Young Adult Books in Review
Recently Published Titles
Lawrence Baines, Editor
The White Horse by Cynthia D. Grant
Young Adult Addiction/Family Crisis
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1998. 157 pages. $16.00
Reviewed by Deborah T. McGinn, Lincoln High School
The White Horse is a book about perspectives, and the text itself reveals perspectives with a few narrators. In journal and poetic form in handwritten text, Raina reveals an emotionally sick family, her life on the streets, pregnancy and relationship in the drug culture. Her sole reader is an English teacher, Margaret Johnson, who is not quite sure how to respond to the talent and pain she reads from Raina. As readers we see the warm and cynical sides of a teacher committed to her troubled students, yet stressed about the practical side of what can be done realistically to help the teens she works with. In addition we learn about imperfections in her own life, and the humor it brings to an otherwise serious novel.
LGrant writes a fascinating novel about life, death, drug and alcohol use and abuse in ways that educate and highlight some truths about the disease. It is not a general book about another kid on drugs; instead, it is about the effects of meth amphetamine, prostitution for drug money, stealing, fighting, sexual impotency as it relates to use, violence, starvation, homelessness, and death. While I wish the novel had addressed treatment in a specific sense, it is a powerfully written story about a rising and highly addictive lifestyle as it crosses many addictions.
Ernestine and Amanda: Members of the C.L.U.B. by Sandra Belton
Belonging; middle-class African-Americans
Aladdin, 1998. 168 pages. $4.50
Reviewed by Joan Nist, Auburn University
In alternating chapters, Ernestine Harris and Amanda Clay talk about their families and activities. They are rivals for the friendship of Alicia Raymond, who is invited into Amanda's "siditty" (stuck-up) C.L.U.B. (clever, likeable, utterly beautiful) while Ernestine is not. Wilhelmina Washington, a transfer student from New York, encourages Ernestine in their Du Bois School's oratorical contest, and Ernestine wins.
Sandra Belton, who has written two other Ernestine and Amanda books, adds a postscript saying that she herself once was excluded from a neighborhood club. The families depicted are middle-class African-American; the theme of being left out is universal. The school's contest subject--prominent African-Americans--leads to a concluding pictorial "Scrapbook" of Du Bois, Ida Wells (Ernestine's choice), and four others. Only brief statements (TV is new, food service is segregated) indicate a setting in the past. Background problemsÑErnestine's being overweight and Amanda's parents separating--are current, as is the lively dialog, which carries much of the story.
How I Spent My Last Night on Earth by Todd Strasser
Simon and Schuster, 1998. 169 pages. $16.00.
Reviewed by June Harris, University of Arizona-Sierra Vista
Legs Hanover arrives at Timothy Zonin High School (better known to its students as Time Zone High) to find her fellow students in turmoil. The Internet has announced that an asteroid is heading for Earth, and if it hits--splat! That's the bad news. The good news is that her informant is Andros Bliss, the Totally Inappropriate Guy about whom Legs has fantasized for ages. Well, she thinks, if it's my last night on earth, it might as well be a memorable one. Forsaking her usual devotion to her studies and her GPA, she (with most of her classmates) heads for the beach with Andros to face the possibilities. The book is one of several Strasser has set in Time Zone High. It's fast-paced, hilarious, and wickedly irreverent.
Up Country by Alden R. Carter
Scholastic, Inc., 1998. 256 pages. $4.99.
Reviewed by June Harris, University of Arizona-Sierra Vista
Carl Staggers knows his life is a mess, but he has a plan to get out of his misery. His mother drinks too much, and she has been arrested on occasion. Carl is involved with a gang that steals car radios, which he repairs for resale. He hopes that he can make enough money so that, with a scholarship based on his excellent grades, he can get into college and make a new life for himself. His plan collapses when his mother is arrested again, and he is sent "up country" to Northern Wisconsin to live with his relatives. He doesn't want to go to Blind River, but once there, he's forced to admit there are some benefits--especially Signa, a girl for whom he comes to feel--something. This book is a gritty, relatively unvarnished look at the life of a child of an alcoholic, and Carl is an engaging, believable character.
