Saturday, April 19, 2014

What we're reading: Noggin

We so enjoyed our visit from John Corey Whaley, the Printz Award-winner for Where Things Come Back, and author of the new book Noggin! What a fun, accessible guy!

His new book sounded like a hoot, and I couldn't wait to read it. It's a bizarre combination of science fiction and coming of age: Travis Coates, 16, is dying of leukemia. He has a last strange alternative to death, which is to choose to be decapitated (!) and have his head cryogenically frozen until science catches up and he can live again by having his head attached to a donor body. (Yes, the book does take place in the future, but not noticeably so--not far enough in the future to significantly impact technology or lifestyle.) So Travis and his friends and family figure it's going to be at least 15-20 years before this happens (if ever--let's be realistic about his chances here), but surprise! it becomes possible in five years--a donor body (a guy in great health except for his terminal brain tumor) becomes available, the operation is done, and wham! Travis is back.

The problem is, Travis feels like he's just been down for a short nap, while for everyone else who was in his life, he was effectively dead, and they have grieved and moved on. The biggest problem for Travis is that while he remains 16, his girlfriend is now 21, and engaged to someone else!

So this is the part of the book where it becomes much more about an ordinary teen with ordinary problems--friend problems, family problems, girl problems. Yes, everything is impacted by Travis coming back from the dead, but mostly it's about a teenage boy, trying to adjust to his world and figure out his life. Not so different from any other teen (except for the scar around his neck).

I really enjoyed this book. As a sci fi geek, I admit I would have liked more of the science to be present (for instance, I wanted more than the little hints about muscle memory on the part of the body), but I recognize and respect Corey's reasons for not going there (he said he wanted it to be more about the human relationships and less about the science), and I think he pulled off a really good tale. The humor is a great counterpoint to dealing with several serious subjects (death, relationships, choosing your future), and Travis's journey is unexpectedly real, considering his back story. The book was fun, entertaining, thought-provoking, emotionally evocative, and well-written. And no chance for a "head" joke (including the title) was left unexploited. Good job, Corey!

By the way, you teens who also bought the book, we'd love to hear what you thought of it!

Friday, April 18, 2014


Don't forget--TODAY at 3:00, we are gathering outdoors on the OLIVE side of the Central Library, to make CHALK ART on the sidewalks, with artist Bianca Ornelas! If you have not signed up, there is still some room, so take a chance and come by. If you have something specific in mind that you want to put on the sidewalk and you don't want to rely on your imagination, then bring a reference photo. And...wear clothes that you don't mind getting covered in chalk!

Hope to see you this afternoon!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Teen Review: More realistic fiction

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is a 198-page realistic fiction novel with a middle to high school age reading level. I thought it began to go off topic occasionally, so I would rate this 4/5. Once one has read the book, the cover shows a recognizable tree in front of a young girl named Melinda, whom the story follows. There is no sequel to Speak, but the story ends with an unpredictable and conclusive epilogue.

Melinda is a young high school freshman who suffers from the trauma of her recent past. Over summer vacation, after her 8th grade graduation, she went to a party with her friends, and her entire life changed in just ten minutes. Something happened that would scar her memory for life. Not even halfway through the party, she believed that her life was over and she lost all of her friends. In Melinda's flashbacks, the reader can just imagine being in her place as events transpire. With no one around for help, one can feel Melinda giving up on everything. Once school starts in the fall, she must learn to get through high school trying to find her place and fit it, but she cannot reveal the deplorable secret to her old friends that has been eating at her for months.

With such a realistic character, I love the way Anderson creates a scene that can happen any day in any normal high school environment. Melinda was created to portray a young girl whose life has been stolen in a way that she can still get back but struggles to, and stories like that are less common now. Speak shows the proper character development of a teenager and how she becomes herself again after hurling her old self out of a window to be buried in the dirt of a garden full of weeds. It proves that anyone can find themselves if they've forgotten who they truly are. Many young people now need this influence because they are being hurt in ways that no one, especially not a child or teenager, should ever be hurt. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever been lost and is looking for a way back home.

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, 9th grade

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Teen review: HG again

I have just read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. It was a very interesting and fun book at about 374 pages. It is a science fiction book, so it proves to contain an interesting plot. I would recommend this book to people grades 6 and up because of some of its violence and mature content.

The book is about how the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is living in a place that was once North America called Panem. Panem is divided into twelve districts, each having a different role in supporting Panem’s economy. The people of Panem’s districts once attempted to revolt against their oppressive government stationed in the rich, poshy city called the Capital. The districts failed, angering the Capital. As punishment, each of the districts must give one boy and one girl to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death in a massive arena that replicates certain climates. Katniss is chosen in a random selection called the reaping, and now she must show her worth in the arena or die trying.

I really liked this book overall, and would recommend it to all my peers. The author does a great job of describing Katniss’ whole situation, putting you right in her position. You could almost feel her anger, sorrow, and happiness throughout the book. The scenery is also vividly described in each of the different places we encounter in the book. From District 12 to the arena, you will be able to picture any scene from the book after reading it. Due to the unique plot, the story proves to be a page turner sure to keep you up at night. I had to force myself to put it down after hours of straight reading. The plot takes some unpredictable turns throughout the book, so you won’t be reading a cliché happy ending book.

