Juvenile Literature Review Winter 2012-13

Posted on February 5, 2013 by

Reviews from the committee meetings in December, 2012, and January, 2013.

Never Wanted book jacketAll You Never Wanted written by Adele Griffin

This story of two sisters, Alex and Thea, is told in alternating voices. After their parents’ divorce, Mom marries an extremely rich man and the girls’ lives change – not for the better. Alex finds the wealth “toxic” and Thea uses it to find a place in the social world. At first the contrast of Thea’s first person voice alternating with Alex’s 3rd person was jarring, but as we see that Alex is losing herself emotionally and physically as she stops eating, the more distant voice makes sense.

The story is riveting as darkness flows nearly beneath the surface. The sisters, once close, lose each other in their struggles to find their own ways. The climax, at a party gone wild at their stepfather’s mansion (Yes, we have the out-of-the picture YA parents as mom and rich step dad are in LA for business) and Thea’s desperate lies and jealousy of her older sister, bring an ending that, while not wrapping everything up neatly, seems bit to convenient.

One more draft may have made this a more satisfying read. Alex’s intense and sudden new love comes out of the blue, as does her disengagement with her current somewhat clueless boyfriend. It was hard to believe she finally tells the new guy her dip, shameful secret when she has told nobody for months. Suddenly she is free of much of her inability to be comfortable in her own body and decides she has to take care of herself first. As she abandons her sister something just doesn’t ring true.


Black Swan Green written by David Mitchell

A recent essay headed “So Long, Holden” suggested that this book could replace Catcher in the Rye in high school literature classes. I’m glad I have read it. The main character is a poet and a reader, so the book has some wonderful language and marvelous literary allusions. Jason’s year involves many adventures, questions and challenges. He makes it through (with some help). The sprawling plot teems with ideas, character, and issues. It’s a rich source of discussion. But in a society that struggles with teaching Huckleberry Finn because of nuanced use of a racial epithet, I suspect that the raw insults (generally sexual) will make this a controversial choice for required reading.

Find it on the shelf in the Mendenhall Valley Public Library.

  chickadee cover         Chickadee: Book Four of the Birchbark House series written by Louise Erdrich

This is a realistic historical novel. A young boy, named for the small bird, has adventures. Kidnapped to be a servant, he travels across the prairie, comes to understand the lesson from the chickadee, finds his uncle and joins a trading caravan to St. Paul, and makes his way back home. Of course this is a novel, not a study of everyday life for Ojibwa boys in 1866.

Chickadee has been taught important lessons and he must apply them well to survive with his captors, on the trail, with the missionaries, and even at home. Important family and community values are illustrated in this story. Here is the uncle explaining that the corduroy road was repaired as soon as a pole broke, “Nokomis…said…We should fix what we break in this world for the ones who come next, our children.”

Ms. Erdrich has provided all our children with a story of perseverance. This book is a wonderful addition to the children’s literature of American history.

Find it on the shelves in Douglas and the Mendenhall Valley Public Libraries.


embers cover  The Crown of Embers (sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns) written by Rae Carson

In the first book chubby Elisa is married to the King of a troubled kingdom. He doesn’t need a “wife” because he has a very powerful mistress but he does need a friend. But after she is kidnapped by the desert people and ends up leading them in a rebellion in which the king is killed, she becomes the slender, much wiser, queen of a very angry and divided people. Because she was born with a Godstone in her navel she is supposed to have very special powers which she knows little about. After several attempts on her life she decides she must know more about the powers of the Godstone. So she travels with her personal guard, Hector, whom she loves, and two friends from the desert plus Storm, and enemy spy who knows how to find the information about the power which is called the zafira. Storm and Elisa eventually find the zafira which is guarded by an ancient animagus gatekeeper who fights them with magic. Elisa defeats the guardian and destroys the cave that holds the zafira. But her troubles have just begun.

This is a many layered adventure/fantasy with a heroine who seems weak and weepy who is constantly surprised by her physical, mental and magical strength. In order to keep the desire for new books strong the big problems were not yet solved. There are many people who will enjoy this book as much as I did so I hope the next one is not too long is coming.

