Thursday, February 19, 2009


Newes From the Dead by Mary Hooper
4Q 3P; Audience: J/S

The freaky thing about this book is that it's based on a true story.

Imagine being a servant in 1651. Someone in your class has very little protection. The legal system, such as it is, is not on your side. You also haven't much chance of changing your lot in life. So when the heir to the estate tells you that he loves you and wants to marry you, believing him is tempting, even when your mind knows better. And if you believe, then is it really so bad to give in and give yourself to the man who can give you so much in return?

In the case of Anne Greene, saying yes was a seriously bad decision. She wound up pregnant and discovered far too late that everything she'd been told was a pack of lies. He didn't care for her, and he certainly had no intention of marrying her. She tried to hide the pregnancy, but she couldn't hide the evidence when the baby is stillborn. The circumstances were ripe for a charge of infanticide. What a tidy way for the man's family to get rid of Anne for good. For killing her baby, Anne was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead. And she was hanged. And she was declared dead. Her body was then given to doctors so their students could dissect her body for medical study.

The problem was, she wasn't dead.

The story is told from both Anne's point of view and that of Robert, one of the medical students. Yes, I've told you some of Anne's story already. But I haven't told it all. It was chilling to read her part of the story knowing that the first incision is only moments away. Did they make that first cut? When did the doctors discover that she was alive? What was her reaction when she realized where she was and what was about to happen? What was it like to be one of those medical students at a time when people knew so little about the human body? What went through his mind? And most of all, how did Anne's life change when she literally came back from the dead in a time when superstition and religion held sway and science was in its infancy?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

3, 2, 1, and...FREEZE FRAME!

Freeze Frame by Heidi Ayarbe
5Q 4P; Audience: J/S

Kyle and Jason have been through a lot together in their years of being best friends. Lots of crazy escapades, lots of bets, lots of fun. But recently, they haven't been as close, so Kyle's surprised and pleased when Jason agrees to a sleep over. Kyle's sister Melanie isn't as happy about it, and things get a little tense at breakfast the next morning. Kyle and Jace take the wise option and get out of the house before things explode, heading to the shed in the backyard. That's where they find the gun. That's where the gun goes off.

What happened between those two moments...that's what Kyle can't remember. He knows that Jace is dead. He knows that he shot him. But he doesn't know how it happened or why it happened. What he does know is that there's no way he should be walking around free. Why didn't they throw him into prison for the rest of his life? Don't they know he killed a boy?

Kyle is a film fanatic. In his efforts to remember what happened that morning in the shed, he keeps trying to write the scene as his favorite filmmakers would direct it. No matter how he approaches the scene, though, everything ends in the same freeze frame: the moment the gun went off. Not knowing what happened that morning in the shed is tearing him apart. What if it wasn't an accident?


I like to read before I go to bed, but I frequently go to bed very late, so I figure I'll read just a chapter before I turn out the light. That's what I intended the other night when I picked up Freeze Frame. It was almost four hours before I finally closed the book and went to bed. There just wasn't a good stopping point or a time when I felt that I could leave Kyle until I got to that last page. I'm not terribly prone to crying when I read, but this book had tears dripping down my face on multiple occasions.

Even given that I'm not much of a movie buff, using movies as shorthand for what Kyle is thinking and how he is thinking was a very effective characterization tool/plot device. I imagine it's even more effective for readers who are very familiar with the directors and movies mentioned throughout.

It's painful to read how much he feels he deserves all the hatred and anger sent his way. So I clung to those moments when Kyle makes contact with someone in a positive way. His friendship with Clock, another school outcast, grows believably and gives both Kyle and the reader some comfort. Kyle's scenes with Chase, Jason's little brother, offer some much-appreciated humor and more than prove that Kyle is not a hard-hearted killer, whatever he fears. And Mr. Cordoba, the school librarian, is flat-out a hero in my book. Jason and Kyle had a theory that
"Scarface" is on the run from the Mob, but his actual story (much of it implied rather than stated) is far more compelling than that. I think I'm not alone when I say that I hope that I can give to my teen patrons in need what Mr. Cordoba gives to Kyle.

It's very early in 2009, but this book is already on my favorite books of the year, and I can't wait to recommend it high school readers.

(Post begun on 1/23/09 and posted 2/17 - I'm running very behind!)