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Book Review: The Nerdy and the Dirty

Book Review: The Nerdy and the Dirty

Book Review: The Nerdy and the Dirty
The Nerdy and the Dirty by B. T. Gottfred
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: November 15th 2016
Pages: 304
Source: Library

His classmates may consider him a nerd, but Benedict Pendleton knows he's destined for great things. All he has to do is find a worthy girlfriend, and his social station will be secured. Sure, Benedict is different--but that's what he likes about himself.
Pen Lupo is sick and tired of hiding who she is. On the outside, Pen is popular, quiet, and deferential to her boyfriend. On the inside, however, Pen is honest, opinionated--and not sure that she's quite like other girls. Do they have urges like she does?
When fate intervenes, Pen and Benedict end up at the same vacation resort for winter break. Despite their differences, the two are drawn together. But is there such a thing as happily ever after for this unlikely pair?

I wanted to love this book. I really, really did. I first saw it on Edelweiss, but I didn’t get to it before it was published. I love  frank sex talk for teens ala Forever (Blume). I truly believe teens need those type of books; however, this is not it.

But it got good professional reviews and has decent buzz! Indeed it has gotten lots of praise, but I found the book incredibly problematic. I seriously cannot understand why no one but School Library Journal pointed out any of it, even as a precaution. While this is a rant for another day, I will say we need to do better. Hopefully, by the time I’m finished, you’ll agree with me.

Okay, let’s start with the writing. I found most of it to be choppy and stilted, especially when it came to Benedict. I do believe this was done on purpose, to highlight his “tin man” likeness, but it drove me crazy. Here’s an example of what I mean:

When I got home, I wanted to talk to my dad. He would have great advice. He’s brilliant. I’m not saying that just because he’s my dad. He’s a psychiatrist and an author. (p 17)

I know there’s technically nothing wrong with the sentence structure, but most of the book is in this format. For me, it’s jarring and pulls me out of the story. I honestly almost DNF at page 30 because of the writing.

Benedict as character has a lot of issues. I would wager by the way he talks and acts, that it is possible he is on the spectrum. I do not know this for sure, though, so it’s strictly a guess. However, if he is, the whole storyline that he can just be “normal” if he tries hard enough is problematic. Although, even if he is, that does not excuse some of his actions/allow him to be a jerk. I absolutely hate the way he treats his mother. Several times it is mentioned that his mom is the beauty and not the brains. She couldn’t possibly help him because she’s not intelligent enough to help him. It has to be his dad. I know a lot of this was force fed by his father, but it’s still not okay, especially since this attitude is basically applied to all women. I will give points for Benedict back pedaling on this train of thought as the book continued, though.

Of course, there is sex in this book. I’ll admit at times it is gratuitous, like telling me which hand is used to masturbate, but most of it isn’t too bad. I do like that most of the sex talk is straightforward. No cute slang for genitalia and consent is usually asked (at least with Benedict and Pen). However, it does at time makes the scenes seem a bit unrealistic, especially the first actual sex scene. It felt a bit too mature, however, that’s me mainly being nit picky. What is not okay is how female masturbation is treated. Pen repeatedly calls herself a freak because she likes to masturbate and think about sex. She even gets sent to in-patient church therapy when her mom discovers her in the act. Benedict does tell her it’s healthy and that more girls should masturbate, but there is still a sense that Pen believes she’s a freak. Also, I do find that hard to believe that none of the girls on school talk about sex, even with religion thrown into the mix. I can remember sitting in 7th grade and listening to girls talk about their sex lives. Considering that was over 20 years ago, I can’t imagine it’s changed too much, especially the amount of times I’ve told my teens our program talk is PG-13.