The Alien Files: #1 Contact, and
The Alien Files: #2 Conspiracy by Daniel Cohen
Volume 1, 1998. 89 pages. $3.99. ISBN: 0-590-76341-5
Volume 2, 1998. 86 pages. $3.99. ISBN: 0-590-76342-3
Reviewed by Kay Baines, Dallas, Texas.
Easy as it is to dismiss the sightings of UFOs as shooting stars, group hysteria, hallucinations, or explainable natural phenomena, it is not so easy to recognize that these occurrences have been witnessed by many reliable, scientific, well-balanced persons. Scholastic's two volumes are invaluable aids in separating fact from fiction, providing objectively the history of UFOs and analyzing the attempts to unravel the mysteries.
Volume 1 records the documented sightings of flying saucers from 1947 to the present, using the classification system developed by Air Force consultant J. Allen Hynek. A close encounter of the first kind was seeing a UFO; a close encounter of the second kind was seeing occupants in the UFO; a close encounter of the third kind was meeting the occupants face to face; an encounter of the fourth kind involves abduction and being taken aboard a UFO.
Volume 2 examines the roles that the U.S. government, the U.S. Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other organizations and individuals have exercised in covering up "the truth" about UFOs. Research by Major Donald Keyhoe, Dr. H. P. Robinson, Vice Admiral Hill Koetter, Captain Edward Ruppelt, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Dr. Edward J. Condon, William Moore, and several American presidents is discussed. The numerous, mysterious occurrences affecting these scientists/contributors in conducting and analyzing their research are more bizarre than a Stephen King phantasma; some are frightening; some are outrageous! These two books outline succinctly what has transpired thus far in the study of UFOs.
Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Scholastic Inc., 1997. 294 pages. $4.99.
Reviewed by Cawood Cornelius, Calhoun, GA
Tangerine is a town in Florida with problematic new housing developments, frequent lightning strikes, sinkholes, and muck fires. Seventh grader, Paul Fisher, his older brother and parents are leaving Texas for Tangerine, Florida where Paul's dad will take a job as a civil engineer. Paul, who is legally blind, enrolls at the middle school in town after his trailer classrooms at the first school are swallowed by a sinkhole. Paul, a soccer goalie, is in competition for his parents' attention with his older brother who is a football star. Football practice is not canceled even after one of the players is killed by lightning. Paul makes friends at the new school and learns some valuable lessons by working in the tangerine groves with his peers from the town school. Paul's brother's involvement in the death of his friends' uncle brings back memories of how he lost his vision.
Tangerine is the first novel of Edward Bloor who taught middle and high school in Florida. It is written from Paul's point of view and rings true of the middle school experience. The unexpected plot twists keep the interest of the reader. Recommend this novel to students with an interest in soccer or students who move often.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Fiction/Great Depression-Dust Bowl
Scholastic Inc., 1997. 227 pages. $4.99.
Reviewed by Cawood Cornelius, Calhoun, GA
Billie Jo, the 14 year old narrator, uses free verse poems to describe her life from the winter of 1934 to the winter of 1935. The dust bowl era of rural Oklahoma is aptly described while the story develops. Billie Jo, an only child, is an aspiring pianist, while her father and mother struggle to keep the farm going during the dust bowl and Great Depression. Her father leaves a bucket of kerosene next to the stove and her mother, thinking its water, starts a fire. Billie Jo, in an attempt to be helpful, throws the burning bucket out the door. Her mother is drenched in the burning liquid as she starts back in the door after running to get her husband. Mother and her unborn child both die after much suffering. Billie Jo's hands are disfigured in the accident. Billie Jo struggles to help her father and herself overcome this tragedy. Finally, after running away, she realizes that she must face her reality.
Out of the Dust is a Newbery Medal Book, as well as the recipient of numerous other awards. It is written in very readable verse arranged chronologically in short poems. It would be an excellent addition to a reading list for social studies or language arts. The teacher's edition discussion and study guide is well organized and includes an interview with the author, as well as activities for a thematic unit across the curriculum.
