Thursday, January 26, 2012

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Mermaids and werewolves and vampires and faeries and hags and shape-shifters and waterspirits, if you can name a paranormal, I'm sure they are at least mentioned in Paranormalcy by Kiersten White.

This book rocked my socks off! It's soooo very awesome! It's so awesome, in fact, that I'm sorry it took me two years to read it, so awesome in fact that I'm sorry I don't have the second book right now!

This is one of those cool books that on the surface seems like a cute romp into paranormal land, but is actually a commentary on discrimination, service and relationships.

Evie is seriously that perfect female heroine that I've been looking for when I read teen SF books. She's so girly (pink and animal print are incorporated into everything she wears), but she can also kick major butt using her pink rhinestone encrusted taser, nicknamed Tasy, of course. She falls for a shape-shifter and has doubts, but not the whiny (sorry, I'm about to compare her to two teen girls who annoy the dickens out of me) "I can't live without you" doubts of Bella Swan or "the too tough too touch me blocked-headedness" of Katniss Everdeen. Evie is the rock-star of these girls.

While the plot of this book is not new, the approach is. And, don't let the cover fool you, this book isn't at all fluffy and girly (unless you want to count Evie's pink heeled boots). In the world of Paranormalcy there are humans who know that paranormals exist these humans have taken it upon themselves to defend the world against these creatures and have created an agency to do this. Evie is part of this agency. After she meets a shape-shifting teenage boy, much like herself, she begins to wonder where she fits into the whole thing. Is she trapped? Is she a pawn? Is she an asset? And, most importantly, what does she want?

This book is told with enough humor and seriousness that I found myself laughing seconds after a sad event and I found myself sharing bits of this book to my student in the hallways and at lunch.

It's another one of those books that makes me wish I could have read it when I was 14 and it's another one of those books that I can't wait for my daughter to find.

5 Stars

Teacher Advisories
Sex 1/5 
There are also some nice steamy kisses, embraces and long kiss scenes. Really teen books have the best kissing scenes! A faerie named Reth inappropriately touches Evie all the time, even after you figure out it's still kind of creepy and a little bit pervy.
Language 1/5
I love, love, love when an author uses a fake word in the place of an expletive. Norman Mailer did it with the word 'fug' and Kiersten White does it with *bleep*, it's funny, your kids will love it...I found myself doing it at home. It sure beats cussing!!!
Substance Abuses 0/5
Unless you count getting totally intoxicated on someone's soul...than I bump it up to a 1/5.
Violence 2/5
So, the IPCA fights paranormals. One vamp decides he'd rather die than be confined. A strange creature is going around killing paranormals lots of werewolves and vampires die. A hag dies, a mermaid dies, a werewolf dies, some of the creatures that die we get to know and that's sad...there's lots of violent death.

Touchy Subjects

Slavery and Indentured Servitude
While this is truly a fun teen paranormal romp there are several grown-up and timely themes. IPCA decides who's bad, IPCA locks up and classifies those who are bad, Evie must then decide if who's right. While Evie is deciding if she's actually just a pawn in a game where every side sucks the life out of the other, we must also decide what it means to be truly free. Paranormals are neutered, neutralized and locked up. They are let out only to serve IPCA.
Evie comes from foster homes and has no parents. Raquel takes care of her, but she isn't really a mother per se. Lend's family is everything she desires, but they still have their flaws. Vivian has a family, but have they taught her to be what she is.
What does it mean to be normal? And, doesn't normal come in many different forms.
Inter (racial ?) relationships
Paranormals date, marry and have children with mortals sometimes to the chagrin and disappoint of their family and friends. These relationships can be seen as allegorical to interracial relationships, and we can see the wonderfulness, but also the troubles that people have when they are in relationships that are defined by society.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option
2] Websites
Author's website

