THIS WEEK IN REVIEWS May 9, 2012

FICTION


1Q 2P M J

Deckert, Tempany, and Tristan Bancks.  Its Yr Life. Random House Australia, 2012. 282p. $11.99 Trade pb. 978-1-74166-397-6.

In a school project to raise cultural awareness, two teens are paired up to become e-mail buddies.  Milla is the daughter of a Hollywood producer;  Sim is a Freegan foster child living in Australia.  They do not like each other much, but they cannot ignore the assignment…until they do.  Rather than sharing cultural tidbits, they begin to share their lives—Milla’s family secret and Sim’s confusing find while dumpster diving.

There is not anything new in this story.  The growing relationship between Milla and Sim is expected, and they are hard to like as characters for the first half of the book, particularly spoiled Milla who is aggressive in her dislike of Sim.  The storyline of Milla’s peeping tom and abusive father lacks urgency.  The gruesome find in the dumpster also has a pacing problem in Sim’s waffling reaction. The epistolary format does not help the pacing of the story, and the characters are never fully developed.  The story has all the makings a romance with contemporary issues, but it never fully comes together.—Mary Ann Harlan.

3Q 3P M

McArthur, Debra. A Voice for Kanzas. Kane Miller, 2012. 384p. $15.99. 978-1-616067-044-9.

Set in 1855, A Voice for Kanzas follows thirteen-year-old Lucy Thomkins and her family as they travel to Kanzas Territory to try to prevent the burgeoning land from falling into the hands of pro-slavery enthusiasts from the neighboring South.  Lucy begins the story as a person who understands that slavery is wrong in an abstract sense, but sees no reason to become personally involved.  This aspect of her character may make Lucy difficult to relate to for contemporary readers, but provides grounds for interesting discussions of the history of civil rights in America.  Only when Lucy physically encounters a runaway slave does she truly begin to comprehend the importance of the freedom that her father supports.

McArthur has done a fine job of weaving together historical facts and fiction, even going so far as to use people who actually lived in Lawrence as characters in her novel.  Descriptions of the everyday aspects of frontier life, such as wearing the same dress every day or killing snakes that come through the roof of a sod house during a storm, make Lucy and the other characters very real.  Teachers and school librarians should appreciate the talking points raised in this book and its usability in the teaching of American history.  Despite the unappealing cover art, readers who give it a try should enjoy this novel, especially if they enjoy the novels Ann Rinaldi or Scott O’Dell.—Rebecca Denham.

3Q 3P J S

McClintock, Norah. Last Chance: Robyn Hunter Mysteries. Lerner, 2012. 232p. PLB $27.93. 978-0-7613-8311-6. $8.95 Trade pb. 978-0-7613-8529-5.

Calling Last Chance by Norah McClintock a “Robyn Hunter Mystery” is a bit of a stretch; while there is a crime and a confession, this book is less a whodunit and more a somewhat forgettable psychological look at why Nick D’Angelo, a juvenile delinquent who appeared to be making good progress towards rehabilitation, would willingly take the blame for something he did not do. Our “sleuth,” Robyn Hunter, encounters Nick when she is forced to volunteer at the animal shelter where he is enrolled in a rehabilitative program training problem dogs. At first, Robyn mistrusts Nick based on her brief past experience with him, but the two eventually form a tentative friendship as Robyn tries to see beyond the tough-boy persona and encourages Nick to stand up for himself.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this book; it is reasonably well written and touches on important issues including trust, second chances, and the tenet of “innocent until proven guilty.” Robyn’s navigation between her divorced parents is skillfully handled, but the plot-convenience of having an attorney mother who ends up representing Nick is slightly off-putting. Overall, this book is not remarkable, and any expectations raised by labeling it as part of a mystery series are not likely to be met. Last Chance might be better directed towards readers with an interest in dog rescue and training, since that comprises the most memorable aspect of the book.—Amy Sisson.

