Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gateway 26: After by Amy Efaw

Wow, finally I am done with reading the nominees for next year's Gateway Award list. And just in time, my ratings are due on December 1st!

And let me say, what an intense book to end on. In fact, I'm somewhat surprised that we have this book in my middle school library. It is really such a teen girl topic. The main character is Devon. We start out with Devon laying sick in her apartment when her mom comes home from work. Devon is having flashbacks, and it turns out, she's just given birth in her own bathroom. And apparently put the baby in a trash bag and threw it out. Devon seems to be suffering from memory loss/amnesia. She doesn't remember being pregnant, or giving birth, or any of it for a long time. Well, I say a long time, but really the whole book takes place over a 2-3 week time span, other than the flashbacks Devon has.

This book is really intense in talking about the whole situation. Goes into deep detail with the baby being born and how Devon dealt with all of it.

It's really sad. I actually felt empathy for Devon. I know that what she did was horrible. But as I assume the author meant, you get her side of the story, you understand that what she did wasn't premeditated, or selfish exactly, she was operating in a state of shock basically since the moment that the whole issue began, her first sexual experience.

Very intense, just very intense. I felt sorry for the way she was treated by the people, even after they knew what she'd been like, that she'd been a model student, athlete, even babysitter. So for people to just assume she was horrible and treat her that way was hard to read. But understandable on their part as well for what she had done. The decision Devon comes to at the end, I don't know that I would have come to. But I understand why she, or the author, decided that way.

Good, but intense story.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gateway 25: Brutal by Michael Harmon

FINALLY! A female main character! And really, this was a good book. Our main character is Poe, yes, named after Edgar Allan Poe. Her mother, a really good doctor, has decided to move to some third world country to take care of patients there, and so has shipped Poe off to live with the father she doesn't remember, in a small town. She's used to living in LA and being part of a punk rock band. However, Poe has also been kicked out of many schools. Poe gets to the small town and finds out her father is the counselor at her new school. She meets the boy who lives next door and goes by the name Velveeta. He's a little bit off, and as you'd expect, he gets bullied, a lot. Poe makes friends with the mayor's son Theo. Theo is also a bit unusual for the town.

Poe comes across the school bully really beating Velveeta up and stops it. Later on, she does slaps the bully's girlfriend, who then won't tell him who it was that did it, so he assumes it was Velveeta. He and other football players pull Velveeta in the bathroom and he begins beating him up very brutally. Only the fact that Poe finds out and tries to stop it, screaming loud enough that a teacher hears, stops it. But because Velveeta and the other witnesses all refuse to say what actually happened, no one can do anything about it. So the school tries to have a bully awareness assembly, but of course the only people who show up since it is not mandatory are those who are being bullied.

Poe gets angry. A lot of what she says in this book is really true. And I agree a lot with her. She even points out something I've always noticed. Some of the "odd" or outside of the popular people are just as cliquey and judgemental as the people they claim are that way. But what it takes Poe a bit to see is that she is just as judgemental and elitist about those people as she claims they are. But she does realize it, and that is what I like.

With the bullying going on at my school this year, it was really good to read this book. I think that it is true that there are so many things that make it impossible for schools to do anything, I'm not saying this is good or acceptable, just that it is true. And it sucks. In the end there is a pretty good solution, but it sucks that it often has to go that far, or that it doesn't ever get taken to the point where something can happen to change it.

Only one more book for me to read on the Gateway Award nomination list. Can't wait till I can read something of my choosing! And I'm thinking it will not be a YA book for a few weeks, or few books, whichever comes first or last.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gateway 24: If I Grow Up by Todd Strasser

So, I was really excited to read this book because one of the other books by this author is one of the best YA novels there is in my opinion. It was also made into an awesome After School Special when I was a kid as well. Todd Strasser is the author of The Wave. About a teacher who starts an experiment in the school that simulates the holocaust. And it is a very touching, haunting book in how realistic it is.

