Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Book of Life by Angel

This is a gripping story about a teenage sex worker trying to survive on the streets, during the Picton murders.

It starts when Call sees sixteen-year-old Angel stealing shoes at the mall. He just buys her Chinese food at first, but before long Call is supplying her with "candy" and saying he loves her. Angel ends up living with him and walking the Kiddy Stroll in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside -- a neighbourhood with a reputation for being the poorest postal code in the country, with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world. 

When Angel’s best friend Serena goes missing, Angel starts to pay attention to the stories of other girls who have disappeared, and a mysterious Mr. P. who drives a van with tinted windows.  The girls who get in the van never come back.  They don’t go missing. They’re dead.  

Then Call brings home another girl. Her name is Melli, and she is just eleven years old, and suddenly Angel realizes what she must do. Save Melli at any cost, and perhaps save herself at the same time.

How Angel ends up on the street is very believable, and probably more common than we want to admit.  Her mother dies of cancer, and her father isn’t coping well. He doesn’t know what to do with Angel. Angel starts staying away from home – mostly hanging out at the mall.  And then she starts shoplifting.  She wants to be home, but after meeting Call, and getting caught with drugs, her father kicks her out.  He doesn’t want her around her younger brother.  And so begins her life of prostitution and drugs.  Every time she tries to leave, Call threatens to harm Angel’s younger brother. But Call underestimates Angel.   He doesn’t count on her caring about Melli. And he doesn’t count on her inner strength.  

I was drawn to this book, because I think Martine Leavitt is a brilliant author (I loved Tom Finder and Heck Superhero), and also because she based her novel on the true stories of the women who disappeared and were later found murdered, on the Picton farm. I imagine it’s difficult to research and write such a story, but Leavitt told it with such sensitivity and respect for the characters, and without smoothing things over.  

Her use of narrative verse quickly brings the reader right into the heart of the story, and that’s where you stay.  It was hard to put down and I ended up reading it in one sitting.  Like other great books written in verse, when it’s done as well as this, every line counts.  

I think this book will have adult crossover appeal.  It’s a grim story, but one that is important to tell, and Martine Leavitt has told it beautifully.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Graphic Novels for Middle School

Thanks to my guest blogger Fatma Faraj for these two reviews.  Fatma is a teacher librarian at Royal Orchard Middle School in Brampton Ontario.  

by Doug TenNapel (9780545418737) Review by: Fatma Faraj

Summary:  Cam’s down-and-out father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday and he knows it’s the worst present ever.  To make the best of a bad situation, they bend the cardboard into a man- and to their astonishment, it comes magically to life.  But the neighbourhood jerk, Marcus, warps the powerful cardboard into his own evil creations that threaten to destroy them all. 

Review: When opening a new graphic novel from Doug TenNapel, the reader knows they will be entering a weird and wondrous world.  And Mr. TenNapel does not disappoint.  Cam’s father is out of work and when on a job search, meets a salesman who sells him a piece of cardboard.  Now, that’s simply stating the facts.  The salesman is no ordinary salesman, and the cardboard is no ordinary piece of cardboard.  Just like the father in the movie Gremlins who buys Gizmo for his son as a gift, the cardboard comes with some rules:

#1- Return every scrap you do not use.
#2- You can’t ask for any more cardboard

The story has many themes running through it, such as: father-son relationships, bullying, loss of a parent, friendships, and power.  Depending on how the reader reads the text, there are many positive and negative examples of each to inspire conversation and question the choices the characters (and the author) make throughout the story. 

The book has no age ratings; however, I would put this in junior and intermediate libraries.  There are moments of violence- one of the cardboard characters is a boxer- and weapons are created to fight the “bad” characters.   And there are moments that are scary as creatures come to life and fight to gain power.  If you are familiar with Ghostopolis and Bad Island, and have them in your library collection, CARDBOARD would fit right in, almost like a trilogy.

