January 26, 2010

Juvenile/YA Book Reviews

Posted in 1 tagged , , , , at 2:54 am by suepenkivech

It’s been a long time since I did one of these posts, but thanks to the third grade at our school and a reading contest that requires me to tie-dye my hair if they outread me, I’m on a roll with the books!  So, without further ado…

Shredderman: Secret Identity by Wendelin Van Draanen

Shredderman tells the story of Nolan, a 5th grade boy who’s better known as “Nerd” thanks to Bubba, the class bully.  He gets an assignment to do a project on something he feels strongly about – positive or negative.  After weighing a few options, he decides to do it on Bubba.

Unfortunately, Nolan realizes that if he turns it in as his project, he’s going to be exposed as the one who Did it – which will only result in more abuse.  So he adopts the identity of “Shredderman” and creates his own website – complete with pictures and videos he took with a hidden camera in his backpack.

Creating Shredderman.com not only gives Nolan the confidence to stick up for himself, it’s a huge hit with his classmates – who gain the confidence to defend themselves as well.  Moreover, the school officials finally have evidence of the bully’s activities.  While Bubba Bixby doesn’t change his ways, he no longer has the same amount of power over the school that he did.  All thanks to the amazing Shredderman.

Recommended:  Wonderful book for 4th – 6th grade boys (girls too!)  It’s an easy read, only 138 pages long, but Nolan is easy to identify with and the attitudes of his classmates are pretty much dead-on for the age group. 

The Dog Days of Charlotte Hayes by Marlane Kennedy

Charlotte isn’t a dog person.  She likes dogs – doesn’t run from them, doesn’t mind if they come up to her, isn’t allergic – but she’s just not a huge fan.

Unfortunately, she’s stuck taking care of the St. Bernard her dad brought home and then lost interest in. 

Unpredictably, this isn’t a “dog book” – it’s not the touching story of a girl who decides she loves the dog and convinces her family to do the same.  It’s about a girl who realizes that maybe they aren’t the best family to be taking care of Beauregard, and earns the money to buy the dog from her father; not because she wants to keep him, but because she wants to give him to a rescue group so he’ll be placed  in a better home.   In the process, she learns a lot about responsibility – and ultimately realizes that while a St. Bernard might not be the best choice for their family, a different dog might be.

Recommended: 4th – 6th grade girls.  It’s not brilliant, but it’s a good story.


Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez

Since Lina’s mother died the previous year, life just hasn’t been the same.  Her father, a high school English teacher, has buried himself in his books.  Lina’s grades have dropped, at least partially because instead of reading Watership Down  she’s using the chapter tests as a creative outlet and writing a story of her life using rabbits as characters.  Her best friend’s more interested in her boyfriend than she is in her – and her friend’s mother is having difficulty with her recent divorce and pouring all her energy into making confetti eggs. 

Confetti Girl tells Lina’s story, and how she comes to realize that while maybe things won’t ever be quite the same, with a little effort on everyone’s part they just might be ok.  Great story about the grieving process and how it affects different people in different ways. 

Recommended:  4th – 8th grade girls, or anyone who’s recently lost a loved one.

And finally…

Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

What do you get when you combine a dystopian future, gladiator games, and reality tv?

No, the answer isn’t Gladiator Meets American Idol – though that would be interesting.  It’s the world of the Hunger Games series.

Seventy four years ago, in what was once the United States, thirteen districts rose up against a corrupt central government.  After the fighting was over, twelve districts remained – and the Capitol decided to make sure they never rebelled again.

And so, each year, each downtrodden district must pick by lottery a boy and a girl between 13 and 18 to go to the Hunger Games, a reality tv show broadcast nation-wide.  If one of the contestants from their district wins, the district is given everything they’ll need to survive another year.  If they lose – well, it’s a fight to the death. 

Sixteen year old Katniss isn’t chosen this year for the games.  Her thirteen year old sister is.  Knowing that the kindhearted Prim doesn’t stand a chance, Katniss volunteers to take her place, despite knowing that no one from District 12 has won in nearly 25 years. 

Sounds dark, right?  It is, and it’s not.  The focus isn’t on a bunch of kids killing each other; it’s on Katniss’s reaction to the situation, the alliances and relationships she forms, and the points where, despite knowing she’s risking it all, she says, “This is wrong, I won’t do this.” 

And, because Katniss dares to take a stand, other people do, too.

Recommendation:  Wonderful book series for middle and high schoolers, both boys and girls – and their parents.  Like Harry Potter, this isn’t a series just for kids; it’s a well thought out universe that will appeal to anyone who enjoys a fantasy setting and spectacular characterization.  While romance is present, it’s understated; there’s nothing that’ll jump out and scream “Girls’ book!” to male readers, whose interest will be piqued by the non-stop action and fast-paced story line.