So, I'm sure this book is also very realistic, even though I have some complaints about it. In If I Grow Up, our main character is DeShawn (another male protagonist, go figure). DeShawn lives in a project where the Disciples are the gang to be a part of. Their rivals are the Gentry Gangsters from another nearby project. We go through DeShawn's life quickly from the time he is 12, and the last chapter is when he is 28 and in prison. It starts out that everyone knows DeShawn is different, smart, he could go somewhere. But as it always goes, he eventually gets swept into the gang. He resists a long time, until his family doesn't have enough food and he catches his sister drinking her own baby's formula. He isn't a normal kind of gangster who kills, at least not at first. He's kind of the brains that the head guy, Marcus, looks to for answers. Marcus is kind of a father figure to him. Marcus seems to really be above it all, and be fair, to the extent you can say that for a gangbanger. But when Marcus is shot, DeShawn learns Marcus was only 21, not as much older as he assumed from his "wiseness".

I understand this is what really happens. But I also know DeShawn had some chances that he chose not to take due to peer pressure. So, hey, you get what you get based on your own decisions sometimes. My opinion. I think it is horrible that this goes on, but I don't feel it is impossible to get out of. It is difficult I'm sure. But it can be done, and does get done. We just don't always hear about those stories because they are so few and far between. What's familiar and easy is just what people tend to do. So, that's what happens.

Okay book I guess.

Gateway 23: King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

This was a pretty good book. I really had trouble putting it down at times. The main character is Liam, which is a name I really like, yeah, I know, short for William. But I like just Liam. Anyway, Liam has screwed up parents. You'd think a former supermodel for a mother and an extremely successful and wealthy CEO for a father would make a kid happy. But not Liam. His father is constantly disappointed in him, but really, Liam is a lot like his mother. It's amazing that his father loves his mother, but can't love the same things about his son. After getting in trouble over and over, his father kicks him out. He wants to send Liam to his parents, who treat Liam just as bad as his dad does. But his mom arranges to have Liam sent to his father's brother. His uncle is, or used to be, a drag queen. He is in a Glam rock band and lives in a trailer in a small town. Liam calls him Aunt Pete. Liam decides in order to make his dad proud, he will be unpopular and involved in an academic club like his dad was in high school. See, that is Liam's "curse" if you will. He is too good at being popular. And it takes nothing for him to become popular at this new school. He wants so bad to make friends with the girl who is a social outcast that lives next door to his Aunt Pete. But that doesn't seem in the cards either.

All that Liam does, and finally he thinks his dad is coming to visit and talk for his birthday. But instead, his dad sends an army recruiter. Now Liam must decide whether to join the army and maybe please his dad, or do what he is good at and know that he is good enough and loved by his aunt/uncle and others in his family.

Really a pretty good story.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2011 Debut Author Challenge

I have decided to sign up for the 2011 Debut Author Challenge. Seeing that I only have to read like 12 books within a 1 year period, and that I spent the last 3 months reading 26, or will have read 26 after 3 more, I feel this is not going to be a problem, and should be fun! This challenge is through The Story Siren.

The books I'm hoping to read, as long as I can get a hold of them are:

1. XVI by Julia Karr

2. So Shelly by Ty Roth

3. Wake Unto Me by Lisa Cach

4. Wither by Lauren DeStefano

5. Entwined by Heather Dixon

6. Those that Wake by Jesse Karp

7. Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

8. The Revenant by Sonia Gensler

9. Never Sit Down in a Hoop Skirt and Other Things I Learned in Southern Belle Hell by Crickett Rumley

10. Dark Parties by Sara Grant

11. The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay by Alex Epstein

12. Ashfall by Mike Mullin

There are many more on the list I may read, I just need to read these 12 by next December! Wish me luck! By that time I'll be done with Gateway, and will be ready for more YA novels.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gateway 22: Gray Baby by Scott Loring Sanders

Yet another male protagonist. But this was a good one. I thought from the premise that it was more historical fiction, but not really, and that is kind of sad. The main character is Clifton. His mom is white and his dad is black. When he was 6, in the 80's I believe, he watched his father be beaten to death by two police officers. It was later deemed to be an accident. Of coures this totally messes up Clifton as well as his mother, who turns to drinking once she determines Clifton will be okay. Clifton is lonely though, so he begins throwing bottles with notes into the river. Hoping that whoever finds it will write him back. And someone does. An old guy named Swamper. So, a bit nervously, Clifton sets out to meet Swamper. And it turns out, they get along great! Swamper teaches him about his fishing methods, and even starts letting Clifton have some of the money he makes for helping him.

