Saturday, April 21, 2012

S for Schizophrenia - Border Crossing, by Jessica Lee Anderson (fiction)

Being an outsider, a minority, a "half-breed".
Hearing mocking laughter from privileged people.
Hearing voices in his head telling him to do something about it.

Manz has only his mom's stories to tell him about his Mexican father and how he died a crazy man. Her boyfriend Tom is a good enough guy, excited about being a father to their baby, sorrowing when Gabe is stillborn. Mom still hasn't gotten over it, just drinks her dinner, fills Gabriel's crib with painting after painting.

Who knows why the voices chose to invade his head, why the Messenger is warning Manz that his best friend might turn on him, that the Border Patrol will kill him, that everyone in the little dusty Texas town wants to see the teen dead.

A compelling look at the world through the eyes of schizophrenia - will Manz make the Border Crossing back into sanity after this violent summer?

Book info: Border Crossing / Jessica Lee Anderson. Milkweed Editions, 2009. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: On the wrong side of the tracks, Manz wonders if things will ever go right for his family – Mexican father dead, white mother drinking herself crazy after his brother was stillborn, competing with illegals for work in the blazing hot Texas summer sun.

At least his pal Jed will be working with him at the dude ranch, pulling up rotted fence posts, putting up new fences, away from Jed’s mean dad who’d sooner hit his son than talk to him. Manz worries about Jed and his sister, having to put up with that abuse.

Thorns and barbed wire, dust and more dust, Manz and Jed are glad to stop for lunch in the cool of the ranch’s chow hall. Of course, Jed flirts relentlessly with the cute Latina girl who serves the guests; Manz is tongue-tied, but Vanessa looks at him, not Jed.

Maybe soon, his mom’s boyfriend Tom will be back from his long-haul trucking run and can get her to calm down and stop drinking again. Manz needs to ask Tom if the Border Patrol is getting more aggressive everywhere – seems like they’re around every corner in Rockhill, watching the migrant workers, watching Manz.

It’s just nervousness about meeting Vanessa’s parents that makes Manz’s brain feel fizzy and loud, just concern about how much longer Jed can fool his dad about working somewhere other than their own orchards that makes the murmurs in his head get louder, panic that he’s being targeted as half-Mexican that causes the voices inside to grow louder and louder.

The Messenger is speaking inside his head, warning Manz that the Border Patrol has begun Operation Wetback again, will deport him, will kill him, will take away his mother. As the loudness of the Messenger out-shouts the summer thunderstorm, Manz slips further away from himself. Can Jed take care of his sister if the authorities take Manz? What about his mom and Tom? Maybe the Border Patrol will use them to get him!

Schizophrenia tackles Manz and throws him down – can he find his way back to reality? (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R for Radiate, by Marley Gibson (fiction) - cheerleading, cancer, redemption

Go for your dream!
Work hard, practice hard, cheer hard!
Cancer? How can she have bone cancer?

Hayley isn't going to let surgery or radiation or chemo stop her. It's her senior year and her only chance to shine as a cheerleader. Stubborn runs in the family, it seems, and her parents' reluctance to tell her about their hardware store's dire financial situation could be their undoing.

Great that her grade-school buddy Gabe has moved back to town and is the football team trainer; he'll make sure that she does her physical therapy correctly before cheer practice every day. Not so great that her hair falls out from the chemotherapy or that her boyfriend Daniel is so squeamish about medical stuff.

The author had bone cancer in high school and used her experiences as the basis of Hayley's story. She is setting up the Radiate Foundation so that local cheerleading groups can bring goodie baskets, cheers, and smiles to pediatric cancer patients during their hospital stays, just like those visiting cheerleaders did for Hayley.

Book info: Radiate / Marley Gibson. Graphia Books/HMH, 2012. [author's website] [book website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Hayley decided to try out for cheerleader her senior year and made it! That painful lump on her leg must be just from practicing too hard, learning learning all the cheers. But it’s bone cancer…

No time to waste on worrying about it – it’s aggressive cancer and Hayley’s doctor uncle helps her find the best treatment at the University hospital, three hours away from home and her handsome football player boyfriend Daniel and her buddies and her childhood pal Gabe who just moved back to town.