Questions for Discussion (from here)
1. It has been said that the book speaks in metaphors regarding issues such as animal rights,  human rights and slavery. Would you agree with this and why? Support your answer using details from the book.
2. Evie’s relationship with Raquel is similar to a mother/daughter relationship. Would you have liked to see their relationship end differently than the way it did? Explain your answer.
3. If you could meet any type of paranormal from the book which would you choose? Why?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler

For the record I have a major girl crush on Sarah, really, not only is she singing to my soul of yesteryear, she is singing to my soul right now...and, except for her strange like of zombies, I'm pretty sure we're kindred spirits (thank-you very much Anne of Green Gables). In this book it's all about the cupcakes and those of you that know me know how much I love, love, love cupcakes. Ockler has given me about 20 more recipes to try, I'm so excited! OK, enough with the gushing...

Hudson's parents will divorce and she sees it as kind of her fault. She is, after all, the one who found the cheetah bra. It's the night of her biggest ice skating competition and she blows it thinking about her parents, her little brother and the life they will no longer share.

This is how Bittersweet, Sarah Ockler's third novel, opens.

While this book is a little heavy handed with The Scarlet Letter references and a little Mighty Ducks meets The Cutting Edge, it makes up for it with its take on friendships, relationships and cupcakes.

Sarah Ockler can write a kick butt teen romance. Josh and Will are both perfect dream boats. They are both so fleshed out that it's hard to determine which one will win in the end. The bad one ends up learning a lesson and repenting and the good one is kind of a turd for a minute. And, this book has just enough flirtation, and smooching scenes to make it incredibly interesting. There's also a great 'meet cute' scene on the ice and a scary rescue scene on the ice further in the book.

I preach, to anyone who will listen, about the effects of divorce. I also preach about the effects of staying in a relationship when you should divorce. I talk about how your kids notice more than you think and I talk about how you are, not only hurting yourself, but those around you. Hudson has learned some pretty crappy behaviors from her divorced parents and she exhibits these behaviors throughout the book. Hudson thinks of her friends and family, only after she thinks of herself. When feeling down about the impending divorce she kisses the boy she knows her best friend likes. She talks about how she knew it was wrong, she talks about how she needed to tell her friend the truth. Years later she alienates her second best friend by not telling her the whole truth. She buries herself in her work (the making of exquisite cupcakes--and there are some amazing ones that I'm definitely going to have to try) and in a flirtation with the hockey captain, although she is warned not to and although she truly has feelings for someone else.

I dislike Hudson's shallow, irresponsible father. He smashes everything while doing anything to please himself. He is so far removed from the picture that he doesn't even comment or recognize that he hurts his daughter every time he sends a thoughtless email or post an even shallower blog post. He reminds me so much of my father, that he doesn't even deserve the few lines I have given him.

I really dislike Hudson's mother. I know that my single mother went out of her way and humbled herself to make sure that the three of us wanted for nothing and to make sure that the three of us lived normal teenager lives. When I was in high school I had to work to have money for things like cheerleading and club dues. I had to fundraise to get money for summer camps. I know that without the help of my aunt I would have still fallen short. However, my mother did not demand that I work and she did not demand that any of us girls become the other parent. I know that Hudson's mother wants the diner to succeed. I know that Hudson's mother wants Bug (Hudson's little brother) to have a great Christmas and not be burdened, he is, after all, only 8. In doing this she has created a tough as nails daughter who remains silent when she should speak. I cannot imagine how hard divorce must be on a parent, but I do know that you don't make your teenage children carry more weight than they can bear and you don't have your teenage daughter sacrifice her dreams so you can live yours. I know that, in the end, Hudson and her mother come to some sort of agreement, but I'm not sure that it is enough...I'm not sure that Hudson's mother understands what kind of daughter she has had a hand in creating and I'm not sure that she has done enough to help undo the damage.

I am glad that Hudson finds her true passion. I am glad that she finally figures out how to begin the conversation with her mother, her brother and her best friends; past and present. I am glad that she gets the guy. It is wonderful that this book really doesn't end picture perfectly. That's life after all and we must learn to live it thorns and all.