Some big things happen, a girl gets kidnapped, and Clifton sees the girl in an ice cream truck. Clifton is scared to tell the police for two reasons. One, he does not trust them after what happened to his dad, and two, the guy knows where he lives and threatens to come back and get him if he tells.

At the same time Clifton's mother gets arrested for DUI. So Clifton goes to stay with Swamper, who we learn has a bigger stake in all this than he lets on.

A really good story in my opinion. I enjoyed it.

Gateway 21: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

First I have to say as I was titling this blog post that I think I've messed up my numbering on these Gateway posts. But finally, a female protagonist!

This was a pretty interesting book. The main character is 17 year old Mia. She is a musician with a promising future and a rock band boyfriend, as well as a wonderful family and an awesome best friend. At the beginning of the book they have a snow day and since school is cancelled the family decides to take a drive. On the drive they have a wreck. Mia comes to standing outside the car. She sees her father and mother are both dead. She soon learns her younger brother has been taken to a close hospital where she has been taken farther away because of the condition she is in. The whole story is told from Mia's viewpoint as she watches over her body and what is going on around it. It's really a very short time period, but we get lots of flashbacks to learn about her and her life.

The title refers to something a nurse says that first day, that it is not up to the doctors whether Mia makes it, but up to her. She must decide to stay or go. We get to hear her friend, family, and boyfriend all plead for her to stay. The part that made me choke up was when her grandfather tells her that as much as he wants her to stay, he understands if she wants to go having lost her family. The author puts it much better, but I totally almost cried at this point.

I've seen this book at the bookstore where I work. Without actually reading the book's information, I just assumed it might be about suicide. But it's not really, just Mia deciding whether it is worth coming back to life after such a loss. In the end, it's almost as if she doesn't get to make the choice, that it's made for her. But I won't spoil it for you. Read it.

I've also attached both the cover pictures, the blue one is for the hard cover, and the girl's face is the paperback. I actually like the paperback cover better.

Gateway 20: Diary of a Witness by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Yet another male protagonist. Maybe I just saved all those, stupidly, for the last books I would read? So far a lot of the books are about nerds. In this case it is a boy, overweight, named Ernie, and his best friend Will. They get picked on and beat up by the jocks in their school. The story is told from Ernie's viewpoint as if he is writing in a journal that his Uncle Max, who is a writer, gave him and asked him to write in.

Both boys like to fish. At the beginning of the book, Will has convinced Ernie to try it his way, out on the ocean. So they go out on Will's father's boat, with Will's younger brother Sam, who Will doesn't like, and the feeling is kind of mutual for Sam. Will's dad leaves them to go alone, while he goes to a bar to drink. A big wave comes up, and the boat tips over due to Will trying to get a big fish he has always wanted to get. Will and Ernie make it, Sam gets stuck under the boat, his pants caught on a fish hook, and drowns.

Will's father gets sent to jail, and we learn what a messed up life Will has. After some other bullying type issues happen at school, Will tries to kill himself. Ernie figures out something like this is happening and calls 911 to save him.

After Will gets out of the hospital, Ernie takes him up to stay at his Uncle Max's. This is a great time for Will, but as they get ready to go back home, back to Will's unhappy life, Will takes a turn for the worse. I like that Ernie is able to stand up to his friend, doing the right thing. I think this had a good message.

Well, I've been busy reading, and not had time to do much blogging. So I've got 2 more books to blog about later tonight if I have time. Trying to get the rest of the books done by December 1st.

