Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love & Lies: Even Harder Love

Love and LiesMarisol's Story by Ellen Wittlinger
4Q 3P Audience: J/S (recommended for high school students)

Warning: While this post doesn't reveal that much more than the synopsis in our catalog, it definitely is spoiler-ish in nature. I consider this book an "it's not the destination, it's the journey" type of book, but if the destination is what's important to you as a reader, come back and read this after you've finished the book.

I was thrilled to learn that Ellen Wittlinger had written a companion novel to Hard Love, one of the very first Printz Honor books. In that novel, Gio falls in love with Marisol, despite the fact that she's a self-described "Puerto Rican Cuban Yankee Cambridge, Massachusetts, rich spoiled lesbian private-school gifted-and-talented writer virgin looking for love." After Marisol breaks his heart twice over (at least), Gio finally realizes both that love is hard and that Marisol is not the girl for him, and the two go their separate ways. It is a beautifully written book, well deserving of all the praise heaped upon it. I honestly don't remember every detail of the book, but there are certain scenes that I've never gotten out of my head. Wittlinger creates characters I really care about, and often it is her secondary characters who capture my attention most. Two of her books left me with a sensation I don't often get when I read: I worried about what happened to the characters after the book ended. I'm still (very) worried about Razzle, but now I know that Marisol survived unscathed from what I thought was a very poor decision. She was lucky. But she doesn't walk away from this book unscathed. Not by a long shot.

Marisol has two goals in this gap year she's taking before she heads to Stanford and college: write a novel and fall in love. How hard could that be?

As it turns out, it's much harder than expected. Oh, not the writing thing so much. Marisol is a good writer, and she knows it. She feels only the slightest of butterflies when she signs up for an Adult Education class called Writing Your First Novel. She fully expects to be the star of the class, and she is. What she doesn't expect is the absolute swarm of butterflies she gets at her first look at the instructor, Olivia Frost. Olivia is stunning. She wants attention and knows how to get it. She especially gets it from Marisol, who is soon head over heels in love. And it's just,, definite! that Olivia has feelings for her, too. Bliss!

Not bliss? What kind of love is it that makes you lie to your friends, your lover, and yourself? And just who lying to who?

We get old friends and new here. Birdie, Marisol's best friend, is now sharing an apartment with her. He brings home Damon, a college friend/potential lover. Marisol doesn't see the attraction, either as roommate or lover. The interplay between the boys and between Marisol and the boys add humor and sweetness to Marisol's story. I confess that Birdie didn't make much of an impression on me in Hard Love, but I appreciate him more here. Like all true friends, Birdie isn't afraid to tell Marisol a few home truths now and then, but he also always has her back. Marisol also has a new friend, Lee, an Indiana fish out of water newly out of the closet. Lee is deceptively quiet, which makes it easy for Marisol to take her lightly at first. However, it becomes clear eventually that Lee is nobody's patsy. Lee probably isn't destined to be one of those stand-out characters for me (I found her a little too pale a character for a little too long), but I admire the way she stands up for herself. Best of all (though a little too conveniently for believability's sake), Gio is back . He seems to be in a much better place now, which I was very pleased to see. And I really enjoyed seeing him call Marisol on her stuff, partly because it was what she needed to hear and partly because it shows how far he's come. The relationship between these two characters works. It feels real and they feel real, and all of the stuff that came between them before just deepens their relationship.

Marisol goes through a lot in this book. Some of it she brings on herself. It can't be denied that Marisol thinks highly of herself and doesn't always think enough about the people around her. She enjoys being the center of attention, whether or not it's always deserved. But she truly is talented, and she does have a caring heart. And her yearning to be loved is familiar to almost everyone. As a reader, I wanted her to fall in love with someone wonderful, to have her first love be one that would always make her smile. My heart ached as I watched that not happen. As always, Wittlinger left me thinking about her characters and wondering where they were going next. But unlike in Hard Love, I wasn't worried about Marisol at the end of this one. She may be wounded, but I got the feeling that her own hard love will make her less self-centered, wiser, and stronger. She's going to be okay.