I’m going to start delving into some of the stuff that really bothered me. The top of my list is abuse. Pen’s (ex) boyfriend, Paul, is highly abusive mentally, sexually, & physically. Here are just some of the passages that highlights how abusive he is:

“You’re not beating him up, Paul,” I say. Shit. I never tell him what to do or not to do. You know. I always do my passive thing….
“Babe, you can’t talk to me like that.” (p 24)

“I love you too.” I always said “I love you” after he did. I said it first once and it weirded him out. So I say it second. Always. (p 34)

After school, Paul grabbed me under the arm and dragged me out to his car. He kept twisting the skin under my arm. It felt like flesh would tear off, and I never told him to stop. Just take the pain, Pen. It’s okay. Paul would never really hurt me…..”If we hadn’t had sex, i would totally break up with you, Pen! But I love you and we’re going to get married. But we’re going to hate each other like your parents hate each other unless you stop acting like a cunt.” (p 52)

“How are you going to make it up to me?” ….Before I even undid my seatbelt, he put his hand behind my head and started guiding me down toward his crotch. It’s not like he shoved me down there. But, I don’t know, I guess I made it up to him. (p 53)

There is more I could pull, but I’ll stop there. Paul is abusive, no excuses. He breaks up with her after her mom decides Paul shouldn’t join them on vacation at the resort. He knows she was sent away for therapy, but doesn’t know the details. Instead, he uses it as an excuse for them to take a break and for him to mess around with another girl. During this break is when Pen hooks up with Benedict. Three days. Three days is all it takes for her to magically break “free”. When the vacation ends disastrously (I’ll get to this in a bit), she goes to see Paul. She doesn’t even care that he cheated and tells him it’s over. He refuses to let her go and then hits her, which she reports to the cops. I’m glad that she that she reported it, but it feels unlikely that after being in an abusive relationship for years she could stand up for herself so fast. It makes it appear that walking away from abusive partners is simple, but in real life it would have been way more of a struggle. Also, I hate how it was kind of swept under the rug/explained away because his own mother was abusive as well. It was odd how Pen was just like “well, that explains it” and go on her merry way.

Pen’s mother is also pretty abusive, which again is swept away with an explanation  as to why it happens. Not only does Pen mother send her away to therapy for masturbating, but she also calls the cops to assure she goes. It’s also implied many times that Pen’s mother is verbally abusive. The reason? View Spoiler »

If that wasn’t enough, the way crazy, retard, & whore are thrown around is horrible. This is the area I’m most upset that professional reviewers didn’t at least call out as a precaution. Pen repeatedly calls her mom or herself crazy or nuts. I hate how loosely the word is thrown around. This passage struck me the hardest

So, yeah, it was a panic attack. I’m crazier than my mother. (p 83)

No. No, no, no, no. I hate the implications this makes on people who experience panic attacks. How would a teen who experience panic attacks regularly feel after that statement? It’s an illness that no one should be ashamed up and it certainty doesn’t make one crazy.

As for retard and whore, once Benedict and Pen are discovered in a warming hut naked, those words are thrown around without care. Her mother repeatedly called Benedict a retard and Pen a whore. A sentiment that his father echoes. A sentiment that Benedict starts to repeat to himself/believe.

Do you think she ever wants to see a boy again whose father called her a whore? Use your brains, retard. (p 225)

If I’m correct and Benedict is on the spectrum, this is unforgivable, especially since no one tries to stop them from saying it. In fact, only Pen says not to use those words, once, to Paul during their fight. That’s it. One could argue it was the parents lashing out, but I’m extremely disappointed by how casually those words are used.

I wish I had more positive things to say about this book, but it was a complete miss in my eyes.

Book Review: If You Wrong Us

Book Review: If You Wrong Us

Book Review: If You Wrong Us
If You Wrong Us by Dawn Klehr
Publisher: Flux
Release Date: October 8th 2015
Pages: 240
Source: Library

"An intricate psychological page-turner that explores the darker side of vengeance and reads like Gone Girl through a teen lens." - Kirkus Reviews
Becca and Johnny become entangled after a car crash steals the lives of two people they love. Officially, the crash is an accident. But Becca and Johnny are convinced: someone did this.
As they plot revenge against the person responsible, a bond—intense, unyielding, and manic—takes hold of them. And in an unexpected turn of events, they fall for each other.
Or so they think.
In an upside-down world where decay is beautiful and love and hate become one, Becca and Johnny find themselves grappling with reality. Nothing is exactly what it seems, including what they've come to believe about the crash. Question is: will they learn the truth before it's too late?
No. The question is: when they learn the truth, will they care?

