Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Middle-Grade Review: Flipped

I recently enjoyed a wonderful audio book of Flipped, a fun and funny middle-grade novel by Wendelin Van Draanen. Flipped is a unique book because it’s almost like two books in one. Alternating chapters are told from the viewpoint of two different characters, Bryce and Juli, who are seventh-graders. They’ve known each other since Bryce moved in across the street from Juli five years before.

What makes this novel so much fun and adds a large dose of humor is that Bryce and Juli see everything completely differently, even when they are each recounting the exact same events. For instance, here are two excerpts about the day they first met, when a mud-splattered Juli came over to the moving truck, excited to have someone her own age in the neighborhood, and introduced herself. Bryce was a bit overwhelmed by Juli and tried to escape into the house. First, Bryce’s perspective:

I heard her coming after me but I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it just sounded like she was chasing me; maybe she was really going the other way. But before I got up the nerve to look, she blasted right past me, grabbing my arm and yanking me along.

This was too much. I planted myself and was about to tell her to get lost when the weirdest thing happened. I was making this big windmill motion to break away from her, but somehow on the downswing my hand wound up tangling into hers. I couldn’t believe it. There I was, holding the mud monkey’s hand!

I tried to shake her off, but she just clamped on tight and yanked me along, saying, “C’mon!”

And here is how Juli remembers the exact same incident, where she thought Bryce had to go in house the to help but would much rather stay out and play:

I chased Bryce up the walkway, and that’s when everything changed. You see, I caught up to him and grabbed his arm, trying to stop him so maybe we could play a little before he got trapped inside, and the next thing I know he’s holding my hand, looking right into my eyes.

My heart stopped. It just stopped beating. And for the first time in my life, I had that feeling. You know, like the world is moving all around you, all beneath you, all inside you, and you’re floating. Floating in midair. And the only thing keeping you from drifting away is the other person’s eyes. They’re connected to yours by some invisible physical force, and they hold you fast while the rest of the world swirls and twirls and falls completely away.

I almost got my first kiss that day. I’m sure of it.

As you can see, Bryce and Juli see things very differently, and this continues through the five years that they know each other, with each of them assuming things about the other one. In eighth grade, a lot of things happen – involving chickens, a sycamore tree, and several family secrets – that change both their views, and things get flipped once again.

The audio version of this book was a lot of fun to listen to, with excellent reading by both of the young actors voicing the parts of Bryce and Juli. There are plenty of twists in the plot to keep you guessing and laughing.

Alfred A. Knopf, 212 pages

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level 4.8; 8 points

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Teen/YA Review: Everlost

For two years now, my son has been urging me to read Everlost, a novel by Neal Shusterman. I’m so glad I finally got to it! It’s a magical and intriguing look at the imagined world in between life and death.

Allie, a girl of about 14, is riding in the car with her dad when they collide head-on with another car, carrying Nick, a boy of about the same age, eating a chocolate bar and riding with his family to his cousin’s wedding. Allie and Nick both fly through the windshields of their respective cars, then feel themselves moving through a tunnel toward a bright light, when they suddenly collide into each other, land on the ground, and enter a strange, dreamless sleep.

“It’s about time you woke up,” [the boy] said.

“Who are you?” Allie asked.

Instead of answering, he pointed to the other kid, who was starting to stir. “Your friend is waking up, too.”

“He’s not my friend.”

The other kid sat up, blinking in the light. He had brown stuff on his face. Dried blood? thought Allie. No. Chocolate. She could smell it.

“This is freaky,” the chocolate boy said. “Where am I?”

Allie stood up and took a good look around. This wasn’t just a grove of trees, it was an entire forest.

“I was in the car, with my dad,” Allie said aloud, forcing the scrap of memory to her lips, hoping that would help to drag the rest of it all the way back. “We were on a mountain, above a forest…”

Only this wasn’t the forest they had driven past.

Allie and Nick discover they are in Everlost, a strange place populated with Afterlights like themselves, in an alternate reality of the life they’ve known. There are peculiar rules and dangers in Everlost, and the boy who was with them when they woke up helps Allie and Nick along. But neither of them feels ready for this place, so they set out to find their homes and families. Their journey takes them to extraordinary places and introduces them to extraordinary beings, as they struggle to remember and hang onto their old lives.

