Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I'm Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil

JJ Green wants to be a professional songwriter. Her mom is a lawyer. Her dad is a judge. Her brother is in law school. Hmmm...I wonder what they want her to do?

Luckily for JJ, she lives in New York City. In 1963, there is no place better for aspiring songwriters than the Brill Building, home to successful music composers and publishers.

JJ's mom has nothing kind to say about the music business (largely due to her brother Bernie), but has agreed to let JJ work the summer as an intern in the Brill Building with the stipulation that JJ has to write a song that becomes a hit record by the end of summer or she gives up her dream of becoming a professional songwriter.

JJ often has lunch with her estranged Uncle Bernie (who is a big executive in the building). She is happy to learn from him, but she would never tell her mother about their contact. She meets Luke, who at first is aloof and mysterious, but turns out to be a lyricist who immediately understands her music. JJ befriends the night janitor who turns out to be the once famous singer Dulcie Brown herself. It is a fateful friendship that reveals much about everyone's past. And then there is the murder...

...Or is it suicide like the police think? This is not just a story of a girl trying to prove something to herself and her parents (with a little romance thrown in, too). JJ must solve the murder of someone close to her - it becomes more important than anything else that summer including songwriting.

Cynthia Weil, the author, is a songwriter who worked in the Brill Building in 1960s and along with her husband wrote some of the most famous pop songs of the time.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

What if Germany had won World War II? The life you know would not exist - you would not exist. There would have been no Beatles, no Martin Luther King, no walk on the moon, no President Obama. Everything we have known for that last 70 years would not have happened.

Knowing the premise, I expected that Germany would have won the war by changing one thing in history (like they built the atomic bomb first), but it turns out that they created genetically altered superhumans. That's how they overran Europe and eventually the United States. The US has been divided up: Germany controls the East, Japan the West, and Italy the Dakota region.

Zara lives in the same year we do now, but you wouldn't recognize it. Nazi's live in big, fancy houses in the center of town. Zara lives with her Uncle Red in a shack on a farm in the country. She is the descendent of Americans - even worse for her, she is part Japanese. Mixed race people are looked down upon even more than non-Germans.

Zara's uncle is a resistance fighter, but lost all energy after her mother was killed for being part of the resistance, too. Zara wants nothing more than to be part of the resistance and fight the Nazi's but her uncle refuses to let her. She lives a dreary life being a cleaning girl in a fancy prep school during the day and working on the farm until dark. The Nazi rule has left little hope for anyone not in step with the regime.

Zara is also an anomaly, a person with special powers (just another bit of science fiction). She can control the wind, even creating a tornado if she chooses. If the Nazi's found out, they would kill her for sure. It is this secret and her family's connection to the resistance that make Bastian's attention so unnerving. Bastian is a student at the prep school and the son of one of a ruthless Nazi colonel. Zara must choose her words carefully when he speaks to her, because she does not know his motive for the conversations.

As the Nazi atrocities hit closer to home, Zara is swept up in the movement to help restore America. The action and suspense will not disappoint.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Seconds: A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Write down your mistake, eat a mushroom, go to sleep, wake up anew with your mistake erased. If it only it were that easy. First, the mushrooms are special. Second, the mistake must have taken place on the premises (in this case, the Seconds restaurant).

Katie is a talented young chef trying to open a second restaurant while not quite able to step aside at the first one - in other words, the staff thinks she's bossy and wishes she would go away.  The construction on her new restaurant is not going smoothly, causing her much stress. In the middle of this, she starts seeing a strange girl sitting on her dresser in the room where she lives above the Seconds restaurant.

In the dresser, she finds a mushroom and the instructions to erase mistakes. An accident in the kitchen that burns one of the servers causes Katie to follow the instructions for a 'revision'. A run in with her ex-boyfriend prompts her to do it again. The mysterious girl on the dresser warns her that she is only entitled to use the power once, but life is full of mistakes so if you have a chance to correct them...

Needless to say, things get out of hand for Katie. What life does she really want for herself? Does she want her ex-boyfriend back? Does she want to renovate the old building for her new restaurant or should she have chosen the other one at better location?

The author/artist (who also gave us the Scott Pilgrim series) has created vibrant graphics to tell this intriguing story. The manga inspired characters inhabit wonderfully detailed panels that only add to the enjoyment of this story.

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

I have great respect and admiration for those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. I am awed by their courage to stand up and say "No more" to laws and people and attitudes so ingrained in society and everyday life. I cannot imagine what it was like for those who marched and boycotted; those who sat at lunch counters and at the front of buses; those who protested peacefully and practiced non-violence; those who fought in the courts and in the streets to obtain the basic rights and dignity that we all deserve.

This story follows the first African American students to attend an all white high school in a small Virginia town. Ten students are finally allowed to go years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of it. The governor and parents fought it. The school closed down for months to prevent it from happening - better for no one to go to school than to let 'them' go.

