Friday, October 31, 2008

Shooter / by Walter Dean Myers

When an outbreak of gun violence at a public high school is responsible for the death of one teen (perpetrator Leonard) and injury to several others, federal authorities immediately launch an on-scene investigation. Privately conducted and strictly confidential, the inquiries focus on the deceased shooter's two closest friends--Cameron and Michelle--for background info into the "incident's" culmination. Slowly, as interviews and evidence shed light on past events, it's revealed how this not un-routinely disturbed teen was prompted to act out as he did.

Cameron, an upper-middle class African-American teen, offers the best insight into Leonard's increasingly erratic behavior. Likely initiated years earlier by his parents divorce, there was still more to Leonard than suppressed animosity as multiple catalysts likely contributed to the carnage. Reclusive habits, his father's alcoholism, and an intense interest in firearms had begun to inhibit Leonard's relationship with then girlfriend Michelle; or, as she put it, he'd become "impossible" amidst a bitterness only spurned on by the high school's oppressive social heirarchy. The concluded analysis paints a disturbing portrait of a increasingly self-isolated individual, seemingly irredeemable amid personal demons and the antagonism of an outside world.

Written in a memorandum-style etiquette with very official looking transcript annotation, Shooter is another finely crafted work by noted YA author Walter Dean Myers, long one of the genre's most dynamic influences. If for no other reason, readers will find the book worthwhile for Myers' incisive observations into Leonard's psyche; acutely reconstructed through evidence given by Cameron and Michelle and personally rendered in Leonard's own journal entries.

Tangerine / by Edward Bloor

The move to Florida for Paul Fisher has come off pretty much as expected. Except for his junior high school's sinking (literally) into the ground, things aren't much different from what they were in Texas. His parents are still as hung up on his brother Eric's football ambitions as they ever were, essentially relegating Paul into the background-- the second son. Always the four-eyes with coke bottle lenses to correct his vision, Paul's not only been overlooked by his parents and abused by his brother, he's dutifully assumed the role of outcast from the start, learning to tread lightly among peers and perceive threatening situations where necessary. But when fortune associates him with the toughest clique in school--the soccer team--Paul not only becomes the star goalie, he's embraced for the first time as himself, not Eric's geeky little brother.

The aforementioned Eric is anything but what he's perceived as. Deemed a "hero" for his athletic prowess, Eric has always held the favor of his parents' eye; but he's no more a hero than he is a law-abiding adolescent. When a string of isolated thefts begin occurring around the neighborhood, Paul is the only one to see the truth and be in a position to bring it to light. Now he must choose between loyalty to his family, loyalty to his team and a terrible secret that must be exposed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saint Iggy / by K.L. Goings

High-minded claims of a disadvantaged youth would be hard-pressed to top Iggy Corso. Had by a crack-addict mother, his prospects were dim even prior his birth; having only depreciated with age as the destructive lifestyles of his derelict parents have kept him underfunded, undernourished and undereducated; not to mention under constant harassment from landlords, thieves and drug-dealers (his parents absent or indisposed most of the time). Life away from home is just as bad. Held back twice, suspended eight times and currently failing for a third consecutive term, Iggy's impending interview with the school superintendent is his last chance before he's kicked out for good.

Realizing his only chance for "any" future is to stay in school, Iggy resolves to make the most of things, seeking out his only reliable friend, Mo, for support. A drug user by profession, Mo is anything but Iggy's social equal; hailing from a wealthy upper-class background, his situation is one of choice obstinacy rather than misfortune. A law school dropout, his "minimalist" lifestyle--not unsimilar to Iggy's--would workout well were it not for his drug habit landing him in financial straits (debts to dealers); a problem now forcing him into the undesirable task of asking his mother for money. An entirely new dilemna now emerges for Iggy as, having accompanied Mo across town to his mom's grandiose apartment, he's made the buffer between a resentful Mo and his fearful but forgiving mother.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce

Evvy, a fourteen-year-old stone mage-in-training, has gotten in trouble again. Since she was sold into slavery at the age of six by her mother, she has had to live by her wits and stand up for herself. It is no wonder she is more comfortable among rocks than among humans. Forced to accompany testy green mage Rosethorn and water mage Myrrhtide on a trip to Battle Islands to determine what is poisoning the plants and animals of the islands, Evvy finds herself beginning to care about the fortunes of humans and islands again. With her mentor, Lugo, a talking rock who can command great power, Evvy must make the choice to use her powers to prevent a horrible catastrophe or to become a permanent part of the great pool of rock life.