Wild Horses I Have Known by Hope Ryden
Clarion Books, 1999. 90 pages. $18.00.
Reviewed by Wendy H. Bell, Buncombe County Schools, NC.
For horse lovers this book is a "must read." Suggested ages are 9 and up, but anyone can appreciate the extraordinary photographs and storehouse of information in Wild Horses I Have Known.
In the Pryor Mountains along the Wyoming-Montana border mustangs still roam. For thirty years, Hope Ryden has observed these fascinating creatures, documenting their social hierarchies, survival strategies, habits, and personalities. Her stunning pictures and clear prose are integrated so seamlessly that you feel as if you, too, are watching them through her eyes.
Her purpose is to examine the question, "What exactly is a wild horse and how is it different from a domestic one?" The answers are presented in a personal way as we are introduced to specific horses and get to know them almost as intimately as she does.
Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy this book. It is a treasure.
Abduction by Rodman Philbrick and Lynn Harnett
Scholastic, 1998. 312 pages. $4.99
Reviewed by Jennifer Moreland, Grand Junction, Colorado
Both Luke and Mandy are experiencing mysterious episodes where large chunks of time are missing from their conscious minds. Luke, haunted by a creepy feeling that someone or something is watching him, becomes convinced that they are being abducted by aliens. Mandy, however, refuses to accept such an explanation, and sets out to prove that there is a scientific reason for their lapses in memory. When the truth is revealed, the fate of the earth rests in the hands of the two teens as they attempt to foil an imminent alien invasion.
The plot of the book reads like a cross between The X Files and Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Stereotypes abound as the invaders use skinheads, and even a grumpy librarian, to do their dirty work. The aliens (gasp!) have green blood and oversized, fly-like eyes, and of course their victims are subjected to gruesome examinations before being turned into alien zombies. Sophisticated science fiction readers will find little to gnaw on here, but the book may appeal to the comic book set. I would recommend for grades 5 and 6, with possibilities for older reluctant readers who are not intimidated by the length.
Circle of Magic: Briar's Book by Tamora Pierce
Scholastic Press, 1999. 262 pages. $15.95
Reviewed by Rob Linne
Former "street rat" Briar Moss grows into a fine mage-in-training under the caring tutelage of Rosethorn. However, when a mysterious illness quickly sweeps through the city of Summersea all of their herbal remedies and even their magic proves ineffective.
The plot of this fantasy novel reads in part like a medical mystery as the apprentice mages race with their masters to develop a cure before more lives are lost, including the infected Rosethorn. The author deftly creates a fantastical world while weaving in drama that seems all too realistic for our day and age. Young people growing up in the age of AIDS (as well as other illnesses) can find much to relate to in this tale of a dangerous plague. This extremely well written fantasy offers much more than simple escapism.
Out of the Wilderness by Deb Vanasse
Clarion Books, 1999. 165 pages. $15.00
Reviewed by M. Jean Greenlaw, University of North Texas
Two years of hard scrabble living in the Alaskan wilderness leaves fifteen-year-old Josh longing for a return to civilization and friends. He and his father have followed Nathan, Josh's older half brother, on his quest to live in harmony with nature. Nathan has become very eccentric and puts them all in danger, however. This story succeeds on several levels. The characters are believable and the reader appreciates the interwoven struggles Josh faces: physical survival, estrangement from his brother, the realization that Nathan will always be the first priority of his father, and the decision to make a life for himself. The ending is excellent for the fact that everything is not tied up in a neat bundle, but the reader has hope for Josh's future. On another level, the beauty and danger of the Alaskan wilderness is lined in lyrical prose that rises above most tales of adventure. There is something for everyone and teachers will find this to be a good read-aloud choice.
Clara Schumann Piano Virtuoso by Susanna Reich
Clarion Books, 1999. 115 pages. $19.00
Reviewed by Susanne L. Johnston, Menomonie, Wisconsin
Susanna Reich's biography of Clara Schumann is a fascinating study of a gifted pianist who began performing professionally at age nine, and continued to perform until age 71. Clara had a chaotic and disappointing personal life, with divorced parents and a domineering father. Sixteen years after marrying Robert Schumann she was a young widow with seven children to support. Through it all, however, her teaching, composing, and performing allowed her to maintain her sanity and to support her children. She worked with and held as friends many of the great composers, including Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, and Felix Mendelssohn.
