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The Reapers Are the Angels

7 Mar

Zombies! Again! I seriously can’t get enough. The Reapers Are the Angels is crossover YA, and was actually written for adults. A great choice for us adult fans of YA, as the book features a 15-year-old protaganist (Temple) who is insanely tough and likable. I am somewhat reminded of Bone from Bastard Out of Carolina, only with zombies and way more fighting back.

Basically the near future exists of the “meatskins” and small surviving pockets of humanity. The meatskins are always a threat, but the hungrier they get, the weaker they get. Therefore it is possible to avoid being bitten as long as one stays away from cities and is on their guard at all times. Temple has managed to survive her 15 years, despite being an orphan, by being extremely realistic about the situation. She is haunted by the death of a young boy who may or may not have been her brother, but for the most part she stays alert and she keeps moving. However, along with the zombie threat, she manages to incur the wrath of a terrible man who is hunting her. She also picks up a “dummy” along the way – a man who is severely mentally handicapped – and she can’t bring herself to abandon him.

As many reviews mention, the book is true Southern Gothic, and comparisons to Flannery O’Connor are often made. The scenes where Temple sometimes sees flashes of humanity (grace?) in the zombies and hesitates to kill them are great. The scenes where she fights/kills rapists and mutants are even better!

I highly recommend this book, even for those non-zombie lovers out there – it just doesn’t get any better than this. The only problem is that my expectations are now too high for zombie fiction, and I don’t know if I will ever be satisfied again.

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Alden Bell
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (August 2010)


25 Feb

Punkzilla is the story of fourteen-year-old Jamie, a skinny, hyper kid who went AWOL from military school and became a runaway on the streets of Portland. The book, told in a series of letters and in the first-person, follows Jamie as he tries to get to his brother in Memphis. His brother is dying of cancer, and he is a family outcast for being gay, but he is the only one Jamie thinks he can turn to for support and love.

Punkzilla recalls Jamie’s life in Portland, which includes drugs, stealing, and mild sexual encounters. It also looks back on the cruel and abusive father (“the Major”) that managed to turn away two of his three sons.

Overall this is a fast and interesting read, as Jamie is a complicated character. While his choices can often be unsettling (like doing meth and stealing), ultimately he is likable, and the reader will both fear for him, but also hope that he will find what he is looking for in life.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publisher: Candlewick (December 2010)

Dirty Little Secrets

7 Feb

Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu is the story of a girl whose life is severely affected by her mother’s compulsive hoarding disorder.  Lucy spends most of her energy hiding what is happening in her home, and lives in fear of being socially ostracized by her classmates.  When Lucy comes home one night and finds her mother dead among the piles and the stench, she decides that calling 911 is not the solution.  Since the furnace stopped working anyway (meaning her mother’s body won’t rot too quickly), Lucy begins to try and clean up the mess before an outsider can find out the truth.

Omololu tells Lucy’s story with great detail and suspense.  The reader really gets a feel for what it is like to be a teenager living a double life of appearing normal but hiding a terrible situation at home.  The author worked professionally to help hoarders and their families, so this part of the book feels especially authentic.

Overall some aspects of the book seem a bit far-fetched, but Omololu manages to keep the reader grounded for the most part.  Dirty Little Secrets is a page-turner and a great read.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: C.J. Omololu
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (February 2010)

The Marbury Lens

22 Jan

Jack drinks too much and ends up getting kidnapped by a nasty pervert who also happens to be a doctor.  Jack manages to escape, but the experience haunts him, and he and his best friend Connor end up doing something horrible that they can never take back.  When the two of them travel to London to look at a boarding school they might attend, things begin to really get strange.

They meet some cute English girls, but Jack also meets Henry – a bizarre person with a pair of purple glasses.  Through the glasses Jack can see another world: Marbury.  Marbury is a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of mutants and death.  In Marbury, Jack has to take care of two other boys and himself.  Connor is also there, but in Marbury he is a mutant trying to kill Jack.  Oh, and there is a ghost that is involved with both worlds.

