Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Day My Mother Left by James Prosek

So, while searching the catalog for some Thumbs Up books to request, I recognized this cover and said to myself, "Hey, I read that a few weeks ago, didn't I?" Doesn't bode well for a book if I forget about it entirely upon finishing it... Rather unremarkable semi-authobiographical story about a boy whose mother leaves and the first year or two after that. I thought it was pretty poorly put together, and hardly a stand-out in a whole herd of books with that storyline. Plus a bit on the young side. NAY.

My Dead Girlfriend by Eric Wight

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this graphic novel about a teen named Finney Bleak who is trying to deal with his presumed fate of dying a strange death. Finney encounters much of the same trails and tribulations that regular teens face, yet they come in the form of ghosts and other odd creatures/ monsters. This was the first graphic novel that I had ever read and I was not really looking forward to it, but keeping an open mind allowed me to enjoy it without too much expectation. While I don't see myself tossing aside the typical novel any time soon, I am now looking forward to future books in this series. YAY

Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones

The year is 1962, and almost-eleven-year-old Rex and his family move to Ottowa, where he joins forces with a band of local kids trying to convince the authorities that an escaped panther is on the loose in their town. It's cute, and seems to capture the period well, but felt too young. NAY, though I'd definitely recommend it to my ten-year-old nephew!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Update: Definitely a Yay. Tamar is a beautiful and mature story of two spies in Holland, trained by the British to unify the scattered resistance forces in preparation for the Allied invasion of Europe. It is also the story of a girl whose father commits suicide, leaving her with more questions than she ever realized existed about her family history.

I want to edit here and say that one of the things I loved about this book is that there is real history in it. I learned something. I wanted to know more.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

A fun, inventive story about a young clock keeper and an animation he is trying to repair. It is told in part by pictures and while the story got a bit long for me, I still give it a YAY.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Miner's Daughter by Gretchen Moran Laskas

This story about life in a mining town during the Depression depicts the hardships and fears of the era and the place from the point of view of the oldest daughter of a very close-knit family. While it treats some issues realistically, such as black lung, starvation, and racial prejudice, everything for this family works out. They get a visit from Eleanor Roosevelt and move to a New Deal homestead. So while I like it for its historical detail, I think everything ends a little to neatly (not that I like death and destruction...) I say maybe, leaning toward yay.

Tiny Tyrant by Lewis Trondheim & Fabrice Parme

This was a somewhat entertaining comic book. The illustrations were nice, but the main character is a 6 year old brat and I just couldn't get beyond that. I don't think that it would appeal to the upper end of our age range either. The chapters/ episodes of the book can stand alone as one does not have to read the entire book to read understand the latter ones though. Cute concept and includes references to Michigan, but NAY.

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson

Hi everyone! My boss just read "The New Policeman" by Kate Thompson and highly recommended it. It was originally published in the UK in 2005, first US publication is 2007. It won the Costa (formerly Whitbread)Book Award in 2005 and has starred reviews from Booklist, SLJ, PW, and Kirkus. I will be starting it tonight. Do we want to add it to the "real" list?



Doing It Right by Bronwen Pardes

Very informative non-fiction book about sex and sexuality, gender identity issues, STDs, etc. I would recommend this to adults who want to talk to their kids about sex, as well as any teens. Not sure if it is what we want exactly but I would give it a YAY for now.

Tough Boy Sonatas by Curtis L. Crisler

Overall I didn't enjoy this book of poetry that describes life for a Gary, Indiana teen. I didn't think that it was easy to relate to and it didn't make me feel like I could truly put myself in the subject's shoes. The illustrations didn't contribute much to the poems either. Definite NAY.

Epic by Connor Kostick

In this futuristic story, the citizens of New Earth live in a society where violence is completely banned, and the only way conflicts are resolved is through a massive multiplayer online game called Epic. People toil in saltmines or olive farms with next to nothing to their name, yet spend as much time as they can adventuring in Epic to try to accumulate wealth a few pennies at a time -- until Erik and his friends find a way to use the game in a way no one has thought to in decades.

This was a fun read, and certainly an interesting concept -- think World of Warcraft meets Big Brother. However, the dialogue was very stilted, which kept me from truly enjoying the creative foundation for the story. NAY.

Cupid by Julius Lester

A retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, told by the persona of a Southern storyteller. It was a quick, fun read, and would be a great adjunct to a class assigment on classical lit, but didn't do that much for me beyond that. NAY.

