Sunday, January 31, 2016

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

"Now I was seventeen and a tiger was talking to me and I wasn't scared of the monsters under the bed. I was scared of the monster in the bed, which was me..."

Calvin was born on the day that the last Calvin & Hobbes comic was published. He was actually named for John Calvin, but his grandfather gave him a stuffed tiger called Hobbes and essentially renamed him. As a child, Calvin went on adventures with Hobbes and his neighbor Susie. One day, Hobbes went into the washing machine and "died." So, it's all the weirder when Hobbes starts to talk to a teenage Calvin.

After an outburst at school, Calvin is sent to the hospital. The doctor diagnoses him with schizophrenia. Calvin decides that the way to get back to normal is to pay a visit to Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin & Hobbes. He thinks he can convince him to write a new comic, a comic where Calvin is grown up and Hobbes-free.

How will he get there? Don't worry, he has a plan: walking across the frozen Lake Erie. He is joined by Susie, who threatened to tell on him if he didn't let her go. The quest isn't exactly parent or doctor approved. Calvin is never sure what is real and what is his mental illness. The biggest question mark is Susie. They drifted apart a while ago. She is pretty and popular, while Calvin is a weird loner. It doesn't make any sense that she would accompany him, and he is hearing and seeing a dead stuffed tiger...

The premise of the book sounded really appealing to me. I'm not especially into Calvin & Hobbes, I was more interested in the psychological aspects. I was also excited to see how the story ended. It is a tad disappointing, but I liked it all the same.

I received my copy of Calvin from Edelweiss, courtesy of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. It's available for purchase now.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy

"But that’s me. I’m fat. It’s not a cuss word. It’s not an insult. At least it’s not when I say it. So I always figure why not get it out of the way?"

Willowdean Dickson, Will to her friends, Dumplin' to her mother, has lived her entire life in the shadow of the Miss Clover City pageant. Her mother won when she was younger, and now she runs the show every year. The pageant takes over both of their lives as her mother works with contestants, prepares for the show, and diets to fit into her old pageant dress.

Will isn't like her mother at all. She's fat, but also accepting of herself and her body (At least in theory). Unfortunately, she can tell that other people aren't as accepting, especially her mother. They are already a bit tense after Aunt Lucy died last year. Lucy, her mother's sister, had lived with them. She had been morbidly obese and suffered a heart attack. Will loved her aunt as a second, sometimes only, mother. Will sees her mother's disapproval as a disapproval of Lucy and fear that Will will end up just like her.

At her fast food job, Will bonds with the good-looking Bo. She doesn't tell anyone, not even her best friend Ellen. She is surprised when he seems to like her back, and even more so when they kiss. When Bo ends up transferring to Will's high school, she breaks things off because she fears that other kids will laugh about the fat girl dating the hot basketball player.

Eventually, Will decides to join the pageant. Unwittingly, she inspires fellow misfits Millie (Also fat), Amanda (Has uneven legs), and Hannah (Has "horse teeth"), as well as her traditionally pretty best friend Ellen. Will sees the pageant as a way to get back at her mom through the thing she loves most, but her friends think she is bravely challenging beauty standards.

I liked the message behind Dumplin'. The representation of a fat female protagonist was nice. She didn't constantly eat everything in sight or transform like a butterfly by the end of the book. My biggest complaint is that there wasn't much pageant in the book. It wasn't a big part of the story, but was the main reason I was reading. I wanted to get more costumes and rehearsals, I wanted Will to actually care about it. We don't even get to find out who wins! I can't help feeling a bit disappointed.

I received my copy of Dumplin' from Edelweiss, courtesy of Balzer + Brey. It's available for purchase now.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider

“Being temporary doesn't make something matter any less, because the point isn't how long, the point is that it happened...”

Years after an effective vaccine was developed for tuberculosis, a new strain has evolved. This version is resistant to drugs and highly contagious. As the book begins, our main character, Lane, is being sent to Latham House, a sanatorium where teenagers with drug-resistant TB are quarantined so they can focus on getting well.

The first kids he meets are friendly and religious. They are obviously the goody goodies and must be shunned. Among the cooler residents of Latham is Sadie. Lane and Sadie attended the same camp when they were younger, though Sadie is angry at Lane for some old affront. Back then, she had been quiet and kept to herself. At Latham, she and her friends are the popular kids, the group that Lane wishes he could join.