Gateway 19: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Yet another male protagonist book for the Gateway possible nominees. This book was okay. The main character is Blake, and as you might guess from the title or the cover, he is into photography. He has a girlfriend and yet he also has a really good friend, who is a girl, in his photography class. Blake tends to take what his photography teacher calls "gritty" photos. And in one of them he has found his photo friend Marissa's mother. Marissa's mother is a meth addict. Marissa goes to find her, and brings her home. Her mother goes to rehab. During this time Blake has normal dealings with a girlfriend, and the girlfriend sometimes feels a little jealous of Marissa. In a way, this is very similar to the book I read a while back about the mountain, I think it was called "Funny How Things Change." A guy, a girlfriend, and another girl.

So, not a favorite or extremely original book in my opinion. If you read it though, and like it, here is the author's website:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gateway 18: The Devil's Paintbox by Victoria McKernan

I love, love, loved this book! It was another male main character, but I think I must really enjoy historical fiction, something I never knew I enjoyed really before I was an adult. Our main character is Aiden. We meet him and his sister Maddie trying to find grasshoppers to eat while they're living in Kansas, in the dustbowl time. The rest of their family is dead, they've had to bury their siblings, older and even newborn babies. They also buried both parents. When we start the story, a man is riding through looking for people he can take west to be loggers. Aiden sees a chance and convinces Mr. Jackson to take him and his sister, saying he will work off the money it costs him. Over the passage they face all kinds of hardships, and run into Indians, Native Americans, whatever you want to call them. The Nez Pearce to be exact, a peaceful tribe. As they head to Seattle, there are all kinds of tragedies and scares, a river that is not going to let them cross. A small pox epidemic, and even soldiers that want to kill the Indians that have showed up to help them. When Aiden finally gets to the logging camps he has been through so much misery and loss that he is only relieved to give in to the pain and no thinking life of logging. He becomes a fighter in the camp, to make more money. One of his Indian friends comes back at the end to ask his help in obtaining the small pox vaccine. I always knew that our diseases were part of what killed off a lot of the Native Americans, but didn't realize that part of the reason was that we refused to share our vaccine with them.

I like how at the end the author talks about the historical things in the story, even gives websites for readers to go read further about these topics. This is one I really will recommend highly for next year's Gateway List.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gateway 17: Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt

Another male protagonist. Go figure. This book was not a favorite of mine. It was kind of boring to me. Our main character is Remy Walker. His family has owned the mountain he lives on for generations. His girlfriend, Lisa, is going away to college next year, and wants Remy to go with her, they will get an apartment and he can work while she goes to school. But really he does not want to. He can't afford it, and the only way he will be able to afford it is if his dad does the unthinkable and sells the mountain. And for awhile, Remy thinks this is the way to go. A new girl, college age, has come to town to paint the water tower. Remy finds himself somewhat attracted to her, which of course is a problem since he believes himself to be in love with Lisa.

Basically it was a quick story of letting your family and past win out over what seems like it will be what you need, to get away. I don't know that the students would really enjoy it. There are much better books on the list of possible nominees.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gateway 16: We Were Here by Matt De La Pena

Once again, another boy protagonist. A Mexican boy again strangely enough. Seems like a theme, although I guess this is really on the 2nd one on the list. This was a pretty good book. I do like again how this is a boy that knows it isn't cool to read and be smart, but still does it on the sly. Our main character is Miguel. Miguel starts out in Juvie, then shortly after is sent to a group home. We get the idea that he did something violent. We learn a lot about his brother Diego, who he idolizes. There are 2 other boys at the group home that he becomes friends with unintentionally through the fact that they all decided to run from the group home and go to Mexico. It is on the journey that we learn about all of them. Mong, the seemingly psycho boy that Miguel gets in a fight with almost as soon as he walks into the group home. Mong is life-threatiningly sick we find out. And Rondell, a big black kid, that actually was Miguel's roommate when he got to Juvie, and he always calls Miguel, Mexico, even though Miguel has always lived in the United States. Rondell is not quite all there, and when he gets into a rage, he will keep beating until someone dies.

