Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Some Books for the Younguns (YA Fiction Reviews)

So, about those lil' tabs across the top of my page... yeah, those... the ones that could lead someone into believing I am a cooking, crafting, literary extraordinaire?

Well, about that.

Confession #1- Since school started, I do believe the only time I have used a recipe was to make cookies for the exchange.

Confession #2- I have yet to complete the set of two (two!) coasters I was making out of repurposed tiles that I started back in September,

BUT! I have managed to continue reading (probably because it is a lot easier to read in the bath tub at night than to cook or craft... go figure).

Unfortunately, I have not been good at blogging reviews about what I have read. I am trying to catch up on that though. For a while there, my reading taste went from Young Adult to Erotic Fiction, and back, and forth. (We're going to pretend "eclectic" is an appropriate word to describe that weirdness.) To not proliferate that weirdness eclectic reading genre, I decided to break my "catching up" into "The Naughties," previously blogged about, and "For the Younguns," now.

Also unfortunate is that some of these books I finished as long ago as five months ago, so I can offer no more than a brief overview and reaction.

Gym Candy by Carl Deuker

This book is pretty easy to summarize- football, football, football, dad living vicariously through son to hide thrown away chances of his former youth, football, football, football, player turning to steroids in fear of being replaced by younger guy, football, football, football, steroids causing player to lose place on team, friends, and potential girlfriend.

Oh... and football, football, football.

Seriously, there is a LOT of football in this book- like entire chapters just describing the action on the field during a game. Now, some may expect that the plot considering what the book was about. However, for those of us not at all (AT ALL) interested in the game of football, football, football- it was mind-numbing.

This is a good read for that kid that sees himself as the stereotypical jock that isn't supposed to like reading. It's a good boy read. You do spend a lot of time inside the narrator's head and it's written in a way to make you believe in the conflict he is feeling between making decisions he knows are wrong and having to keep his place on the team.

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin

This was one of the books given to me for my classroom library from the graduate course I took on promoting independent reading in English classes. It was part of a list of novels that were written for adult audiences but included themes for a young adult crowd. Surprisingly Hunger Games was part of that same list, so I almost wonder if the adult and young adult roles in that classification didn't get switched around.
It's the story of a sixteen-year-old girl, that is a "Little Person", and decides to transfer to a performing arts school because she is an amazing singer. The novel opens though with Judy living in a motel, next door to a rather creepy guy that does not speak but appears to be her only friend, as she seemingly hides away from news reporters. The story unfolds to reveal the events that led up to her secluding herself away from family and schoolmates in a way that pulls in the reader, especially the young adult reader, in wanting to know what she did that was so awful.
The narrator's voice is strong and well-developed. You see into her mind as she deals with the usual stresses of high school- making new friends, trying to fit in and having a crush on the popular boy. You also see those high school stresses amplified in a playground where you are judged on your creativity- from the way you decorate your locker, to your talent- including which role you will land in the next musical. Of course, all of these emotions and conflicts are highlighted by the spotlight Judy lives in on an everyday basis, due to her being vertically challenged.
I was drawn into the novel immediately. I liked the voice and I was interested in the plot. When I told a co-teacher that I was reading the book, she commented about it being "dark" or "twisted," and I immediately thought there was no way she had actually read the book. Then...  I understood. The stardom that was thrust upon Judy by a few of her classmates was not at all the stage for popularity she had hoped for.