Photographs and drawings of Clara, her family and friends, performance halls, and concert programs complete this well-written book. Young readers will enjoy the book, and older readers will also be attracted to this engaging woman's life.
Come All You Brave Soldiers: Blacks in the Revolutionary War by Clinton Cox
Revolutionary War/Black Americans
Scholastic Press, 1999. 182 pages. $15.95
Reviewed by Bill Mollineaux, West Hartford, Connecticut
Beginning with Crispus Attucks's death in the Boston Massacre and ending with James Armistead's spying activities that lead to the British defeat at Yorktown, Cox has written a fascinating, readable, and moving account of the contributions made by black men in America's struggle for independence from Great Britain. Concomitantly, Cox depicts the dilemma faced by white proponents for independence: how to wage a war for freedom while at the same time defending and preserving the institution of slavery.
Particularly interesting are how the British offered freedom to slaves who joined their side, how and why Southerners were unwilling to enlist black soldiers, and how white American officers like Major John Laurens attempted to link the struggle for independence with the opportunity to end slavery. Equally intriguing are the actions and attitudes of Washington and Jefferson towards slaves, especially when compared to those of Hamilton, Lafayette, and Kosciuszko. Finally, the problems of maintaining an army faced with large desertions make for a captivating read. Simply put, this is a valuable book that brings alive the role played by blacks in the American Revolution.
The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party by Marian Calabro
Clarion Books, 1999. 192 pages. $20.00
Reviewed by Jeanne Gerlach, University of Texas at Arlington
Marian Calabro draws a realistic picture of the Donner Party journey from the 1846 Springfield, Illinois beginning to the California destination in 1847. The journey is chronicled in a candid detail with a focus on the experiences of the young adults and children who made up nearly half of the travelers. The readers come to know the Donner group through the letters and recollections of Virginia Reed, a twelve-year-old girl who tells of the journey, describing perils they incurred along the way.
Calabro includes a map of the main and alternate routes west. Additionally, she includes a details chronology of the journey, a roster of the dead, and information including books, videos, and websites for further study. Of course, a complete bibliography is included. An extra bonus is the art work depicted throughout the book. This book is one of the best I've seen on the Donner Party.
Presenting Young Adult Science Fiction by Suzanne Reid
Twayne, 1998. 230 pages. HB $28.00
Reviewed by Herb Thompson, Emory & Henry College, Virginia
Although the Twayne Young Adult Authors series usually presents a critical, biographical work on a specific young adult author, some of the books like this one feature a genre. Reid does an excellent job of presenting a broad overview of science fiction, discussing what it is (it depends), when it started (Shelley's Frankenstein and Jules Verne's novels), how it developed (pulp magazines and books), and a discussion of the big names in the field (e.g., Campbell, Heinlein, and Asimov being the three giants for the first 50 years of this century). After thoughtful and informative introductory chapters, Reid delves into not only the lives and works of familiar authors, but also describes their work habits and their development as writers over their careers. Several chapters are devoted to writers and works that are appropriate for young adults, like Orson Scott Card, Douglas Hill, and H.M. Hoover. Chapters are also devoted to authors such as Pamela Sargent and Octavia Butler who deal with some of the larger issues in society, such as race and gender. There are also chapters on science fantasy and humor in science fiction, cyberpunk, film, and news themes and trends. In addition to notes for each chapter, there is a very useful A Selected Bibliography and Filmography at the end of each book. The book is intended for students as well as teachers and scholars, so it is very readable. Anyone wanting to know something about science fiction overall, and young adult science fiction in particular, will find this book a superb resource. I highly recommend it, and the entire Twayne Young Adult Authors series for that matter.
