Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ice Dogs

Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

14-year-old champion musher Victoria Secord has always loved racing her sled dogs through the Alaskan bush...and, after her dad dies in a trail accident, the sport is Victoria's lasting connection to him.  He taught her how to be independent, self-reliant, and an expert at surviving in the wilderness.  But when she and her dogs encounter first an injured "city boy" and later a blizzard, Victoria's skills are put to the ultimate test: life and death.

This fast-paced adventure, written by an experienced musher, features lots of stuff I like in a book: realistic action, suspense, and a convincing touch of romance between the two main characters.  The events are entirely plausible, and Victoria's response to them makes sense.  Her relationship with her dogs is wonderful--she knows them as individuals, and identifies their strengths within the team.  Plus, she is a smart, awesome protagonist in a sport that is mostly dominated by men.  Victoria doesn't dwell on her "minority" status, but she acknowledges that being a girl (and not a very large one) gives her both advantages and disadvantages in competition, and she is smart enough to use whatever edge it takes to win...and to survive.

With two modern main characters, this book may appeal more broadly than Gary Paulsen'sDogsong, which also tells the story of a dogsled journey.  Pair Ice Dogs with Julie of the Wolves and Hatchet for lovers of survival fiction.

Highly recommended for readers ages 10 to adult.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders  by Geoff Herbach
Gabe Johnson (called "Chunk") doesn't have much in his life.  He isn't a scholar or a jock, he doesn't have a girlfriend, and his home life is kind of pathetic.  Although he isn't very musically talented, Chunk is happiest in the high school band, and looks forward to marching camp each summer.

When money for the music program is cut, and at the same time a new cheerleading dance squad is formed and funded, Chunk deduces (correctly) that proceeds from the school soda machine, which supposedly supported the band, have been diverted to the cheerleaders.

Chunk doesn't just get mad.  He also makes plans to get even.

The reader knows from page one that Chunk's plans went awry, because the book is narrated in a police report. The characters begin as stereotypes: cheerleaders, jocks, geeks, goths and stoners.  However, nobody stays inside the boundaries of a stereotype, and that is why this story is worthwhile. The journey to the police station is convoluted, funny, poignant, and feels very true, especially to this former-high-school-band-weenie reader.

A bit of minor cussing, no sex, some tactful kissing (mostly off-page), and some sweet romance.

Recommended for readers ages 12 to adult.