Saturday, January 31, 2009

On the Devil's Court / by Carl Deuker

Aspirations of a dream senior season in basketball seem to be imploding for Joe Faust when he completely bombs his first day of tryouts. A new kid in a new school, he knows he has to impress if he stands any chance of starting at point guard; but the ball just wouldn't bounce his way. Everything seemed to be against him, like he was somehow cursed. So later on when an eerie sequence of events presents Joe with a bargain of a rather eternal nature, the chance for earthly redemption's just too much to pass up, even if something else gets sold off forever.

Needless to say, Joe's second day of the two-day tryout couldn't be more flawless, leaving the others dumbfounded at the difference in his performance and even coercing the coach into a "I must have pegged you wrong" statement. But this is only the beginning as Joe's dream season quickly starts to manifest itself; things like an injury to the team's starting point guard conveniently creating opportunities as wins, stats and adulation pile up at seemingly every turn. It's almost as if nothing stands too far out of reach as even his most fantastic ambitions now appear feasible. But while temporary achievements seem endless, they can't keep Joe from wondering about his situation in the long run and beyond. With stress bearing down hard as the championship game approaches, Joe's prompted to make some surprise maneuvers off the court and readjust his feelings in regards to the game he loves.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nothing But Drama / by Reshonda Tate Billingsley

Despite all her mother's warnings about her bad-rep boyfriend Keith, 15-year-old Camille still insists on seeing him--in secret. But nothing's hidden when Keith is suddenly arrested by police and Camille is suspected of harboring him (unknowingly) as a felon. Now she's forced to give up her Tuesday nights for group counseling at a local church. Court ordered restrictions and told-you-so's might seem like hardships, but nothing can compare to what Angel, another Tuesday-nighter, has on her plate. Pregnant at 16, Angel's been virtually abandoned by everyone; her boyfriend long gone and currently on the outs with her irate grandmother, she's not only without mutual support, she might soon be without a place to live.

The other group members--Jasmine & Alexis--may not look like they have any real problems but it doesn't take long for everyone to realize that just the opposite is true. Chippy Jasmine has some serious attitude and self-control issues, exhibited when her aggression gets on more than a few nerves and almost incites a brawl at the first meeting. Delicate Alexis may be from uptown (and have the clothes to advertise it), but her erstwhile family and self-image crisis have her reeling on the inside. After getting acquainted with each other in less than classy fashion, the foursome--with help from their stern but patient counselor Mrs. Rachel--steadily start to work through their problems together, slowly forging bonds that will stand up against anything.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Breaking Point / by Alex Flinn

Paul Richmond thinks nobody has it as bad as he does as he begins a new year at the prestigious Gate-Bucknell Christian School, a place he's only attending because his mom works in the counselor's office. It's been over a year since he and mom were "dumped" by Paul's dad, who must be doing so well with his new girlfriend, Melanie, that he hasn't even had time to return Paul's hundred or so phone calls.

Well, David Blanco might have it worse. Everyone knows, especially the torcherous rich-kid clique, that David is only at Gate-Bucknell because his mom works in the cafeteria and his father is a janitor, making him a defacto victim during all waking hours. David's learned not to trust anyone; paranoia fueling his seemingly permanent animosity, exemplified when Paul receives a somber "you'll be next" in response to his awkward attempts at consolation.