Check out TeacherTrenches for a really interesting interview with Ellen Wittlinger. (I'm linking to Part One. There will be a Part Two shortly.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Half-Bloods and Rangers

I'm not reading as slowly as it may look. It's just too hard to do blog write ups at work, especially in the summer when we're busy with summer reading on top of everything else. And I'm wiped when I get home! So I do these posts in dribs and drabs and I fall behind. I'm trying to catch up! In the past couple of weeks, I've read five or six books (not including a couple of adult mysteries). I'll be writing about three of them in other posts. But a huge chorus has already voiced their appreciation of the ones below, so I don't have anything new to say about them. I'll add just some quick random thoughts:

Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Gods, these books are fun! It's a neat concept that Daedalus's labyrinth is, essentially, a living thing. And how unsurprising that it leads, among other places, right to Camp Half-Blood, giving Luke and Kronos a terrific opportunity to attack before Chiron and Mr. D can do anything about it. Of course, Percy, Grover, and Annabeth have something to say about that! It would really have helped, though, if I hadn't been listening to Titan's Curse at the same time I was reading this one! (I didn't realize I hadn't read it until I started talking about BotL with a patron and couldn't remember what happened in TC. No duh - you have to read it to remember it!) I really enjoyed the reappearance of Rachel Elizabeth Dare, and I'm quite intrigued to see how (I do think it's a how, not a whether) she'll fit into the rest of the story. I'm also curious about the hints Annabeth keeps dropping about something she can't/hasn't told Percy about yet. Props to Grover!'re a little scary. (I think maybe I'd rather face Luke than Nico.) I'll be impatiently waiting for the next one, just like just about everyone else!

Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan

Speaking of being impatient for the next one, a significant number of the hits I get on this blog are for people who either want to read one of John Flanagan's books online (to my knowledge, they aren't available that way, sorry) or who want to read book seven or eight. But we're only up to book four here in the U.S., unfortunately. I'm with them - I'd love to read the rest of these books now! Flanagan is back in form with this book. I thought The Icebound Land didn't hold up as well as the first two in the series. Will drugged into a stupor for most of the book just wasn't a terribly compelling read for me. I was even more bothered by some writing that fell more than a little flat (awkward phrasing, too much telling instead of showing). But Battle for Skandia leaves those problems behind. There's plenty of action right from the beginning, and plenty of humor, too. (It helps that Halt is back in a central role.) Battle for Skandia takes up right where the last book ended, with Will and Evanlyn hiding in the hut waiting for Will to recover his strength. When Evanlyn is abducted by Temujai warriors while checking animal traps, Will needs to summon all his strength to rescue her. Fortunately and fortuitously, Halt and Horace are also on the trail. Their reunion is immensely satisfying. Far from dragging, the action ratchets up as inexorably as the Temujai warriors march towards battle. Things are desperate, as the Skandian method of battle is pretty much "bash and smash", and the Temujai are a much more skilled and strategic fighting force. The Skandians have no chance at all, unless they can come up with something surprising to slow the Skandians down and force them out of their tried and true battle strategems. Fortunately, Halt and Will have a few good ideas that just might do the trick.

A teen patron here told me that "the book gets really good in the last forty pages or so". He really called it. Those forty pages are the big battle, and it's worth the wait to get there. But as much as I appreciated the pace of the novel, I also loved that the humor is back in full force. It's a toss up to decide whether Halt is funnier dealing with Horace or with Erak. Flanagan also deals nicely with the "is this what they call love?" triangle between Will, Horace, and Erak. Battle for Skandia left me wanting more, and fortunately, I'm going to get just that. Too bad it's not going to be as soon as I want it to be!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Boy Toy

Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
5Q 3P Audience: S

I usually try to come up with something a little quirky or at least more interesting than "title of book" for my subject lines. But I can't do that with this book. Boy Toy is too disturbing to treat it lightly. It was a hard book to read, not because of how it was written, but because of its subject matter. At times, I almost didn't want to pick it back up again, because it was so hard to read about Josh's experiences. But it is also a compelling read. You don't finish Boy Toy, close the cover, and grab the next book on your pile. You need time to decompress afterwards.

The topic, sexual situations, and language mark Boy Toy as a book for older teens. Lyga isn't coy about his topic. Though the writing is not explicit, it is abundantly clear exactly what Eve is doing to Josh. I was uncomfortable reading certain passages, as I think most readers will be. (It should be uncomfortable to read about sexual abuse.) Boy Toy is well written, thought provoking, and deeply unsettling. It deserves its place on ALA's BBYA 2008 list and its Cybil Award. But readers should know going in that it's also a book that will evoke strong reactions.