Another engrossing fantasy from the author of the Circle of Magic and the Song of the Lioness series which will grab your soul.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Keeping the Moon / by Sarah Dessen

Nicole "Colie" Sparks is fat. Even if she no longer looks it, she still lives it; internally condemned by years as a social outcast amid abusive peers and an eroded well-being. It's her mom's fault, really, that she can no longer match her mood to her make. Currently a celebrity success story in the Richard Simmons mold, it was her mom, Kiki, who first deemed their standard of living--a stationary out-of-car existence--as unfit; thusly transforming their exteriors from obese underdogs into thin, healthy go-getters and popularizing a lucrative motivational mantra in the process. It's just that Colie can't quite follow suit (mentally), making it seem right that the 15-year-old spend the summer with Aunt Mira while mom tours Europe with her new boyfriend.

Aunt Mira's fat too, unashamedly so. And she's weird; riding her dateless Schwinn bike around her reclusive coastal town in an equally dateless flowered dress; never missing a meal at her favorite grease-pit restaurant--the "Last Chance". It's here, more or less by "Chance", that Colie's hired on as a waitress, ultimately befriending her two co-workers--beautiful Isabel and down-to-earth Morgan--who also happen to be neighbors (small town). Total opposites but firmly loyal to each other, it's Morgan and Isabel who introduce Colie to 'real life'; a life apart from her severely damaged conscious where confrontations needn't imply defeat and where meanness is exposed as the insecurity it often masks. Timidly at first, but assuredly does Colie realize the truth about herself; while as her first genuine relationships solidify, the morbid self-attention she's always accommodated is replaced by a boldness she never new existed.

Speak / by Laurie Halsie Anderson

Even if 15-year-old Melinda weren't socially quarantined, it still wouldn't matter. She's not saying much at the moment. All words have evidently been buried beneath an endless torrent of pain, despair and inner anguish at the precise time--start of 9th grade--when speech of some sort would seem relevant. Between her parents vicious bickering and the determination of her once-close-friends to ice her out, there's not only nothing to say, there's no one to say it to. Isolation seems to be her only companion ("a reliable anesthetic") as the days, then weeks and months whither away.

Anderson won the Printz Award for this stark depiction of one girl's emotional paralysis amid the suspended shock of an undisclosed trauma. Without knowing the plot synopsis, readers may initially misinterpret the reality of the situation; especially as the focus exclusively tracks Melinda's conscious at present, omitting all but the bare essentials. It's pretty late in the game that particulars resurrect themselves, ultimately exposing a justifiable reason for the silence.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How to Build a House, by Dana Reinhardt