Overall the book is well-written, and the characters are appropriately complex.   The pace and the details are great, and the author is great at building tension.  There is a lot written about the way this book seeks to examine trauma and PTSD, but I think I read it more like a teenager: for the insane violence and general mayhem.  I am sure this is going to be made into a movie – it has to, as it would work so well in the world of Matrix/Inception-type films.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (2010)

33 Snowfish

16 Jan

When I picked it up, I didn’t even realize that 33 Snowfish is written by the same author as Punkzilla – Adam Rapp.  (Punkzilla is at the top of my to-read list).  Anyway, 33 Snowfish is told from the point of view of three characters: Boobie, Curl, and Custis.  Boobie is a silent pyromaniac, Curl a drug addicted prostitute, and Custis is an abused young boy who loves them.

Making up a sort of family, the three of them try to survive and protect one another.  This proves more and more difficult as they succumb to disease, the cold, and their horrible pasts.  In addition, Boobie ends up kidnapping his infant brother, and eventually it is up to Custis to keep the baby alive.

The story really focuses on Custis, who is racist, angry, and severely abused.  Yet he is also innocent and kind, and often seems like any other little kid. The book is short, brutal, and sometimes painful to read.  Overall, a great and interesting read.  A good break from all the vampires, rich kids, and dystopias.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publisher: Candlewick (2006)

Some Girls Are

14 Dec

Regina is second in command of the popular clique at school. As a result, she has spent many years tormenting and teasing pretty much the entire student body. When her “best friend” Anna’s boyfriend tries to rape Regina, she mistakenly thinks her “friends” will be on her side. Instead, Anna decides Regina has been after her boyfriend for years, and that Regina is now out. Totally out. Suddenly Regina becomes the bullying victim of her former clique. She has nowhere to turn, having alienated the entire school. Everyone is glad to see her suffer, including her former best friend from before Anna took over Regina’s life. A relationship with a boy she used to bully is fraught with tension and anger, and Regina is very much alone in the world.

What makes this book unique is that Regina does not all of a sudden become nice. She remains somewhat mean and apt to hurt others on purpose. Her thoughts alternate between revenge and the fear of being alone. She is a realistic character, and provides a lot of insight into the mind of someone willing to do almost anything to be popular. Some critics complain that Regina does not grow as a character, but I think this is a good thing, as it seems so realistic. How often in real life do we see a teenager (or even adult) go through a complete moral turnaround just because of some consequences to their actions?

Regina also provides insight into the complicated nature of bullying. Namely that the mainstream media (which is obsessed with bullying in school right now-it used to be gangs) and many parents tend to see bullying as a black and white victim/perpetrator scenario. Some Girls Are presents the more nuanced revenge cycle in which figuring out who is the bully isn’t always so easy.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Courtney Summers.
Publisher: St. Martins-Griffin (2010)

Living Dead Girl and Room

7 Nov

Living Dead Girl is a page turning, terrifying, and fascinating novel about a girl named Alice who was abducted to serve as a sex slave for Ray.  She has lived with him for five years in a nondescript apartment complex, and everyone assumes she is his daughter.

Behind closed doors Alice must do whatever Ray wants or else he threatens to harm her family.  In addition, now that Alice is going through puberty, Ray wants her to find a “replacement”.  Alice is happy to comply, and is even eager to find someone else for Ray to victimize.

What is interesting about Living Dead Girl is it investigates why abducted children (and adults) stay with their captors even though escape seems relatively easy.  It also investigates the mental processes that serve to turn the abused into an abuser.  The author makes Alice a believable and generally sympathetic character (despite her eagerness to harm someone else), and the fast paced narrative makes it impossible to not read this book in a couple of sittings.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Elizabeth Scott.
Publisher: Simon Pulse (2009)

Another book which is not YA, but may be of interest to fans of the abduction/abuse genre is RoomRoom is told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy named Jack, who has lived his whole life with his mother in Room – an 11-foot-square room in a soundproof, escape-proof shed.  His mother was abducted and impregnated by Old Nick, a faceless presence who comes each night to “visit” his mother.  Jack is safely hidden, and is mostly innocent of what is happening.

I really can’t begin to describe how well-written Room is.  Jack’s worldview is fascinating: the room and his mother are his life, and that is enough for him.  The story has nothing too graphic (despite the subject matter), but it takes many exciting turns, and is incredibly unique.

