Thursday, September 30, 2010

Throwback Thursday: "The Giver" by Lois Lowry

It's been a while, Throwback Thursday fans! I've been meaning to do this book for a while, but hadn't gotten around to it. Lucky for me Banned Books Week is a perfect time to revisit a childhood favorite and a classic young adult book. Today we revisit The Giver by Lois Lowry, Newbery Winner and my very first dystopian book (or did I read Fahrenheit 451 first?). The first time I read this book was in the 8th grade. We were reading it in class, and like a couple other books that year (including Fahrenheit 451, actually), we didn't finish the reading in class. Well, this wouldn't do. I had to know how it ended! And so I did what any book lover would: I "borrowed" it from my classroom and brought it home with me. I brought it back, don't worry! I just wanted to finish it. Then I had to have a copy for myself, and of course bought one. So without further ado, here it is!

The GiverTitle: The Giver

Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Bantam Books, 1993
Where I got it: I bought myself a copy from Barnes & Noble.

Jonas lives in a perfect world. Everyone is the same: families are assigned to each other (four in each, a mother, father, son and daughter), everyone gets the same privileges at particular ages, everyone lives in the same houses, everyone is assigned a job. There is no color. And people don't die until they are supposed to, with rare exceptions. With this "sameness" in their society, the result is a world with no emotions.

When Jonas turns 12 and he is assigned his position, he is surprised. He will be the new Receiver of Memory, a mysterious position that he doesn't know much about. He meets the old Receiver, now known as the Giver, who begins to show him the true joys, and with this comes the true pains, of life that his community has lost. He keeps these experiential memories as a burden so the others don't have to experience them. But when Jonas' father, who works at the birthing center, brings home a child named Gabriel who is taking a bit too long to develop, Jonas realizes he must make a choice, one that could condemn him and Gabriel to an unknown fate.

Lowry gives us the classic dystopia here, but disguises it in the form of a utopia. There is no pain in this world, no worries or fears. But this means there is no true joy, happiness or love. Family and love are only ideas, concepts that the people of this community know about but don't understand. Jonas is given the responsibility that no 12-year-old should have to have; being the Atlas of his community, holding each memory, good and bad, that they are no longer privileged to have, and not tell others what they are missing in life.

Despite the community having no problems or pain, there are some things clearly wrong with the society, horrifying things that Jonas finds out through the course of the book. There is no such thing as a completely perfect society, since problems and the unexpected crop up no matter how much you plan. And these problems and unexpected occurrences need to be fixed.

There is not a whole lot to say about most of the characters, since they largely have no personalities. They all have their own preferences, yes, but the needs and desires of the society are stronger and unquestioned. The only characters who are really worth taking a look at are Jonas and the Giver. Jonas is an inquisitive boy who doesn't completely bend to the will of the community like his peers, which perhaps singles him out for the job of the Receiver. He has a clear sense of right and wrong, even though he is not taught this. He is also brave in his departure from the normal, showing remarkable courage in the face of adversity and possibly death.

The Giver is a wise old man. He is the only one who knows true pain and loss, and has also felt true love and devotion. We learn of a previous Receiver who he attempted to pass on the memories to, and what happened to her. He has had his heart broken more than once by his memories and by the things he has had to endure, being the only person who truly remembers the way it once was. He gives Jonas all of the courage and support he can when it is necessary.


Again, Banned Books Week. This book has been banned many times over the years because of the society's use of euthanasia and suicide to help create this perfect community. Death is painless, but once you reach a certain age, that's it. You are done and need to be "released." Most of the elderly are happy to go, but there are some people (not necessarily elderly) who are taken unwillingly. And those banning this for these reasons are simply missing the point of the book. This is a society we clearly don't want to be a part of. Choice is taken away completely (kind of like the world book banners are trying to create—they take away our choice to read). Yes, there are attractive aspects of this society, but they are largely outweighed by the subtle horrors that are hidden from plain view. I'm also pretty sure I've read somewhere (can't remember where) that it has been banned for its positive portrayal of a communist society, which is just plain silly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson

Speak: 10th Anniversary EditionTitle: Speak
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Publisher: Puffin, 2001
Where I got it: I bought it from Barnes & Noble.

*Starred Review*

Melinda Sordino is a freshman in high school. She is also a pariah, an outcast for reasons which are slowly revealed through the telling of her story. Her friends abandon and revile her, leaving her to fend for herself in a new school where everyone seems to hate her. She refuses to speak, except in her own head, where we as the reader's are able to see her thoughts, observations, and fears.