2P 2Q J S

Parkinson, Curtis. Man Overboard! Tundra Books, 2012. 160p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-1-77049-298-1.

It is 1943, on a passenger ferry along the St. Lawrence River in Canada.  Sixteen-year-old Scott has a summer job as a deckhand.  His friend, Adam, is a waiter.  When Scott sees a beautiful, sleek new car, he sneaks off to get a closer look and overhears Nazi spies making nefarious plans.  Thus begins what should be a rollicking adventure including secret agents, a ride through old Montreal on the bumper of that sleek car, a kidnapping, a daring escape, and eventually a frantic search for a bomb.

Unfortunately, the writing in this book does not live up to the plot’s promise.  Constantly shifting viewpoints (Scott, then Adam, then Scott’s girlfriend, Scott again, the lead spy) are too erratic.  It is clear the author had an experience and several points he wanted to get across (he served on the same ferry as Scott and Adam), but the reader feels more as if they are being pulled by the nose through those points, rather than following a neatly laid trail, no matter how twisty.  For instance, the late introduction of Charles, a wounded young veteran, includes an entire chapter on the landing at Dieppe, a deadly European battle, but a chapter which is really not relevant to the novel, and Scott’s realization that “there was another side to war, not just adventure, the companionship of buddies, and the glamour of the uniform” sounds like a rote speech to war-enamored young men.  Home front waterways are not frequently covered in young adult fiction, so this book may find a place in very thorough historical fiction collections.  However, the uncommon subject matter is not enough to overcome the other faults for most collections.—Beth Karpas.

3Q 2P M J S

Sheldon, Dyan. The Crazy Things Girls Do for Love. Candlewick, 2011. 352p. $16.99. 978-0-7636-5018-6.

Popular Sicilee, trendy Maya, and loner Waneeda have no interest in going green until new boy, Cody Lightfoot, joins their high school’s floundering Environmental Club. All three girls are enamored of him, and in a fit of inspiration, join the club, too. Sicilee and Maya compete for Cody’s attention, pretending to be versed in the dangers of plastic bags, greenhouse gases, and veganism, while Waneeda is just thrilled to be in his presence. It does not take long for Cody to amp up the club to have an Earth Day fair, and the three girls join his crusade for community attention and sponsors despite the challenges from their own groups of friends. As their farces go on, the girls believe the global initiatives they preach and learn that they may have more in common with each other than they ever thought.

In the beginning of the novel, the three main characters are flat stereotypes. It is not until after page 200 that they show any growth or depth, which gives the story a slow start. The reactions that Sicilee’s and Maya’s friends have toward their sudden environmental concerns are almost identical and do not add any unique twists to the novel. By the end, the story becomes preachy and ties up a little too neatly. The third-person narrative is reminiscent of Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar (Little, Brown, 2002/VOYA June 2002), which is a successful ploy for this school tale. Other titles with an environmental bent that are faster paced are My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald (Abrams, 2010) and Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Abrams, 2009).—Deena Lipomi.

3Q 4P S

Tillit, L. B. Edge of Ready: Gravel Road. Saddleback, 2012. 192p. $8.95 Trade pb. 978-1-61651-778-6.

Seventeen-year-old Dani Garcia’s life is not her own. Growing up poor in the inner city without a father has been rough, but Dani and her mother have always managed to get by. Now, however, Dani’s mom has a baby, the son of her sometimes boyfriend and boss. Dani’s best friend, Ruth, lives in an apartment upstairs with her older brothers, the beautiful but irresponsible Evron and the solid, dependable Keon. Soon, Dani falls into a destructive physical relationship with Evron. School is her only outlet, and she knows that graduating will help her escape her situation. With childcare hard to come by, though, Dani is forced to miss school to babysit her brother.  Her problems are compounded when Evron rapes her, and she presses charges. When he easily makes bail, the police suspect he is involved in illegal activity. Ruth, feeling betrayed, shuns her. Keon, however, is determined to help. Dani manages to get into night school, but attendance once again becomes a problem. Help comes in the unlikely form of her elderly English teacher, who reveals a deus ex machina surprise.