Falling Boy by Allison McGhee

After a mysterious accident involving his mother leaves sixteen-year-old Joseph is in a wheelchair, he moves to Minneapolis with his father, where he spends his first summer there working in a bakery. He works with the flamboyant Zap and is haunted by nine-year-old Enzo, an angry kid who hangs out at the bakery and desperately wants to believe that Joseph is a superhero.
This was a quiet little book that was beautifully written. My only reservation is that even though the characters are young, it felt like a book intended for an adult audience. I'd be very interested to see what other people think (pay careful attention to the author bio and the blurbs from other authors when judging whether this is intended for adults or teens....)
A MAYBE for now.

Disappearing posts?

Hi folks,

If you've noticed posts of yours disappearing, don't panic! It may not be gremlins. I noticed a couple of posts about books that have already been posted about, so I've changed those redundant posts into comments on the first ones. Please be sure to check to make sure someone hasn't already blogged about a book before you do so! It's very easy to see a list of all of the titles that we've covered so far from the dashboard screen on blogger.

Also, please be sure to include the author's name in your post titles, as that's how I've got them all organized. Thanks!


Monday, May 28, 2007


Okay, I will admit I totally loved this book, but then, I love words, and this book is full of long, interesting words. It is also full of a lovely heartfelt, yes, even exciting story of a girl living in the South in the '60s.

Karlene Bridges is a smart girl. She is on the verge of being a full-fledged teenager, and a champion speller. Too bad her Dad is a drinker, and Mom must work all day doing back-breaking menial labor. At least she has an amazing (rich!) teacher who can help her to reach her goals, and a level headed (religious!) boy who kinda thinks she's hot.

There are several drawbacks with this novel. First, there is some jumping around in time that gets a bit confusing towards the end. The other problem is getting teens to read it, now that spelling bees feel overdone. I personally say Yay, but I look forward to other reviews.


This book was a bit of fluff about a girl who moves from California to New York to live with her gay half-brother and go to culinary school. Cyd Charisse, heroine from past books Gingerbread and Shrimp, is engaging and chatty as ever, but her nicely laid plans go out the window when she breaks a leg. Literally. Gaining curves and losing patience during her recovery, she decides to toss aside study for attempts to find new romance and friendship in her new home.

Cyd, in my opinion, can be a real pain in the neck. The girl makes some pretty stupid decisions, and you just want to kick her for it. So this one's a Nay for me.

Your Own, Sylvia

Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill feels like a sort of fan-art piece that provides incites, if imagined, about the life of the poet Sylvia Plath. Each poem is written from the viewpoint of someone in Plath's life, be it her mother or an ex-boyfriend. What becomes apparent from the story is that Plath was incredibly bright overachiever who seemed to enjoy playing with boys. A lot. The poem about her rolling in hay (literally) with some German guy was funny, and it made me want to read her journals, which are helpfully footnoted at the bottom of this particular page. Almost all of the poems have similar footnotes about where the author found inspiration for the poem.

I am not a great judge of poetry, but I find reading poems about a poet harder than reading the poet herself. I just want to go straight to the source material. So this is a maybe, leaning towards nay.



I found Aya by Marguerite Abouet to be a wonderful addition to teen graphic novels.

Aya is set in the Ivory Coast in 1970, and basically chronicles the life of Aya, a 19 year old girl who wants to be a doctor, and her friends as they navigate the pressures and pleasures of being a young woman in a man's world. Light, humorous, but also culturally enlightening, Aya is a counterpoint to the usual girlfriends stories because it speaks so frankly and unromantically about love, marriage, and sex. Aya seems to be the only girl in the story who is not partying every night, dallying with multiple boyfriends, and getting caught in awkward situations. In one instance, one girl's father discovers her out dancing-- with her best friend's father. The father scolds her, but it is clear that HE is also with a young woman who is not his wife. This sort of thing appears common-place in Aya's world.

I loved being able to read about Africa without the war and famine. Yay.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Notes on a Near-Life Experience

Mia's seemingly perfect and happy family has dissolved following her parent's divorce. Mia feels ghost-like as she tries to ignore the range of emotions she is feeling and finds that the divorce touches everything in her life, good and bad. With the help of a hip therapist, a strong personality, and an ultimately loving family, she begins to heal.
I thought this was a nicely done debut novel. While it deals with the somewhat commonplace teen issues of divorce and first boyfriend, the characters were fresh and believable. I was disappointed by the overt pop culture references (I feel these usually date a book unnecessarily) and I think Birdsall is still developing a voice as an author of teen lit. I will give this a Maybe leaning toward yay.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Such a Pretty Face

I was really impressed by the 12 stories in this collection. Beauty is examined, questioned, explained, and denied in stories by some of the greatest/most popular teen writers. The resulting collection is a thought provoking, often hilarious, and sometimes troubling look at society. The editor Ann Angel uses story inclusion and placement to show the many facets and types of beauty. Great teen appeal, timeliness, and celebration of teen lit as a genre. By far, the best of what I have read. YAY!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Johnny and the Bomb

Okay, this is not Pratchett at his best. This is the third in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy and deals with Johnny and his band of misfit friends time-traveling to 1941 England. While there they face the classic time-travel question: what happens if they interfere with history.
My biggest issues with this book is that it fails as a stand alone, feels too juvenile for TU consideration, and the humor is weak and gimmicky.