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little Brown and Company (2010)


25 Oct

Tyrell is fifteen, and he is homeless.  His dad is in prison and his mom acts like a teenager.  His little brother Troy is a neglected victim of adults acting stupid, and Tyrell seems to be the only one who cares.  Tyrell is put into a position where he is expected to be the man of the family by selling drugs in order to get out of the roach motel provided by city services.

Tyrell decides to throw a big illegal party to raise money instead, rationalizing that throwing a party (which is what his dad was arrested for doing), is not breaking the law the same way selling drugs is breaking the law.  Tyrell rationalizes a lot of things, including the fact that he loves his girlfriend Novisha, but can’t stop spending the night in another girl’s hotel room.

The novel is told from Tyrell’s perspective, and Booth’s use of dialect to tell his tale is masterful.  The book is wonderful realistic fiction, and it is easy to sympathize with Tyrell, even when he does things that work against his self-interest.  Booth shows a deep understanding of the pressures homeless teenagers face, and the story rarely moralizes or exploits.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Coe Booth
Publisher: PUSH/Scholastic (2006)


8 Oct

Parrotfish is the tale of Grady McNair – formerly known as Angela McNair.  All of his life, Grady felt out of place as a girl.  So once he enters high school, he decides to transition into being a boy.  He bravely informs his schoolmates and teachers of his change, and is greeted with various reactions.  His gym teacher is surprisingly sympathetic, but his best friend is not.

Along the way, Grady makes new friends, and begins to figure out who he really is.  Grady is almost too good of a person; always ready to forgive and be kind.  However, the portrayal of his family and his new friend Sebastian are interesting and well detailed.

This is a great book for getting young readers to sympathize or relate to transgendered teenagers.  It is a fast read, and very engaging.  It answers a lot of questions teens may have about gender and gender identity, and offers some great resources at the back of the book.

However, it must be noted that Grady never actually gets to have a real relationship or any real physical contact with another person.  This may help keep the censors away; however, the message it sends is unfortunate.

Also, since we have been talking about banned books recently, I wanted to show two versions of the cover for Parrotfish.  The fish one seems so innocent, and can go unnoticed, while the cover with the photograph is very noticeable.  It is interesting, because a big part of moving LGBTQ materials (especially into the hands of LGBTQ youth), is to make check-out and selection more private.  Therefore, in one way it feels like the fish cover is a watered-down presentation, but in another it may be useful in terms of helping LGBTQ youth.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Ellen Wittlinger
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing (2010)

One lesser known book about transgender/LGBQ teen life is Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide For Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein. Of course, you won’t find this one in most libraries, but it is so honest and inspiring.


6 Oct

Beastly is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast’s point of view.  Kyle is the most popular and good-looking boy at his elite Manhattan private school.  He makes fun of the nerds and the ugly kids, and has little regard for his friends and girlfriend.  Kyle does have a sensitive side, and it comes out at his house, as his mother is gone and his father works all the time.  When his father is around, he ignores Kyle completely.

Kyle lives by the idea that looks are the most important thing in life, so when a strange goth girl named Kendra shows up in his school, he dismisses her as ugly and lame.  He then devises a plan to pretend to ask her out and then stand her up at a dance.  Kendra punishes Kyle’s cruel ways by turning him into a beast.

The plot follows many of the things expected from a Beauty and the Beast story (roses, enchanted house servants, magic mirrors, and of course true love as the only way to break the curse).  The Beast (Kyle) forces Lindy, a poor scholarship student from his old school, to come live with him in exile in his Brooklyn mansion.  This is when their relationship begins to form and develop.

Beastly has a well-thought out plot, and holds the reader’s attention.  Kyle’s transformation is believable, and he is a sympathetic character.  Overall, the book is awesome, and the movie looks even better.  It looks like they figured out a way to make the whole kidnapping thing seem not so bad.  Also, scars are definitely the new fur.  Plus Mary-Kate Olsen as the ugly witch?  Love it.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Alex Finn
Publisher: Harper Teen (December 2009)

Also, just because I mentioned MK, I feel the need to include this link for your enjoyment: