Monday, March 31, 2008
Finally, my copy of Jenny Downham's "Before I Die" came in last week. Our copy just cannot stay on the shelf! For a popular title, "Before I Die," deals with some heavy stuff. Our narrator Tessa is a British teen who's been living with leukemia since she was twelve. She's recently received news from her doctor that it's no longer responding to treatment. Our narrator Tessa is going to die. But Tessa doesn't give up on living just yet, definitely not. She makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies- things like sex, breaking the law, and getting her divorced parents back together. But things happen that were never on her list - like falling in love, and her best friend Zoey becoming pregnant.
It should come as no surprise that this is, towards the end, a terribly sad book. But it's also hopeful. Tessa is mad and frustrated at times, but she's not willing to go out with a whimper. She stands up for the things she wants, the things she would get to have if given the chance to live a full, 75+ year life. This librarian was absolutely sobbing at the end of this phenomenal book.
* * * * * (five stars)
Recommended to high schoolers who are okay with crying while reading
Monday, March 24, 2008
This weekend, I read Australian author Judith Clarke's adorable book "One Whole and Perfect Day." Adorable? Hmm... Sixteen year old Lily would like for things to work out, just once, in her crazy life, with her crazy family. All she wants is, well, "one whole and perfect day." Her mom's so busy working all the time that Lily is stuck taking care of all things household; her 22 year old brother Lonnie can barely get his act together and has moved out of the house; her dad left before even getting a chance to meet her; her grandmother talks to her imaginary friend; her grandfather is at odds with Lonnie; oh, and she doesn't have a boyfriend! No wonder she just wants one perfect day.
The author does an amazing job of weaving in and out of the different character's lives, much in the way that adult fiction author Anne Tyler so skillfully does so. The characters are endearingly complicated and you just can't help rooting for each and every one of them. This is a "feel good book," but not at all in that cliche way. It's filled with delightful surprises at the end that will keep you smiling hours after finishing it.
Will Lily finally get that one perfect day? Read "One Whole and Perfect Day," by Judith Clarke, to find out.
* * * * * (five stars)
Recommended for anyone who likes books that brighten your day or enjoys reading interconnected stories.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Blake Nelson's book "Paranoid Park" has been adapted for film by Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting"). The movie opened a few weekends ago to decent reviews. Unfortunately, it is rated R and currently only playing at one theatre in the Chicago area, Landmark Century Centre on the north side. Still, you might want to check out the book.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Okay, I'll admit that the Printz winner and honor books this year weren't really on my radar until the awards were announced, but if my reaction to the first book is any indication, wow, the Printz committee picked some fascinating books. "The White Darkness" is probably not the best book to read when you are in the Chicago area whining about how cold it is, since the book is set in Antarctica. Or maybe that makes it the perfect read.
Sym is a fourteen year old British girl who is definitely the odd one out in her group of friends. They enjoy gossiping about boys and reading teen magazines; Sym likes talking to a famous dead explorer, Titus Oates, in her head. If that premise makes you decide that the book is not for you, think again. Sym is just your regular eccentric underdog. It's just that the quirks I chose to tell you first, her defining quirks, are rather particular. She's also painfully shy. The one thing that seems to make her feel good is hanging out with her uncle, who has the same passion for Antarctic explorers, of which Titus Oates is among the most famous. He and his crew died trying to reach the South Pole.
Anyway, so when her uncle whisks her away to Paris for a weekend, Sym is totally stoked! And when he tells her that they might be heading "down south" for a few weeks, she's even more excited. Then she learns he's taking her to Antarctica. Within a few days, there she is, in Antarctica, one of the coldest, most barren and beautiful places in the world. They are there with a small group of adventure vacationers, aka rich people who wanted to see Antarctica. Things are going fine, until everyone gets sick. Everyone except for Sym and her uncle. Soon after, it becomes clear to Sym that her uncle had quite another mission in mind, one that will take them to the places Oates once saw, before he, along with his colleagues, perished.
"The White Darkness" is a riveting adventure tale that will have you shivering and convinced you are right beside Sym and the man in her head, Titus Oates, stuck in Antarctica with a crazy man. It's a small, thick book, but if you're a voracious reader, you'll get through it in no time. I started reading Sunday night, and finished it Monday afternoon. (And I worked all day Monday!) But this book is also more than an adventure tale, it's a test of character, a thriller, a peek into a weirdo's mind, and a brilliant read from start to finish.
* * * * *
Recommended to: adventure readers, anyone who likes literary fiction, and rooting for the underdog. Grades 8 and up.