In Marcelo in the Real World, Francisco X. Stork tells the story of one summer in the title character’s life. Marcelo is seventeen, and looking forward to spending the summer working with the ponies at Paterson, the school for students with special needs that Marcelo attends. He is autistic and feels more comfortable in the world of Paterson than out in the “real world.” Unfortunately, his dad believes he needs to learn about life away from Paterson and insists that Marcelo spend the summer working at his law firm. He is placed in the mailroom, which run by Jasmine. While he must work at saying the acceptable things when dealing with co-workers in the law firm, Marcelo begins a friendship with Jasmine. He is also befriended by Wendall, the son of his father’s partner in the law firm. These two new friends begin to teach Marcelo about trust, loyalty, acceptance, and doing what is right.
Mr. Stork gives the reader a chance to see the world from the perspective of a person with Aspergers. It’s a quick and enjoyable read, and I loved watching Marcelo grow throughout his summer in the “real world.” I liked that Mr. Stork chose the law firm as the setting since it must be the complete opposite of the supportive Paterson world, and much more harsh than the rest of the world. While Marcelo is learning about the real world, he also is pondering the bigger things in life – religion, ethics, and love. I loved his open-mindedness when it came to his exploration and questioning of religion, and how it never overpowers the story or seems out of place. I think these questions are things teen readers can relate to.
Last week, Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple: a Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University was released. I haven’t purchased the book yet, but I plan to and look forward to reading it. While I didn’t grow up in Lynchburg, I did grow up in Virginia Beach, where Pat Robertson and CBN are located. My grandparents were big fans of Mr. Robertson and loved to remind me of how much I loved his co-host, Ben Kinchlow, when I was a toddler. One of my family members was employed by CBN and affiliates for over a decade. As a teenager, I attended a Baptist church in the area that encouraged its high school graduates to attend Liberty University. Needless to say, I’ve had plenty of experience in the evangelical world, although I no longer consider myself a part of that community.
From the reviews I have read, it sounds like Mr. Roose has written a balanced story. He went undercover as a student at Liberty for a semester, and I believe he thought he would be writing a more negative piece than it actually turned out to be. He has a blog and has been honest about the ways Liberty U. and its students surprised him. While I had my own experiences in the Baptist community, I am interested in hearing about Roose’s time there. Apparently, Liberty has decided to stock his book in their bookstore, and I read one thoughtful, positive review written for a Christian website. Considering my stack of books waiting to be read, it might be a while before I get to The Unlikely Disciple, but I look forward to it and intend to write a review here when I am done.
C. K. Kelly Martin’s I Know It’s Over starts off in the middle of the story as Nick learns on Christmas Eve that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant. It has only been a month since their break-up; Nick had already not been handling the break-up well, and Sasha’s pregnancy only intensifies his pain. The two teens struggle with what to do while muddling through the holidays and the family tension that comes as part of the package. Martin rewinds the story half a year to the beginning of the relationship. Nick and Sasha are students at the same high school but run in different social circles. He is a hockey player who enjoys partying with his friends – drinking, smoking, co-ed sleepovers. Sasha is much more academically focused and her parents work to keep her on that track. A spark ignites between the two when their paths cross and despite warnings from friends about their differences, they begin to date. Nick and Sasha develop a special relationship while trying to balance family, social life, and work during their summer break, but things become more difficult when school resumes in the fall and Sasha’s academics and Nick’s hockey begin to take up more of their time. Despite Nick’s desire not to, the two break-up, but the reveal of Sasha’s pregnancy a month later brings them back into each others life. The two teens must figure out what would be the best decision for all involved.
Martin has written a painfully honest novel that depicts the pleasures of first love and the multiple pressures of adolescence. The characters are well-developed and I was invested in the outcomes of not just the two main characters, but their families and friends. A side story about one of Nick’s friends coming to terms with his sexuality was well done. My heart broke for Nick and Sasha and I cried more than once due to Martin’s depictions of their emotions. The end of the novel particularly left me in tears, I was tied so close to Nick.
