31 July 2015

Untwine; Edwidge Danticat

UntwineUntwine by Edwidge Danticat
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edwidge Danticat writing YA fiction? And I got to see her do Reader's Theater of an excerpt? Squee!!

The story is a serious one: two identical twins, heading off to a youth symphony performance with their parents, end up as one "leftover" twin thanks to an accident. More than Giselle's body and brain are injured - she has to figure out who she is, if she's only half of who they (she and Isabelle) were. That process takes a good part of the book and not even finding out what caused the accident helps. I'd say more, but I want readers to discover Giselle's story for themselves.

ARC provided by publisher.

In the Language of Miracles; Rajia Hassib

In the Language of MiraclesIn the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are times I wonder what is going on in publisher's minds: this could easily have been a YA book, and definitely has crossover appeal. Yet I'm hearing nothing about it!

Talk about diversity: an Egyptian-American family, with the teens fitting in to their normal, American teen life, the father trying to do the same and the mother a little stuck between both worlds. Then the unthinkable happens and the question of how much they've blended into the community arises - but is it their ethnicity, or is it what happened? That question lingers throughout the book and never gets answered (but then, life is like that). The loss of a star stems from the ending, which is one of those "a few years later" epilogues that doesn't quite work.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Night Divided; Jennifer A. Nielsen

A Night DividedA Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book set in East Germany as the Berlin Wall is erected is not one I'm going to run to read, but what a great surprise! Readers will get a sense of what life was like then for the East Germans, when things were bad but not the dire they'd end up being by the late 70s-80s. There were food shortages, the Stasi were watching everyone, and the populace wasn't quite as cowed as they'd become simply because until the start of the book, they could get to the West easily. Four years later, things are grimmer and escapes much more dangerous... but still, people tried. I'd hoped for a greater sense of Stasi-menace, but perhaps to a child of Gerta's years it really didn't seem to be there? And for those unaware of the suddenness of the Wall's appearance, it's a great reminder of the Soviet mindset.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Double Life of Liliane; Lily Tuck

The Double Life of LilianeThe Double Life of Liliane by Lily Tuck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because this is a mix of fact and fiction - a fictionalized autobiography, apparently - it took far longer for me to read this than usual: I kept stopping to check on this person, that location. It was gratifying to find them, frustrating when I couldn't or when their reality didn't quite match with what was going on in the book! My hope is that the final version (this was an ARC) provides more clarity or at least a resource list... Even without that, I'm definitely recommending this look at the life of a young girl in France, whose parents must flee/avoid the Nazis, and how she moves into both adulthood and an American existence. No, it's not easy, but it is fascinating.

ARC provided by publisher.

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Jonathan Evison

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Playing off the old TV show's MO, Evison moves us through Harriet's life by jumping from present day to Harriet Age 9, or Harriet Age 32, etc. with occasional glimpses of her recently departed Bernard in... where ever Bernard is. He's still hanging around, leaving Harriet looking slightly dotty because she speaks to him (of course, like any self-respecting ghost, he only appears to her not others). Why is he there? What mistakes did he make, or did she make, or did they make, to have their marriage and children turn out the way they do? All is revealed in this flashback-flashforward fashion. Unfortunately, despite the narrative style, the actual story isn't that interesting or different (by page 50 I'd guessed the Big Secrets, so I flipped to the back and, well, I was right).

ARC provided by publisher.

Fates and Furies; Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

IMVHO, a much better book than Arcadia (which diminished each time Groff switched eras). The life that Lotto and Mathilde have is, as all marriages are, not the same from each point-of-view. The Lotto-centric "Fates" side is a little more surreal, with slightly snarky asides and interjections, not to mention a better narrative flow. Mathilde's "Furies" story fills in some of the gaps, sometimes ones we didn't know were there. The two sides do work together nicely, and while their voices aren't that different, they are different enough for it to work (probably because this isn't one of those books told in alternative chapters). There were some parts that, at the end, didn't quite get resolved (Sallie and Rachel's devotion to Mathilde was, for me, unexplained) but overall, a good read.

ARC provided by publisher.

23 July 2015

Coming of Age at the End of Days; Alice LaPlante

Coming of Age at the End of DaysComing of Age at the End of Days by Alice LaPlante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's something clearly wrong with Anna. First the depression, followed by visions/hallucinations and then religious fervor point to something being not quite right. But what that is, exactly, isn't clear. Is she truly somehow chosen? Her parents' reaction is a little puzzling (if Anna were my child, I'd have her seeing a doctor and therapist) but given their other issues, not altogether surprising. As the book progresses, Anna seems to become more and more unmoored but then develops a clarity of purpose that may surprise readers. The ending feels a little off, perhaps a little too predictable and abrupt. This might be a problematic read for evangelicals and nonbelievers alike.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Fall; James Preller

The FallThe Fall by James Preller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We often talk with students about online bullying, but perhaps it's better to just give them books like this to read, a book about how one person can instigate the bullying, coercing (by sheer force of personality) others into doing it, and how that can backfire horribly. That's the tangental part of The Fall. The greater part is the effect all of this has had on Sam, who isn't sure why exactly Morgan is a target, isn't quite sure what his relationship is with Morgan, and feels... something. Very powerful.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Trouble in Me; Jack Gantos

The Trouble in MeThe Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After The Hole in Me, what was left for Jack Gantos to say about his life? Turns out, quite a lot. Covering a mere two weeks in his life, this fictionalized memoir shows how Young Jack starts heading down the road that leads to prison; it is all the fault of Gary, or was there something else going on that leads Jack to that path? This is less of a "there but for the grace of God go you" cautionary tale than a "so, you wanna hear a story?" book, one that has more resonance because of the biographical nature.

ARC provided by publisher.

I Crawl Through It; A.S. King

I Crawl Through ItI Crawl Through It by A.S. King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another book by A.S. King with teens who have deep emotional issues, solved (or dealt with) in some surreal manner: an invisible helicopter, for example, or a girl who swallows herself. Sometimes it was difficult to figure out what exactly was going on and separating reality from what these teens are experiencing or presenting may frustrate readers. There were several "real" things that made me wonder if they, too, were made up by Stanzi and Claire - by the end of the book, I was still unsure. This is definitely not the book for readers who dislike ambiguity and want concrete endings.

ARC provided by publisher.