Paul is next as almost overnight things change; David is suddenly left alone at school and Charlie Good, elitest of the elite clique, tries to get to know Paul. Charlie's not only rich, well-known and a tennis ace, he's even liked by teachers. Soon Paul starts hanging out with Charlie on a routine basis, even accompanying him on some prankish endeavors. All in good fun though. Or is it? Things become suddenly serious when Charlie and his entourage start planning a most diabolical plot, one that's not only dangerous but deadly.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stargirl / by Jerry Spinelli

Having lived in an isolated patch of Arizona for a few years, 16-year-old Leo Borlock's kept up a fairly routine, uneventful life. Now a junior at Mira Area High School, he's basically confirmed his little niche in this "hotbed of nonconformity" he calls home.
That all changes the day Stargirl arrives. Stargirl (her real name) Caraway isn't your everyday new student, even judging by the homeschooled-all-her-life conditions she's grown up around. Cooky, quirky, outgoing and ultra-charismatic, she single-handedly turns the school on its head, her outrageously different behavior--combined with a genuine indifference to peer approval--drawing more attention by the minute. Stargirl wears kimonos and buckskin to school. She plays the ukulele in the cafeteria at lunchtime. She carries around a pet rat named Cinnamon. She laughs when there's nothing to laugh at. She goes to funerals for people she's never met. She cheers for the visiting team. There never was nor would there ever be a "new kid" like Stargirl. Leo's as sure of that as he's sure, since the first glance, that he's hopelessly in love with her. But when her individuality and refusal to comprimise--those same magnetic qualities--hinder the ambitions of others, how will Leo be able to reconcile his love for Stargirl with the anxiety of disapproval?
Jerry Spinelli's perhaps best known for his tweener novel Maniac Magee about a boy wandering a city alone, befriending various people and serendipitously bridging social divides in the process. Like this and many of his other works, Stargirl is a shining reminder on the uniqueness of individuality and society's stubborn tendency to conform to certain distinctions. Though readers may find it easier to identify with Leo's inner struggle than with how Stargirl's singularity is able to impact the collective population, broader themes of universal compassion and mutual integrity are well-realized by the story's end. This book is well worth it for anyone seeking a fun and enlightening read.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

We may think we know about the war in Iraq, but Walter Dean Myer's book lets us experience what young people are going through over there. The book’s main character, Robin, is 18 years old and has enlisted to stand up against the people who engineered the attacks of 9/11. He and his fellow recruits, both men and women, are not accustomed to being in a foreign country and are dependent on what they are told and on their gut instincts. One recruit’s mantra is that everyone has to “cover everyone else’s ass”, so that they have a chance of survival. Ironically enough, this is the soldier who ends up risking his life for a blind Iraqi child. Their particular unit is called “Civil Affairs”, since they are to go behind fighting units and help deal with civilians. But once the aftermath of the invasion starts heating up, their unit becomes just as prey to IED traps and attacks as combat units, and Robin’s sense of mission is not so clear anymore. Civilian casualties and the inability to determine who is friend or enemy make this a particular difficult war. Myers has written a story that develops each character to the point that you can feel their frustration and their desire to help others, and in some cases, feel their decision not to care. One soldier trained in first aid is told not to help wounded civilians since they may be the enemy, but she does it anyway. Myers does a good job of portraying the efforts of our army to make sense of a terrible situation and to try to do their job. Whether they have succeeded, he leaves it up to you to decide.

Friday, January 2, 2009

In the Forest of the Pygmies / Isabelle Allende

In this third and last installment of Isabelle Allende's trilogy about globe-trotting teens Alexander and Nadia, the travelers find themselves in Kenya on an elephant safari with Alexander's journalist grandmother, Kate.

Their trip starts out in a pretty ordinary way, but soon the group runs into a very persuasive missionary who convinces them to journey deep into the African jungle to help him search for two of his lost compatriots. They soon arrive in a remote jungle village where a trio of evil despots has run off the local queen and enslaved and terrorized the Pygmy and Bantu peoples who live there. Alexander and Nadia must draw on all their intelligence, skills and otherworldly companions to rescue the Pygmies and get themselves and the rest of the International Geographic crew back home with their lives.

This book includes high adventure, a taste of the diversity of the African people and landscapes, and a dash of magical realism. Although you don't have to read the series in order, the author does refer to events in the previous novels. If you want to start at the beginning, the first book is City of the Beasts, and the second is Kingdom of the Golden Dragon.