Saturday, May 17, 2008

THIRSTY - Booktalk

by M.T. Anderson

My parents are worried about me. I can tell from the way they look at me when they think I’m not looking at them. They’re right to be worried. Right now, I can hear them whispering to each other about me. When my father comes up to my room, I’m a little afraid of what he’s going to say. But for the moment, it’s okay. All he wants is a little father-son bonding ritual. It’s time to teach me to shave. I can handle that. I just couldn’t handle it if they knew what was going on with me, if they knew what I’m turning into.

My father takes me into the bathroom and shows me how to put on the shaving cream and wets the razor with hot water for me. “Now take the razor,” my dad says, “and put in right under your nose.” His fingers grab just below my wrist and guide my hand down. “Okay, you can let go now,” I tell him. He pulls away and the razor slips just a fraction. I say, “Ow.” He’s saying, “There, now you’ve cut yourself.” But I’m noticing the obvious thing. The sweet, tangy smell of my blood. I hit the floor. I know what’s going to happen next. I have to get him out of the room before he notices, too. “Get out, Dad. Could you get out? I want to do this alone.” Dad goes. I can hear my parents talking outside the door. They think I’m overreacting. “It was just a little cut,” my dad says. He doesn’t know. He can’t know. I look into the mirror, and I don’t see myself. I’m not surprised. I guess I’ll have to do the rest of the shave blind. Carefully, I drag the razor down my lip again. More red. I start licking. The shaving cream is not as sweet as it smells. The blood is good and salty. There isn’t much from two wounds. So I take another exploratory scrape with my razor. Without the mirror, this is just a joke. I’m cutting the hell out of my face. And I’m loving it. I’m licking and licking, laughing, and licking some more. I have been so thirsty.

It’s spring now, almost time for the annual Sad Festival of Vampires, almost time for the special rites which will keep the Vampire Lord Tch’muchgar locked safely away for another year. Except I think I really blew it. I think maybe I did something I shouldn’t have done. And I think I’m turning into a vampire.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Returnable Girl - booktalk

Returnable Girl
by Pamela Lowell

When I think back on the times my parents left us alone for a few hours, I don’t remember ever being scared. We never had a doubt that they were coming back soon. Ronnie isn’t so lucky. The first time remembers her mother leaving her, she was five years old. When I was five, my older brothers watched over me. At five, Ronnie was left in charge of her little brother. Whew.

Flash forward eight or so years, and Ronnie isn’t taking care of her little brothers anymore, because her brothers and her mother are all the way across the country, in Alaska. When they packed up and left, there was “no room” for Ronnie, so she was left behind. Ronnie knows that her mother is an alcoholic drug abuser, but she doesn’t care. She desperately wants to be with her mother and brothers. Instead, she’s been shunted from foster home to foster home. Alison is her tenth placement, eleventh if you count the time she stayed with her uncle and aunt. She’s been returned from all those placements, because nobody will put up with a girl as angry as she is. But maybe Alison will be different. Alison has strict rules: no throwing things, no lying, no stealing. But Alison has something else for Ronnie, too: love and understanding. No matter how much trouble Ronnie gets into, Alison is there for her.

Just as Ronnie begins to feel okay about her life, another problem pops up. Cat’s her best friend. Her only friend, really. Cat’s plump, always a little dirty, and definitely a little odd. It’s clear from things she says that she knows a little about messed up families, too. Cat gets Ronnie, and Ronnie gets her. But Ronnie desperately wants to be a part of the in crowd, and Cat is holding her back. When Paige, the most popular girl in eighth grade, starts letting Ronnie hang out with her, Ronnie knows she can’t afford to keep Cat as a friend.

Having to choose between being popular or being a good friend is hard. But that’s not the hardest decision she has to make. Alison wants to adopt her. Alison is rock solid. She doesn’t make promises she can’t keep, and Ronnie knows that Alison would never walk out on her. Alison makes her feel safe. She can’t say the same thing about her mother. She says she won’t drink or do drugs, and then does. She constantly makes excuses for why Ronnie can’t join them. But she’s Ronnie’s mother, and Ronnie loves her and needs her. And now, finally, Ronnie’s mother wants her, too. She says it’s time for Ronnie to come home. They’ll work things out. Should Ronnie let Alison adopt her, or is it time to believe in her mother at last?

