Friday, May 28, 2010

Seximus Maximus

Henry Holt & Co.
ISBN: 9780805080797
336 pages

Everything you never wanted to know about sex and boys--but probably should.

Dino, Jonathon, and Ben has got some problems, mostly with Jackie, Deborah, and Alison.

 Dino's girlfriend Jackie, the most beautiful girl in school, drives him mad with lust, but won't go all the way and relieve Dino of his desperately unwanted virginity.

Jonathon likes Deborah.  She's smart and funny and she makes him feel very sexy, but she's kind of plump and his mates won't let him hear the end of it.

Ben's been seduced by Alison, the pretty young drama teacher as school.  And what seems like a dream come true is actually making him miserable.

Award-winning author Melvin Burgess has written a daringly honest and often hilarious account of contemporary teenage life, and the ups and down that surround "doing it."

Though entertaining, this book is definitely not for everyone.  It follows the story of three boys during their sexual peak so sometimes the book gets down right dirty.  Personally, I found it hilarious because, generally speaking, the thoughts of these boys are true to form.

Set in England, this book really captures the curiosity and uncertainty about taking the leap into the sexual arena.  Throughout, the boys are struggling with a variety of issues, including body image, which, let's face it, when it comes to boys is highly neglected. 

Some criticize the book for not including consequences for their actions (like pregnancies, diseases, etc)*, but that's not the point.  The point is to give male teens an opportunity to better understanding their feelings and fear by vicariously experiencing them with the characters.  The novel certainly accomplishes its goal.

I recommend this book to those who will not be offended by frank sexual speak between teenage boys, though I will agree with the publisher that's it's best for high school age readers .


*To see criticisms and comebacks go here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To Be Reviewed

Just a note on what I have lined up for review.  Of course it won't necessarily happen in this order.  I'll get these read and post more information as soon as I can!

Malice by Chris Wooding
Once you get into the story, there's no way out.  Everyone's heard the rumors.  If you gather the right things and say the right words, you'll be taken to Malice, a world that exists inside a horrifying comic book.  It's a world that few kids know about and even fewer survive.  Seth and Kady think it's all a silly myth.  But when their friend Luke disappears, suddenly the rumors don't seem silly after all.  Malice is real.  Malice is deadly.  And Seth and Kady are about to be trapped inside it.

The Story of Cirrus Flux by Matthew Skelton
In 1783 London, the destiny of an orphaned boy and girl becomes intertwined as the boy, Cirrus Flux, is pursued by a sinister woman mesmerist, a tiny man with an all-seeing eye, and a skull-collecting scoundrel, all of whom believe that he possesses an orb containing a divine power.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Now on the cusp of manhood, Finnikin, who was a child when the royal family of Lumatere was brutally murdered and replaced by an imposter, reluctantly joins forces with an enigmatic young novice and fellow-exile, who claims that her dark dreams will lead them to a surviving royal child and a way to regain the throne of Lumatere.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Couldn't find a short description for this one, so here's mine.  In his new novel Doctorow explores the world of online gameplay, but things are more serious for those with money.  As online gameplay rules the world economy a group of subversives attempt to challenge the status quo.

The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klaven
High school student Charlie West awakens bloody and bruised in a concrete bunker, only to discover that he has lost a year of his life and remembers nothing about escaping from prison after being convicted of murdering his former best friend, or why he is being pursued by both the law and a group of terrorists trying to bring down the government of the United States.

Four thousand years ago the world's first super human walked the earth.  Possessing the strength of one hundred men, skin impervious to attack, and the ability to read minds, this immortal being used his power to conquer and enslave nations.  Now plans are in motion that will transport this super human to the present, where he'll usher in a new age of tyranny unlike anything the world has ever seen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What if your parents could Unwind you?

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster, 2007
ISBN: 978-1416912057
335 Pages

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would "unwind" them.

