Archive for May, 2009

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  12 and up

# of Pages:  289

RAC Book:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

Jeremy Fink still mourns the loss of his father five years ago, which is why he is so happy when his father sends him a wooden box for his thirteenth birthday.  A lawyer had been holding it for him all this years.  The box claims to have the meaning of life in it, but requires four keys to open and unfortunately, they are lost.  As Jeremy and his best friend, Lizzy try to find the keys they end up meeting a lot of interesting people and Jeremy becomes very interested in their views of the meaning of life and what everyone’s purpose is on earth.  As the journey goes on Jeremy wonders if he is meant to open the box or if he is supposed to learn the meaning of life for himself.

Jeremy Fink’s story seems rather simple at first, but as the story evolves the reader sees that there are in fact many layers to this story as Jeremy learns about himself and all of the people he has developed relationships with.  The characters are interesting in a way that they are easily remembered and the reader cares what they have to say to Jeremy and Lizzy as they go on their quest.  The ending was very satisfying and leaves the reader thinking about Jeremy’s quest and his final conclusions.  Highly recommended for anyone from junior high to adulthood.

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A Small White Scar by K.A. Nuzum

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  12 and up

# of Pages:   180 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

Set in the 1940’s, Will lives on a ranch with his dad and twin brother, Denny.  Will struggles with the fact that his twin has some mental development problems and when their mother died their father put Will in charge of Denny.  Now that they are teenagers Will wants to participate in rodeos and get hired at a ranch that will let him do more than just look after his brother.  He gets the idea to run away to a rodeo and get hired at a ranch afterward, but his brother follows him.  Will struggles with the fact that he wants to leave his brother behind because he does love him, but he also wants to reach for his goals and that is not possible if Denny is around.  As Denny surprises him by persistently following him to the rodeo he must decide if he really wants to run away from his home.

Will’s story is a story that anyone could identify with who has ever struggled with personal wishes and obligations to another person.  Will does a lot of thinking about his situation and often feels torn as to what he should do.  In the end, his actions to run away help him, his father, and Denny learn to look toward the future and not stay in the past.  This might be a difficult story for students to get into, but once they start they will be able to identify with one of the characters in some way.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

Genre:  Fantasy

Age Level:  13 and up

# of Pages:  339 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

Alfred Kropp is a big, awkward kid whose father ran off when he was little and his mom recently died of Cancer.  He is living with his Uncle Farrell, who works as a night security guard for a big business.  Uncle Farrell is always trying to encourage Alfred to try new things and push himself harder so that Alfred can be more successful than he is when he grows up.   When his uncle  asks Alfred to help him with an opportunity that has come his way Alfred hesitates.  He feels there is something shady about the person offering his uncle so much money just to steal a sword that the man claims was stolen from him first.  His uncle threatens him with foster care, so he agrees to go along for the theft.  Things do not go as planned, however, and Alfred feels he is responsible for allowing a dangerous weapon get into the wrong hands.  As he begins his adventure to retrieve the item before it can destroy the world, he wonders if it is an accident that he became involved in the first place or if he is somehow connected to that magical sword.

This adventure story is full of mystery, suspense, and action.  Kropp’s discovery of his true identity and his involvement in a plot to take over the world is interesting and exciting.  The characters Kropp meets along the way are colorful and it is difficult to tell at times who is good and who is out to get him.  His personality fits that of an awkward teen who has become involved in an unexpected adventure.  Fans of the Percy Jackson series will be fans of this one as well, although there are fewer mythology references.

Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen

Genre:  Historical fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  150

RAC:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

This fiction story is based on the true events of the famous Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling’s son, John.  Rudyard had always wanted to serve his country in the armed forces and was disqualified due to physical limitations.  From a young age, he groomed John to want to be a soldier as well, but John had weak eyes.  Rudyard used all of his influence to get John into the army as an officer, which John appreciated.  When John goes to his first battle, however, he realizes that it is a little different than he imagined and he wishes he could just go home and play the rich son again.

