Monday, February 27, 2012

Short and Satisfying Adventure

Overboard by Elizabeth Fama

From Goodreads:

“Fourteen-year-old Emily boards an over-crowded ferry in Sumatra. When the boat sinks, she’s trapped by hundreds of panicked people. She finds Isman, a terrified young Muslim boy, floating in a life vest. Together, with Emily’s physical strength and Isman’s quiet faith, they swim for their lives.”

I will admit that I would never have picked up this book on my own. I asked my friend/mentor for recommendations for “Adventure” themed books for my class and she recommended the author E. Fama. Through the first 20-30 pages I thought perhaps I had made a mistake. I was reading about a whiny, complaining teen girl so nothing surprising. Then she boarded a ferry and her life changed, as did my reading experience.

Every moment of her life for the hours that she was in the water after the ferry capsized was well thought out. Elizabeth Fama took us along for the ride while Emily grew from a frivolous teen with few redeeming characteristics to a contemplative young adult struggling to save her life and the life of a young boy she meets in the water. Facing fear, fatigue, frustration and doubt, Emily makes decisions for her own survival as well as Isman’s.

I would love to read a sequel as I thought the ending of this 158 page book came far too fast. I would recommend this to a teen who is looking for a sense of adventure without violence (there are dead bodies in the water but beyond that, none), without sex and with no language issues. Because it is a short book, it might not overwhelm a reluctant reader. Elizabeth Fama does an excellent job of showing Emily shirking off the childishness of her actions earlier in the day and claiming her place in the world as a capable young woman.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Will Grayson, Will Grayson? Yes! Yes!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Description from Goodreads:

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them both legions of faithful fans.”

Let me begin by saying I love audio CD’s. I rarely start my car without a book in my CD player. My love for them began when my work commute was one hour each way; now it is only about 10 minutes so books take longer, but they are still a part of my everyday life.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is read/performed by MacLeod Andrews and Nick Podehl. Having 2 people, one for each Will Grayson, proved to be very useful. I thought they did an excellent job bringing together a complex duo of stories into one cohesive audio event. An especially interesting part of the audio experience was hearing some of the “singing” of the songs in Tiny Cooper’s musical.

While, for many, Tiny Cooper is the favorite character, I have to say that the Will Graysons (or is that Wills Grayson???) are my favorites. I think they represent the moody, funny, concerned, peer pressured, harried, and at times, haunted teen population.

The book illustrates that, while there may be differences (one Will is straight, the other gay), the similarities are what bind us. The need to be loved and noticed coupled with the need to be invisible and left alone - divergent needs but equally strong - are explored through the tracks of this audio book.

Two authors, one straight (John Green) and one gay (David Levithan) collaborating enabled them to explore these similarities and differences. All of this coupled with the humor and fabulousness which is Tiny Cooper. This was on my “to be read” list and I am thrilled that I got a chance to listen to it sooner than I thought I would!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Monty Python meets J.R.R. Tolkien

The Wee Free Men by Sir Terry Pratchett

Book Description from Amazon

Publication Date: May 25, 2004 | Series: Discworld

A nightmarish danger threatens from the other side of reality . . .

Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland. Luckily she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle—aka the Wee Free Men—a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.

Together they must face headless horsemen, ferocious grimhounds, terrifying dreams come true, and ultimately the sinister Queen of the Elves herself. . . .

A Story of Discworld

This book, while YA, has some fantastic adult puns included. The book jacket featured a review from the Oakland Press (Pontiac, MI) which described it as “Monty Python crossed with J.R.R. Tolkien with a dash of Charles Dickens and a pinch of Stephen Spielberg thrown in.” I think this description is fairly accurate.

The word play is amazing, the descriptions are vivid and the storyline flows well. Tiffany is a compelling character even at the age of nine. In search of her baby brother (whom she admittedly doesn’t like), armed only with a frying pan, she uses cunning and logic that far exceeds her years.