Conner's parents want to be rid of him because he's a troublemaker.  Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs.  Lev's unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family's strict religion.  Brought together by chance and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance.  If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can't be harmed--but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad eighteen seems far far away.

In Unwind, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award winner Neal Shusterman challenges readers' ideas about life--not just where life begins, and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.

Note: the description is from the hardcover edition; the image and publishing information in from the paperback edition.

This is the first book I've read by Neal Shusterman and I think I need to add more to my to-read list.  Image having to live under the Bill of Life: parents can "retroactively 'abort' a child...on the condition that the child's life doesn't 'technically' end.  The process by which a child is both terminated and yet kept alive is called 'unwinding.'"

This book follows the path of a typical dystopian novel: the kids who are unwanted are on their way to "harvest camp," which is billed much like summer camp, when their paths collide and they find themselves on the run together.  What's different is that none of them start out with the desire to end the system.  It's been in place for as long as they can remember and the only goal is to survive until they legally become adults.  This is much like typical teenhood, just with the added threat of having your body parts harvested for the "greater good."  Of course there are many spine tingling twists and turns.  My favorite thing about this book is that often the readers comes to the realization of how things are going to happen either just before or along with the character.  Most of the time, I prefer to be surprised by a book than to have figured it all out before the characters.

This is another novel presented using multiple voices, but in the third person.  So the chapters on Connor are "Connor blah blah."  In some instances, I've seen this device used to tell the same event from multiple perspectives (think Vantage Point), but here the characters usually continue the story after one describes an event.  Also, when they are separated it allows the reader the opportunity to know what's going on elsewhere.  The use of multiple voices is a great way to shake up the "all-seeing narrator" trope.  It also allows for a better understanding of the individual characters when it is done well.  Here, it is done well.

None of the main characters are flat.  They each grow and learn over the course of the novel. The threat of unwinding and separation from their families and old lives works to change both Connor and Lev; they are required to find a new understanding of themselves and the world around them, plus learn their capabilities.  It's interesting the way this plays out.  Risa has a firmer understanding of the ways of the world in the beginning, but she too learns about herself and her convictions.

Although there is plenty of fear and suspense, there are some funny moments.  For instance, a scene takes place in an antique shop and Connor notices iPods and plasma TVs that were popular when his grandfather was young.  It's just an interesting moment to think that some day an iPod might be a quaint piece of junk.  Another interesting moment is in other scenes where sports are mentioned: guys still watch football on TV and talk about baseball at the office.  Even in the frightening future in which Connor, Risa, and Lev live, sports are still popular.  (And there probably much more interesting; who needs steroids when you can choose your body parts?!)

One of my favorite moments involves two secondary characters (mainly because they don't change a whole lot) but still become enmeshed in the story.  Hayden provides a message to Connor's rival; the rival assumes Hayden is on Connor's "side" to which Hayden says "I'm Switzerland: neutral as can be, and also good with chocolate."  With everything that had been going on laughing at that seems somewhat off, but also works to relieve some tension.  Nicely done.

If it isn't clear above, I enjoyed this novel.  It literally gave me the creepy crawlies at times, but even while I was writhing  I couldn't stop reading.  That to me is the mark of an incredible work.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Boys and the Library

During my morning blog reading session, I came across a post from Ask the ALA Librarian on boys and reading.  This prompted a moment of thoughtfulness on the subject.

A common misconception is that boys just don't like to read.  In my opinion, boys are not encouraged to read quite as much as girls are.  Boys are generally expected to run around outdoors like little heathens and be loud and boisterous, while expectations for girls tend to involve quieter activities, like reading.  It's usually the little boys that are shushed at the library; hardly ever the little girls. (This thought process is related to yet another blog post found here).

This all falls under that large debate of nature versus nurture.  Are boys louder because they are boys or because they are raised to be loud?  (Of course loud here is meant to encompass "typical" boy behaviors).  My brother and I are actually examples of this very thing.  He does like to read, but when we were kids, I'd be the one with the book amusing myself, while he constantly needed to be entertained.  Was there a difference in the way our parents raised us that caused this, or was it just because he's a boy? 

