December 2006


This is just a reminder that SUCH A PRETTY GIRL, Laura Wiess’s fantastic book from MTV books, will be released January 2nd. Go out and buy it! Or, order from Amazon here.

You can read my review here.

TRASH is a verse novel that continues telling the story Boy and Sissy Lexie, first introduced in Sharon Darrow’s novel THE PAINTERS OF LEXIEVILLE. It’s certainly not necessary to have read that first book (I haven’t), though–but I’m planning on it now that I’ve read this one. The best part of this book, I think, is the characters, and I’d love to read more about them.

Sure, the story is interesting, too: Boy and Sissy are teenagers now. They’ve been shipped around to various foster homes in a way that makes them feel like trash, especially since their mother discarded them like it. Now they’re living with the town trash collectors, a placement that seems especially fit using that comparison. It’ll never be home.

Boy says that home is where their big sister Raynell is, and Sissy thinks it’s the truth. So what do they do? They run away and go to find her. They think she’s in Little Rock, but it turns out that she moved to St. Louis and their foster parents didn’t deliver the message. They don’t know how to find her, so they start saving their money, and when they have enough, they go to St. Louis and search her out.

In St. Louis, they have a family with Raynell, her husband, Jobe, and their baby, Kylie. They also have new friends: Dolores and Tyrone. The four of them run around the city at night, climbing, jumping, and painting. They take new names with which to sign their graffiti: Boy and Sissy, who have always wanted real names, are now Atenz and Skye.

And then something unthinkable happens. Something terrible: Boy doesn’t look where he’s jumping, and in that split second of not looking, things change forever. Sissy’s life will never, ever be the same.

Both the story and characters in TRASH are interesting. My issue with this book is the form it takes. I do enjoy verse novels quite often, but they have to be done in a particular way to really be able to take the name verse novel. They have to flow and tell the story as well as a good novel does. I’m not sure that TRASH does this; the poetry is a little too artsy and doesn’t flow as smoothly as it should. The style of poetry doesn’t make for a novel so much as some random poems scribbled on sheets of notebook paper. Perhaps this is just personal preference, but I think Sharon Darrow could have told the story better if she’d written it as regular novel, the way the rest of her stories are told. Still, though, TRASH is worth reading.

Rating: 8/10

I read the Australian version of this book (it comes out in the United States in 2007), so there may be a few slight differences (there were definitely differences in grammar that I noticed!). Hopefully that won’t include the cover; I love the Australian cover, and it fits the book perfectly!

NOTES FROM THE TEENAGE UNDERGROUND is a fantastic debut novel! It starts out with three best friends, Gem, Lo, and Mira, trying to come up with ideas for their summer project. The summer before was their Satan Summer; they dabbled in all things occult. The summer project has a theme, goals, and guides. This year, they want to do something spectacular; it could be their last summer project–who knows what the future will bring?

Lo is usually the one with ideas, but this time, Gem has some ideas of her own. Their theme for the year is Underground, whatever that means. Ug for short. Their guide? This is where Gem is inspired. She sees some of his work–four films of kissing couples playing over and over–at the National Gallery, and she decides, with a bit of help from her artsy mother, Bev, that Andy Warhol should be their guide into the world of the Underground (which at first kept making me think of riding the subway a lot…). She does some research into Andy Warhol, his work, his life, and the people around him, and then comes up a goal: to make an Underground film.

During the course of this project, Gem realizes a lot of things about her life and her relationships. She feels like her friendship with Lo and Mira is an isosceles triangle; the two of them are close together, and Gem is all alone at one end. She’s also being pressured to make some decisions about her future, as all seventeen-year-olds are. Her mother and Sharon, school counselor and Gem’s godmother, want her to go to University, but Gem’s a lot more interested in film school. Speaking of her love for movies, she’s starting to think she could love something else at Video City, where she works–her coworker, Dodgy. On top of all of this, Gem’s father, Rolf, has always been out of the picture, just sending the occasional weird haiku from where he lives out in the wilderness–but now it looks as though he could be stepping back into Gem’s life, at least for awhile.

