Archive for October, 2007

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.