Friday, August 16, 2013

Just Listen

Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: February 28, 2008
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Annabel Greene is the girl who has everything. At least, that's what she portrays in her modeling shoots. But Annabel's life is far from perfect. Her friendship with Sophie ended bitterly, and her older sister's eating disorder is weighing down the entire family. Isolated and ostracized at school and at home, Annabel retreats into silent acceptance. Then she meets Owen - intense, music-obsessed, and determined to always tell the truth. And with his guidance, Annabel learns to just listen to herself and gains the courage to speak honestly. But will she be able to tell everyone what really happened teh night she and Sophie stopped being friends?
It's obvious from almost the very beginning that Annabel experienced something very traumatic, but it's not revealed until a ways into the book. Which only makes it scarier, the way Annabel hears a nameless voice whispering something that should be reassuring but instead sends shivers down your spine from the terror it evokes in Annabel. And that's kind of the whole point of the book - the way Annabel doesn't allow herself to acknowledge anything out of the normal, the way she pushes everything deep down inside herself, refuses to talk about it, definitely not with anyone else but not even with herself. Owen, with his forthright honesty cultivated both by his Anger Management and his really endearing family, eases her into opening up by discussing their very different tastes in music (and come on, who actually likes the kind of music Owen likes?) in a completely confrontational but also safe way.

But as happens in real life, which Sarah Dessen always gets so exactly, Annabel isn't miraculously cured because of Owen. She has to face things herself, and she doesn't - and so she loses everything all over again. I felt like screaming at her as she made the dumbest decision again and again simply because she feared confrontation and jumped to conclusions about what other people were thinking. I also teared up a bit, because to a lesser extent I do the same thing. That's another great thing about Sarah Dessen's books - you always find something to relate to in every single book.

But the way Annabel finally takes a deep breath and gets the courage to face every horrible terrible thing that's happening in her life - that's beautiful. Because it takes such tremendous strength to stop ruining your life by hiding behind a facade of "everything is just fine." We know all along that Annabel is strong, but she proves it even more when she is partly the catalyst for her family's change and when she takes her life back in her own hands. When she repeats Owen's own words back to him, it becomes obvious that not only did Owen help her, she helps him, and that's just so perfect.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Candy and the Cankersaur

Author: Jason Sandberg
Publisher: self-published
Released: 2012
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Source: ebook from author for review
Candy gets lots of interesting toys from her father, and one day she gets a Cankersaurus Rex from the Island that Time Forgot. She trains her new pet and has lots of fun with him, but the neighbor boy Chucky is jealous, steals Cank and sells him to the circus. When he sees how sad Candy is and regrets what he's done, he, Candy, and Candy's father set out to rescue Cank.
This is a really smart, funny book. There are many little details that made me laugh and which will make kids laugh - like the way Chucky tries to get rid of Cank but runs up against adult pragmatic views that dinosaurs don't exist, to the point that a policeman staring Cank in the face calls him a large salamander! Kids will enjoy the way Candy tries to train Cank, with her First Rule of no biting eventually playing an important role in the rescue story. Another laugh-worthy moment is when Cank fetches a stick and then eats a tree because he likes the taste of wood. Sprinkled throughout a story that does get serious, these light moments strike the perfect balance and create a nuanced journey for kids. The main journey is of course the lesson about relationships. Chucky learns the right way to make friends, and Candy's father pays more attention to his daughter. Though these two lessons are learned by characters other than the main character, the lessons come through strong and clear. They are introduced somewhat baldly at the beginning of the story, when each character's flawed mode of relationships is stated outright, and when Chucky realizes his mistake. Despite this, the rest of the story uses subtlety to show the development of the characters. The illustrations are amazing, cartoonish and colorful, sure to draw children's attention and elicit conversation either as they read or as the book is read to them. Some words may be a bit difficult for younger children, but the style of the book makes it easier for kids to figure out the meanings. This book is meant as an homage to Syd Hoff, author of Danny and the Dinosaur, one of my favorite childhood books. Candy and the Cankersaur has the same light tone, though with a more serious lesson, and is sure to be a favorite too!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Truth About Forever

Author: Sarah Dessen

Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Released: 2004
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
A long structured summer... That's what Macy has to look forward to while her boyfriend, Jason, is away at Brain Camp. Days will be spent at a boring job in the library, evenings will be filled with vocabulary drills for the SATs, and spare time will be passed with her mother, the two of them sharing a silent grief at the traumatic loss of Macy's father.

