous astronaut who died tragically, and his father can't seem to bring himself to deal with Stewart. He also refuses to sign the application form, and Stewart can't understand that at all. Dad goes on a moon mission, leaves Stewart with his older brother,and Stewart knows that the only way to get him to sign the form is to go there. He meets up with a sketchy stranger with an ancient, ratty (but flyable) spaceship who also wants to go to the moon to retrieve something. Fast-paced, full of twists, secrets, and multiple mysteries, this is a fun read!
Into The Woods
Wild! This is a fractured fairy tale -- it's actually several fairy tales fractured and pieced together. Sounds a bit like Frankenstein, doesn't it? The Eden sisters, Aurora, Storm and Any, live on a run-down estate at the edge of their village, which is in the middle of a rat infestation. The mysterious and scary Dr. DeWilde appears, surrounded by drooling and snapping wolves, and promisese to handle the rat problem -- but the town MUST pay wht he asks. What does he want? Children! He also wants the small metal pipe that Storm's mother gave her just before she died, telling her that it is powerful. Dr. DeWilde and the wolves chase the sisters across the landscape of several fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, the Snow Queen, etc) and the sisters discover the real power they have -- the love of family. Lots of hilarious jokes and funny references to fairy tale characters, but also some serious choices and consequences that the girls have to deal with. Very enjoyable!
by Lyn Gardner
The Legend of the Wandering King
by Laura Gallego Garcia
Arabian Prince Walid dreams of winning a famous poetry competition, but is not allowed to compete as his father fears he will fail and disgrace the family. Walid is allowed to set up his own competition, but loses each year to Hammad, a poor carpet-weaver. Walid gives Hammad impossible tasks as revenge, the last of which is weaving a carpet that shows all of human history. Hammad dies, and the enchanted carpet drives those who steal it utterly insane. Walid's life is destroyed, and he reinvents himself in the course of the story several times, through deserts, Bedouin camps, and faraway cities. Walid is looking for a way to make things right with Hammad, and he finds out much about life -- you can choose to change, and the journey to change is often more important than the change itself. This creative and adventurous fable is based on an old Arabic legend and ancient philosophy. I liked it a lot!
by Royce Buckingham
I hope this one gets made into a decent movie -- it has such potential! Nat lives in a Seattle house that is chock full of demons (most of whom are pretty harmless or just annoying), and his mentor Dahliwahl has left him in charge. Nat knows the basics, but he is still inexperienced, and the funnier demons take advantage of that at every turn. The evil Thin Man appears, and he is after The Beast that escaped from the basement when Nat went on his first date with nerdy library assistant Sandy. Nat must figure out how to get The Beast back into the basement, salvage his date with Sandy, and not get destroyed by the Thin Man in the process. I loved the fact that Royce Buckingham made the house a character -- it's just as possessed as all the furniture in it!
by Thomas Cochran
Travis Cody plays high school football for the Roughnecks in Oil Camp, Louisiana. The book covers the 24 hours leading up to the state championship game against their archrivals, the Pineview Pelicans. The last time the teams played, Travis made a mistake that cost the Roughnecks the game and an undefeated season. He's under a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed, and the one thing standing in his way is Jericho Grooms who will be playing opposite him all night in the game. There are a lot of colorful characters who show up in the small town of Oil Camp, and the story has flashbacks and newspaper articles sprinkled throughout, but the main focus is Travis' mental preparation for the game -- I liked the inside-the-head view of things. A good first novel for Cochran.