This summer is a turning point in Gem’s life. When it’s all over, Gem will be different. Her life will be different. This much is pretty obvious. But how will things change?

I really, really loved this book. It was a lot of fun to read, and the idea of the summer project was very interesting, something that set this book apart from a ton of others. Almost all YA is about things changing, as that’s what’s always going on for teenagers, but Simmone Howell’s novel had something that makes it stand out in my mind! If it’s got Andy Warhol and obscure movies in it, it’s got to be different.

Gem is a wonderful character. I really felt, while reading this, as if I knew her. She’s very interesting, and what goes on in her mind is fascinating. I couldn’t put this book down! I woke up at one in the morning, for some reason anxious to finish this book. That almost never happens to me! As I’m writing this, it’s a little bit difficult to explain what about this book is so amazing, but there’s something. It really captures the teenage experience. Simmone Howell obviously remembers this time in her life very well! I’m going to have to revise my ‘Best of 2006’ list to add this one! This is a must read!

Rating: 10/10

**This review is also posted on TeensReadToo.com**

Review: See You Down The Road by Kim Ablon Whitney

Bridget and her family are Travelers. They’re a little-known group of people in America who travel around the country, making money in usually illegal ways, and keep to themselves, with their own traditions and way of life. People who aren’t Travelers are called Country, and Travelers usually isolate themselves from these people. They don’t trust them, and only interact with them to scam money off of them. Travelers only go to Country schools for a few years, just long enough to know what they need to.

Bridget is a little different from many Travelers in that way. She works Country jobs, as a cashier, and she’s been going to Country schools years longer than most other Traveler teenagers. Still, though, she keeps to the Traveler was most of the time. She and her friend Ann make their money by ripping off the local Kmart in whatever town they’re in. Her parents have arranged a marriage for her, with Ann’s brother Patrick. Her brother, Jimmy, has grown up helping their father fix driveways and roofs with watered-down sealant to make a better profit by scamming Country people.

Bridget doesn’t always like her life as a Traveler, but she doesn’t see a way out of it. She isn’t sure she wants to marry Patrick, even though he’s a nice guy and she does like him, but she’s never see any way out of it. Then, her uncle, Big Jim, takes Bridget, Jimmy, and Patrick with him all the way to Arizona, where they’ll pull off the biggest scam that Bridget’s ever been involved in. They’ll sell condos that don’t meet the building codes, and then run off with the money. The beauty of it is, the contractor won’t dare tell on them, as he’s the one who hired them to sell condos that don’t meet building codes.

In Arizona, Bridget has some time to think about a lot of things, maybe even figure out what she wants. But then she makes another discovery about her family, one that could change everything for Bridget…The choice is hers, but what will she decide?

Before reading SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD, I had never heard of Travelers. I don’t think many people have, but they’re real people, and reading about them was very interesting. Their way of life is very different from the way most of us live, and this is an eye-opening book. Many of us don’t realize how differently some people live from us, not just in far away places but right here in the United States.

On top of that, SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD is full of amazing characters, and is very well written. All of the characters are well drawn, realistic, and three-dimensional; even the very minor characters seem alive. The ending is not what we might expect from this sort of book, but it fits well, and is one that I really liked. It wasn’t predictable, and it was still a happy ending. In that way, it reminded me of the ending of POP! (though the two stories have little in common…although Bridget and Marit reminded me a little of each other at times), except Kim Ablon Whitney pulled it off better than Aury Wallington was able to. Whitney’s ending, I felt, stayed true to the story and characters, and flowed with the rest of the story wonderfully.

Rating: 10/10

**This review is also posted on TeensReadToo.com**

Review: Pop! by Aury Wallington

POP! follows one of the trends I’ve noticed in my reading this year(see my Reading In 2006 post): it deals with the consequences of sex for teenage girls. It also, however, deals with making the decision to have sex or not, which is something that is also important. This is an important topic, and when I say that it’s something I’ve noticed, I don’t mean the preachy books about teen pregnancy. I mean realistic books about other consequences, books that aren’t preachy and don’t condemn sex, just show that some thought should go into making that decision.

