Thursday, December 24, 2009

How to Say Goodbye in Robot - by Natalie Standiford

WOW!!!!! This book was amazing.  I saw that Reading Rants said this was probably her favorite of the year, and I can totally see why.  It's that good. 

The Lowdown:  
Beatrice has moved around a lot.  Her dad is a biology professor, and he's always looking for a new school, new grants, new programs.  Her senior year of high school, they pack up to move from Ithaca to Baltimore.  She's used to it and doesn't really have all that many emotions about moving.  She'll do school, graduate, and move on.  She's a robot girl...nothing there.  At her new school she meets the normal girls, chipper and perky, but robot girl feels a new connection with Jonah - ghost boy.  Neither Bea nor Jonah is the happiest person in the world, but together, they click.  They  tune in to a late night radio show called Night Lights, and their friendships begins.  No one really gets them,  but that's just the great part about it...they don't care.  What they've found is friendship at its best.  But all friendships and relationships go through rough times.  Jonah tunes out sometimes.  He finds out some crazy information about his dead brother, and Bea wants to help him through.  Read to find out how this unique relationship survives, grows, and changes through their senior year. 

What I Liked:
I LOVED every moment of this book and didn't want it to end!  The characters, Bea and Jonah, as well as all the supporting characters are amazing.  The story is unique and I was pulled in immediately.  I loved the radio show.  Uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time, these characters will stay with me for a long time.  I haven't felt this attached to anyone since Octavian Nothing.

Read This If...
You want a true, unique story about love and friendship.
You've ever given of yourself to a relationship.
You've ever been loved and hurt by someone.
You want to have your world rocked by this amazing book!!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Love is the Higer Law - by David Levithan

The Lowdown: 
I've never been to New York city, and I will certainly never know what it must have been like to be in NY on September 11, 2001.  But David Levithan's book Love is the Higher Law shows what the experience was like for three teens there when it happened.  This book shows glimpses into the lives of three teens on and after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9-11.  Claire was at school and went to get her little brother immediately after it happened.  Peter had actually skipped school that day to get the new Bob Dylan CD at Tower Records.  And Jasper actually slept through it all and didn't wake up until noon that day.  All three had very different experiences and reactions to the events.  Afterwards they have lots to deal with and think about.  As  time passes, the stories of these three intersect.  What mattered before doesn't matter now, and they rely on each other to make sense of the world as they knew it and the world as it is for them now. 

What I Liked: 
Mainly I just like that Levithan is tackling this subject.  In his afterword to the book he says that not as many books have been written about 9/11 as he would have thought.  As each year passes, the memory of the attack becomes more distant.  Today's freshmen in high school were around 6 when 9/11 happened.  This is a great book to show what it was like for teenagers experiencing the tragedy in their own backyards.  It's important to understand grief and feelings and how we are all affected by things like this.  The book shows how each kid deals with it differently and that no one way to view the tragedy or deal with it is right or wrong...they just are.  I liked that Levithan focused on the kids and their stories as opposed to the details of the day.  This book is really real and really important as we still continue to make sense of our country and its history.  The characters in the book come together to help one another.  Hopefully as they wonder, we can always do that in our world:
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we really came together, if we really found common humanity?  The hitch is that you can't find a common humanity just because you have a common enemy.  You have to find a common humanity because you believe that it's true.
I love this idea.  And even though it's been a while since 9/11, we are still living in a world that is forever changed because of it...war, fear, government power...Levithan's book helped me look forward and try to keep this positive idea in mind:  that people can be good and helpful and that maybe out of pain we can create a better world.

Read This If...
You'd like to experience life in NY.
You want to read about relationships.
You can handle taking another look at the attacks on 9/11.
You want to believe that "love is the higher law."
You want to read about friendships.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman

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The Lowdown:  When Charles Darwin got back from his voyage on the Beagle, he was in his twenties and had a very important decision to make.  Marry or Not to Marry??  He made a chart and started to think about the pros and cons of each side.  Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman begins here as Charles decides that having a wife would be better than a dog....and he begins his search for a "constant companion."  He decides to get to know Emma Wedgewood.  Charles has seen and learned so much over the last few years that his ideas about life and religion, in particular, have changed.  He doesn't know if he believes in the God that most others do.  He sees the world in a different way.  Will Emma be able to understand his doubts and love him anyway?  She grew up on a "free and liberal household," but will it be enough?  Charles and Emma embark on a life-long journey of love, life, loss, and learning together.  There story keeps Charles grounded as he works on his theories.  This book is just as much science as it is love...and both work together magically.

What I Liked:
Mainly, I loved this story.  I know and think about Charles Darwin only when I think of his theories, but there's so much more to the life of this man than many people know.  I love that this book exists to show young people and all readers this side of Charles.  He truly is a fascinating character.  While my husband is a science major and lover, I have been interested to learn more about Darwin from what he reads.  I hope that this book will interest young readers especially to learn more about Darwin and the fascinating life he led.

I loved the way that Deborah Heiligman wove primary sources into her story.  Cuttings from letters, papers, and journals are seamlessly woven throughout the entire story, which made her writing historically accurate and real for me.  None of the quotes got in the way of the "story" of this book either; they all served to support what was happening and make Charles and Emma even more real to me.  I loved seeing that some of the things they wrote about seemed so real and normal for people today.  Even though they lived a long time ago in a world very different from ours, their inner feelings, thoughts, and doubts are much the same as people today experience.  We can learn a lot by looking at their story.  I was also intrigued by how their journals (Emma's especially) were very "twittery" to me.  With twitter and Facebook, we record our lives in snippets of text, just like she did.  They kept track of their journey together just as we do online...the ups and downs, the celebrations, the sadness.

