Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bystander, by James Preller

This goes in the list of “books I can’t stop thinking about.” Eric is new in town, and while he’s idly shooting baskets by himself, a kid runs past. Flees, actually. And the kid is covered in ketchup. A few minutes later, some other kids ride up on their bikes, asking if Eric has seen anyone come by. Instinctively, Eric lies and says no. Griffin, the leader of the boys on bikes, takes something of a liking to Eric, and while Eric has some misgivings he can’t put his finger on, the two become friends. Griffin can charm the pants off most adults, and it takes a little while before Eric even realizes that he’s a bully. But it’s not so easy to stand up to a bully when he’s your friend--and doubly hard to stand up when you know you’re the next one at risk.

What’s keeping this one in the forefront of my brain, really, is how brutally realistic this is. Most bullies--especially in middle school, where this is set--aren’t of the punch-you-and-take-your-lunch-money ilk. Griffin’s initial target--the kid covered in ketchup--is someone Eric confesses is just unlikeable, not some plucky hero who can make the bullies rethink their evil ways. Every single character acts and reacts realistically, flaws and all. Eric knows that bullying is wrong, and he points it out tentatively, but he knows that it’s not going to change things all that much.

What’s good, though, is the acknowledgement that even if things don’t change school-wide, speaking up to protect even one kid is worthwhile. Speaking up even just to voice the opinion that bullying is not cool is worthwhile, even if nothing changes. And that being a bystander to bullying may keep you safe, but it won’t help you sleep at night.

There’s also a plot thread about girl-on-girl bullying, with rumors and slander, and a girl who wants out even though it means social suicide. Kudos to Preller for its inclusion; it’s so easy to overlook how mean girls can be to each other when boys actually throw punches.

This is the most realistic look at middle-school bullying I’ve read. It’s not a flattering portrait, but it is realistic, and I think that’s important. By “realistic,” I mean that the kids mock the “don’t be a bully” assembly; our hero admits that the kid being bullied sort of asks for it, even though that doesn’t make it right; school administration talks a good game but ultimately the bullying persists; in the end, the bully is still a bully, he’s just moved on to different targets. Because of its realism, I think this would make a great book for discussion and I’d love to see it replace the hokey Revealers that’s currently the 7th grade Required Summer Reading book. Unfortunately, because of its realism, I don’t think that will happen--much better to leave kids with the idea that three outcasts can write letters to their classmates about being bullied and not be mercilessly teased for it, or that lots of people sharing their stories of being bullied will make the bullies have this epiphany and suddenly become choir boys. Ahem.

Anyway. Bystander. Add it to your Bullying-themed booklists, work it into your book discussions, and see if you can sell it to your middle-school administration. Books like this remind me (as if I needed a reminder) why I am so, so relieved to never have to be a middle-school student again.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Half Brother

I loved this book! Set in 1973, the story deals with the controversial issues of animal testing, psychology and family. The main character, Ben, welcomes a chimp into the family as a brother. But then when his dad loses his research grant, tough decisions have to be made. Ben is put through an emotional wringer.

The story is incredibly poignant and really illustrates the huge strides science has made in the last 40 years.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I couldn't finish this book quickly enough. I absolutely loved it.

She really captured the tangled emotions of a date rape victim. And the confusion of blame and guilt and doubt. It really matched by own experience. I loved the way she explored Alex's memory in fits and starts. It unfolded with the story.

Though there is something sticky about the concept of encouraging kids to go to a group of peers rather than to the authorities, the Mockingbirds are an ingenious group.

I really liked the characters and the story, even the ending. That's saying something. :)

I highly recommend this one. It's a quick read... I finished it in a night.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I absolutely fell in love with this book. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. Jennifer Donnelly writes historical fiction like no one else. She manages to intricately weave the French Revolution and the evolution of music with a teenage girls struggle with losing her brother and the resulting depression and family chaos. It's absolutely breath-taking.

Until the last few chapters.

The end is incredibly bizarre and cheesy and made me kind of sad because I loved the rest of the book so much.

I still think it's worth the read, but consider yourself warned. :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010


Wow. Just Wow. I am in awe of Neal Shusterman. He never ceases to amaze me.

This book has been on my "to read" shelf for weeks and I devoured it in two days. It reminds me a lot of Stephen King's The Green Mile. I don't think I could explain it if I tried.

Bittersweet and mysterious and deeply philosophical. This one will stick with you.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Confessions of Grace

I picked up this book on the bus to NYC thinking that it would be a light and silly ready. I was pleasantly surprised. I should have known that the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT wouldn't disappoint.

I loved the interweaving stories and the fact that she created a real blog --! Hilarious.

The end was a little abrupt, but sweet.

Now THIS is the Elizabeth Scott I know and love! This book was absolutely stunning. I am in awe of how she writes so sparingly. In the same way that LIVING DEAD GIRL got under my skin for days, GRACE also stayed with me. This is one of those haunting stories that will make you think about war and terrorism and right and wrong... and what it all means. She really tears apart the concept of evil and hate.

