Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. New York: Hachette Book Group USA, 2005. Print.
Annotation:  Seventeen-year-old Bella moves away from Phoenix to the dreariest, sunless place on earth...Forks, Washington.  Alone and often clumsy to a fault, Bella has all but given up on the sunshine in life until she sees Edward Cullen on her first day of school.  If you think Vampires are hideous creatures who drink blood, wear long black capes, terrorize the town, dread the sunlight, and oh yes, have no capacity to love...think again.  Edward Cullen will change your mind -- and you just may fall in love, too. 
Justification for Nomination:  The Twilight series by author Stephanie Meyer is no stranger to the literary world, or the entire world, for that matter.  It seems redundant to write yet another blog on this very successful book series that turned into a blockbuster movie, and solidified the celebrity of some really cute actors, and when I mean “cute,” I mean, wow.  That aside, there are some really worth-mentioning literary qualities in the book.  This is a book that has crossed over from being yet another YA novel to a broadly read story by the young and old alike.  The story of Bella, the somewhat rebellious, but likable young woman who has, by choice, left the comfortable home of her recently married mother in Phoenix, Arizona, to live in Forks, Washington, with her father, Police Chief Charlie Swan, is a classic coming of age love story with some supernatural twists and turns. 
Feeling awkward and alone, Bella starts off her new adventure on the first day of high school – a very small, rural high school, where everybody knows your business.  Entering the lunchroom, she gets a glimpse of Edward Cullen, an unusually handsome young man, who sits with his family, all of whom are incredibly good-looking and out of ordinary in such a place.  Long story short, Bella and Edward are immediately drawn to each other, and share an electric magnetism that puts all reason and wisdom aside.  A true love story, Twilight, appeals to all of us who love to hear about love and all of the complex, painful scenarios that follow it – this plays out especially in this story.  Edward is a vampire, but not a hideously ugly one – a gloriously beautiful one, who falls in love with Bella… and shouldn’t have, because, well, vampires just do not mix with humans who bleed…and Bella is what one might call, a real clumsy sort of gal. 
The story of Twilight forever changed the horizon of the “horror” genre as we know it.  This book has the horror and supernatural elements so intriguing to the young reader, but also romance.  While some literary experts feel Twilight is perhaps not well written, this obviously has not done much to discourage the widespread appeal of the book.  Importantly, the plot is creative and interesting, and the characters are well-rounded.  Emotionally speaking, it is easy to become attached immediately to Bella and then Edward.  Stephanie Meyer catches the reader immediately with Bella’s dilemma of loneliness, isolation, and the unknown.  Further on, her writing is able to connect us to Edward and Bella’s deep love and attraction for each other, and the constant battle they face to secure their relationship.  The emotional attachment in the book is really what makes this story so intriguingly successful, regardless of what critics may say.  While the book is not what I would say is Printz material, the story of Twilight emotionally connects to the reader and possesses the coming of age issues all teens face.  Meyer’s narrative style is simple and easy to read, but entertaining and addictive.  I would recommend Twilight for young readers.  Personally speaking, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the book, seen as how I was a bit befuddled by all the fuss about vampires and werewolves, initially.  Unfortunately, my teenage daughter is now fighting me to get her Twilight books back…J

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

Annotation:  To say Arnold Spirit, Jr., has lots of problems would be an understatement.  A punching bag for bulleys, "Junior" is abused and beaten on the reservation, but his home is little refuge for him.  Tragedy strikes over and over, but Junior finds a way to keep going, and believing things can get better.

Justification:  I sat for a long while trying to figure out how I would start this blog about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.  I do not feel that words can really describe how I felt about this poignant and almost unbelievable story (semibiographical) about Arnold Spirit, Jr.  His story caused me to do a few things I rarely do at such a level when I read a book.  It made me laugh and cry; real belly laughs and real tears (and at the same is that possible?) Just an amazing story!

