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 hope...it'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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Girl With Borrowed Wings

The Girl with Borrowed Wings  by Rinsai Rossetti
Everything Frenenqer Paje does is controlled by her father.  He has rules for how she must dress, speak, move.  She must never slam doors, or read too much, or allow milk to drip from a spoon.  She must do whatever her father thinks she must do, always.

One day, in an unprecedented act of independence, Frenenqer rescues a sickly cat from the Animal Souk...and the cat turns out to be much more than a cat.  Sangris is a Free Person, living completely without rules.  He's not even stuck in the shape of a cat--he can take the shape of a person, or a dragon, or an animal that nobody has ever imagined before.  And Sangris loves Frenenqer.

Unfortunately, "love" is against the rules made by Frenenqer's father.

Imaginative, lush, and intriguing, this unique story is not a quick read.  It will not be quick to forget, either.

No cussing, some kissing.  

The Martian

The Martian  by Andy Weir
audiobook ready by  R.C. Bray

Everybody figured that Mark Watney was dead.  The Martian astronaut's space suit was pierced by a flying piece of equipment during a sandstorm.  The suit erroneously reported that his vital signs were flat, and nobody could figure out where his body had fallen.  So the crew of Aries III left the Red Planet without him.

But Mark isn't dead.  Not yet.  He might die of starvation, or of carbon dioxide poisoning.  He might get lost on the surface with no way to find his way back to the equipment that will help him survive.  He might even die of loneliness or despair.

But he isn't dead yet.  

Apollo 13 meets MacGyver meets Robinson Crusoe in a fast-paced and believable survival story.  The audiobook read by R.C. Bray skillfully portrays the voices of a widely diverse cast of character--not just Mark Watney on Mars, but also the Aries III crew, the politicians at home in Washington, the team leaders at NASA, the orbital science geeks at JPL, and more.

Be aware that the narrative contains a sh*tload of cussing. If you were stranded alone on Mars, you'd probably cuss too.  

Highly recommended.  This book is not written for teen readers but will have lots of teen appeal, especially when the film starring Matt Damon is released in October 2015.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Falling From Horses

Falling From Horses  by Molly Gloss

In 1938, 19-year-old Bud Frazer leaves behind his parents and the Oregon ranch life he has always known, climbs on a southbound Greyhound bus bound for Hollywood, and meets Lily Shaw, who will be his friend for life.

Bud is determined to be movie stunt rider, and quickly learns that horses and stunt riders are considered cheap and disposable by movie folks.  There are always more horses that can be chased off a cliff or tripped up by wires, or ridden to exhaustion, and there are always more movie-cowboy-wannabees dumb enough to carry out the deeds for a few bucks and a chance to be seen on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, Lily experiences another side of the Hollywood scene:  the seedy side of screen writing.  Lily is determined to write, and write well...and for many reasons, she doesn't fit in with the mostly-male writers of the time.

Bud's narrative voice is strong, calm, and believable.  His account of his year in Hollywood--and the time before that, back in Oregon--reads like a memoir.  Although the story is fiction, the characters and situations are carefully researched.  The accounts of horrific abuse of horses for the amusement of moviegoers are based on true events, and these abuses continued until 1940.

Bud, however, leaves the action much sooner.

The story is quietly told, despite the hair-raising stunts performed by human and animal actors.  Bud's grief (which precedes the first page, and is revealed in flashback chapters) carries the narrative without dragging it down.  Bud's naive encounters with women add flashes of humor, but it is his fondness for Lily that keeps the sometimes-grim story from becoming overwhelmingly dismal.

Falling From Horses is the 2015 "Everyone READS" choice for Shoreline, Richmond Beach, and Lake Forest Park WA.  The book lends itself to discussion, and is recommended for teen and adult readers.

Monday, June 22, 2015

All Our Yesterdays

All Our Yesterdays  by Cristin Terrill

Em awakens (again) in a prison cell, and can't stop thinking about the tiny drain in the floor.  She makes a tool from a stolen spoon, and pries up the drain cover...and finds, hidden inside, a list of fourteen items.  Thirteen have already been crossed off.  At the bottom, in her own handwriting, Em reads the final line:  You have to kill him.

In another place, in another time, Marina is quietly in love with her next-door-neighbor, James.  James is gorgeous, brilliant...and about to make a discovery that will change everything.  And everything is just about to become much, much worse.

All the loops and potential paradoxes of time travel, plus suspenseful chasing around in the dark, romance, betrayal, torture, and a very thin hope for redemption.  This fast-moving narrative kept me up way past my bedtime.

Recommended for ages 12 to adult.