At first, Lane spends all of his time keeping up with his AP work. He stays up late doing the extra work and thinks that he will still be able to recover in time for the SATs and early admission to college. The long hours of studying take their toll and he gets sicker and sicker. Eventually, his lung x-rays give him away. His books and studying materials are confiscated, and Lane is forced to focus on getting well.

After he saves them from punishment, Sadie and her friends take Lane under their wing. They do things like dress up for movies night in fancy dresses and tuxedos while everyone else is wearing pajamas. Sadie has a contact in the nearby town who brings contraband food, books, whatever the kids want. They are the ones who know how to sneak out of the dorms, and they sometimes leave to visit Starbucks in the nearby town. It's all about pretending that they are normal, pretending that they aren't all close to death.

One day, the whole of Latham House is gathered and receives some big news. A drug called protocillin was developed that will cure drug-resistant TB. It's great news for everyone except Sadie.

Latham was my Hogwarts, and protocillin was the cure for my magic. It would turn me into a Muggle again, one who had to worry about standardized testing and mean girls and tardy slips...

It seems unbelievable that she isn't super happy, but it does make sense when you think about it. She has been at Latham for years. The education isn't fantastic, and since the kids die a lot, there isn't much concern for the future. Sadie will have to repeat several grades and then figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Latham House is life on pause. Sadie and Lane and everyone else could break rules and make trouble and it didn't really count towards real life. Of course, real life eventually catches up.

Extraordinary Means had a lot of good points, but also some annoying parts. It's very selfish of people with a very contagious disease to leave quarantine and risk infecting others. Also, the ending is effective, but when I thought it over a little bit, I felt manipulated. Overall, I liked the book well enough. It's really well written. The premise is interesting, especially with so many diseases coming back from the dead recently, anti-vaxxers and all that awfulness. I just hope that the story stays fictional.

I received my copy of Extraordinary Means from Edelweiss, courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books. It's available for purchase now.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

"I don't have the luxury of taking reality for granted. And I wouldn't say I hated people who did, because that's just about everyone. I didn't hate them. They didn't live in my world.
But that never stopped me from wishing I lived in theirs..."

When she was younger, Alex once met a boy at Meijer's. She didn't know his name, but she called him Blue Eyes. He helped her free the lobsters from their tank. Now a senior in high school, Alex knows that the boy wasn't real. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and she doesn't always know if what she sees is real. To help tell the difference, she carries a camera to take pictures of anything suspicious. If anything in the photo disappears, Alex knows that it's all in her head.

Because of an incident at her old school, namely spray-painting "Communists" on the gym floor, she ends up transferring for her senior year. Alex really wants to do well and get into college. She knows that if she messes up again, her mother will send her to a mental hospital.

Her therapist, who she calls the Gravedigger, also recommended that she get a job. She works at a restaurant called Finnegan's with the nerdy Tucker. He attends her new school and tells her that everyone there is insane. He also advises her to stay away from Miles, a particularly prickly regular customer. Alex messes up her first interaction with Miles by spilling water on him. In Alex's defense, she was distracted because Miles bears a resemblance to Blue Eyes: freckles, sandy hair, and blue eyes, and anyone would freak out if their imaginary friend appeared out of the blue. 

Being the new girl at school isn't fun, but Alex copes as well as she can. As community service, Alex has to join Miles' club, a group that sets up for sporting events and sells concessions. She has a strange relationship with Miles. She thinks that he hates her, but you can tell that he really, really doesn't.

Miles has a lot of power at the school, even though kids tease him and call him a Nazi for his German accent. Students pay him to do things, get revenge or play pranks. He plays some jokes on Alex, and she plays some jokes on him. Their relationship changes when the girl who has a crush on Miles throws a party, and he refuses to attend unless she invites Alex. Alex ends up having an episode and Miles figures out that she has schizophrenia. In turn, he tells her about his mother, who is locked inside an asylum. They are completely untraditional and very cute.

Unfortunately, and there always has to be an unfortunately, Alex's illness catches up with her. Her classmates find out about it. Miles, desperate for money, starts to take humiliating jobs. Everything spirals out of control. The ending was a little sad, but also not. I don't know how to explain it better, you'd just have to read it.   