The format of the story is interesting because it flashes from John in his first battle back to all the memories of him growing up.  As a child John loved to play with the expensive toys his father gave him, but he often played recklessly and Rudyard encouraged it as typical boy behavior.  In the flashbacks it becomes apparent how important it was to Rudyard for his son to fight for his country like he couldn’t.  He fails to see the possible dangers and never truly believes anything could possibly happen to his son.  Although this story is very interesting, it will be difficult to get young adults to read it.  Many young adults do not like to read historical fiction type topics, but students who like reading about war will enjoy this title.

Invisible by Pete Hautman

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  149 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Award Winner:  Iowa Teen Award 2009-2010

Doug Hanson is the social outcast of the school.  He has trouble interacting with people, he spies on the prettiest girl in school, and he spends all his time building a train set in his basement.  His parents make him go to counseling even though he doesn’t think he needs it.  The most important thing to him in life is his best friend, Andy, who lives next door.  Doug admits that they have gotten into trouble together in the past, but he doesn’t like to think of those times.  Doug sees Andy as everything he is not.  He plays sports, has lots of friends, and even performs in school plays while Doug fails to interact at school at all.  Doug begins to realize that people including his teachers, parents, and therapist are deeply worried about him.  The question is whether they have a right to be.

There is an aspect of this story that is not immediately apparent, but becomes so fairly quickly.  Most readers will be able to pick up on it early on in the book, which may or may not entice them to keep reading.  It is unclear if this plot element is supposed to be apparent to the reader early on or it if it supposed to be a surprise at the end.  Either way, it is a plot development that has been used quite a big in movies and television.  The character development is strong in this book, but some of their motives seem confusing.  For example, if Doug’s parents are so concerned about his behavior why don’t they try to do more to help him before it is too late?  Readers who liked Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted will like this title as well.

We Beat the Street by The Three Doctors

Genre:  Nonfiction

Age Level:  12 and up

# of Pages:  183

RAC Book: Yes

Awards:  Iowa Teen Award Winner 2009-2010

This true story follows three young men as they grow up in tough neighborhoods and through sheer luck manage to escape big trouble with the law.  They find themselves at an informational meeting about a program that helps inner city kids become doctors.  The three make a pact to see it through to the end.  There are many times when one or another wants to quit and the other two have to remind him of why he wants to be a doctor.   The story tells of some of the trouble these boys got into as young kids and why it is so difficult to even go to college from where they come from.

This story does try to tell the story as accurately as possible.  The neighborhood friends and scrapes with the law are all mentioned in vivid detail, but in each instance they somehow manage to escape unscathed.  There are many young men out there who are not so lucky.  The pact was a good way to keep each other motivated and it is unlikely that all three would have succeeded without the other two.  Readers who liked Hole in My Life will like this one, but the writing is not as sophisticated as that one and often details are glossed over in order to move the story along faster.  An interesting story for those who like nonfiction.

Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Age Level:  14 and up

# of Pages:  143 p.

RAC Book:  Yes

Award:  Iowa Teen Award Winner 2009-2010

Izzy is a fifteen year old girl telling the story about when she was diagnosed with Lymphoma and how her life changed because of it.  This is a story about a girl who survived Cancer, but that does not mean it was easy.  Izzy had to struggle with terrible side effects from the Chemo, being treated differently at school, and even watching her family suffer as they watched her become weaker.  Izzy was surprised at how different people reacted to the news that she had Cancer.  Some people believed she must have done something bad in a past life, others kept telling stories of people they knew who had Cancer and died, and still others left her alone because they did not know what to say.  She missed the days when all she worried about was school and tests, but Izzy makes it very clear that her story is important because not all people die from Cancer.

This is an honest story about a young person with Cancer.  It depicts the many difficult aspects of having Cancer, both physical and mental.  Amy Goldman Koss wanted a book out there that did not end with a person dying because there are too many books and movies that end that way.  She wanted a book about a person who fought it and lived.  The reactions of Izzy’s friends and family were also interesting and might help any young people who know someone who is very sick.  It can be difficult to know how to react in a situation like this.  An interesting and quick read.