Speak is very powerful and frustrating at the same time. Melinda's silence is her idea of staying safe, and readers will want her to speak, to tell her story. Unfortunately, she doesn't quite realize what happened to her at that party right away and can't tell anyone what she went through, or must go through during the course of her freshman year as a social outcast. Her grades suffer, she has no social life, and yet she continues to live day after day, just trying to get through high school without having a breakdown. And what a disturbing look at high school we're given. High school was not that bad for me—it makes me wonder how many high schools out there are actually that cliquey.

Being inside Melinda's head allows us to experience her pain, embarrassment, ennui, bitterness, cynicism, and occasionally small joys. We see all of her thoughts, including the horrifying piece-by-piece reconstruction of the party that changed her life and what exactly happened. Though she tries to block it out completely, brief images flit through her head that end up giving us a more complete story. We don't find out what happened until she admits it to herself.

I also really loved how she was working through her emotions through her art projects. Though it wasn't quite the same as speaking up, art did give her a way to cry out for help and work through some of her issues; it is her emotional outlet.

Halse Anderson's language is perfect for Melinda's story. Melinda's voice is bitingly sarcastic, and often very funny despite the seriousness of her situation. Repetition and stream of consciousness are used frequently, and with very evocative and satisfying results. It gives us a clearer picture of what Melinda is going through.

Speak is a very powerful and inspiring story of an outcast in high school that must admit first to herself and then to the rest of the world that she is a victim, and then rise above it. But as many of you know, it has recently come under fire for distressing reasons. You can read my response to that here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2009
Where I got it: I bought it from Barnes & Noble.

*Starred Review*

Arnold "Junior" Spirit has lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation for his whole life, all 14 years of it. But he knows he needs to get out or he'll never make it out of there alive. His only other option? To transfer to Reardan High School, 22 miles outside the rez and full of white people.

Junior's got a lot to deal with. He's the only Indian in this strange new place (aside from the school mascot) with strange new rules. He has to deal with being shunned by his own people, who accuse him of being a traitor to his tribe. And he has to deal with major life changes and tragedy, all while trying to just make it from one day to the next.

Alexie examines serious issues like alcoholism, death, racism and poverty, yet still manages to be funny throughout. Junior gets through everything with as positive an attitude as he can and is able to make the most depressing situations humorous. It's often gallows humor, yes, but it's still laugh-out-loud funny. Junior talks to his audience in a very conversational and familiar tone, creating a kinship with the reader.

Of course, there are many heartbreaking moments that just bleed grief—Junior won't come right out and say what happens at first, but will ease the reader into it, sometimes giving them a shock in the process. His pain is palpable and you can almost hear him wail in mourning behind his written words and cartoons. Yet he's always able to pick himself up and move on, bringing back his unique perspective on the life he was given and the life he chooses for himself.

Junior's cartoons throughout (the work of Ellen Forney) add an extra-textual element that greatly enhances Junior's narration. It often makes the tone light, yet communicates pain and fear through this lightness, creating a complex and more complete story. It also provides us with a little more insight into Junior's mind and the way he sees the world.

This book is largely autobiographical, as Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and transfered to the nearby white high school. Wellpinit and Reardan are real places, and Alexie pays them homage in his dedication. Because this is based on fact, Alexie's depictions of life on a reservation can be trusted—not many teens are aware of what that's like even though it should be taught to them (I learned quite a bit too). Alexie provides an honest and blunt picture for his readers; it's presented in a light-hearted fashion, yet retains a sadness that tends to stay with you.

As many of you might notice, I'm posting this during Banned Books Week. Why, you might ask? For what possible reason could someone want to ban such a wonderful and necessary book? "Rough language and sexual situations," according to this KY3 news report on the book's removal from the high school curriculum and library in Stockton, MO earlier this month. One woman said "it's sure not for kids," which I think is a little funny considering the most "sexual situation" within the book is masturbation—an act with which almost every student from middle school, let alone high school, is at least familiar, if they're not experts on the subject. This book provides a valuable learning opportunity and incredibly worthwhile discussion about multicultural issues and what is going on in our own country, but by banning this book, the students in Stockton, MO are losing out greatly on this opportunity. Once again, ignorance takes the lead.

