Archive for October, 2007

Bittersweet Sixteen by Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  230

RAC Book:  Yes

Laura Finnegan is the daughter of two brilliant professors living in New York City.  Despite the fact that her parents are professors, Laura still has to go to her private school on scholarship.  Laura’s best friend, Whitney, is the most beautiful and wealthy girl in school.  Sometimes Laura envies how easy everything is for Whitney, but then realizes that if she had everything so easy she never would have begun designing and sewing her own clothes.

Everything gets thrown into disarray when Sophie, the daughter of a movie producer, comes to their school and Whitney becomes territorial.  Laura manages to play peacemaker and even convinces the two of them to share their sweet sixteen party since they have the same birthday, but eventually they get into a fight over a boy and all bets are off.  Laura eventually gets punished for refusing to take sides.

Karasyov and Kargman do a nice job of depicting the haves and have nots in Manhattan.  Although some of the eventual outcomes seem too easy or perfect, many readers will enjoy the ending.  The feelings of the main character are portrayed in a way that most readers will be able to identify and sympathize with her.  A fun read.

The Noah Confessions by Barbara Hall

Genre:  Mystery

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  215

RAC Book:  Yes

Lynnie Russo is disappointed when her father fails to give her a car for her 16th birthday like everyone else at her California private school gets.  She rebels by skipping school to go surfing and in response her father gives her a letter written by her mother when she was Lynnie’s age.  Her mother died when Lynnie was in elementary school in a car accident.  As Lynnie starts reading her mother’s story, she starts to realize why she has never met any of her parents’ family and why they ran away to California.  As Lynnie begins to piece together the terrible events from her mother’s childhood she begins to wonder how she can go on without changing her entire outlook on life.  Lynnie also begins dating a young man she meets at her mother’s cemetary.  He is not like the boys at her private school, but as time goes on she begins to think that maybe that is a good thing.

Lynnie’s story is a little slow at times, but many readers will want to know what big secret her mother is hiding.  Although parts of the story seem unclear or impossible, the author does a fair job of explaining it in the end.  This is not the most compelling mystery out there, but readers who like quick picks will enjoy it.


Dream Factory by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler

Genre:  Romance, Realistic fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  250

RAC Book:  Yes 

Luke and Ella are working at the Disney World theme park as characters while the real characters are on strike.  Ella plays Cinderella and Luke plays Dale of Chip and Dale.  They feel a connection to each other, but Ella starts dating her Prince Charming (Mark) and Luke starts dating his Chip (Cassie).  They are each spending the summer after their high school graduation grappling with some issues.  Ella tragically lost an older brother around Christmas and her parents completely checked out and moved to another country leaving her to cope alone.  Luke has a built in career with his father’s business, but he’s not sure it is what he’s meant to do.

Ella and Luke seem to be able to ask deep emotional questions that they are coping with and only the other is able to respond.  As Cassie sees Luke and Ella’s connection growing, she becomes territorial and defensive.  Mark, on the other hand, is a true Prince Charming and does not want to hinder Ella’s happiness for his own.  The true story is about Luke and Ella coming to terms with their as yet undecided futures and deciding where to go once the strike inevitably ends.

Although this book has many Disney facts and references, this book is much more than people who work as Disney characters.  Ella and Luke grapple with death (through two different incidents), ambition, goals, healing, choices, and happiness.  The two help each other learn how to move on in a way they can manage without feeling forced or unhappy.  Many teenagers or adults who are making major life decisions and/or are dealing with personal tragedies will find this book interesting and insightful. 

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  291

RAC Book:  Yes

In this sequel to What My Mother Doesn’t Know we find out what happened when Sophie went to sit with Robin instead of her friends.  Instead of supporting her new relationship with the school outcast, her friends and everyone else choose to cast out Sophie as well.  Since this book is told from Robin’s perspective we find out just how difficult it is to be a social outcast.  His name is even used as an insult toward others.  Even though he tries to be cool with the teasing and cruel jokes, this story makes it very clear how much it hurts him not to fit in anywhere.

As Robin is a gifted art student he is invited to audit a Harvard art class and finds himself immersed in an environment where he is not treated as a freak, but instead as a person.  He finds these classes as an escape from daily life because as bad as it was being an outcast, it feels worse now that he has made Sophie one too.  Sophie refuses to give in, however, and insists that everything will be all right, but at times things at school get so bad that neither one of them seem to believe that.