Standing in the Light by Mary Pope Osborne
Scholastic [Dear America Series], 1998. 184 pages. $9.95
Reviewed by Laura M. Zaidman, University of South Carolina
Subtitled The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, 1763, this easy-to-read story should appeal to reluctant readers. Catharine, a spirited adolescent, writes about her Quaker life, then her capture by the Linape tribe and her return home. Her journal's epistolary style (reminiscent of Joan Blos's Newbery Medal-winning A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32 ) offers a sense of immediacy as her experiences come alive. Balanced nicely are the book's historical facts, such as William Penn's establishing his "A Holy Experiment" in Quaker government in 1682, and the engaging human interest story a girl's coming of age. The appendix provides additional material to illuminate this fascinating period in American history, for example, notes about colonial America, maps, illustrations of Penn and the Lenape, candle-making instructions, and the title page from a 1682 captive narrative.
Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez
Growing Up/Alcoholism/Mexican Americans
HarperTrophy, 1996. 216 pages. $5.95
Reviewed by Jennifer Norris, Hunters Lane High School, Nashville, Tennessee
Filled with enough metaphors to impress any English teacher, Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida is a story told by a teenage Mexican American boy, Manny, who is attempting to find his place in a society full of disappointment. Set in the projects, Manny gives a very realistic account of what it is like to grow up as a minority in a poor, dysfunctional home. Receiving no real direction from his family, Manny battles with what type of man he should and will become. He is tempted by gang life (in his attempt to be accepted somewhere ), but at the same time, he seems to have a pure heart that prohibits him from falling too far. The coming of age plot is further complicated by Manny's family life. His father is an out of work alcoholic who is incapable of giving guidance to his floundering son. His mother is the peace-keeper, mainly concerned with damage control. His older brother (who has a steady stream of jobs that don't ever seem to work out) seems to be on the same path as his alcoholic father. His teen-age sister deals with sexual issues including the miscarriage of her baby. With themes such as honor, abuse, and alcoholism, this coming of age novel is very readable for upper middle/high school students; however, teachers should be aware of the controversial issues within the novel: drugs, alcohol, language, and the graphic miscarriage. Because of the novel's extremely realistic teenage voice, this novel is reminiscent of S. E. Hinton's Tex or The Outsiders and therefore would definitely gain the interest of the high school reader.
Clockwork by Philip Pullman
Scholastic, 1998. 112 pages. $14.95
Reviewed by Sam D. Gill, Ohio University, Athens
If O. Henry had written a book length work, I imagine it would be similar to Philip Pullman's Clockwork. This novel of intrigue features three characters: Gretl, the barmaid daughter of the local innkeeper; Karl, an apprentice clockmaker distraught over his failure to craft a figure for the town clock; and Fritz, whose unfinished thriller sets the gears of the novel turning.
All three characters are spending a snowy evening in the tavern. A local writer, Fritz begins to read his latest story about a prince and a mad clockmaker, Dr. Kalemenius, when the door to the tavern flies open. In walks Dr. Kalemenius himself. Aghast, Fritz tosses his story into the fire, and the other tavern guests follow his hasty exit. Only apprentice Karl remains. Kalemenius then gives Karl the one thing that his heart desires--a finely wrought clockwork knight to display in the town clock. But there is a price to pay for evil Kalemenius' favor...
Pullman's narrative voice has a wonderfully droll quality, and the prose is deceptively simple. The illustrations by Lenoid Gore add to a wintry feeling of claustrophobia. Younger readers will enjoy the story within a story that Pullman creates. The plot twists are delightful, and the characters, though not well-rounded, are sufficiently good or evil to be memorable. Others may share my disappointment with how abruptly Clockwork ends, especially after such a promising beginning.
