Archive | August, 2011

Ruby Red

27 Aug

Gwyneth is an average London teen, well except for the fact that she can see and communicate with ghosts and gargoyles. Oh yeah, and she also comes from a family that passes down a time travel gene to select family members. Gwyneth’s cousin Charlotte is the “lucky” family member who is predicted to be the carrier of the gene and who has been groomed for the gig her whole life. As the family readies for Charlotte’s first trip to the past, Gwyneth finds herself slipping back in time instead. Unprepared for what to expect and how to react, Gwyneth has to figure out how this whole time travel thing works and how to break the news to her family. Later teamed up with her handsome time-traveling partner, Gideon de Villiers, she begins to learn about and also question the mysterious circle of travelers that she completes as the twelfth member.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ruby Red. Before reading, it crossed my mind that I wasn’t that into time travel as a concept and that maybe this wouldn’t be the books for me. Like Gwyneth, when people ask what time period I would want to go back to, I have no answer aside from “no thanks”. But then I remembered that one of my absolute favorite books features time travel (Kindred by Octavia Butler) and I am pretty sure I was in the minority of folks who were excited when the Lost cast started hopping around through time. Anyway, I went into Ruby Red ready for anything and what I found was a fun, mysterious story with a bit of adventure and enjoyable, witty narration and dialogue.

Gwen is an outstanding protagonist and narrator. She’s both ordinary and extraordinary. And while she’s not an honors student, she’s very clever when it comes to navigating time travel – the places it takes her and the people she meets. She’s also a fun, friendly character and I appreciate that she keeps no secrets from her best friend Lesley but instead welcomes her friend’s research and enthusiasm and even tries to bring back souvenirs for her. In terms of romance, the Gwen-Gideon pairing didn’t win me over thus far, even though I think both individuals are sweet. I am curious, however, to see how the conflict within the Circle of Twelve plays out in their relationship. I also wonder who we will or won’t see again in the rest of the trilogy. Will Gwen’s relationship with Lesley suffer? Will we hear from Charlotte and her spiteful mother again? And how will Gwen’s power of communicating with ghosts come into play?

Ruby Red definitely reads like a first book in a series. Gier spends a large portion of the book setting up the conflict, but I can’t complain, because I enjoyed every minute of it. I am looking forward to the next book in the trilogy, Sapphire Blue, which I hear is set for release next Spring.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Kerstin Gier
Publisher: Henry Holt (2011)
Note: Review copy sent from publicist for honest review.

One Crazy Summer

18 Aug

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia focuses on the mature-beyond-her-years Delphine and her two younger sisters-Vonetta and Fern. It is the late 1960’s and the Black Power movement is gaining momentum. Of course, living their day-to-day life with Big Ma (their grandmother) and their father in Brooklyn, the girls aren’t aware of the Panthers. In fact, Big Ma’s biggest concern is that the girls don’t make “grand negro spectacles” of themselves. It is only when the girls go to visit their mother out in Oakland, CA that they directly experience emotional and social change of this time period.

The biggest conflict is that their mother abandoned the three girls, and this is the first time they will see Cecile since she left to work on her poetry and to be alone. She shows no love for her children, but she did agree to let them come visit, so Delphine knows there must be something there. However, on their first day in California the girls are shipped off to free breakfast and camp at the Black Panther People’s Center. When the girls are at their mother’s house, she stays locked away in the kitchen working on her poems.

Delphine, despite the enormous responsibilities and pressures she faces is determined to get their mother to acknowledge her and her sisters. Delphine has a strong narrative voice, and she and her sisters have a humorous and complex relationship. The author brilliantly uses the historical setting to advance the relationships between the characters. She really captures what it is like to be a child being introduced to new concepts and trying to figure out her own beliefs about the world and her family. The book won a lot of awards for good reason.

One negative comment, though, the cover art makes the book look like it was written for very young children – it reads more first grade than middle grade. Will this cover attract its target audience?

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad (2010)

Guest Review: Sloppy Firsts

15 Aug

Alicia is back! Alicia is a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!

Jessica Darling’s life began to change the night her best friend Hope “U-hauled ass out of Pineville.” It’s the middle of the school year and Jessica’s remaining social network consists of the “Clueless Crew”, three girlfriends with whom she has nothing in common, and Scotty, a friend from childhood whose changing feelings for her leave Jessica continually doubting the sincerity of his friendship. Alienated in her own life, Jessica begins to push her own boundaries and finds an unlikely friendship in a forbidden stranger named Marcus Flutie.