Mr. Chickee's Messy Mission by Christopher Paul Curtis

What the.....?!?! How on earth did some reviewer someplace even include this in books for teens, which landed it on our magic spreadsheet? I got as far as the scene in which we find out that a couple of the characters are, oh, seven before tossing this one. Plus it's not even Curtis at his best. Why oh why did he ever stray from historical fiction? NAY, NAY, NAY.

Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Okay, speaking of the pants, here's the fourth installment in this familiar series. I'd read the first one, can't remember if I ever read the second, and know I didn't read the third. I could tell there were some gaps but could still follow the storyline. However, I'm not so sure I would have been able to if this was my first introduction to the Septembers, and being able to stand alone if part of the series is one of our criteria. Still something I would gladly recommend, not something I would give an award to. NAY from me.

Breaking Up: A Fashion High Graphic Novel by Aimee Friedman

I'm glad to see so many graphic novels that seem to be reaching out to girls (although personally this girl would rather read about superheroes than about girl cliques....), but this just felt like one of the countless generic "four very different friends wend their way through the trials and tribulations of high school" storylines already out there. Think Traveling Pants with pictures. Only not as good. NAY.

The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck

This one gets a NAY from me for a number of reasons. While it's an inventive and relatively well-written adventure story about time travel, a) it's a sequel that leaves the reader really wishing they'd read the first one, and b) it feels too young for our demographic.

Blindspot by Kevin Pyle

Semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a boy who moves to a new neighborhood and spends most of his time wandering through both the land behind his house and his imagination playing army at a time when his friends are starting to outgrow it. Didn't make much of an impression on me at all, so it gets a NAY.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Twisted is about Tyler, a high school senior, who was busted for a prank and now getting noticed by all sorts of people including Bethany, his old crush. Tyler still has plenty of problems with his father, the principal and always being a suspect. I enjoyed this quite a lot, though it is quite a bit like Speak, but with a male character. I also thought the tone changed abruptly about 3/4 of the way through, but I thought following Tyler through his changes in popularity at his school was incredibly interesting. This is a YAY for me.

Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess

So I know we aren't supposed to post until after we have read the book... and Melvin Burgess is not one of my favorite authors, but this book is eerily fantastic. I am only about 1/4 of the way through and the two characters are so complex and I just don't want it to end.

Basically there is a character like Michael Jackson who has had so much plastic surgery that his face has pretty much collapsed and wears a mask all the time yet he is super famous and rich and has a mansion.

Enter Sara, a character with so many issues on so many levels. She has "accidentally" burned a small portion of her face and is in the hospital and meets MJ like character. She moves into his mansion where he promises to make her a star (her dream) and give her tons of plastic surgery.

Very very good so far. MI Thumbs Up Worthy??? You 'll have to read and see...

The Plain Janes

This is a graphic novel about a new girl in school who decides not to eat lunch with the popular crowd, but befriends a table of outcasts, all named Jane. She comes up with the idea of becoming art terrorists which disturbs the adults in the community, but the other kids in school think it's cool. The Janes gain confidence because of their experience.

I liked this quick read. The adult reaction to the acts of art was a little unbelievable and detracted from the story for me a little. I wouldn't have thought of a graphic novel for Thumb's Up, but American Born Chinese makes it OK and I liked this as much as that. MAYBE

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wildwood Dancing

I like this fantasy a lot. It has romance, adventure, strong female characters and a satisfying ending. It also has a message, but you're not hit over the head with it. I don't know if it's the best but it's good.

The TItan's Curse by Rick Riordan

"The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school." This book starts with this great first line and keeps the reader engaged and salivating for the still-to-come fourth book. YAY.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion - Loree Burns

This is not something I think teens would pick up and read for pleasure. Informative, but a no go for Thumbs Up.

The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart

This is a very appealing book, I don't know if I would consider it YA, but never the less it was very good. Four very gifted children are set on a secret mission to save the world, face pace, exciting, with a little mystery thrown in for good measure. This book would definitely appeal to both sex's, I would have to give it a A- one to consider....maybe.

Waves - Sharon Dogar

Quick read, reminded me a lot of Lovely Bones in many ways. Characters were well done, and the story was quite quick. I think it would appeal to more girls than boys though, I would recomended it some of my regulars but not all. It gets a "B" in my book.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Up Close: Robert F. Kennedy by Marc Aronson

A biography of RFK? Reads more like a character sketch of the Kennedy men to me. One of the best history books on the 1960s that I've ever read, but I can't see myself recommending it to a teen, and I can't see myself as a teen picking it up without being forced to. Overall, I don't think this lives up to its billing. NAY.