Find it on the shelf in the Downtown Public Library.


dragon sea coverThe Dragon in the Sea (#5 Dragon Keepers) written by Kate Klimo with illustrations by John Shroades

This offering is likely to interest existing fans of the series more than newcomers to Jesse, Daisy and Emmy’s adventures. Jess and Daisy meet a new family living on the beach near Polly’s. The father, a surfer dude/old style hippie, uses outdated, over-the-top language, echoed by his children, and feels phony. It provides more interruption to the flow of the story rather than imparting character or humor. Much of the book feels heavy handed rather than playful. Additionally, at least to this reader, the dragon’s paw place next to the text to direct readers to the author’s website is a distraction from the story and seems an unnecessary contrivance.

All that said, fans will still enjoy the cheerful cousins, their eccentric grandma and Emerald the Dragon, and there are some entertaining new characters in this book as well. A keeper for the sake of series fans, but I wouldn’t select in on its own.


The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives written by Joanne Stanbridge   Ives bio cover

The life and music of Charles Ives lends itself well to the telling of this extraordinary picture book. The simple pictures make it accessible to very young children, while its message of persistence and hope speak to readers of all ages. This is a picture book capable of changing the life experience of young and old alike. I can’t wait to get home to listen to a recording of Ives’ Second Orchestral Set.


guy csi coverGuy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator written by Josh Berk

This is a novel about secrets, involving a high schooler who is coming to terms with his father’s death. The story is told from Guy’s point of view (and from inside his head mostly) so there are humorous references and misunderstandings that seem typical of teenagers. The extra plot twists of family secrets, teen romances, school rivalries, guys who wish they were more athletic. Crime scene and buried treasure keep the reader interested in how Guy is growing up. The humor is a little raw but not vulgar. The life lesson that “We’re all weird, some of us just hide it better than others” seems modern, as do many of the references—including the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This will be a popular book.

Find it on the shelf in the Downtown Public Library.


blackbird coverHarlem’s Little Blackbird written by Renée Watson with illustrations by Christian Robinson

This title introduces young readers to the performer and Jazz singer Florence Mills, chronicling her life from her early years as the daughter of impoverished former slave through her work on Vaudeville and her triumphant performances on the stages of New York and London.

Watson effectively places the highlights of Mills’ career within the cultural context of the Harlem Renaissance and the state of race relations in America at that time, giving equal weight to Mill’s courage and integrity in overcoming discrimination as she does to her talent and stage success, most notably when she decides to turn down the chance to be the first black star of the Ziegfeld Follies, to promote shows featuring unknown black singers and actors.

Any biography of Mills must be marred by the fact that she was never recorded or filmed. Nevertheless this one may inspire young readers to learn more about her and her times. Robinson’s drawings and cut-paper collage would be a fine accompaniment to the story except for his incomprehensible decision to portray Mills with exaggerated, disproportionally huge eyes as if he didn’t trust his young readers to recognize her otherwise.


MeantToBe coverMeant to Be written by Lauren Morrill

Julia, nicknamed Book Licker for obvious reasons, goes on a class trip to London where she ends up falling for her nemesis and discovering that the boy she has had a crush on for years is a jerk. Not an earthshaking plotline, and the characters seem to flip between natural/immature and back again with lightning speed, but still there is some charm in Julia’s stepping away from her good girl personae into a world of adventure. While it is fun to explore London with the teens, it’s hard to believe their teacher would give them the amount of freedom she does and that the kids seem to have no hesitation about moving around this giant city on their own—from pubs to museums to theaters. Perhaps if I had not been the teacher on trips like this I would have found it more believable. I am sure teens will question all this  less that I. They will find enjoyment in the light hearted story, but I’m not sure it will be memorable.