I truly loved this book, it stuck with me for days after I finished. My only complaint is over the cover – the spine is purple, which I think will chase away potential male readers. Unlike teenage girls, guys tend to prefer reading books written from a male perspective, and there are less contemporary YA novels coming from a male perspective than a female. I think this book could have potential appeal to male readers, but I don’t think they will be motivated to investigate a book with a lilac spine. I am hoping the publishers consider a re-design when they release a paperback.
4 and 1/2 stars
Life Sucks is a graphic novel co-written by Jessica Abel and Gabe Soria, and drawn by Warren Pleece. Dave is the night manager for the Last Stop, a convenience store in LA. He is crushing on Rosa, a gorgeous girl who frequents the goth club that is located in the same strip mall as the Last Stop. Unfortunately, Rosa has a pretend-vampire goth boyfriend. Rosa is unaware that Dave is a real vampire, turned by the owner of the Last Stop in order to make him the best night manager possible. Dave and Rosa start to become friends, but he ends up having to compete for her attention against the surfer vampire Wes.
Life Sucks is like Clerks meets Twilight – only because vampire Dave refuses to kill people like Edward. It’s funny to see where Dave gets his nourishment – obviously not from animals like Edward. It’s much more like Clerks, with Dave stuck in his convenience store job, with his friend who closes up shop to visit him. It’s a very fun read, lots of smart humor. The illustrations are great. Definitely one I would have no problems recommending to guy or girl readers – there is enough here to appeal to all.
I’m only beginning to get into the graphic novel world, thanks to suggestions from YALSA’s Young Adult Literature Symposium I attended in November. I’ve bought a lot of manga for my library but I don’t read it. I’ve tried, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. Life Sucks and Skim are the types of graphic novels I can get in to and enjoy, and I look forward to finding more.
Jamie at Confessions of a Bibliophile is giving away a copy of Janson Mancheski’s The Chemist! In order to win, you just have to leave a comment on her blog post about the contest. If you want to read her review, she posted a separate post about it. It sounds interesting if you like mysteries!
Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki tell the story of Skim, which is the nickname of a teenage Asian girl attending a private girls school in 1993. She and her best friend, Lisa, are wanna-be Wiccans who sneak off to smoke and make snarky comments about the popular girls. They become especially snarky when popular classmate Katie Matthews is dumped by her boyfriend and walks around school being comforted by her friends. The school becomes grief-obsessed when said ex-boyfriend commits suicide. In the midst of this, Skim is trying to figure out how to handle her developing relationship with her female drama teacher and where she fits in her world.
This graphic novel is written as Skim’s journal. The characters are heartbreakingly real as they try to find their way through adolescence. The suicide plot reminds me of Heathers, one of my favorite movies. The art is gorgeous – as I was reading I often found myself getting lost in a frame for longer than usual. I’m not usually a graphic novel reader; I like picturing the story in my mind, and prefer to read something that lasts a little longer than a graphic novel usually does. But this one is fantastic; one I will definitely be recommending to my students, especially the ones who do not usually go for the graphic novels.
Shelley Hrdlitschka’s Sister Wife tells the story of three girls growing up in a polygamist group. The chapters alternate between the three – two sisters and a girl who has been living with the girls’ family since someone found her living in the streets. One sister hates the FLDS life and the other loves it (although I don’t think they ever came out and said it’s FLDS, just made references so I am making a HUGE assumption). Taviana, the homeless girl, occasionally misses her life in the world she once knew with television and the ability to wear what she likes, but she is content in the group, helping the women take care of the kids. Celeste loves her family and friends, but cannot ignore the fact that she yearns to do something more than be a housewife. She would love to be something like a vet and marry a boy her own age, chosen for love, not assigned to an older man by the prophet. Nanette, her sister, wants nothing more than to get married and have babies.