I enjoy a good teen romance, so I enjoyed this book. If you don't get any of the hockey, ice references (like me) you can always fall back on the cupcakes.

4 Stars   

Teacher Advisories
Sex 2/5 
There's some heavy petting and under the shirt touching. There are also some nice steamy neck kisses, embraces and long kiss scenes.
Language 3/5 
Damn and ass are said often. There’s some stereotypical teen humor references to the female anatomy and instances of jock humor like crotch grabbing.
Substance Abuses 2/5
There’s a New Year’s Eve Party where there is drinking. The main character doesn't partake in the drinking and she doesn't make a big deal about it either, that's refreshing. In one scene she is drinking an orange soda when everyone else is booging it up.
Violence 1/5
Boy/girl verbal fights, girl/girl verbal fights. A drunk girl corners another girl in the bathroom. Two boys get into a fight over a girl, of course.

Touchy Subjects


 From what I can understand Hudson's father had multiple affairs, the proof just came out later. Although it may seem that Hudson was the catalyst, we know that the cheetah bra was only the symptom of a much bigger problem. The children and parents never really talk about the divorce.

Single Parent Households

Like I said Hudson's mother puts a lot of weight on her shoulders and I don't think it's right. I do think that it's real and that without meaning to a single parent will put a lot of weight on the shoulders on the kids who can help.

Absentee Parents

Hudson's father rarely visits and sends rather shallow emails and post horribly insensitive things (like he and his new wife ice skating) on his blog. He is so out of touch with his kids, however, he does pay child support and contributes to a college fund.

Another book where a teenager lies and gets away with it. Hudson leaves her brother home alone while she goes to a party down the street everything ends up OK and Mom is none the wiser. She also lies about helping the hockey team. The team captain lies to her about his motives. She keeps his secret so she can keep her secret.
Perfect Friendships
Friends can fight, disagree and kiss the crush of the other friend, as long as they are willing to talk about it. Friends can also have different goals and in a small town leaving said town may change the friendship.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option
2] Websites

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wither by Laura DeStefano

I wasn't going to read Wither, as the cover makes me want to...I don't know punch puppies, drown kittens, vomit uncontrollably? Can you tell I hate these new-fangled covers that have some sort of waif model on the cover posed in some sort of Tyra Banks type manner? And, yet, against my will, I am drawn to its colors and symbolism...

Anyway, I wasn't going to read it and then I saw this review for it on Goodreads (by a reviewer whose opinion I value and whose reviews I follow) just trash the dickens right out of it. It made me curious. Isn't it funny how a bad review can do that? But, I still wasn't going to pay to read it...I waited...hoping one of my students would have it and let me borrow it, hoping one of my friends would buy it and let me borrow it and then there it was on the bookshelf at my aunts house when we went to visit her in the summer begging me to read it. I read it in a day, it's not really that hard of a read.

Frankly, I like the story. The only thing that makes it dystopic, however, is the premise. The rest is mostly a love quadrangle.

Frankly, I like the setting. It happens to be a gothic castle full of mysterious secrets and an orange grove in its meandering garden and, by contrast, a city taken over by disease-riddled, I can only imagine, zombie-like teens and pre-teens and those who prey upon them.

Frankly, I like the main characters. Rhine (isn't that a lovely name that you know 85 million teenage girls will now want to name their first born?) is strong when she needs to be, feminine when she needs to be and knows what she wants which is out of her life of sister-wifedom and back with her brother defending their home. I like her husband, a man/boy struggling not to be the pawn of his father, and the boy she truly loves (at least I think she does), the servant, Gabriel. I, even, like the other two sister-wives, even if one is a little spoiled child who enjoys that she is pregnant at 13 and the other is a bit sad (we find out for good reason) and mopey.