Edge of Reality is an appealing, dialogue-driven read aimed at teens reading well below grade level. Although the subject matter is mature, Tillit manages to tell this quick-moving, relatable story without graphic language or detail. The developing love story between Dani and Keon provides welcome relief in her otherwise harsh life. Ultimately, Dani learns to find strength in herself and to trust those who really do have her best interest in mind.—Paula J. Gallagher.

3Q 4P M J S A/YA

Warsh, Sylvia Maultash. Best Girl. 7th Generation, 2012. 128p. $9.95 Trade pb. 978-1-55469-897-4.

When a stranger calls, Amanda discovers that she is adopted, and as she begins to pull the threads of her past, she realizes that there is more to her story and her parents’ death than she anticipates. Her parents did not die in a car crash like she was told. Amanda’s parents died years apart. Her adoptive mother is embedded in a web of lies that leads Amanda to the truth about her, her father’s murder, a half-brother she did not know she had, and her mother’s incarceration. As she investigates she comes to understand her life will be forever altered.

Part of the Rapid Reads collection from Orca for reluctant readers, this book dishes up intrigue, murder, and love, with a flare of rock and roll to add an edge to this already edgy story. The depictions of the characters suffice with a stimulating plot and a quick resolve; it is a testament to the author for writing literature that is both pleasurable and utilized as a tool to develop and perfect readers’ fluency. Readers craving mystery will want to follow Amanda’s story to see how the mystery of her past unfolds.—Mirta Espinola.

5Q 4P S

Woodson, Jacqueline. Beneath a Meth Moon. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2012. 192p. $16.99. 978-0399252501.

The waters were not supposed to rise so high, but they did, claiming the life of Laurel’s mother and grandmother leaving the remains of her family to grieve. After moving around, the family eventually settles in the town of Galilee which at first looks to be the new beginning they need. Soon, Laurel has a best friend, Kaylee, has joined the cheerleading squad, and is dating star basketball player T-Boom. Then T-Boom introduces her to the moon (crystal meth) and it quickly consumes her world until she finds herself living on the streets, where she meets Moses, a street artist, who wants her to look away from the moon and return to earth.

Woodson tells the compelling story of a teen struggling through grief and addiction with the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina. Told from Laurel’s perspective, she recounts her descent into the sway of the moon and her slow journey to escape it; at times flashing back to reflect on the events that led her to the moon.  The story is well-written and divided into short, easy-going chapters that make the novel a swift, but captivating, read. Readers of Ellen Hopkins and realistic fiction are sure to devour this title.—Susan Hampe.

SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY/HORROR

1Q 2P M J S

Banks, Anna. Of Poseidon. Feiwel & Friends, 2012. 336p. $17.99. 978-1-250-00332-4.

Emma is traumatized by the sudden death of her best friend, Chloe, by a shark attack . . . and even more shocked when the breathtakingly handsome boy she and Chloe met at the beach that terrible day demands to know why she did not use her powers to stop it. Galen and his unusual family gradually reveal Emma’s heritage: she is a half-breed Syrena—something that humans would call a mermaid. Because Emma has inherited the mysterious Gift of Poseidon, she is morally obligated to marry Galen’s brother—but it is Galen whom Emma loves.

A melodramatic, predictable plot, mashed metaphors, and an impossibly dense protagonist relegate this book to the “not recommended” pile. This is first in a series and ends on a strange, cliff-hanging note. Even fans of mermaid romances will throw it back.—Aarene Storms.

3Q 4P J S

Delany, Shannon. Destiny and Deception: A 13 to Life Novel. St. Martin’s, 2012. 304p. $9.99 Trade pb. 978-0-312-62446-0.