Side note: I just ordered this awesome collector's edition of this book and I'm very excited about it! Support Alexie and buy a copy for yourself or a friend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review: "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a WallflowerTitle: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Author: Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: MTV Books/Simon & Schuster, 1999; Recorded Books, 2006
Where I got it: I listened to this on CD, which I got from the library.

Charlie is a sensitive and intelligent 15-year-old high school freshman, who has had to deal with his best friend's suicide before starting high school, now without a friend with which to share the experience. Charlie tells us what happens during his freshman year—his family's dynamics, how he meets and interacts with his new friends Patrick and Sam (Samantha), his private sessions with his English teacher who realizes Charlie's potential, and the typical high school problems of sex, drugs, bullying, and dealing with death (including his aunt's death years ago, with which Charlie is still trying to come to terms), among other less typical issues. All of this is told through letters to a nameless "friend," someone Charlie heard about through the grapevine and thought would understand.

I know many people have disliked this book because of its loftiness and Charlie's extreme sensitivity (he cries a lot), and I can understand where they are coming from. Charlie gives us a lot of inspirational one-liners and observations about the world. But I didn't find them to be annoying or out of place—on the ccontrary, I found many of Charlie's meditations to be poignant and thought-provoking, as barf-tastic as that sounds. But it's true. One of my favorite quotes from the book is "We accept the love we think we deserve" (24), something Charlie's teacher, Bill, tells him when Charlie lets it slip that his sister's boyfriend hit her and she accepts it.

Every character is flawed in some way, whether it is because they're blinded by love or hatred; don't want to admit or hide to their true nature or feelings; or any of the infinite number of little quirks that can make someone less than perfect. And yet Charlie is so forgiving and tries to always think the best of everyone, for fear of painting them in a bad light to his reader and of being unfair. He is incredibly innocent, despite his drug use and sexual encounters throughout the book—this all comes through in his writing, which has a certain naiveté that pairs well with his observations that we would look right over. In fact, it is because of this innocence and naiveté that Charlie is able to think in this way and show us  what we usually miss.

One of this book's really great features is its introduction of a number of more modern classics. Bill gives Charlie extra books to read and write about in his spare time, asking for papers on Charlie's perspectives and interpretations on the literature. These include Walden by Thoreau, On the Road by Kerouac, Naked Lunch by Burroughs, The Fountainhead by Rand, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Readers are given some sort of insight into the books, which could very well make them go out and read them after finishing this one.

I listened to this on CD, and though the narrator annoyed me at first and sounded too old to be Charlie, he grew on me as I continued to listen. His subtle inflections and tones added to my understanding of the book, though I wouldn't say it's necessary to listen to this rather than read it.

This is a book about grief, acceptance of self, and celebrating life in the simplest ways. It is about friendship; abuse and how to deal with what is left afterward; and love. As corny as all this sounds, all of that is in here, and then some. Chbosky managed to fit everything in this one little book, fit all these problems into Charlie's freshman year of high school, without making it seem unbelievable or ridiculous. I found great insight here, and I hope others will too.

Oh yeah, this was one of the most challenged books of the past year, according to the ALA. God forbid students read about things sexuality, religious views, suicide, drugs and dysfunctional families.

Disclosure: I bought this book.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: "Forever..." by Judy Blume

Forever . . .Title: Forever...
Author: Judy Blume
Publisher: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1975
Where I got it: I took this out of the library.

When Katherine meets Michael, she begins to feel things she hasn't felt before. Among these are sexual desires, and Katherine must decide if she's ready to lose her virginity. Forever... tells a sweet story of first love and sexual awakening, as well as taking responsibility for the decisions that go along with it.

Katherine and Michael's relationship is pretty accurate of how a teen's first relationship feels like. Katherine narrates her story in an almost diary-like format, telling us all of her experiences and emotions through this first serious relationship in her life, and her first real sexual encounters. Anyone who has been a teenager will understand what she's going through, even if they didn't have sex at the time (or still haven't). Readers will identify with the relationship aspect and the decisions that have to be made within a relationship.

Unfortunately I found the writing a bit bland. There wasn't much of a plot, as it was really just about the sex and, in essence, meant to educate about how to do it safely. What really bothered me was the constant use of elipses, which don't just make an appearance in the title. There might be pauses in real speech like that, but I don't particularly care to read it in almost every sentence.

So why am I including this as a Banned Books Week post?

