The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

The-Girl-in-the-Park-2 “‘Honey. They found her. In the park.’

They found her in the park.  Playground. Swings. Kids. Good.  So they found her in a nice place, not a motel, which was kind of what I was expecting.

Except…they?  Not her mom?

They found her.  I shake my head, because there’s something weird about found. You find sweaters in the park.  Or lost dogs.  Found is like Wendy’s not a person.  Not a living…

My mom is crying.  That tells me what found means. Why Wendy isn’t a person anymore.  That Wendy is dead.”

Rain and Wendy used to be best friends.  To Rain, Wendy was more than a party girl intent on sleeping with everyone’s boyfriend.  She was the one with the huge heart and offbeat sense of humor, the girl who wasn’t above faking a fainting spell in H&M and who didn’t care what others thought of her.  But when Wendy’s body is found in the park after a wild party, no one seems to remember the good things about her.  Instead, there are nasty rumors about drugs and alcohol.  The sensationalized news reports  are written as though what happened was Wendy’s fault.

Rain knows it wasn’t Wendy’s fault.  In fact, she is pretty sure she knows what happened that night to her friend, and who did it.  Will she gather the courage to speak up, even if the results are devastating?

This is a solid mystery for teenagers, especially budding fans of psychological thrillers.  Rain is a believable, sympathetic character, and the plot keeps readers guessing, without feeling contrived. I finished the book in a night! The author sensitively and realistically portrays issues of predatory teachers, underage alcohol and drug use.  A great pick for teens looking to be gripped with a good thriller.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://mariahfredericks.wordpress.com/

Fredericks, Mariah. The Girl in the Park. Schwartz & Wade: New York,  2012. 217 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this, try:

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Mr. Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Shine by Lauren Myracle

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Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

catalyst“At my lab table, I review the experiment:

Step 1. Hypothesis-I am brilliant. I am special.  I am going to MIT, just like my mom did.  I am going to change the world.

Step 2. Procedure-Acquire primary and secondary school education.  Follow all rules.  Excel at chemistry and math, ace standardized tests.  Acquire social skills and athletic prowess; maintain a crushing extracurricular load.  Earn national science fair honors.  Apply to MIT. Wait for acceptance letter. ”

 

Kate Malone is a Dream Daughter: a straight-A student, a minister’s daughter, a long-distance runner.  She makes sure her brother takes his asthma medication, and that everyone has healthy meals.  She seems like the perfect student, too.  She has her heart set on MIT, and is doing everything she can to make it happen.   But it’s not easy; in fact, her life is grueling.  The only way to manage everything is with strict organization, by following The Plan.  However, when Kate’s neighbors’ home catches fire, Kate finds herself the unwilling host to a surly schoolmate and a little boy, making it difficult to keep up her routine.   And then everything starts spinning out of control,

This book is set in the same community as Speak, and it is exactly as compelling.  Laurie Halse Anderson is spectacular: she’s great at creating these nuanced, realistic characters, setting them down in gripping situations, and then telling us what happens.  This story is tragic and Kate’s voice is so natural and tense that it is a difficult book to put down.    Also, Laurie Halse Anderson  is really wonderful at producing accessible, interesting stories with excellent literary elements.   Do you remember how the main character, Melinda, had trouble with her voice and speaking, a symbol that was woven throughout the story?  In this story, Kate struggles with her vision, and readers can start to explore symbolism with the changes that happen to Kate when she switches between  her glasses and contacts.  Quality literature for the win!

Happy Reading!

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Catalyst. Speak: New York, 2002.  231 pp. Ages 15 and up.

If you liked this book, you will probably like other books by the same author.  Try Speakor Wintergirlsbut know they (like Catalyst) are about some rough stuff, and be prepared!

 

Happyface by Stephen Emond

“I’m supposed to be Happyface.  I’m supposed to smile and laugh and talk and get things going because people are attracted to that, they want to follow the happy person.  They want that happiness to rub off on them.”