When Josh walks into his seventh grade history class, his instant reaction is that his teacher is HOT. He fantasizes about Mrs. Sherman in all the ways a twelve-year-old boy knows how to fantasize. But he is in no way prepared for what happens next. When Mrs. Sherman asks him to be a part of a study she is doing for one of her graduate classes, he doesn't realize where she intends it to lead. He just likes the idea, since it means they'll spend a lot of time alone together. At first, they work in the classroom after school, but soon they begin to work at Miss Sherman's house. It's cool. She has an X-box, a Playstation, and every kind of video game a twelve-year-old could ever want. He gets to spend time with a beautiful woman who treats him like an adult and play otherwise forbidden video games. Paradise must be like this. In fact, Mrs. Sherman's apartment becomes their own little Garden of Eden, right down to Mrs. Sherman becoming Eve. Ever so slowly, Eve lures him ever closer to tasting the forbidden fruit. First she offers him sips of wine and then she teaches him how to kiss. And then...then she gives Josh the whole apple, and nothing is ever going to be the same for him again.

Lyga deftly shows how this relationship affects every aspect of Josh's life. It affects his parents' marriage, his friendship with Zik (his best friend), and makes it absolutely impossible for him to have a normal relationship with girls his own age. But Lyga goes deeper than even that. Josh knows what happened to him. But nothing about it is as cut and dried for him as it seems to be for everyone else. After all, that apple was delicious. If he enjoyed eating the fruit, if he wanted to eat it, should Eve be blamed for giving it to him? Adding that question to the mix adds an even deeper layer to this book.

The only thing I'll quote from this book is a passage on forgiveness, because I thought it would be interesting to compare it to the forgiveness quote from Deb Caletti's The Fortune of Indigo Skye:
See, forgiveness doesn't happen all at once. It's not an event -- it's a process. Forgiveness happens while you're asleep, while you're dreaming, while you're inline at the coffee shop, while you're showering, eating, farting, jerking off. It happens in the back of your mind, and then one day you realize that you don't hate the person anymore, that your anger has gone away somewhere. And you understand. You've forgiven them. You don't know how or why. It sneaked up on you. It happened in the small spaces between thoughts and in the seconds between ideas and blinks. That's where forgiveness happens. Because anger and hatred, when left unfed, bleed away like air from a punctured tire, over time and days and years. Forgiveness is stealth. At least, that's what I hope.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Person or a Thing?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
4Q 3P J/S

(Apparently, Blogger's scheduling option doesn't always work. This was supposed to be auto-posted a couple of weeks ago.)

Is it possible to be loved too much?

What makes a person a person?

Just because you can do something, does that mean you should?

Jenna Fox has been in a coma for a year. When she wakes up, she doesn't remember who she is. She doesn't know even the simplest words, and her mind can't grasp concepts like time. She doesn't know how to read the expressions on people's faces anymore. She can't walk, and she can't talk. She makes amazing progress, though. It only takes a couple of days before she can talk and walk around. Her memory is still spotty, though. She can quote whole pages from books, but she can't remember who this person she's supposed to call Mother is. She doesn't remember her father, either, or her grandmother, Lily. Even worse, she doesn't remember herself. She has to watch video discs to learn that she excelled at ballet or see what a happy family they used to be. And there are plenty of discs to watch - one for every year of her life, right up until her accident. Every moment of her life was chronicled by her doting parents.

Those vids were of her life back in Boston. But only her father lives there now. Jenna, her mother, and Lily are out in California, living in a house that seems empty and unfinished. As hard as her mother tries to make everything seem normal, things just don't seem quite right. For one thing, Jenna doesn't need to know how to read expressions to know that her grandmother doesn't like her. What could she possibly have done to make Lily dislike her so much? And why does their neighbor tell Jenna that they've only been in the house for a couple of weeks, when she's sure they must have lived there for a couple of years? Why does she keep having dreams about her two best friends, and why doesn't she have any get well notes or calls from them? Why does her mother get so uptight whenever Jenna tries to leave the house? And why are there locked rooms behind the closets?

When Jenna discovers the answer to the last question, everything begins to fall shockingly into place. And then Jenna discovers the shocking truth that her parents have hidden from her. She begins to question her own existence. Who is she? What is she? And should she be at all?
Science has made our lives easier. It's enabled us to explore space. It's helped us to live longer and healthier lives. But can science go too far? At what point does helpful science turn harmful? And just because something is possible, does that mean it should be done?


(Jenna's poems appear throughout the book. This is one of them.)


A bit for someone here.
A bit there.
And sometimes they don't add up to anything whole.
but you are so busy dancing.
You don't have time to notice.
Or are afraid to notice.
And then one day you have to look.
And it's true.
All of your pieces fill up other people's holes.
But they don't fill
your own.