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know is an interesting story because we pick up with a new character telling the story.  We see the relationship through a boy’s eyes, which changes the perspective quite a bit.  Bullying is a strong theme in this book and while the students can be extremely cruel at times it never seems unrealistic.  High school students can be capable of anything if the circumstances align.  Students who enjoyed the first book will enjoy seeing how the relationship continues, but hopefully they will also take notice of how bullying effects those on the receiving end and not be so tolerant of what they see, hear, or actually do.

La Linea by Ann Jaramillo

Genre:  Multicultural literature

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  129

RAC Book:  Yes

Miguel lives in a small, poor town in Mexico with his grandmother and younger sister. His father and mother crossed the border into California years ago and have been struggling to get settled so that they could bring their other two children over.  On Miguel’s 15th birthday he is given a letter from his father saying it is time to come over.  On the day Miguel is set to leave, Elena, his sister, runs away because she can’t stand the idea of being left behind.  Her arrival messes up Miguel’s plans and they must create a new plan so that they can both cross the border together.

Many hardships await Miguel and Elena as they make their journey toward the border and there are many times when they feel like giving up.  Although the story is fast paced and told quickly, the idea of the length and hardship of the journey is brought across clearly to the reader.  Obviously, Mexican immigration is a big issue in today’s world and this story will help students to think about the issue from the side of the immigrants.  Reasons and motivations for coming to America are provided, as well as reasons why people want to stay in Mexico.

Summer Intern by Carrie Karasyov and Jill Kargman

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  184

RAC Book:  Yes

Kira has been chosen for an elite unpaid intership at Skirt Magazine in New York City.  Quickly she learns that hard work does not necessarily overcome money and influence.  Daphne, another intern, is also the boss’s daughter so even though she takes long lunches and fails to do much work she is expected to get the coveted intern’s position for the editor in chief.  Kira decides to throw herself into her work and compete for the prize.  At the same time, Kira finds she is attracted to Daphne’s boyfriend, a photographer who also works at the magazine.  Kira often wonders how one person can get everything just because she is rich and gorgeous.

This novel is similar to the Devil Wears Prada, but also puts its own spin on working in the fashion industry.  For example, Kira is acknowledged for her hard work, just not always in the way she would like.  The characters in this book are fun, interesting, and always hopeful for their uncertain futures.  Stereotypes, nepotism, friendship, and fashion are all themes in this book and anyone who loves fashion will enjoy this story.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Genre:  Romance, Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  15 and up

# of pages:  196

RAC Book:  Yes

Jane has had an obsession with Jane Austen or more specifically, Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, for many years.  As she experienced one horrendous boyfriend after another in her life she began to dream of the perfect gentleman.  Her great Aunt saw this and in her will arranged for Jane to visit Pembrook Park, which is a place where people dress, talk, and live like they are in Jane Austen’s books.  Jane is unsure if this vacation was for her to get the fantasy out of her system or for her to embrace it.

Upon arriving at Pembrook Park Jane is fitted with clothes and taught the rules she is to follow during her stay.  As Jane interacts with other guests and actors playing parts she begins to have trouble deciding what is real and what is part of the fantasy.  She befriends a gardener as well as the difficult Mr. Nobley.  The idea is for all women to feel like they have lived the romance, which is why Jane struggles to choose which man she really likes as well as which one, if either, truly cares for her.

Austenland is a must read for fans of Jane Austen.  The story is unpredictable, but yet contains many Austen elements, which makes it a lot of fun for those of us who enjoy those types of stories.  Jane is not the only one who would love to live this fantasy and through this book we are all led through this time with a modern eye.  This book is for all those women who love Jane Austen, her stories, her romances, and most of all her men.

Once Upon a Quinceanera by Julia Alvarez

Genre:  Multicultural Literature/Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  269

RAC Book:  Yes

Once Upon a Quinceanera follows the author, Julia Alvarez, as she explores the Latino tradition of the quinceanera, which is the celebration given to daughters on their 15th birthdays.  The story follows the specific quinceanera of Monica.  Although based on a real girl, her name was changed to Monica to protect her identity.  As Alvarez follows Monica’s big day she also discusses the tradition of quinceaneras, the growth of them in the U.S., and the impact they have on those girls who have or don’t have them.  There is a lot of discussion about the Latino culture here in the U.S. as well as the reasons behind each of the traditions such as the “last doll” and the significant change from flats to heels. 

Alvarez also explores her own life and how the pressures and expectations to follow in traditional Latina roles conflicted with her own desires such as college and becoming an author.  This book explores both sides of these parties:  the side that wants to celebrate a girl becoming a woman and the side that believes these parties are too expensive and overdone.  The explanations of how these parties have developed over the years was extensive and important for the story and is good for anyone not familiar with the tradition to know.  The quinceanera is only going to continue to grow in the U.S. and it’s important for non-Latinos to understand what it is Latinos are celebrating and respecting it for what it is, which is more than an elaborate party.