Happyface’s life fell apart, and he and his mother moved to a different town.  There, he decided to shed his old identity and transform into Happyface, the life of any party and source of flippant jokes and sarcasm. However, maintaining his carefree persona requires a tremendous amount of effort, and prevents him from getting close to others.  Worse, his secret past catches up with him in his new home-a history that evokes pity in others, and he doesn’t want to be the guy everyone feels sorry for.  How can he make others want to be his friend if he can’t be Happyface all the time?

Happyface is an artist, and spends most of his time sketching cartoon characters, classmates, and the world around him.  The format of the book reflects this: pages are filled with drawings and notes, which makes it very interesting to look at.  Furthermore, the premise of the story is excellent: a young person realizes that sincerely expressing one’s feelings is the only way to be close to others, and that making friends necessitates being honest.  So, some elements that usually lend themselves to a great read are present, but this book seems to be in the throes of an identity crisis.  I found Happyface to be (please forgive me) a jerk. However, there are many fantastic books written in the voice of an unpleasant character, right?  But Happyface’s one-dimensional self-centeredness, I felt, does young people a double disservice: first, by offering an unrealistically negative portrayal of teenagers, and second, by overshadowing the more appealing elements of the book.  The text’s indecision extended to the plot, as well: a love triangle is played against a larger tragedy, when perhaps the book could have benefitted from only focusing on one of these narrative threads.  In short, the book attempts too much, and the result is somewhat confusing.

In its defense, this is Stephen Emond’s first novel, as he has worked primarily on comic strips in the past.  His artistic talent is displayed in the book, and I really enjoyed the different sketches and fonts in the story.  However, if you are looking for a visually unique story, you might want to try Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  If you like the diary format, I have to recommend the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  They are wildly popular for a reason, folks; they’re hilarious and interesting to look at, as well as being from the perspective of the underdog, which is similar to Happyface, though much, much funnier.  Finally, if you’re looking for books about how teenagers endure tragedies, I recommend John Green’s Looking for Alaska or Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.stephenemond.com/

Emond, Stephen.  Happyface. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010. 307 pp.  Ages 15-18.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“‘There will come a time,’ I said, ‘when all of us are dead.  All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything.  There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you.  Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this’-I gestured encompassingly-‘will have been for naught.  Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever.  There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after.  And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.  God knows that’s what everyone else does.'”

Hazel Grace is sixteen years old and terminally ill.  Not in the for-literary-convenience-and-there-will-be-a-miraculous-cure-before-the-book-ends sort of way, either.  She is in love with Gus, another teenager whose body has been ravaged by cancer.  They met at the Cancer Kid Support Group-the one they both attend in order to placate their parents. But that’s really not the important part of this story.

The important part is this:  Hazel’s favorite book is An Imperial Affliction, written by an author who has secluded himself  since the novel’s publication.  However, it has a hanging ending, and Hazel needs to know what happens.  She and Gus plan a trip to Amsterdam, where the author lives, in order to find out the rest of the story.

Honestly, though: that’s not the important part, either.  The reason this book is so special is because it talks to you as though you are a human being, mature enough to handle the (terrifying) prospect of contemplating the big questions: death, injustice, the purpose of being a human.  There is a lot of philosophy in this novel, but it’s not pretentious, and definitely not boring.  John Green, the author, respects you enough to believe that you are capable of thinking about big and scary things.  There are diagrams, too! I love when authors do that.

This book is like a Guide for Being a Person.  It will break your heart, but you’ll be glad you read it.  (Also, please don’t assume it is one of those sappy dying-romantics story.  It’s all right if that’s your  thing, but this book is definitely not like that.)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://johngreenbooks.com

Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2012. 318 pp.  Ages 16 and up.