I also loved that this is a very honest story full of love.  Real love...not just physical attraction or "crush" love.  But real, enduring companionship.  This love story isn't a fairy tale.  There was no crazy wedding or reception.  No dramatic engagement story....just two people working it out and making a life together by respecting and supporting each other.  I think this is a very real look into what a marriage should be:  "solid land in the tumultuous seas." 

Read This If...
You like historical stories.
You like science.
You like love.
You like biographies.
You want a story of companionship.
You want to read about lifes ups and downs.
You want to see a picture of how science and love work together.
You want to know a personal side of Charles Darwin.
You want to travel to a different time and place...the England of Jane Austen and Charles Darwin.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ophelia - by Lisa Klein

The Lowdown
Experience Hamlet in a completely new way by reading Lisa Klein's Ophelia.  Whether you know and love the Shakespeare play or not, this book is sure to please.  Beginning when Ophelia is just a young  girl, Klein shows us what it was like to grow up at court in Denmark's Elsinore.  Ophelia leaves her father and brother to tend and wait on Queen Gertrude.  While at court, she catches the eye and heart of the young, handsome, dark-haired Prince Hamlet.  They meet in secret and swear their love.  Can this love between them stay strong and keep them grounded, though, as Denmark rots all around them?  When Hamlet learns of his father's death and sees a ghost, he begins to focus on his own mind and not Ophelia.  We all think we know Ophelia.  She went made because her father died.  But that might not be the case...Read to hear this classic story finally from Ophelia's point of view. 

What I Liked
This is a real love story but it's not too overly romantic.  I loved watching the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia develop and grow.  In the play, you don't get to focus on Ophelia too much because the character of Hamlet always takes center stage.  Here, though, the relationship blossoms before your eyes and you understand what these two characters were like together.  Ophelia is a smart girl, but she deals with many love issues just like kids today.  One night while reading with the Queen, the Queen tells Ophelia,
I think that she must be cruel if she wants to be loved....for once a lady succumbs to the man's desire, he rejects her as unworthy of it.
 Ophelia, hearing this, worries about the love she has shown her Prince.  She questions herself,
Because I showed my love to Hamlet, would his ardor diminish?  Was love like a hunger, easily satisfied by feeding?  Or did it grow by what it fed on?  Should I have withheld my kisses and thus increased his appetite for them?
 This book did a great job just showing what all the characters were going through.  Klein's story is believable and exciting.  I do know a lot about the play, so I also loved seeing lines in the book that I recognized from the play.

Read This If...
You want to hear what Ophelia has to say...finally!
You like classic love stories.
You like historical fiction.
You like making connections to the stuff you read (or have read) in English class!
You want to read a story about a kick-butt girl.

Grade:  A-

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

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The Lowdown
Cameron Smith is a (sort of) normal teenager. He stays semi-aware of what’s going on around him and occasionally hangs out in the “smokers lounge” bathroom in his school. That is until he starts to have some crazy-mad hallucinations. When fire giants appear out of nowhere and chase you around, something is definitely wrong.

Cam’s parents think he’s on drugs, and Cameron hasn’t a clue what’s going on. All he knows is that he’s seeing some crazy stuff and he doesn’t feel too hot. The doctors finally tell him that he had Mad Cow Disease...not what your average teenager expects to hear.

From this moment on, Cameron’s life journey gets really exciting, scary, and crazy all at the same time. Unexpectedly, he teams up with Gonzo, a little person who games constantly and always thinks he’s dying. Determined not to let mad cow get the best of him, and also determined to save the world, Cameron and Gonzo start off on the mother of all road trips. They go to New Orleans to hang out with dead jazz artist, end up living for a while in a “happiness” cult, and spend spring break at the Party House!! They also learn about and contemplate human existence, string theory, and many other philosophies. Climb into Cameron’s mind and into his car to take the journey of a lifetime.

What I Liked
In the most hilarious way, Bray’s book makes us look deep at ourselves and what we do in the world. The teens at the party house are insane and just want to be on television. The kids at the happiness cult don’t want anything bad to every happen to anyone. So many of the adventures that Cameron and Gonzo go on show humans at their most interesting. For example, while the two are at the happiness cult, where everyone wants to keep his/her happiness at the max all the time, Cameron tries to check out a book...The library girl tells him, “You can turn it in at the end of the week. Or whenever, really. It’s just a formality. We find that requiring things of people and making them responsible is a big drag, and that is so not happy. Enjoy!” I found myself always laughing out loud at the sardonic wit of many of Bray’s characters and the complete and utter idiocy of others. All these people together made for a very interesting ride.

I also really loved that all of Bray’s plot lines and ideas really came together in interesting ways as I read. So much craziness is thrown about during this road trip, yet Bray kept control of it all and it, somehow, all made perfect sense when I was done...or as much sense as it could.

Read this if...
You want a fun ride.
You want to go on a road trip.
You want to meet Baldar, son of Odin, a great Norse god...and party with him!
You want to laugh at crazy people.
You want to save the world from a black hole.
You want to think about why we’re here and what this crazy life is all about.

Grade: A-