But sometimes unexpected things can happen - things such as the catering job at Wish, with its fun-loving, chaotic crew. Or her sister's project of renovating the neglected beach house, awakening long-buried memories. Things such as meeting Wes, a boy with a past, a taste for Truth-telling, and an amazing artistic talent, the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside-down. As Macy ventures out of her shell, she begins to wonder. Is it really better to be safe than sorry?
I haven't read Sarah Dessen in a while, I think since three summers ago. And when I started reading The Truth About Forever, I was immediately reminded why I read five or six of her books consecutively that summer. She has a way of showing exactly what the characters are feeling, pulling on your emotions and getting you completely invested and involved in the story. I originally meant to read a couple of chapters today then get back to my other work, but I wound up reading the entire book with no breaks...

Macy is such a relatable character. It's so understandable that she got herself into this relationship with Jason after her father died, as she was craving stability and security. But it's also obvious that this relationship is in no way good for her, and I was rooting for her at each of her moments of realization about what the relationship actually is, rather than what she likes to believe it is. Her relationship with her mother is also understandable throughout the whole book. At first, it seems Macy and her mother get along really well, until Macy starts admitting to herself that she's putting on an act in hopes of maintaining peace and - again - stability. When she begins to allow herself to act the way she wants to rather than living up to her mother's idea of perfection, the true nature of the relationship reveals itself. But I love the way Macy and her mother eventually get okay with each other. It's so real, so in line with Macy's character and goals and thought processes. And it's mostly down to Macy herself.

The whole crew of Wish catering is amazing. Each of them, even Monica, nicknamed Monotone because of her expressionless three-phrase repertoire of words, is so unique and adds so much to Macy's growth. They're in sharp contrast to what Macy has been experiencing until then, and they're the perfect catalyst for Macy to wake up and take charge of her own life again.

And then there's Wes. He's perfect. So absolutely perfect. And it's not just that he's totally hot and all the girls can't stop looking at him. Yes, the reason Macy gets flutters at first is because of his looks, but his looks eventually fade and I love that Macy hardly mentions them once they really get to know each other. She doesn't hope for anything beyond friendship, though she definitely acknowledges that if things were different she'd love for that to happen. But Wes has such depth to his character, both in the serious aspects and in the fun-loving and witty aspects - and those two parts combine quite a bit in the on-going Truth game, which I love. Yes, he is "the kind of boy who could turn any girl's world upside-down," but he's especially good for Macy as she comes to know herself more deeply. And it's so obvious, even as Macy can't see it, that he loves her, that my heart went melting at every other word he says.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Star Cursed

Author: Jessica Spotswood
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Released: June 18, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: The Cahill Witch Chronicles #2
Source: Library
With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate's friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves. Cate doesn't want to be a weapon, and she doesn't want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood's schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she'll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.
I wanted to love this book as much as I loved Born Wicked, but though this was a good read, it wasn't as captivating as the first book. I will still be reading the third book, because Star Cursed definitely is a good book, just not as gripping or emotional as its predecessor.

What was missing, I felt, was the relationships between Cate and her sisters and between Cate, Sachi, and Rory. This drove most of the first book, and I was really looking forward to the tension and banter. But though Cate's sisters are there, she doesn't interact with them much, and after Sachi is arrested, that friendship loses its spark - Rory is not enough to give it that same tone, since Sachi was the one who really was the leader. Cate and Finn's relationship was there, but since it got caught up in the rest of the brewing war, it lost the completely romantic and wonderful atmosphere of the previous book.

What was definitely there was Cate's obvious struggle to do what's right or what's immediately good. And the tension created by the different ideas among the Sisters, the growing need for action, the Brothers' continued sliminess and horror. The secrets slowly coming out, the prophesy coming to fruition, the terror Cate feels at all of this - it's all gorgeously portrayed. Definitely makes me want to know how this all turns out!