Sloppy Firsts is a story about how life begins to change and how the choices we make affect that change. As this blog reminds us, Young Adult isn’t just for teens. As a matter of fact, I’d argue that the term “young adult” has been co-opted to apply to teens when in truth it’s a sliding timeline. Through the vulnerable, yet bitingly hilarious voice of her 16 year old protagonist, McCafferty offers timeless insights on friendship, love and even gender roles – “Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or Smart. Guess which one I got?” Jessica Darling’s observations are sharp – her responses to them honest and hilarious.

I was totally drawn in by Marcus Flutie and Jessica’s quest to unravel her interest in him. McCafferty beautifully develops the connection between Jessica and Marcus as a tender one of mutual discovery, while still stinging with adolescent realism. I especially like her use of the female body to illustrate how physical and emotional experiences intertwine. Though, at first I was disappointed in myself for getting caught up in the “romantic” aspect of the story, the characters offer more depth than a trite teen crush. Marcus speaks to what Jessica is lacking in herself. Whereas her friendship with Hope was a safe place where Jessica could be herself, unchanged and unharmed, her friendship with Marcus offers her a site for discovering what is unknown, even within her own head and heart.

I’m definitely getting Second Helpings.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Megan McCafferty
Publisher: Broadway (August 2001)

Secret Saturdays

10 Aug

Justin and Sean are best friends and they do everything together. They have a lot in common – they’re both half black and half Puerto Rican, they both live in the same building in the Red Hook Projects, they both live with their moms and without their dads, they do well in school, and they love to freestyle rhyme together. Their friends Kyle and Vanessa round out their crew, but the two of them are the tightest. That is until Sean begins to change – letting his grades drop, dissing kids in a way that is more bullying than defense, hanging with a tougher crowd, and missing their sleepovers and lying about the reasons. Justin realizes that these changes all started after the first missed sleepover – a Saturday night when Justin spotted Sean and his mom outside the building in the early hours with a suitcase in hand. Where did Sean go that night? Why would he lie about why he couldn’t sleep over? And what do these secret Saturdays, these lies, say about their friendship?

Secret Saturdays is a sweet middle grade read, that I think all ages of readers will enjoy. The book is more middle grade than teen/YA, and not just because of the ages of the characters, but also in the way that information is conveyed – leaving a bit less open to interpretation and a lot of examination of Justin’s thoughts and emotions. I used to work primarily with middle school aged youth and the characters and conflicts in Secret Saturdays brought to mind memories of those kids. In particular, some issues that resonated with my experience were the issue of young boys worrying about appearing soft or gay if they show emotion, vulnerability, or care for one another (and unfortunately the accompanying homophobia), and the use of verbal abuse (dissing) to make oneself seem/feel taller and another to seem/feel smaller. If I had a time machine, I would bring this book back with me and share it with those kids, and while I wait for that time machine to arrive on my doorstep, I’ll pass it on to other young readers.

Maldonado’s characterization of the four friends, and in particular Justin and Sean, is outstanding. The narrator, Justin, tells the reader a lot about his friends from his point of view, but we also learn about them from their words and actions. As I remember, everything in middle school is complex and friendship is no exception. Maldonado does a great job of exploring issues of friendship and trust, and the various pressures placed on today’s youth. What I appreciated most about Secret Saturdays was following Justin as he tries to work out his feelings about Sean and the status and future of their friendship.

The mystery aspect of the story didn’t work as well with me as I was pretty sure I knew what the secret was early on and as the friends gathered pieces of evidence it just made me more confident in my guess. I wonder if the mystery would be more suspenseful for other readers and I wonder how much this would depend on age or life experience. What was more interesting to me, however, was Justin’s struggle after solving the mystery in figuring out if/how to confront Sean and recognizing that he too keeps some things about himself private.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Torrey Maldonado
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (April 2010)
Note: ARC received from author for honest review.

There’s a great interview with Torrey Maldonado on The Brown Bookshelf from their 28 Days Later celebration of children’s literature which took place over the 28 days of Black History Month. Be sure to check it out!


