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Archive for the ‘Young Adult’ Category

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie

Published: 2007

Genre: Young Adult

Rating: 4 of 5

After some prompting from a teacher, Arnold Spirit, Jr. decides to leave his reservation’s high school and enroll in the neighboring community’s all-white high school.  All he really wanted was a better education, but what he gets is a sense of living in two worlds while belonging to none.  His fellow Native Americans, including his best and only friend, view his transfer as a rejection and betrayal.  His new white classmates are racist and largely ignore him.  Through it all, Junior illustrates his account of the school year with hilarious cartoons and a candid narrative.

When I read Rebecca’s review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on her blog, The Book Lady’s Blog, I immediately added it to my ever-growing list.  It sounded edgy, interesting, and unlike anything I’ve read recently.  I wasn’t disappointed!

Despite the misleadingly long title, Sherman Alexie’s writing is tight, concise, and perfectly balanced in youthfulness and emotion.  As a narrator, Junior was funny and endearing.  I laughed aloud multiple times, particularly at his wry, self-deprecating asides.  This book really did read like the journal of an intelligent teenager who is just trying to figure out where he fits in the world.

It feels almost strange to write about how funny I found this book given how sad it was.  Several members of Junior’s family are serious alcoholics and their resulting poverty is heartrending.  There are times when Junior is forced to walk and hitchhike the twenty-some miles to and from school because his family doesn’t have money for gas.  During the darkest part of the book, several terrible tragedies hit Junior’s family.  Racism – by both the whites and the Native Americans – controls many of the characters and Junior bears the brunt of much hate.

There is no sugarcoating in this book.  It is painfully honest and has even managed to land itself on some banned books lists (check out Rebecca’s post for the excerpt that is primarily responsible for this honor).  But the good-natured attitude and wry commentary that accompanies all the bluntness makes it an insightful and worthwhile read.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian:

The Book Lady’s Blog – Book Chat: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Fizzy Thoughts – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Jessecreation’s Weblog – STD Conferences and YA Lit

New York Times – Off the Rez

Underage Reading – Book vs. Book: Battle of the kids battling racist humiliation and not quite winning

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The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

Published: 2005

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Rating: 5 of 5 (re-read)

The Book Thief is, hands down, one of my favorite reads.  Ever.  I have been a Book Thief evangelist for the past year, trying to tell everyone I know that they must drop everything and go read it immediately.  Either my book club took pity on me or my sales tactics are improving, because they chose it as our July book.

I imagine most people have already at least seen this book around – for goodness sake, there was a full-page New York Times ad for it several months ago.  I won’t give a full synopsis here, but suffice it to say:

It’s just a small story really, about among other things:

A girl

Some words

An accordionist

Some fanatical Germans

A Jewish fist fighter

And quite a lot of thievery.

All the women in the book group really enjoyed this book.  Each person admitted to crying (many to sobbing), and all had much to say about the book and its characters, themes, messages, and narrator (Death was very popular amongst us).  It was an excellent discussion – if you are looking for your next book club pick, we highly recommend this one!

To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to give too many specifics about what we discussed.  I will note that we launched into a very interesting side conversation about how culpable the German citizens were for the horror done in their own backyard.  Things got slightly heated over this issue, with some people wondering if living in post-World War I Germany was like being an unsuspecting lobster in slowly heating water.  Others argued that enough people knew what was happening early enough to put a stop to things.  Obviously, this is a question that will never be satisfactorily answered.  Along those lines, though, when asked if Hans Hubermann and the other characters were culpable, people were a lot less willing to answer affirmatively.

