Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sometimes you need people to Just Listen.

Annabel Greene used to be one of those girls who has it all: she's pretty, popular, fashionable, and even works as a model in her spare time. Everything changed last summer, however, and she's now an outcast in her school and among her friends. Annabel sits alone at lunch, along with other kids on the sidelines of school society. One of these other loners happens to be her former best friend Clarke, who Annabel dumped as a friend the previous year when Sophie moved to town. Sophie is gorgeous, edgy, and just a tad dangerous. She can also make someone's life a living hell if you cross her. One of the first scenes of the novel is when Annabel is about to get out of her car on the first day of school, and Sophie walks by, looks at Annabel and says, "Bitch" in front of a parking lot full of students. The reader soon learns that Annabel has been accused of sleeping with Will Cash, Sophie's boyfriend.
As the novel progresses, bits and pieces of what actually happened during the summer are revealed. Annabel also becomes friends with Owen, a huge, threatening-looking kid known for punching people when provoked. Owen actually is a knowledgable music fanatic who helps Annabel get the courage to tell him and, finally, her family what happened that summer.
In addition to her own struggles with school and with the traumatic event of last summer is her older sister Whitney's eating disorder, which threatens to tear Annabel's family apart.
For anyone who enjoyed Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and likes dramatic tales of friendship and relationships, Just Listen won't disappoint.
3 out of 4 Bananas!
Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2011 Nominee

Monday, May 24, 2010

This Summer's Junior Read: A Slice of Americana

American Rust by Philipp Meyer has been described as a mix of The Grapes of Wrath and The Catcher in the Rye. American Rust, I believe, captures what is best about each of these classic American novels. I was mesmerized by The Grapes of Wrath's description of American life and hardships in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and appreciated how powerful it was to learn about that time within the context of fictional characters and their families. American Rust does the same, but in a modern day Pennsylvania steel town caught in the throes of a major economic downtown. The faltering economy has forced the factories to close and the town's unemployment to skyrocket.
Each chapter in American Rust is told from a different character's point of view, which allows the reader to feel the economy's impact on different areas of the population. What I loved about The Catcher in the Rye is Holden Caulfield's voice, and how he deals as a young man with conflicting feelings of anger, love, sexuality, rebellion, responsibility, alienation, etc.. The two protagonists of American Rust are young men who both held a lot of promise: one for his academic abilities and the other for his prowess on the football field. For various reasons, each gave up his dream of a different life in order to stay in the hometown, which holds nothing for them. Throughout the novel, each character undergoes an internal struggle involving some of the same issues that Holden Caulfield deals with in Catcher.
American Rust begins when one of the protagonists decides to leave home after having stolen several thousand dollars from his father and convinces the other boy to join him and start a new life in California. Shortly after their journey begins, however, a traumatic event changes everything for them, forever. These reads like an Important Book, without being inaccessible. A movie adaptation is currently in the works. 4 out of 4 Bananas!