4 Aug

Spoiled is exactly the kind of YA I look forward to reading, as it is escapist fun without being ridiculous or over the top. Being spoiled isn’t really the focus of the book – I am sure someone just thought it would sell more books with a title like that. Basically sixteen-year-old Molly Dix has always lived a normal boring life in some fly-over state. When her mother dies prematurely, it is revealed that her father is a famous movie star (Brick Berlin) and Molly is given the opportunity to move in with Brick and her half-sister Brooke. Molly is unprepared for the pressures of living in L.A. and going to private school, and she is surprised by the distant and distracted manner Brick exhibits.

Brooke isn’t surprised that her father isn’t there for her, as it has been this way her entire life – plus she was abandoned by her mother, so she is especially bitter. The last thing Brooke wants is some half-sibling taking away from her what little attention she gets from her father. Therefore, Brooke sets off to destroy Molly’s reputation and self-esteem. But Molly is stronger than Brooke realizes, and when Molly teams up with Brooke’s arch enemy, things get interesting. Of course, Molly is also developing a more-than-friends relationship with a boy, but she has a boyfriend back home, so its complicated.

If you are a fan of The Clique series (which I am totally obsessed with), there is a familiar Claire/Massie thing going on here. However, the content is a bit more mature, and Molly is way cooler than Claire. I like that Molly is both fashionable and a good person…that it doesn’t have to be the either/or thing that Alloy-type entertainment tends to push. Spoiled is a fast and fun read, and I look forward to the inevitable sequel. It is also well-written and has more emotional depth than these series tend to have. Not to discredit all the awesome shallow YA reads out there.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Publisher: Poppy (June 1, 2011)

August Releases!

1 Aug

Every month there is an overwhelming (in a good way) number of promising and enticing YA titles released. Nora and I are both avid readers, but it is still incredibly hard to keep up! This month is no exception, but I’m especially excited about these four August releases.

Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press (August 1, 2011)

I have yet to read any of Sarah Darer Littman’s novels (I read her Hunger Games essay from The Girl Who Was On Fire, which was awesome) and I am so excited for her latest release. I met Sarah at a book festival this year and she shared with me the inspiration for Want To Go Private?. She heard an account of a teen’s abduction by a man the young woman had met on the Internet, where the man almost made it out of the country with his abductee, but was luckily caught near the border. What surprised Littman and inspired her to delve into the complexity of this scenario was the young woman’s response: “Don’t hurt him”. Littman strikes me as a creative and thoughtful storyteller and a woman who does her research, so I’m excited to see where she goes with this topic/story.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson
Henry Holt and Co. BYR (August 30, 2011)

The official synopsis for The Fox Inheritance doesn’t really hint much at the plot, but I trust Mary Pearson to take us to new and exciting places in the 2nd book of The Jenna Fox Chronicles. For those who have read, or heard of, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, this story picks up 260 years after an accident changed Jenna Fox’s life forever. Focused on the experiences of Jenna’s friends, Kara and Locke, The Fox Inheritance sounds as thought-provoking and entertaining as its predecessor.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
Alladin (August 30, 2011)

My ten year old friend, Quinn (who has excellent taste), read The Unwanteds back in June and loved it. The fact that McMann’s inspiration came from the cutting of arts programs in her children’s schools (creativity and artistic intelligence being devalued) makes me even more interested in seeing where this new series goes. Basically, the main character, Alex, is separated from his twin when their society decides that his twin is Wanted (intelligent) and he is Unwanted (artistic). Wanteds go to University, while Unwanteds are sent to a death farm. When Alex arrives at the destination that should mean the end of his life, he instead finds a secret place hidden beneath the mirage of the death farm. This place is called Artime, and there students are taught how to develop and use their creativity – creativity is a powerful asset in Artime, rather than a death sentence. Of course, there will be drama and conflict and the separation of the twins will likely prove interesting. As my buddy Quinn says to me all the time, fantasy is at its best when you can recognize aspects of the real world and really relate to the issues, story, characters – I couldn’t agree more and this is what I look forward to the most with The Unwanteds.

Bake Sale by Sara Varon
First Second (August 30, 2011)

My first review on this blog was of Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams, which I loved – so sweet. And Bake Sale is definitely heavy on the sweet too, what with a main character who is a cupcake named Cupcake that likes to make…well, cupcakes. And Cupcake also has a band and a best friend who is an eggplant. Life is pretty good for a cupcake like Cupcake, but Cupcake has problems too and goes off on a search of a solution. I love Sara Varon’s style, her characters, her storytelling, and I’m also excited to try out some of the recipes (yup, this one has recipes!).

What new releases are you most excited for this month?