 

This is one of those books that I wanted to like so much, and tried to, but ultimately just couldn’t. The story itself isn’t bad. It’s a weird and twisted revenge plot where nothing is quite as it seems. The whole Gone Girl for teens is pretty accurate. Becca herself is a highly unreliable narrator and by the end it’s quite obvious that she’s mentally ill.  The ending is a bit rushed and it kind of falls apart as well. There were some “suspension of disbelief” moments , but none of that truly bothered me. In fact, it’s a quick fast read that I could have easily sold to reluctant readers had it not been for some highly problematic lines/issues that start popping up.

These issues started showing up pretty fast. In fact, on only page four we get this

I shift around in my seat, trying to get comfortable. It’s impossible because I’m stuffed into this desk-and-chair combo – much like Rosie is, sitting next to me jammed into her two-sizes-too-small bedazzled jeans.

There are so many other analogies that could have used. Why, why, why does it have to be this one? All it really serves is demeaning a female classmate. Sure, it forms an image, but does it have to be at the expense of a girl? Girls already have so many people yelling at them about their body, this does not need to added to their list.

 

The commentary on women’s body doesn’t end there. Less that 20 pages later, we’re given these lines:

Becca has no idea how hot she is, and that only makes her more appealing. pg 19

“Here, take this,” I add, shoving a granola bar into the chest pocket of her button-down shirt. I like my women with a little meat on their bones.” pg 20

No, no, no. A woman who lacks self-confidence is not sexy, and we do not need to be teaching our girls this. It’s okay, even good, to have self-confidence and know you’re beautiful. Also, can we please stop the commentary on what women should look like. I know this line was in a larger reference to her losing weight because of their revenge plot, but we need to express those words and not comments like “needing more meat on their bones”.

 

Speaking of weight, there are a couple of problematic lines on that as well. The worse offender is:

My brain is like a fat guy at an all-you-can-eat rib joint. Things are going along just fine, I consume, take things in just as I’m supposed to. But then, without warning, I reach out and grab something – a word, a phrase, a number – and it slips out of my greasy hands. pg 30

Again, I get what she is going at, but does it have to be at the expense of someone else. Why can’t it simply be “someone at an all-you-can-eat rib joint”? Why does it have to be someone that’s fat? It’s a stereotype that fat people eat/consume more than anyone else. It’s false and highly insulting.

 

The other line that deals with weight/unflattering description is

Mom checked in with an overweight blonde who smelled like perspiration and rubbing alcohol. pg. 49

This one seems not so bad compared to the other, but it still really bothered me. She’s overweight so she sweats more? I tried to find an angle that maybe she’s just moving around a lot, but she’s a hospital check-in desk person. Most likely, she is only manning the desk and maybe doing other light office jobs. Nothing that should make her reek of sweat.

 

There are other things that bothered me, like calling a psychiatric ward the Nut Hut, but the final nail in the coffin for me was the following passage

Call me sick, but I liked Travis’s dark side and the cloud of mystery and danger than hung over him. Brit didn’t understand this because she always got the attention. For me, it was new and exciting the way he fussed over me. I liked his possessiveness. It made me feel precious or something. pg 76

This passage comes a short time after we find out it’s rumored that he beat up his ex-girlfriend. Perhaps that’s not the dark side Becca  is referring to, but it’s the connection that I made. However, even if it isn’t, a relationship where someone is possessive is never good. This is an emotionally abusive relationship and it should not be spun as something good. Yes, I know there’s a twist to this passage that we learn later, but it still doesn’t make this passage okay. Her sister does try to use this fact to force Becca to break up with him, but it’s spun in a way that Brit just doesn’t want to be linked to the “talk” not that she’s worried he may be abusing her as well.

I know these passages seem small in comparison to the whole book, but I do think it’s still worth highlighting problematic things. It’s by no means an attack on anything, but something I believe we should be talking about.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced read with some problematic passages. It’ll be one that teens can still find on the library selves, but not one I promote/handsell.

Book Review: Alex as Well

Book Review: Alex as Well

Book Review: Alex as Well
Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: January 20th 2015
Pages: 224
Source: Library

Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that.

The description of this book is a bit misleading. At first glance, I thought this book  dealt with a transgender character, but the truth is that Alex is intersex. She was born with ambiguous gentialia (small penis, no scrotum, & ovaries), but has been raised as a boy by her parents. Now that Alex is 14 years old, she realizes that she is a girl, not a boy. The book has a great premise and could have been phenomenal, but instead ended up being so problematic that I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone.