Here’s what I told a friend about the awesomeness that is this book:

“In the book I’m reading: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Shakespeare, Kirkegaard [don’t panic, friends-I can never remember his theories and had to look them up yet again],  Heidegger, ‘I don’t think defeatism is honest…I refuse to accept that’, the concept of pure forms, the battle between positivists and humanists, and this amazing narrative parallel between a book with a hanging ending (in the story) and what I am wondering will be an actual hanging ending.
And it’s for teenagers.
I never, ever want to hear that YA lit isn’t real reading.”

So, if this book crawls into your brain and won’t leave you alone, I think you’ll like A. S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz.  There are charts! And ghosts! And this is another book that doesn’t talk down to you.  Also, you could try Looking for Alaska, an earlier book by John Green that is just as deep and wonderful.

I can’t wait to see what awards this book wins.  It’s already on a billion bestseller lists.

Notes from the Dog by Gary Paulsen

“‘Because every day in my journal I write down the best thing that’s happened to me.  Today, it’s you.’

When Johanna said that, I felt light, warm in that spot just above my stomach where it usually feels clenched and tight.

Before Johanna, I had never been the highlight of anyone’s day.”

Finn plans on speaking to only twelve people over the course of the summer.  He finds his life is simpler that way, when he doesn’t have to negotiate the intricacies of human interaction.  He prefers the company of his dog; who, by the way, might possibly have super-canine genius powers.  As in, he might be writing notes to Finn.  The first one: “You’re not as ugly as you think.”

Then, Johanna moves in next door, and obliterates Finn’s Contract of Noncommunication.  Even though breast cancer has destroyed her body, she has enough spirit to transform the neighborhood.  She hires Finn to create a garden in his own yard.  Finn and his closest friend become hustlers, hitting up construction workers and the inhabitants of the nearby nursing home for pledge money, money to support Johanna in her cancer triathlon project.  Suddenly, there are parties.  People are talking to each other again. It is a beautiful thing to see.

I always say that it’s rare and surprising when a book makes me cry, but I’m starting to suspect that it isn’t the truth anymore.  I 1) either choose books that make me cry or 2) am simply prone to crying.  Either way, this story did it, too-from the second the dog wrote his first note.  Finn’s story is short, simply told, and reminds us of the importance of being kind to each other.  You’ll love how the awkwardness of being fourteen is combined with the gravity of cancer and how a life-threatening disease doesn’t destroy Johanna’s giant, soft heart. I’d love to see this book in a classroom.

Gary Paulsen is the deserving recipient of the Margaret Edwards award, an honor presented to authors celebrating their lifelong achievement and contributions to the literary world.

Happy Reading!

Paulsen, Gary. Notes From the Dog. Wendy Lamb Books: New York, 2009. 132 pp.  Ages 12-15.

 

 

 

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed.  Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”

Vera’s former best friend Charlie is dead.  It’s hard enough when your best friend dies, she thinks, but when he stabs you in the back and then dies, it makes things infinitely worse.  Worse still, when he comes back to haunt you, with his ghostly form showing up in the car when you’re kissing another guy, or in the bathroom at school, it is the absolute pits.

Vera is eighteen, living with her father (you will love him, I think.  He’s pretty much the Best. Dad. Ever!), an accountant and recovering alcoholic who invests his whole heart in making sure she has the best future possible.  She works full time at a pizza place, and spends the rest of her time drinking to forget Charlie and the secret she is determined not to tell.  Of course, it’s not as easy as all that-Charlie’s ghost keeps showing up at inopportune times, a silent, shaming reminder urging Vera to tell what she knows and clear his name.

The best part of this book?  The format!  See, the story is told in a creative way-all first person, addressed right to you, and by different speakers.  I think readers will love Ken Dietz, Vera’s dad.  He chimes in during the story, in chapters titled things like “A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Frustrated Dad)” and with flow charts, like “Ken Dietz’s Face Your Shit Flow Chart”.  I kid you not, I actually made a copy of that flowchart and pasted it up on my bulletin board.  And besides Ken and Vera (and even Charlie, who pipes up every few chapters), there is the Pagoda.  That’s right, a building.  The Pagoda is a park building with special significance to Ken and his ex-wife (she left them when Vera was 12), and it gets a few chapters of its own. Trust me, the Pagoda is hilarious-I think it’s the best and funniest part of the novel.