Perhaps Markus Zusak was so successful with this book because he was able to place the recognizable face of humanity into a truly heinous period in our history.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Book Thief:

5 Minutes for Books – The Book Thief

At Home with Books – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Review

The Book Lady’s Blog – The Book Lady and The Book Thief

Devourer of Books – The Book Thief – Book Review

Fizzy Thoughts – Days of Remembrance and The Book Thief

The New York Times – Stealing to Settle a Score with Life

Out of the Blue – Book Review: The Book Thief

Rhapsody in Books – Sunday Salon – Review of “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

USA Today – ‘The Book Thief’ rises above horrors of war

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The 13 Clocks

Title: The 13 Clocks

Author: James Thurber

Published: 1950

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Rating: 3 of 5

The 13 Clocks is a fairy tale-like story about an evil and cold Duke, his captive and beautiful niece-Princess, and the mysterious stranger who seeks to marry her.  To free the Princess, the stranger must complete an impossible task in an impossible amount of time.

I became aware of this book through an NPR story about the reprinting of this classic children’s tale.  Intrigued by Neil Gaiman’s forward claiming it to be “probably the best book in the world,” I picked it up at my library.

Though I wouldn’t go as far as Gaiman’s claim, I can say that this book was entertaining.  It was a very fast and quirky read, full of jabs at fairy tale cliches and clever word usage.  I read an older edition of the book and found that its whimsical illustrations added to my enjoyment of the story.  I can understand how this book was likely a progenitor to many of the modern fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed.  Maybe part of its charm lies in its concise simplicity, but ultimately, it wasn’t long enough or interesting enough to bring me under its spell.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The 13 Clocks:

Eyrie – The 13 Clocks

LA Times – Thurber’s world of wonders

The New York Review of Books – The 13 Clocks

NPR – Beloved Children’s Book ‘Thirteen Clocks’ is Back

Things Mean a Lot – The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

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The Witches

Title: The Witches

Author: Roald Dahl

Published: 1983

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Rating: 3.5 of 5

The Witches is about a young orphaned boy who learns about witches from his grandmother, a retired witch hunter.  His grandmother teaches him how to distinguish witches from other normal women, and soon, the boy finds himself hiding and observing the annual English witch convention.  Witches vehemently hate children, and when they discover him, things do not go well!

When I was doing research for my new book club, I encountered this book mentioned in The Book Club Companion (the book solely responsible for doubling my reading queue size).  It reminded me of my fond memories of Roald Dahl – The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach – and since I’d never read The Witches, I picked it up at my library.

I can’t decide if my younger self would have found this book funny or scary.  Dahl is so dark, yet so entertaining.  Who else would write about witches getting pleasure from ‘doing away’ with at least one child a week?  At one point, they even break into a bizarre and highly Dahlesque song that begins:

Down vith children!  Do them in!

Boil their bones and fry their skin!

Bish them, sqvish them, bash them, mash them!

Brrreak them, shake them, slash them, smash them!

This was an immensely quick read, and I think I enjoyed Dahl’s writing style more than I enjoyed the actual story.  The plot and the characters just didn’t enchant me as some of Dahl’s other creations have (especially The BFG, who remains one of my favorite children’s literary characters).

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about The Witches:

Things Mean a Lot – The Witches by Roald Dahl

SMS Book Reviews – The Witches by Roald Dahl

Maw Books Blog – The Witches by Roald Dahl

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Chains

Title: Chains (audiobook)

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Published: 2008

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Rating: 4 of 5

Chains was my first introduction to Laurie Halse Anderson, and I am beginning to understand why she is the current darling of the Young Adult world.  This book tells the story of Isabel, an orphaned slave girl living during the Revolutionary War.  She and her younger sister, Ruth, are denied the freedom promised to them by their recently deceased owner and find themselves moving to New York City with their new cruel masters.

Isabel’s struggle between accepting her fate and looking for opportunities to gain their freedom is heartrending.  Against the background of war, her quest for personal freedom is particularly poignant.  In an city filled with talk of liberty and rights, no one appears to care about how those ideals apply to the many slaves serving on both sides of the conflict.

I loved Isabel’s dogged determination and her fierce love for her helpless sister.  I was cheering for them from page one, and took great delight in the intelligence and cunning Isabel displayed.  The audiobook version was great, although the narrator had a difficult time with male characters – they all sounded angry, even when they weren’t.

Anderson has announced that two more books will follow Chains.  The next, Forge, is being released in 2010 and I am definitely looking forward to it!

