Paisley Tillery leads a double life in Jill S. Alexander’s book, Paradise. Her passion is drums. She is a drummer in a rock band but her mother doesn’t know it. Paisley works hard to keep it that way, afraid her mother will forbid her from performing. Her mother pushes her older daughter, Lacey to be a singer. Let’s just say she isn’t very good. The band is looking for a lead singer and they find one in Gabe from Paradise. He’s good, really good! Not only can he sing, but he plays the accordion. The band’s dynamics undergo many trials with the new addition. Paisley finds herself falling in love. The band is practicing for a big show and drama abounds. Will the band stay together, will Paisley’s mother find out and stop her from performing? I have mixed feelings about the ending. Let me know what you think.
An innocent post graduation bike trip turns to disaster for the characters in Jennifer Bradbury’s book Shift. I really liked this book for several reasons. It is the story of best friends who go on an adventure right before they both go off to college. Best friends think they know each other very well. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chris Collins begins his adventure with best friend Winston Coggans. They think they are prepared for their cross country bike trip. They have food, money, shelter and lies. The book is full of biking adventures, interesting characters and a mystery. One boy makes it to the West Coast and one disappears. The story opens with the FBI investigating the disappearance. The reader is taken for a ride and is left in the dark on the reasons why and where the boy went until the end. Loyalty, trust, betrayal, and forgiveness are themes and the reader is left satisfied.
Shooting Star by Fredrick McKissack Jr. is a story about football and steroids. The pressure put on high school athletes by society and themselves can push them to try alternative methods. Jomo Rogers works out, alot. He was on track for a college scholarship, but he felt he needed an edge. He did not make the decision lightly and the reader is in on his thinking process. That’s not to say the reader agrees with his decision, but we’re not Jomo. As Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) says, you never know a person until you walk around in their skin. The fact that Jomo is African American is really irrelevant except for the societal pressure of sports and achievement. The story, as could be predicted, takes a bad turn and there are severe consequences to Jomo’s choice. There is plenty of football and high school drama. The story is not preachy and there is sympathy for Jomo. A solid sports story with good information on the consequences of using steroids.
Jen Violi’s book, Putting Makeup on Dead People, is the story of a girl who wants to become a mortician. Rather macabre wouldn’t you say. The story is anything but depressing and dark. Donna Parisi is stuck and has been for four years since her father died. She has no direction and really hasn’t dealt with her grief. She has many friends, participates in the church’s plays, has a boyfriend, almost, and wants to go to mortician’s school. Her mother doesn’t understand and forbids it, wanting her to go to the local college. Donna takes a job at the same funeral home where her father’s wake was held nearly four years ago and eventually moves into the spare room. Interspersed in the story are one page ‘obituaries’ with comments by Donna. I like the fact that Violi takes a dark subject, death, and creates a story that is anything but. A really unique story well worth the read.
Open Wounds by Joseph Lunievicz is not your typical YA story. The book takes place in New York City in the mid 1930s. Cid Wymann lives in isolation with his grandmother and his only escape is to sneak out to the cinema. His favorite movies are the ones with sword fights. Cid struggles on the streets and finds surrogate homes with the families of his friends. When his grandmother dies he hopes one of his friends families will take him in. Unfortunately, he ends up in an orphanage. After five years a questionable uncle, Lefty, claims him and he becomes a caregiver for his uncle who was injured in the war (WWI) with chemical weapons. Lefty knows a drunk has been fencing teacher who begins to give Cid lessons. Fencing is the sport of gentlemen and Cid, his uncle and teacher are certainly the antithesis of that world. Irregardless, Cid enters that world. A great story for historical fiction lovers, fencing enthusiasts and someone looking for a book completely different from what’s out there. It is a character driven story and I won’t forget the people I met during the read.
Bill Konigsberg deals with a difficult subject in his book Out of the Pocket. The story’s main character, Bobby Framingham, is quarterback for his football team and has everything going for him. He is popular, smart, a chick magnet, athletic, great son, and gay. It’s that last one that is the focus of the story expertly told by Konigsberg. Bobby is forced out of the closet and he has to come to terms with everyone knowing his secret. Not only that, his football team and those teams he plays also have to come to terms with the gay – thing. This is not a ‘in your face’ gay story. It is about accepting yourself for who you are, standing up for yourself, and the prejudices of others. Face it, teenagers can be cruel, egocentric and homophobic. They can also be empathetic. This is a story about seeing beyond stereotypes and fear. A very worthwhile story.
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach is a story about high school football and so much more. The main character, Felton Reinstein, is fast, really fast. He is trying to cope with his new found speed, the fact that he discovered his father’s body (suicide), his hippie mother, expectations from outside and his feelings for a girl. Typical teenage stuff, right? What sets this book as a step above most ‘sport’ stories, is Herbach’s style and treatment of his main character. The story is told by Felton who is brutally honest about who he thinks he is and the expectations others have for him. His younger brother Andrew is a very talented pianist. It just so happens the girl Felton is interested in is also a gifted pianist who he believes it out of his league. Felton deals with pressures at school and at home. His mother becomes a recluse, not being able to stand the sight of him for a reason Felton doesn’t understand. The boys try to keep things together at home so no one at school will know what is happening. There is plenty of football drama on and off the field to further complicate Felton’s life. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. Many YA sports books don’t give enough credit to their readers to appreciate a multi level story with a complex main character who has a life outside of football and cheerleaders.
Zombies rule! I like a good zombie story. There is something very appealing about the undead roaming around preying upon the living that brings a smile to my face. The genre is exploding so there is a plethora to choose from. Carrie Harris’ Bad Taste in Boys offers a YA zombie story. Kate, the heroine and eventual zombie hunter suffers from epilepsy which turns out to be very important to the story. I can’t remember another YA book dealing with epilepsy so it is refreshing to see Harris deal with the topic where it is a side story and does not impact the main character’s life, it is simply an annoyance. The story is some students, football players, become infected with something that turns them into zombies. If you are bitten, a standard in the zombie realm, you turn. Kate realizes something bad is happening and she tries to make others aware. She takes matters into her own hands when her brother is bitten and becomes a zombie. She doesn’t turn into Buffy, but has her won style. A quick read, unique characters, and original story make this a fun book.
Maureen Johnson presents a whirlwind of a duo in 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope. Main character Ginny Blackstone has no idea what direction her life is going in. Her favorite Aunt Peg dies and leaves a sort of puzzle for Ginny. She receives 13 envelopes and the challenge to follow the directions contained in each. It is a quest of sorts which takes her to Europe where she crisscrosses countries, meets people good and bad, and more important, finds herself. As the first book ends, the last envelope is stolen and she returns home. The second book takes up with Ginny trying to write her college entrance essay, an experience many seniors can identify with. She reflects on the adventures of the past, her Aunt Peg and the loss of the last piece of the puzzle, the envelope. Someone finds the envelope, demands money from the sale of one of Aunt Peg’s paintings and to follow her on the last adventure. Ginny meets people from her last adventure and the new mystery man who has the envelope. The fast pace of the novels is appropriate and the reader feels as rushed as the main character. I liked the characters and felt Johnson found a fresh story to tell. The reader becomes vested in Ginny’s story and there is satisfaction in the end, although it doesn’t end quite as I predicted.
Pat Flynn delivers another winner with his latest book, Out of His League. Ozzie, a talented ‘football’ player from a small town in Australia, participates in an exchange program and finds himself in Hope, Texas. He is an instant hit with the girls. It’s hard to compete with good looks, and alluring accent and great skills on the soccer field. Ozzie finds himself in the midst of the American high school experience as a member of the football team. The story could be a typical story of the new kid on the block taking all the glory and in the process making male enemies and female friends. However, Flynn doesn’t take that road and what the reader ends up with is a complex story with well developed characters and plenty of good old American high school football. A very good read and well worth the time.