Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Tequila Worm, Belpre winner 2005

I expected a book for a much older audience based on the title and cover, but wow...this was a squeaky clean read!

We enter into Sofia's life in the barrio of border town McAllen Texas. (I had actually heard of McAllen because the library there seems to be perpetually hiring!)We are taken through her youth with her mom, dad, sister Lucy and best friend cousin Berta. Clara starts off being the storyteller of the bunch, and letting each family member know who they resemble (inside and out) as well as where they came from.

Sofia feels a bit like an outsider in her own barrio. She is not content with the idea of a quinceanera, or comfortable with the whole idea of the day of the dead. She wants to be the best at school, and after a racist incident and on the advice of a teacher, she does just that. She studies and studies until she is the recipient of a scholarship to an elite boarding school (ah here's my theme again!) in Austin. But will Sofia's family let her go? Will Sofia want to go when the time comes. Will she ever learn what it means to be a comadre?

The non-Mexican or non Mexican American reader is in for quite a treat. Author Viola Canales has let us into Sofia's household to get a crash course in Mexican tradition, cuisine and culture. And not just the activities themselves, but also the meanings and reasons behind them. From the ritualistic cleaning of the beans with her father, to the making of Easter cascarones, the reader is fully immersed.

What I like as well, is the fact that unlike other books containing Spanish, there is no glossary. I like that I feel like I should know what these terms mean, and if I can't get it from the context, I can always look it up.

looking for alaska, john green

So of course, after ALA's lists came out, I had to get a pile of books to read. I do feel like I fell behind on my YA reading since I've had my last little one, and now I think is the time to catch up.

I had heard so much about this title, and kept almost buying it on, but I finally got it from the library on Friday and finished it off this morning.

Miles "Pudge" Halter is off to boarding school in Alabama. Once there he hooks up with scholarship student and roomie Chip (the Colonel) and his friend Alaska. On his first night, Pudge is a victim of the traditional hazing activity of being thrown in the lake...but with a twist. Kevin and his boys duct tape Pudge before throwing him in as a piece of revenge for a prior "ratting out". This is what Pudge is about to learn. Loyalty. No matter the cost.

Alaska quickly becomes the unattainable object of Pudge's affections. Alaska is wild, smart and utterly self destructive. She is destined to burn out rather than fade away.

There are pieces of the plot that I won't reveal here, as I hate when reviewers and other mere mortals ruin a book for me. But I do have to say that there is a mystery within that is pretty easily figured out. That said, I don't think it takes too much away from the story if the reader figures it out.

I do think that the characters are uber aware for teenagers...that same criticism that my beloved Dawson's Creek used to get. Specifically a frank discussion about fellatio involving the 2 participants and a demonstrator seems incredibly unrealistic. But, hey....this is fiction, right? And Printz worthy fiction at that!(fyi Printz winner 2005)

I do love the boarding school setting. I would have LOVED to have been sent to boarding school and been released from my hometown prior to turning 18. Mind you, from the fiction (The Chocolate War, Rebel Angels, Catcher in the Rye, and Capt. Hook I should be a bit scared, but hey, there's always Hogwarts!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Dreamwalker's Child

This was a title that I read to review for VOYA. So you can read my review there! Ha.

I didn't like the title, or the cover, but the story itself was very fun. Creepy information about insects, parallel worlds and great lead characters. If you have a reader who likes adventure, I would definately recommend it!

Love, Ruby Lavender

Ruby Lavender is awfully tied to her grandma, Miss Eula, and is beside herself when Miss Eula announces that she is off to Hawaii to visit with her new grandbaby. Ruby doesn't know what she will do without Miss Eula's letters in the tree stump, and her faithful companionship. Miss Eula always knows what to say about that mean old Melba Jane, and has a way of providing quiet comfort when Ruby needs it most.

Bit by bit we find out about the tragic accident which forces Ruby to take the long way into town...the way that doesn't involve crossing the bridge.

Through letters to Miss Eula and a newly forged friendship with aspiring anthropologist Dove, Ruby reveals her heart and even allows it to soften a little.

This was a yummy read that was of course inspired by each little bird that sings. I tend to take away sayings from books and people. Lemony Snicket brought on "cake sniffer", my friend Jen brought on "Oh my stars and garters!", and now Ms. Wiles has added "Good garden of peas!" to my vocabulary. People around NYC think I'm a bit strange, but aren't conversations so much more colourful with good old fashioned expressions?

Newbery, Printz, etc.

So. I watched the webcast this morning of the ALA's Youth Media awards.

I had a feeling that Looking for Alaska would win for Printz, but alas...not even a Newbery Honour for Penderwicks! Was it too safe? Too like Alcott? Too clean? I am interested in seeing the Top 10 from BBYA and QP.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Teacher's Funeral

I had been wanting to read this title for a while now, and I am glad that I did! Countrified, fun and old-fashioned-sweet.

Russell is 15 and STILL in the 8th grade. He is mighty pleased when he finds that old Miss Myrt has up and died, right before school is set to start. She is an old fashioned teacher who whups kids for the slightest infractions. Russell and brother Lloyd are hoping that without a teacher, the little one room school house of Hominy Ridge will be shut down.

Imagine his horror when big sister Tansy is groomed for the job of teacher. Russell now hopes that the 7 students will lead to the school being closed (there's a mandatory roster of 8). But then Glenn Tarbox, who is too old for school and from the trashy Tarbox family to boot, shows up for "larnin' ".

This is a sweet family story filled with turn of the century rural Indiana life. Part adventure, part coming of age, The Teacher's Funeral has one of the most satisfying endings I have read in a loooooong time.

Thank you Richard Peck!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Harry Sue

Ok. The yellow covered arc of this book sat on my bedside table for close to a year. I had no idea what the book was about. I hated the title. Jen had given it to me and told me it was more my age range. I didn't pick it up until some banter on yalsa-bk let on that a couple people favoured it for Newbery. While I still think that Penderwicks is going to run away with it, I am very glad to have read Harry Sue.

This is a book of characters. Wild characters, ripped from the headlines and then tossed together into a school, family and neighbourhood. Harry Sue is left to live with "Granny", after a fight at home caused her father to literally throw her out the window...from the seventh story. Mom got busted leaving her meth lab on the coffee table when police came to investigate. Granny runs the daycare "Granny's Lap", and in her mind Harry Sue is just a kid who is taking up space that someone would pay for. Granny is Roald Dahl-esque in her evilness, and as an adult reader I found myself appalled at her actions.

Harry Sue's best friend is Christopher...whom she calls Homer Price due to his inventing abilities. Homer took a swan dive off the bridge in town and managed to break his neck.

Harry Sue is doing her best to groom herself into a criminal. She figures that is the only way she will ever get to find her mom. Homer is doing his own time...up in his tree house, willing leaves to fall.

Enter substitute teacher Baba, physiotherapist J-Cat, Hammerhead and the other crumbsnatchers, and there is quite a story.

Harry Sue herself is quite taken with the story The Wizard of Oz, and although she has the author's name incorrect, she finds many bridges between the story and her own life. By making Baum's first name Louise, Harry Sue feels an affinity that allows her not to seem so lost, and indeed makes her seem much more wise than her years.

I think that this is a deceptively young story. Drugs, abuse, accidents, and racism all dealt with in this story. Author Sue Stauffacher thanks the kids of incarcerated parents at the end and I wonder how this story will touch them. What it's done for me is made me want to read The Wizard of Oz for the first time. It doesn't seem like the movie did it justice!