Over the years, Forever... has been challenged many times, so much that it is number 8 on the American Library Association's top 100 banned books list for the decade of 1990-2000. The reason for the challenge is clear: Blume gives detailed descriptions of sexual activity and has Katherine go on the birth control pill. Yet, it doesn't out and out say all teens should go out and start having sex. Rather, Blume educates her readers on the proper precautions they should take should they decide to become sexually active, which, let's face it, many teens do (regardless of whether they read books like Blume's or not).

Instead of banning this book, parents and educators should take the time to talk to their children and students about sex. In fact, this book provides a great starting point for broaching the subject. They know what sex is, and they may have already had sexual experience. If it's not discussed and if all literature pertaining to it is banned, there is no way for them to know how to protect themselves. Sex is a choice that everyone must make. Some will decide to abstain, others won't. It has been like that, well, forever. So don't take the chance for others to learn away by taking this book off the shelves. It might not be the greatest literature out there, but it serves a worthwhile purpose.

Want to win a copy of this? Just fill out the form below. All contests will end October 3 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Banned Book Week begins today.

Today begins Banned Book Week, a time to celebrate free speech and challenged and banned books. It is also a time to mourn the loss of literature and ideas that result from the removal of materials from libraries, bookstores and classrooms. Though we fight against challenges and bans all year long, this week gives us a chance to remember and educate those who think banning is a thing of the past.

This week I'll be posting reviews of banned and challenged books, and I'll also be hosting giveaways of each book I review. Please keep checking back to see if I've posted the reviews, and keep reading (no matter who tells you you shouldn't)!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Another ugly case of attempted censorship.

I don't know how many of  you have seen this recent op-ed column by a man named Scroggins, but it's been posted on Twitter a lot recently. He claims that Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter-House Five, as well as Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler (which I haven't read), are helping to ruin students' minds in his school system. He also claims that Speak is "soft-core porn," though I honestly can't even begin to venture which scenes would make it so.

For those of you who haven't read Speak yet, go do it now before reading the rest of this post, since there will be spoilers. Plus it's completely worth your time and not the evil piece of smut Scroggins would have you believe it is.

Speak: 10th Anniversary EditionSpeak is a testament to taking control over your own life and embracing the power within you to say "no" and to protect yourself. Melinda, the narrator, will not speak of the events before her freshman year of high school—her rape at a party, call to 911, and subsequent ostracization by all of her peers (as her call broke up the party and got many in trouble). She can't bring herself to tell anyone what happened, and as a result becomes a leper in her high school before she even gets there.

It is a powerful and empowering novel for young readers and should be read by everyone to discuss date rape and the right to say no. Not only will it show this to girls, it will provide an entry point for discussion of rape and what they might do to help combat the rape culture that is our society. The fact that Scroggins describes Melinda's rape and the events that led up to it as "soft-core porn" illustrates this—why else would he think a rape scene would be sexually stimulating?

I can't even tell you how angry I am about this, especially as it comes right before Banned Books Week later this month. I am also angry about his bashing of Slaughter-House Five, which one commenter rightly described as being about peace. But as a woman and a reader, especially one with great love for young adult literature, I am deeply upset by this ignorant condemnation of an important book in the young adult canon.

Look out for a review of Speak on here during Banned Books Week.

EDIT: I recently remembered I have a button that I got from ALA Midwinter that says "Speak Up about SPEAK." I plan on wearing it this week when I go out.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: "I Am the Cheese" by Robert Cormier

I Am the Cheese (Readers Circle)Title: I Am the Cheese
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Laurel Leaf, 1977
Where I got it: I took this out of my library.

This book is a very difficult one to summarize. We have Adam Farmer, a 14-year-old boy who is biking his way to Vermont from a small town in Massachusetts with the goal of visiting his father. Yet these first-person, present-tense accounts are alternated with taped conversations Adam has with a man named Brint, supposedly a psychiatrist of some sort—these conversations are an attempt to get Adam to remember his past which is so horrible that he has been repressing the memories. What does this all mean? Piece by piece the mystery of Adam's past comes together, leading to a shocking, and disturbing, conclusion.

A fast-paced narrative coupled with memories that reveal Adam's past bit by bit make for a compelling and page-turning read. I found this hard to put down, even if I wasn't sure I wanted to find out how it ended. Cormier brilliantly fits everything together at precisely the right moments, leading to revelation after revelation that left me breathless.