Greek Gods and Goddesses by Geraldine McCaughrean
Simon and Schuster, 1997. 108 pages. $20.00
Reviewed by Margaret J. Ford, Campbell, Ohio
Don't be deceived by the picture book simplicity of Greek Gods and Goddesses! What appears to be a simple collection of tales relating the stories of the inhabitants of Olympus is actually a skillfully woven tapestry reflecting the literary devices of the classics, blended with modern language and syntax. The indiscretions of Zeus and the vigilance of Hera come alive as Hermes retells the stories of the gods from Athena to Apollo to Hephaestus in the best classic tradition--through the use of a story cycle. Geraldine McCayghrean manages to define and delineate each immortal--and the numerous mortals with whom they interact--and provides a glossary of names from Actaeon to Zeus. An additional bonus is provided by the richly colored illustrations by Emma Chichester Clark, which at times resemble Greek pottery and at other times playful primitive images. Anyone, from the middle school student to the adult, will enjoy and find a wealth of information in this collection of Greek mythological portraits.
Roughnecks by Thomas Cochran
High School Football/Coming of Age
Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace, 1997. 248 pages. $6.00
Reviewed by Chris Crowe, Brigham Young University
This is the best YA novel about high school football ever written. It is the story of Travis Cody's preparations for the final game of his senior year, the Louisiana state championship against the Pineview Pelicans, his team's archrivals. As Travis prepares physically and mentally for the big game, he recalls events from the past season, especially his blown assignment that ruined his team's perfect season. The state championship game is his chance to redeem himself, and he is riddled with anxiety that when he faces the best nose tackle in the state for the second time, he might fail again.
Cochran gets it all right: The writing is clean and direct, and the story is engaging; the football details--the game action, the players' conversations, thoughts, and attitudes, the feeling, the tone, and the setting--are perfect. Fortunately, this novel is much more than just a story of a boy getting ready for his last big game; it's really a coming of age story. Travis is a football player, but football is only the vehicle used to reveal Travis' concerns and to allow him a place to mature and to make important discoveries about himself and about life.
Readers who liked David Guy's Football Dreams will love this novel, but so will anyone interested in football or in seeing the human, personal side of high school football.
The Journal of Joshua Loper: A Black Cowboy by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic Inc., 1999. 158 pages. $10.95
Reviewed by H. Edward Deluzain, Panama City, Florida
This fictional journal of sixteen-year-old Joshua Loper, son of a former slave and a free man of color, is so rich it's hard to know where to begin. It's an action-packed adventure about a cattle drive from Texas to Abilene, Kansas, in the late spring and summer of 1871. It's a glimpse into the hardships and suffering cowboys endured on the trail. It's the story of a young African American who has to continually prove his worth to the trail boss, who is a former Confederate captain with little use for blacks. But most of all, it's the story of a boy becoming a man, in his own eyes and in the eyes of the other men on the trail with him. The book strikes deep chords in the reader's psyche and appeals on a great many levels.
The much-lauded Myers provides an extensive appendix that readers might want to look at before they begin reading the novel proper. The historical material on American cowboys, the photographs and maps, and the diagram of a western saddle all enrich the reading experience and help put the feat of driving a huge herd of cattle across three states into perspective.
Journeys With Elijah retold by Barbara Diamond Goldin
Paintings by Jerry Pinkney
Gulliver Books, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1999. 77 pages. $20.00.
Reviewed by Alan McLeod, Virginia Commonwealth University
Goldin presents eight tales about the prophet Elijah. These stories, taken from Argentina, Babylon, China, Curacao, eastern Europe, North Africa, Persia, and Yemen and set in different times and places, reveal how Elijah in disguise aids people in resolving problems. Goldin presents him as a source of hope to persons of varying religions.
The tales are fast-paced and easily read, showing the deft hand of the middle school teacher that Goldin is. Goldin previously received the Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Pinkney, whose work has been recognized multiple times by the Caldecott Honor Award and the Coretta Scott King Award, provides lush paintings as engaging illustrations. The book has appeal for some upper elementary and middle school readers for the tales and illustrations; older readers may be interested in the different cultures represented.
Food Fight: A Guide to Eating Disorders for Preteens and Their Parents by Janet Bode
Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997. 154 pages. $4.50
Reviewed by Edna Earl Edwards, Oxford, Mississippi
Janet Bode has carefully researched eating disorders in order to offer a guide for preteens and their parents. The book is divided into three parts: for young readers, for adult readers, and for all readers.
