Friday, January 04, 2008

Reading Roundup, Part One

I am so far behind on posting about books I've read recently (as in, anywhere from five weeks to five days ago) that I'm just going to do a quick write-and-run on several of them in one or two posts. If I try really, really hard, I can do this in two paragraphs or less per book. (Gee, there's a game show in that somewhere: "I can write that blog review in 100 words or less. No, I can write it in ninety words or less." "Reading Fool, write that review!" Oh, who am I kidding? 100 words or less? Maybe a 100 lines or less!)

Diamonds in the Shadows by Caroline Cooney
3Q 4P M/J/S

The Finch family is playing host to a family of refugees from Africa, and Jared is not happy about it. He particularly doesn't like having to share his room and his life with the teenage boy, Mattu. But that soon becomes just background noise to all the other things going on: How can the father, Andre, get a job, when he has no hands? And why doesn't he have hands? Why do Andre and Celeste ignore Alake, their daughter? And why doesn't Alake speak or even look at anyone? What does Mattu have in that box he carries around? Is it really just ashes? And how come this family doesn't act like any other family Jared's ever seen? Nobody else seems to be thinking about any of this. Jared's sister, Mopsy, is delighted to have a sister to take under her wing, and Jared's mother is in her element helping the family get settled in America. But Jared's father is so preoccupied with embezzlement from a fund he was responsible for he barely comes home anymore, and when he is home, he isn't paying attention. Jared feels that he's the only person in his family who is seeing the situation with clear eyes. But Jared doesn't know the half of it. In particular, he doesn't know that there was a fifth African refugee on the plane. And he doesn't know that the Amabo family has something that that refugee wants very, very badly. And though he heard the Refugee Aid Society representative say, "In a civil war, there are no good guys," he can't begin to imagine what that really means until the truth begins to come out. When that happens, Jared's indifference and frustration turn from shock to horror to terror.

Cooney knows how to get her readers' attention and keep it. And without being too graphic, she makes clear the horrors so many people in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and too many other places in Africa have experienced in recent years. She makes you feel for her characters, even when you don't necessarily like or admire them. However, I did find some aspects of the story a little hard to swallow. In particular, I don't for a minute believe that the adults (especially Mom) would overlook the signs that something is strange about the Amabo family, especially when the kids pick up on it almost immediately. (Conveniently, they then seem to forget it until the climax.) But I am willing to overlook that and a few other things because this is a book that puts events of global importance into a situation and words that teens can relate to without being overly preachy and without sacrificing tension and drama.

My Life, the Musical
by Maryrose Wood (Advance Reader's Copy)
3Q 4P M/J/S

"There's No Business Like Show Business" Annie Get Your Gun, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Emily and Philip are best friends. Their friendship began in the line for the first preview performance of the soon-to-be smash hit Broadway show Aurora. Both were blown away by the show, and as a result, every Saturday morning for the past three years, they've taken the train to New York City to stand on the rush line to buy two tickets to the show. Over the years, they've gotten to know Ian, an aspiring actor, Stephanie, one of the dancers in the show, and all the other regulars on the rush line. Even Marlena Ortiz, the star, knows who they are. Their lives revolve around Aurora. Every English essay Emily writes is about Aurora. Philip keeps extensive spreadsheets on every possible aspect of the show. They even have their own Aurora chat room. They know every word and every note of the show. So they are naturally devastated one Saturday morning when Ian reports that he has it on good authority that Aurora is about to close. How can that be? It's still playing to packed houses! But one of their rush line cohorts soon sets them straight. The person Ian heard the rumor from is full of baloney and always has been. The show isn't closing. Whew! Except...the rumor is true. The show is closing. It's shocking! It's a tragedy! It's ...imperative that they see every single performance they can possibly afford to see from here until the ::sob:: end.

Intertwined with all that drama is more drama. There's the mystery of who wrote Aurora - the book writer/composer/lyricist has never revealed who s/he is, not even when the show won multiple Tony Awards. Then there's the problem of how to afford tickets to a Broadway show every week without committing a felony and the problem of how to appease your English teacher, who is sick to death of hearing about Aurora this and Aurora that. And then there's the problem of what to do about an absentee mother and a jerk of a brother who insists that you're gay. Yeah. That's drama.

This is the kind of book I wanted to read as a teenager. It's a book for every kid who has ever fallen in love with theater, whether they want to be the star, the stage manager, or the devoted fan. Even better, it's written by someone who has been there, done that. (I got the ARC by correctly answering the question "What cult musical did I [the author] appear in on Broadway?" A quick web search turned up the answer, and it was pretty cool to find out that we had a mutual acquaintance, since someone I knew was in the show too.) Do I think the book is a little over the top? Yes. But I wasn't reading it for realism. I was reading it for fun, and I got that in spades. I'm also glad that I got faked out a couple of times, since it's nice when you can't correctly predict everything that's going to happen in a book. In particular, I appreciated that the ending leaves a couple of things undecided. Life is like that, but books rarely are. And it's a fun conceit to have the chapter titles be apropos titles of songs from various Broadway musicals.

(So much for keeping it to two paragraphs!)

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