Along the way she gets a great deal of help from The Wee Free Men - otherwise known as Nac Mac Feegle. The story alone is a great tale; the puns make it a fabulous read.

It was easy to read, relatively short (263 pages) and thoroughly entertaining throughout. It took me a while to understand the “accent” of the Nac Mac Feegle but once I was hearing it in my head while reading, I had no trouble!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

There's plenty of time to sleep when you're dead

I grew up hearing the old adage "Do it now, there's plenty of time to sleep when you're dead" and I never gave it much thought...until now.

Coming of age meets Comic Books meets The Matrix is the best way I know to describe The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To by D.C. Pierson. 

Darren, a high school sophomore, meets Eric, a fellow sophomore whom others describe as weird. Turns out they were right. Eric has a secret, as the title says, he never sleeps and he doesn’t have to.

Darren is an artist; he draws great characters out of his imagination and creates an entire universe of them. He doesn’t have small dreams of being a comic book artist; he plans entire series of books, movies, toys and more. With Eric’s help, they create monsters, villains and planets, all while Darren tries to figure out how and why Eric doesn’t sleep.

While I liked the book, there were many things in it that didn’t ring true to me. Darren’s dad is a divorced father raising his two sons. While I get that sometimes people don’t connect with their kids on a lot of levels, at no time is there any acknowledgement that the older son (a neighborhood terrorizing high school senior) has girls spending the night, is doing drugs, has been arrested or is, in general, an unsympathetic jerk. It becomes a joke to Darren that when he calls to ask his dad to do anything the response is “do you have your phone on you” (even though he is calling from that phone) as though the phone is a talisman. Eric’s parents, while more of a traditional nuclear family, don’t seem to notice that their son doesn’t sleep and periodically has to lock himself in his room because he has “bad days.” If these things had happened over a one year period, I could buy that but these things ignored or unnoticed by both Darren’s dad and Eric’s parents have been happening for years.

There is a lot of very typical coming of age “stuff” in the pages between the fantastic opening and interesting/exciting ending. Darren gets a girlfriend, loses his virginity, loses the girlfriend (to his best friend Eric), loses his best friend, gets chased by his brothers gang of friends, etc..  The parts of the story that were “normal” high school stuff were very realistic. The conversations of teens, the way Darren reacts to his first sexual experience, the kids at a party and how they interact, all of this was easy to believe.

The sci-fi/comic book sections of the story were well done. I think there was an homage to The Matrix but perhaps I am the only nerd out there who would make that comparison. Unlike many of the sci-fi classics where good triumphs over evil, Darren (more than once) sacrifices Eric and his unusual condition for the sake of his own happiness and freedom. His remorse is genuine but not overwhelming. Like life, doing the right thing is not always black and white. It is not always an easy decision. Darren discovers this and in doing so, discovers himself.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

For my class I needed to choose a Printz Award Winner or Honor book. My choice was Please Forget Vera Dietz by A.S. King. I had absolutely no idea what this book was about when I chose it and will admit that I picked it because I loved the cover.

Vera’s best friend Charlie is dead but not quite gone. She sees him a lot, usually at really inconvenient times like when other people are around. He is trying to tell her something, but she doesn’t want to listen.

Vera’s dad’s motto - “Ignore it Vera.”

Ignore the fact that Charlie’s dad beats his wife; ignore Charlie’s weird relationship with a guy who tried to lure them into a car 6 years earlier; ignore what people say about you; ignore that your mom left; ignore everything. Vera’s attempt to ignore things does what it does to most people who don’t deal with things, it exacerbates (one of Vera’s vocabulary words) them.

Vera turns to drinking even though her dad is a recovering alcoholic and his dad was an alcoholic (and his dad too). Vera discovers that a couple of drinks make the pain more bearable. With a couple of drinks she can deal with her job delivering pizzas, her relationship with her dad, her failure to deal with Charlie’s death.