Part I gives real life stories and thoughts of youngsters with eating disorders so that readers can recognize their own behaviors. It is interspersed with tidbits of facts, checklists, quizzes, and helpful suggestions. Part II is designed to help adults recognize behaviors indicating anorexia nervosa and bulimia and respond to appropriately. Part III provides (a) a list of organizations, (b) additional readings for further help, (c) a list of professionals consulted with their backgrounds, and (d) endnotes.
The book is helpful without being preachy; it does not gloss over the severity of eating disorders or pretend to have all the solutions for such problems. Both young readers and their parents will find it readable and enlightening.
[Editor's note: Please see Janet Bode's article in this issue of The ALAN Review. ]
Finn by Katharine J. Bacon
Dealing with death/cocaine
McElderry Books, 1998. $16.00
Reviewed by Diana Mitchell, Williamson, Michigan
Unable to speak since an airplane crash left him the sole survivor in his family, fifteen-year-old Finn slowly begins the process of recovery on his grandmother's farm. His burnt hand and broken leg are on the mend but his mental and emotional state are fragile because he refuses to let himself think about or acknowledge the tragedy. Renewing his friendship with Julia, his sister's longtime summer friend who comes to the farm to work with the horses, is a beginning for Finn. Julia talks about Finn's sister's death and how much she misses her as she and Finn gradually build a solid relationship.
This many-layered story involves drug dealers who establish a drop site on the edges of the farm as well as a hybrid wolf isolated in the wild who Finn and Julia free from a trap and slowly gain his trust. In the stunning climax, the drug dealers' doings, the hybrid wolf, and Finn's fears and loyalties come together to create a compelling and action-packed ending. This well-written novel tackles the tough subject of dealing with grief in a believable way and makes us care deeply about the characters.
An Acquaintance with Darkness by Ann Rinaldi
Post Civil War/Coming of Age
Harcourt Brace, 1997. 294 pages. $6.00
Reviewed by Connie Russell, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Left an orphan, fourteen-year-old Emily wants to live with her best friend's family rather than with her uncle Valentine who is a doctor. But events in her friend Annie Surratt's household make that impossible. President Lincoln has just been assassinated, and Annie's mother is a friend of John Wilkes Booth. Moving in with her uncle, Emily wavers between trust and distrust. After all, there is that ugly rumor that her uncle is a body snatcher, using bodies for medical research.
As Annie's mother comes closer to being hanged because of her relationship with Booth and as Emily discovers there is truth to the rumor about her uncle, Emily must make some difficult decisions. The readers agonizes with Emily as she copes with her feelings and grows into adulthood all too quickly. As usual, Rinaldi has written a historical novel based on research that keeps the reader spellbound.
How to Write Poetry by Paul B. Janeczko
Scholastic Books (Scholastic Guides), 1999. 117 pages. $12.95
Reviewed by Betty Carter, Texas Women's University
Janeczko's preface takes readers back to his own beginnings: "I started writing poetry when I realized that some of the things I wanted to say could best be said in poetry." That same sense of communication drives this book. Janeczko discusses forms and formats (acrostic poems, Clerihews, narrative poems, for example) but he consistently concentrates on ways to express his ideas rather than on mechanistic exercises that fit words into preordained slots. He treats the audience with respect, assuming they want to express themselves and are searching for the best ways to do so. His stance as a helpful, but not overpowering teacher allows him to share techniques (such as word choice or line breaks) without being prescriptive. He's right on target for the audience with his poems (from both student and professional poets) and the content suggestions for different types of poetry. Backmatter includes a sterling bibliography of poetry books, a useful and complete glossary, and biographical notes on poets.
No Man's Land by Susan Bartoletti
Historical Fiction/Civil War
Blue Sky Press, 1999. 170 pages. $15.95
Reviewed by Anne Sherrill, East Tennessee State University
To join the Confederate army at fourteen was to enlist as a drummer boy. Thrasher wants to prove his manhood, particularly to his father, so he lies about his age. After the newness wears off, he misses his family and his dog Chum. He even misses the alligators in the Georgia swamp where he lives. Adventure turns to horror as Thrasher and his comrades must endure blisters, hunger, and burying fallen soldiers.