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about Chains:

A Comfy Chair and a Good Book – Chains

Devourer of Books – Chains – Book Review

Maw Books Blog – Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Random Wonder – Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson – Review

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Walk Two Moons

Title: Walk Two Moons (audiobook)

Author: Sharon Creech

Published: 1995

Genre: Young Adult, Fiction

Rating: 4 of 5

Salamancha Tree Hiddle is a thirteen year old girl on a road trip with her grandparents in search of her mother who left to rediscover herself.  To pass the time in the car, Sal tells the drama-filled story of her friend Phoebe Winterbottom, the secret messages her family receives, and her own mother’s disappearance.

This book started off slow for me.  But once Phoebe’s story began, and as Sal’s own history was carefully revealed through her insights about Phoebe’s situation, I was hooked.  Sharon Creech does a lovely job of weaving together the two separate stories – as Sal supported Phoebe, so did Phoebe’s tale help Sal.

My favorite thing about this book was the supporting characters.  I immediately fell in love with Gram and Gramps and their hilariously endearing way of communicating and embracing life.  I laughed aloud several times at their antics and at Gram’s constant cheers of ‘Huzza, huzza!’  Many of the other characters, Phoebe, Ben, Mrs. Partridge, and Sal’s father, were completely believable and entirely enjoyable.

I rarely cry over books – and even less frequently do I cry during an audiobook.  But this story and these characters touched me in such a way that I found myself listening while standing over a sink of dishes with tears of joy and sadness streaming down my face.  In my informal foray through the Newbery Award winners, Walk Two Moons is a stand-out for me.  Huzza, huzza indeed.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about Walk Two Moons:

The New York Times – Salamancha’s Journey

SMS Book Reviews – Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

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A Northern Light Title: A Northern Light (audiobook)

Author: Jennifer Donnelly

Published: 2003

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Rating: 3 of 5

I sometimes worry that I miss things by listening to the audio version of a book.  In this case, I suspect that the audio version of A Northern Light created a different impression for me than if I had just read the book.

A Northern Light is about Mattie Gokey, a teenager in New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the early 1900s.  She is a farm girl bearing many family responsibilities after her mother’s death, but who secretly desires to go to college in NYC.  By chance, Mattie also comes to possess letters belonging to a young woman who suspiciously drowned at the local lake resort.

I didn’t love this book, which surprised me since it was recommended by a good friend who’s opinion I wholeheartedly trust.  If I’m honest, I never gave the book a fair chance.  The narrator’s voice was extremely annoying, and I often found myself cringing at both her voice attempts and her unusual inflection.  It can be difficult to divorce narration from the book itself, but I’ll try.

Jennifer Donnelly created an intelligent and likable main character in Mattie.  Unfortunately, her clear intelligence made it hard to believe her frequent obliviousness about people’s intentions and the events around her.  I was able to figure out every major plot twist long before it was revealed, but Mattie remained completely unaware each time.  Maybe this is a case of, as my sister says, a smart person having no common sense – but I was hoping for more out of Mattie.

Each thing I enjoyed about A Northern Light was like this – having a flip side that detracted from the book as well.  Donnelly did a great job of incorporating some timely racial issues into the story, but Weaver, the only black boy in the book, was disappointingly two-dimensional and predictable.  Mattie’s love of words allowed Donnelly to use interesting vocabulary, but it was done with a heavy hand and often felt forced.  The based-on-true-events drowning is a captivating story, but it is never truly connected to Mattie’s own story and it ends up feeling like two different books have been rather awkwardly crammed into one volume.

Due to the two-sided nature of this book, I gave it a middle-of-the-road 3 out of 5 rating.  More importantly, I still trust my friend’s opinion, because I can definitely see why she recommended A Northern Light.

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Don’t take my word for it.  Check out what others are saying about A Northern Light:

A Life in Books – Past and Present

Reviewer X – A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnolly

The Sleepy Reader – Book Review: A Northern Light

Sonderbooks – A Northern Light

The New York Times – A Northern Light

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