Monday, January 27, 2014

The Extra by Kathryn Lasky

Stories about Holocaust victims never have happy endings. I'm not referring literally to the ending of this book - it may or may not have a happy outcome (read it to find out). Even if the characters survive and outlive their persecutors, their lives are filled with the death and disappearances of their family and friends. So many times, they never know what happened to these people. They were taken away on trains or just disappeared one night, never to return. It was a horrific time.

Lilo is a Gypsy, a largely misunderstood population. She does not belong to a roaming caravan. She lives in a house and goes to school. Her father repairs watches and her mother sews the finest lace. And she lives in Austria at the time of the Third Reich.

Gypsies were rounded up like so many others who did not meet Hitler's standards for human existence. They were imprisoned, starved,  tortured and killed. Lilo hopes her dad's work for prominent people will save her family, but one night they are taken from their home to a camp. Before long, Lilo and her mother are chosen to be extras in a movie made by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite director. They do not experience the glamour of movie making; they are nothing more that film slaves who could be killed for doing something wrong as easily as anyone in a concentration camp.

Sometimes Lilo's life is so crushingly hopeless that she is afraid to feel anything for a clever boy named Django. He teaches her how to gather information that is helpful to their survival. How can she allow her heart to be open to anyone when she may never see her own family again?

Lilo's story is loosely based on a real girl who was a stand in for the real Leni Riefenstahl. It is a story of contrasts and juxtaposition as the actors dress in fine clothes and eat wonderful food while the extras dress in rags and are given little to eat. For Lilo, it is all fake and she can only hope that one day she can return to her real life.

For more info, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cather and her identical twin sister Wren have always been close, but now they are off to college and things are changing. Wren does not want to room with her sister so as the story begins Cather meets her new roommate Reagan. It is the first of many upheavals in Cath's first year.

Cath is a writer - mostly fanfiction of the hugely successful Simon Snow series (with more than a slight nod to Harry Potter). Her online fans (of which there are many) are eager to read her stories based on the popular characters before the real final book is released. Living in this made up magical world is sometimes easier than living in her own.

Things that cause a few road bumps for Cath during her first semester: her mother reappears in her life after leaving when she was 8 years old. Wren wants contact with their mom; Cather wants nothing to do with her. Their dad, a successful but stressed out advertising exec, has another mental lapse. Living without the girls at home means no one is there to keep an eye on his health. Oh...and Cath has writer's block on the assignment that is a huge part of her grade.

Unlike her sister, Cath has always been hesitant when it comes to guys. She 'dated' a guy for awhile but never felt the passion of true attraction. Now, she has Nick from her writing class who becomes a writing partner (but is there more to it?). And Levi, her roommate's boyfriend (one of several). He seems so different from her, and he is always smiling (Cath is NOT a smiler). It is difficult not to notice him when he is around all the time.

What I really like about this books is the depth of the characters. We get to know them. We understand their faults and struggles. These young people are so well drawn. There is one particular scene where one of the guys insists on carrying Cath's laundry (much to her dismay). She feels it is an affront to her feminine sensibilities. The exchange goes on for two pages, and it captures the humorous, smart and flirtatious nature of their relationship.

Cather is a wonderful character that I hope you get to know her, too.

For more info, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.  


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Before the accident, Ezra was a star tennis player in his school. He sat at the table in the cafeteria. He dated Charlotte, one of the popular crowd. He was class president. Ezra began his assent years ago when his friend Toby became notorious through a sad twist of fate - Ezra broke away from Toby to avoid being stigmatized.

Ezra believes that everyone has a tragedy waiting for them and his turn came in the form of a car accident after he left a party (coinciding with his break up with Charlotte). He was sidelined for the whole summer and can no longer play tennis, ever. He starts his senior year with a wrist brace and a cane and all eyes on him. He knows he no longer belongs with the popular group (even when they try to coax him back).

So Ezra finds himself sitting with Toby and realizing how much he misses him. He also starts talking to the new girl, Cassidy. She is not like any other girl he has ever known. She wants him to find the real Ezra. They go places and do things he has never done before. There may be life after tennis for long as everything remains this good.

