Archive for January, 2008

Heat by Mike Lupica

Genre:  Sports

Age Level:  12 and up

# of pages:  220 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Michael Arroyo was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States with his father and brother when he was younger.  His entire family is obsessed with baseball and they love living in the Bronx, which is so close to Yankee Stadium.  Michael also plays on a Little League All Stars team and they hope to go to the World Series.  Michael is a strong pitcher and a little big for his age, so as his team starts to do well other coaches feel the need to question his date of birth.  Unfortunately, Michael is not able to locate his birth certificate, which causes some problems for him and his team.

Meanwhile, Michael and his brother, Carlos, are hiding a terrible secret that they are afraid will break their family up.  Despite the fact that Michael doesn’t seem to have anything going right in his life, he always has his friends and baseball to get him through.  He wonders whether he will get to continue to play baseball or if his dream will end forever over a dispute about his age.  This was a good sports story, but it also shed some light on difficult issues like immigration and poverty.  Boys will be a fan of this book.

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Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  371

RAC Book:  Yes

Annabel Greene is beginning her senior year with a sense of dread.  She is afraid that no one will talk to her and she will have no friends, which is exactly what ends up happening.  She eats her lunch alone and the school outcast is the only one who will even come near her.  Her former best friend has now turned everyone in the school against her based on something that happened early in the summer that is not revealed for a long time.

Annabel has two older sisters, one who is currently taking classes in New York, and one who is at home recuperating from an eating disorder.  At one time all of these girls worked as models, but now Annabel is the only one who still does it.  As she realizes she would like to end her modeling career, she also realizes that this will be yet another thing she keeps inside and doesn’t tell anyone.  Annabel does not like to upset people or disappoint anyone, so therefore never tells anyone what she truly thinks or feels.

Owen is the outcast who sits with her at lunch and eventually they begin talking.  He has a radio show in which he plays very untraditional music.  He demands honesty at all times and Annabel begins to think he might be someone she could really confide in.  The question is whether or not she will let herself actually tell anyone about what happened on that fateful summer day that forever changed her life.  This story is well written and will be a favorite with many teenagers.  This book encourages teenagers to take control of their lives in order to plan what they want to do in the future instead of what their parents’ plan for them.  In today’s society it can be difficult to break away from a parent’s protective guidance.  Recommended.

 

Knights of the Hill Country by Tim Tharp

Genre:  Sports

Age Level:  14 and up

# of pages:  233 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

This football story takes place in Kennisaw, Oklahoma where football is the most important thing on earth.  Hampton Green, the star of the team, is trying to lead the team to the fifth straight undefeated season.  This has only been done once before and those men are still revered in the area.  Hampton’s best friend, Blaine, wants the undefeated season worse than anyone.  Blaine used to be a very powerful player as well, but sustained a knee injury during the previous season.  He tries to pretend he is still the same player, but anyone can see that he is not performing where he used to.

As the team inches closer to the end of the season Hampton starts to notice for the first time that not everyone always agrees with what Blaine says.  Ever since Hampton moved to Kennisaw in junior high and Blaine accepted him as his friend, he has listened to everything Blaine said and accepted it as fact.  Since Hampton’s father left him and his mom and she fell apart, Hampton looked to Blaine and his dad for male advice.  Now it seems that Blaine is getting defensive with his words and aggressive with his fists and it’s always Hampton who has to bail him out of tough situations.

Hampton also meets a girl, Sara, who is not interested in football, but in what Hampton has to say.  He really enjoys talking to her until Blaine insists she isn’t good enough and forces him to stay away from her.  Hampton must come to decide if he should stand by Blaine because they have been best friends for so long, or if he should start thinking for himself and decide what he wants to do with his life besides football.  Sports fans will enjoy this book and athletes will be able to relate to the difficult issues that come with having young athletes put so much stress on themselves.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Genre:  Realistic Fiction, Romance

Age Level:  12 and up

# of pages:  374 p.

RAC:  Yes

Sixteen-year-old Macy is still trying to cope with not only the loss of her father, but the guilt she felt over the circumstances surrounding his death.  Her older sister has since moved out and gotten married and her mother has thrown herself into her work.  Meanwhile her boyfriend, whom she thinks is so perfect and smart, plans to spend the summer at Brain Camp.  She is supposed to take over his job at the library where his friends are incredibly mean and cold to her.

One fateful night her mother throws a business party and the caterers have some minor mishaps, which makes her mother very unhappy.  Macy is recruited to go check on them and finds them fun and willing to take on challenges.  Delia, the owner, is very pregnant and trying her best to keep things together.  Bert and Wes are brothers who lost their mother to Cancer and only have each other to take care of.  Kristy and Monica are sisters who couldn’t be more opposite as Kristy is friendly and outgoing and Monica only speaks one word at a time.  Macy feels drawn to this crazy group in some way.

