In the Stacks: a review of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle

Jacket

Wow… first blog of the year, this is very exciting! Well dear readers, I would like to start this new blog of the New Year by letting you all know about a fascinating book I just finished before enjoying my holiday break. BOY! What a book it was. Not something I would recommend before huddling close with your family by a fire enjoying some hot cocoa and watching the “A Christmas Story” marathon on cable… but enough about me.

Here’s the setup of this book: take a boy with proud Polish origins and a penchant for telling the most random histories of people, places, and things.  Add in some special pizza, a bunch of sexually frustrated/confused teenagers, and somehow,  an exposed plague that breeds human-sized praying mantises and there you have (drum roll please)Grasshopper Jungle: A History” by Andrew Smith. Now I’m still not 100% up to date on my YA fiction, but I can say it’d be a stretch to argue that this is quite possibly one of THE MOST controversial Young Adult fiction books you can presently read. Continue reading

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Teen Tuesday – The Whispering Skull

whispering skull  Lockwood and Company is back!  Up against some spectacularly scary phantoms (ghost rats, anyone?), grave robbers, and a rival agency with a bet to drive them out of business, Lucy, George and the indomitable Anthony Lockwood are on the case of a missing artifact.  The item in question is a mirror that shows its viewer “the other side.”  What that looks like, however, is a mystery because those who gaze into the mirror die.

The Whispering Skull is the second book in the Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud, which began last year with The Screaming Staircase.  I absolutely fell in love with that book.  You can read my gushing review here.  Happily, book two continues the ghastly adventures of this cool and courageous trio, who boldly go about their spectral business with a dash of humor and a spot of tea.  Be warned, there’s enough references to jam donuts that readers may develop a craving. . . this one sure did! Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – The Fourteenth Goldfish

goldfish

Sixth-grader Ellie is a perceptive and bright narrator who brings an unbiased and comic look at the crazy situation her family is thrown into when her grandfather discovers an antidote to aging and turns himself into a teenager.  Now, despite his Harvard education, his two PhD’s and a fan club in Finland, cranky grandfather Melvin is going back to middle school, all the while scheming with Ellie on the best way to break into his lab and reclaim his research.

Jennifer Holm’s latest book, The Fourteenth Goldfish, takes a historical quest–mankind’s never-ending search for the fountain of youth–and shrinks it down to the problems of one family.  As if Ellie didn’t have enough to worry about, what with middle school to navigate and the increasing distance she feels between her best friend, now her grandfather is going to her school!   And that turns out to be . . . not so bad.  Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts

UnknownAsk any teen reader to name a book that features teens grappling with cancer and you’re likely to get The Fault in our Stars by John Green.  Whether they’ve read it or not, and most likely they have, The Fault in our Stars has become the one book that now defines a subgenre of realistic fiction–teens coping with terminal illnesses or living with debilitating conditions.

Certainly John Green wasn’t the first to introduce this theme.  Thirty years ago, Lurlene McDaniel cornered the market with books like If I Should Die Before I Wake, I Want to Live and Sixteen and DyingBut today, when a new young adult novel appears that features teens and cancer, the natural assumption is to compare it to The Fault in our Stars.  Which is unfortunate, because a new book should stand on its own merits and Zac and Mia by A. J. Betts certainly does.

Drawing on her own experiences as an English teacher in a hospital oncology ward for kids, A. J. Betts knows firsthand of what she writes.  She’s crafted a clear, straight forward look at the lives of two teens who react to their cancers in completely different ways.  Zac and Mia is a terrific story with plenty of heart and humor.  Set in Australia (the author’s home), it has realistic characters, a strong supporting cast and detailed, descriptive settings, especially in the hospital where this story begins.

Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

letsgetlostDon’t you just hate it when you finish a book that has garnered all kinds of pre-publicity love and glowing reviews and your final reaction is “meh.”

When that happens, my first response is not to blame the book, but rather, myself. What did I miss? Did I read it too fast? Too slowly? Was I not actually in the mood for an “insert genre here” type of book?

Of course, no reader loves everything all the time and sometimes, the book just doesn’t resonate with the person reading it.  Such was my experience with Let’s Get Lost, the debut novel by Adi Alsaid.

I really expected to like this story. It had all the earmarks—a road trip, a diverse cast of characters with stories of their own, and a girl with a mysterious past and an old red car.  Let’s Get Lost joins the long list of books that uses the road trip as a metaphor for growing up, leaving the past behind, and facing the future. All that, and a great cover, too. Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – Beach Boy Private Eye

princeofvenicebeachRobert “Cali” Callahan is a 17-year-old runaway from Nebraska who’s made Venice Beach his home for the past three years. He has it better than most street kids. He has a tree house to sleep in, friends on the boardwalk, and plenty of time for skateboarding, surfing and basketball. But when he begins cashing in on his natural talent for finding people, his life suddenly gets more complicated.