Though the ending is quite disturbing, it is one that fits the story and is completely loaded. Much is deliberately left ambiguous, especially Adam's fate and the cause of his current state. I read this for class, and my professor mentioned this has a taste of a dystopian state, with which I am inclined to agree. This is certainly a great pick for readers who want action and some substance in their books. It's very complex, but Cormier is a great storyteller and doesn't underestimate his audience.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Firelight" winner!

Hi all! Thanks to everyone who entered my contest, I can't believe I got so many entries! And now the moment we've been waiting for, the announcement of the winner! And the winner is...


Kelly D!

Thanks again for entering, I will most likely have more giveaways in the future so keep a look out.

BBAW: Influenced By Other Bloggers

Hello everyone! I am going to take part in the Book Blogger Appreciation Week prompt today, as it is something that has affected me recently.

Here is the prompt:
Book bloggers can be some of the most influential people around!  Today we invite you to share with us a book or genre you tried due to the influence of another blogger.  What made you cave in to try something new and what was the experience like?
I am on Goodreads, as many of you know, and I follow one wonderful reviewer in particular by the name of Chandra. She reviews mostly picture books and children's books, with the occasional adult novel. One picture book she reviewed about two weeks ago grabbed my attention.

Rose Blanche (Creative Editions)Title: Rose Blanche
Author: Roberto Innocenti
Publisher: Creative Editions, 1985
Where I got it: I requested it through my library.

Rose Blache is a young school girl in Germany during World War II. She sees trucks go by, driven by soldiers, but can't figure out what the trucks are transporting. Until she sees something one day that will change her life forever.

Her mother notices that she is growing thinner, even as her appetite seems to grow incredibly large, much too large for one little girl. Where does all that food go? Where does she bring it after she packs it into her school bag?

This is a picture book that is most definitely meant for older children. It is very heavy, as it is about the Holocaust and deals with hunger, war and death. It is completely absorbing and harrowing, yet very subtle in its prose. Much of the story is told through the pictures, which tend to be drab and gray with the exception of the objects we are expected to notice. It reminded me of Schindler's List a little in that regard.

Perhaps one of the most affecting characteristics is the switch from first-person point of view to third-person about halfway through. At this point, the language reminds one of the prose of a fairy tale, though not a happy one. Though it is not a happily-ever-after ending, I found it fitting, though it did make my heart skip a beat.

This is certainly one book to at least take the time to read, if not add to your personal collection. It will stay with you long after you close it and place it down.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top Ten Books I'm Dying to Read

Hello all, I'm back in the Top Ten Tuesday business after a week or two of going on hiatus. (For those of you who don't know, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly event hosted by The Broke and the Bookish—don't forget to put your own Top Ten Tuesday link over there!)

This week's Top Ten list: Book's I'm Dying to Read!

1. Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins: I have been wanting to read this since before it came out—I even had an ARC in my hands! I've heard such wonderful things about this and have been fortunate enough to talk with Perkins/listen to her at a reading. The problem was, and still is, finding the time now that school has started again. Perhaps I will be able to figure this out and use it for class!

2. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff: Another ARC I have that I haven't been able to find the time to pick up. This one sounds really awesome too—not too many books out there on changelings! The only other one I can think of is The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, and this one sounds way creepier.

3. Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes: This came recommended to me, and it sounds like something I'd really enjoy, what with the Southwest setting and cultural aspects of the book. I have it out of the library right now, hope I can read it before it's due!

4. Little Bee by Chris Cleave: I feel like everyone is talking about this book. I've heard it's something I would love, and I see it everywhere. It sat on my nightstand for two weeks while I took it out of the library; unfortunately I had to return it before I could even crack it open.

5. Persuasion by Jane Austen: This is the only Austen novel I have not read in its entirety, with the exception of Mansfield Park, something I got bored with halfway through and never picked up again. This is short and is purportedly one of her masterpieces.

6. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie: I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and absolutely loved it, thus making me want to read more of Alexie's work. And why not go to his best-known book? I've had it sitting on my bookshelf since I got it for this past Christmas. I would really love to read this soon—maybe during Christmas break?

7. Unwind by Neal Shusterman: Gotta love me some dystopian lit. Especially one that enters the pro-life/pro-choice debate. I'm really interested to see how this one plays out.

8. Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli: My boyfriend let me borrow this about 2 months ago and I still haven't picked it up. I really want to! Just no time. As usual. But I think it would really help me sort some things out, or at least inspire me.

9. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley: This is a book that is currently 5 days overdue at the library, and another one I have yet to crack open. If only I didn't have to sleep.

10. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: Who hasn't heard how amazing this book is? I feel like a sham for not having read it. It's another library book sitting on my floor. Oh goodness.

That's it! Those are the top 10 books I most want to read. If only I didn't have to go to school or work. Then everything would be perfect!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: "Seventeenth Summer" by Maureen Daly

Seventeenth SummerTitle: Seventeenth Summer
Author: Maureen Daly
Publisher: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1942
Where I got it: I took this out of my local library.

It is the summer Angie is 17 years old, the summer before she goes to college in Chicago. The summer she falls in love with Jack. Angie tells her story, starting off when she first meets Jack, the local baker's son, and the progression of their relationship over the next three months.

This might have been one of the most boring books I've ever read. That's not to say it has no merit; I'm sure it was quite popular in the 1940s, when it was published, as it's a romance that many girls would have related to, or at least understood. For today's readership, it falls very flat. The plot is pretty much "Angie likes Jack, and she is surprised he likes her too. They go out on dates and fall in love." The end. I'm not a violent person or a sadist, but I kept hoping something completely unexpected and dramatic would happen, like someone would die in a horrible accident or Angie's sister would get pregnant or something crazy.

That said, this does give a good idea of what life was like in small-town America back then. How people went about their daily business, what they did for fun, who was considered to be a "fast" boy or girl, etc. It's a completely different world than the one we are used to.

Daly's prose is smooth and descriptive, lilting and lazy all at once. She often uses lovely simile, if not completely original ("flows like honey," "floats like a dust mote"). However, the sentences seemed too long to me and aren't broken up by too much punctuation, which gives them a run-on feel to which I wasn't very partial.

Angie is not an unlikable character, but she isn't particularly likable either. She is pretty much just there feeling her feelings with no real outward displays of intelligence, interest, or anything resembling a dynamic personality. She's just there, quiet and polite without causing too much of a stir. That might have been appealing in the past, but I was quickly tired of it.

In fact, most of the regular characters were pretty one-dimensional and uninteresting, with the exception of Angie's older sister Lorraine. She was closer to irritating than interesting, though she did show some depth as well as adding to our understanding of the plight of women during that time—only attractive and housewife-y women were assigned any real value, by men or other women. Lorraine tended to try too hard to get attention from boys, one in particular, and the amount of attention she got directly affected her outlook on life.

This book is a classic among young adult coming-of-age stories, and I suppose it's because of its ability to allow readers to identify with Angie and her feelings of first love. But I'm surprised it was just reprinted in April with a new cover—I just don't think young adults today will be stimulated by a book in which almost nothing happens.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vampire Weekend, Part VI: "Vampire Diaries: The Awakening" by L.J. Smith

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The StruggleTitle: Vampire Diaries: The Awakening
Author: L.J. Smith
Publisher: HarperCollins (HarperTeen), 1991
Where I got it: I bought this at Barnes & Noble.

Note: I bought and read this before the television show came out, so I don't know if the text was altered for the TV-tie-in editions of the book.

It looks like Elena has it all. Popularity, looks, lots of friends, and any guy she wants. That is, until Stefan Salvatore. The mysterious and gorgeous new Italian student seems to ignore her completely, and she is not used to being ignored. And so, Elena makes it her mission to win Stefan’s affection. If only she knew why he avoided her so completely.

Stefan is not completely of this world. He is a vampire, born in Renaissance Italy and doomed to an existence of what he perceives to be that of a predator, an evil being who must feed on blood in order to survive. When he sees Elena for the first time, he is shocked at her resemblance to a former love, the woman who led him to his fate. Despite his forced repulsion, he can’t help but be drawn to her, to fall in love again. But Stefan isn’t the only one who has his eye on the blonde beauty; another from his past has resurfaced, and an old war is revived. Stefan’s brother Damon is still stronger, but can he protect Elena from a different kind of predator? Or will Elena do the fighting for both of them?

This vampire series is one of the earliest I’ve found, first published in 1991. I think it’s this early publication date that makes the story so tame and chaste; the language is dated, as are the technologies and the ways the characters communicate and interact. This could turn off certain readers, but if you don’t mind reading a book set in the dark ages before the Internet and cell phones, then that shouldn’t be a problem.

