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Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Multicultural
Hardcover: 225 pages
Things change drastically when their dad loses his job, and cannot find work as an engineer in India. When he makes the tough decision to leave India to search for a job in the U.S., suddenly their lives change. The girls and their mom have to leave their home in fun, modern Delhi and go stay with Baba’s relatives in claustrophobic, strict, old-fashioned Calcutta.
Suddenly Asha is no longer allowed to play cricket, or football, or even to take an unaccompanied walk. Her gorgeous sister is attracting way too much boy attention. There isn’t enough money to send the girls to school. And her mom is so depressed; she’s not much help either. The girls have a nickname for her depression – The Jailor.
Asha’s only refuge is the wide, flat roof, where she disappears for hours with her secret keeper – her diary. But soon, she realizes that she’s not alone up there. There is a boy next door, watching her. When they strike up a forbidden friendship with hints of something deeper underneath the surface, Asha is amazed that a boy would be interested in her rather than in her beautiful sister. Between her new secret friendship, protecting her mother from The Jailor, and scheming with her sister and cousin on how to prevent Aunti and Uncle from marrying Reet off to some Lusting Idiot, Asha has her hands full.
She can hardly wait for the much-wished-for telegram from America, which she hopes will say, “Job Found! Sending plane tickets. Come quickly!”
To whom will this appeal?: Fans of Little Women will love this sweet, gentle and yet strong literary historical novel. The characters are well-developed, down to the grandmother, who may not have many lines, but makes her perspective clear! The pace is relaxed and the story unfolds slowly. There is some sweet, understated romance — in keeping with the era and place where the story is set. Those who like to read about strong female protagonists struggling with society’s cultural expectations will be fascinated.
Paperback: 176 pages
Book: White Cat by Holly Black (first of the Curse Workers series)
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Supernatural, Horror
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Publication date: 2010
Hardcover: 320 pages
Other: White Cat is on many Mock-Printz award long lists
Summary: Smart, cynical and world-weary at the age of 16, Cassel Sharpe is trying to keep a low profile at his snooty, prestigious boarding school. He must, as his status of coming from a “curse working” family makes him a not-so-palatable member of society. It’s a double curse, then, that not only is he the only unmagical member of his family, but a nightmare sleep-walking incident almost causes him to jump off the roof of his dorm. Temporarily kicked out of school until a doctor can certify that he is mentally stable enough to come back, Cassel becomes motivated to try to unravel all the secrets of his strange family. To tell you more than this would be to ruin the beauty of the twisted yet exciting world that Holly Black has created.
To whom will this appeal?: White Cat will appeal to the teen and adult lover of urban fantasy, especially those who like twists and turns in the plot that will keep them on their toes as they try to figure out what is going on. Holly Black is great at creating a gritty, true-sounding, alternative world in which the rules of society become apparent without needing to be made explicit in some sort of rule book. The dark tone is balanced by the protagonist’s sarcastic and understated humor. One must be comfortable with a certain level of violence and suspense to truly enjoy the book. If you liked the dark sardonic tone of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, you might like this, although it’s not quite a read-alike. (Maybe it’s a read-along?)
Book: ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Genre(s): Realistic Contemporary Fiction, Series
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication date: 2004
Hardcover: 224 pages
Other: first of the Internet Girls series
Summary: Told entirely via instant messages, this is the story of the trials and tribulations of three high school sophomore girls who are best friends — they call themselves the “Winsome Threesome.” Myracle uses “texting spelling” and internet slang (“ttyl” for “talk to you later,” “u r” for “you are,” “g2g” for “got to go,” “laffing” for “laughing,” “byeas” for “bye-bye,” for example) to recreate the way contemporary teens actually communicate. The story unfolds via these chat messages, and through their online dialogue we learn that each of the girls has challenges to overcome as they navigate the social perils of high school life. Angela is a bit boy crazy and has trouble keeping her crushes in perspective. Maddie is moody and can at times not be the best judge of how to act. Zoe is quiet and shy, the “good girl” who nevertheless (literally) lands in hot water. It is a pleasure to read over their shoulders as these loyal friends cheer each other on, providing solid advice to each other, without sounding like they are the puppets of an adult agenda. Their genuine voices and the ways they deal with their problems will be inspiring to many a teen or tween girl who is dealing with similar issues.
To whom will this appeal?: First and foremost, the potential reader of this book will want to be familiar with (or patient enough to look up) internet slang. Combine the slang with the computer-screen style layout, and you have a particular format that will be highly appreciated by many teens and tweens who are excited to see their daily life reflected in their reading matter. The tone of the book is conversational, and the characters are well-developed, but one must be able and willing to extrapolate a lot from the conversations, as all of the action is only described via chat conversation. This may be disconcerting to the reader seeking continuity, but will be a boon for those who revel in unusual and innovative formats. While serious issues (as well as mundane high school angst) are discussed, and problems must be overcome, overall the tone is upbeat and positive and sends the message that strong friendships can help you overcome anything life throws at you.