I've recommended it to a couple of students who I know like their dystopia on the light, romantic side and I've mentioned it in passing to a couple of my SF YA friends in the hopes that we could then chat about the many reasons this book and its author bugs me because I can't put my finger on it, except to say maybe there's too much to try to entice the reader to buy into the concept and not enough once your hooked. It's kind of like Taken (that movie with Liam Neeson), meets the Uglies series, meets Frankenstein (the book and the Kenneth Branagh movie), meets I Am Legend, meets the most beautiful sweeping romance ever...say Gone with the Wind.

Will I read the second one? I'm not sure, it's got another one of those covers and a setting that seems to be all the rage now...the carnival/circus. Maybe, I'll just have to keep my eyes on the look-out to see if anyone will let me borrow it.

3 Stars
Side note: my review for this book bounces between 3 and 4...I'm torn...

Teacher Advisories
Sex 3/5 
It really doesn't go into any type of description whatsoever when it comes to sex in this novel. However, Linden marries for love at first, but then his father finds him 3 sister wives (two of which we know were kidnapped from their homes by, what seems to be, some sort of sex slave ring). While Linden doesn't force them to have sex with him, it is heavily implied that Jenna doesn't really want to but sees no way out and that Cecily doesn't really understand what she's gotten herself into. The main characters talk candidly about buying sex for money and about how to get pregnant. It would seem that the goal of a sister wife is to have as many babies as possible.
Language 0/5 
I don't remember any language that would be considered an expletive, there are some real and candid conversations.
Substance Abuses 2/5
It seems that once you are on your death they pretty much just drug you up until you don't feel anything until you die. One of the sister wives may have overdosed on drugs. The parties involve alcohol.
Violence 3/5
The sister wife who overdosed may have been murdered. Rose dies pretty graphically...pale, weak, smelly, coughing up blood. Kidnapped girls that are not sold to prospective husbands are murdered in cold blood. Then there's the whole idea that Linden's father may be using the babies of the wives to experiment on to find the cure...that's just chilling and creepy.

Touchy Subjects
Sex Trafficking 
With all the things that are coming out now about children being kidnapped into sex slavery (Jaycee Duggard) or being forced to be 13 year-old wives (too many to name), this may be the subject that kids pick up on and want to talk about the most.
Science and Ethics
AIDS, Early Science experiments that didn't ask for consent of the patient, the fact that the death virus was created by scientist trying to find a cure for disease and the fact that it only affects the young might come into question.
Because they talk about it a lot...Rhine even understands that the three sister wives have each been brought to the mansion for three separate purposes and while her's is for conversation, Jenna's is for sex and Cecily's is for breeding.
Sister Wives
I'm sure there are some out there who find this sooooo objectionable that they won't want children to read this book. It may also make people feel uncomfortable because of the aforementioned kidnapped children. Sister wives are controlled by their husbands or, in this case, their husbands' father.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option
2] Websites
A biting but honest review of the novel and Fantasy cast
Author website

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Matched by Ally Condie

My mom always gets me books for Christmas, so this year I told her I needed tangible Young Adult books. I've become used to reading on my Kindle, but I want books that my students can borrow... read... touch...smell (who doesn't love the smell of a good book?) One of the books my mom got me was Matched. I have to say, she did a darn good job. 

A dystopic novel, Matched reminds me a lot of Anthem in the way that equality is emphasized at the expense of the people. It opens as the main character, Cassia, is on her way to her matching banquet, where she will be paired with the one person in the "society" who is statistically predicted to be her best match. This is how they do everything in the society. They make predictions and decisions based on statistics and probability. Freedoms are few and far between, but this kind of leadership is all under the guise of "protecting" the people. In this way, they are able to control people and have their perfect society. For the most part, people accept it. Until Cassia comes along. Matched is predictable in that its main character starts to question things. Questioning things in The Society is dangerous and can lead to banishment to the "outer provinces." Cassia struggles throughout the book with whether it is worthwhile to risk what she has to do what her heart tells her.