My original post on this book can be found here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Freak - booktalk

I've tried a couple of different endings for this one. This is the one I used at CLA.

by Marcella Pixley

My name is Miriam. My friends call me Shakespeare. My sister calls me an alien. The girls in school call me a freak.

The morning before Artie moved in, I wrote in Clyde. Clyde was my journal. I know most people don’t give their journals names, but most people never had a journal like Clyde. Clyde was much more than a spiral notebook with a torn cover and pages falling out. He was the place I wrote all my poems and problems so one day I could look back and say, It’s all right, Miriam. It all turned out all right anyhow. The day Artie came to stay with my family, this is what I wrote:

Dear Clyde,

It’s so early in the morning the sun hasn’t even woken up. The world is still cast in a gray shadow, but I can’t sleep another moment. Last night I kept on waking to check my alarm clock and count how many seconds were left until today.

Artie’s the one person in this world who really understands me. He’s going to wake up my poetry. He’s going to give me something to really write about. And it all starts today. Today is a scrumptious, serendipitous day. Today is even better than a birthday.

It’s six in the morning. The sun unfolds its rays behind my window blinds like a fan opening up rib by rib. I’m going to use Deborah’s kiwi shampoo for extra shine. I’m going to put perfume under my armpits. From now on, I am going to be ravishing. Six in the morning. 24,000 seconds until Artie comes to stay.

Signing off,
Miriam Fisher, Esquire

When I look back at it now, it’s hard to believe that I thought the day that Artie came would be the beginning of the most wonderful part of my life. Boy, was I wrong. I thought he’d fall in love with me. Instead, he fell in love with my sister Deborah. I thought Artie would be my knight in shining armor. Instead, the watermelon girls in school couldn’t wait to tell me the cruel things he’d said about me. They’d been teasing me for years, but this was the worst it had ever been. They called me names, threw things at me, shoved me, and drew nasty pictures, like the one of me with my arms and legs wrapped around Artie while he puked all over me. How can I believe I’ll ever be able to look back at Clyde and say this year turned out all right? My parents think I’m special and respected because I don’t follow the crowd. They are so wrong. I’m not special, and I’m definitely not respected. I’m just a freak.

Epic - booktalk

Because of time issues, I didn't actually present this booktalk. But here's what I would have said. My original post on this book can be found here.

by Conor Kostick

When I first started playing computer role-playing games, they were all text-based. Now they have graphics, sound, and first-person viewpoints, and I still enjoy them. From the popularity of Runescape at my library, I know I’m not alone. It’s fun to create a character and choose your attributes and then go out to battle enemies and gather treasures. But what if you weren’t playing just for fun? What if everything you did in the game affected your real life?

In Erik’s world, everyone plays the virtual reality game called Epic. And I do mean everyone. They have to play. When they do well in the game, back in the real world Central Allocations, the council that controls the world, gives them the tools and supplies they need to succeed in their real jobs. But most people don’t do well, because the game is stacked against them. It’s almost impossible to get ahead, and it’s really easy to die. And when they die, they don’t get to go back to a saved game. They start all over again at square one in the game. That means back in real life, they get almost nothing from Central Allocations. If they die too often, they don’t have what they need to do their jobs, so they’re sent to do jobs that doom them to an early death. And Erik and his parents keep dying.

His last death is the final straw for Erik. He’s through playing the game by the rules. He’s through playing strategically. His new character will be different from anything he’s ever created before. For one thing, she’ll be female. And instead of maximizing all the typical skills, such as fighting or crafts, and instead of trying to get as much magic and the best weapons he can afford, Erik throws all his attribute points into his character’s physical features. She’s beautiful. In a game where all the players are gray, angular blobs, Cindella the swashbuckler is going to really stand out.

Stand out she does. When Erik plays the game as Cindella, everything is different. For the first time, even computer-controlled characters interact with him. And what they tell him is amazing. It seems that there’s a huge treasure to be found. If Cindella can find it, she’ll be rich. And if she’s rich, so is Erik.