Book: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (first of a trilogy)
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: 2008
Hardcover: 384 pages
Summary: Katniss Everdeen may be a 16 year old girl, but the weight of the world hangs on her shoulders. Not only does she support her mother and 11 year old sister Prim by hunting (illegally), she is the one upon whom will hang the burden of fighting in the 74th annual Hunger Games — a gladitorial fight to which her district must contribute two children to fight 22 others to the death~ all for the entertainment of the Capital. But fighting with her (or is it against her?) will be Peeta, the quiet blond haired boy who saved her life when he gave her some bread, all those years ago. How will Katniss handle her bow when it’s other kids, and not wild animals whom she must hunt?
To whom will this appeal?: Neck-breakingly fast-paced and dark of tone, this book will appeal to the teen or adult who enjoys reading about the possible bleak dystopian futures we may all be facing. While there is some (gallows) humor, know that this book will weigh heavily on you, either creating a need for you to run out and read the next two in the trilogy — or to run away to some lighter fare.
Lovers of romance will find some sustenance here, as Katniss is torn between two amazing boys, (and there are some amazing fashion moments!) but Katniss is most definitely not your average stereotypical sighing-in-love girl. Think blend of a cup of Twilight and a gallon of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo… (Some romance mixed in with a strong, kicking-butt, fighting for survival, female protagonist).
Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Genre(s): Realistic Fiction
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 2007
Hardcover: 224 pages
Other: was made into a film in 2010
Summary: Greg Heffley is an average middle school kid who is not as popular or strong as he’d like to be, and yet he seems to enjoy life. He has his video games, his sweet but odd friend Rowley, and parents who care (perhaps a bit too much for his liking, as it makes it hard to get away with stuff). Told in journal format, with humorous illustrations on each page, we learn about Greg’s life in his own words. As the title implies, Greg is indeed a wimpy kid, in more ways than one. Kids will appreciate that Greg is not a perfect role model and struggles with making decisions when it’s between what he knows is right and what would be more fun.
To whom will this appeal?: This humorous book will appeal to lovers of contemporary humorous realistic fiction, and especially to reluctant readers. The age level intended for this book ranges from the elementary grades through middle school. However, adults have also been observed giggling with recognition as they eagerly leaf through the pages for a relatively painless trip back in time to the awkwardness of junior high.
It’s a quick read and the first of a whole series (with movie tie-ins) and so it’s become somewhat of an institution, which might lead some skeptics to wonder what the hoopla isall about. And yet, mixed in with the humor and the easy-to-digest prose is a brilliantly sketched exposure of what life is like for contemporary middle school boys. Readers of all ages will appreciate both the humor and the pain — and the brilliant and minimalist illustrations round out the reading experience by adding sly details which will make the avid reader want to flip back again and again.
Caveat: While some of Greg’s less-than-noble actions get him a deserved comeuppance, there is no overt moralizing in this book. The good are not always rewarded, nor are the guilty always brought to justice. This quality is often simultaneously perceived as refreshing by tweens and troublesome by some adult readers.
Book: Yummy: The Last Days of A Southside Shorty by G. Neri & Randy Duburke
Genre(s): Realistic Historical Fiction, Graphic Novel
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication date: 2010
Paperback: 96 pages
Other: has been selected for several Mock Printz lists
Summary: Based on the life of a real boy whose short, tragic life and death horrified the nation in 1994, the story of eleven year old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer is told through stark, arresting black and white drawings, and from the POV of another neighborhood kid, Roger. Yummy is a short, cute kid who loves candy, his teddy bear, and his grandma. Mischievous and energetic, he is irresistibly drawn to join the local gang and in a tragic accident, ends up shooting a 14 year old girl by the name of Shavon. The book explores the reasons such a young child could commit such violence, even inadvertently… Could it be his search for sense of security? (His parents are in jail and his grandma’s place is crowded with too many children and responsibilities for her to keep tabs on him.)
The narrator, Roger, explores these and more questions as he sees his older brother being drawn further into the gang culture and wonders if his own family will end up as devastated as Yummy’s and Shavon’s.
To whom will this appeal?: This book will appeal as much to the lover of historical fiction as to the graphic novel aficionado. The combination of the stark black and white drawings and the simple and searing prose will appeal to many adults, teens and children, regardless of their genre preferences. And, at 96 pages, this is a quick, stunning, and, perhaps, depressing read–that will probably stir the reading interest of many a reluctant reader who may be initially drawn in by the short length. But one which will appeal to those who want to see gritty realism reflected in their reading.
