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

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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 – What SCARES you?

Are you afraid of ZOMBIES?  Who isn’t—because not only are they undead, they might be undead people you know. . .

Jacket.aspx-3  Jacket.aspx-2 jacket.aspx-5    or not. . .  Dead Reckoning

. . .or worse, it’s you!  Jacket.aspx-4        What about VAMPIRES?

Not the sparkly kind, but the hypnotic bloodsuckers we’re unwillingly drawn to. . .

Jacket.aspx-7   Jacket.aspx-8   or *shudder* become!  Jacket.aspx-9   Jacket.aspx-8

Or maybe, you’re afraid of WITCHES. . .  

Jacket.aspx-14    Jacket.aspx-15      Jacket.aspx-17  . . . or MONSTERS   Jacket.aspx-8

Jacket.aspx-13    Jacket.aspx-12   that come out of the cold. . .   Jacket.aspx-6

or that lurk in the water  Jacket.aspx-9  . . . or the forest. Jacket.aspx-5   Jacket.aspx-16

GHOSTS?  Did you say GHOSTS?  Murderous ghosts. . .

Jacket.aspx-17   Jacket.aspx-16  or historical specters. . . Jacket.aspx-4  Jacket.aspx-3

or both?   Jacket.aspx   Jacket.aspx-7        What about DEMONS?

Before evil spirits possessed them, they were your sister. . .

Jacket.aspx-18  or your brother. . . Jacket.aspx-19  or your cousin. . . . Jacket.aspx-6

You may even discover (the hard way) the merits behind exorcism. . . .

Jacket.aspx-20   Jacket.aspx-7        EVIL FAIRIES can be frightening. . . .  

seeing them. . . Wicked Lovely   being cursed by them. . .   Jacket.aspx-18

. . .having them swap you out for someone else.  Jacket.aspx-22   Jacket.aspx-11

What?  Supernatural beings and gruesome creatures will never freak you out?!                  Okay then—what about psycho killers who also happen to be YOUR DAD?!

Jacket.aspx-12   Jacket.aspx-11   Jacket.aspx-10    Or. . . your dad as

a demented scientist. . .  Jacket.aspx    Jacket.aspx-2    or

a brilliant detective and a psycho killer?   Ripper

Of course, Dad’s not the only sociopath in the family . . . .

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In fact, in most families the scariest person is. . . YOUR MOM!    Jacket.aspx-4

 

 

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

In the Stacks – Steve’s Hub Reading Challenge Experience

In the Stacks: A Blog Straight from the Mind of Steve

It is that time yet again dear readers. I have just run out of time finishing the YALSA Hub Reading Challenge for this year. And once again… I must wave the white flag of defeat and inform you that I did not finish the 25 book goal. I started out in February with high hopes thinking that I could finish those 25 in no time at all. Well… the spirit died out fast I’m afraid. However! I am still quite happy with myself that I was able to read some of the most fascinating and entertaining stories that I have EVER READ!

Now of course, I did start out this challenge with the same strategy as last year, which was to read as many graphic novels on the list as possible. Dogs of War, War Brothers, and Boxers and Saints were absolutely the top picks in that regard.

steveDogs of War is split into three main stories about the service dogs in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. Each story becomes more intense with the type of exposure each animal had while assisting Allied troops overseas. Now I don’t want to spoil too much here… but each story does seem to find its way into a hopeful and happy ending.

War Brothers is a fictional account of teenage boys in Africa that become enslaved and forced into a life of guerilla warfare by a tyrannical warlord. A close group of friends are faced with the constant reminder that if they do not fit into this savage new way of life, they are surely expected to lose their own.

And last but not least was Boxers and Saints. There are two intertwining stories revolving around the Boxer Rebellion in China around the turn of the twentieth century. The images are quite captivating, and the stories very easy to become hooked on. Yet the most interesting thing about both of them was that though they reflect a serious subject matter, they still show moments of true teenage innocence. Each story is told through the eyes of a young boy and young woman who through their different life paths, become engrossed in the bitter struggle of Chinese citizens who sought a way to rid their homeland of foreign oppression. Can you guys tell I am drawn to graphic novels involving combat??? 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

Teen Tuesday – The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

One Way I Could Start This Review

I requested an advance reader’s copy through NetGalley (thank you, Random House!) based on the title alone because, come on, vigilante poets? I could just imagine them riding into town, pens drawn, ready to whip out a verse at the first sign of injustice. And they do! When their elite arts academy becomes the location for the reality show, “For Art’s Sake,” Ethan and his best friends protest by writing a long poem that they secretly publish and distribute. Inspired by their English teacher’s lectures on Ezra Pound, they call their paper “the contracantos” which becomes a big hit with the students. The consequences, however, are entirely unexpected and for Ethan in particular, distressing.

vigilantepoetsAnother Way I Could Start This Review

Do you like character-driven stories with quirky plot devices? Do you enjoy smart and funny dialogue and realistic settings? Intrigued over furry pets named after condiments? How about bossy four year-old triplets with a Candyland fixation? Are you wondering what an interrobang is? Say “yes” to any of these questions and grab a copy of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy. Don’t let the cover put you off! (I’m not even sure who those guys are supposed to be.)

The Third Way I Could Start This Review (and then I’ll be done, I promise)

If you count Maureen Johnson, A.S. King, Rainbow Rowell, and John Green among your favorite authors, get ready to add Kate Hattemer to your list. Her first novel, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy,is an engaging and witty romp that manages to put another spin on reality tv and, at the same time, have readers musing over Ezra Pound, punctuation, and the recurrent use of tricolons. Like the YA authors mentioned above, Ms. Hattemer has a great ear for dialogue and her characters, especially narrator Ethan, are earnest and impassioned, smart and self-deprecating. Their camaraderie is the soul of the book and anchors all the crazy antics that follow. These are the kinds of friends everyone wants in high school.

Against all the chuckles, the deceptions, the crazy scheme to take back the school, there are very real messages here about art and principles. Can art stand alone? Should it be measured by the beliefs of the artist who created it?  Is it acceptable to compromise oneself for art’s sake? While there are no easy answers, there is certainly much to laugh over and reflect upon. Spend time with Ethan and his friends and you’ll be hoping, like me, that Kate Hattemer hasn’t entirely closed the book on these unforgettable characters.