The vampire legends are also very traditional here. They drink blood, as per usual; they must be invited into your house; they die in sunlight, though in this world they can wear a special talisman to protect them from the sun; you can’t see their reflections; they have super senses, especially at night; and they can alter the minds of those around them, as well as sensing another mind’s presence. They can also shapeshift, if we’re to take a hint from the presence of a menacing crow throughout the book.

Overall, this book wasn’t bad. Elena is a stronger female protagonist than a lot of the other ones I’ve seen, despite her original infatuation with Stefan. She tends to sacrifice some things for him, but the end of the first book in the series really shows just how strong she is (you’ll have to read it to know what I’m talking about; I won’t give it away). On the other hand, the plot was pretty predictable with not a whole lot of twists—the only thing that makes this book stand out is that the main vampire has a vampire brother, with whom he has shared a pretty violent rivalry since Renaissance Italy. Another thing I didn’t really get was why it was called Vampire Diaries in the first place—Elena keeps a diary and we occasionally see what she writes, but that’s about it. The title makes it seem like the diaries are integral to the story, but there is only one diary and it’s not really that important. As far as appropriateness goes, it’s pretty wholesome, though there are a couple of violent scenes and an attempted rape, but overall the narrative is fairly tame. I’d say it’s worth taking a look at if you enjoy reading vampire love stories, but maybe take it out of the library just in case it’s not your cup of blood—er, tea.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Throwback... Friday: "A Voice in the Wind" by Kathryn Lasky

Late! Gah I know, AND I missed last week! Things have been crazy here, what with my new library job and classes starting up again. I apologize for the delays, here is a super quick Throwback Thursday, but really Friday (but really, super duper early Saturday morning).

A Voice in the Wind: A Starbuck Twins Mystery, Book Three (Starbuck Twins Mysteries)This week's selection is one I've mentioned time and again on this blog, one near and dear to my heart. It is A Voice In the Wind by Kathryn Lasky, whose name you might recognize. (Published by Harcourt Brace & Co. in 1993.)

*Starred Review*

This is the last book in the Starbuck Family Adventure series, focusing on two sets of twins who can communicate through mental telepathy (basically talking to each other through their minds). The Starbuck family journeys to New Mexico for their father's latest job assignment, and both sets of twins (5-year-old identical Charly and Molly, and 12-year-old Liberty and July) are eager to explore their new home in the high desert. But along the way, they are caught up in a  ancient tragedy that directly affects them in the present. The twins all must work together to set the wrongs of the past right—even if it means putting themselves in the way of greedy grave robbers.

Just so you know, this book is one that is so deeply woven into my childhood that I am completely biased. I read it at least 8 times in my life, probably more. I would take it out of the library every summer and reread it, until they unfortunately weeded it out of the collection. I managed to get my hands on a nice hardcover copy, thanks to the lovely Amazon Marketplace. This book sparked my interest in Native American culture and romanticized the Southwest for me. I still haven't gone there yet, but I plan to one day soon.

Lasky paints an incredibly rich and vivid picture of the Southwest landscape, using color and original yet descriptive simile to give a clear idea of the setting to the reader. This is a huge part of my attraction to this book—I wanted to go where the action took place because it sounded so magnificent and incredible.

She also doesn't shy away from using more advanced vocabulary in her writing. Readers will certainly learn new words here, as the meanings are clear from the context in which she puts them.

As far as plot goes, it's pretty fast-paced once they get to New Mexico. Murder, thieves, supernatural beings, a desperate search for ancient artifacts; all of it's in there. Not to mention it's well-researched and full of Native American culture and lore, with a little bit of history and some information on pottery-making thrown in there.

Just to warn you, Kirkus gave this a pretty bad review, but School Library Journal did not; I loved this book dearly and still do, so Lasky did something right. And just so you know, I didn't read the first two books in the series before this one.

I've mentioned the cover in the past (namely in my Top Ten Favorite Covers post) and took a picture of my copy, which has the original (better) cover, albeit mirror image thanks to my computer:

I know it's hard to see, but at least it gives you an idea! Look at the ghostly figure on the far right, how cool is that? Plus, love the colors of the nighttime scene.

Okay, I'll stop gushing now. Again, I'm completely biased so you might pick this up and hate it. Just sayin', this is one of my all-time favorites so if you do hate it let me know gently!
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