Silent Echoes by Carla Jablonski

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Age Level:  12 and up

# of pages:  344

RAC Book:  Yes

Sixteen year old Lucy Phillips lives in Manhattan in the late 1800s.  Her father has trained her to be a medium and hold seances in order to make money.  One night during one of these fake seances, Lucy hears a real voice asking her for help.  The voice belongs to a girl named Lindsay who lives in present day Manhattan.  She lives with an alcoholic mother and an abusive stepfather and is having trouble coping.

Lindsay is not too eager to listen to the voices in her head, afraid that it will cause others to think she is crazy.  Lucy, on the other hand, can’t wait to reconnect with Lindsay so that she can support herself as a real medium and earn money by predicting events in the future.  Through their eventual friendship, Lucy does prosper while Lindsay’s situation worsens.  Lucy feels so bad about Lindsay’s problems that she devises  a way to help her from the 19th century.

Silent Echoes was a delightful story about two girls who could speak many generations apart from each other.  Both need the other’s help and are struggling with their current lives,  but they learn a lot about the times they live in as well as each other.  They begin to see how some girls in both settings simply do not have many chances to raise above their dire circumstances.  The book also speaks about how many rich people will do anything to stay above the poor, even if it is unethical.  Many issues are covered in this book, but the interesting and fast paced story is what many readers will enjoy.  Highly recommended.

Alpha Dog by Jennifer Ziegler

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  321 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Katie has a history of terrible birthdays and her 17th is no exception when her boyfriend dumps her the day before she is supposed to leave for a summer college program.  He has also been cheating on her with one of her good friends and all the rest of her friends side with the friend (who is more popular than her) in the breakup and won’t talk to Katie anymore.  Katie also has an overbearing mother who constantly reminds her of how special and accomplished she was at her age. 

When Katie reaches her summer apartment she is ready to try something new and get away from her life, but her roomate constantly has her boyfriend and his friends over who eat her food and bother her.  On a spur of the moment decision, Katie adopts a dog from the rescue league and immediately has trouble with little Seamus.  He quickly terrorizes her rooomate, the neighborhood kids, and even her landlady.  In dog training classes she learns she must become the alpha dog in order for Seamus to obey her.  Katie realizes this is true for the rest of her life as well.  She does what she is supposed to do and what everyone around her tells her to do and she needs to step up and become the alpha dog in her own life.

Alpha Dog is  a heartwarming story about a girl who comes to truly love her adopted dog.  Seamus also helps her grow up and take responsibility for her life and those around her.  Once she stands up for what she wants others respect her in a new way and she forms much longer lasting friendships and relationships than she had before.  Seamus is a little bit of a handful at first and exasperating to read about at times, but anyone who has ever had a new dog knows this can be true!  The shallowness in which her friends drop her for their more popular friend and then pick her up again when they learn she knows a famous band seems unbelievable, but I think some high school students can be that shallow.  Anyone who loves dogs or has ever had a time in their life when nothing has turned out quite right and they had to make some big changes will enjoy this book. 



Vanishing Act by John Feinstein

Genre:  Mystery/Sports

Age Level:  12 and up

# of Pages:  279

RAC Book: Yes

Vanishing Act follows two young reporters, Susan Carol and Stevie, whom readers might remember from Last Shot: a Final Four Mystery.  In this story, Susan Carol and Stevie are writing about the US Open.  They are staying with Susan Carol’s uncle, who is an agent.  When one of the most anticipated players vanishes between the locker room and the court complete chaos ensues. The player was originally from Russia, so her parents immediately blame the Russian mafia, but Stevie thinks that answer seems too convenient.

Susan Carol and Stevie use some creative methods for finding out information regarding their cases, but many times their plans seem plausible.  Soon Stevie becomes suspicious of Susan Carol’s uncle, which creates some tension as he is then told to find somewhere new to sleep.  This distraction, however, does not even slow these young reporters down as they try to find out the truth.

This book has all of the charm of the first and in many ways builds on the characters to create an even better mystery with many layers.  The disappearance of the tennis player is only the beginning as Susan Carol and Stevie try to find answers.  When some of the information they find is troubling or dangerous to themselves, they continue to push ahead.  Students who like to read about sports and/or mysteries will be fans of this book. 


Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Genre:  Fantasy

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages: 497

Award Winner:  2007 Iowa High School Award

Sequel:  New Moon and Eclipse

RAC Book:  Yes

Bella has come to Forks, Washington to live with her father.  She does not have trouble making friends at her new school, but she becomes especially interested in the Cullen family.  The Cullen’s adopted five children, who are now all going to the same high school.  Bella notices that they are beautiful and never seem to eat.  When she becomes Edward Cullen’s lab partner she notices he appears to hate her, but she later learns that he actually really likes her which is problematic since he is a vampire.  The Cullens are all vampires, but none of them practice and choose instead to feed on animals to survive.

As Bella finds herself drawn to Edward she discovers that he always seems to be right there whenever she needs help getting out of bad situations and wants to genuinely protect her.  Her new friend, Jacob, from the nearby Native American reservation does not fear Edward but his people do not trust vampires and are not allowed on Native American property.

One day another group of vampires comes through town and becomes obsessed with getting Bella, which leads to a very dramatic and exciting ending.  Although this book is about vampires it is not gory or scary.  The story draws readers in until they have to find out what happens to Bella and Edward.  Students love this series and are hungry for more.  Highly recommended.


New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

Genre:  Fantasy, Romance

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  563

RAC Book:  Yes

In this sequel to Twilight, Bella must learn to cope when Edward and the rest of the Cullens choose to leave because they believe it is too dangerous for Bella if they stay.  Bella falls apart and only begins to heal when her and Jacob Black become closer friends.  Bella also learns that if she is doing something dangerous she can head Edward’s voice in her head, which she finds reassuring.  When Jacob reveals some surprising news it becomes very clear that the two of them will not be able to remain friends if Edward comes back.  At the same time, Bella learns that Edward has received some false information that has prompted him to risk his life.  Can she save Edward?  Can she help Edward and Jacob to get along?

 This second installment was as good as the first.  In this book we learn a lot more about Jacob and his family as well as why they do not trust vampires. Edward is not in it as much, which is unfortunate, but the story is not boring in any way as we wait for him to return.  Those who enjoyed the first one will love this one as well.

Shelter by Beth Cooley

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  12 and up

# of pages:  211

RAC Book:  Yes

Lucy, along with her mother and brother, Jimmy, is still recovering from the death of her father.  As her mother delves into their personal finances she realizes that things were not as her husband had led her to believe.  They had a lot of debt, no life insurance, and no way to pay their bills.  Her mother had always stayed at home and had no degree or work experience.  They soon had to move out of the house in favor of a duplex, which turned into a motel, which turned into a homeless shelter.

As Lucy adjusts to life in the homeless shelter and a new public school, she must also help her mother who is struggling in her new life.  Once Lucy stops mourning her old life, she begins to see that the other people she lives with have all endured hardships and are struggling hard to overcome them.  She meets teenage single mothers trying to earn their GEDs.  She meets women who had to fight to get their kids back.  She even meets a mail order bride who fled her abusive husband. 

Lucy decides to make the best of things and gets an after school job.  Her brother adjusts really well and enjoys playing with the other kids.  Her mom tries to take some classes, but does not do well at them and begins to wonder what she is going to do to pull her family out of this situation.  Lucy too begins to realize that her situation may not have been as temporary as she had hoped.

Shelter is a good story to help students understand what it would be like to live in a shelter.  The teenage protagonist is believable in her feelings and actions in this environment, which students will identify with.  As scary as things seem to be for this family, however, they never fully lose hope and neither do those around them.  This book helps us all to remember that there are so many ways to make a difference and help those around us because little things like donations and volunteering helped many of the characters in this book to get back on their feet.

Incantation by Alice Hoffman

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Multicultural Literature

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  166

RAC Book:  Yes

Estrella is living in Spain in 1500.  During this time in Spain anyone who was Jewish or converted to Christianity has the possibility of being persecuted in court.  As some neighbors of Estrella’s are taken away and she hears the charges against them she comes to the realization that she too is Jewish, but her family pretended to be Christian in order to survive. 

Once Estrella learns she is really Jewish, her entire world comes crashing down as she realizes that nothing in her world is really what she thought it was.  Her best friend betrays her when Estrella falls for the boy she had planned to marry.  She learns many secrets about her family and what they have had to do in order to ensure their secret stay hidden.  Finally, she learns that she has not even known her real name until now.

Incantation shows students that Jewish persecution did not just happen in Nazi Germany.  Jews have been persecuted for years for their beliefs and this story sheds some insight onto what it is like to have everything taken from you because of the faith you believe in.   While this story has many sad moments, it is also comforting that through it all Estrella has hope that somewhere there is a place where she could live as she is free from persecution.