Burned by Ellen Hopkins

This was a novel that I learned about in that same graduate program. It was one of the "STD Books" (because it got passed around a lot) or a "Hooker Book" (because it hooked kids into reading). I kept hearing about it and then saw it in the piles of discarded lit at the Habitat Re-Store and grabbed it!
Although not a "large" book in dimensions, it is a THICK book- 531 pages thick, which may stop many young readers from opening it up. But when they do, and see that it is written in poetic form, they just may be too intrigued to turn away. The unique structure of the book's text does make it a quick read, despite the volume.
And, it's a good read. Pattyn is raised in a Mormon family, that while it doesn't seem to quite fit the  genre of Fundamental, is definitely part of a close-knit religious-based community. She gathers with the other teens each morning to pray before going to public school (in her traditional dress), and spends each night hiding away the secrets of her father's alcoholism and abuse.
When Pattyn tests the boundaries of her father and her community with too many conflicts- questions about religion and interest in a boy, she is sent away to live with an Aunt in Nevada. The Aunt, although a very private person, had too many of the same conflicts with the life from which Pattyn comes. As a result, Pattyn gains a lot of freedom through what was meant to be her isolation in the middle of rural country.
Certain developments in the novel are a bit trite and too easy to predict. The writing is brutal though- raw emotion that often makes you feel punched in the gut. Then, the frustration you feel when the book ends, unresolved... punches you in the gut again when you slam it shut in frustration... and see the title... and understand. Sometimes the most powerful words are those unspoken, or unwritten.

Almost Home by John Bauer

I picked this up at the high school's book fair. I have to admit it was a "Sucker" buy. I was suckered into the book by the fact that when this young girl's life falls apart though homelessness and abandonment, she still gains self-worth through the very distant connection maintained with her English teacher. I was probably even a little suckered by the fact that English teacher's name was Mr. Bennett, and James M. Bennett High School is my Alma mater. Then, even that puppy. Look at him! He is very well-casted for the book jacket to fit his descriptions in the novel.
I would have to say that the reading level of this book is more middle school than high school, and the main character is one that middle school girls are going to relate to better. Still, it is a good story. Although written simply, several twists to the plot are unexpected, and the conflict the main  character feels towards her mother is well-developed. Namely, after struggling to find normalcy with a delusionally eccentric mother and trying to force a sense of self-worth into a mother who allows men of no worth define her, should Sugar feel guilty that she finds stability in a life away from her mother just as her mother is gaining the tools to be better in that role? The characters are a bit extremely stereo-typed beyond Sugar herself. However, I can very much see this story translate into a Lifetime-produced movie.

Skinny by Donna Cooner

I really like the main idea around which this book centers. Ever Davies is 15 years old and has a gastric bypass. When I read the author's notes following the novel, I was unsurprised to see that the author had herself had a gastric bypass and writing this book was a type of self-therapy for her to resolve the conflict she felt between who she was and who she now sees herself to be. I think this would make a much more interesting and appropriate novel for the adult reader. I don't like the idea of promoting such radical weight loss surgeries to adolescents. Parts of the novel also didn't feel believable, likely because the author was imposing an adult inner conflict on an adolescent character.
That feeling of unbelievability was also compounded by the metaphor of that "voice" telling you that you are never "good enough" manifesting as an actual Tinkerbell-like fairy that whispers into the main character's ear. That aspect of the novel, of course, plays much better in a young adult novel than it ever could to an older audience. There were two other conflicts introduced though that I found very interesting. The first was with a popular girl who would have never acknowledged Ever, at least in any good way, prior to her surgery. Once she began to visibly shed weight at a quickened pace though, she became almost a make-over pet project for the class mate. I imagine this is a relationship dynamic the author may have faced in her actual weight loss journey- the idea of someone attaching themselves to your success so that by symbiosis they receive some of the admiration and praise.
The other interesting dynamic was the discovery of the main character at the novel's end that perhaps she wasn't as victimized as much as she made herself a victim to the ostracization and what she interpreted as judgment and cruelty from others. It's an interesting concept to ponder even in my own life- how often am I the one to label myself an "other" and assume I am rejected by the norm because of my size vs. how often is that really the case? Perhaps not as much as I think it is, and perhaps my defenses to perceiving it that way is sometimes what actually perpetuates the responses that I go into situations expecting (this concept is much less confusing in my head... and doesn't require a fairy to explain).
As I said, the premise behind this book, and several of the topics explored and conflicts developed could have made for a very interesting book aimed at an adult audience. And not just those whose identity is tied to their weight because so many of those same conflicts are universal across whatever standard we use to judge ourselves needlessly. 

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