Number four in Delany’s 13 to Life series picks up immediately where number three left off, in the small town of Junction. The Rusakovas, a family of Russian werewolves, watch their mother die after taking a cure for lycanthropy made from the blood of Pietr’s human girlfriend, Jessie Gillmansen. Pietr and Max, two of the Rusakova sons, spontaneously drink the potion themselves to free the family once and for all from the mafia, who has been using them to conduct research. Jessie is thrilled at first. Werewolves live very short lives, and Jessie hopes that now Pietr will be a normal teenage boy and that their relationship will be long-lived. Unfortunately, Pietr’s cure dulls his personality and attraction to Jessie, leaving her frustrated. Meanwhile, a roaming pack of werewolves, led by the wanton, destructive Marlaena, has arrived in Junction to stir up trouble with the Rusakovas.

Told in first-person narrative alternating among Jessie, Marlaena, and Pietr’s brother, Alexi, this novel offers no shortage of drama. Delany’s prose is descriptive and bold, but her characters, with the exception of Jessie, seem rather flat. The books in this series need to be read in order due to the abundance of continuing subplots. Readers who begin with this novel will most likely be confused and not necessarily inspired to go back and read the first three, but those who have kept up with the series will be looking forward to Delany’s latest novel.—Dotsy Harland.

2Q 3P J S

Kessler, Jackie Morse. Loss: Riders of the Apocalypse. Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 272p. $8.99 Trade pb. 978-0-547-71215-4.

As a child, Billy Ballard was tricked by the Ice Cream Man (Pestilence, the White Rider of the Apocalypse) into making a promise he did not fully understand.  Now, at the age of fifteen, Billy is called upon to honor his promise and take up the bow of the White Rider.  The power of Pestilence is overwhelming and when Billy uses it to extract revenge upon the boys who have bullied him, he snaps.  Unlike Famine (in Hunger [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010]) and War ( in Rage [HMH, 2011/VOYA April 2011]), Death gives Billy a choice: he can either fulfill his promise, or he can find the Conqueror and convince him to return to his duty.

Kessler’s third entry in the Riders of the Apocalypse series lacks clarity and cohesiveness which seems to be caused by the competing of bullying and Alzheimer’s as plot points, and the constant shifting between the present and the memories of the White Rider.  Characters also lack a depth that was present in previous installments, in large part because of the vast amounts of time Billy spends “in the white” searching through the White Rider’s memories.  Readers are better able to connect with the Conqueror, then Billy.  Kessler continues to tackle tough (and relevant) issues in an honest, compelling, and non-preachy way, which will appeal to teen readers.  Though this installment falters, fans of the series will eagerly anticipate the fourth installment, Breath, to see how overarching story will play out.—Alissa Lauzon.

NONFICTION

4Q 2P S Graphic Format

Foley, Ryan. Perseus: Destiny’s Call. Illus. by Naresh Kumar. Campfire, 2012. 88p. $11.95 Trade pb. 978-93-80741-08-6.

Perseus: Destiny’s Call succeeds in making the story of the aforementioned Greek hero simple to follow but interesting enough to appeal to a multilayered audience. The story is set up as a tale within a tale: Lady Demiarties gives a young Greek prince advice on destiny and courage by telling him about the hero Perseus. The tale begins with Danaё, daughter of King Acrisius. She is locked away by her father when it is foretold that the son Danaё will eventually bear will kill him. That son, Perseus, is the child of Zeus and Danaё. Perseus is tricked into going on a dangerous quest by the vile King Polydectes—he must kill the Gorgon Medusa and bring back her head. A visit from his godly siblings Athena and Hermes, the slaying of the three witches, and the encounter with Medusa and her sisters lead up to Perseus saving the maiden Andromeda and defeating Polydectes.

For many teens, Greek mythology is a part of world folklore that has a limited interest base. Perseus: Destiny’s Call is told without the flowery language found in many Greek mythology books, easily pulling even lower level readers into the action. The stunning illustrations by Kumar make the heroes all the more appealing and the villains that much more terrifying. A definite buy for most libraries, this book can help teens studying Greek mythology and may even spark an interest for those who enjoy the tale.—Amanda Fensch.

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