Sunday, May 26, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #15

I was finally able to get my hands on some of the graphic novels on the list, so I made good progress through several titles this week. Yay! Even though we're getting close to the end, I'm not giving up on reading all 85 by the end of June.

 Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright

I had mixed feelings about Carlos and about this book. I wanted to love it.

Carlos Durante is an openly gay teen who dreams of a career as a makeup artist. He's fabulous and he knows it. While I loved his self-confidence, I didn't like the way he treated his friends. A job at the FeatureFace makeup counter at Macy's sets him on the path to achieving his dreams. Distracting him from stardom is his crush on a classmate who may or may not return his feelings, his sister's abusive boyfriend, and his mom's unexpected unemployment.

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Callie is a 7th grade drama geek who loves nothing more than staging a show. She's an important member of the backstage crew and she does whatever it takes to make her set an integral part of the show. She's also crushing on a close friend who treats her like one of the guys. When twin brothers, Jesse and Justin, get involved in the school play, the drama (both on and off the stage) goes through to roof. My favorite thing about this book is the portrayal of gay characters as normal teens finding their place in life, just like everybody else. Their gayness was one part of them, but not the only, or even the most important part. 

The Silence of our Friends by Mark Long

Based on real-life events, this graphic novel is set in Houston during the late 1960s. The author's father, Jack, is the white reporter who befriends a black professor.

Jack is covering civil rights protests in the city. Larry Thompson, a professor at TSU who organized the protests, first talks to Jack because he is the only reporter to show up. The two form an unexpected friendship. When a peaceful sit-in erupts in violence, a police officer is killed and hundreds of students are arrested. Five students are put on trial for murder. Jack's actions during the protest make Larry doubt his friendship, but Jack has a chance to redeem himself during the trial of the "TSU Five."

The artwork and the story flow together perfectly. Definitely recommended for a classroom library.

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay, Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Todd Mitchell, Alisa Kwitney, and Bill Willingham

When an injured angel falls in the forest, a group of other mythical creatures sets out to decide whether they should kill him, help him, or leave him alone. Each creature tells his or her story about who this mysterious angel might be and a faun will listen to the stories and decide the angel's fate.

The artwork is absolutely stunning and fans of the graphic novel genre should pick it up for that alone. As often happens with short story collections, the individual stories are uneven and don't all live up to the promise of the artwork. Maybe this is nitpicky, but I did wish as I was reading that the fonts had been clearer. Stylized, backwards lettering was distracting and made it hard for me to follow in some places.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Most of us can relate to the experience of knowing a "weird" kid in high school, that kid who looked or acted differently from other kids and just didn't fit in. That kid who we lost touch with after high school and who never really crossed our minds again. Backderf tells the story of his acquaintance (I hesitate to call it a friendship, despite the book's title) with Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. As a clueless kid, Derf didn't take the warning signs all that seriously, even when he noticed them. The adults in Jeffrey's life didn't either.

This memoir tells about Jeffrey Dahmer's life leading up to his first murder, and isn't especially gruesome, graphic, or illuminating. I was intrigued by the book's premise, but in the end, it wasn't my cup of tea. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #14

Since I've been stressed out with all of my end-of-the-school-year paperwork, I've spent most of my waking (not at work) moments visiting with Jim Dale and Harry Potter. I listened to the first six books this week and started on the last this morning. I squeezed in one Challenge book and one book club selection this week, in the spaces between Potter books.

The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

Told in verse, the voices of the passengers and crew of the Titanic come to vivid life. Immigrants and millionaires board the Titanic with hopes and dreams and stories to tell. This is meticulously researched historical fiction is a must read for those fascinated with the story of this doomed ship. The author provides an extensive list of additional resources for those who are interested in learning more.


The Lottery by Patricia Wood

Perry L. Crandall has an IQ of 76; therefore, he's not retarded, merely slow. And the only time he ever gets angry is with people who call him retarded. Perry is a likable character and reminded me of Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon, and at times, of Forest Gump. Raised by his grandmother after being abandoned by his parents, Perry has a good heart and knows what's really important, even if he's not smart. Shortly after Gram dies, Perry wins $12 million in the lottery. Suddenly, his mom and his brothers want to be a part of his life. Luckily, Perry has some true friends who do want the best for him. 

