Catching up on the books I didn't read last month!
Replay by Sharon Creech. Leo is one of four kids trying to find his niche in life so that he stands out to his parents. He has an athletic sister, an athletic brother, and a musical brother, so he tries out for a play at school. When he finds his dad's childhood belongings in the attic, Leo starts tap dancing secretly, as well as reading a biography his father wrote as a thirteen-year-old. The story had a lot of potential but was jumbled up due to all the characters of the siblings and extended relatives not being as minor as they could have been. There was a storyline brought in halfway through and just left loose, which was disappointing. I loved the completeness and emotion of Creech's Walk Two Moons and was expecting this to be similarly powerful, but it fell flat.
The Half-Life of Planets by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin. Liana and Hank randomly meet in the women's bathroom of a hospital, and their relationship spirals out from there. The story is told in alternating chapters from each of their points of view as they learn about each other and overcome bumps in their relationship until, at the height of summer, something happens that seems impossible to get past. For being written by two authors, in the voices of two extremely different characters, this book reads so smoothly and beautifully that I wanted to start it again as soon as I finished it. Or, as the last line says, "Like the song you need to hear at least one more time."
Anything But Ordinary by Valerie Hobbs. When thirteen-year-old Bernie moves to a new town and meets the school outcast Winifred, he has no idea how his life is going to change. Both students are incredibly smart, rocketing to the top of their class, and unique, vowing to never be ordinary. They're together for four years, until something makes Bernie decide to not attend college, while Winifred moves to the other side of the country. The story is told in alternating chapters so you learn how the characters really feel, despite their difference. When Bernie finally takes a chance and follows Winifred, he finds that school has turned her into "Wini," and he's not sure how he feels about her anymore. The ending is a little hokey, but the ups and downs of the relationship are realistic and honest.
Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. The book begins at the halfway point of the filming of a reality show. Six teams are traveling around the world, deciphering clues and finding objects in a scavenger hunt to win a million dollars. Teams include a mother and daughter who recently experienced trauma, two brothers, a religious couple who believe they "overcame" being gay to marry each other, and washed-up TV stars. Each character has their own story they've brought into the show, and the stress of constant travel and no rest puts them on edge until secrets come out and drama unfolds. As hokey as my description may sound, it's a fascinating, well-written book that deals with people coming to terms with who they are and accepting others. The descriptions of the locations visited are beautiful as well, and really add to the story.
Our Sixth-Grade Sugar Babies by Eve Bunting. I remember reading this book as a kid as wishing my school would give us sugar babies! Vicki and her friend Ellie are trying to flirt with the new seventh-grade boy on their block while being responsible for their sugar babies, which they're being graded on. Vicki has an extra hitch - she wants to prove to her mother that she can babysit her younger half-sister. Things get messed up when boys trump responsibility and Vicki asks her mentally-handicapped neighbor to watch her baby.
A Girl Called Al by Constance C. Greene. I loved this book when I was younger; I thought it was really unique compared to most of the preteen novels out there. There is no fighting for popularity, the focus is not on getting boys to like you. When Al moves into her building, the main character (who is never named) at first thinks Al is too chubby to be friends with - but body image isn't the focus of the book, either. Al's weight is hardly mentioned, and she and the main character become best friends who spend a lot of time with the elderly superintendent of their building. I was pleased that this book was just as unique when I re-read it as an adult, as I had remembered from childhood.
Your Old Pal, Al by Constance C. Greene. Another childhood re-read. Not as clever as A Girl Called Al, but still funny in parts. It's really refreshing to read older books (this was published in 1979, and the other was 1969) and see how they're not focused on situations that are either petty or unbelievable. There is no huge revelation or scene in this book - it's the every day life of middle school girls, and it's nice to be taken back to that time.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. I've seen the movie that came out a few years ago, and I thought I'd read the book as a child, but I was imagining a totally different ending. Regardless, I absolutely loved this book. The writing was so beautiful - I re-read the first page several times over because the sentences were perfection. The idea is also really unique - a family drinks from an innocent-looking spring only to find the water basically froze them in time. They never age, and nothing can kill them - which is both a blessing and a curse. When Winnie stumbles across the family, she's swept in by them and their magical lives. Really makes you ponder if you'd drink from that spring or not.
The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney. The beginning of this book will hook you immediately, as it's told from the point of view of Billy, an American living in London with his family for a year. Billy starts a normal day, exploring his new city and looking forward to everything in life. As he's racing two classmates to school, he's handed a package. By the time he realizes what the package is, it's too late. The rest of the book is told by his surviving family members as they try to find the terrorist who targeted an 11-year-old boy. Cooney is amazing with suspense and slowly revealing information, and the ending, while not happy, is incredibly well-done.
Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer. I picked up this book during a layover, started reading, and missed my connecting flight. Foer, a budding journalist at the start of the book, is writing about the Memory Championship. As he gets to know some of the competitors, they convince him that anyone can improve their memory. Foer starts training to participate in the next year's competition. Very little of the book is actually about his own training - mentions are made here and there, but it is mostly about the strange, savant people he encounters during his year of training.
Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell. I read this book in one sitting because I could not put it down. Jamie's an Army brat; her dad is the Colonel and she and her older brother, TJ, have always played war and dreamed of going into combat. When TJ ships off to Vietnam, he begins shipping home rolls of film for Jamie to develop. She's initially upset he's not writing her letters, until she learns to develop film (which had been her brother's passion) and realizes he's showing her more than he could ever tell. The ending is absolutely perfect.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. I love Cormier's books because they're from a different time period, when writing disturbing books for young adults was majorly frowned up, but he still did it. I was surprised, then, when this book was so slow to start. It's about the social lives of boys at a Catholic prep school, but centers around an annual fundraiser of selling chocolates. The characters are compelling, as Cormier's always are, but a lot of them are thrown at you, with fairly elaborate back stories for each. It's not clear how they fit together until close to the end - even then, many story lines are left hanging, which always leaves me wanting more. The book does pick up and get a little edgier by the end, but overall it is not one I'd recommend to get to know Cormier's style.
The Book of Summers by Emylia Hall. Beth knows something is wrong when her father comes to visit; he hasn't come to her during the twelve years she's lived in London. He brings her a package, and she knows what it is before even opening it. In fact, she's scared to. She knows it's a scrapbook her mother kept of her childhood. When she was nine years old, Beth traveled with her parents to her mother's homeland of Hungary. They spent the summer there, but only Beth and her father returned home. For many summers after that, Beth returned to Hungary to visit her mother and experience the life she rebuilt there. She stopped visiting after her sixteenth summer, and The Book of Summers is an investigation into why. The language in this book is beautiful, with vivid imagery. The settings are, in my opinion, the most important characters.
Dialogue by Gloria Kempton. Part of the "Write Great Fiction" series. Like all books in this series, each chapter tackles a relevant topic. There are tips on how and when to alternate dialogue with narrative, how to make sure each character's voice is unique, and intensifying conflict and emotion with dialogue. There are multiple exercises at the end of each chapter to help practice what you just learned.