I was a huge fan of Made You Up. I completely love Alex, who was flawed but totally awesome and funny. Her mental illness makes her unreliable as a narrator, but also really interesting as a character. She understands when she is being irrational, but she also still has moments where she has to check her food for Communist chips. It was an interesting experience to see the world from Alex's perspective, and very scary to think of having to live like that and not being able to control it. As we find out, not being able to tell the difference between imagination and reality can hurt you. I highly recommend this amazing book.  

I received my copy of Made You Up from Edelweiss, courtesy of Greenwillow Books. It's available for purchase now.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

"The rain on her dress and his shirt would stick them to each other, dissolve the skin between them, until their veins tangled like roots, and they breathed together, one scaled and dark-feathered thing..."

The Weight of Feathers is very similar to Romeo and Juliet. It’s a story of two star-crossed lovers from rival families. Thankfully, the ending isn’t such a bummer, not to spoil it or anything.

The Palomas and Corbeaus both travel the country and put on shows to entertain tourists. They mostly stay out of each other’s way, except when it comes to the yearly show at Almendro. In spite of the bad history in that town- it was where each family lost a member, and where the Corbeau’s grandfather was fired from his job at the local adhesive plant because of the Palomas- both families return every year for the Blackberry Festival and the ticket sales it provides.

The reasons behind the feud are various, spread over years and generations. There were the deaths; a flood caused a Paloma uncle to drown, but also caused a Corbeau in-law to fall to her death. Both families believe that the other performs black magic. They also agree that one should not touch a member of the rival family. The only exception to that is hitting and fighting, which is not only okay, but encouraged.

The Corbeaus are identified by the feathers that grow on their necks, feathers that the Palomas burn to keep from being cursed. Palomas are identified by their escalas, birth marks that shimmer like scales. Fittingly, the Corbeaus’ show involves men and women wearing feathery wings and performing tricks high up in tree branches. The Palomas’ young women wear mermaid tails and put on a swimming show. Sometimes the rivalry bleeds over into the show, with the Corbeaus slipping on greased branches and Palomas nearly drowning because of nylon nets.

Our protagonists and narrators are Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau. Lace is one of the mermaids, but is relegated to the background because she isn’t as skinny as the others. She knows that her grandmother favors her male cousins, in spite of Lace’s unfailing loyalty. Cluck is the black sheep of his family. His mother hates him and his brother abuses him. He is called names, such as little demon and bastard, even his feathers are different, black tinted with red. Thankfully, he is very close with his grandfather, who teaches him to sew the wings and encourages him to use his left hand even though it is taboo and it has three fingers that broke and never healed properly. 

The kids meet at a convenience store. Lace saves Cluck from being beaten by her cousins. She assumes that he is a local, and Cluck assumes the same about her. The next time that they meet is after an accident at the plant. Without Cluck’s grandfather there to push for safety measures, disaster struck. A toxic cloud of chemicals was released upon the town. Lace just finished her first show as a featured mermaid, but when she exited the lake she was caught in a net, a net. The net made it so she was out in the open when the burning rain falls. Cluck goes towards the Paloma’s side of the lake to find his missing cousin. He also finds poor Lace, huddled under a bare tree and burning in her cotton dress. Cluck gets her out of the dress (Cotton burns faster when exposed to the chemicals) and takes her to the hospital.

The next time she wakes up, Lace has a large heart-shaped scar on her face, as well as a feather-shaped scar on her arm, among other burns and scars. She finds out that her savior is a Corbeau and kicks him out. Her family sees the scar and knows that a Corbeau saved her. They believe she is now cursed so they banish her. Lace decides that the feather means she is being punished for being rude to Cluck after he saved her life. In order to earn his forgiveness and get rid of the scar, she takes a job doing makeup for the Corbeaus.

The more time that Lace spends around Cluck, the more she starts to care for him. Cluck cares for her back, there's just one problem. He still has no idea she is a Paloma. Will he still feel the same when he finds out who she is?

I found The Weight of Feathers to be charming and magical. It was easy for me to fall in love with the characters, even with that whole silly teenage romance factor. The book just clicked with me, and it gave me the whole spectrum of emotions, what kids these days refer to as "the feels." It's swoon-worthy and dreamy, and it made me heave a big sigh during the happy moments, as corny as that makes me sound. There are some difficult parts, abuse and meanness, but the good parts made up for it.