In any case, I was happy to see this article, "Why Aren't Little Boys Reading?"  I was happier, of course, to see that the Toledo-Lucas County Library is actually taking measures to entice boys in particular.  One of my favorite ideas is to create programming targeted to boys, including programs with gross or creepy crawly in the title.  Another great idea are displays targeted to boys—testosterone fueled reads, perhaps? : ) 

This article really brings to light some problems I myself have felt in the library.  An archived Booklist webinar, Sensational Summer Reading, also touches on these issues.  Research on the whether summer reading programs benefit students shows that boys tend to participate less; my guess would be this is because generally programs don’t appeal to boys.  When I worked at a small branch we had a tough time getting the kids away from computers to get them to participate in other programming.  Unfortunately, where I work now, there’s no place for tweens or teens, which makes it much harder to get kids interested in anything we do.

In instances like these, I feel the need for a little CYA, so here goes.  Currently, boys slip through the cracks in terms of library interest and usage.  We can do things to encourage and pique their interest, but the goal is to do so while preventing the slippage of girls because we focus time on boys.  As with anything involving any two groups of people, it’s a delicate balance to increase the interest and participation of one group while maintaining or continuing to interest the other group.

Further reading: (These were listed on the ALA Librarian post.  I didn't directly use them above, but created a little list for myself with  what I found.  They are quite useful.)
ALA Wiki on Boys and Reading
YALSA Booklists: Quick Picks and Graphic Novels

Resources (all mentioned above):
Ask the ALA Librarian - Motivation for post
Awful Library Books
Why aren't little boys reading?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay

While searching for another Chris Wooding novel, Malice, I came across this title in our catalog.  I love the cover and the description is definitely intriguing.  I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it soon.

Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womanizer and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. 

Suddenly Frey isn't just a nuisance anymore - he's public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don't. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he's going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It's going to take all his criminal talents to prove he's not the criminal they think he is ...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Just a Note

Normally it won't take so long for new reviews or information.  I kind of "put the cart before the horse" so to speak and attempted to debut my idea before completing the spring semester.   It's over now and I definitely have time again.  Phew!

America's Favorite Pastime

Clarion Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-0618843480

It's the bottom of the last inning of a game between rival high school teams Oak Grove and Compton.  Oak Grove is at bat, and the stage is set for star center field Luke "Wizard" Wallace to drive in the winning run, save the game, and be the hero.  Instead, he's hit by a beanball--a wild pitch that shatters his skull and destroys the vision in his left eye.

In this riveting novel, the events surrounding a life-changing moment are presented through powerful free-verse monologues by 28 different narrators.  With its multiple voices, gripping subject matter, and fast-paced plot, Beanball is a rush of adrenaline.

"Wow" was all I thought once I finished reading this book.  It was absolutely Fantastic! Granted, this novel encompasses two of my favorite things: free verse and multiple voices. The story focuses around Luke "Wizard" Wallace who is an all around athlete--football, basketball, and baseball. While facing a main rival, Luke is beaned and partially loses his sight.  Everything in this novel just fits.

As first I was a little confused switching from one voice to the next, but as I got to know the characters I found myself asking "who are you again?" less often.  Some characters get more time than others, but this just reinforces the character and his/her part in the story.  You learn an awful lot about these people even though they spend most of their time talking/thinking about Luke and his accident.  Luke's and his parents and friends, and other bystanders (coaches for both teams, a local baseball fan, teachers) points of view paint a wonderful picture of who is affected by such incidents and, more importantly, how they are affected.

It's also a great sports novel.  There's talk of baseball and the dangers of sports in general, and it's about bouncing back from terrible situations.  It is also a novel in verse, which makes it a quick and enjoyable read.