CARDBOARD is a fun read, with characters that are three-dimensional and believable.  There are moments when the reader is genuinely scared for Cam and his adventure; however, there is also a strong feeling that everything will all be okay.  It is a story that allows characters to learn from their flaws.  One might even compare this story to Pinocchio, where one wishes to be a real and better person one day.   

DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier (9780545326995) Review by: Fatma Faraj

Summary:  Callie loves theatre.  And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she can’t really sing.  Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department’s stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget.  But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together?  Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen.  And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!     

Review: Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel SMILE is one of the most popular books in my middle school library.  When I saw her new book was being published, I couldn’t wait to read it myself.  Is it as good as SMILE?  I don’t think so.  Did I like it?  Absolutely.  I was the student who loved the theatre and couldn’t sing so I joined the stage crew myself when I was a young student.  And Telgememeier gets it right when the drama backstage is just as exciting as the drama onstage.
DRAMA tells the story in the style of a musical production, instead of chapters, there are acts.  The characters in the story are typical middle school students with angst, talent, and romance.  Callie, the main character, works with her best friend behind the scenes, crushes on boys, and experiences many emotions throughout the story. 

One of the most poignant moments is when Callie is talking to a boy and he tells her he’s gay.  It is very natural and true to the moment.  There are true moments of what a middle school student may go through in their two to three years at that age level, and this book captures many of those events in funny and endearing ways. 

This book will be popular with middle school students (grades 6-8).  Can it be put in a junior school? I think so; however, I think that older students will appreciate and understand the themes in this book more so than younger students.  The themes can be considered mature considering there are themes of romance and relationships that may be new to some readers.

DRAMA is a fun read for students, especially the girls who are looking for graphic novels to read.  After reading, they will feel as if they have been to the theatre- seeing the antics that occur onstage and backstage at the show. 

Bravo to DRAMA!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Every Day

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl. 

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

Every day, A has to figure out how far away he is from Rhiannon, and how he can get to see her.  And each time they meet, A is someone different.   He's the same inside, but his body can be female or male, fat or thin, healthy or unhealthy, light skin or dark skin.  He might be blind, speak Chinese or have to walk with crutches. The only thing he knows for sure is that he will always wake up in a body that is close to his age (16yrs). 

Each chapter deals with A waking up in a different place, in a different body.  The first thing A does is access memories of the person's life.  Are they happy, sad, suicidal, angry, timid ? How do they feel about their family and friends?  What's going on in their life today, that he has to know about? Do they have a test at school,  do they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, do they have access to a car?    Because each chapter deals with a full day, I was very aware of the impermanence of A's life. Sometimes, when his "host body" was in a dysfunctional and unhappy family, it was a relief to know he would be leaving that house.  But other times, it was heartbreaking to know that A would never experience living with the same people for more than a day.   No one would know his past. In fact, A could only live with others in the present.  There was no one he could share the past or future with.  This was an unbearable fact, once he fell in love with Rhiannon.

I had so many questions after reading this book.  What do other people's lives teach you? If A could choose to actually live any of those people's lives, which one would he choose?  Could you really love someone who changes every day?  Sure, they might be the same on the inside - but is that really enough? What is it that you love about someone?  What kind of changes could you handle in someone that you love?  A never messed up the person's life.  He really respected what was going on for them, and wanted to leave the person's life the way he entered it.  How hard would it be to not interfere, especially if you thought it would help?

This is one of my favourite novels of 2012.  It's about selflessness, courage and heartbreak.  The ultimate love story! Gr 8+

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

If you kiss your true love, he will die.  This is what Blue Sargant, daughter of the town psychic has been told all her life.  Blue is used to living with predictions, but things change when she meets Gansey, a privileged boy who attends the prestigious Aglionby Academy for Boys.  Gansey and his friends (known as the Raven boys, because of the Raven crest on their school uniforms) are on a quest find Glendower, a sleeping Welsh king.  Legend holds that whoever finds him will be granted a wish.  