At one point in this story, Ezra confesses to being quiet because he has nothing interesting to say. Keeping quiet is safe - no looking stupid or boring. His words were the ones I heard in my own head when I was his age. I was never popular or athletic, but I was fearful of speaking out. I had friends but not many. I could have used someone like Cassidy to help me find myself (fortunatly, I found her as an adult). It is those moments when I read something familiar; something that reminds me of my own life that I truly connect with a story.

For more info, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Six Months Later by Natalie D. Richards

When Chloe fell asleep in study hall, it was May of her junior year. She had just gotten in trouble for rescuing her best friend Maggie. Even though she's a bit of a risk taker, she hesitated before acting - it was enough to get the attention of Adam, a boy with a known criminal record. She wonders why she can't get Blake to notice her, too.

Chloe wakes up in the same chair but sees snow on the ground out the window. Blake is her boyfriend; Maggie is not speaking to her; and she is really popular and gets really good grades. She remembers none of it. The past six months is missing from her memory. How did so much change in such a short time?  

Chloe is on a quest for answers. Touching Adam is all too familiar (and sometimes brings back flashes of memories). Blake is totally in boyfriend mode, but Chloe feels uncomfortable with him (which is so strange since Blake was her dream guy). Her SAT score is through the roof - way better than she should have been able to manage (but incredibly exciting for her parents). If only Chloe could remember...but if she asks anyone for help they might think she's crazy (she's certainly not going to tell her therapist).

It's a suspenseful ride as Chloe searches for an explanation and tries to get back to a life that resembles the one she does remember. Did someone do this to her and who can can she trust? And what about Julien whose family moved away after living in town for generations? She was part of the study group, too. It all seems connected...

For more info, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Permanent Record by Leslie Stella

What is the deal with dysfunctional parents in teen literature? These aren't just parents who irritate their children by just being parents (by making them clean their room, for example). These are parents who actively work against their children or ignore their suffering.

For Badi, his parents want him to keep a low profile and get good grades so he can go to college. It has been a tough time since 9/11 to be Iranian. The torment drove Badi to unspeakable acts at his last school. So he now attends a private Catholic school with a new American name, Bud Hess.

Bud is not a bad kid; he's really not. He has anxiety which can cause severe panic attacks. The medication and therapy are supposed to help, but when people think he's a terrorist there's is only so much he can take. Bud just wants to be a normal teen.

He doesn't expect much from his new school until he meets Nikki, a rebellious girl who hates the jocks as much as he does. The jocks get all the attention and money being raised while other clubs are being eliminated. Anonymous letters start appearing in the school newspaper stating similar views. A lot of people point the finger at Bud.

As the bullying gets worse for Bud, he tries to hide it from everyone. His parents willingly accept his lies only wanting him to stay out of trouble. When some things are finally revealed, they are only disappointed in him rather than showing support.

Bud is dealing with complex issues that are not easily dealt with. Life is like sometimes. Issues that some may think are easy take much longer to sort through.

For more info, check out the author's site.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reality Boy by A.S. King

A.S. King once again gives us a teen with a troubled life who finds a way to escape even if only momentarily. When things get tough for Gerald, he zones out and goes to Gersday, an extra day just for him. All Gersdays are good days. He envisions eating ice cream and spending time with his sister, Lisi (who in reality has moved to Scotland just to escape the family). Why Gersday...

Gerald was only five when his family agreed to be on a reality show. It was one of those where they bring in a nanny (in this case an actress) to help the family deal with the children's behavior. For reasons I will not discuss, Gerald becomes known as the Crapper - not just in school, but nationwide. It is a name he is still called as a teenager. He was the focus of the show because he was the troubled one (or was he?).

The family already had serious issues (like Gerald's oldest sister Tasha being able to do no wrong in their mother's eyes). She would do something, blame Gerald and he would be punished. The reality show made it all worse. It manipulated the reality seen by the public, placed blame on the wrong people and didn't really solve anything.

Gerald cannot wait to escape - really escape like his sister Lisi.  For now, he works at a concession stand at the local arena. He works register #7 and often finds himself looking at the girl on register #1, but his anger management counselor tells him to stay away from girls because they will just cause him to get angry.

A.S. King creates such incredible characters and complex lives for them. You want so much for them to sort out their issues and find contentment. They are often trapped by their age with parents who are making their lives hell.  This author keeps getting better and better.

For more info, check out Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.