Watching Vera come to terms with Charlie’s death and deal with her own life is powerful. Like Melinda in Speak, Vera transforms from “invisible Vera Dietz” to “invincible Vera Dietz.” Vera finds her voice, her power, her confidence and herself.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Chocolate War

I had not read The Chocolate War since it came out originally! Yep, I am dating myself... I had forgotten most of it. While some of the descriptions clearly show the era in which it was written, the themes are universal.

There is no clear "happy ending" for all involved. Jerry, as the "underdog with a heart", doesn't come out on top; Archie isn't punished for his actions; Obie doesn't finally triumph over Archie and become his own man. The tension is so well written that I was uncomfortable the entire time I was reading it.

The thing I loved the most was that, even though it was written 38 years ago, I could absolutely see teens (mostly boys I think) relating to it today. Robert Cormier's writing doesn't pander to what people think teens would read. He doesn't play down language or use "easy" words. He bolts headlong into the story and never looks back.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Oh my I loved this book! The power of what goes on in the mind never ceases to amaze me. Laurie Halse Anderson gave words to the unspoken.

As a survivor of child abuse, I related to Melinda. What happens inside of our minds is often more painful than the originating event. Thinking no one will believe you or care if you tell them is a torture that Laurie Halse Anderson examines in depth.

Given an art project at the beginning of the year, I got to watch Melinda work through her pain and anguish piece by piece. She received help at times and knocked back at other times. In the end she found her voice and was able to begin the healing process.

This book could save the life of a victim of rape or abuse. That is powerful.

Monday, February 6, 2012


Dear Friends,
Marylyn Schwartz is a very good friend of mine. This is an event/drive that she runs every year. PLEASE, take a moment to read it and if you can, donate.
Dawn Zimmerer

CLAYTON W. SCHWARTZ                            

February 21 - March 4, 2012
Benefiting: BOOK 'EM Nashville, TN 
Dear Friends and Family:

Clayton passed away on February 24th, 2008. Since his passing, this book drive, that he started, has commemorated and celebrated his life of learning, caring and giving.
Once again, Clayton’s family comes to you for  your continued generosity. Through your donations, children, who would otherwise have no access to books, are given the gift of reading!
No donation is too small. We realize that these are tough times. All the more reason to help these children, and in doing so honoring the life of our beloved son!
Please send your checks (and/or book donations: like new or new, please) payable to: 
Att: Melissa Spradlin
161 Rains Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chinese Handcuffs

Chris Crutcher's Chinese Handcuffs is written in both narrative and letters written to Dillon's dead brother Preston.

Dillon's brother Preston was a troubled teen (well, it never states his age that I recall but he is 2 years older than Dillon). After a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed, Dillon turned more to drugs and a motorcycle gang. Unable to fight his demons, he killed himself in front of Dillon. The book deals with Dillon trying to figure out his life. Everything has changed for him. His mother left and took his younger sister Christy. It is now just Dillon and his dad.

Preston's death left behind feelings of anger, depression, sadness and one other thing, a baby. Dillon has had a crush on Stacy for years. Stacy only had eyes for Preston though. After Preston's death, Stacy goes away to North Dakota to "heal". The story when she comes back is that a cousin of hers had a baby out of wedlock and was going to put it up for adoption. Stacy convinced her parents to adopt the baby. You find out (although it is no real surprise) that the baby is really Stacy's and Preston's.

Then there is Jennifer. Dillon's friend and major basketball superstar at the high school, Jennifer is battling her own demons. Jennifer has been sexually abused by her biological father and is now being sexually abused by her step-father.

Dillon works through his grief over Preston, anger over Jennifer's abuse and love of Preston and Stacy's baby throughout the course of the year. Jennifer tries to work through her fear on the basketball court and Stacy comes clean over the intercom at school about the parentage of the baby.

While there is no pat "happy ending" there is some resolution. Dillon finally puts to rest his anger with his brother; helps Jennifer; loves Stacy's baby; and gets his dad to talk to him about life.