Although Blue doesn’t have the same psychic powers as her mother, she does have the ability to amplify the messages that come through for her family.  It’s for this reason that she annually accompanied her mother to an old churchyard on St. Mark’s Eve. where the soon-to-be-dead spirits would walk past.  Blue never sees the spirits herself – until this year, when a boy steps up to her and speaks.  He tells her his name is Gansey.  

What does this mean?  When will Gansey die, and will it be Blue that causes his death?  Is he her true love?  Why is she so drawn to Gansey and his friends?  Blue has never really believed in true love and the repeated warning from her mother.  But now she isn’t so sure.

I can imagine this story being handled really poorly by a not-so-great writer.  Thankfully, Maggie Stiefvater has done a great job in presenting well-drawn characters, in this intriguing mystery. I love this story because the characters are all so different, and yet so vital.  Gansey is determined, has dignity, and really takes care of his friends.  Noah doesn’t say much, seems vulnerable and mostly observes.  Adam is the scholarship student who resents the wealth around him and doesn’t like handouts.  Ronan is the 'bad boy,' very cynical and angry.  And then there’s Blue, the quiet girl who lives with her psychic family – all women.  I think my favourite scenes were the ones that involved all these women and their predictions.  I loved the complexity of their personalities and the occasional conflicts between them.  They were strong, funny women, who I wanted to learn more about.

The other part of the story that kept me hooked, was the question of whether or not Gansey and Blue were destined to be together.  Was he really her true love?  Or was it one of the other boys?  Would she kiss him and therefore cause his death?  Why did she see him on the churchyard path on St. Mark’s Eve?  What was the importance of what he said to her on that road?  These were some of the questions that kept me intrigued.  

Magic is something that should be treated with respect and integrity, and I feel this author did just that.  I loved being suspended in this world of unexpected friendships, love and impending doom!

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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

This novel arrived at the beginning of the year in hardcover, and for some reason I just didn’t get around to reading it. Even though it received tons of great reviews and I was drawn to it, it stayed on my nightstand pile for a few months.  It was only when a customer picked it up and said with her hand on her heart “oh, I read this one”  and then just tapped her heart twice “ugh, so beautiful”, that I decided to put it on the top of my pile… 

Sixteen- year-old Hazel spends most of her time reading the same book over and over, doesn’t like to leave her house, isn’t interested in eating and thinks about death a lot.   Her mother says she’s depressed.  Yes, well, no kidding.  In many ways, Hazel is just like any other teenager, except she has cancer and isn’t expected to live much longer.   

Doctor Jim, and Hazel’s mom both agree she should attend a weekly Support Group.  Hazel finds this support group “depressing as hell”.  She tells her mother “If you want me to be a teenager, don’t send me to Support Group.  Buy me a fake ID so I can go to clubs, drink vodka, and take pot.”   Her mom’s reply: ” You’re going to Support Group”. 

Even though Support Group is depressing ( will some of them die? ), there are some very good things that happen too.  One of them is the gorgeous Augustus Waters, who ends up changing Hazel’s life in a very profound way.  He’s not gorgeous just because he’s hot.  He’s gorgeous because he’s funny, smart, sweet and basically the perfect boyfriend.  Except, he too is dying. 

Let me first say that John Green is a genius.  This is the kind of story that made me laugh and ugly cry at the same time, and I will definitely re-read it, just because he really is a great writer and I want to hear some of his phrases again.   I loved Hazel and Augustus.  They “got” each other in a way that wasn’t sappy.  Not like obnoxious couples who are joined at the hip and digest each others food (sorry Bella).   I really believed the characters and cared about how they felt and what they thought.  I liked the frankness in their dialogue.   It was refreshing to read a YA title that wasn’t dystopian, paranormal or about totally depressing issues.   Of course, the inevitability of death is depressing, but somehow John Green makes it okay.

 Why didn’t I read this sooner?  And now I will definitely read all three of his other titles – Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns, and An Abundance of Katherines.

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