In POP!, Marit thinks she is the only seventeen-year-old virgin in Connecticut. This is obviously an exaggeration, and her best friend Caroline points out the flaw in this idea: their other best friend, Jamie, is also a virgin. He doesn’t act like it’s as big of a deal as Marit does, though.

What, exactly is Marit’s problem? She’s had boyfriends before. Caroline and Jamie think they have it figured out: as soon as Marit’s in a relationship, as soon as it gets physical, she gets scared and runs. As much as she tries to protest this theory, Marit’s past experiences prove that it may have some merit.

Marit’s older sister has a solution. At first, it seems totally outrageous, but the more she thinks about it, the more it makes sense to Mart. The idea is that Marit and Jamie can lose their virginity to each other. They’ll know not to expect anything from each other, it’ll be totally comfortable because they’re already so close, and they won’t be the only seventeen-year-old virgins in Connecticut anymore! It is, Marit thinks, the perfect plan. After having sex with Jamie, Marit won’t be afraid anymore, and she’ll be able to actually have a serious relationship with someone. Like maybe Noah, the new guy at school. He’s completely different from Marit and her friends, but she really likes him, and losing her virginity to Jamie seems, to her, like a good way to finally get–and keep–a great boyfriend.

Of course, this plan is not as simple as Marit thinks. After she gets Jamie to agree to it, she finds out the hard way that sex, no matter how much she doesn’t want it to be, is a big deal. She can’t just lose her virginity to Jamie and expect the whole thing to be over and done with, and have everything go back to how it was before between the two of them, and actually have a relationship with Noah. Nothing is ever that easy.

This book is pretty fantastic. It’s Aury Wallington’s debut novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more from her! Besides the fact that I do like the topic of the story, the writing is great. It does a fantastic job of pulling in the reader, and it flows marvelously. Almost all of the characters were three-dimensional, though I occasionally had some issues with the Caroline character in particular. The narration, in Marit’s voice, is very realistic in depicting what goes on inside the mind of a teenage girl.

I didn’t feel that the ending rang completely true to all of the characters or the situation. That could just be me, personally, though, as the idea for the ending was nice; it was a happy ending, but not the predictable one. That’s great in theory, but making it unpredictable and truer to the story and characters could certainly have been done, I think.
Overall, however, this book was fantastic, with only a few problems. It definitely kept me reading all the way through; whenever I had to put it down and get back to real life, I missed the characters and couldn’t wait to get back to reading POP!. The term page-turner certainly applies to this book, and, as you can see, this made my Best of 2006 list, despite its minor flaws.

Rating: 9/10

MAGIC LESSONS is the second book in Justine Larbalestier’s trilogy, and it’s just as wonderful and gripping as MAGIC OR MADNESS! In this book, there are just as many questions as in the first, as every answer Reason finds only leads to more questions. For everything that’s resolved, there are five more things that I was anxious to find out as I read on! There is plenty of suspense in this book.

Reason, Tom, and Jay-Tee have all stepped through Esmeralda’s magic door into Sydney, leaving behind Reason’s evil grandfather, Jason Blake, as well as Jay-Tee’s older brother, Danny, in New York. They’re being taught magic by Esmeralda, even Reason and Jay-Tee, though they’re still not sure they trust her the way Tom does. They’ve had some bad experiences with magic, but they know now that they have to use it, or else they’ll go crazy, like their parents. However, every time they use magic, they lose a little time alive. Magic is not the blessing it is in other books; in the world Justine Larbalestier has created, it’s more of a curse.

The door between Sydney and New York is acting strangely. At first, they think it’s because of Jason Blake, but it turns out to be something much more frightening and mysterious. They’re not sure what it is, but Reason knows something about whatever it is that the rest of them don’t: It’s a Cansino. She and Esmeralda are related to it. One more thing: it’s old. As in, centuries old. Reason isn’t sure what to make of this information, but she doesn’t trust Esmeralda, so she’s not telling anyone.