Harper is a 17 year old girl from Los Angeles who has decided to spend her summer with a volunteer program in Tennessee that is building houses for tornado victims. All the teenagers in the program are on one team, with a guru/type adult leader who travels the world building for people in need. He teaches/oversees the construction of their house, and (supposedly) keeps their behavior in line as well. Harper needs to be away from her home, since her dad has recently gotten divorced. Not from her mother, who’s dead, but from her stepmother who took her mother’s place when Harper was seven. She’s also lost two stepsisters to the conflict, one older and one who was her best friend. Obviously the story is about rebuilding, and not just a house. What’s ironic is that you get absolutely no details on how she or the others learn to do anything with carpentry, just some initial muscle pain and how hot it is to tar a roof in the Tennessean summer. When you hear about any construction, they all seemed to learn effortlessly, since the house ends up being beautiful. But you don’t miss that when you’re reading the book, because all the focus is on the two narratives which interchange throughout: Harper’s preceding year in Los Angeles, and her present summer. The narratives are all about relationships, mostly boys and whether they like you or not. Girls (and boys) can relate to Harper’s uneasiness and insecurity about herself, but you never understand why she is that way. The way she talks to her father is bold to the point of insulting, calling him on every weakness, but he just seems to take it. And there’s a hint that she was maybe overweight (?), since Harper in the beginning says she “can’t” wear jeans, but manages to don a pair at the end and look terrific. As one Amazon reviewer mentions, Harper’s Tennessee boyfriend (of the homeless family) is pretty unbelievable, saying everything he feels and never making a stupid move. Of course there’s sex in the book as well, and Ms. Reinhardt creates the illusion that it’s totally wonderful and never any problems about infection or pregnancy or getting in over their heads. Ms. Reinhardt writes well, but might be advised to dig a little deeper into her characters’ lives and actions.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Driver's Ed / by Caroline Cooney

Best known for her Face on the Milk Carton series, Caroline Cooney's been a longtime stalwart of the genre, even winning a Children's Choice award for her Out of Time books. In Driver's Ed, the teenage pastime of sign-stealing becomes lethal when a freak accident kills four people. As with so many penultimate dates in adolescence, sixteen lingers as one more threshold into adulthood. For Remy Marland, it embodies the long-awaited, much-anticipated privelege of driving as only weeks away from obtaining her license, she lives day-to-day hoping that her next Driver's Ed class will mean her turn to drive. Not just a pre-requisite, Driver's Ed is significant for another reason . . . Morgan Campbell.

Like Remy, Morgan's sanity seems dependent on a license to drive a car. The son of a local politician, he's known all his life that a car meant freedom, an instrument by which he can remove himself far from undesirable authority figures. He may feel sure about what he wants, but he's far less confident about himself. A fact evidenced by insecurity around girls and frequent doubts concerning his family's credibility.

When, during one Driver's Ed class, a loosely arranged night-about-town pits Remy and Morgan alongside each other, it seems fortune has favored serendipity. But when a routine prank ends in catastrophe, the budding romance gets rocky as indescribable pangs of guilt and conscience intertwine within each.

The author's intuition into the characters is the strongpoint of this psychological suspense thriller where "right-of-passage" invokes more than a few double meanings. As is often the case with Cooney, the story's premise really hinges on a rather rangy "What if?" scenario, straddling the line between practiced realism and unsupported conjecture. But even withstanding any contrived aspects, readers will gravitate toward the story's gothic elements as Cooney's keen observational narrative is sure to resonate with the audience.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Rumble Fish / by S.E. Hinton

The problem with a reputation is that it's owned by others. Something Rusty-James can't seem to figure out about the rough and tumble world of gangland politics. Younger brother to street-legend and current top dog "Motorcycle Boy", his own ambitions aspire likewise even if his fists lead him into more trouble than they can get him out of. An absence of discernment and poise is fine while your brother's around to bail you out, but not all battles can be fought halfway. Nothing betrays a lie like the truth. It's not long before Rusty-James jams himself into circumstances too comprimising to escape from as, left to his own devices, his authority and the shaky influence with others begins to falter.

Post-Holden Caufield but pre-Drugstore Cowboy, there was S.E. Hinton. A teenager, and girl no less, this anomaly of Faulknerian proportions defied mainstream stereotypes to become a touchstone of YA fiction, penning her first novel--The Outsiders(1967)--at 18 while still attending her Tulsa high school. Still the second best-selling YA book ever, 'Outsiders' was a stark representation of personal alliegances within rival street gangs and the violent consequences enmeshed therein. Its publication made Hinton a household name nearly overnight and is still required reading in many secondary schools. Her other books, all involving teenage boys at life's crossroads, have served to cement her among the pillars of the genre.