Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

Global warming has caused the polar ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise; consequently, much of the Earth’s land has disappeared, leaving only high-lying islands. A corporation run by a woman known as Earth Mother now rules all of the islands. Honor and her family have moved to Island 365, and from the outset it looks like they’ll have a hard time fitting in. First of all, Honor’s name is all wrong. Everyone born in her year has a name that begins with H, but Honor’s name has a silent H and is therefore all wrong. Honor’s family also sings songs (forbidden), stays out past curfew (a serious offense), and worst of all, has a second child. Honor grows more and more embarrassed by her family’s disrespect of the rules, but her embarrassment turns to concern when she finds out what happens to people who do not fit in. This book is similar to other futuristic children’s books, like the City of Ember books and the Shadow Children series. If you liked those books then you’ll probably like this one; however, it’s not a standout. I liked how some of Earth Mother’s rules were similar to the rules of the former Chinese ruler Mao Zedong, like how all people had to hang a picture of her in their house and have a book of her sayings. It is truly frightening how Earth Mother and the people who work for her are able to control the population. Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, March 23, 2009

Piggy by Mireille Geus

This is a very disturbing book. It's the story of a girl who is content to lean against a lamppost and watch the neighborhood boys play ball in the street, until one day, on the opposite side of the street, there's another girl leaning against a lamppost, watching the kids, just like she is doing. The story pretty much goes downhill from there. The first girl, Lizzie (who calls herself Dizzy because of the dizzy spells she suffers), tells the story, and it's somewhat disjointed as it jumps back and forth in time between the aftermath of the terrible thing that happened, and the story she is telling to a nice policewoman about the terrible thing that happened, and the time when the terrible thing actually happened. See what I mean? Lizzie tells the story firsthand, but I'm not sure I really got a sense of her as a round, complete character. She is very detached, but I guess that is the point, and the bully character, Piggy, is very emotional. There is a strong sense of foreboding throughout the book, but little explanation of what is actually different about Lizzie. This is a quick read, but it will be a while before I stop thinking about it. Review by Stacy Church

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My So-Called Family by Courtney Sheinmel

I really enjoyed this book. It deals with an unusual topic: having a father who is just a sperm donor. Leah told everyone that her father lived in Europe until she was in the fourth grade and her mother told a new friend the truth about her parentage, and the friend told her daughter, who was a friend of Leah's. That's when she gained the nickname "Science Experiment." So when her mother and stepfather tell her that they're moving to a new city to live, Leah realizes it's the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. The new school is good, she makes friends right away, and her new friends even like having her little brother, Charlie, around. Leah is an interesting character, because even though she seems so independent, her desire for people to like her and not find out the truth about her background makes her willing to go along with her friends plans even when it gets her in big trouble with her parents. She also finds herself drawn to a website she discovered: Lyon's Sibling Registry. It's a website that connects the children of sperm donors from the Lyon's Sperm Bank. She uses her mom's credit card to join, and learns about a girl who has the same father. In secret, Leah becomes friends with her and even goes to visit her without her parents knowing. I'm not sure how believable the story is, but it doesn't really matter. I like the resolution: Leah finds out that her parents and her new friends are a lot more accepting and understanding than she thought they would be. Review by Stacy Church

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found by Sara Nickerson

Sixth-grader Margaret's life has gone downhill since her father's death. Her mother spends entire days lying on the couch in front of the TV, her younger sister is obsessed with "The Hardest Jigsaw Ever Made," which she takes with her everywhere, and their "Family Fun Day" involves going to the laundramat and the grocery store. So the girls know something is up when their mother loads them into their pick-up truck one Sunday, drives them a long way to a broken-down mansion at the end of a lonely road, and then plants a "For Sale" sign on the lawn. Boyd lives next door to the mansion and is obsessed with a series of hand-drawn comic books by an author named Ratt. He finds the comics at the local library which isn't really a library at all: there's no catalog, all the books are hand-written, and there are no patrons except for Boyd, who comes every day to get the latest Ratt comic, which will have shown up on the doorstep during the night. This is one of only two books that I know of that incorporate graphic novel sections into the text. The other is The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, published in 2007. Margaret goes into the mansion when her mother isn't paying attention, and finds an unopened package addressed to her mother. It's marked Return to Sender, and Margaret takes it. When she opens it later, she finds a comic book, a swimming medal and a key to the old house. Margaret's father drowned, so when she finds out the championship swimming medal was his, she knows she has to find out what really happened to him. How could he have drowned if he was a championship swimmer? There are other mysteries, too. Who is in the old mansion and what is he trying to tell Boyd and Margaret? Is he trying to kill them or help them? He chases them out of the house, along with some growling, hairy monster they never really catch sight of, but he also leaves them pages from comics that chronicle whatever has just happened or is about to happen. This is a creepy mystery with lots of suspense. For more about this book, visit Review by Stacy Church

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Well Witched by Frances Hardinge

If you like your creepy books with a dose of reality, then this book is for you! Ryan, Josh and Chelle are hanging out in town one summer day, when they realize that they don’t have enough money to catch the bus home. Josh, the unspoken leader of the group, comes up with the idea of taking the money from a nearby wishing well. Big mistake. Over the next few days, strange changes happen to them – electrical devices go haywire around Josh, Chelle starts spouting out thoughts and words that aren’t her own, and Ryan develops warts on his hands that have…eyelashes. Soon they discover why these changes are happening, and how it’s connected to the money they stole from the well and the spirit that lives there. This is an original paranormal story that pulls you in right from the start. What I like best about Well Witched are the characters, and their growth throughout the book. The author really understands what it’s like among three kids that are friends - how Ryan and Chelle always feel a little odd together when Josh isn’t around, and how the person with more confidence than the others is the unspoken leader. But the dynamics of the kids’ relationship takes a twisty and unexpected turn by the end of the story. The book also addresses family conflict, abuse of power, and if we really want what we wish for. Review by Katie Corrigan

Monday, March 09, 2009

Triskellion by Will Peterson

This is the best fantasy book I have read in quite a while, and I'm so happy that it's the first volume of a trilogy! The second book is due out in May: Triskellion 2, The Burning. Twins Rachel and Alex are being sent to spend the summer with their grandmother in England, who they've barely met before. Their parents are going through a horrible, messy divorce, and their mother wants them to be out of the way for a while. They travel alone for the first time, and as soon as they arrive in the village of Triskellion they know something strange is up. There's no one around, and then when they do meet someone, it's a pair of brothers who beat Alex up! Things don't improve much -- they go exploring in the woods, climb up into a tree fort and witness the savage beating of the brothers who tormented Alex, seemingly as payback for their bad behavior. The men doing the beating are dressed up in strange costumes with blackened faces! The story seems to revolve around a chalk diagram in a field in the shape of a triskellion, or three-pointed blade. There are a number of evil-seeming characters who do their best to make the twins feel unwelcome, clearly warning them off about something. They are befriended by a strange boy named Gabriel, who can join the twins in their telepathic communications with each other, and he seems to be hated or feared by the people in the town. There's plenty of mystery, intrigue, fighting, and attempted murder (the twins' friend, the beekeeper, is locked in his shed by the band of Green Men, and the shed set on fire!). There are a lot of references to folk lore and mythology, which you can research if you want to, but the story makes sense (well sort of) anyway. I'm glad there will be a sequel, not only so that I can read more of their adventure, but also hopefully some of the more vague parts of the story will become clearer. Review by Stacy Church