March 14, 2011

Who knew reading about someone's head could be this great?!

This weekend I spent my time reading two awesome books - Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins and Sean Griswold's Head by Lindsey Leavitt. I couldn't put either down, and I love when I am so enraptured in reading that everything else sort of happens around me.

With Sean Griswold's Head I got more than a love story; I got a story about a girl struggling with who she is and who she will become - all through her focus exercise. You guessed it - the back of Sean Griswold's head! What starts out as a harmless exercise turns into so much more - even more than love. It turns into a discovery that sometimes it is okay to mourn things we've "lost" as long as we celebrate what we have.

Brief Synopsis
Payton Gritas is dealt a blow when she learns that her father is suffering from multiple sclerosis and has kept it secret from her. While this seems harmless to the average teen, Payton is not the average teen. Her life is together, and organized, and ordered. This wrench sends her over the edge...and Payton discovers she is not the girl she thought she was.

Since her version of teen rebellion is ignoring her parents, she is sent to the school counselor. The counselor's advice is simple: find a focus object and keep a journal. The object should be something inanimate that she can concentrate her emotions on. Instead, she decides to use Sean Griswold's head. After all, it is huge. This single decision sends Payton on a trip of self-discovery, learning that it is not okay to keep those you love at a distance. 

Packed with a carefree best friend (Jac, who I think got most of the great lines), a possible "vampire" (Grady), and Seinfeld references (which I loved), you will find yourself lost in Payton's world - but in a good way.

Leavitt creates a solid plot that handles a teen dealing with her father's disease with care. This book is a comfort piece for any student who finds him/herself in a similar situation. Not since Side Effects can I remember a YA novel touching on subject matter as tender as this. There are not too many books written where a character becomes empowered in the way I saw Payton transformed while "dealing." Leavitt's creative plot reminds readers that suffering happens to all of us, just in different ways...and of course that the person sitting in front of you in class could just be the love of your life.

Sean Griswold's Head was a lovely surprise for me. I picked it for the YA Teacher Reader book choice for the month of March, and I cannot wait to hear if my colleagues enjoyed it as much as I did. I highly recommend this to all lovers of YA, all high school teachers, all high school teens.

March 12, 2011

That Hawkins really knows how to end a book...

I love YA. I especially love YA supernatural. I especially especially love YA that keeps me turning the page. And all of these are wrapped in Rachel Hawkins' second novel, Demonglass.

At a normal high school, having class outside on a gorgeous May day is usually pretty awesome. It means sitting in the sunshine, maybe reading some poetry, letting the breeze blow through your hair...
At Hecate Hall, a.k.a. Juvie for Monsters, it meant I was getting thrown in the pond.

And so starts Demonglass, one of the most clever YA books I've ever read. And by clever, I mean the dialogue. Hawkins really has a talent for bringing to the forefront what the average teen girl is thinking/saying, even if she happens to be a demon. 

Do you know what I love about this book? That Hawkins really knows how to develop characters; that she really knows how to pace the plot; that she really knows how to end a book. Last year she debuted with Hex Hall, and readers were introduced to Sophie Mercer, a witch who could not control her powers. As such, she headed off to Hecate where she was to learn about her "kind" and how to control her powers.

Brief Synopsis

In this sequel, Hawkins takes readers across the Atlantic to jolly-old England. Sophie will spend the summer with her dad to learn how to control her powers. Wait, wasn't she supposed to do that at Hecate Hall? If you read the novel, you already know how that turned out. (If you haven't read Hex Hall, I demand that you do so...and soon!) While at Thorne Abbey, the new headquarters for the Council, Sophie learns not only about her kind but also about the war that is just waiting in the wings to erupt between prodigium and the Eye.

The mystery for the summer is simple: find who is creating demons and stop him/her/them before it is too late. With Jenna and Cal by her side, can Sophie control her powers to save the day, or is this going to end in disaster like so many other elements of her life?

Hawkins mixes a bit of mystery with a bit of romance. The reader will be left wondering where Hawkins will take the Sophie/Archer/Cal triangle in the third installment of the series. But oh, is it worth it!

Why had my life suddenly become a Nancy Drew mystery from hell?

Most girls got flowers. I got a dirt pit used for demon raising. Nice.

If you love YA, if you love YA supernatural, if you love YA with delinquent prodigium, I highly recommend that you add Demonglass to your reading mound ASAP. If you have neglected to read Hex Hall, add it as well.

March 6, 2011

What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star?

A very worthy question for a very worthy book. Jane by April Lindner brings this classic into contemporary times, staying true to the original plot while being clever in its face lift for a contemporary audience. Readers who are Jane Eyre fans will not be disappointed with this novel.

Brief Synopsis
Jane Moore is forced to drop out of Sarah Lawrence following the death of her parents. The stocks they left her turn out to be virtually worthless, and with money dwindling fast she must find a job. So, she decides she will be a nanny. After all, Jane is practical and stern, just what children need. She lands a position at Thornfield Park caring for Maddy, the daughter of a famous rock star. But, Jane is not impressed by the glitz and glamor of the rock star lifestyle, and this attitude is what makes Nico Rathburn fall for her. But Nico has a secret, one that could ruin his reputation as a rock star seeking a comeback; more importantly, that secret could cost him Jane.

Lindner stays true to the original plot throughout, providing us the answer to "What if Jane Eyre lived in contemporary times?" This novel will appeal to a plethora of readers and may even introduce the classic into their lives, a book they thought they would never read. While Lindner's inspiration for writing this book was a result of reading retellings of Pride and Prejudice, I feel that this novel is far superior.

If you enjoy a good love story; if you enjoy a good mystery; if you enjoy reading period, you must add Jane to your mound. I could not put this book down; I gave up grading to finish this book. I absolutely had to see how Lindner would tie up loose ends...and she did so amazingly and in a way that fits with the times. 

I loved this book, and I think many of you will too - Jane, read it today!

Before I Fall is worth every page!

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver was my pick for the YA Teacher Readers book club because of the glowing reviews it received, mostly from fans of Thirteen Reasons Why. I wasn't too sure how the teachers would receive the book, or how I would for that matter, by at the meeting it received raved reviews from those who attended. The number one word used to describe it - interesting.

I think the one thing that speaks to us as readers is the fact that we root for Samantha Kingston, no matter what the ultimate outcome. She's been a part of the "queen bee" group in high school and because of this affiliation, she loses her life at the opening of the novel. Oliver then has us relive Samantha's final day on Earth not just once, but seven times. Each day Samantha awakens to discover she is reliving that day again. What can break the cycle? How can she move forward into the afterlife? It is not until the end of day 6 that Samantha realizes what she needs to do, what she must do, and the reader is left thinking, "Don't do it."

While the reliving the day over and over again mirrors Groundhog Day, the plot is anything but. Each of those days is cleverly woven to give the reader a new revelation, one that helps connect the puzzle pieces from day one. To me that is the true craft of the novel - how all things really are connected, whether we realize it or not. Oliver has created a page-turner with Before I Fall, one that will leave its impression on readers long after the book is complete and added to the shelf. I have just one complaint: I felt that seven days was too long. I really feel that one of those days could have been cut and the book would still have been amazing. BUT, seven is a nice number - a week for Samantha to discover the truth about her self, her friends, and life in general.

Before I Fall - add it to your mound! If you do not have time to read this novel, you must go to your local library and check it out on audio - it is that good! I did not read this novel; I listened to it. The reader was amazing, and I feel that it heightened my experience with the novel.