Obviously it’s been awhile…I haven’t been blogging because I feel like the act of having to write about what I read diminshed the joy I have always found in reading. But every once in awhile, I might have something to say. 😉
I recently read a blog post that made a case for high stakes in literature. Books where the stakes are high, either physically or emotionally, are the books that grab you. The books you can’t forget. The books you rush to the end of but then are sorry to put down. (read full post here: http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/the-case-for-high-stakes-in-stories-that-is/)
Liar & Spy was not that book.
Maybe Rebecca Stead and I just don’t understand each other. I didn’t fall all over myself like most of the children’s lit population when When You Reach Me came out either. But I decided to give her another chance. Sadly, I think this is where Ms. Stead and I will part ways.
Liar & Spy is well written. The characters are good, the story is good, but there is nothing that reaches out and GRABS you. There is nothing that makes it GREAT. Several reviewers who have been singing its praises on Goodreads have called it “subtle”. Hmmm. In this case, subtle, to me at least, equals boring.
I’ve read lots of books that are just ok and haven’t felt the need to say anything about them. But lately I feel that many of these books are getting so much attention that they don’t deserve. Am I missing something? Are my tastes so completely different from those of the general population of readers?
I had no intention of liking this book. The cover didn’t grab me and the jacket made me think this was going to be an “issues” book. It’s one of my required readings for the GSTBA ballot and I actually tried to pawn it off on someone else! But I picked it up and started reading and discovered that it’s ok to be wrong sometimes because this was one great book.
Sixteen-year-old Drea has bounced around from place to place, home to home, while her mother chased boyfriends who never seemed to stick around for very long. They finally end up at her grandmother’s house in Washington. There, Drea meets Naomi and Justin, two people who love music as much as she does. But after being diagnosed with ADHD and what her mother deems “a touch of Asperger’s”, Drea has a hard time believing that anyone could simply like her for her. Why does being “normal” have to be so hard?
Drea’s story isn’t necessarily new or even told in a groundbreaking way. We’ve read tons of books about people who have a hard time fitting in. What makes it special is how nuanced it is. How rich the characters are. Take Drea’s mom. She’s man-crazy. She’s had boyfriend after boyfriend. Yet, she’s not your one-dimensional selfish, neglectful mother. She has faults, but she also loves Drea like crazy. She comforts Drea. She’s doing the best she can to take care of her. And you reallyfeelthat. And that is what makes the difference.
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
Young Adult | 278 pages | Henry Holt & Co. | May 2010 | 080509010X | Library copy
“This is what happens on journeys – the things you find are not necessarily the things you had gone looking for.” (p. 235)
Hazel and Jack are best friends. Highly imaginative and having both suffered loss in their home lives, Hazel and Jack seem inseparable. Until a shard of glass from a magic mirror falls in Jack’s eye and pierces his heart with an impenetrable coldness. Suddenly he wants nothing to do with Hazel and soon he disappears into the woods with the White Witch. Despite Jack’s brush-off, Hazel goes after her friend, for this is what best friends do. In the woods, things are not what they seem. Hazel encounters wolves, wizards, and woodsman, all of whom try to distract her from her mission. After trudging deeper and deeper into the cold, Hazel finally finds the Witch and the slightly underwhelming showdown (but a showdown nonetheless!) begins. Based on Hans Christian Andersons story, “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs is a fairy tale retelling that blends contemporary and traditional tales, along with realistic and fantasy elements.
I just have one word to describe Ursu’s writing: enchanting. I thought the writing was brilliantly beautiful, with passages that beg to be read aloud. I found Hazel to be a believable and relatable character and her issues with her parent’s divorce, fitting in at a new school, growing up (and growing apart) were realistic. I was completely drawn into the first half of the book…and then lost a little bit of interest in the second. Maybe it’s just the fact that I prefer realistic fiction over fantasy that I had a harder time swallowing the second half. I also thought the story got slightly repetitive and that the climax was a bit anti-climactic, but even with those hang-ups I was still overall delighted by Breadcrumbs and would recommend it to young and old alike.
