Thursday, September 24, 2009

through a different lens

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, YA
Challenge: Banned Books 2009
Review: This book has faced challenges in many schools and communities. Here is an interview with the author about some of the challenges.

My response: What's more important - a few things you don't agree with, or a powerful story about a teenage boy learning to deal the world around him? I know, what a silly question.

I'll be honest, I had a hard time with this book at first. I spent the first part of the book wondering whether Charlie was supposed to have emotional problems or whether the writing was just awkward. When it became clear that Charlie did have emotional problems, I started to wonder why nobody but me seemed to notice. But then comes the big reveal... And Chbosky does it so well that it made the whole rest of the book shift into focus, and I could see why this is such a powerful book for so many teenagers.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

a broader view

The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, YA
Challenge: Banned Books 2009
Review: First, an article about an effort to ban this book in Oklahoma.

My response: I can't claim to be shocked that this book was challenged, since it does deal with teenage girls questioning and discovering their sexuality, but as always I'm disappointed when people choose to bury their heads in the sand rather than accepting that people are different, and choosing to recognize a book that deals with real issues in a sensitive and realistic manner.

I thought that Johnson approached her subject matter in an interesting way. Rather than just focusing on the one character who winds up coming out, and her struggle to come to terms with her own sexuality, Johnson sets her story within a group of 3 girls. When one of the girls goes away for the summer before their senior year of high school, the other two find themselves in a "more than friends" situation. Johnson sympathetically relates the story of any two people who try to negotiate going from being friends to having a romantic relationship, and possibly back again. Teenagers can definitely relate to this story, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Added to that well-drawn story, Johnson also gives us the third girl in the triangle, who comes home from her summer away and finds herself in the middle of the complicated relationship of her two best friends, while at the same time dealing with issues surrounding her own new long-distance relationship.

One criticism I have is that the characters weren't all that well-drawn. I had trouble at the beginning distinguishing the three main characters, and even after I could remember who was who, they all seemed a little fuzzy around the edges. None of the secondary characters were particularly clear either. In a book that is largely character driven, I wanted to get a better sense of the characters outside of the particular conflicts they were facing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

not black and white

The Fighting Ground by Avi
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction, children's
Challenge: Banned Books 2009
Review: First, a brief article about why this book was challenged and subsequently banned in a school district in Florida.

My response: Attempting to ban any book that has even one instance of a word that could even vaguely be construed as "profanity" is just silly.

In this book, Avi ably portrays the hopes and then fears of Jonathan, a young boy who suddenly finds himself fighting in the Revolutionary War. Even more interesting, after the battle is over, Jonathan is thrust into a morally complex situation where he must question which side he's on. Students will be able to sympathize with Jonathan's dilemma and will take away valuable lessons about how the world is not always drawn in black and white.

Friday, September 11, 2009

reading banned books

It's been a while since I did a reading challenge, and I think it's time to jump back into it. And where better to start than with the Banned Books Week Challenge. This year, Banned Books Week is from September 26-October 3, and the BiblioRat is hosting a challenge for everyone to read at least one banned (or challenged) book, or even as many as four, during the month of September. Of course I am aiming for 4!

1) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
2) Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler
3) The Fighting Ground by Avi
4) The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson

For more books that have been banned or challenged, look here.
ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom has also put together an interesting map of which books have been banned or challenged in which communities.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

back to back home runs!

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: science fiction, YA
Review: With the second installment in The Hunger Games trilogy, Collins has totally defied the unfortunate truth that a sequel rarely lives up to the promise of the first book. Not only does this one not disappoint, it's a truly good book. No "middle book syndrome" here! Once again, Collins has turned in a page-turner of a story, that, while it revisits some of the themes from The Hunger Games, is also fresh and new.

What happened after the dramatic finale of Katniss's Hunger Games? Collins relates the effects of Katniss's actions in her personal world, throughout the 12 Districts, and even in the Capitol. In doing so, Collins has given fuller flesh to the world her characters inhabit. In Catching Fire, she not only ratchets up the tension, but sets the stage for a thoughtful, insightful, and exciting final book in the trilogy. If expectations were high for the second book, they're that much higher for the third.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

beautiful but soooo sllooooow

Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: This is a beautifully written, lyrical book. Unfortunately, the writing is also so slow and deliberate that I almost couldn't stand it. What little drama or action there was in the book was almost completely overwhelmed by the ponderous writing.