Then, she loses her chance to share it. She is sucked through the door into New York. Reason’s not as lost as she was the first time; after escaping the scary, stinking old man-like creature standing in front of the door, she finds Jay-Tee’s brother Danny, and stays with him. She can’t go back to Sydney; the old man, the Cansino, is guarding the door. She could always buy a plane ticket home (or, rather, Danny could buy her one; money is nothing to him, and she has none), but there are a few things keeping her in New York. One, she wants to find out more about the man guarding the door, and maybe do something to get rid of him if Esmeralda figures out what he is. Two, there’s Danny…

Sequels often don’t live up to the high expectations set by the previous books, but MAGIC LESSONS sure does! It’s just as great as MAGIC OR MADNESS. One thing that I like about these books is Justine Larbalestier’s magic system; it’s very original, and it seems more realistic that, if magic existed, it would have a price. That makes this much darker than a lot of books about kids who find out they have magical powers, and also adds some extra awesomeness to an already great book.

The number of questions being far more than the number of answers also adds something to this novel. Even though I usually think that a book is made less wonderful by a cliff-hanger ending, I don’t think that’s the case in these books. First of all, the main conflict of the book is resolved, but, as all answers do in Justine Larbalestier’s books, those resolutions bring new questions to be answered in the next book. Nothing here has been what it has seemed to be so far, but everything also makes perfect sense. Add this to great writing, wonderful characters, and brilliant ideas, and you’ve got an amazing trilogy! I absolutely cannot wait for book number three.

Rating: 10/10

**This review is also posted on TeensReadToo.com**

Review: Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

Reason Cansino has always been taught to fear her grandmother, Esmeralda. Reason’s mother, Sarafina, has taken them all over Australia, mostly to remote Aboriginal settlements. Reason has only been to a real school once, but Sarafina has taught her lots of things; mostly math and some science.

Reason has been happy with her life, but when Sarafina goes crazy–really crazy, as in trying to kill herself instead of her usual craziness consisting of things like making them walk in straight lines for days–all of that comes to an end. Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda in Sydney. She’s expecting the dark, scary house of her mother’s stories. The one where Sarafina’s cat was murdered. The house where dark magic takes place–imaginary magic, of course, as Sarafina has always said that magic isn’t real. It’s too illogical.

What Reason finds, however, is a spacious, light house, not at all witchy. There are no animal sacrifices in the living room, no bubbling cauldrons in the kitchen. That can’t undo the belief that years of Sarafina’s stories have created, though. Reason is sure that something is going on underneath the surface, and she’s got to run away and get out of Sydney as soon as possible. She’s got to rescue Sarafina from the loony bin where she’s locked up.

Sydney’s not all bad, though; Reason meets Esmeralda’s neighbor, a boy about her age named Tom. She’ll be sorry to leave him behind, but it looks like he’s working with Esmeralda, and she’s got to get away from the witch.

Reason’s escape from Sydney doesn’t exactly go as planned. Instead of escaping with her mother and all of her supplies, Reason finds herself on a winter street in New York City, barefoot and with nothing, after stepping through Esmeralda’s back door.

She doesn’t know how she ended up there, but she’s grateful to Jay-Tee, the teenage girl who rescued her from the freezing, alien streets. She thinks that Jay-Tee is just a friendly passerby…But could there be more to it than that? What is going on? How did Reason step through a door from Sydney to New York? That’s just not possible. What secrets are being hidden from her?

MAGIC OR MADNESS is a wonderful novel from Justine Larbalestier, who’s married to one of my favorite authors of all time, Scott Westerfeld. It’s a fascinating story, and the way it’s told is a little unconventional: some chapters are told in a first person point of view, in Reason’s voice, and others are told in a third person limited POV, from inside either Jay-Tee’s or Tom’s mind. These three different points of view could be confusing, but Justine Larbalestier pulls it off wonderfully.

The story itself is quite a page turner. I first read this book when it first came out, and reread it after getting my own copy in paperback, and I loved it both times. The characters are all wonderfully realistic and interesting. Each answer Reason finds only leads to more questions, keeping suspense throughout the story. The writing is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to the third book in the trilogy, MAGIC’S CHILD, coming in 2007!

Rating: 9/10

**This review is also posted on TeensReadToo.com**

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