My biggest issue with this book is Alex’s parents, especially her mother, Heather. They take her declaration that she is a girl horribly; they call her a weirdo and pervert and act as if she is ruining their lives. Both of them act as if this is a surprising revelation and not something that could have happened all along. They chose to raise her as a boy with the help of testosterone medication. Heather herself even mentions that she had to keep logs and watch Alex to make sure they made the right decision. Everything points to them knowing this could happen, but by the way they act you’d never know it. Had Alex been transgendered and not intersex, their actions would have worked, but as written it didn’t make sense. (Note: please know that while it would have worked if Alex was transgendered, their responses/actions would have still been horrible!) Not to say that parents don’t act this way, it just felt odd how blindsided they were when it seemed most of Alex’s early life was about documenting their decision.

While Alex’s dad does seem to come around, Heather just won’t accept the change. I have never wanted to punch a character as much as I did Heather; via her forum/blog posts it becomes clear how horrible she really is.   Not only does she refuse to call Alex her, but she forces medication on her by sticking it in her food. She claims that Alex has always been a selfish, difficult child, even at the age of 3. She wallows in self-pity, but never once stops to look at things through Alex’s eyes. She tries to play herself off as loving, but that women is nothing but hate. Worse that that, I can’t stand how  her actions were tied to a “mental breakdown”. By the end of the book, she’s been admitted,  and it’s almost as if that explains why she can’t be loving and supportive of Alex. Of course, it could also be implied that Alex’s decision drove her to that point, which is equally as disturbing.

Alex, herself, is problematic as well. She splits herself into boy-Alex and girl-Alex and there is a lot of self-loathing at times. At one point, she even calls herself a transgendered freak. This is where I wish I knew so much more about the intersex community. Both the splitting of the personality and calling herself transgendered feels off, but I’m not sure if I’m correct or not in my thinking.Of course, even if the personality separation is a normal occurrence among people, I hate how many gender stereotypes were  used. Boy-Alex disrupts the class and makes lewd comments and gestures to other girls. On the other hand, Girl-Alex loves all things sparkly and can admit to be inept at using tools. It felt as if she was doing nothing more than putting all her traits into little boxes, much as her mother had been doing for years. I’m not even going to touch the dressing room scene at the start of the book, which really disturbed and creeped me out.

The last thing that really bothered me were all these little plot devices that made things too easy. Switching schools without parental consent? No problem! Join the school fashion show and become a sought after model making mad bank? Piece of cake! Find a lawyer who will act as a father figure and make things happen with a snap of the fingers? Done! I mean, I’m glad that Alex got out of her situation, but it all felt a little too easy. And what 14 year old is really ready to move out on their own? I suppose there may be a rare case out there, but Alex was not one of them. It just seemed so unrealistic. If  Brugman was going for a fairy tale ending, I would have rather seen Alex end up in a supporting foster home rather than going at it all alone.

Final Verdict: A book I wanted to fall in love with, but couldn’t. While the topic held such promise, it ended up being highly flawed and problematic.

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Book Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: Oct. 14th 2014
Pages: 208
Source: Library

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy's pregnancy, Sebastian's coming out, the cute boys, her father's meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

Oh man, I don’t think I can express enough how much I loved this book. I have to admit that I sadly judged this book by its cover. I’ve know about it for  months, but it wasn’t until several of my friends began expressing their love for it that I finally picked it up. And now I can see why. I’ve already been singing the praises to several of my teens.

Let’s talk about all the things this book got right. First thing I loved was Gabi’s voice. It felt so authentic, as if I really was reading the diary of the 17 year old girl. Gabi is brutally honest about everything. From her meth-addicted father, love and sex, the pressure of being a “good” daughter/sister, and being a fat girl. I love how nothing was held back, not even when she made mistakes. Life is rarely about being perfect and Gabi’s journey shows that in full force.

I also love how Quintero isn’t afraid of tackling the tough issues. Gabi is a fat girl, but it doesn’t define her. It is not her whole existence. Yes, she struggles with junk food cravings, losing weight, and liking how she looks. Her happiness is not tied to her weight. There is no crash dieting to make her a better person or get the boy. She gets the boy by being just who she is. And I love how Gabi grows to love her body as the book progress. My favorite quote ever comes from her convincing herself to go the beach with her classmates in a two piece. It’s a quote I think every girl (or person who struggles with being body positive) should have taped to their mirror.