Erik soon realizes that Cindella might just survive long enough to find that treasure. And if she does, he’ll be wealthy enough to mount a challenge against Central Allocations. But are Erik and his team strong and skilled enough to beat them? Central Allocations is made up of the most powerful people/players in Epic. And Central Allocations doesn’t like its power threatened. The council members are prepared to take whatever steps necessary to make sure that Erik and his friends are put in their proper place. In a world where even the merest hint of violence is outlawed, all disputes are supposed to be solved inside the game of Epic and only through tournament combat. But certain members of Central Allocations think rules are for other people. Erik might not know it yet, but his life is in danger, and not just inside the game.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place - booktalk

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
by Aron Ralston

When Aron Ralston went hiking in Blue John Canyon, Utah in late April 2003, he made some really big mistakes. He told nobody where he was going, and he traveled with just a couple of burritos, just over a gallon of water, some chocolate bars, a muffin, the necessary equipment to climb up and down sheer canyon walls, a CD player, headphones, a couple of CDs, batteries, a digital camera, and a mini camcorder. He also had a multipurpose knife that had two pocketknife blades and a pair of pliers. The water and the knife would save his life when he got caught between a rock and a hard place. When someone says they were caught between a rock and a hard place, they usually mean that they have to choose between two options, and that neither of those choices is good. In Aron’s case, he literally did get caught between a rock and a hard place when a 500 pound rock he had just climbed off shifted, fell, and pinned his lower right arm to the canyon wall. Despite all his efforts, he could not shift that rock or chip it away enough to free his hand. He realized that nobody knew where to look for him, and that help would probably take at least six, maybe seven days, to arrive. He also knew his chances of surviving for more than three days were minuscule. He did survive for those three days, and a fourth, and then a fifth. But on the morning of the sixth day, he realized his luck was running out. He was already drinking his own urine. He was suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. He realized he had just two choices left: the rock and the hard place. He could sit there pinned by the rock until he died a slow, agonizing death, or he could amputate his arm and maybe, just maybe, hike out of the canyon. He took out his pocketknife and he began to cut.

SKIN - booktalk

by Adrienne Vrettos
(Except for the last paragraph, this book talk is entirely from the first chapter of the book.)

These are the things you think when you come home to find that your sister has starved herself to death and you have dropped to your knees to revive her:

  1. My sister is flat like a board. There’s fat guys in the locker room with bigger boobs than she has.
  2. When I scream my sister’s name into her face, I can hear my father’s voice in my own.
  3. Where is it you’re supposed to press? In the middle, on the side? Left or right?

I choose middle. I put the heels of my hands, one on top of the other, on Karen’s chest. I can feel her ribs under the thick of her too-small sweater. When I press down, her head rocks a little, hanging huge on her neck. I feel nothing pulse against my hand. I count out, “One and two and three and four and five.” Something cracks under my palm and I yank my hands away, not because I broke her rib, but because she did nothing. I broke her and she didn’t even flinch.

“COME ON!” I scream, I shove my fingers into her mouth and pull it open. Her teeth move against my fingers. I suck in a breath and push it out, into her. Her chest rises. Fake alive. She doesn’t return my breath. “Karen?” I whisper.

I’m telling you this because you didn’t ask. I’ve got it all here, growing like a tumor in my throat. I’m telling you because if I don’t, I will choke on it. Everybody knows what happened, but nobody asks. And Elvis the EMT doesn’t count, because when he asked, he didn’t even listen to me answer because he was listening to my sister’s heart not beat with his stethoscope. I want to tell. It’s mine to tell. Even if you didn’t ask, you have to hear it.

This is my sister’s story. But it’s my story too, because even though I was invisible, I was there, and it happened to me, too. What’s harder, starving yourself to death or watching someone kill herself a little bit every day, knowing you can’t do anything about it?

My review of/thoughts about this book can be found here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Shark Girl - booktalk

Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham

A day at the beach is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to include sunning yourself on the beach, digging in the sand, scoping out the guys (or girls, as the case may be). It’s supposed to include running into the surf, diving over and through the waves, splashing and swimming with your family and friends. When you leave, you’re supposed to leave with a smile on your face, a good tan, and all your body parts intact. A day at the beach is not supposed to include a shark attack. It’s not supposed to leave you in a coma, with an arm so badly mutilated that it has to be amputated. It’s not supposed to get you on the national news, complete with video documenting the attack, the blood in the water, and the panicked screams of the other beach goers. A day at the beach is not supposed to leave you bitter, angry, and wondering whether your life will ever be worth living again. But that’s where Jane’s visit to the beach leaves her.