This book combines creative elements (a haunting, a mystery, a talking Pagoda) with a great format (many voices, FLOW CHARTS!), and very common social problems of young people.  I think you’re going to love it! (And others did, too-this is a Printz Honor book, and a nominee for the Edgar Allen Poe mystery award!)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com/ (The website is really funny-the giant header describes her as “a corn lover” and “wearer of magical writing pants”. Awesome!)

All right, folks, since I’m in library school now, I think I’ll change the way I give the book information.  If you hate it, please let me know, and I’ll change it back!

ISBN 9780375865862
0375865861
Personal Author King, A. S.1970-
Title Please ignore Vera Dietz /A.S. King.
Edition 1st ed.
Publication info New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.
Physical descrip 326 p. ; 22 cm.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread path into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers.  We danced with witches and kissed monsters.  We turned us into wintergirls, and when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was afraid to be alone.”

I debated whether to review this book or not.  I’m still not sure if I’ll leave this post up, or take it down in a few days.  The problem with books covering eating disorders is that a lot of readers migrate to them for their triggering effects, to garner the strength to continue their disordered eating patterns.  I know; I was there.  I lost seven years of my life to it.  I know the books well.  And readers who are seeking this book to further their illness will find it anyway, with or without my review.

This raw, challenging story relates Lia’s struggle with an eating disorder.  Her best friend, Cassie, recently died alone in a hotel room, a victim of a ruptured esophagus brought about by bulimia.  Both girls suffered from eating disorders, and perversely encouraged the behavior in each other.  Now Lia is haunted by Cassie’s ghost, who continues to encourage her in her downward spiral.  On the night of her death, Cassie called Lia thirty-three times, but Lia didn’t pick up, and now the guilt is destroying her.  Lia starves, fights with her family, stays awake miserably at night, trying to stave off Cassie’s image in her mind.  It’s not pretty.

But, with Laurie Halse Anderson’s storytelling prowess, it is skillfully and mesmerizingly told.  I’m reviewing the book because I think it’s different from other eating disorder stories, in that she focuses much more on the mental processes involved with anorexia, as opposed to a triggering recitation of calorie counts and weights.  While those elements are certainly present in the story, the majority of the text is consumed with Lia’s tortured mental machinations, and readers are transported into the nightmarish territory of her brain.

Blank pages, pages of orders that Lia gives herself, such as “Must. Not. Eat” repeated over and over, and her actual thoughts (scratched out in the text, but still legible), followed by what she feels she must think, all combine to create a very realistic portrait of the despair of grief and starvation, without glorifying it.  Like I said, I’ve been there.  It’s not a pretty place, and Anderson is clear with the message.   While I am still ambivalent about the subject matter, because I know it is so often misused by those struggling with similar issues, I am reviewing it because Laurie Halse Anderson is a master storyteller, and this is an excellently written book, that (to me), was careful to avoid exalting the illness.

It ain’t pretty, but it rings pretty true.

Happy Reading! (Actually, with this book, I feel like I can’t really say that, so I’ll amend to: Read it if you must, because it’s the best of all the books out there when it comes to a realistic portrayal of an eating disorder.)

I’d like to close with a quote from another reviewer, Jezebel: “Read without discussion or supervision, Wintergirls could indeed be triggering. But read as part of a conversation — or, perhaps, read by parents and other family members — the book could help make some teens’ worlds a little less dark”.

Author’s website: http://madwomanintheforest.com/

Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. Penguin Books: New York, 2009. 278 pp. Grades 10-12.