I'll never look at a train the same way again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

So I stayed up WAY too late last night to finish this gem. and WOW. Just WOW. Wonderful coming of age story of a girl who is struggling to overcome her "destiny" and DNA, while dealing with the abandonment of her mother, and the ultimate betrayal of friendship by her lifelong best friend, who then died. Vera loves Charlie as much as she hates him. Vera's voice is fresh and honest. I loved the snarky, saracastic but spot on life observations. I especially liked the relationship between Vera and her dad as they both basically refuse to deal with their abandonment by Vera's mother and their determination that Vera not make the mistakes of her parents.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Extraordinarily Spectacular

Ok, so I love Nancy Werlin and I adored IMPOSSIBLE. But EXTRAORDINARY just wasn't that remarkable. I read the author's notes about how she wanted the story to reflect the way that friends can change each other forever and how she was inspired by WICKED... but, for me, it was just a faerie story. And I wasn't impressed by the conversations in the Faerie realm that are sprinkled between the chapters.

If you want faerie angst, read WICKED LOVELY. :)

I was SO hoping that THE SPECTACULAR NOW would round out my list of hilarious boy books. It didn't. :(

I found the writing to be witty and honest and funny, but was very disappointed by the overall message in the story. The main character is clearly an alcoholic and there are never any consequences for his antics. He crashes cars and destroys property and is failing school and all he gets is a little summer school. Not only that, but Sutter's whole relationship with Aimee has no point in the end. He thinks he's some kind of savior, bringing booze and craziness to her life. But in the end, he's just another jackass.

Now, for adults, I think the story is funny, though the end is lacking closure. For teens, I worry about the messages it sends.

I LOVED this book. It's a solid tween read... excellent for kids who aren't ready for the angsty stories like BURN JOURNALS or STUCK IN NEUTRAL. This is a quiet story about a boy who meets a girl who is horribly disfigured. I love the intimate look into his thoughts. He's frightened and horrified and doesn't want to stick out, but he also likes her and doesn't want to be like the other kids.

The end is perfect and sweet and believable.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hi from BFYA land

Alright, so I haven't posted in FOREVER... I know, I know. I've been frantically reading for BFYA cause I (as always) am SO behind... but I thought I'd give you a glipse of my favorites of the nominees so far:

Cause I just can't get enough of distopian novels.... this one is AMAZING! Fresh voice, strong characters, detailed and interesting setting... plus it really puts a whole new perspective on the Gulf oil catastrophe.

So this one isn't out until the middle of September, but worth the wait. Quiet, character driven examination of the relationship between brothers. Also an interesting look at the Iraq/Afghanistan war and PTSD. Another book to put in the hands of teens considering the military.

Cause I just can't get enough Rick Riordan.

Full disclosure- this was my first nominee this year... but scenes from this book still haunt me months later.

Definitely on the young side of YA, but my middle school book club girls LOVED this one too. Gives you a first hand look into the mind of a girl on the Autism spectrum.

Ok, more dystopia but OH SO GOOD!

This one comes out on Wednesday. The main character is a girl that so many typical average girls will relate to easily. She has a realistic voice and her concerns are standard girl concerns- the angst and drama is everyday type stuff.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I *loved* this book. It's on the same level as A Northern Light which is high praise in my book.

It's rare that I read an entire book and then devour the author's note, but I just couldn't get enough of this story and was completely mesmerized when I discovered that it was based on a true story!

This is historical fiction set in New York in 1911. Life was hard, especially if you worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. If you remember your history, you'll know what happened there. If not, I won't ruin it for you.

Davies weaves two stories together -- one is about a 16 year old Jewish factory worker with hazy memories of family loss and the other is about a 20-something mystery woman who appears in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory one day.

A stunning mystery. Read it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I'm on a roll with the hilarious, laugh aloud books. Thank you, Alissa for getting me started with this little gem...

Swim the Fly! This one is full of fart and vomit jokes and is a genuinely hilarious read. Plus, I just love this kid's motivations for everything. He starts out swimming the fly to impress a girl and by the end... he has no idea why he's doing it. I love his posse of weirdo friends, too. Good stuff all around.

Now I'm reading another gem of a book! Carter Finally Gets it. More fart and vomit jokes and a hilarious scene with ass-less jeans while running from the cops. There is also swimming. Everything is funnier in a Speedo. Especially when you're a 14 year old boy and your "mainframe" has short-circuited from staring at butts and boobs. :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I LOVED this book. I read it all in one night... couldn't put it down. By the end my heart was pounding and tears were streaming down my face.

Rainfield managed to address issues of sexual abuse, cutting, ptsd, therapy and lesbian love all in one novel. And she does it well. This isn't just a book about a kid with problems, though. It's a roller coaster mystery of buried memories, panic attacks and adrenaline. You'll be APALLED by the end.