Thank goodness for cellphones and computers so she can stay in touch a bit. Head cheerleader Chloe isn’t very sympathetic, more worried about having an unbalanced cheer squad for cheerleading camp than about Hayley enduring chemotherapy before school starts.

It’s tough for Hayley to miss cheer camp, to miss the first football game, to stay away from her friends for so many weeks. Thankfully, a group of cheerleaders from a high school near the university find out she was there and burst into her hospital room to invite her to come to their practice and teach them some PHS cheers.

Finally, Hayley gets to go home, back to school – on crutches, with a huge scar on her leg, and with exacting physical therapy instructions – determined to cheer again. But even the most positive thoughts won’t stop her from losing her hair after chemo, won’t keep Daniel close to her, won’t make Chloe less snippy about Hayley missing a little practice time to do her physical therapy under Gabe’s supervision.

Can she truly overcome this cancer? Will her medical bills overwhelm her family? Will her long-absent big sister finally come home to see her?

Based on the author’s true experiences with bone cancer as a teen, Hayley’s story goes beyond mere medical facts to explore what it takes to truly Radiate as a positive force to help others overcome the odds in their lives, too. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q for quiet journey of love - The Big Crunch, by Pete Hautman (fiction)

Quietly, June moves to yet another town, yet another school.
Quietly, Wes escapes his smothering relationship with his girlfriend.

We've all heard about the Big Bang theory of the universe's creation, but maybe you haven't heard about "the big crunch" as one way that the universe might end, with everything condensing down to one tiny point of matter.

Pete Hautman reminds us that falling in love, whether gradual or sudden, is a lot like that big crunch - a moment when you realize that the only point in the entire universe is the person you love.

June, Wes, and their friends are very real people; their enthusiasms and worries are real, too. Is the love that Wes and Junie share real enough to survive her family moving away?

Find this clever, funny love story today at your local library or independent bookstore today.
Yes, I keep pointing you to your neighborhood businesses and institutions because they are worth supporting now so that they can keep supporting you and your community in the future.

And if the description of how June makes real hot chocolate for Wes after they walk together in the snow doesn't make you immediately long for a cup, I'll drink it for you.

Book info: The Big Crunch / Pete Hautman. Scholastic Press, 2011. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: Another new high school – June hates how her dad’s job moves them so often. Does she want to fit in or stand out this time? Semi-cool dude Wes notices her in the halls, someone new to wonder about while he tries to figure out exactly why he broke up with his girlfriend. His pal Jerry seeks her out immediately as part of his campaign for class president, even though the election is months away.

So the three sort-of friends wander in and out of each other’s days as Jerry pushes his campaign forward, Wes needs someone to talk to since he doesn’t talk to Izzy anymore, and Junie is forced to get involved here in Minnesota when her mom erases all her Chicago friends’ numbers from her phone – “There is no reverse gear in this time machine,” says her dad.

As the days grow cooler, June finds herself somehow dating Jerry steadily. Wes keeps mentally replaying his conversations with her, trying to figure out what made her choose the persistent campaigner over him. His little sister teases him about leaving his brain out in his garage workshop, and his buddies Alan and Alan take advantage of his distractedness to make steady in-roads on his savings during 24-hour poker marathons.

When Wes and Junie run into each other with a thump during a snowstorm, it’s rather eye-opening… and heart-stopping. Time to let Jerry down easy as they become a couple and learn to negotiate the differences in their lives – only child June who’s moved so many times, big brother Wes who’s never gone anywhere.

And then Junie’s dad announces another move on New Year’s Day. How far is it to Omaha? Too far to keep up any sort of relationship, according to her parents. Are they right? Will the Wes-shaped hole in June’s heart ever heal? Will she finally decide for herself whether it’s time to move on or stay connected? Can Wes get past his family ties into Junie’s larger world?