I really enjoyed this magical book. It’s a classic adventure story, set in a mystical place. Shusterman has created a very clever and imaginative after-world. To say much more would give away too much of the story, but it’s sure to appeal to teens and adults as well. A sequel, Everwild, is scheduled for release November 10, 2009. We can’t wait to go back to Everlost!

500 pages, Simon & Schuster
Simon & Schuster Audio

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Teen Book Meme

First, a confession...I only recently learned what a "meme" is and I had to look it up! So, don't feel bad if it's new to you, too. My understanding is that it's some sort of Q&A thingy that people pass along and paste into their blogs. It's fun! And, since I love teen and YA books, this one really appealed to me. Thanks to Laura at I'm Booking It!

The following list of books teens love, books teens should read, and books adults who serve teens should know about was compiled IN ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC MANNER and should be taken with a very large grain of salt.


Put an “X” next to the books you’ve read
Put a “+” next to the books you LOVE
Put a “#” next to the books you plan on reading
Tally your “X”s at the bottom
Share with your friends!

X 1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy / Douglas Adams
2. Kit’s Wilderness / David Almond
X+3. Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian / Sherman Alexie
4. Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson
5. Feed / M.T. Anderson
X+6. Flowers in the Attic / V.C. Andrews
7. 13 Reasons Why / Jay Asher
8. Am I Blue? / Marion Dane Bauer (editor)
9. Audrey Wait! / Robin Benway
10. Weetzie Bat / Francesca Lia Block
11. Tangerine / Edward Bloor
X+12. Forever / Judy Blume
13. What I Saw and How I Lied / Judy Blundell
14. Tyrell / Coe Booth
* 15. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants / Ann Brashares (*saw the movie!)
16. A Great and Terrible Beauty / Libba Bray
* 17. The Princess Diaries / Meg Cabot (*saw the movie!)
X 18. The Stranger / Albert Camus
X++19. Ender’s Game / Orson Scott Card
20. Postcards from No Man’s Land / Aidan Chambers
21. Perks of Being a Wallflower / Stephen Chbosky
X 22. And Then There Were None / Agatha Christie
23. Gingerbread / Rachel Cohn
# 24. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist / Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
X+25. Artemis Fowl (series) / Eoin Colfer
X++26. The Hunger Games / Suzanne Collins
27. The Midwife’s Apprentice / Karen Cushman
28. The Truth About Forever / Sarah Dessen
29. Little Brother / Cory Doctorow
30. A Northern Light / Jennifer Donnelly
31. Tears of a Tiger / Sharon Draper
X++32. The House of the Scorpion / Nancy Farmer
33. Breathing Underwater / Alex Flinn
34. Stardust / Neil Gaiman
35. Annie on My Mind / Nancy Garden
36. What Happened to Cass McBride / Gail Giles
37. Fat Kid Rules the World / K.L. Going
X 38. Lord of the Flies / William Golding
# 39. Looking for Alaska / John Green
40. Bronx Masquerade / Nikki Grimes
41. Out of the Dust / Karen Hesse
X 42. Hoot / Carl Hiaasen
X 43. The Outsiders / S.E. Hinton
44. Crank / Ellen Hopkins
45. The First Part Last / Angela Johnson
46. Blood and Chocolate / Annette Curtis Klause
47. Arrow’s Flight / Mercedes Lackey
48. Hattie Big Sky / Kirby Larson
X++49. To Kill a Mockingbird / Harper Lee
50. Boy Meets Boy / David Levithan
51. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks / E. Lockhart
X 52. The Giver / Lois Lowry
X 53. Number the Stars / Lois Lowry
54. Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie / David Lubar
55. Inexcusable / Chris Lynch
56. The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things / Carolyn Mackler
57. Dragonsong / Anne McCaffrey
58. White Darkness / Geraldine McCaughrean
59. Sold / Patricia McCormick
60. Jellicoe Road / Melina Marchetta
61. Wicked Lovely / Melissa Marr
62. Twilight / Stephenie Meyer
63. Dairy Queen / Catherine Murdock
64. Fallen Angels / Walter Dean Myers
65. Monster / Walter Dean Myers
66. Step From Heaven / An Na
67. Mama Day / Gloria Naylor
68. The Keys to the Kingdom (series) / Garth Nix
69. Sabriel / Garth Nix
70. Airborn / Kenneth Oppel
71. Eragon / Christopher Paolini
X 72. Hatchet / Gary Paulsen
73. Life As We Knew It / Susan Beth Pfeffer
X++74. The Golden Compass / Phillip Pullman
75. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging / Louise Rennison
X+76. The Lightning Thief / Rick Riordan
77. Always Running: La Vida Loca / Luis Rodriguez
78. How I Live Now / Meg Rosoff
X++79. Harry Potter (series) / J.K. Rowling
* 80. Holes / Louis Sachar
X 81. Catcher in the Rye / J. D. Salinger
82. Push / Sapphire
83. Persepolis / Marjane Satrapi
84. Unwind / Neil Shusterman
85. Coldest Winter Ever / Sister Souljah
86. Stargirl / Jerry Spinelli
87. Chanda’s Secrets / Allan Stratton
88. Tale of One Bad Rat / Brian Talbot
89. Rats Saw God / Rob Thomas
* 90. Lord of the Rings / J.R.R. Tolkien
91. Stuck in Neutral / Terry Trueman
92. Gossip Girl / Cecily Von Ziegesar
93. Uglies / Scott Westerfeld
94. Every Time a Rainbow Dies / Rita Williams-Garcia
95. Pedro and Me / Judd Winick
96. Hard Love / Ellen Wittlinger
97. American Born Chinese / Gene Luen Yang
98. Elsewhere / Gabrielle Zevin
99. I am the Messenger / Markus Zusak
X+100. The Book Thief / Markus Zusak