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
Juvenile fiction | 313 pages | September 2011 | Waldon Pond Press | 0062015052 | Library copy
It’s the summer before 7th grade. Spunky, headstrong Violet Raines plans to do what she always does; go to fish fries with her best friend Lottie, bike and explore with her friend Eddie, and watch the thunderstorms her sleepy town of Mitchell Hammock, Florida is famous for. But when new girl Melissa Gold shows up from Detroit, she threatens everything that Violet holds dear. Soon Lottie is more interested in soap operas and makeovers than swimming and alligator hunting. Despite Lottie’s attempts to bring the trio together, Violet and Melissa just can’t seem to get along. When lightning literally strikes, Violet must decide what’s more important: desperately clinging to the past or embracing changes for the future.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning is a wonderfully sweet story about that precarious time between childhood and adolescence, growing up and the power of friendship.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth
Juvenile fiction | 176 pages | August 2008 | Walker Children’s | 9780802797919 | Library copy
“For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye.” (p. 1)
When their regular vacation home is sold, the Penderwicks find themselves in need of a new summer cottage. Arundel is not at all what they expected – a gorgeous mansion with sweeping gardens and an amazing cottage. Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty are thrilled by the enchanting property. Even more exciting is the prospect of a new friend in Jeffrey, the young boy who lives at the mansion. Three glorious weeks spread before the girls. What kind of adventures will they have…and what kind of trouble will they get into?
It’s taken me almost 2 years to pick up The Penderwicks and I’m glad I finally did. It is an utterly sweet and charming book about sisters, family bonds, friendship and growing up. It reminded me a lot of Little Women, from the relationships between the sisters, to the characteristics of the girls themselves. There is Rosalind, the practical, maternal older sister (similar to Meg March). Then there’s Skye, the endearingly fiesty loudmouth and dreamy, creative Jane (in these two I saw traces of Jo and Amy) and finally little Batty, the shy baby sister (just like Beth). There isn’t a lot of action in the book, but Birdsall’s strength is her ability to accurately capture the unique bond that can occur between sisters. Having grown up with 2 sisters myself, I can see a lot of my own childhood in The Penderwicks. It was a delight to revist those carefree joyful days. 🙂
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
Juvenile fiction | 272 pages | June 2005 | Knopf Books | 0375831436 | Library copy
“Nothing was right in my family, and I dreaded the day my sins were gonna catch up with me, but the bayou made me feel like the world was full of beauty and possibilities. Like someday, somehow, just maybe, I could be the girl I wanted to be.” (p. 124)
Livie Mouton’s mother has the “sleeping sickness”. After an accident on the bayou that Livie believes is her fault, her mother is now lying in a coma in their front room at home. Everyone else seems to know how to help Mama, how to believe that with their love and care she will get better. But Livie is so burdened with guilt over the accident that she can’t even go near her mother. Livie has always felt like an outcast in her own family, unable to be helpful and capable like her older sister Faye, or sweet and charming like her baby sister, Crickett. Since the accident, Livie has felt more out of place than ever.
Livie decides to visit a traiteur (healer), with the hopes that she will be able to help where the doctors have failed. Miz Allemond instructs Livie to make a healing string, that with faith and prayer, is sure to work. She must tie nine items that are special to her mother onto the nine knots and then tie the whole string around her mother’s ankle. Then she must find nine good memories. This worries Livie, as she’s spent most of her 12 years at odds with Mama, the two never able to see eye-to eye. Once the string falls off, Mama should be healed.
The Healing Spell is wonderfully atmospheric and Little’s vivid descriptions of life on the Louisiana bayou are fantastic. I could feel the sticky air, smell the hyacinths, hear the buzz of the mosquitoes. Livie’s intensely fragile emotional state was palpable throughout the story. I could relate to her fear of her mother lying motionless on the hospital bed, of the way she felt as though she didn’t understand how to help when everyone else just seemed to know what to do. Despite a few instances where the author told rather than showed to move through the action, I found The Healing Spell to be a thoroughly enjoyable and moving story about family, growing up, love, guilt and ultimately, forgiveness.
The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Juvenile fiction | 368 pages | July 2010 | Scholastic Press | 9780545165594 | Library copy
“I had a very bad August.
A very bad August.
As bad as pickle juice on a cookie.
As bad as a spiderweb on your leg.
As bad as the black parts of a banana.
I hope your August was better.
I really do.” (p. 1)
Just before the beginning of third grade, Eleanor finds out her beloved babysitter, Bibi, is moving to Florida to take care of her father. Eleanor misses Bibi terribly and is sure that her new babysitter, Natalie, won’t be able to take her place. But Natalie surprises Eleanor with her love of board games, lemonade and photography. Little by little, Eleanor lets Natalie into her life, while still hanging on to the wonderful memories she’s shared with Bibi. Told in free-verse and accompanied by Matthew Cordell’s adorable illustrations, Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is a slim, sweet story about facing loss and gathering the strength to move on. I’d recommend this book for fans of Clementine or Judy Moody.
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg
Juvenile fiction | 128 pages | March 2011 | Amulet Books | 9780810984240 | Library copy