While not entirely realistic, this was a heartwarming story that can make us all stop and think for a moment about what 
we are living for.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

If you haven't read this marvelous series, whatever are you waiting for? The storytelling is masterful and even the minor characters are so real they leap right off the pages. And if you prefer audiobooks, Jim Dale's lively reading does justice to Rowling's vivid language.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #13

It was an interesting mix of books this week. I'm choosing at random, based on what's available at the library, so this week it was guitars, serial killers, and zombies. Oh, my!

Struts and Frets by Jon Skovron

Sammy Bojar is an aspiring musician who is hanging on to his dysfunctional band, hoping to win a Battle of the Bands competition. He is also coming to terms with his grandfather's advancing dementia and his attraction to his best friend, Jen5. Sammy uses music, both listening to it and writing it, to make sense of his life. His relationships all feel authentic and Sammy is a likable character with believable struggles.

A quick, entertaining read that will appeal to readers of a musical bent.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I loved, loved, loved this book. It grabbed me by the throat right away. It was oh-so-believably creepy, with well-drawn characters whose motivations were complex and interesting. I can see mature teen readers gobbling this one up.

Jazz is a teenaged boy whose father, Billy Dent, is a famous and prolific serial killer. Even though Billy is in prison, and will be until he dies, he is a pervasive presence in Jazz's life. As hard as he tries, Jazz is unable to silence his dad's voice, constantly repeating the lessons of how to be a successful killer. 

When dead bodies start piling up in Jazz's small town, he is determined to catch the killer. Thanks to his dear old dad's lessons, Jazz can slip right into the mind of the killer, much to his dismay. The cops, especially the one who put Billy Dent behind bars, aren't too keen on Jazz's input. 

Jazz is such a realistic character, with all of the normal teenaged angst, but with the added bonus of trying to stop himself from becoming the man his father has trained him to be. Jazz exhibits many sociopathic tendencies, but he is most human when he's with his wise-cracking best friend, Howie, and his take-no-shit girlfriend, Connie. Howie's hilarious comments provide plenty of comic relief, even in the midst of some pretty gory gruesomeness. Connie keeps Jazz grounded and calls him out when he starts wallowing in self-doubt. There are some well-meaning adults who try to do what's best for Jazz and he respects them, even though he doesn't agree with them. And then there's his crazy grandmother. Whoa. She's hilarious and horrifying all in one racist, wrinkly, gun-waving package. 

I dare you to read this one after dark.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Sloane Price and five other teens seek a safe haven in their high school after their small town is overrun by zombies. The zombies don't actually appear much in the novel, but their constant presence contributes to the tension. 

Once they've barricaded the doors, all that's left is to hang out and wait for rescue...or death. Sloane dwells on the fact that her older sister abandoned her to the not-so-tender mercies of their abusive father. She has given up on life and can't quite understand why the others are fighting so hard to survive. 

What do you live for when you have no one left?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

2013 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge - Update #12

I enjoyed the audio version of The Diviners so much that I listened to it again this week. Since that took many hours, it considerably slowed down my other reading and listening. I am also having a hard time sticking to the list, as other things I want to read keep cropping up! I finished one book from the official list, bringing my total for the challenge so far to 31.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

American teenager Aurora (Rory) Deveaux arrives in London to spend her last two years in high school at an English boarding school. She has a bit of trouble adjusting to cultural differences, but soon makes a couple of good friends. But when she chokes on a piece of meat at dinner and has a near-death experience, she suddenly starts seeing people that no one else seems to notice.

Meanwhile, the city of London is overtaken by "Rippermania" when a Jack the Ripper copycat killer starts murdering young women. Rory sees a suspicious man who turns out to be the prime suspect in the murders and who has made her a target. 

The story dragged at times, especially the "ghost police" sections. However, overall, I enjoyed the story, especially the ending. I will be looking forward to the next installment of Rory's adventures.