This Week in Reviews October 4, 2011
Demuren, Dolapo. Dreaming Forever: Lifemare Edition. A Better Tomorrow, 2011. 206p. $9.95. Trade pb. 978-0-9795768-3-6.
Unattainable, the first collection of poems in this volume by teenage author Delapo Demuren, focuses on themes of love, lost and unrequited. Unattainable is followed by a series of five “sequences,” Dream, Nightmares, Bliss, Lifemare and Loner, each of which explores nuances of different types of relationships—from friendships to family to romances—in a series of intertwined works that leave the reader with a sense of the isolation that can be experienced even in the midst of the struggle to connect with others. The final collection, Autumn’s Rose, chronicles the progression of a passion—not a romantic goal this time, so much as the struggle for self-attainment. The book closes with Thoughts, a series of dated reflections—some prose, some verse—on topics of importance to the author throughout the progression of the writing of the book.
Demuren utilizes an impressive range of allusions gathered from sources ranging from Greek mythology to Ghandi, creating a wide-ranging series of associations that allow him to explore different aspects of the same emotions. There are striking images to be found in some of the poems, and well-articulated phrases that resonate with the reader’s emotional experience. The writing, however, is heavy with a hyper-developed sense of self-consciousness that veers frequently toward the melodramatic, accented by injudicious over-use of italics. This work may appeal to some teens experiencing similarly heightened emotions, but many will be lost in the ostentatious presentation.—Lori Pruyne.
Godbersen, Anna. Bright Young Things. HarperCollins, 2011. 416p. $9.99. Trade pb. 978-0-06-196267-7.
This is a brilliant first volume for a planned series. The year is 1929; the roaring twenties brought a sense of unending possibilities. Automobiles are everywhere, moving pictures are all the rage, and technology is bursting with new ideas. The world is changing socially as fast as technologically. It is trendy for the rich upper class to rub elbows with those who would previously have been considered of “lesser” standing. The twenties made it popular to try to be as shocking as possible. It is into this New York high society that friends, Cordelia and Letty, find themselves. Naïve and unaware, they embark on a daring adventure; leaving behind their small Ohio town and all that they know to bravely ride the train all the way to New York City. Lettie is searching for a way to break into the bright lights of Broadway. Cordelia is searching for her long-lost father, not realizing that his fortune has been made in the dangerous world of prohibition and speakeasies. Their worlds become intertwined with Astrid Donal, a young flapper who lives a life of great privilege. Before one week passes, their lives change in unimaginable and irreversible ways.
History unfolds in this story like veils peeled back to expose the players for the complex beings they are. The characters are not all good or all bad, but people at the mercy of the era in which they live. They struggle to succeed, to make their lives better, and to become involved in a world they are ill-prepared to face. Godbersen does a marvelous job of weaving the characters into their situations and place in history.—Laura Canales.
Larkin, Jillian. Ingenue: The Flappers. Delacorte/Random House. 2011, 368p. $17.99. 978-0-385-74036-4.
A worthy read from Jillian Larkin and second installment to the Flapper series, Ingenue brings back the colorful and interesting main characters of Vixen (Delacorte, 2010). This book picks up where the first book leaves off, and Jerome and Gloria are now in New York running from the mob, trying to keep their relationship, as well as their careers, afloat. Vera and Evan soon escape to the big city as well. All the while, Lorraine, an interesting character in her own right, has found a job in New York working at a speakeasy (unbeknownst to her parents) for the same mobster who is after Jerome and Gloria. Clara, an aspiring journalist, has sworn off her party life to be with her beau, Marcus. An editor of a famous magazine, however, is interested in her writing and she faces some difficult choices ahead.
The roaring twenties have never been written like this and with strong female characters, mobsters, mystery, murder, and romance it will surely entice any reader. The author colorfully strings together worlds, incorporating various characters and their personal setbacks and triumphs, creating a historical fiction novel with pizzazz. The author intertwines the characters’ stories amidst a time of excess in with ease, like a painter’s brushstroke on canvas. Vixen is book one of this series, and 2012 will offer Diva, Jill Larkin’s third book in this series.—Mirta Espinola.
Townsend, Kari Lee. Tempest in the Tea Leaves. Berkley Publishing Group/Penguin, 2011. 304p. $7.99 Mass Market pb. 978-0-425-24275-9.