You look spectacular. You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better.

Oh, and spoiler alert, no one cared that she was in a two piece. That is what being body positive is all about. You go out there and rock it no matter what size you are.

The other issues that Quintero handles that made me shout from the roof tops was boys will be boys. Gabi is constantly commenting on how her mother treats her brother differently. How she’s to  keep  her “eyes open, legs closed” but her brother is to remember the condom. She hates how it’s okay for him to have sex, but if she does she would be a “bad” girl. Starting on page 229, she lays out all the boys will be boys arguments and it’s glorious to say the least. All the little stereotypes surround rape and how the girl better watch it because boys will be boys. Seriously, if you do nothing else you should get this book and read that section. Being put so bluntly in a book just made me want to weep. I also love that Martin’s father basically tells him the boys will be boys is bullshit and that he had better treat Gabi (and all girls) with respect. I have never wanted to hug a minor character so much.

The last thing I’ll talk is Gabi’s growth and transformation. I loved watching her come into her own. All the struggles and hardships that are thrown out her just make her grow. The way she thought about and questioned things she had been told all her life. Like with sex and her body and what made a “good” girl. She came to accept that the ideologies her mom held didn’t have to be the ones she held. That sex or wearing pants or going away for college did not made her “bad;” it just made her her. That’s a lesson all teens should  learn.

Final Verdict: Just go and read it now. I promise you won’t regret it. The cover is a shame, but will make sense once you read it. The story, however, will have you hugging the book in no time flat. Hands down this has become one of my favorite books.

 

Book Review: They All Fall Down

Book Review: They All Fall Down

Book Review: They All Fall Down
They All Fall Down by Roxanne St. Claire
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014
Pages: 341
Source: Library

Kenzie Sumerall just found out she’s on the the list. The list of the top ten Veinna High Juniors who are “hotties”. Unsure how she made the list at all, let alone be fifth, Kenzie tries to brush away the extra attention brought on by the list. She could care less about all the parties or the power the list brings. All she wants is to continue on as normal and hopefully get into Columbia. However, any hope of that is shattered when the girls from the list starting dying one by one. Fluke accidents that seem just a little too suspicious. Could the theory that the list is cursed be true or something more sinister going on? And more importantly, can Kenzie figure it out before she’s next…

They All Fall Down is a fast paced thriller that will suck you in until the end. Okay, there is some need to suspend believability, but this isn’t the first or last book I’ve had to do that for. There are several twists and turns that leaves you guessing what the truth behind the murders really are. I don’t know that I saw the final twist coming, but I wasn’t surprised by it either. It was obvious that something larger was going on and it was easy to determine where I needed to focus my attention. I liked that there was a bit of obviousness to it, but wasn’t completely predictable at the same time.

Kenzie overall was a likable player. She’s your typical “good girl” who studies hard and will end up in a fantastic school. She’s not a partier and her weekends are either spent studying or with her best friend, Molly. However, her life is not without tragedy. Her brother died in a freak accident only two years ago and something her family is still healing from. We don’t see her parents too much other than to note that they’re on the verge of divorce and dealing with their own problems. A convenient reason for Kenzie not to let them in on all the things happening. I’ve always enjoyed the girl detective roles, which may be why I’m able to overlook some of the flaws and cliches that surround Kenzie as a whole. We won’t even talk about how she falls into insta-love with the bad boy (Levi) and drops her 7 year long crush on Mr. Popular (Josh) with barely a second thought. Honestly, Levi is totally the better choice out of the two, but I’m still not sure that makes him a good choice either. It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes a series and how the boys progress in the future. (The door is completely wide-open for a sequel, but at this moment I cannot find any details on if that will actually happen.)

All that being said, this book does have issues. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the slut shaming and general problematic treatment of girls since I’ve finished reading it. The whole basic plot is hinged on a “hottie” list. I won’t lie and say that this didn’t make me cringe. Girls have enough problems in life without being ranked on “hotness”. The very premise is sexist in nature, but thankfully Kenzie agreed and says as much. While the real reason the girls are picked (which I won’t mention since it’s a spoiler) is even worse and makes me sigh, it is truly the least problematic thing in the book.