“Junior” is what Arnold is called.  He is 14-years-old and lives on the “rez”, which is the Spokane Indian Reservation.  His circumstances are dire.  Having been born with hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), he suffers terribly with this medical condition, having seizures that cause a domino of other issues, but not just medical issues.  His medical issues translate to his appearance, and the constant ridicule of those who live on the rez.  This right here is not funny stuff.  However, Sherman Alexie can take such tragic circumstances and difficulties, and have you feeling sadness, laughter and compassion, all at the same time.  This happens throughout the book. 
Since there is so much in this book that touched me, I will try to give you the gist of one circumstance that is the foundation of much of Junior’s circumstances -- poverty.  Here is one excerpt by Junior: 
                It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor.  You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly.  And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian.  And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor.  It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance.  No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor. (Alexie, pp. 12-13)
This situation plays itself out when Oscar, Junior’s dog becomes ill, so ill that his alcoholic father decides reluctantly to put the dog out of his misery.  Here is what Junior says about this: 
“So I heard the boom of my father’s rifle when he shot my best friend. A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that.”  (Alexie, pp. 14)
In Junior’s story, we see him struggle to find a way out of the reservation by deciding to attend public school.  We feel his deep desire to change his circumstances, to see his dreams come alive as a cartoonist, but there are hurdles, tremendous hurdles and obstacles.  The mountains of tragedy, racism, poverty, and alcoholism, stand in front of Junior the entire way.  But, he climbs them all.   Throughout the story, there are visual references in the form of cartoons, which are done by Junior.  For the reader who loves visuals, this is a great addition.  The drawings add to the story and are also quite funny. 
Finally, if you ever hear a young person (or adult) say, “I can’t,” -- give them this book!  While there are no easy answers here, this is a truly poignant story addressing the “who I am?” question all young adults have.  It is excellently written and authentic in content and narration.  Unfortunately, I was sad to hear that this wonderful book has been banned in some school libraries, but I strongly feel that teens should have the opportunity to read this book.  These subjects are clearly obscured by the overall message in the book.  A young adult will not just remember the controversial subjects like profanity or sexuality.  No, they will remember Junior’s story, and little of this.  It will open hearts to the circumstances of poverty, alcoholism, bullying and tragedy.  This makes the story authentic and real to life.  Junior’s story not only speaks to the teen experience, it speaks to the situations of the poor, specifically, the Native Americans, who sadly, have suffered since the beginning of our nation’s history.  This is something that we should not discourage in understanding. 
Read this book.  I cannot say it enough…it will make you laugh and cry, and appreciate the blessings in life.  And not only that, but encourage what we as human beings can and should do to help each other.  We are all human beings, no matter what our race.

