Category Archives: Books

Deborah Ellis: The Breadwinner

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my fifth review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 13 and up. Themes include war, relations with parents and siblings, responsibility, and life in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The genre is international fiction.

Teaser
Parvana is an 11-year old girl living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. If she wants to go outside, she has to cover her head and shoulders with a cloth. Her older sister and her mother have to cover their entire bodies with burqa, a kind of tent-like head-to-toe dress with a mesh covering over the eyes, and they must be accompanied by a man at all times. Women are not allowed to work. Parvana’s parents used to be university professors, but the universities are now closed and her parents’ home was destroyed by bombs, so they have had to move their family several times. The family is now living in a one-room apartment. Parvana’s father lost a leg in one of the bombings, so Parvana must help him walk. Her father works as a letter reader and writer at the local market while the rest of the family stays hidden in the one-room apartment. One day, some Taliban soldiers visit Parvana’s home and arrest her father. Without a man to take care of them, the family will be ruined, so they decide to cut off Parvana’s hair and have her act like a boy. She goes to the market and works as a letter reader and writer and does the shopping for the family with the little money she makes. The story is told through Parvana’s eyes and includes her thoughts about her parents and siblings, living under an oppressive regime, and her future.

Review
I enjoyed reading this book and learning about what it must have been like for women and children to live in Afghanistan under the Taliban. I liked the characters and I felt that the premise of the story was interesting; however, I think the author could have done a better job at developing the storyline. Several events happen in the story, but there isn’t a natural progression that leads to a climax and a resolution. The story just kind of ends. I learned after reading it that the author has written more books in this series (Parvana’s Journey, Mud City), so perhaps there is a better story arc to be found by reading all of them, rather than just one. I think that young adults who are interested in learning about life in other countries would enjoy reading this book. Also, Parvana’s struggles with her older sister are universal and can be appreciated by little sisters everywhere. There is some violence in this book, so I think it might be better for older readers, or at least readers who are not sensitive to violence in stories.

Booktalk

Here is a booktalk that I recorded for my course.

Laurie Halse Anderson: Speak

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my fourth review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 13 and up. Themes include growing up, problems with parents, friendship, loneliness, social awkwardness, sexual relations. The genre is contemporary fiction.

Teaser
Melinda’s life was pretty normal up to Grade 8. She had friends and sleepover parties and she expected high school to be more of the same. In the summer before Grade 9, however, Melinda and her friends go to a party hosted by high school students. Melinda gets drunk and ends up calling the police which brings the party to a crashing halt. The people who Melinda thought were her friends start ignoring her and she starts Grade 9 as a social outcast. Melinda had a good reason for calling the police, but she can’t seem to find the right way to explain it to anyone. And even if she did, who would believe her? As Melinda’s secret starts to consume her thoughts, she spends more and more time listening to her inner dialogue and less time interacting with the people around her. She almost never speaks, even when being addressed directly. Melinda finds at least temporary solace in her art class (although her art teacher seems to be going through some problems of his own) and in an abandoned janitor’s closet that she has claimed for herself. As the year goes on, Melinda fights to give voice to the girl inside who knows she did nothing wrong and doesn’t deserve the kind of treatment she is getting from everyone around her.

Review
(**includes spoiler, so don’t read it if you don’t want to learn Melinda’s secret before you read the book**)

This book deals very well with the subject of sexual assault and the way that secrets can become harder to reveal, even as they become harder for their keepers to ignore. Anderson gives Melinda a strong and often humourous voice which helps the reader identify with her as a normal teenage girl. Several subplots deal with the problem of cliques and the insane level of emphasis placed upon being popular in high school. An excellent book, and certainly an important topic to be addressed in a young adult library collection.

Booktalk

Here is a video that I made as a part of the review assignment.

And here is the original Powerpoint file in case you want to use it to make your own booktalk. I created the presentation, saved the slides as jpg files, and then imported them into Microsoft Movie Maker (which is free for Windows users).

Walter Sorrells: Fake ID — Hunted

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my third review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to teens around 15 and up. Themes include kidnapping, fake identity, music, chase, adventure, police, school. The genre is mystery.

Teaser
A sixteen-year-old girl and her mother have a routine they follow every time they move to a new town. They go to the library, choose a fiction book and look for the first girl’s name to show up in the story. This time, it’s a romance novel with Fabio on the cover, so the first name that comes up is Chastity Pureheart. The girl complains a bit, but finally concedes to that being her new name — although she prefers to call herself “Chass”. About three years after arriving in this town, High Hopes, Alabama, Chass’ mother goes missing and Chass is left to fend for herself. The mother-daughter team has been on the run for as long as Chass can remember, so Chass is quick to realize that there must be some connection between that and her mother’s sudden disappearance. Over the next few days, things go from bad to worse as Chass is threatened with foster care and even juvenile detention. At first, her best friend Ben Purviss and his family help with her investigations, but it soon becomes clear that Chass is playing a dangerous game and the consequences for those involved, even peripherally, can be dire, so she is left to her own devices. There are subplots involving Chass’ feelings for Ben, her budding musical career, and her acceptance (or not) into the cool crowd.