Read Forever* and/or Ghost*.

*Note: Because I quoted several of her poems in my original post on this book, I am not including the text of the above poems here. I suspect that the booktalk would work without including the poems. However, since some readers are initially reluctant to try a book in verse, I like to give listeners a taste of the text to show them that it's more accessible than they might think.

Billie Standish Was Here - booktalk

Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker

I lost so much the summer before sixth grade—my trust in people, my childhood, my innocence. It’s hard to believe that I gained even more. I never had a friend before Lydia Jenkins entered my life. Would we have become such good friends if we hadn’t shared such a horrible secret? I don’t know.

How a person as true and wise and giving as Miss Lydia could have a son as rotten to the core as Curtis baffles me. When you hang around like a shadow, like I do, you know people mainly by what you overhear. That’s how I first knew Curtis. And what I’d heard was that Curtis couldn’t find his ass with both hands. If it was on fire. And he had a map. Wink Sweeney said one time that Curtis was mainly a smart aleck, but without the smart part. But you can be stupid and still be good. Curtis wasn’t. Everyone knew he’d killed a girl in a drunk driving accident when he was in college. He’d been in jail more than once, and he couldn’t hold a job. He’d show up on Miss Lydia’s doorstep, and she kept taking him in. I guess she had no choice. Most of the time when Miss Lydia and I were first becoming friends, Curtis wasn’t around. But when he was, he gave me the creeps. Looking at him made me remember the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, who put on clothes and talked and was a good enough imitator to pass for a human being. Well, Curtis may have been stupid, but he was smart enough to know I’d do anything for his mother. So when he pulled up in his truck that day and told me Miss Lydia needed me to do some shopping for her, I got in. It wasn’t until he passed the store and pulled in behind the school that I really knew something was wrong. I tried to run, I swear I did. But I was eleven, and he was a grown man. I couldn’t get away.

When it was all over and I’d run home, it was Miss Lydia who was there for me. It was Miss Lydia who wiped off the blood and put me in a hot bath and tried to comfort me. And it was Miss Lydia who sat up that night with a shotgun waiting for her son to come home. It was Miss Lydia who pulled the trigger and saw to it that Curtis would never hurt another girl again.

Secrets can divide people or unite them. Our secrets bound us even closer together. We both had something to hide, something we’d never tell another soul. But how to keep a secret wasn’t the only thing I began to learn that day. I learned that love and friendship are powerful things. My life, my story, didn’t end when I was attacked. There was so much more to come. I have a future now. I have Harlan. And it’s all because Miss Lydia was here.

My non-booktalk thoughts on this book can be found here.

Right Behind You by Gail Giles - booktalk

Right Behind You by Gail Giles
5Q 4P J/S

I stared at Billy as he stood there waving his baseball glove in my face, telling me it was a birthday present from his mother. I stared at the happy grin on his face, listened as he taunted me with "You don't even have a mom to give you one." In the background, I could hear my dad and Aunt Jenna arguing. I knew they were arguing about me and who I should live with and where. And suddenly I got madder than I've ever been. It was so unfair. Billy had everything I wanted. A glove. A grin. A mom. I didn't have any of it. But I did have the bucket of gasoline Dad had been making me fill all morning. I still had the cigarette lighter in my pocket. I could take at least one of those things away from him. I grabbed the bucket and sloshed the gasoline all over Billy's glove. It splashed on his arms and shirt and dribbled down his pants, too. Some even spattered up on his face. I don't think Billy even knew what I threw on him. He just called me a bad name and cradled his glove against his chest. By then I had the lighter out. I flicked the wheel and watched the blue spurt of flame spring up. I pitched it at the birthday baseball glove. It was covered in flames in seconds. So was Billy. His screams made my dad come running, but I was frozen in place. By the time Dad reached him and started beating out the flames, by the time Aunt Jenna had called 911, it was too late.

I was nine years old. And I'd just killed a boy.

How do I live with that?