Hautman shows readers four seasons in the lives of June, Wes, and their friends – a year that changes everything and doesn’t change the important things, when a little push turns into The Big Crunch of decisions that cannot be undone. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P for Prized, by Caragh O'Brien (fiction) - not enough daughters, not enough time

In the desert-dry future,
when the oil is depleted and hope is imprisoned,
there are rumors of a safe place beyond the wastelands.

Gaia and her tiny infant sister actually make it to Sylum, to a lake with more water than the teen midwife has ever dreamed of, to morning mists instead of parching winds, to the Matrarch's iron-fisted rule over everyone - the women citizens and the second-class males who vastly outnumber them.

Her own grandmother fled here years ago, and Gaia had hoped against hope that she'd still be in Sylum. Alas, she died a decade before their arrival, but left coded messages addressed to Gaia's parents. Perhaps they're family history, perhaps they're clues to why fewer and fewer daughters are born to Sylum each year.

To fully appreciate Gaia's story, read Birthmarked first, but if you just can't wait to jump into this dystopian world, the author subtly brings in enough snippets of information from the first book to let you read Prized by itself. If you have read Birthmarked (book 1) and want a "bridge" to Prized, or if you just want a bit more backstory on The Enclave, look for O'Brien's short story "Tortured" (free eBook at this time).

A mystery, a love story, a cautionary ecological parable.

Book info: Prized (The Birthmarked Trilogy, book 2) / Caragh O'Brien. Roaring Brook Press, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [video book review]

My Recommendation: Gaia is afraid that her infant sister might not survive their escape across the wasteland, but the rumors hadn’t prepared her for the women-ruled settlement that rescues them. Staying in the Enclave would have enslaved them both; living in Sylum will give Maya to someone else to raise as the Matarch rules everyone. And once Gaia stays in Sylum for two days, she can never cross its borders or she’ll die.

So few females have been born in Sylum during recent decades that Gaia, with the birthmark streaking down her face, is accepted at once, and Maya is doubly prized. Now men drastically outnumber women, and they are forbidden to touch women or to vote in assemblies – a kiss means time in prison for assault. Men who have been tested as fertile have a chance to marry, if they impress a woman during the thirty-two games and the Matrarch approves.

When Gaia uses her midwifery skills to help a young woman in distress and won’t tell who, the Matrarch puts her under house arrest. Eventually, Gaia relents, stepping into the sunlight and a wealth of confusion as two brothers very delicately express their interest in her as a wife – and an intruder turns out to be Vlatir, who helped her escape from the Enclave!

As time approaches for the thirty-two games, Gaia gets strong hints that she’ll be the winner’s choice for chaperoned time together. Even prisoners can be chosen to play, so seeing Vlatir on the field is only a slight surprise. But the winner’s choice of companion shocks the whole community, and Gaia finds herself in a whirlwind of old secrets, new information, and terrible danger.

Can Gaia discover why so few girls are born here? Will the Matrarch let her act on any knowledge that she gains? Can she or Maya or even Vlatir survive in this strange place of marshes and lakes and women-archers who guard the assembly hall?

Readers who begin the Birthmarked Trilogy with this second volume will easily follow Gaia’s story as the author skillfully weaves in characters and incidents from the first book throughout the tale. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O for Ollie in With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo (fiction) - truth, hate, and justice

Summertime in the 1950s south,
big revival tent pitched in a meadow outside town,
everyone welcome to sing gospel songs and listen to hopeful words,
three days here, then gone again, down the road to the next town.

But this time, Ollie knows that her singing, preaching family needs to stay a while longer, to help someone who can't get out of a problem that he didn't create. This hardscrabble Arkansas farming town had condemned Jimmy's mom without a second thought. Never mind the impossibility of such a tiny woman beating up her big abusive husband and heaving him into the river...

You need to visit Binder for yourself and meet Jimmy, his wonderful collection of frogs, his gospel-singing neighbor Moody, and Mrs. Mahoney, who opened her home to the family With a Name Like Love - you'll be so glad that you did.

Book info: With a Name Like Love / Tess Hilmo. Margaret Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Ollie knows in her heart that Binder, Arkansas could use her daddy’s message of love, but some folks don’t see it that way. A revival won’t change people who jailed a woman just because her abusive husband vanished, will it?

