Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Popular Vote by Micol Ostow

Pages: 216
Intended Audience: Teens and mature tweens
Genre: Real life
Notes for Parents: Some mild mature themes.

The Back Cover
Citizens! Are you fed up with being the perfect, polished First Daughter of the mayor?
Sick of photo shoots and inauguration balls and the press monitoring your Facebook page?
Annoyed at your gorgeous, smug boyfriend who’s been student council president every year?
Suddenly passionate about a cause involving your high school, and not the latest brand of lip gloss?
Erin Bright is! That’s why she’s running for student council president, and finally standing up for what SHE believes in.
The hitch? Her family’s furious at her, and she may just lose all her friends in the process.
This message brought to you by the Erin Bright Campaign.

What the cover doesn’t tell you:
This was an American Library Association Popular Paperback Selection.

What’s good?
Dating the popular boy and being the perfect mayoral daughter has been all Erin has ever really cared about, until the school board decides to sell Everett Field, her favorite reading and writing spot. She takes up the cause and must risk love and friendship to save her beloved park. The plot is decent, the characters are solid, and there’s an unexpected plot twist that I didn’t see coming (although I did suspect something was up.)
Best Part: The cover.

What isn’t good?
It is so dated!! There are pop culture references to MySpace, Cameron Diaz, fax machines, Lizzie McGuire, and even Elvis Costello. We’re told Erin’s intelligent, she even has a favorite essayist, but uses immature language in her narration like “obvs,” (swoon), and “that’s so NOT the point,” then spouts profundity like “waxing all nostalgic” and “hope springs eternal” that feels out of place.
Worst part: I don’t care what she’s wearing, what type of concealer she uses, or the color of her teacher’s fingernails.

Recommendation ☺☺☻☻☻ (2/5)
Maybe you have to be a teenager to appreciate this, but the outdatedness may be too much for even the most playful of today’s teens. The narrator was likable, but the narration was tedious. It may have been a hip read 10 years ago, but has failed to pass the test of time.

Ostow, Micol. Popular Vote. New York: Point, 2008.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Pages: 317
Intended Audience: Mature teens, adults
Genre: Crime / Coming of age
Notes for Parents: Contains coarse language, under-age drinking and smoking, some violence, and some very mature themes.

The Back Cover
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime slow to surface because Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

What the cover doesn’t tell you:
Winner of The National Book Award in 2012.

What’s good?
The narrative provides an interesting perspective as 13-year-old Joe interprets the very adult world around him. Despite his age, he is intelligent and his observations are very astute. The mystery surrounding Joe’s mother’s attack is revealed slowly, painfully, as he pieces together the clues. This is a prolific story, layered with Ojibwe tradition and reservation culture, trauma, poverty, danger, and even humor. Strong supporting characters help weave a mystery that goes back years and exposes bigotry and injustice. At times, it feels like the reader is being given a glimpse into a secret society. The plot moves forward at a steady pace, intertwined with subplots and flashbacks that add a richness that only makes the ending more shocking.
Best Part: Mooshum’s story of Akii and the Star Trek: The Next Generation references.

What isn’t good?
Long paragraphs, long chapters, and no quotation marks around dialogue make this a daunting read. The vocabulary is challenging and the subject matter is mature, so the story may be inaccessible to some teens. The pace is steady, but relaxed, taking many turns away from the main story. Unfortunately, these side road stories are often much more interesting than the main mystery and I often found myself wanting to read more about the enigmatic Linda Wishkob, ex-marine Father Wozniak, or even raunchy Grandma Ignatia, rather than discover Geraldine’s secret.
Worst part: Joe’s obsession with Sonja’s breasts (although it culminates in a disturbing yet enlightening moment later on in the story).

Recommendation ☺☺☺☺☻ (4/5)

It took a few chapters before I was truly hooked on the story, but I eventually became immersed in the culture and tradition of the fascinating characters living on this North Dakota reservation. Bazil’s respect for the law despite the historic and grave injustices faced by the indigenous community is one example of the diversity and depth of the characters. The story feels solid, honest, and tangible. Recommended. 

Erdrich, Louise. The Round House. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Pages: 517
Intended Audience: Teens
Genre: Fantasy
Notes for Parents: Contains some coarse language and mature content

The Inside Cover
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to shop up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

What the cover doesn’t tell you:
The author created the character of Simon Snow in her novel Fangirl where Simon was a fictional character in a series of children’s adventure novels that were the subject of much fanfiction written by the main character, Cath. The author says the character of Simon stayed with her after writing that novel and led her to make his story a new novel.

