Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson

Gabriela receives the red letter. The one sent by Death to tell you when you will be taken. You see, Gabriela's world in not exactly like ours. Most people just die, but a few are escorted by Death into the afterlife. Anyone who receives the letter, responds with a wrap-up list of all the things they hope to achieve in their remaining time. It's not always possible to accomplish everything, but Death can help make things happen.

Gabriela is only 16 when she receives her letter. She is devastated. She has three good friends, Sarena, Raahi and Iris. They are a close group with much to look forward to (even with the impending war). Now, Gabriela has a week left, and she hasn't even kissed a boy.

All hope is not lost because sometimes (rarely) Death will pardon you if you can guess his secret weakness. Gabriela's Death is named Hercule, and his clues about his weakness are not much help. Iris is fascinated by these departures and has studied all the different Deaths. Maybe she can help Gabriela find the weakness.

Gabriela's life is filled with school, football games, friends, church, her parents who seem to bicker a lot and stories of her hero grandfather Gonzalo who died in World War II. Even with the coming war that causes a reinstatement of the draft, her life is full of hope. Can she get everything on her wrap-up list and stop death from taking her?

One thing that struck me about this story is how Gabriela spends her final week just being normal. She does work with Iris trying to find Hercule's weakness. She does speak to her priest. But generally, she spends time with her family and friends. At first, I thought if I was in this position I would want to go places and cram as much of my wish list into those remaining days, but I've changed my mind. Normal would be a good way to leave things.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker

Here's another fun venture into reality television. I must also warn you - toxic parents ahead. How else can you explain people who would put their overweight daughter through a humiliating ordeal where she must lose 50 pounds in 50 days on national television. Oh, and she gets weighed live on the air every week.

Emery knows she's 'fat.' She is not like her cheerleading, perfect bodied sister, Angel, or her former NBA player father or her nutrition obsessed over-botoxed mother. Yes, Emery likes to eat, but her body shape does not define who she is. She is smart. She has a kind boyfriend who loves and accepts her for who she is.

Enter the chance of a lifetime for her family - Fifty Pounds to Freedom, a reality show that promises a million dollars to Emery's family if she can lose 50 pounds. Her father is all for it (turns out money is a little tight); her mom is for it (she wants Emery to not be fat anymore); and her sister is for it, too (she wants to be famous and sees this is her opportunity). Yes, it's really all about Emery and her health.

Being a reality show, there is much exploitation going on. Scenes are manipulated. Cameras are everywhere to capture every moment (including Emery's therapy sessions). 'Freedom' products are sold (all advertised through Emery's new Twitter account that she has no control over). It's all (supposedly) in the name of helping Emery and others like her.

Emery is better that all of it and finds some truths a midst all the 'reality.'

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cold Calls by Charles Benoit

I know your secret, and I am going to tell everyone unless you do exactly what I say. How far would you be willing to go to keep your secret - the one you want no one to ever find out?

Eric receives a call from a strange voice telling him that his secret will be revealed unless he follows the instructions. What does the voice want? Eric must bully Connor, a kid he doesn't even know. All the directions are specific including the day that Eric is supposed to dump mac & cheese on Connor's head in the school cafeteria during lunch. Eric is not a bully, but how can he risk the humiliation of having his secret revealed to the world.

Shelly gets the call, too. She must bully a girl in her school the same way. She goes to a different school than Eric and doesn't even know him until they meet in a anti-bullying class they are required to take after they follow the voice's instructions. Their loud discussion is overheard by a third person who also received the call.

Together, they decide (although with some reluctance) to find out the identity of the caller and stop him/her before it is too late. Suspense builds as the mac & cheese deadline approaches. We, as readers, are asking the same questions as the three: who is the caller; why are they being targeted; why were their victims chosen? We also want to know what the secrets are? How bad can they be?

It's a suspenseful, quick read.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tune Book 1: Vanishing Point by Derek Kirk Kim

Andy is tired of art school, so he quits to get a real art job. Why spend more time in school when he knows enough to work at a magazine or some other publication? Well, that works out. So after two months of sitting on his parents couch watching TV, his father gives him an ultimatum: find a job in seven days or move out.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so he searches the want ads. On the seventh day he accepts a job that requires no qualifications and will pay a bunch of money. Sounds good...perhaps too good. The job will require Andy to be far away from his parents and friends for a year (but on the weekends he can return home). So, still doesn't sound too bad. Andy will be a zoo exhibit for beings in another dimension. Ya, bad.