When Macy’s boyfriend decides to “take a break” for the summer, she finds herself contacting the catering company for a summer job.  Taking the catering job makes a huge difference to Macy as she tries to deal with her own feelings of grief and those of her mother’s.  At the same time, she grows closer to Wes and wonders if she needs someone who doesn’t make her feel unwanted.

The characters in this book are so believable and captivating that it is hard to put down.  The issues Macy and the others are going through are so real that anyone can connect to them  in some way.  Family, friends, loss, closure, and communication are all themes in this book that help remind us all how important it is to take control of our own lives and not let anyone else do it for us.   Highly recommended.

Anything But Ordinary by Valerie Hobbs

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Reading Level:  12 and up

# of pages:  168

RAC Book:  Yes

Winifred and Bernie have been friends since eighth grade.  They were both unique and refused to conform in order to fit in, which is why they got along so well.  They did everything together and planned to go on to college together as well,  but that all changed when Bernie’s mother died of Cancer.  He shut down and barely graduated high school.  He was dealing with his own grief as well as trying to be there for his father as best he could. 

While Winifred tries to help him, she also has to move on and make her own plans.  Bernie seems shocked and hurt when Winifred announces she plans to go to college in California.  After she leaves, Bernie decides to drive down and see her and cannot believe his eyes when he sees that Winifred’s roommates have given her a makeover and now she resembles all of those people they spent so many years trying to avoid.  She spends all of her time worrying about her appearance and not her schoolwork, which then suffers. Bernie is still trying to gain control of his own life, while also trying to figure out how to help Winifred see how she has changed. 

Sometimes a good friend is very important even if you don’t know it.  This is an interesting story about growing up and the changes and choices that go along with it.  It also reminds readers that it is important to remember who you are and what your goals are even as you grow and change.  Finally, any young adult who has lost someone close to them can connect with Bernie who is going such a difficult time in his life.  Without their friendship neither of them would become the adults they had dreamed about becoming their whole lives.  Recommended

 

The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares

Genre:  Realistic Fiction/Romance

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  306

RAC Book:  Yes

Alice spends every summer at her family’s summer house on Fire Island hanging out with her older sister, Riley, and the next door neighbor boy, Paul.  Riley and Paul have been best friends since they were kids and Alice always tagged along.  Now that they are in their early twenties they decide to spend another summer there to try and recapture some of their youth.  Alice and Riley have not seen Paul for three years so both feel a little anxious, but for very different reasons.

After Riley contracts strep throat she accidentally forgets her medication on the beach and when she goes to retrieve it finds Alice and Paul in a compromising position.  As Alice and Paul become involved romantically they feel guilty leaving Riley behind.  Riley was always the leader when they were kids and in many ways has never changed while everyone else has grown up.   Due to the fact that Riley never found her strep throat pills, it develops into rheumatic heart disease.  Riley insists that Alice let her tell Paul about her condition herself, but neglects to do so for many months.  Since Alice has sworn not to tell Riley’s secret it drives a wedge between her and Paul.  Alice also gives up her plans for law school and stays home to help take care of Riley.

This is a story about sisters, family, friendship, and love.  However, many of the ways these characters go about showing their love makes the reader wonder if they really love each other at all.  Alice and Paul feel so bad about betraying Riley by getting romantically involved that they actually feel like they brought on Riley’s illness by not telling her.  Riley knows about their romance but doesn’t tell them because she doesn’t want to be left out if they make up.  Riley also fails to tell Paul about her disease even though she knows it’s the reason they broke up.  The motivations of the characters often seem unreasonable and selfish at times.  There are a lot of issues and emotions dealt with, just like many of Brashares books, but readers looking for another Traveling Pants series will be disappointed.  

 

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Genre:  Mystery/Horror

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  288 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Dexter Morgan was adopted when he was three and even though he doesn’t remember anything before that, his adopted father, who is also a cop, seems determined to help him rise above his past.  As Dexter grows up, however, he begins to feel tendencies toward murder.  As hard as he tries to fight it he finds himself murdering animals in the neighborhood.  Once his father discovers this he teaches him how to execute a murder so that he will never get caught, while also showing him how to profile serial killers.  He believes that if you have to kill you might as well kill people who deserve it.

 When Dexter grows up he becomes a blood spatter analyst in a police station while his sister strives to become a homicide detective.  He works very hard to find people he believes deserve to die for their sins and making that a reality.  Soon there is a new murderer in town who has caused quite a stir since the bodies never contain any blood.  As Dexter tries to solve this case it keeps getting further into his psyche and he wonders if it is possible he is committing these murders and not even knowing it.  Is it time for Dexter to pay for his crimes before he lost control completely?

This murderous villain forces the reader to ponder very important issues that are often glossed over in television and movies.  Is it okay to kill if you are killing other “bad guys”?  Is it okay to take vengeance into your own hands?  Are there people who truly have a disposition for murder or are they formed into that through environment or mental disease?  Dexter Morgan can be a very sympathetic character, but he can also be a monster which makes these stories very complex and interesting to discuss with students.  The story itself is very interesting and leaves you guessing until the end.  Mystery readers will be fans of this book.