I love the fact that the main character has a kick-ass therapist and wonderful adults in her life (her parents kind of suck) who help her through all of this. It's refreshing, hopeful and very real.

Give this one to kids who like novels about kids with problems and also to kids who like a good suspense story.


I loved this story. I loved Jane and her innocent and confused and grief-stricken voice. I loved the clumsy father. I loved the crazy rose lady who helped Jane express herself through photography. And I loved the fact that this is not a book about eating disorders, but about the sister left behind. She's the forgotten sister and the one who suffers in silence.

AND, there is a cameo by my favorite giraffe! He lived in the Santa Barbara Zoo and had a kink in his neck. I used to visit him all the time when I was a kid. He died recently. :(

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sick and Reading

I read FOUR books this weekend. I was sick and trying to stay as still as possible and so I channeled Ms. Alissa and sat my ass down and read. :)

First, I read Fat Cat by Robin Brande. I loved Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature, but this one was a little off the mark for me. I liked the general idea of looking at body image and health through the lens of science, but in the end, I thought the message got swallowed by the inevitable romance. Why can't fat girls decide that they don't need boys to be happy?!? Anyway, it's a fun read for someone who likes high school drama romances.

Then, because I was on the body image theme, I picked up Purge. I haven't read many teen novels specifically about bulimia. It seems like authors stick to anorexia... or am I missing something?

Anyway, I thought this was a pretty good portrayal of a complex eating disorder. Because it takes place in a hospital, the author is able to brake down some stereotypes about eating disorders and gender, etc. I especially liked the fact that the parents had breakthroughs of their own. While it wasn't as beautifully written as Winter Girls, it was still a decent novel about an important topic.

After all that girl drama, I picked up Ostrich Boys. I LOVED this story. How often do we get to look into the murky world of grieving boys? Never. This is a great exploration of the confusion and guilt and anger that goes along with the grief of losing a best friend. The end is neither neat nor sappy, but it definitely does the job. I suspect that a lot of boys will pick this one up because it's a great adventure story about 3 goofy 15 year olds on a haphazard roadtrip. But the deeper messages about friendship will get through.

Ok, so this one is short... and that's the best thing I can say about it. I know it will appeal to reluctant readers because it's about teen pregnancy and it can be read in an afternoon. But, I found the tone to be lacking. This story is written in verse like Ellen Hopkins wildly popular novels. While Hopkins really delves into the angst and pain of these tough issues, I felt like this one just grazed the surface. It almost glorified teen pregnancy which did NOT make me happy.

I mean, it's nice to see a story about a kid who ends up having the baby and being ok with it, but I really wanted to see more.

definitely skippable.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Almost Perfect

So I have to admit that I stayed up WAY too late last night to finish this book. It was totally worth it. I loved it! Of course, I sobbed through the last 20 pages, but still. This is an incredibly realistic and heartfelt story.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oh, teen lit, how you love to make me cry

I'm on a roll here with the depressing books. So I figured it might be cathartic to display it all here for you

After was stunning. Amazing. Painful. Horrifying. How can you love a book like this? I have no idea, but I did.

And then I was depressed for an entire day..

Next I picked up By the Time You Read This I'll be Dead. I mean, what did I expect from that title?
Julie Anne Peters has, once again, outdone herself. How do you make a suicide book suspenseful? She did. I *hate* the cover but the inside look at the camaraderie on suicide chatboards was stunning and haunting. The one thing I'm not sure about was the end. I mean, I loved it, but it was so open. Did I assume she died just because I'm a cynical adult? Is there another way to see it? I need to talk to some kids about it.

Then I picked up an ARC of Carol Williams Lynch's new book Glimmer. HOLY CRAP. That book ate me up. I'm not usually a fan of blank verse books, but this one grabbed me and wouldn't let go. It was really horrifying and suspenseful and even though I kind of knew what was happening, I couldn't tear myself away. It was a really touching portrait of sisters and the guilt of survival.

My latest depressing read was actually not that depressing.

I heart Jordan Sonnenblick. Seriously. Drums Girls and Dangerous Pie was one of the funniest, most heart-breaking and wonderful books I've ever read. Well, his continuation of that story in After Ever After is even better. WOW. I loved reading the next chapter of Jeffrey's life. Once he goes into remission, what next? He's a teenager and he has to figure himself out... side effects of treatment and all. I'm still sniffling. A MUST read.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

When You Reach Me

Ok, someone has to help me out here.  I didn't see the appeal of this one.  At all.  I know there's serious Newbery buzz about it and I just fail to see the greatness of this book.  Other than the Madeline L'Engle references I thought it was kind of lame.  Plus, it just didn't seem young enough for Newbery.  Meh.  I just want to know what people see in this one.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Going Bovine

Ok, so I finally finished this one and I just have one thing to say...

Libba Bray is on some serious drugs.  


Where does that woman come up with this stuff?!