Review
I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. As I have said before, I am not a big mystery fan, so this is not a genre that I would choose to read if I were not trying to expand my horizons (because of the course I am taking). I don’t enjoy reading about (or watching) violence or death. However, judging by all the police/forensics shows on TV, I imagine this genre is very popular with a good portion of the population, teens included. There is some violence in this book, although I think it would be more offensive to parents than to the kids themselves. Some of the things that happened were a bit unrealistic, but perhaps no more than any average book that is trying to appeal to teens. Since I work in a school, I thought it was a bit unfortunate that all of the school-related characters were uniformly unforgiving of Chass’ loss and refused to cut her some slack. I can see how most teens view teachers/school as a hindrance rather than a help, though, so they can probably relate to that situation. Overall, I would say that this is a good, diverting read.

Gary Paulsen: Lawn Boy

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. This is my second review. (You can read other book reviews that I have done here if you really want to.) This book will probably appeal to kids between the ages of 9 and 12. Themes include math, family values, summer jobs, and investing. The genre is humour.

Teaser
The (nameless?) narrator of this story has just started his summer holidays when his eccentric grandmother gives him an old lawnmower for his 12th birthday. He is not initially impressed with the gift, but decides to take it out for a spin on his family’s lawn. The neighbours notice this activity and are quick to try to employ the boy to cut their lawns too, as the guy who usually does their lawns got up to no good (ran off with someone’s wife!) and now the neighbours don’t trust him. The boy takes the first job, thinking that he will be able to use the money he makes to replace the broken inner tube on his bicycle, but soon he finds himself with a full-time job six days a week and more money than he ever dreamed of earning. With the help of a hippie stockbroker, he starts investing his money and expanding his business. By the end of the summer, it will be interesting to see how much the boy has earned — and learned.

Review
This is a very lighthearted book written in a way that will appeal to reluctant readers — especially boys. It displays some good family values (the narrator trusts his parents and thinks that they are the smartest people he knows), but it also has a bit of violence, which I don’t personally like to see in a book for young people. I suspect, though, that the violence will appeal to the intended audience — young boys. (And I do admit that I am probably a bit of a prude in this regard. I would prefer not to see any violence at all in books or movies — which I know is an unrealistic expectation.)

What I liked best about this book is that it teaches kids about the concept of investing. I never really developed a good understanding of how investing works until well into my adulthood. I think that this book gives kids a good introduction to the concept of making your money work for you, without actually sitting them down and making them work with formulas and equations. I think it might spark some interest in math, which can only be a good thing.

Even though Amazon lists this book as appropriate for “young adults”, I would say that it is more in the 9-12 year old range.

Avi: The Book Without Words

I am currently taking a course on library services for young adults in which I have been asked to review 10 books, so I have decided to post my reviews here too. The first one is a review of The Book Without Words by Avi. This book will probably appeal to kids between the ages of 12 and 15. Themes include friendship and loyalty, and there are some magical elements.

Teaser
Thorston is an old man who has spent his life desperately searching for a way to return to his youth and never die. The secret for doing so is locked in a “Book Without Words” that can only be read by people with green eyes and a great desire. Part of the magic spell for restoring Thorston’s youth involves the sacrifice of a thirteen year old child. Thorston’s servant girl, Sybil, fits that bill. Sybil, who has only been with Thorston for four months, is unaware of Thorston’s intentions. The initial part of the spell causes Thorston to appear dead for several hours, during which time Sybil and Thorston’s talking raven, Odo, discover Thorston’s plan and try to thwart it.

Review
Amazon says that this book has a reading level of 9-12 (which I only noticed after I read it), but I think that would be difficult for children that young to understand. The vocabulary is quite complex and the author does not do a lot to explain the background of what it was like to live in the middle ages. (Non-native English speakers might find it particularly difficult, both in terms of language and content.) Here is an example, taken from the first page of the book.

“It [the fog] clung to the crumbling city walls. It heightened the stench of rotten hay and offal, of vinegary wine and rancid ale. It muffled the sound of pealing church bells calling the weary faithful to apprehensive prayers.”

While this book seems to have gotten good reviews on Amazon, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would because I felt that the characters were not very nuanced. Good people were good and did good things and bad people were bad and did bad things. Also, I think the author was trying to write a book about the importance of friendship and loyalty, but I don’t feel that he succeeded on that front either.

While it was not badly written, I think that I would have given up on this book when I was a teenager as the descriptions (as in the quote above) are a bit laborious. But that may have more to do with me as a reader than Avi as an author. I like it when the words make the plot move forward or tell me more about the character and I tend to feel like the author is wasting my time when he uses more than ten words to tell me about the fog. Readers who like a good, lengthy description will probably be able to enjoy this book more than I did.