It is the unnecessary slut shaming that is thrown in that makes me really upset. On at least two occasions it is mentioned that one girl only got on the list because she gave blow jobs to lacrosse team. Even after she dies, the boys joke that a thing with her could just mean a hand job in the locker room. Then we get this fabulous line about “slut-liner”, which is what Molly calls inside the eye liner. That line was the nail in the coffin for me. None, and I do mean none, of these lines or mentions are needed in the book. Yes, the girls on the list are the ones being targeted, but there is no reason to make one a “slut”. It added absolutely nothing to the book and, in fact, it the main reason I won’t be book talking this book to my teens in an upcoming event or when I go to schools in May. A fact that saddens me a bit because this would have been a solid contender. And while it may only be four lines, I cannot condone this type of behavior nor risk upsetting parents/teacher and putting my job on the line.

Final Verdict: A fast-paced and fun thriller/mystery, however, the slut shaming made it impossible for me to fully fall in love with it.

Book Review: Jasper Jones

Book Review: Jasper Jones

Book Review: Jasper Jones
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Release Date: April 2011
Pages: 320
Source: Library

Charlie Bucktin, a bookish thirteen year old, is startled one summer night by an urgent knock on his bedroom window. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in their small mining town, and he has come to ask for Charlie's help. Terribly afraid but desperate to impress, Charlie follows him into the night. Jasper takes him to his secret glade, where Charlie witnesses Jasper's horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion. He locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love, and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

I’m just going to outright say this – THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! No really, this book blew me away. Charlie is a bookworm, a boy who wouldn’t dare defy his parents, until one summer night when Jasper Jones asks for his help. Jasper is the no-good teenager of the town. The one who gets blamed for anything that goes wrong. And the worst thing has happened, a murder has been committed and Jasper knows he’ll be blamed for it. Charlie must decide which is the right thing – to help Jasper out or to go directly to the police.

Beyond the fantastic main plot, is a series of intricate subplots that are inter-weaved throughout the book. Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey is Vietnamese and as the book is set during the Vietnam War, there’s some prejudice that is consistent throughout the book. There is bullying, romance, and all sorts of abuse in this book as well. And let’s not forget the swearing. I have to say my favorite part of dialogue was Charlie and Jeffrey’s ongoing discussion on whether Superman or Batman is the better superhero. Their banter is always hilarious and I found myself laughing until my side hurt many times. This is one of those books that is bound to be taught in an English class someday. It was well done, with a ton of issues involved and a mystery that continues throughout the novel. Definitely a must-read in my opinion.

 

Book Review: Where the Streets Had a Name

Book Review: Where the Streets Had a Name

Book Review: Where the Streets Had a Name
Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: 2010
Pages: 313
Source: Library

Thirteen year old Hayaat is on a mission. She believes a handful of soil from her grandmother's ancestral home in Jerusalem will save her beloved Sitti Zeynab's life. The only problem is that Hayaat and her family live behind the impenetrable wall that divides the West Bank, and they're on the wrong side of check points, curfews, and the travel permit system. Plus, Hayaat's best friend Samy always manages to attract trouble. But luck is on the pair's side as they undertake the journey to Jerusalem from the Palestinian Territories when Hayaat and Samy have a curfew-free day to travel.

But while their journey may only be a few kilometers long, it could take a lifetime to complete. . .

Where the Streets Had a Name is a tale set in Palestine. Hayaat is a young girl who cares deeply for her family. When her grandmother’s life is in danger, she decides she must cross over into Jerusalem to bring her back a handful of dirt from her original home. The story she was told by her grandmother moved her deeply and she believes this is the only way to save her. Her best friend Samy accompanies her, but they find a difficult journey ahead, as they do not have the correct permits to travel into Jerusalem.

This story deeply moved me and really gave me a glimpse into the lives of those who live in this constant struggle between Palestine and Jerusalem. Randa does a fantastic job of writing a story filled with storytelling, adventure and strong family bonds. Definitely a must-read in the multicultural genre.