I've read 22 out of 100 - I better get busy! Plus I added two new designations: * means I saw the movie but didn't read the book, and - since I'm prone to fits of unbridled enthusiasm - ++ means that I REALLY loved it, as in one of the best books I've ever read. What a great list!

Anyone else want to play?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Middle-Grade Review: Books To Tickle Your Funny Bone

Sorry for the lack of posts recently - we took a 3-week road trip vacation. While we were away, I was reminded of some of our favorite funny books from the past several years...

Even though our sons, Jamie, 14, and Craig, 11, are avid readers on their own, we still enjoy reading aloud with them at bedtime (though sometimes they take a turn now!). The books listed below have all been favorite read-alouds over the past several years because we all enjoy a good sense of humor. Besides being fun to read together, any of these would be excellent choices for a middle-grade reader to read alone, especially a reluctant reader who doesn’t want to take his or her books too seriously!

In Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader, Kirby loves everything about basketball but has few skills to help his struggling seventh-grade team prepare for an exhibition game against a hometown NBA star. The coach devises a plan to help the boys focus on their game by playing in their underwear, while Kirby works to unravel the mystery of his biological father. Comical and touching, the fast-paced plot keeps you rooting for Kirby, on the court and off. This one is such a favorite of ours that we’ve read it aloud twice! Ages 8 and up. Roaring Brook Press.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy, Book 1: The Hero Revealed by William Boniface takes place in Superopolis where everyone is a superhero with special powers…everyone except Ordinary Boy. In this first book, O Boy and his friends, Stench (super strong and super gassy), Plasma Girl (can turn herself into jelly), and others, go up against the biggest villain of all time, Professor Brain Drain. Your kids will laugh as they cheer on the city’s littlest superheroes. During our recent vacation, we read Book 2: The Return of Meteor Boy? and are happy to report that it’s just as amusing as the first one! Ages 8 and up. Harper-Collins.

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and correct your mistakes? In 15 Minutes by Steve Young, seventh-grader Casey discovers an invention of his Grandpop’s that allows him to do just that. There’s one catch, though. It only takes him back 15 minutes. Hilarious consequences ensue, as Casey grapples with a test he didn’t study for, a bully, and his middle school football game. Ages 8 and up, Harper-Collins.