Book: Nation by Terry Pratchett
Genre(s): Science Fiction, pseudo-historical fiction
Publication date: 2008
Hardcover: 384 pages
Other: Printz Honor book, 2009
Summary: Far away and long ago, in a parallel world much like our Earth, a boy – Mau – is about to become a man by completing the ultimate test of his island Nation — a coming of age ritual in which he must find his way back home after spending a month on Boys Island. Just as his ordeal is almost over, a sudden tsunami destroys his Nation and Mau is left bereft, not even sure if he’s a boy, a man, or a ghost.
In the meantime an English girl — Daphne — is marooned on Mau’s island, by the very same tsunami. Nation is the story of the coming of age of these two teens as they navigate language and cultural differences to help each other — and others — survive and rebuild a very different Nation. Funny and heartbreaking by turns, this book will grab those who venture into its vast world.
To whom will this appeal?: This book will appeal to older teens and adults who enjoy adventure stories with a strong twist of humor as well as philosophy. Fans of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy are especially advised to run, not walk, to find a copy of this book, as this book will help to slake the thirst that Pullman’s work creates, for the rare combination of adventure, humor, philosophy, deep understanding of human nature, and an understanding of the fragility and simultaneous beauty of the human predicament.
Others who will also enjoy this book: fans of “marooned on an island” adventures, appreciators of multicultural literature, fans of historical fiction, folks who are mesmerized by books such as Lord of the Flies (but wish for a less damning ending).
As far as appeal factors, while the book is indeed faster paced than many a philosophical meditation on the human condition, and at times is in fact a page-turner, this is more a book to be savored than rushed through, so it will be better appreciated by those who like their adventures more on the literary side.
Book: Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
Genre(s): Biography (Nonfiction, Informational)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 272 pages
Other: YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults, 2010
Summary: Unlike the typical biography, this one focuses on not just the famous figure of Charles Darwin, but on his relationship with his wife, and how that affected Darwin’s work, giving him an emotional bedrock to soothe his soul as well as an in-house sparring partner to argue his views on God and nature. One gets to observe the process by which a scientist is made, not just by his research and observations, but also by his life and family experiences. Well-researched and meticulous, Heiligman’s conversational tone imparts much knowledge while satisfying those with a yen for story — the story of the Darwins’ great love. The older teen (and adult) will be fascinated at how Charles and Emma discuss and negotiate their theological differences while anchoring each other and maintaining a loving home for their ten children.
To whom will this appeal?: This book will appeal as much to the lover of historical fiction as to the follower of science. Those looking for “just the facts” may not go for the book, as its pace is as leisurely as many a novel, but those fascinated by the details of everyday life, especially everyday Victorian life, will be in for a treat. Those interested either in the romantic story of Charles and Emma’s love and family life or in the way Darwin’s scientific theories and religious views evolved and solidified over time will be intrigued by this book. While marketed for teens, this book has a strong draw for the adult biography-philes as well.
Book: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Genre(s): Very difficult to categorize, but here goes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction (in some ways)
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 208 pages
Other: Newbery Award Winner, 2010
Summary: Sixth-grader Miranda is having, well, a sort of weird time lately. Her best friend Sal has suddenly stopped talking to her, and won’t say why. There’s a bum who’s recently taken up residence on the corner near her apartment building (located in 1970s Upper West Side Manhattan), and who creeps her out with his sudden laughing episodes. And then there are the cryptic notes that start appearing in odd places where no one could have access.
What does it all mean? Figuring out what is going on is half the fun of this literary sci fi realistic mystery. (Yes, this book does indeed defy categorization!)
To whom will this appeal?: When You Reach Me is a literary novel written for the “middle grades” (and as such has extremely well-observed and realistic middle grade characters) but will appeal to a number of different “constituencies.” Fans of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which, incidentally, won the Newbery Award in 1963) will appreciate the literary (and timeless) quality of Stead’s writing. Stead herself is a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, as evidenced by the ubiquitous AWIT references in WYRM. In fact, one could go so far as to say that reading (or re-reading) A Wrinkle in Time is a necessary prerequisite to properly enjoying When You Reach Me.
It is a pity that many libraries will only carry this in their children’s section, as this book has an appeal for all ages, especially the teen or adult who enjoys the challenge of solving a tantalizing esoteric mystery that is zillions of miles away from (and more sophisticated than) the average juvenile mystery. Any child/teen/adult who has enjoyed the books of E. L. Konigsburg (especially From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View from Saturday) will be very likely enjoy WYRM.
Another audience to whom the book will appeal is adults who may have grown up in, or relish the description of, 1970s New York. The description of late 70s era NYC — the freedom the kids had, the vague feeling of danger and yet innocence, the falling-apart-ness of buildings, the ethos of the time — is extremely well-done. While tweens or teens may also appreciate this description, I suspect that the draw of this type of historical detail is especially strong for those who have lived through the era and in the place. (Having myself lived in 1979 NYC, this observation may well be colored by my personal experience!)