Audiobook Review: Walk Two Moons

Audiobook Review: Walk Two Moons

Audiobook Review: Walk Two Moons
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: March 2006 (first published June 1994)
Source: Library

"How about a story? Spin us a yarn."
Instantly, Phoebe Winterbottom came to mind. "I could tell you an extensively strange story," I warned.
"Oh, good!" Gram said. "Delicious!"
And that is how I happened to tell them about Phoebe, her disappearing mother, and the lunatic.

As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe's outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold — the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.

In her own award-winning style, Sharon Creech intricately weaves together two tales, one funny, one bittersweet, to create a heartwarming, compelling, and utterly moving story of love, loss, and the complexity of human emotion

It irks me sometimes, how behind I am in reading good children’s literature. It’s easy to set aside old books for shiny new ones, but there’s something to be said about a fantastic story, no matter if it’s old or new. I met Sharon Creech this year, ate lunch with her at the Andersons YA Literature conference and realized I had not read but one or two of her many wonderful novels. My fifth grade teachers teach this book every year as well. So I picked it up on audio when I ran out of my latest selection of audiobooks and put it on the top of the pile. I was not disappointed.

The summary above includes the first few lines spoken in this book and it definitely hooked me right in. How can you not be intrigued by those first few sentences. This whole novel is crafted in such a way that makes you ache for more of the story and to ache for the girl who is narrating it. Walk Two Moons hit me from behind. A completely unexpected turn of events, a story that is both funny and sad, and a timeless tale that will never lose its voice. It definitely deserves the Newbery and makes me want to go and pick up more of Creech’s books as soon as I can. The audio portion was well done and I thought the characters were brought out so lively in the telling of this story. If you haven’t read this one yet, you need to. Now.

 

Book Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

Book Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick

Book Review: Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber
Series: Perry & Gobi #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: Oct. 2011
Pages: 192
Source: Library

Perry Stormaire is a normal high school senior– he is busy applying to college and rehearsing with his band –until he agrees to go to the prom with the Lithuanian exchange student who is staying with his family. It turns out that Gobi Zaksauskas is not the mousy teenager that she seems but rather an attractive, confident trained assassin. Instead of going to the prom, Perry finds himself on a wild ride through the streets of New York City as Gobi commandeers the Jaguar his father lent him for the prom in order to take out her targets. Perry learns a lot about himself – and ends up with some amazing material for his college application essays.

Short of it: The cover for this one is a bit deceiving, but hands down it’s a perfect boy book. Full of action, blood, and a lot more I really enjoyed this fast paced book.

Plot: Oh man, talk about going from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds. I have this habit of not knowing what a book is about before going in/guessing the plot from the cover and Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick was not at all what I was expecting. I thought it maybe some chick-lit adventure book, but oh was I ever wrong. Adventure, yes. Chick-lit, oh heck no.

Perry’s prom night will surely be one he’ll never forget. Let’s skip the fact that he didn’t even want to go in the first place, but instead of dancing under twinkling lights he’s becomes an accomplice on a killing spree. Sure, these men may not be “good” guys, but Perry is hardly thrilled to be helping out. Not only does he have to get a handle on the whole murder thing, but he also has to figure out exactly who Gobi is and why she’s on this mission. Gore, action, drugs, under-cover rings…well this book has about everything. The plot truly sucked me in and kept me there until the very end.

The only thing that bothered me a little was the admission scene at the end. I know he was on the waiting list, but by May he should have known if he was in or not. His essay and everything else should have been submitted way before this event ever happened. He should not have been submitting (resubmitting?) anything this late in the game. He should have been choosing classes, dorms, and orientations. I know it may be a small detail, but one I thought was worth mentioning nonetheless.

Character: For the most part, Perry is your typical high school senior. It’s a typical situation of following the path your parents set for you or the path you want. Perry’s father wants him to follow in his footsteps by going to a prestigious school and becoming a lawyer, even though Perry’s true passion is music. Of course, like most kids in his situation, they’ll do anything to make their parents happy even if it makes them miserable. Gobi, is all her insanity, slowly gets Perry to realize this as the night progresses. I applauded Perry as he finally got the nerve to stand up to her father and do what he wanted to for a change. Of course, after the night he had been through, disappointing his father probably seemed like a walk in the park.