Genre Category:  Semibiographical/Poverty/Multicultural/Alcoholism/Death

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Branzei, Sylvia. Animal Grossology. New York:  Price Stern Sloan, 2004. Print.
Annotation: Have you ever heard of vomit munchers, blood slurpers, owl pellets, slime makers and dookie lovers?  Have you ever wondered why your pet dog likes to eat poop?  If your answer is ‘yes’, then this is the book for you…however, you may want to consider skipping lunch...possibly dinner, and perhaps that midnight snack – especially if a fly has sat on it. 
Justification for Nomination:  This is one gross book – but it’s great!  Sylvia Branzei hit the nail on the head...or should I say, fly on the head, when she created this series about all things gross and disgusting concerning animals, and some bugs, too.  Oh, and she also has other books about Grossology, and you should check them out, especially if you have a reluctant reader.  Here’s why.  The books are fun and informative.  The gross information included about the things animals do is accurate and factual, so there’s learning to be had here.  In the midst of the text (which I might add is interesting in and of itself, with large and varying fonts), there are terrifically gross illustrations created by Jack Keely.  The illustrations are cartoonish and large, taking up random portions of the pages.  The text is mingled in a block type format.  Smaller notations within illustrations give further background and detailed information about the subject. 
For instance, let’s talk about the housefly, one of life’s most pesky insects.  I might add that you may find yourself driving to the hardware store to pick up some fly tape after reading it, so beware.  In the ‘all about flies’ section, we have an illustration of a housefly puking up on chocolate chip cookie; the fly does this so the cookie portion he’s thrown up on will dissolve slightly, so it can be easier to slurp up.  To a fly, it’s all about creating food malts to be sucked through its straw-like tongue.  Yum.  I mean, yuck!  A close-up photograph of a fly is included, which looks a lot like something you’d see in an Aliens movie.   There are facts mixed up in this, too, and helpful hints about how you can keep your food safe, along with your health, which may be compromised if you happen to eat something the fly has thrown up on containing it’s last meal, which regrettably, could have been doggie poo.  So, good advice is to be learned here!
Okay, so you get it.  So why nominate such a gross book?  I am not sure it deserves an award, as the subject material is not necessarily award-worthy in comparison to other nonfiction works like Hitler’s Youth, or Hole in My Life,  which are, I believe, worthy of greater recognition.  However, I do feel that this book is a real opportunity to get efferent and reluctant readers to give reading a second chance.  It has the visual components that keep the stories moving along, and the illustrations are equal with the text, in that you see a great amount of pictures and illustrations.  The text information is interesting, fun, and formatted well.   The words used are something young readers will enjoy; all things gross and disgusting about vomit, blood, dookie and poop are used here.  I would say this is kind of a “boy read,” but I happen to know a young female reader who thought it was hilarious, so it seems to appeal to both genders.  Animal Grossology is a fun read for young adults, and adults.  It contains information about all types of animals, and the gross habits these sometimes cute and cuddly creatures have.  If you have a reluctant or efferent reader, this may be the book to change that perspective.  This book can pull a reader through, and before they or you know it -- the book is done...and mission accomplished. 
Genre Category:  Nonfiction/Animals/Habits.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Brashares, Ann.  The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.
Annotation:  Best friends, Carmen, Lena, Tibby and Bridget, are spending their first summer away from each other before their junior year of high school.  Could it be that a pair of jeans found at a thrift store and fit all the girls perfectly, are magical?  They think so.  One pair of jeans + Four best girlfriends = A summer they won’t soon forget. 
Justification for Nomination:  The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, written by author Ann Brashares is a wonderful story about friendship and the heartache that often comes along with growing up.  Four best friends, who have known one another “forever” are spending their first summer away from each other before their junior year in high school.  Before leaving on their respective trips, Carmen, Tibby, Lena and Bridget spend some time together trying on a pair of jeans that Carmen found at a thrift store for $3.49.  All of the girls have very different shapes, but for some reason, this pair of jeans fits them all perfectly!  They decide this has to be magical, and in order to stay connected with one another, they agree to share the jeans over the summer.  So, the story begins of four girls and one pair of jeans. 
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a friendship story, a real coming of age story that will resonate with teens.  As the jeans are shared between the girls, we learn about their individual and unique stories and experience the range of emotions they do; from love to loss, from life to death.  Tibby loses a new friend to leukemia, Lena finds love but must learn to be truthful, Carmen must face relationship issues with her father and his new family, and Bridget loses her virginity and cannot handle what she has done.  Ann Brashares writes with an easy youthful style, but with it shares deeply personal and complex situations that are relatable and interesting to teens. 
There are many reasons this book would be considered a quality piece of young adult literature.  Importantly, it addresses the “who am I?” quest that all young adult literature must seek to define.  It is emotionally engaging, believable and real life, with topics appealing to teens.  The protagonists experience some painful lessons and challenges, thrusting them into unknown territory, testing their abilities to deal with grown up realities.  It is a heart-tugging story about friendship and life, and how each friend moves on, learning and growing from what they have experienced.    
Ann Brashares is a fluid writer.  Each character voice is well-defined.  Her writing is simple to understand, emotional and age appropriate.  The structure and style of the story is interesting, breaking into multiple points of view, which is very effective, and not distracting from the overall story; a different approach from how most books are written.  The narration does not come off as preachy or working too hard in creating a lesson; it comes across as natural and believable.  There are no easy fixes in the friends’ situations, but wisdom is gained.
Personally, I loved this story and it’s no wonder so many teens do, too.  It speaks to so many of the issues teens face as they move into adulthood.  Importantly, the quest for finding themselves without each other, the ‘who am I?’ factor is the foundation.  Another plus is that the book is a series; a real plus for young adult literature.  This is a fantastic read for anyone who is looking for an appropriate coming of age and friendship story.
Genre Category:  Fiction/Friendship/Coming of Age