What’s good?
Short chapters, good flow, and a strong, narrative style are highlights of this unusual fantasy adventure. There is plenty of witty dialogue and irreverent humor amidst action, suspense, romance, and even a dragon battle. While the story has magic and mystery, it’s more a story about relationships. Baz and Simon’s love-hate-tolerate relationship was fascinating to watch, and the plot relies heavily on the strength of the friendships that develop throughout the story. The ending was nice, a bit predictable, but an enjoyable conclusion.
Best Part: “Let’s kill a virgin and write a great Led Zeppelin album.” (Pg. 378)

What isn’t good?
There’s no denying the Harry Potter parallels. This, apparently, was done on purpose, but it has a strange vibe and falls very short of being a parody. The first third of the book was slow and the plot was weak and predictable. With the exception of Baz, the characters are relatively flat and the relationships, especially the romance, can get a bit awkward.
Worst part: “Worsegers – like badgers but worse.” (pg 132)

Recommendation ☺☺☺☻☻ (3/5)
I liked it, but it was silly. It’s definitely not a serious fantasy novel, and it doesn’t work as a parody either. It felt fan fiction-like before I knew it was based on fan fiction from another of her stories. Part of me thinks the title keeps this book from reaching its target audience, but I like the reference to "carry on" that it's taken from in the story. What kept me reading was the author's writing style, great dialogue, and irreverent humor.

Rowell, Rainbow. Carry On. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015. (Hardcover)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Archie, Vol. 1: The New Riverdale by Mark Waid

Pages: [176]
Intended Audience: Teens
Genre: Graphic novel
Notes for Parents: Some mature content

The Back Cover
Welcome to the new Riverdale! America’s favorite teenager, Archie Andrews, is reborn in the pages of this must-have graphic novel collecting the first six issues of the comic book series that everyone is talking about.
Meet Riverdale High teen Archie, his oddball, food-loving best friend Jughead, girl-next-door Betty and well-to-do snob Veronica Lodge as they embark on a modern re-imaging of the beloved Archie world. It’s all here: the love triangle, friendship, humor, charm and lots of fun—but with a decidedly modern twist.

What the cover doesn’t tell you:
In December 2014, Archie Comics announced that its flagship series Archie would relaunch with a new first issue in July 2015. The new series would be a modern take on the Archie characters by writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples, featuring serialized storylines. After the first three issues, Annie Wu drew an issue, followed by new regular artist Veronica Fish. The new title received IGN's "Best New Comic Series of 2015" award.
Volume One is a collection of issues #1-6. It includes bonus content including scripts, sketches, variant covers and the full first issue of the all new Jughead series by writer Chip Zdarksy and artist Erica Henderson.

What’s good?
1)    The artwork in the first three issues is awesome.
2)    The characters look and feel fresh, updated, and their backstory and relationships are dynamic.
3)    The dialogue was witty and the plot was simple and easy-to-follow.
Best Part: Jughead Jones.

What isn’t good?
1)    The artwork in the next three issues is disappointing when compared to the first three.
2)    Veronica and Archie very difficult to like.
3)    The story was juvenile, boring, and quite cheesy.
Worst part: Veronica Lodge.

Recommendation ☺☺☻☻☻ (2/5)
This gets a two out of five for two big reasons – the jarring change in the artwork after issue three, and the very bland plot. Why update the look and the characters if you’re not going to update the story? Now, don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining, but in the same way the original was entertaining when I was twelve. This is fluff. Fans of the original Archie will likely enjoy the modern update. Fans of the CW series will likely be disappointed with the lack of murder and mayhem. I’m only willing to recommend this to die-hard fans.

Waid, Mark. Archie, Vol.1: The New Riverdale. [New York]: Archie Comic Publications, 2016.

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

Pages: 319
Intended Audience: Teens and up
Genre: Real world from a dog’s perspective
Notes for Parents: Some mature content

The Back Cover
Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden-haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for his new life’s meaning leads him into the loving arms of eight-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures, Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog.
But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders—will he ever find his purpose?

What the cover doesn’t tell you:
This was made into a movie and released in January 2017.

What’s good?
This is a simple story about the importance of relationships and every living creatures need for purpose. Told from a dog’s perspective, it’s an emotional tale filled with sadness, suspense, excitement, and plenty of incidental humor as the dog interprets human behavior while trying to figure out his reason for being. While thought-provoking, the plot is straightforward, and the characters are uncomplicated. With this being the dog’s narrative, the writing is unpretentious, but it still includes some beautiful imagery. While there are plenty of moments to laugh and cry about, the author manages to avoid being overly sentimental until just near the end. The end was expected, but heartwarming and very satisfying.
Best Part: I love how the dog only really understood a few human words (e.g. “car ride”) but often correctly deduced what was happening based on the actions and emotions of the humans around him.

What isn’t good?
I’m sure there are all kinds of things critics could point out as lacking in this story – it’s not sophisticated, the narrative voice is childlike, the plot is simplistic, etc. But none of those things bothered me. In fact, I found it made the story stronger. This is not great American literature; it’s a sweet little story that offers an explanation as to why we can connect with dogs so deeply.
Worst part: None.

Recommendation ☺☺☺☺☺ (5/5)

This is not a book I would recommend to everyone, but I couldn’t find fault with anything so I had to give it five out of five. It’s emotional, perceptive, exciting, funny, and very easy to read. This book doesn’t suggest that dogs are like people – but maybe they’re better, more in tune with emotion, more resilient, more perceptive, more open to love, more trusting. If you’ve ever loved a dog, then you should read this book. Even if you just believe we have something to learn from our animal friends, consider giving A Dog’s Purpose a chance.

Cameron, W. Bruce. A Dog’s Purpose. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2010.