Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Quincey and Biddy have just graduated high school and are heading out on their own...sort of. Both are special ed students who are not able to live on their own, so they are picked to live together (an idea Quincey is not too happy about).

Arrangements have been made for them to live in an apartment over a garage on the property of a wealthy elderly lady named Miss Lizzy. Biddy will clean house for Miss Lizzy, and Quincey will work at a bakery. Both will be earning their own money for the first time in their lives.

Up to this point, their lives have been horrific. Biddy lived with her grandmother who called her retarded and generally treated her with contempt. Quincey was a foster kid, taken from her parents after she was hit in the head (causing her to be a special ed student). To say that both girls were poor would be an understatement.

This chance for a new beginning does not come easy for either young woman. Quincey is suspicious of people and readily snaps at everyone even when they are trying to be helpful. Biddy is scared of boys and worried that people will find out her secret. They both fear that Miss Lizzy will kick them out when she realizes they are nothing special to anyone.

This is often a sad and dark story told from each girl's point of view. Even though they have their secrets and limitations (for example, Biddy cannot read or write), they have talents and worth and now have the chance to prove it.

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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick

One of the things I enjoy about reading is finding a unique character that I would never encounter in real life. Amber Appleton is one of those characters. She is smart, funny and a bit pushy at times, but ultimately concerned about others. She spends her time outside of school with creative activities. For example, she attends a Korean Catholic church in an old store front. Once a week, she goes there to teach the Korean ladies (aka the Korean Divas for Christ) better English by having them sing songs by the R&B group the Supremes. And, yes, she shares the story how that all came about.

When we first meet Amber, she is living with her mother and dog in the school bus her mother drives. It is all against the rules, of course, but they have nowhere else to go. Amber's mom drinks too much and has had a string of too many worthless boyfriends to make any kind of successful life for her and her daughter.

Amber makes her way with the amazing people in her life. She met her outcast friends (The Five) in an elementary school special needs class and stills hangs with them in a marketing club led by the coolest teacher, Mr. Franks. One of the Five, Ricky, has a lawyer mother named Donna who Amber idolizes and sometimes wishes was her own mother.  The residents of the Methodist Retirement Home who she visits once a week to help keep their spirits up. Father Chee, the priest of the previously mentioned church. And Private Jackson, a secluded Vietnam veteran.

There is a chapter where Amber explains how she meets Private Jackson that is amazing. It could almost stand on its own as a really short story. When I finished it, I could only think how remarkable it was.

Amber faces (and hides) from tragedy. She questions the point of it all and her own worth in such a difficult world. She is a fascinating character.

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

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.