February Reading Round-up

All-syllabus, all the time.

At least I’m getting more reading done than I was last year at this time, what with The Semester of the Picturebook weighing me down. And I’m actually caught up with my reading to the point that I *gasp* picked up a JUST FOR FUN book yesterday! And I might have time to finish it! Yowza!

January

1. Trash by Andy Mulligan

This book is much more action-y than I usually like, but I did like this book. It has a strangely dystopian-feel, but maybe that’s because the kids in the book make a living digging through the trash of the rich and selling what they find. It seems hard to believe that kids like this really exist in the world, that communities like this exist, but they do. These kids get in and out of a fair amount of trouble when they find some trash they shouldn’t have, and they end up doing the whole Fighting Off the Evil Opressors! thing throughout the novel. Really engaging.

2. Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Saenz

I love me a good addict memoir, but this fiction is just as good. Alex is in rehab, but he doesn’t remember why. Actually, he just doesn’t want to remember why, so he doesn’t. But if he wants to leave, wants to stay sober, wants to return to the real world, he has to work with his therapist, with his friends, and with himself to figure out what’s worth remembering from his past and what’s worth returning to.

3. Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

I read this book when it first came out, a few years ago. I thought it was pretty good, whatever. Read it again, and suddenly, I felt like a big fat creep. This could be because I’m currently enrolled in a graduate program, that besides from being freaking AWESOME, it also requires that I think about what it means to be an adult who wants to read about teenagers, and the inherent creepiness about the whole process. ANYWAY, the book is about a 13-year-old kid who has affair with his 24-year-old social studies teacher. Five years later, he’s 18 and she’s being let out of jail on parole, and he’s finally forced to dredge up the past and figure out what exactly happened in seventh grade.

The difference between my two readings of the book? When I first read the book, I was 22. Now, I’m older than his teacher.

Insert squeamish faces and noises and feelings in the pit of your stomach.

4. Fell by M.E. Kerr

This was one of my favorite audiobooks as a kid. Yeah, I listened to a lot of Books on Tape while I played with my Legos… what’s it to you? Anyway, I’ve heard this story a lot, but I’ve only read it a couple times in print. This time around, I was surprised that there was a lot that my mind had inflated – I knew the story so well, I was sure of this EPIC nature of the book, that scenes went on longer, that the plot moved slower. Nope. This is a lean, fast read. It’s about a boy, Fell, whose girlfriend stands him up at Prom. Angry, he backs out of her driveway too fast and runs into her neighbor’s car, an accident that ends up changing his life when the neighbor offers to get him out of his struggling single-parent home and take a place at a prestigious boarding school under a false name. I also wrote a paper on this book…. which was probably not very well executed. Urgh.

5. Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

I brought this book home in the summer, thinking it looked like a nice literary, edgy read. I never got around to it… THANK GOODNESS. It popped up on my syllabus, and I first found it…. dense. A lot of description. It wouldn’t have been what I wanted to read over the summer…. and then, close to the end, it becomes completely horrifying. I don’t even want to get into it, but jaw-dropping, eye-covering, horror. 2007 Printz Honor.

6. Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

No offense intended to Mr. Myers…. but how can you write a book like Monster and then KEEP writing books about kids in prison? I can’t read a single book about a kid in prison without comparing it to Monstermuch less another book written by Walter Dean Myers.

So it was good, fine, yes. But no Monster. 2010 National Book Award Finalist.

7. Nothing by Janne Teller

Just when I thought I couldn’t be more horrified by a book (See: Surrender), more horrifying books come along!

This is one of those books that you’ll find yourself trying to explain to every person you meet. It starts off with a bunch of seventh graders, one of whom decides that life is meaningless, climbs up a tree, and proceeds to harass everyone that walks by, screaming at his former friends for continuing to live when there’s really nothing to live for. So the rest of the gang want to prove him wrong and shut him up: they start to gather a pile of things that have meaning, to show their friend. Only, the things they put on that pile…. oh my good Lord. This book was so disturbing, but I do feel I’ll have to read it again, someday, when I’m done being horrified. (And want to be re-horrified?). 2011 Printz Honor.

8. Punkzilla by Adam Rapp

No one in my class seemed to like this book, but I was quite fond of it. Punkzilla is a fourteen-year-old runaway who has gone AWOL from military school. He’s living a questionable, drug-laden, crime-driven lifestyle in Portland when he finds out his older brother – also estranged from their parents – is dying of cancer, so he sets off across the country to see him before he dies. The novel, however, is told in letters. Letters Punkzilla sends to his brother, which may or may not have been sent, while he’s on the road. Letters he’s received from his parents and family and friends. Letters that are non-chronological, unreliable, and hard to decipher. What really got me was the last letter – after an entire novel about this really troubled, confused kid, the last letter is an older one, sent right after he left military school: Punkzilla – or Jamie, which is his real name – used to be a totally normal, kid with normal-league problems. WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM IN PORTLAND? Gah! Also, I’m fairly certain this was edited by my internship supervisor at Candlewick. *smile* 2010 Printz Honor.

9. Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

I heard about this book a lot, but never actually read through it until it -duh- appeared on my syllabus. The premise: the narrator, Keir, has raped his friend Gigi. The rest of the book: him explaining himself. So based on that, I thought the novel would be pretty salacious, pretty ridiculous, pretty over the top, whatever. But it wasn’t. I was reading, feeling like there would be some revelation at the end of the novel, that there would be some explanation that would make Keir’s actions make sense. But there wasn’t. So the whole book becomes, then, Keir trying to figure that out for himself – that there’s no explanation. Some things are inexcusable, and not just things that people do to him, but things he’s done to others. It’s a bit of a mind-trip, and really compelling. 2005 National Book Award Finalist.

10. Sorta Like A Rockstar by Matthew Quick

My roommate kept asking me if this book was any good. I kept answering “Yeah, it’s okay. It’s more like something we would actually read for fun.” I’m still trying to figure out what that means, exactly, other than 1) Not so literary 2) Kind of silly/fluffy 3) Not so depressing. Well, I mean yes, the book is depressing, and I *may* have shed a tear at the over-the-top Hollywood ending, but it’s nothing like.. oh… Nothing. It’s basically the story of a really plucky homeless girl who is really into Jesus and befriending the kind of people who nobody wants to befriend, and whether or not true tragedy can or should break your faith in God or the goodness of life or your eternal optimism. A nice way to round out the month. I flew through the last half of the book.

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