Saturday, January 18, 2014

Teen review: Magical realism

Despite the short 292 pages, Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a powerful high school level novel. I would rate this a 5/5, but if I could, I would undeniably give it a 10!

The night before her birthday, Rose finds that she has another sense. She can taste feelings in food. Digging into her delicious birthday cake a night early, she almost chokes on it as she learns that her mother is a deeply depressed woman and poor nine-year-old Rose is overwhelmed by the anguish contained in the piece of cake. Rose soon cannot eat anything without tasting the emotions of the person who made it. Since her first taste of the new sense, she finds no food appealing to her anymore, especially her mother's.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake gave me many new insights on the ways of food that would never have occurred to me before reading this. Chefs and bakers do what they love because they feel passionately about it, just as others follow their own dreams. They pour out their emotions into the food or dessert they are making for someone to enjoy, just as an author would clear his or her mind by writing. Cooking is a beautiful type of artwork that can overwhelm your thoughts if you really pay attention. Desserts should provide you with a familiar warmth and give you a recognition of home. Instead, they fill Rose with despair. She observes that emotions are based on each food and each person making it, which one can get while eating it. When someone makes a meal, it is the foundation of what is going on inside that person, such as guilt, uncertainty, care, eagerness, or anxiety.

Some of the book was a little confusing: Bender occasionally jumps around and it is somewhat hard to follow. But it is easy to understand if you take the time to go back a few sentences and read it again. No one can go wrong with this stupendous novel, because it gives you a sense of realization that almost nothing else can. The thought-provoking elegance is irresistible, and I could not put it down for hours.

Somehow, this book got me thinking not just about food (I was getting quite hungry while reading), smell, and memory, but of myself and how I have been shaped because of my choices, dreams and of course, the senses. However, there was one particular question I introduced to myself in the first few chapters that kept coming back to me throughout the story: When Rose's mother pours her depression and bad feelings into the food she makes for her family, it should be letting some of the strong emotions out to make her feel better, so why is she so full of love and passion and yet she is internally struggling? The answer to that came to me eventually. The best people in the world who care the most are generally (and unfortunately) the saddest people. Nothing can compare to the brilliance woven into each chapter, each sentence, and even each word.

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, 9th grade

Editor's note: This book won the Alex Award in 2011--Alex books are written for adults but are judged to have particular appeal for teens.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book Club Report for January

Last Tuesday night's meeting of the 10-12 Book Club was a lively one (of course, when are they not?). Our book was the Alex award-winner The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, about a girl who has aged out of the foster system. She has no skills, she has no friends, and soon she is homeless; but her knowledge of the Victorian meaning of flowers gets her a job with a florist and a chance at a new life, which she manages to sabotage at every turn. This book was the most variably rated of any we have read, garnering two nines out of 10 and going all the way down to twos, finally averaging a 5.75 among the 16 members present. For next month, we are reading Holly Goldberg Sloan's book I'll Be There, in anticipation of her author visit on March 6, and for March we are reading I Am the Messenger, by Marcus Zusak.

Tuesday night’s 6+7 Book Club was surprising: We read The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, and while the imagery and writing were good, the story took so long to get started and was so disjointed that Anarda and I feared the club members would all be upset we had recommended the book (which we did based on rave reviews and enthusiastic author blurbs rather than from personal knowledge). But about half of the club really enjoyed it, enough so that they would go on to read the sequel, and while the other half wasn’t crazy about it, it was more on the order of “meh” than “I hated it!” Whew! With 16 of us in attendance, the rating for the book was a respectable 7.4. Next month the club is reading Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, before her author visit on February 5, and the month after that it’s Bad Girls Don’t Die, by Katie Alender.

On Wednesday, the 8+9 Book Club dissected Break My Heart 1,000 Times, by Daniel Waters. They liked the ghosts, and the creepy villain, were impatient with the protagonist, and wanted more information about “the Event” (as did Anarda and I!). Again, it was a split group, although the positive reviews far outweighed the negative ones, and with 16 voting, the book received a relatively high rating of 8.25. Next month this club is also reading Shadow and Bone, and the following month we’re looking forward to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Teen review: Realistic fiction

Katie Cotugno's How to Love is a young adult novel based on an intellectual but naïve girl named Reena. Once she loses her best and only friend, her already good school grades become even better and she is permitted to graduate high school a year early and attend her dream college at just age 16.

However: her father's godson (and dead best friend's old boyfriend) keeps coming into her life and distracting her from her dreams. Once she finds out about the inevitable consequences of being careless with a boy, he's gone and probably won't come back. Eighteen years old, already with her precious baby, Hannah, she abruptly finds he's back in town and is causing tumult in her settled emotions.

Each chapter alternates between before and after, and I could not help but think of John Green's Looking for Alaska because of how it is split almost the same way. This was the reason I was originally drawn to the book, because it intrigued me in the same way. This particular story, in spite of the few similarities to one of my favorites, did not live up to what I thought it would be. It was lacking thematically, and Reena's irrational actions made me dislike her character motivation. Her brilliance is lost throughout the story as her imprudent behavior changes who she really is. I believe after what Reena has been through, she deserves more of a character development than she was given by Cotugno. I could not get into the story and I found it difficult to continue reading all 389 pages.

Despite the bothersome traits to the story, I would give it a 3/5 and might recommend the story to anyone who is willing to ignore that for the well written story and acceptably organized plot.

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda

Editor's note: A book with a similar theme is Pregnant Pause, by Han Nolan

Monday, January 13, 2014

Teen Review: Angel in My Pocket

Angel in my Pocket, by Ilene Cooper, is a 278-page middle/ high school-level read that has earned a 5/5 in my eyes.

Angel in my Pocket opens up from the point of view of a 12-year-old girl named Bette, who is struggling to let go of her past and attempt to move on from the death of her mother. She gives up her wondrous talent of singing even though she goes to a performing arts school. When her older sister, Barbra, gives her a coin resembling a quarter with an angel on it, and an enigmatic new neighbor moves into the apartment below hers, her life miraculously begins to be positively altered by the choices the angel coin influences her to make. When passed on, the coin brings auspiciousness and positive changes to the lives of others in need around Bette.

After reading and falling in love with the plot and characters after just one chapter, I was inseparable from the book. I felt as if I personally knew some of the young characters we follow as they change for the better. Cooper has written sensational universal characters that can not only be learned from, but can be thought of as role models for anyone who needs their own change.

One specific boy in the story, Andy Minkus, got me wondering about the people in my own life who do not make it obvious that they don’t have as nice of a life. His actions, despite how he was treated, led him to be an admirable character that many people could learn from. I suddenly began to think of what we could do to help change that for them. What if we are peoples' angels who help guide them to better lives?

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda