Sunday, January 21, 2018

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

Cover image for The first rule of punkMaria Luisa (Malu) is not happy that her mother is doing a sabbatical in Chicago.  It means that she will have to leave her friends and her father for a year and go to school in a totally new town. Her new school is bilingual, and Malu feels self conscious that even though her mother is Mexican, Malu doesn't know much Spanish.  Her mother is always wanting Malu to act like a "seniorita" but Malu would rather listen to punk musk and wear ratty jeans and band t-shirts.  As Malu struggles to make friends in her new school, and get along with her "supermexican" mom, she finds a way to acknowledge her Mexican heritage while maintaining her own identity.

 This is a cute and light-hearted realistic fiction.  Nobody dies, or does drugs or goes to jail.  It is just about a girl struggling to find her identity.  Between chapters Perez includes illustrations of the "zines" that Malu likes to make.  They are collages of pictures and words that mean a lot to Malu.  This, of course, would make a good kid's book club book, with the zines as a craft. I will have to think about whether I want to do this book for Mother/Daughter book club next fall. (2017, 310 p)

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dream Jumper by Greg Grunberg

Cover image for Dream Jumper. Book one, Nightmare escapeBen has very vivid dreams.  In them he meets and saves other people from peril.  He often ends up saving his best friend, only to find out that his friend had the exact same dream.  His parents are concerned about Ben's frequent nightmares, and send him to a sleep clinic.  But the sleep clinic is more than it seems, and soon Ben finds himself trapped in the dream world, and the only way out is to defeat the monster that lurks there in the shadows.

This was a great fantasy/adventure graphic novel.  The illustrations are all in color and the story moves along at an exciting pace.  I read this one because the second in the series is on my starred books list.  I have it on hold. (2016, 210 p.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

At the end of the book, "In the Shadow of the Sun" the author mentions some of the sources she used when researching the book.  One of them is this book.  When I finished that book, I opened my Overdrive app, and there, on the first page, was the book that I just heard mentioned.  I thought, "I don't have anything else to listen to right now, I might as well listen to this one."
Cover image for Nothing to envy ordinary lives in North Korea
It is a collection of stories by people who have defected from North Korea. Many of the stories focus on the time of the great famine in North Korea during the 1990's.  Some are about the wide spread starvation, and how people got by with only a few hundred calories a day.  Others are about how careful people had to be to not say or do anything that would bring them under suspicion.  The stories show how each of the featured people slowly came to distrust the indoctrination they had received their whole lives about their "Beloved Leader" and realize that life really was better outside of their homeland.  I enjoyed this book very much.  Since the author was telling stories about people's lives, it reads almost like a novel.  It made me very curious about how conditions are now, 9 years later.  (2009, 316 p.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne O'Brien

Cover image for In the shadow of the sunMia and her brother Simon, have traveled with their father to North Korea.  Mia's father has been an aid worker in North Korea for several years, but this trip is supposed to be purely recreational.  That all changes when Mia's father is arrested by North Korean police and Mia and Simon flee into the countryside so that they will not be arrested as well.  Mia and Simon start a long and dangerous trek toward the North Korea/Chinese boarder and along the way get a taste of what daily life is like for the oppressed people of that country.

I was fascinated to read this book and get a taste of what life is like for foreigners and citizens in what has been called the most oppressive dictatorships in the world.  The writer grew up in South Korea and the details of the story were meticulously researched.  O'Brien also does a great job with Mia and Simon's strained sibling relationship and character development.  This is a book that I am going to be recommending a lot, especially to adults that like to read children's novels. (2017, 303 p.)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold

Cover image for The song from somewhere elseFrank, (short for Francesca) has been mercilessly bullied by Neil and his goons for over a year.  She lives in fear and sees no way out.  Then one day, Nick, a over-sized boy with body odor problems comes to her rescue.  At first Frank is afraid that now he will want to be her friend, which would cause her more social problems.  Yet something keeps bringing her back to his home, and slowly she comes to realize that he is more, much more, than he seems.

As always with these kinds of books, it was hard for me to read the bullying sections because of my own experience with bullying as an early teen. It is amazing how a few events from childhood stay with us for the rest of our lives.  I guess that is why so many writers write about bullying, because they are still dealing with wounds from their own early life.  The thing that made this story bearable is that Nick is such a nice guy.  Even when Frank does the ultimate betrayal of Nick, he doesn't lash out at her or blame her.  This is such a good story about how forgiveness can overcome hatred. The author left the story open for a sequel. We will have to see if one is forthcoming.  (2016 UK, 2017 US, 217 p.)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Charlie & Mouse by Laurel Snyder

Cover image for Charlie & MouseOne of my goals for the new year is to read more nonfiction and intermediate books.  I picked up this one thinking it was an intermediate, but it is actually an early reader. It is about the daily life of Charlie and his younger brother, Mouse.  They wake up every morning next to each other in bed.  They like bed time stories, neighborhood parties, and Popsicles.  The book contains 4 mini stories and is illustrated with charming ink and watercolor drawings. This book has very low level vocabulary, but a quaint kind of charm.  It reminds me a little of the Little Bear books. It has received some starred reviews and ended up on some Best Books lists. (2017, 36 p.)

Monday, January 8, 2018

The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget

Cover image for The end of the wildFern lives with her step father and two brothers in a small, run-down house in rural Minnesota. Fern's step father is unemployed and they get much of their food by foraging and poaching animals in a nearby forest. Despite their poverty and the absence of a mother who died in a car accident years before, they are relatively happy. Then a fracking company moves into town and threatens the woods near their home.  Fern feels threatened, but many in town welcome the company hoping for better employment opportunities.

I think this book is getting attention not because it is particularly well written, but because it deals sensitively with current issues.  The author resists the temptation to make the story about a innocent girl fighting against an evil corporation.  Helget clearly favors environmentalism, but acknowledges that there are arguments that fracking, although imperfect, may be in some cases better than other alternatives.  Like many realistic fiction, Helget adds a bunch of other social issues into the soup.  Fern's father has PTS and her best friend is a Muslim immigrant. There are discussions about foster care, and non-blood-related custodial parents. (Amazingly, no GBLT characters). Well drawn and sympathetic characters made it all work.  Best of all it was a really quick read. I actually read it in one afternoon. (266 p. 2017)