Twenty-nine-year old Sunny Meadows is nothing like her stuffy, New York City parents. To get away from them and make a fresh start on her own, Sunny moves to Divinity, a small upstate town, and uses her trust fund to start a business as a fortune teller. As Sunny settles in, her first client arrives—the town’s librarian, who has been hiding many secrets. Sunny gets a psychic reading through her special blend of tea leaves, foreseeing the woman’s murder. When Sunny takes the information to the police, Divinity’s non-believing, no-nonsense, grumpy detective, Mitchell Stone, accuses her of the deed. In order to prove her innocence, Sunny teams up with Detective Stone and brings her own flair to the investigation.
Tempest in the Tea Leaves is a fun, cozy mystery with hints of the paranormal. Though written for adults, the new series may appeal to teens who are interested in light adult mysteries. Sunny’s flaky persona and juvenile behavior add humor to the story, making the novel accessible to young adults; however, the dialogue often feels forced and inauthentic, which may be off-putting to teen readers. The first in a news series, this novel establishes Sunny’s future in solving mysteries in Divinity, as well as a possibility of romance between Sunny and Detective Stone. The series would be a good addition to a public library collection where both adults and young adults can enjoy it.—Stacy Holbrook.
Watson, Sterling.Fighting in the Shade. Akashic Books, 2011. 330p. $15.95 Trade pb. 978-1-936070-98-5.
This coming-of-age novel takes an unflinching look at the politics, traditions, and fanaticism that govern a small town’s high school football team. Set in the 1960s in a small Florida town, Billy Dyer is a newcomer and immediate outsider, being poor and trying for a position on the team presently occupied by its most popular player. A ritual hazing gone awry sparks the novel’s actions, putting into question the sexuality and ethics of the team’s coaches. Billy’s actions cause his dismissal from the team and a general shunning by the student body, but he honors the football team’s rules of secrecy. He is also dealing with the depression of his father, his mother’s abusive boyfriend, his loyalty to a teacher who is pushing school policy limits, and a burgeoning relationship with a girl. Can a rebel do what’s right and effect changes in such a closed community?
This novel is quite adult in tone dealing with suicide, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and other mature themes. Overall, it is a melodramatic morality play, compared by others to the works of Dennis Lehane and Pat Conroy. Each chapter’s comparisons of the team’s activities and regimens to the ancient Spartan’s training system for their warriors was enjoyable. The well-developed protagonist is a jock, but a somewhat literate one. The book does not stress football games and is recommended to more sophisticated readers who can accept unhappy endings and who like to explore emotional issues.—Kevin Beach.
Harrison, Mette Ivie. Tris and Izzie. Egmont, 2011. 262 p. $16.99. 978-1-60684-173-0.
In her newest book, Harrison gives the classic story of a love potion gone wrong a modern setting. Izzie has everything going for her—a loyal best friend, the high school “king” for a boyfriend, and a witch mother who secretly practices magic in their small town. When a new boy shows up at their high school—a handsome, young man named Tristan who speaks like he stepped out of an old-fashioned book of fairy tales—Izzie decides he would be perfect for her best friend Branna. Going against her mother’s warnings about the cautious use of magic, Izzie steals a love philtre, which she plans to slip into Tristan and Branna’s drinks. Of course, her plan backfires, and in an unbelievable twist, she ends up sharing the drink with Tristan.
Though the epic tale has made its way into everything from medieval romances to operas, Harrison’s contemporary version falls flat. Starting with unsympathetic characters—Tristan’s stiff, formal behavior overshadows his good looks, and Izzie comes off as a spoiled, silly child—followed closely by stale dialogue, and romance scenes that lack sizzle, the book fails on multiple levels. The love triangle too quickly and easily turns into a boring square. A few action-filled battle scenes between magical creatures, like giants and dragon-serpents, create some page-turning moments, but these fail to redeem the book from its deficiencies.—Heather Christensen.
Featuring unbelievable characters, prose that is mediocre, and an obvious plot, there is little to recommend this book. Its attempts at humor are sour, and its “serious” scenes fall flat. If there is any potential audience here, it is with the younger sisters of rabid Twilight fans, but surely even they will be able to recognize this misogynistic, stereotypical tripe for what it is: an outrageous myth that translates poorly to a modern setting. 1Q, 2P.—Katie Bickley, Teen Reviewer.
TenNapel, Doug. Bad Island. Graphix/Scholastic, 2011. 224 p. $10.99 Trade pb. 978-0-545-31480-0.