As Ollie and her younger sisters are posting flyers about the revival in town, a boy watches them from behind trees and buildings. Jimmy is not welcome in the general store, whose owner is sure that his mother murdered her abusive husband and disposed of the body without a trace. Many in town agree, so Jimmy keeps to himself up in the Ozark woods, tending to his pet frogs and helping his elderly neighbor Moody. Soon the sheriff will come take his mother to the county jail where no one will speak up for the petite woman, where no one will testify that she and Jimmy were regularly beaten by her hulking bear of a husband.

When Jimmy quietly arrives at the revival grounds, Ollie introduces him to her father, hoping that the young man’s plight will convince Rev. Love to stay in Binder longer than 3 days to help him. The reverend knows that God’s love can help Jimmy, but isn’t sure that the Love family can help Jimmy against townspeople whose minds are convinced about his mother’s guilt.

A shadowy figure slinks through their camp, a fire torches the parents’ sleeping tent, sister Gwen leads them in praying for rain, and the raindrops fall, saving their revival tent and the girls’ bunkhouse on wheels. Who is trying to make the Loves leave Binder? Are Ollie’s questions about Jimmy’s mother getting too close to the real truth?

This mystery takes readers to that dusty Arkansas summer in 1957, when Reverend Love’s message could ease listeners’ sorrows and eventually the truth might be coaxed out of hiding. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N for Naive: Strings Attached, by Judy Blundell (fiction) - mobsters, favors, payback

Kit has see if she can make it in New York City on her own,
since Billy left for the Army.
She can sing, act, dance. She just has to do it.

So what if Billy's dad wants to help her a little?
"No strings attached," says Nate the Nose...
How much can you trust a gangster, Kit? How can you be so naive?

New York City in 1950. Recovered from World War II, all hustle and bustle and bright lights, with plenty of time for nightclubs and business deals - legitimate and otherwise. Lots of big theaters and smoky little dives like the one where Kit gets a job, where they'll believe she's old enough to work, not a 17-year-old running away from home.

Eventually she has to decide whether Nate's help is worth the risks of observing which lawyer talks to which shady character at the nightclub, especially when some of them disappear. Can she risk not telling Nate when his son will come visit her? Why does she feel like the Korean warfront might be a safer place for Billy than being with his father?

Find out what Kit decides when you pick up Strings Attached at your local library or independent bookstore. (A fun note about author Judy Blundell: she's also written Star Wars Journals and Star Wars Jedi Apprentice books under pen name Jude Watson.)

Book info: Strings Attached / Judy Blundell. Scholastic Press, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer]

My Recommendation: This chorus line job just could be Kit’s lucky break. When Mr. Benedict offers her an apartment near the New York City club, she considers it – after all, he is her boyfriend Billy’s father…and rumored to be a gangster.

Anything's better than staying in Providence, with her father's drinking and her siblings trying to hide it (like triplets could ever hide anything from each other - ha!) and the scorn of Billy's upper-class mother for the Corrigans' genteel poverty.

Oh, how Billy argued with his father before leaving for basic training! Nate Benedict just couldn’t believe that he’d be stupid enough to join the Army during the Korean War. Now Billy returns his father’s letters unopened, and Nate wants Kit to let him know how his son is doing when he writes to her.

Nate brings Kit lovely clothes “like Billy would want for her,” and soon her upstairs neighbors think she’s a kept woman. The Greeleys were both teachers until they were fired for possible “Communist sympathies,” so they have lots of time to keep an eye on the neighborhood.

Kit often sees Nate in the nightclub audience, talking to known mobsters and crooked lawyers. When he asks her to have dinner with some of these guests, she realizes that her great apartment has a bigger price than she expected. When Billy forbids her to tell his father that he’s coming to the city, Kit knows that something is going to go wrong.

Does Billy really love her? Is his father a real gangster or just trying to make himself look good to the big city guys? How close is the Greeleys’ opinion of her to the truth of the matter?

A mystery, a love story, a growing-up tale – all piled into the hustle and bustle of 1950 New York City – with Strings Attached. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.