There was something about this novel that had me glued from the start. Maybe it's because Dystopia is one of my favorite genres, or maybe it was the writing style. Condie depicts the society in such a way that the reader can't help but believe that maybe the people in charge really are looking out for the best interest of the citizens. It makes me think of our own political structure and how easily the lines can be blurred between freedom and protection.

The only reason I would not give this five stars is that there is nothing particularly earth-shattering that occurs in the novel, but it is captivating nontheless. I think it's the kind of writing that many young adults would find interesting and in many ways relatable. It centers largely on a love triangle, so it is probably more suitable for girls, but I can imagine that boys would get something out of it as well.

Matched is the first of a series, and I enjoyed this book enough that I will definitely get the next one. In fact, I am dying to read it, because Matched ends when things are just getting good.

Teacher Advisories
Sex 0/5
Doesn't happen, isn't referenced
Language 0/5
Nothing grandma would disapprove of
Substance Abuse 0/5
Unless you consider the anxiety and memory-wiping red pills substances that can be abused, there isn't any here
Violence 1/5
There are references to violence as far as how the society created its current state and the war they are engaged in with people of the "outer provinces," but nothing is explicit

How I would use this in the classroom
I think I would only use it as an independent read, and I would definitely recommend for kids to read it during the Anthem Unit. It is very similar in theme and in the set-up of the society, and it would help students to see this kind of idea in more detail

4 Stars Photobucket

Touchy Subjects
None to speak of!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski

I don't know how long this will last, but you can buy this for your eReader for 99 cents...

Anyway, I bought 10 Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) while waiting in the car for my mother to get finished with her shopping in BN. We were taking turns because the kiddo was asleep in the back seat; in her defense it was naptime. In our defense, one time we took her out when she wasn't fully awake yet...doing that with a baby (easy), doing that with a 12-month old (with a stroller=easy), doing that with a two-year old (stroller or not...hard as H-E-double hockey sticks!).

So, I waited, coffee in hand and surfed through the BN deals on my new Nook Tablet (Merry Christmas to me, from Christopher=husbands can be so sweet)...I ended up buying 4 YA novels each for less than a buck, one of which was this book; a book I wanted to read, but wasn't really in the mood to pay $10 for, a book I would have borrowed from a student, only I saw no student with it...

Anyway, I would have started it then and there, but the tiny person woke up and we went into the store to look at books and wait...

I started it yesterday morning and with all that was going on yesterday (2nd family, or was it 3rd?, family Christmas) I finished it yesterday evening.

Sadly, because I teach high school, I believed every word. I believed that lots of really nice girls who make good grades drink and party (I've had said nice girls in class and some of the stories I've overheard make me never want to have a teenage daughter), I also believe that teens no longer see sex as a stigma (it isn't only party girls that have sex)...I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it is, I believe that teens understand the proper use of birth control, but not how they can still contract an STD and I believe that parents busy with living their second lives (ie. life after a divorce) don't notice the teen in the room who is screaming for them to lay down some rules and laws.

I like to think of these kinds of books, these modern day YA novels that have a teen girl protagonist, as lessons for me in how to raise a teenage girl...10 lessons I learned from this book:

1] Holy WOW! teach your kids about sex. I'll be teaching my daughter that she shouldn't have sex until she's older and mature and, hopefully, married, but I will also teach her about sex and STDs et cetera, if I don't she will learn from her friends, her teachers and life...and, I will look ill-prepared and naive.

2] I will not overshare my sex life with my teenage daughter (ick!) that's why parents have friends...

3] I will talk to my daughter like she is a person, I will ask her to tell me when she thinks she is ready to have sex, so we can talk...I will do this when she is 12, although in my head that seems a little young.

4] She will know she is loved, I will tell her often. She will know she is loved even if she does things that I do not like.

5] I will never take a job that requires me to leave her without adult supervision...even if that means I put my dreams on the back burner.