Romance: There is quite a bit of tension between Gobi and Perry once she turns from zero to hot, assassin babe. Honestly, I’m not sure why, but this somehow worked for me. Who cares if Gobi is 24 or if she made him an accomplice in murder. Could I see it being anything long term? Oh, heck no. But a fling caused from a shared experience? I would almost bet on it.

Writing: Schreiber creates a fast paced and tightly woven story in under 200 pages. Within the first couple of chapters I was hooked and didn’t want to stop until I was finished. I liked the essay questions that each chapter started with, however, some of them didn’t quite fit and felt a little out of place. Still, it was a nice addition, especially how the book ends. And from what I can tell they were true college essay questions. Overall, I enjoyed Schreiber’s style and look forward to any other YA books he publishes.

Librarian-Mode: This is a great boy book and will work well for anyone who likes action books/films. I’ve been in a film/book match mindset lately (I blame Fab Films!) and the entire time I read this one thought it would be a perfect pairing for Boondock Saints. Book wise, I did agree with the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist pairing. Yes, the plots are completely different, but I think that fast-paced, New York crazy adventure style gives them a similar feel that fans will enjoy.

 

Book Review: Deadly Cool

Book Review: Deadly Cool

Book Review: Deadly Cool
Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday
Series: Deadly Cool #1
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: October 2011
Pages: 320
Source: Library

Hartley Grace Featherstone is having a very bad day. First she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her with the president of the Herbert Hoover High School Chastity Club. Then he's pegged as the #1 suspect in a murder. And if that weren't enough, now he's depending on Hartley to clear his name. Seriously? Not cool.

But as much as Hartley wouldn't mind seeing him squirm, she knows he's innocent, and she's the only one who can help him. Along with her best friend, Sam, and the school's resident Bad Boy, Chase, Hartley starts investigating on her own. But as the dead bodies begin to pile up, the mystery deepens, the suspects multiply, and Hartley begins to fear that she may be the killer's next victim.

 

The Short of It: I had a lot of fun with this one. There is nothing ground breaking about this novel, but it’s highly entertaining and perfect for Veronica Mars fans.

Plot: Deadly Cool is your typical who-dun-it plot wise. The story line is rather predictable, but I can’t remember the last time I read or watched a murder mystery where I wasn’t able to pick out the murderer before the reveal. However, the tone of the book is what sets it apart from other mysteries. It’s not dark or scary or even remotely creepy. In fact, it’s got a lot of humor in it. While it is predictable, it still has a few nice twists thrown in, especially towards the end and is overall quite enjoyable.

Characters: Hartley is what sold this book for me. She’s sassy, independent, and not afraid to follow her instincts. Hands down reminds me of Veronica Mars. Granted, she’s not quite kick-butt as VM yet, but I’ll be interested to see if that changes as the series continues. I love that Hartley wasn’t willing to go back to her ex, even when he tried over and over. Yes, she was tempted, but she stuck her ground and refused to “restart” things with him. She makes a lot of blunders along the way, but I see her detective skills only getting better as time goes by.

Romance: Honestly, there isn’t much romance in this one. She breaks up with Josh when he finds out he’s cheating. Yes, she’ll clear his name and still has some feelings for him, but she won’t be going back to him. I know we don’t see much of Josh, but overall he feels like a douche to me, so I’m glad he’s out of the picture.

There is a little tension with bad boy, Chase, but that’s basically where it stays. There is one hilarious scene in his bedroom and a little flirting, but it doesn’t go beyond that for these two. However, I can see that changing in the next book, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Writing: Deadly Cool is full of great lines. I kept reading certain parts a loud to my friends so they could experience the greatness as well. Don’t believe me? Check out the opening lines:

There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper. Lucky me, I’d hit the trifecta.

And it only gets better from there. There were several times I laughed out loud because of something Hartley said or did. Halliday scores a home run with Hartley’s voice and I can’t wait until the next book comes out.

Librarian-Mode: Okay, admittedly I don’t read many mysteries; one of my weak spots in reader’s advisory. But I don’t know that this truly fits in with typical mysteries. I tend to think this one may play well with the Pretty Little Liars fans, though. It’s also a perfect recommendation for those who love Veronica Mars or Castle.

So, now it’s your turn…have you read Deadly Cool? If so, be sure to let me know what you thought.