Lost It by Kirsten Tracy

Girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, girl loses virginity, author writes inconsistently. NAY.

7 Days at the Hot Corner by Terry Trueman

Scott is a baseball hotshot at his high school -- whose best friend of many years turns out to be gay. This is the fast moving story of the seven days since Scott learns of it and how he deals with the most agonizing week he's known. I'm glad to see a topic like this covered in a book with strong boy appeal (I learned all sorts of stuff about baseball), but I don't think it's award-worthy. NAY for me.

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce

This book was a really fun, fantastical romp. It's nothing that new story-wise: feisty young girl gets in over her head on a magical adventure... but I liked the fact that it throws the reader in headfirst to its world by use of unique language. So far just a MAYBE for me, but definitely one of favorites of the ones I've read so far.

Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans

Older sister loses younger brother to cancer, deals with the emotional aftermath... anybody else frankly tired of that storyline? Plus it's a novel-in-verse, and those have to work really hard to please me. I'm a super tough critic of those. Definitely a NAY.

The Year of my Miraculous Reappearance by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This author wrote the famous book Pay it Forward which was made into a movie which I loved. I just finished this novel, took about two days and liked it overall. It is a basic story of a young girl living with an alcoholic mother and she takes care of her much younger brother who has Down's Syndrome. Cynthia eventually starts drinking like her mother. She gets in trouble with the law and must attend AA meetings. Fast paced and just okay. At one point I felt like I wanted to adopt the girl.

Another maybe...

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Deanna is 13 when her dad catches her having sex with her older brother's friend in his pick-up. News spreads fast in a small town and people still refer to her as a slut 3 years later. Her older brother lives in the basement with his girlfriend and their baby. Deanna obtains work at a pizza parlor and things start to look up. Oh yeah, did I mention she is in love with her best friend who is dating her other best friend? A pretty good read.

I am maybe...

Now You See Her by J. Mitchard

Hope Shay is 15 years old and attends the Starwood Academy for Performing Arts. She is an outstanding actress whose mother pushes her to perfection. Hope meets Logan Rose and they immediately fall in love. He lands the role of Romeo and Hope will be Juliet in the upcoming school play. Since Logan is older than Hope and graduating soon, he hatches a plan to fake kidnap Hope so they can obtain ransom money from her parents so they can run away together. A psychological thriller leaving readers guessing til the very end.

Loved this book!


Life As It Comes by Anne Larue Bondoux

Bondoux's novels are all different but equally engaging and spectacularly written. In her newest book, the reader meets 15 year old Mado who is mature beyond her years. When her parents suddenly die in a car accident, (not giving anything away, we learn that in the first few pages) her irresponsible 20 year old sister Patty assumes guardianship. Patty has many issues and circumstances that affect Mado. While I enjoyed this novel, I don't think it has the same quality as her earlier works. Also, the setting is France which may not appeal to some teens.

I am maybe on this one.

Harmless by Dana Reinhardt

Anna and Emma are freshmen who've been best friends since third grade. Emma befriends Mariah, another freshman dating a senior at another school. Mariah seems worldly and popular and the other two girls are drawn to her. Eventually the three girls become inseperable until one night changes everything. Instead of being caught in a lie, the trio fabricate an even bigger lie to avoid getting into trouble. Their lie spirals out of control and an entire community is affected. Most likely appeal to younger audiences. Reminded me of What Mr. Mattero Did.

Nay for me.

Anne Keller

Faith and Doubt: An Anthology of Poems edited by Patrice Vecchione

While this is a good collection of poems, it certainly doesn't fit the mission of the Thumbs Up! award to consider it for an editing job of a variety of poets, some long-gone. NAY.

Dead High Yearbook by Ivan Velez

This graphic novel was a cute premise and looks great from the outside -- it's designed to look like an actual yearbook from a grisly place called Dead High. Once you get into it, though, it kind of disintegrates; it's a loosely knit collection of stories about teens who met various demises, and it just wan't pulled off very convincingly in my book. A NAY from me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Welcome to the 2008 Thumbs Up! Award Committee blog

Hello all,

I've set up this blog so that we can all begin discussing the books that we're reading for Thumbs Up! It's very helpful to get some conversation going about these books now so that we can keep the list managable throughout the year. Please take a moment to make a post about the books that you read giving a very brief description and your impressions, along with a YAY or NAY vote. (If you're truly on the fence, a MAYBE is alright, too.) If someone else beats you to it, great! Simply post a comment to that post chiming in with your vote and impressions. If you have any questions, please let me know. And happy reading!