6] I will not move her away from her high school and her friends, even if that means I have to turn down a job (I have always firmly believed this!), however, if for some strange reason we have to move...she, kicking and screaming and pouting and moping, is coming with us.

7] I will trust my kid, but will actually meet parents face to face. I will not trust text, emails, running showers...

8] I will not impose year long punishments.

9] I will never get rid of my daughter's pet, even if we move overseas and said pet has to be in quarantine for 6 months.

10] I will give my daughter an allowance and have her tally up how she spent said allowance at the end of every month...what a good way to learn to budget, something I never learned...

OK, so I loved this book cussing, drinking, sex and all and heck, I'd let my daughter read it. I know I would have read it when I was a 9th grader...I read Forever by Judy Blume at that age.

If you've read this book what lessons did you learn? At what age do you think it's appropriate for kids to read?

Teacher Advisories
Sex 4/5 
One girl decides she wants to have sex with her best friend because she just wants to get it over with. She realizes that she may like him a little more than she realized. The main character has sex with her boyfriend and while it isn't describe in any detail whatsoever, they do have sex often. When the girls aren't having sex they're talking about sex, sharing innuendos, talking about males and their body parts. The girl who has sex with her boyfriend contracts an STD. Her friends are upset with her because she had unprotected sex. She protest because she had sex with her boyfriend who she believed hadn't had sex with anyone else. Many myths about sex and STDs are explored (no you cannot contract an STD from a hot tub). 
Language 4/5 
A boy calls a girl a slut because she's flirting with a guy who is not her boyfriend, in this scene the F-word is also used twice. Until this scene there isn't any profanity just innuendo.
Substance Abuses 4/5
Drinking, lots of drinking, lots of unsupervised parties. The book opens with the aftermath of a birthday bash (think the opening of 'The Hangover'; I did), in which the girls sold alcohol to raise money to pay off a cat operation.
Violence 1/5
Boy/girl verbal fights, girl/girl verbal fights

Touchy Subjects
This topic is handled with humor and candor. The girl who contracts chlamydia is willing to believe the boyfriend who tells her that it's her fault and is also willing to believe that she may have contracted it from a toilet seat or a hot tub although she knows these things to be untrue. She cries, she laughs, she's embarrassed, but she has friends who help her, while berating her for not using protection in the first place.
Both parents in the divorce have gone a little crazy and are thinking of themselves before their two kids. One parent moves to France another moves closer to his new wife's parents leaving behind his teenage daughter. When she ask to move back his initial reaction is that he'll have to think about it, as they turned her room into an office and gotten rid of her bed. Both of the main characters in the book are a little messed up because of this fact, one refuses to love or get close to anyone, the other thinks she's more adult than she is.
Parental Supervision
There isn't parent is too free and let's her daughter do whatever, the other totally trust his daughter to make proper choices, another lives across the ocean and can't really supervise like she would like because she feels guilty about leaving and about the affairs that ended her marriage...Both of the main characters show that what they really are parents who treat them like kids not like peers.
The girls lie to their parents (heck, they live alone for a semester without adult supervision, there has to be lots of lying going on), they lie to the school, a boyfriend lies to his girlfriend more than once and the girls lie to themselves at times.
Compulsive Exercising
To stay in control of the situation one girl over exercises, at all times (including in the middle of the night)...I've never read a book that tackles this issue, but have known people who do this and wondered how to help them.
Birth Control
The girls skip school and go to Planned Parenthood to get on birth control. While I have never been to Planned Parenthood it is interesting that teens can go there without parental contact, can get the pill or even get checked out for an STD.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option: it's full of too much stuff for me to consider it for anything else.
2] Websites
Sarah Mlynowski
FB page for the book
Review I like from the Ninja Librarian

5 Stars
Seriously, the best kind of book is a book that just seems fun and pointless, but then you realize that you learned something from it, this is one of those books.