Wednesday, October 21, 2015


George  by Alex Gino

Fourth-grader George is a girl.  

But when everybody--including her mom, who changed her diapers as a baby--looks at George, they see a boy.  It's a problem for George.  She knows that there are other girls out there in the world like her, but she doesn't know how she will ever join them. 

When her teacher reads Charlotte's Web aloud to the class, George wants more than anything to play the role of Charlotte in the school play, but she isn't even allowed to audition for the part...because she's a boy.

Inspired by the literary character of Charlotte, George and her best friend Kelly take action that will change George's life forever...hopefully, for better.

Publishing this book as a middle-grade story that clearly skews towards a young readership allows it forgiveness for the unrealistically large number of unreasonably reasonable people portrayed in it.   Writers and storytellers know that younger audiences practically require a Very Happy Ending; however, very good writers and storytellers can provide that ending while simultaneously providing the seeds of knowledge about difficulties the characters may face after the last page.  Alex Gino pulls off the trick very nicely.  

George is a sweet book, and readers will rejoice at the end of the story, even though they know that the main character's struggles are not nearly over.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula

Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula  by Andi Watson (graphic novel)

Princess Decomposia of the Undead is overwhelmed with work.  Ghost papers to sign, alien reports to read, werewolf dignitaries to entertain...and her father the King is no help at all.  But when a vampire with a sweet tooth joins the Royal Staff, some changes are on the wing...and so is a bit of romance.

A cute love story with plenty of unexpected twists.  I've never considered Chocolate Monster Cake as a possible defense strategy for zombies...but maybe I should. 

Recommended for ages 10 to adult.  No cussing or sex, but lots of fun (un-) dead stuff.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Prom Goer's Interstellar Excursion

The Prom Goer's Interstellar Excursion  by Chris McCoy

Bennett has always loved Sophie from a distance, but he never really talked to her until the night her motorcycle broke down and they ended up walking together in the New Mexico desert.  Minutes after he gathers the courage to ask her to the prom -- and she accepts -- Sophie is abducted by aliens.

Following the close encounter, Bennett does the logical thing:  he goes for a burger at the local In-N-Out.  But the restaurant has just sold all the food in the building to a psychedelic band bus, and in short order, Bennett is on board the bus with the Perfectly Reasonable, the one-billion sixteenth most popular band in the universe.

Will Sophie ever escape from the Ecological Center for the Preservation of Lesser Species?  
Will the teens ever return to earth? 
Will bandleader Skark Zelirium ever write a new song?  

Will somebody please hand me a Babelfish?

This is the book that Douglas Adams would have written if he were writing for a teen audience.  (And if he was an American.  And if he had ever been sober sometimes.)  

It's cute, funny, quirky, and strange.  It's not nearly as funny as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy,  but since nothing in the Universe is as funny as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's not unkind to say so.  There's the sweet romance between two kids who are dying to get out of Gordo, New Mexico, and what happens after. 

Also, there's a ram in the closet.  Just in case you wondered.

Exquisite Corpse (graphic novel)

Exquisite Corpse  by Penelope Bagieu
translation by Alexis Siegel

Twenty-something Zoe is stuck in a dead-end job, with a deadbeat boyfriend and no prospects for a better future.  She doesn't read much, either, which is the reason she doesn't recognize that the oddly reclusive writer she meets by chance.  

It's also the reason that she doesn't know that the author she meets is supposed to be dead.

Sexy, poignant, and silly in spots.  The ending made me laugh.  

Though written and marketed for adults, mature teens will enjoy it.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children  by Kirstin Cronn-Mills
Gabe was born Elizabeth, but he has always known that (physical characteristics to the contrary) he's a guy.  

While still in high school, he came out to his family and to his best friend Paige.  Now, he's ready to graduate and get on with his life: leave town, move to the city where nobody knows "Liz," get a job in the music industry, and leave all his problems behind him.

Funny how that doesn't quite work out.

This is one of those Important Issue Books():   Gabe is still in transition, and not everyone accepts that.  His parents say they do, but they still call him "Liz" and pretend he's a girl. Some of the faithful fans of his radio show "Beautiful Music for Ugly Children" turn against him when they find out he was born female.  And a few people in town have violent intentions.

Will this book be informative, comforting and helpful to transgender teens and their friends and family?  Yes, definitely.

Is this a great book that will stand the test of time?  No, probably not.  The plot is contrived, and several of the characters (mostly the haters) are two-dimensional and moved without motive.  Paige and Gabe's musical mentor John are well-developed, although credibility is stretched by the coincidence of having the first DJ to ever play an Elvis Presley single on the radio (who also happens to own Elvis' very first guitar) living right next door to a kid who loves Elvis.

Do I recommend this as a first purchase for library collections?  Yes, I do.  Mostly because there isn't much like it available right now, and the kids (and adults) who need it do not need to wait several years while the genre matures and improves.  

Buy it in paperback, recommend it to teens, and keep your eyes open for more books on this topic.  

Because surely there will be more.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Not If I See You First

Not If I See You First  by Eric Lindstrom

Parker Grant may be blind, but she's not dumb.  She has Rules (Chapter 3 lists them all) that she requires everybody to follow to ensure that she is as independent, smart, and capable of running her own life as possible.  She navigates the physical world pretty well, but her emotional life is a mess.  And, despite being part of a genius team of girls handing out advice to lovelorn teens in the courtyard at school, her love life is pretty pathetic.

Even her friendships with Sarah, Faith and Molly, which Parker considers to be essential to her life, have major flaws...flaws that Parker herself doesn't recognize until halfway through the book.  And what is she going to do about Jason, who is pretty cool, and Scott, whom she blames for betraying her when they were 13 years old?

The book is a compelling read that kept me up long past bedtime.  It's not perfect; there are some flaws (is there a reason  that all the Dad-characters are dead and/or run out of town? Also, the "gay kid" is kinda added-on) but the dialogue is awesome, and the insight into life as a modern blind teen was well-done.  

This review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher.  
Cover art not final (I's pretty ugly).  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Eden West

Eden West  by Pete Hautman

Jacob is a member of the Grace living in Nodd, a 12 square mile religious compound located in Montana between a Native reservation and the Rockin' K cattle ranch.  He does not remember life in the World, and thinks himself lucky to be among the few who have rejected all Worldly things so that he will be pure for the coming of the Ark and the archangel Zerachiel.

But Jacob is 17 years old, and inevitably, his body responds to hormonal demands--he is attracted to a young woman in the compound and also to the pretty blond daughter on the neighboring ranch.  The Grace maintain their faith while beset by hardship: a bitterly cold winter, a disease among the chickens, a wolf among the sheep.  But then other tragedies strike, and Jacob finds that he must choose between the life he knows, and the World he does not know.

There are few surprises in the story, but the narrating voice of Jacob is strong, and worthy of consideration.  Often in literature, religious extremists are portrayed as simple (or crazy), and some of that is present here.  But there is a bit more.

For readers 14 to adult.  Some cussing, some kissing, and quite a few lustful thoughts.