Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Banyan Deer by Rafe Martin

A young deer asks his mother to tell him the story of the legendary Banyan Deer. Before the young deer was born the king of the country had his men herd all the deer into an enclosure where the deer could be killed more easily. Each day a deer would be shot and eaten and each day many other deer would be injured trying to avoid the arrow. Finally, the two deer leaders decided that one deer would be chosen each day to be sacrificed so that all the others could remain uninjured. One day the chosen deer was pregnant and asked to be spared just until her baby was born. The Banyan Deer agreed to go in her place. When the king saw this, he offered to spare the Banyan Deer because of his nobility. But the Banyan Deer refused to go free until the king had agreed to spare more and more animals for "how can I be free knowing that others will still suffer?" This book presents a parable about compassion and is very moving.

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

Joy is a tomboy and perfectly happy with that. She plays basketball with the boys, including her good friend Jake. She wears baggy jeans, tennis shoes and tee shirts. And she never worries about make-up or hair. But now that she's in seventh grade she notices that other girls seem to be different from her. When she sees new boy Santiago playing basketball she decides she wants to try to get his attention so she begins to try some new things as well. This story, told in free verse, is about a girl growing up but then coming to terms with being herself. It's a fine story, but there is nothing gripping about it and Joy's realization about being herself seems to come about awfully fast for a middle school girl.

Wisdom's Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Trudy is an orphaned maid living in a small mountain town. She loves her best friend Tips who left when he was young to become a soldier. The two friends keep in touch through letters and look forward to the day when they can be together again. Meanwhile, princess Wisdom is traveling with her grandmother, servants and an unusual cat to her fiance's kingdom, unaware that her future mother-in-law has evil plans. Through a series of incidents the three characters' lives become intertwined in ways none of them could imagine. Together, they must defeat the evil duchess, conquer broken hearts, perform aerial acrobatics, and reclaim a kingdom. This is a nice story about true love and destiny, based on fairy tales. However, the style of telling the story is confusing since it is all told via letters, diary entries and faux historical documents. I would have preferred a straightforward narration and a happier resolution for Trudy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kill You Last by Todd Strasser

Shelby's dad runs a photography studio and takes headshots of aspiring models. When two former clients end up missing, he is the prime suspect in their disappearances. Shelby is sure her father couldn't be involved but her faith in him is shaken a series of damaging things about his behavior are revealed. Shelby also begins receiving texts from an anonymous person who seems to have all sorts of inside information about what her father has been doing. When her anonymous texter makes a threat on her life, Shelby doesn't know who she can trust anymore. Like other books by Strasser, particularly ones in this series, this title moves quickly with a cliffhanger on every chapter. The writing is not very good at all but the format will still attract an audience.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Ironically, Lucky has a fairly tough life. His father spends most of his time at the restaurant where he is a chef, avoiding the family. Lucky's mother is obsessed with swimming. Lucky's grandfather is missing in action from the Vietnam War. Lucky has vivid dreams of visiting with his grandfather in Vietnam but is he actually talking to his missing grandfather or is he suffering from some sort of mental problem? Lucky's waking life at school is difficult as well. He has been bullied since age seven by Nader. When Lucky tries to help out one of Nader's other victims, Nader does something that results in Lucky's face being disfigured. Lucky's mother decides to take him to Arizona to stay with family for a few weeks and Lucky's life begins to change. This is a powerful book about bullying and finding a way to deal with it. It also contains some realistic, flawed characters and shows how easy it is to misjudge someone based on what you think you know about them.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Bloody Times by James L. Swanson

This is the true account of the events of April 1865 and the two presidents of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. In April 1865 the war was drawing to a close. Jefferson Davis had to flee Richmond, the capital of the Conferacy when it fell to Union soldiers. The manhunt for Davis began. Only a few days later Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and the plans for an elaborate funeral began. Like his earlier book, Chasing Lincoln's Killer, this title is meticulously researched. However, I wasn't as caught up in it as I was with Swanson's other title. The storytelling seemed to suffer with more of a recitation of facts here. Despite the fact that it didn't live up to his earlier book in my estimation, I still say that Swanson presents history more like an adventure story which is needed for many young historians.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

At age 18 everyone receives a cure for love, the worst disease to ever infect people. Lena can't wait until she receives her operation, especially since her mother committed suicide after she couldn't be cured of her love for Lena's dead father. As Lena counts down the days until her cure she is shocked when her best friend begins breaking rules and courting disaster by attending parties with boys and listening to unapproved music. Then Lena meets Alex, a man who shows an unusual amount of interest in her since he bears the scars of someone who has been cured of the deliria. As Lena and Alex become closer she finds that some things she has been told all her life might not be right and she begins to question just how dangerous love actually is. Although this is another dystopia, it is better written and more interesting than many of the slew of these types of stories out there now. Even though I anticipated the ending, I enjoyed the twist contained there and I think teens will like it as well. A bit long for me throughout when I knew what was coming and in having Lena figure things out, but enjoyable otherwise.

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz

Travis has just started a new school after his alcoholic grandfather moved them abruptly from their home. Travis is struggling to adapt while covering up the fact that he's not a very good reader. Velveeta, an outgoing girl who wears a different beautiful scarf every day, is immediately taken with Travis and works to draw him out of his shell while dealing with her own issues. Travis is also grieving dealing the loss of his dog who disappeared right before he moved to his new home. His sadness about Rosco is compounded when his grandfather reveals a secret he has been keeping for the last few months... This is a well-written and believable book about damaged people who help heal each other.

The Pact by Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt, and George Jenkins

This is the true story of three boys from the inner city who made a pact to become doctors. Their friendship and the pact helped each of them to keep working toward their goals despite some setbacks and discouragement. I had been looking forward to reading this book for quite awhile but found myself disappointed with it. The message is GREAT, the execution, not so much.

King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher puts his amazing storytelling skills to work on recounting his own childhood and the book is filled with side-splitting laughs as well as sadness. Crutcher tells about his discovery of Esus, Jesus's older and smarter brother; how he was shot in the head by his brother but helped to cover it up from his parents; and the secret initiation rites of his high school fraternity. Unlike most biographies, King of the Mild Frontier is not arranged chronologically. Instead, it meanders around through the years but always ties everything together at the end of each chapter. I loved the book and the stories but I think it will be even better when I get the audio version of the book and hear Crutcher reading them himself.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Warp Speed by Lisa Yee

Marley is a member of the AV club and he loves Star Trek. He carries a journal with him everywhere he goes that he calls his "Captain's Log". Marley is not just a geek, he is invisible to most of the school. Marley's life changes for the worse when he offends a new student in the AV club and the school's biggest bully, Digger, suddenly takes notice of Marley for the first time. But Marley attracts some positive attention as well from the track coach who sees Marley running from his tormentors. When Marley makes a name for himself as the fastest kid in school he finds that everything changes. This is a nice story, probably best suited for 6th graders. There was nothing outstanding about it for me (other than the many Star Trek references), but it was pleasant.