I received my copy of The Weight of Feathers from Edelweiss, courtesy of Thomas Dunne. It's available for purchase now.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Leveller by Julia Durango

"I understand the temptation, I really do. But here's what happens. You get used to looking like a million bucks in the MEEP, and then...BAM! Game over. You're backslapped to reality and wake up with your same old blemishes, bedhead, and ratty sweatpants. All of a sudden you can't stand yourself. You've seen what your perfect self looks like in the MEEP, so when you look in the mirror now, all you see are your flaws.
You're just a sad, sorry replica of your pretend self.

Phoenix "Nixy" Bauer is a Leveller. Parents hire her to retrieve their children from the MEEP, a virtual reality gaming world. Gameplay is supposed to be limited, but cheats are available to play longer. When kids get too absorbed in the game, their parents sometimes need help getting them out. Nixy is just a lot cheaper than official Levellers. The job makes her unpopular with kids her age, but she has earned a good reputation among the parents. Her business motto is "Nixy Bauer, Home in an Hour."

Both of Nixy's parents work for the company that created the MEEP. The game's developer contacts Nixy in need of her skills. His son Wyn is lost in the game. Even worse, he left behind a suicide note. Many highly trained experts tried to get to him, but they all failed. Nixy is the last resort. If she doesn't get Wyn out, they will reset the system. Anybody using illegal codes could be physically affected, possibly resulting in brain damage or coma.

Nixy works her way through the maze between her and Wyn. It takes a long time and some clever strategy. Eventually, she finds Wyn only to realize that he is being held captive. To make matters worse, Nixy is now trapped as well. They have to figure out who is holding them and why in order to escape. 

The Leveller was pretty fun. It's got a lot of video game action, and there's a nice little romance between Nixy and Wyn. I liked Nixy, even though her name is kind of silly. She was funny and I like how hardcore she is. It will be interesting to see what new adventures await in the yet unnamed sequel.

I received my copy of The Leveller from Edelweiss, courtesy of Harper Collins. It's available for purchase now.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Cemetery Boys by Heather Brewer

"Ideas could be changed. Theories could be modified. But beliefs were hard-core. They were solid. They were something that the believers took very, very seriously. And the notion that Devon, Markus, and the others believed in something I expected to encounter only on late-night TV scared the hell out of me. Not because the monsters might exist- really. But because my friends might be on their side..."

Stephen's mother has been sick for a while, worried about dark creatures with wings. She was institutionalized. After his father lost his job, the cost drains all their savings. They are forced to move to his father's hometown, Spencer, Michigan, where people get stuck. Dad plans to find a job in a neighboring town and transfer mom to a hospital close by. Until they get back on their feet, they move in with his mother, Stephen's grandmother, who is not really the cuddly cookie-baking type. Spencer is a very small town, the type of place with old-fashioned diners, corner stores, and judgmental neighbors.

After making a bad impression with a football player, Stephen befriends twins Cara and Devon. Cara is an intriguing punk girl and they...want to do teenagery boy and girl things. It gets awkward because the twins' mother is the town's fanatical religious crazy person and she ends up catching them together. Devon doesn't approve of the pairing either. He wants Stephen to be part of his group of friends. They sneak into the movie theater after close and hang out at the Playground, the local cemetery. Devon is also freakishly obsessed with loyalty, kind of in a culty way.

Then, weird stuff happens. People in Spencer talk about something called the Winged Ones. The town has been suffering through "bad times." If they make a sacrifice to the creatures, their luck will turn around. Stephen thinks those stories are just stories, that none of it could possibly be true. It doesn't really matter what Stephen thinks, because his friends believe in the stories. They believe enough to kill.

The Cemetery Boys showed what most of us fear about small towns. There are gangs of teenagers loitering in cemeteries, religious fanaticals hanging around outside of diners, and creepy monsters with wings who want to eat you. I read this a while ago, and I can't remember a lot of the story (Except a scene that made me crave Doritos), but I definitely remember the ending. It was completely surprising. I quite liked the suspense building in the book, how everything built from "Nice town" to "Well, that's a little weird" to "Thanks for being born in such a messed up town, dad, enjoy paying for my future therapy." It's creepy fun.

I received my copy of The Cemetery Boys from Edelweiss, courtesy of Harper Collins. It's available for purchase now.