The author did extensive research on the Twenty Sixth Georgia Regiment in preparation for writing a book that captures the human side of the war from the view of a young soldier. Some girls disguised themselves to fight in the war as one does in this book. There were incidents of camaraderie among the Confederate and Union soldiers, also true in this novel. The selection is a memorable account in the best historical fiction tradition of one boy's loss of innocence. It is an ideal choice for the early adolescent male or female reader.
Never Trust a Dead Man by Vivian Vande Velde Murder
Harcourt Brace, 1999. 194 pages. $17.00
Reviewed by John H. Bushman, Overland Park, Kansas
Seventeen-year-old Selwyn Roweson is wrongly convicted of murder and is sealed in a death tomb as his punishment. He is left there to die along with the person that was killed. In this fantasy, Selwyn is rescued by a witch who first transforms Selwyn into a beggar and then a young girl. With these disguises he searches for the true murderer. Selwyn is aided in his search by Farold, the person who was killed. He has been resurrected in the form of a bat. They both head back to the community where the killing took place to search for clues. For those who love murder mysteries with fantasy and a taste of clever, comedic language, Never Trust a Dead Man will serve them well.
Fire in Their Eyes by Karen Magnuson Beil Non-fiction/Wildfire Fighting
Harcourt Brace and Company, 1999. 64 pages.
Reviewed by Ted Hipple, University of Tennessee
A non-fiction work, aimed probably at middle schoolers, this book explores what those who fight seemingly out-of-control wildfires go through. And the book makes abundantly clear that what they go through is tough: One second's exposure to the forest fire at the wrong place at the wrong time can result in burning human skin, disintegrating eyelashes, clothing that spontaneously bursts into flames. Firefighting in the forests is dangerous work.
This book examines not only these fighters, however, but also the fires themselves, what starts them, what moves them, what (thanks to the firefighters) finally controls them. A more exciting book than one might think from its topic, this work is greatly enhanced by some extraordinary photography, some of it taken at the fire's edge, putting the camera folks in almost as much jeopardy as the firefighters themselves. In sum, this is a work worth getting for the library, one not for everyone in the school, but for those who may be fascinated with this kind of vocation, it's well worth knowing about.
The Cure by Sonia Levitin
Middle Ages/Time travel/Anti-Semitism/The Plague
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1999. 183 pages. $16.00
Reviewed by Lisa K. Winkler, Maplewood, New Jersey
It's the Year of Tranquility 2407 in the United Social Alliance, Western Sector. Gemm 16884 dreams of music and places where people looked different and didn't wear colored masks. He confides in his twin, Gemma 16884, who urges him to stifle these dangerous thoughts. They're about to make the Great Choice , select their jobs, and she fears they'll be recycled if his dreams continue. Yet the Elders are monitoring Gemm and suggest he submit to "the Cure," a chance to rid himself of impure memory flashes. He's sent to Strasbourg, Germany, 1348. He becomes 16-year-old Johannes, the son of a money lender, and a Jew.
Though the Jewish community faces daily prejudice and injustices, they manage to maintain their businesses and practice their religion. When rumors spread that a mysterious disease is killing people in surrounding areas, residents quickly begin blaming the Jews. Eventually, the Jews are forced from their homes and burned in public. Johannes leads the Jews in singing as they await their deaths. He wakes up in the future, yet remains uncured. He remembers history and music and resolves to teach others. Based on a true incident, Levitin weaves a chilling story linking two worlds. Pair this provocative novel with Lois Lowry's The Giver for intriguing discussions. Recommend 12 and up.
In the Clip and File section of the winter, 1999, issue of The ALAN Review, page 31, reviewer H. E. Deluzain stated that the feature film, The Mighty, was an adaptation of Rodman Philbrick's Max the Mighty (1998). Actually, the movie is an adaptation of the first of Philbrick's "Mighty" books, Freak the Mighty (1993). We apologize for any confusion. ---psc