Within a full scale replica of his house, Andy must live in captivity for the amusement and education of seemingly emotionless creatures. And the worst part is that he cannot see the love of his life, Yumi. Does she like him the same way? It doesn't matter. He cannot bear the thought of spending so much time away from her.

This manga inspired graphic novel is a the first part of a series. If you are ready for a little dimensional travel with a guy who doesn't have his life together, then check this one out. I have already read part 2 and things get even stranger for Andy.  

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

Another book with a reality show in it. I swear I'm not looking for them - I just keep coming across them and thinking they sound interesting. In this case, four students are frustrated by how much the show has invaded their school.

Luke is fed up with For Art's Sake, a show that a pits a select few Selwyn Academy (a prestigious arts school) students against each other for the prize of a scholarship. Each week, the show ends with a competition where the contestants perform in their chosen medium (dance, drama, music).

Jackson, Elizabeth and Ethan (our narrator) follow their friend Luke into a plot to discredit the show and demonstrate how it has nothing to do with creating art and everything to do with making money. They suspect the school administration is benefiting financially at the cost of school's prestigious reputation.

In addition to the financial issues, they hope to bring to light other problems with the show. Luke decides to write a satirical, biting long poem that the group distributes in an underground publication (called the Contracantos) designed by Elizabeth that also includes Ethan's drawings. They also investigate the possibility that the show is scripted. Hopefully, someone will listen to them.

On top of the fact that their plans seem to get them nowhere, Ethan has a crush on Maura, the star of the show. As part of their scheme, he does get to talk to her, and in the process discovers she is being used by the show's producers. They are taking advantage of the fact that she is willing to do whatever it takes to be a successful professional dancer. How do you take down a show without killing the dreams of your classmates?

Poet Ezra Pound is a central part of this story. Introduced in their English class, his work inspires them. I mention this because within the pages of this story you will find a poem that perplexed me when I read it in high school. I mean no disrespect to poetry lovers, but this one was just not for me. I include it here in its entirety:
                        The apparations of these faces in the crowd;
                        Petals on a wet, black bough. 

Imagine my shock when I saw this poem after all these years. I was mostly confused by its brevity, but I will say I have never forgotten it.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy

If you were going to die, would you take the opportunity to do things you might not normally take revenge on people that have been cruel to you or tell your best friend that you feel the same way about him that he does about you. With nothing to lose, Alice did those things and more but must deal with the consequences when her cancer goes into remission.

Harvey loves Alice. He knows exactly how he feels, but she's never expressed her true feelings for him no matter what they may be. After she stopped ballet dancing her freshman year, Alice starting dating Luke (one of the people on her revenge list) and no longer spent time with Harvey. But that was before the cancer. After, Harvey became the person she depended on to help her complete her 'bucket' list and give her what will be her last nice memories.

This book could have easily been a book about Alice's revenge, but is deeper than that. This is a before and after tale - actually a before, during and after cancer story. Told in 'before' and 'then' chapters from Alice and Harvey's points of view, we have insight to their motives and feelings. It really is about these two young people dealing with whirlwind of emotions and all their relationships with each other and the people in their lives.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Benefactor by Erin Fry

I don't really watch reality shows, but it is impossible not to know about them and know how they are work. With this story, we get a behind the scenes look at a show that pits eight high school students against each other for a chance to win a scholarship to one of the top schools in the country.

So you know the set up - contestants live in a house together (in this case, boys and girls in separate houses) and compete in a series of tasks after which someone is sent home.

We follow each contestant and the shows creator through its first season. The four boys and four girls each have a compelling reason for wanting the scholarship. For example, Tyrell hurt himself playing football. We know what contestants are thinking and how they are playing the game. We also know that creator (who is unknown to the public) has doubts and struggles he must deal with also.

This story could have been filled with cliche student characters (the jock, the brainy kid, the rebel - think The Breakfast Club), but the teens are more complex which is quite a feat for a relatively short book with so many characters.

I've read a few books recently with reality shows as a part of the story. They usually address how being on the show has messed up the participants. This one has a more positive take on the contestants and its creator. As with actual reality shows, the suspense comes with the question of who will survive to the end. Who will make a mistake and get kicked off? Knowing the characters back stories make the questions all the more compelling. This is a fun quick read with some interesting characters and is probably better than any actual reality show.

For more info, check out the Indianapolis Public Library catalog and the author's site.