Sarah Dunbar and her sister are among the ten. Through Sarah's voice, we experience her life. We hear the racist chants by students and adults. We feel the spit on her clothes. We see teachers acting indifferent to the bullying if not expressing their own distaste of her presence in their classroom. We feel the ugliness of racism.  Sarah is a senior and one of the top students at the all black school. Her parents moved to Virginia to be part of the movement, but it is Sarah and Ruth who must face daily onslaught and threats.

Had we just had Sarah's voice, the story might have become overwhelming and desensitizing but we also hear from Linda Harrison whose father runs a newspaper and is one of the most vocal opponents to integration. She spouts the same hateful things her father has been saying her whole life about black people. She tries to defend segregation as Southern tradition. She believes it is unnatural for races to mix and be together in the same places. She knows God never meant for that to happen. Linda also blames the ten for messing up her senior year - if they had not riled things up, she could go to prom.

It is only when Sarah and Linda are put together for a school project that Linda begins to see Sarah differently and Sarah gets the opportunity to tell a white person how she truly feels.

This story takes the reader right into the minds of these brave students. We see all they see and hear all they hear. We know the excruciating reality they face every day. It is unpleasant and shameful. The story did go in a direction I was not initially expecting. If the author was trying to draw parallels with today's issues, I don't believe it was necessary. Nonetheless, this is a compelling read.

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Can rumors destroy you? Can your reputation be so ruined by others that you can no longer function? Alice was popular and now she is called a slut and shunned. One party started it all and the death of the star quarterback made it worse.

Alice lives in a small Texas town where football is everything. So when there is no game, what else is there to do. Parties are not those huge deals you see in the movies where hundreds of teens pack a house. Mostly, people (the popular upperclassmen and a select few of younger teens) hang out and drink. Occasionally, something big happens like at Elaine's party where Alice had sex with two guys in the same night. Brandon, one of the guys himself, said it, so it must be true.

Kelsie didn't go to the party (she was ill), but she has been Alice's best friend for...well, since she moved to Texas from Michigan. She was such a nerd back then and decided to start over in her new home. Alice was the first one to speak to her and they have been friends ever since - until the party. How could she risk losing her semi-popular status by staying linked to Alice the town slut?

Josh is Brandon's best friend. He was in the car when Brandon crashed and died. It was Alice's fault. She kept sexting him. It was that distraction that caused the crash. Josh can't keep that kind of info to himself, so now everyone in town knows (including the adults).

Kurt has been crushing on Alice for a long time. He is very smart and keeps to himself. Yes, he lives next door to Brandon, but Brandon would never admit to speaking to Kurt civilly (like he sometimes does when they are by themselves). And that's just fine with Kurt. He doesn't care about the rumors or whether they are true. He just wants to help Alice.

Through the alternating voices of Elaine, Kurt, Josh and Kelsie, we learn about the events leading up to the party and the accident. They each have their own motives and perspectives. What do they reveal and to whom? And is it too late for Alice.

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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince

Liz knew at young age that she did not want to dress like a girl. She hated wearing dresses and all the frilly-ness associated with being a girl. She never identified with things that girls liked.

This autobiographical tale follows Liz's journey as she deals with her unorthodox feelings. She is bullied by other kids and dismissed by adults. She faces down the cultural norms dealing with confusion, sadness, and frustration. For many years, she wishes she could be a boy. Puberty is rude awakening for her (although not really unexpected).

Fortunately, Liz has an incredibly supportive mother. She gives Liz the strength to be who she is without compromising. Imagine having that support throughout your life - knowing that no matter what others say or do, you the blessing from someone who loves you unconditionally to be who you are.

The black and white illustrations are are simple, but convey the emotions perfectly.

We often think of kids being bullied for being gay or unathletic or smart. This particular gender issue is not one I have ever given much thought to. I am glad the Liz Prince choose to write her story and do so in such an accessible form.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hit by Melvin Burgess

This pill will kill you. You live the ultimate high for seven days and then you die. Why would anyone take such a drug? It enhances your physical and mental strength. If your life is already a mess, you could have one last grab at glory, mark off as many items on your bucket list as possible and go out on top. Of course, you could also do something illegal, get arrested, be denied bail and die alone in a jail cell.

The setting is what I will call an economic dystopia. Conditions in England are so bad that society is on the verge of a revolution. Manchester is the epicenter of the movement to overthrow the current government and the location where the pill Death is manufactured.

Adam and (his hopefully girlfriend) Lizzie are right in the middle of it all as the first big riot by the Zealots happens. They are there when city hall is taken. It is exciting to have so much hope and change on the horizon.

Adam's life is good until...he pushes Lizzie too fast in their relationship and his brother Jess is declared dead. Suddenly, taking the pill doesn't seem like such a stupid idea. He could make lots of money to help his parents, make up with Lizzie, do something for the revolution, maybe even kill somebody who deserves it (and have sex, of course). It's amazing what someone can accomplish with an extra boost and the ultimate deadline.

This story went places I was not anticipating when I first chose this book. There is the drug kingpin and his psycho son who causes much trouble for all the main characters (theft, violence, kidnapping - you know typical gangster stuff). The oncoming revolution is always happening (mostly in the background). It is a dark and nasty world, but worth a brief visit.

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