I kind of guessed what Miguel did before he actually confessed to it, in fact, I caught on pretty quick. I won't give it away in case you're going to read it. A good book, but violent at times. Again, the next book I even picked up is also a male protagonist. Pretty sure, if I get these last 10 books done in the next 20 days, I'll read a really girly book after. :-)

Waiting on Wednesday: Crunch Time by Diane Mott Davidson

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

I haven't done this in a while, for two reasons. One, I've been pretty busy with the new online class I'm teaching. And two, I haven't been quite sure what books I'm waiting on. But I decided to see when the next book by Diane Mott Davidson was going to be out. I'm not a huge mystery genre fan. But for some reason I just love these books. I do love reading the recipes, and I think occasionally of trying to make them. But seeing as how our main character, Goldie, is a caterer, these are really complicated recipes. One day, though, I will try them.

Right now I can't find a synopsis on the book, so I'll give you a little more background on the series. Goldie is our heroine, when we first meet her, she has divorced her abusive husband and is trying to raise her son Archie on her own with her catering career. She calls her ex-husband "The Jerk" along with another of his ex-wives, Marla, her best friend. It never fails, Goldie tends to find dead bodies wherever she goes to cater. She then wants to solve the mysteries herself, and she does this despite the wishes of detective Tom Schultz. Later in the books Goldie and Tom get married, and of course her sleuthing continues. One other main character is Julian, a young man she mentors in cooking, and he is also a genius in cooking.

I don't know why, but I just love these books, and cannot wait for the next to come out. While I'm glad she takes the time to make each one really good, sometimes I wish she was one of those authors who puts out a book every year so I wouldn't have to wait for my mystery fix. Unfortunately I'll be waiting until April 2011 for this release.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gateway 15: Reality Check by Peter Abrahams

I'm beginning to feel like most of the Gateway nominees have male protagonists. Not sure, I'm going to look through them again to make sure, but right now I feel like all my stories I'm reading are about boys. I've got 10 more to get read this month, so I guess I'd better get going!!

Anyway, I've seen books by this author at my bookstore, but never read any. This one was okay. The main character is a high school junior, boy, who is a football player. His girlfriend is from a wealthy family. And at the end of sophomore year, her father finds her and Cody together, and then when he sees Clea's grade card, with a low grade for her, a B, he decides to send her away to boarding school. Cody decides to break up with Clea instead of trying to have a long distance relationship.

Well, early into the football season, Cody, who has already had scouts talk to him about college, gets an injury that puts him out for the rest of the school year football season. Soon Cody decides to quit school. About the time he makes this decision, there is a news story that Clea has gone missing. Cody goes to the town of her new boarding school to try to help in the search.

Of course once he gets there, at first he doesn't want to tell anyone who he is. He had received a letter from Clea right before he left, and it mentions that she doesn't know who to trust. So Cody is unsure who he should trust. He meets her classmates, including her new boyfriend, as well as teachers and the people who work at the stable where she keeps her horse. He also meets two different cops, and doesn't know which one is giving him the real truth. Cody gets really close to the answer, and then of course, gets himself in trouble as well.

A good mystery, not sure it is award winning material though.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gateway 14: Muchacho by Louanne Johnson

I have to admit I was not looking forward to this book. It didn't sound good. Boy was I wrong. Maybe if I'd paid attention to who it was written by, the same woman who wrote the memoir that became the movie Dangerous Minds, I would have known better.

This book is told from a Mexican boy's point of view. His name is Eddie. He has a rough life. He's been sent to a special school because of his anger and fighting. He has lots of things in his life that work to try to keep him from finishing school. But Eddie is a secret reader. Eddie is a secret writer as well.

What I loved about this book, from the first page I was hooked. When he began talking about the teacher that kind of really inspired him throughout this book. And how she got kicked/chased out, and while he did nothing to stop it, or let her know at the time that she did reach him, throughout the book he references things she did or talked about with them.

And I love that this book is written just how I'm sure most students think. I can hear these same ideas coming from the things my students say. The why do we need to know this? I know it was written by a teacher/adult, but I also am sure she based it on those writings from her students and how she knew them from working with them. I do love how the kids says testing is ruining school even for the students who like it. Something I am wholly onboard with.

Other than a bit of language and risque themes, but still all realistic for high school kids, this is one of my highest recommendations for the Gateway list for next year. I loved, loved, loved, loved it!!! Might even have it as a staff rec at the bookstore at some point.