Melonhead and the Undercover Operation written by Katy Kelly with illustrations by Gillian Johnson  melonhead cover

This book may be a bit on the farfetched side, but somehow author Katy Kelly manages to make it work. Melonhead’s desire to be an FBI agent, his and Sam’s adventures in detection, their discovery of someone in the neighborhood they are convinced is a wanted criminal and their attempts to unmask the Chameleon (one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals) give plenty of room for foolishness and mishap. Young readers will roll their eyes at the boys’ foolishness while trying to figure out for themselves whether the boys are right. Family scenes are both funny and believable, and if some of the situations are a bit farfetched, they’re filled with good humor and only slightly beyond the believable. There is enough entertainment here to engage reluctant readers and keep the interest of more skilled readers.


pilgrims coverPilgrims Don’t Wear Pink written by Stephanie Kate Strohm

This is an entertaining summer romance set at an historical attraction in Maine. Libby is a self-described history nerd who is coping with a hostile roommate, responding to the dishiest of sailors, working with a reporter searching for a ghost, teaching open hearth cooking to young girls, participating in contests and fairs and keeping her best friend safe. Lots of jokes—“Why do you have Michelle Obama arms?” “All those cast iron pots,” “the only designer people can name is L. L. Bean.” Libby is smart and gorgeous. Her problems are mostly from her own romantic imagination. The solutions come from listening to her best friend and seeing the worth of the boy she had dismissed. Beyond the conventional plot involving teens, the book reads smoothly. The secondary characters are satisfying—fortune-teller, patient boyfriend, trustworthy gay fashion designer. Yes, the story has a happy ending.


Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics written by John Feinstein  RushForGold

A modern caper with heroic teen-aged sportswriters is an enjoyable read. She is a swimmer, setting records in the butterfly, making the American team for the London Olympics, and coping with agents and commercial opportunities. He is her boyfriend and fellow sleuth. They are 15 years old. There is action in the pool as well as in the pressroom. The plot includes tension about international racing, record times, the role of physical beauty in commercial success, and recognizing who reaps the profits. The young swimmer’s father is tempted by the riches offered and misses some danger signals, so she needs to think for herself. The youngsters have great freedom of action (”Your track record tells me you know when something is up and that you’re trying to do the right thing.” Says one newly met grown-up.)

I am glad to see this is in the library collection along with two others in the series.  Find this title on the shelf in the Downtown Public Library.


SomethingHold coverSomething to Hold written by Katherine Schlick Noe

Ms. Noe has crafted an excellent middle grade, historical novel with direct application to life today. Kitty is eleven when she moves to a new town and starts at a new school in Warm Springs, Oregon in 1962. She faces expected challenges of making friends, learning about unfairness, and growing up. There are also issues rising from the fact that she is a stranger on the reservation. Kitty, her family and the schoolteachers are white while most of her classmates are from the Warm Strings, Wasco or Paiute tribes. What stands out is the courage of the young women—Kitty and Pinkie. The teachers are not the heroes, but the parents and a tribal policeman are strong. Kitty learns to trust herself as she gets to know a classmate. The author handles prejudices and differences sensitively. This is an enjoyable story that can start valuable discussions.



Tiger Lily written by Jodi Lynn Anderson  TigerLily cover

I loved this book. It is a different story of the people and events of Neverland that we have ingrained in our brains by Disney but told through the eyes of the fairy Tinkerbell. There are more people than the ones we recognize but everyone is more real and not so imagined. Captain Hook is scrawny, unstable and frightened. Peter is a confused, insecure teenager who has to be always braver, stranger and smarter than everyone. Wendy is self-centered and prissy. The author adds some interesting additional characters like Tiger Lily’s cross-dressing shaman father and the Christian Phillip who is found dying on the beach. Several new members of Tiger Lily’s tribe are added who create side stories.

Most of the significant events from the original peter Pan story also happen but are set up or explained differently. The mermaids are really nasty and Tiger Lily is responsible for the clock in the crocodile’s stomach. I was amazed and very happy that the author could bring the story to a satisfactory ending without disappointing me.

Find it on the shelf in the Downtown Public Library.


Touched coverTouched written by Cyn Balog

A very unusual story which exemplifies the expression “be careful what you wish for.”