After his latest hit, Ghostpolis (Graphix/Scholastic, 2010/ VOYA, 2010), TenNapel returns with another success. All Reese wants to do is play football with his friends; instead, his parents force him to go on a family boating trip. When a terrible storm hits, Reese and his family find themselves stranded on a mysterious island filled with plants and animals never before seen on Earth. Readers are also taken to another world in the far past where robot-like creatures must fight against a race of evil beings threatening to enslave their world. The battle in this secondary plotline concludes on the island, and the existence of the mysterious creatures and the true nature of the island are revealed.
Bad Island is a fun, quick read. The fast-paced story is filled with great action scenes, making it attractive to reluctant readers, especially boys. Long-time graphic novel readers will appreciate the creative merit and complex storyline. There is enough mystery and a hint of science fiction for broad appeal. The colors and use of shadows with stark contrasts add to the suspense. There are also elaborate full-page spreads, placed in exactly the right moments to break up a typical panel arrangement. TenNapel’s art skills shine, whether it is in his realistic portrayal of people or the menacing otherworldly creatures he concocts. His extensive work in television and video games contributes to his masterful combination of art, dialogue, action, and sequencing.—Marissa Wolf.
Askew, Claire. Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager. PM Press, 2011. 160p. $14.95 Oversize pb. 978-1-60486-338-3.
Hold the mayo and enjoy this delicious vegan title. In fact, no eggs, dairy, meats or any other animal products were harmed in the making of this book. This book covers being vegan as a teenager. This is a street-wise read for any teen considering veganism. This self-help guide not only covers the rudimentary guidelines, but it also provides the nutrition tools and consumer-health products caveats necessary to sustain a vegan life. Moreover, it takes a serious look at animal rights as well as the social obstacles amongst the carnivores in your life. The author covers topics ranging from “how to let the parents know about your choice without them freaking out” to “how to get out of biology class when they are dissecting.” Her heartfelt experiences are sprinkled amongst the tips, resources, and readers’ advisories. She is experienced in these matters. She has been a vegan since 2005. In addition, her articles have been featured in Vegnews magazine and Vegetarian Journal.
As a Food Network junkie, this reviewer especially enjoyed the recipes and the vegan kitchen wisdom. The “New Food” chapter is also yummy. Aside from the long run-on sentence paragraphs and the sometimes raw adversarial approach, Generation V is a recommended purchase for the young adult collection.—Madelene Rathbun Barnard.
Vander Ven is a professor of sociology who undertook a largely qualitative study of college drinking behavior. He strives to get beyond the alarmist rhetoric of most college drinking studies to understand the sociological dimensions of college drinking. As he repeatedly points out, researchers have studied how much students drink and the prevalence of the negative effects of drinking, but not why they choose to drink or continue drinking despite the ramifications. Through surveys and interviews, Vander Ven tries to understand the many ways in which college drinkers encourage and support each other’s drinking habits. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that the best approach to the problem of alcohol abuse on college campuses is not to try to stop students from drinking, but promote harm reduction and bystander intervention based on the ways students already help each other negotiate negative outcomes of drinking too much.
While Vander Ven keeps insisting that his methodological approach is unique in the research literature, it comes as no great surprise to the lay reader to learn that college students drink because it is fun and eases social interactions. Also, Vander Ven seems somewhat unsure of his audience. Most of the book seems aimed at an academic audience, though he persists in using slang terms for drinking behaviors that jar with the overall tone of the book. While his study is doubtless an important addition to the research on college drinking, this book is unlikely to have much appeal beyond college administrators who are seeking to reduce drinking on campus.—Jennifer Rosenstein.
Book two is a follow-up to the original 2006 edition, with an emphasis on creating successful teen programs during current times of economic hardship and ever-expanding technology. Part one includes a variety of ideas for teen clubs, whereas part two gives specific theme ideas by month per calendar year. The lists for all themed activities are very inclusive and provide suggested timelines that will be helpful for implementation. The ideas presented can be used in both public and school library settings, and can be adapted for a variety of needs. The authors also provide insight regarding the teen population’s attitude and need for involvement from the original inception of a program to its completion, and how a program’s success is dependent upon that participation.
This newer edition will be welcome in libraries regardless of the current status of programs or book clubs for teens. The ideas are useful, relevant, and easy to put into action without significant cost as a factor. The additional suggestions for dealing with the four- to seven-year period when teens are evolving and technology is becoming a larger part of their lives is most relevant.—Valerie Burleigh.