Celeste cannot resist the draw of the boy down the street and is tempted by his thoughts about leaving the group. She also begins to interact with a guy who lives in town. Because her brain is occupied by all these boys, she is surprised when Taviana is forced to leave the group and return to life on the streets. Can Taviana survive on the streets without returning to her old life? Has Celeste found love? Will Nanette be allowed to marry despite her age?
This was a quick read. I didn’t realize until I finished it that it was published by Orca, who has a line that specializes in high interest/low reading level books. I really like the way this book ended – it’s realistic. The characters drew me in, although I occasionally wanted to smack Nanette. Overall, I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in reading about an unusual lifestyle like polygamy, although I will mentioned that you won’t learn anything that you haven’t already learned from something like Big Love.
The author has a blog.
Agnes and Honey are two best friends who have grown up in Mount Blessing, a religious commune in Cecilia Galante’s The Patron Saint of Butterflies. As they become teenagers, the differences between the two have really begun to surface. Agnes dreams of becoming a saint one day, and is constantly putting herself through rituals saints have used, such as sleeping on rocks and fasting. Honey, abandoned at the commune by her mother after she was born, is beginning to want to fight the strict rules of the commune; when the book opens, she is in trouble for kissing a boy. Agnes’ grandmother surprises everyone with a visit and soon discovers that the commune hides some dark secrets and decides she must get the 2 girls and Agnes’ little brother as far away from the place as possible. Thus begins a stressful road trip, where the 3 kids are exposed to life away from Mount Blessing for the first time, and the friendship between the two girls is pushed to the limits.
Overall, I liked this book. Part of the ending is predictable, but it wasn’t bad. I did like the surprise of who steps up to help the girls in the end. Books about communes and polygamy and different lifestyles like those are always interesting to me. I liked the relationship between Agnes and her brother; it felt realistic. After I finished the novel, I found myself wondering if Agnes’ parents always disliked Honey or if that developed as she grew older. If that was answered in the book, I missed it or forgot it. This is definitely not a light read. It’s emotional and hard at times to not be able to step in and help Agnes and Honey, but worth it. I also liked the cover of this book – very eye catching.
Ruby Jacinski had to drop out of high school and take a job at the local meat packing factory to support her family after her father passed away and her mom became sick. The one bright spot of her life is when she gets to dance the night away to swing music in Christine Fletcher’s novel, Ten Cents a Dance, set in Chicago in the early 1940s. Ruby hates her job and is excited when an exciting guy with a past she meets at a local dance tells her about an opportunity to get paid to dance. Ruby interviews and is given a job as a taxi dancer. In this club, men buy tickets worth ten cents and pay the different girls a ticket for each song they dance to together. Ruby becomes friends with one of the taxi dance girls, but must learn to negotiate through the mean girls that also work there. Her mother would have a fit if she knew what her job is, so Ruby also has to juggle work life and home life without her mother learning the truth. Meanwhile, the guy who told her about the job keeps coming around to see her. In the days leading up to WWII, it’s not easy for a young girl to support her family. Can Ruby handle it?
I really enjoyed this novel. I had never heard of taxi dancers before, so it was interesting to learn about a piece of history. Ruby spends some evenings at jazz clubs, and you watch her negotiate racism of the time. I also really liked Ruby and was rooting for her to find a way to be happy and live a stable life. The way Fletcher ends the book is good – it’s not a neat little wrap-up, but it fits the time period (as far as my small WWII knowledge goes) and gives the reader hope for Ruby’s future. Overall, the book felt realistic with its depiction of the messes you sometimes get in to in life without realizing you are making them.
The author has written a previous book, Tallulah Falls, which I haven’t read but would like to now. She also has a blog you might be interested in checking out.
I read Neal Shusterman’s Unwind last year, and I LOVED it. Rather than blather on, I thought I’d point you in the direction of a review posted at Bookshelves of Doom. It is a book that has stayed with me and I’ve grown to love it even more. Really, really good.