When Nick Cross’ mother was pregnant with him she paid a fortune teller to give her the ability to know the future. So both she and her unborn son were cursed with this ability. Therefore his brain is constantly giving him messages like, “You will open the door. You will walk down the steps.” And then sometimes he gets flashes of himself married to a Las Vegas stripper. He tries to be as normal as possible but his mother stays in her bedroom moaning while watching the same videos over and over. Nick’s grandmother – Nan – has kept things running all this time.

Then Nick meets Taryn and begins to go “off script.” She is beautiful and sweet and kind and when he holds her hand, his brain is quiet. At first she says she must stay away from him because he is “touched.” But then he discovers that Taryn’s grandmother is the “fortune teller” who gave his mother this “gift.” Because Nick goes “off script” and doesn’t replace the drunken life guard as he should, a little girl drowns which starts a chain of events that lead to the death of Nick, his mother, and his grandmother.

After Taryn is killed in a freak auto accident I became very discouraged because I couldn’t believe the author could fix this but she does in a most remarkable way – let’s call it “the then I woke up” syndrome. This writer really had me hooked. I could not stop reading until the end.


Ungifted coverUngifted written by Gordon Korman

Mr. Korman has produced another quirky, humorous school days novel. The setup is that Donovan (a regular kid, but rather poor student and general cut-up) is assigned to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction. The reaction of the boy, his classmates and teachers and his parents provides the rollicking action as Donovan struggles in class, to add personal flavor to robotics, to help his classmates avoid summer school, and to set up a school dance which involves his previous school and the Academy.

As usual from Mr. Korman, this is a good read. The characters are reasonable though the complications multiply. Donovan has the wit to see the advantages offered students at the modern Academy, the sense to see that the kids are still kids, the grace to laugh at his own predicaments and the ability to inspire action from his new friends to help him. There is a fully satisfactory conclusion and Donovan has more knowledge while recognizing his impulsivity.


What’s Left of Me written by Kat Zhang  What's Left cover

Eva and Addie are two souls sharing one body: hybrids who didn’t “settle” when they should have at an early age. Eva has hung on, even though she is now weak and can no longer control “their” body. It is highly dangerous to be a hybrid. The government will send them away if they are discovered. And discovered they are. The action and the intensity increase dramatically as the “girls” are sent to a high security hospital where horrible experimental surgeries are being performed on hybrid children.

Zhang’s first novel and the first in a series (The Hybrid Chronicles) grabs the imagination and holds the attention easily. As conflict rises and Eva steps up and becomes stronger and more dominant, Zhang explores emotion and the human heart in a way that crosses the boundaries of fiction into our own hearts.

Although not without flaws (the actions of some of the characters seem to function as plot “movers” versus feeling realistic) this is a good read. I am happy to say that even though it is the first in a series, it is a stand-alone book—completely satisfying on its own.


Yesterday coverYesterday written by c.k. kelly martin

This dystopian story is well done in many ways. We begin by meeting Freya, a 15 year-old in 1985, who has recently lost her father and moved in with her mother and sister from New Zealand back to Toronto. It is immediately evident, though, that something beyond grief is impacting Freya’s sense of well-being. The first two-thirds of the book keep us guessing at what that something might be but we quickly join Freya in a struggle to piece together the clues. Why does she feel so distant from her grandfather and her younger sister? Why does her head hurt all of the time? What are these flashes she keeps getting that show her what is about to happen? Who is that boy she encounters in the street whom she is absolutely certain she knows but has no idea of how?

The writing weakens for a while until Freya finally, with the help of a hypnotist, figures out the puzzle. She knows why she is being chased. She knows that she is really from the year 2063 and that the earth and society are in very bad shape. The problem is that all of this information is dumped into one chapter that reads more like backstory than part of the novel. While the information is absolutely necessary to the story, it seems like this is not the best technique for sharing it. When we get back to the plot, however, the remainder of the story flies by in a blur of action and tension.

One reaction to this book could be, oh just another futuristic, time travel, dystopian story…Yawn. But the story lingers long after the last page is turned and the view of society in 1985 and the lack of understanding of where the environment is headed is frighteningly real. The story is engaging and, in the end, hopeful because of the human heart and the need for connection perseveres.


Find it on the shelves in Douglas and the Mendenhall Valley Public Libraries.