Cali helps locate a recent runaway and later, a local homeless man, and sees an opportunity to parlay his success into a career. Soon, however, his guilty conscience begins to question the motives of those who’ve hired him to find the missing–especially when the missing don’t want to be found. Take his latest case: beautiful and wealthy Reese Abernathy. Is she really a deeply troubled daughter or is her father a murderer? Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo

“It was a dark and stormy night.” While that often-maligned cliché to bad writing is not the first sentence of In The Shadows, it is the beginning of this collaborative book by author Kiersten White and artist Jim Di Bartolo. The story actually begins with a picture of a dark and stormy night, lightning illuminating a foreboding castle. A visual pun or the classic setting to a gothic mystery? Yes, to both.

IIntheShadowst’s going to take a patient reader, though, to put the pieces together in this suspenseful, supernatural tale. No sooner does the first series of cryptic illustrations end (with a bang, no less!), when chapter one begins with a completely different story arc. And it stays that way.

Kiersten White’s storyline, involving sisters Cora and Minnie, brothers Thomas and Charles, and mysterious family friend Arthur, doesn’t intersect the graphic story Jim Di Bartolo is telling in alternating chapters . . . until the end. And because Di Bartolo’s vibrant, often violent illustrations are not scripted, readers must wait to discover how the graphic component ties in. Confusing? Intriguing? Oh, absolutely. Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – Summer Reading Makes a Splash!

Our Summer Reading Program is well underway and we’re so excited about the number of teens who’ve already signed up. There’s still plenty of time to join! The program doesn’t end until August 2nd, so stop by the Young People’s Dept. You’ll be eligible for the grand prize, a $50 Target gift card, just for signing up and when you read 20 books, you’ll earn your ear buds and carrying case.

Plus, to keep you motivated, we’re giving one book buck for every 5 books you complete. Spend your book buck by August 16th on anything in our used book nook, or buy anything on the Club Read Cart in the Young People’s dept. There’s some pretty incredible bargains there . . . and remember, whatever you read (or listen to) counts toward your summer reading goal – graphic novels, comic books, e-books, nonfiction, etc. Looking for something fun to read? Try this–swimthefly

15 year-old Matt and his best friends, Sean and Coop, have set themselves up with a summer goal – to see a real girl totally naked. Then Matt falls in lust with beautiful swimmer Kelly West and suddenly decides to impress her by volunteering to swim the butterfly during championships. Now he just has to gulp down some of the protein powder his mother has stocked in the closet, borrow his brother’s weights to build muscle, and sneak into the country club pool for some unobserved practice time.  No worries! He has all summer.  In the meantime, Sean has a great idea that will get them into the girls’ locker room and one eyeful away from realizing their naked girl goal.  What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

In letters to a Texas death row inmate sent over the course of a school year, “Zoe” shares her story and immediately confesses to a murder. She chooses Mr. Stuart Harris because:

a) he’s someone she assumes can relate to her guilt (having murdered his wife) and

b) he’s not in a position to turn her in, because unlike Mr. Harris, “Zoe” got away with it.

ketchupcloudsWelcome to the premise of Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, this year’s Edgar award winner for the best young adult mystery.

Zoe relates both the giddy events of the previous year—meeting two young men at a house party and the twisty paths those relationships take—juxtaposed against her present life of parental drama, gnawing guilt and grief-stricken love.

The writing is rich in imagery and often beautifully expressive and the “torn between two lovers” plot will undoubtedly reel readers in. The mystery at the heart of the book is discovering which young man has died, and the author does a fair job keeping that secret pretty close to the vest. Most readers will probably jump to the correct conclusion on their own, in addition to deciding how culpable Zoe actually is in the death.

As the main character, Zoe doesn’t come off as entirely likable, though.

She lies, she cheats, she reacts in anger and then tries to justify it. Her voice is, at times, mature and understanding, but also incredibly naïve.  Zoe is at her best when she’s interacting with her younger sisters whom she clearly loves. Continue reading

Teen Tuesday – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

wewereliarsCadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat. Three are cousins. One is the best friend and first love. All four are liars. But it is Cadence’s lie that is the biggest, and Cadence’s life has been excruciatingly painful because of it.

E. Lockhart’s latest novel, We Were Liars, perfectly captures the mythos surrounding three generations of the Sinclair clan—beautiful, privileged, and extraordinarily wealthy. To outsiders, theirs is a fairytale existence: the tall, blond patriarch, his equally blond and beautiful daughters, and their exquisitely tanned and athletic children. The setting is Beechwood, their private island off the coast of Massachusetts, where the families all gather to spend summers boating, picnicking, and playing tennis.

Narrator Cady is the oldest grandchild, emotionally fragile and doped up on Percocet. An unstable narrator at best, Cady is slowly recalling the events of her 15th summer when a traumatic brain injury left her with selective memory loss. Her spare but evocative story is simply heart wrenching as she exposes her family’s greed, manipulation and the many, many lies.

Having just completed We Were Liars, I was completely staggered by this book and I did something that I almost never do— Continue reading