In conclusion, the Hunger Games is a page-turning descriptive book sure to fulfill your reading needs for weeks. This book is one of my favorite books of all time, so I encourage you to read it. I give this book a 5/5 rating.

Reviewed by DS, grade 8

Editor's note: The library has, of course, the two sequels, plus all three books as sound recordings, plus the two DVDs. I imagine that, given his favorable rating, this reviewer will keep going through the rest of the series!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teen Review: Realistic fiction

The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd
Fiction, Coming-of-age novel
302 pages
High school reading level

Reviewed by
Katelyn Harms, 8th grade

The Secret Life of Bees is Sue Monk Kidd's first novel. Set in the summer of 1964, this coming-of-age novel features Lily Owens, a motherless 14-year-old girl whose entire life was set around a memory of unintentionally killing her mother when she was a small child. Overwhelmed with the need to know about her mother and escape the father who never forgave her, she left Sylvan, South Carolina. Arriving with her black stand-in mother in the small town of Tiburon, South Carolina, she learned just what she didn't want to know about her mother. But, she managed to find herself.

This is a fantastic rendition of a young girl's journey to find a mother. Sue Monk Kidd's voice brings an astonishing amount of realism to this beautiful story. This book contains more sorrow and pain than anyone can bear to hold, but it also brings a fierce kind of happiness that will stick with the reader through thick and thin. Kidd's passion gleams persistently throughout the piece, and each reader finishes the book with a glimmer of her strong persona.

This has to be one of the best books I've ever read. I find myself reluctant to share it with anybody else because of the impact it has made on me. Although if you're to read any book, The Secret Life of Bees is the best option you'll find. I would rate this book a 5/5. Sue Monk Kidd is a splendid Southern voice, one you won't be able to find anywhere else. I know I'll be reading other books of hers; I've already started on The Invention of Wings. This novel will impact readers young and old. I know, without a doubt, that you'll enjoy it.

Editor's note: We have both of these books as sound recordings (audio books), and the DVD of the movie made from The Secret Life of Bees. Katelyn, we hope you will review The Invention of Wings for us when you have finished it!

Monday, April 14, 2014

What we're reading: A new series

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

What happens when cunning strategy encounters unexpected sympathy from the wrong side of conquest? In this novel of intrigue and forbidden love, Kestrel--a young noblewoman of the Valorian empire--buys a native slave at auction in the conquered kingdom of the Herrani, despite misgivings. She shouldn’t have been at the slave market in the first place, and her wealthy household doesn't need another slave. And yet the auctioneer has made the young man (a blacksmith) sound attractive, since her powerfully placed father needs his own smith to serve his personal guard. And the slave himself stirs her pity with his refusal to sing at the auctioneer’s behest–to sing?! Kestrel herself is a talented pianist, an oddity amongst a group of aristocrats who value only the accomplishments of fighting prowess in both sexes. She impulsively bids for the young smith, and when she finally wins him, she is told by a bystander that she has earned “the winner’s curse,”--winning an auctioned item but only by spending too much for it. And it doesn’t take long for the reader and Kestrel to understand how steep the slave’s price really is.

This is a fine story for those who enjoy seeing the play of sharp minds and sympathetic hearts meet, engage, withdraw, and engage again. We are not in the realm of non-stop action, or heroines who enjoy nothing more than beating up the requisite heartthrob and/or his rival for her affections. Actually, there is such a scene, but Kestrel is a reluctant fighter, knowing full well she doesn’t have the skill or the thrilling heart of a warrior. What Kestrel has is sympathy for others (including the enslaved people of the Herrani kingdom where she lives with her General father), an unusual appreciation for “civilized” culture, and a highly strategic mind that her father admires. Soon she will have to choose a career--either marriage or soldiering--in all probability having to leave her beloved music reluctantly behind. And then Arin, the blacksmith, begins to insinuate himself into her mind. Why had she bought him? She is praised for his purchase, he is a fine smithy, but to where are the weapons he is forging disappearing? Are they really vanishing into the estate manager’s pockets as profits from their illegal sale on the black market? And why is she having Arin leave his blacksmith duties to escort her to her friends’ houses, to their parties, to her trips to the market? Why does she find it comfortable to talk to him, but disagreeable to hear the compliments of her male peers? Whatever made her play the piano for him, and play a piece of music that he chooses? And why did he tell her his real name? Can a master truly befriend a slave?

The build-up of this first book of a trilogy is slow but steady, and the world-building is far less (delightfully) descriptive than it was in the author’s earlier trilogy, The Kronos Chronicles. We learn a few things about Kestrel’s society: blond invaders bent on conquest, with a “barbaric” culture that extolls battle and domination and ever-expanding borders; and a little of Arin’s now-subsumed Herrani people, with their love of learning and the arts turned into entertainments performed by slaves for the enjoyment of the conquerors. Maybe that’s enough--for now. Crossed and double-crossed, it is the glancing interplay between these two accidental friends that furnishes the push in this story, young trapped people who will find their paths entangled and very painful to trod before this book is finished. I anticipate more anguish and intrigue for them and those they care about before the trilogy is finished, and I look forward to reading every page to come.

My rating: 4

Reviewed by Anarda