Monday, September 20, 2010

A favorite from grad school

Though it has been over 5 years since I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, I will never forget it.  Ever.  My mind tends to gloss over the "less desirable" parts of movies or books and usually remembers only the "happy things" clearly. However, since the topic of this book is about a high school girl, Melinda, who almost completely stops functioning as a human being after being raped by a school mate at an end-of-the-summer party and is taunted daily at school by the upperclassman who did it, the plot is stuck fast in my brain.  The healing that Melinda must go through to be able to speak up about what happened to her is beyond immense (and it doesn't even start until the end of the book) and the reader can't help but go through each emotion with her.  One of the most painful lasting physical effects that I always think about is what Melinda does to her lips (rather than speak) - she chews on them until the skin becomes broken and bloody.  I cannot imagine having words to say, those words being on my lips, but out of fear not being able to say them and instead biting my lips and holding the words in.  But I've never been though a situation like that.

Anderson's book has recently been attacked in Missouri as being, well, a phrase that I probably shouldn't use on a blog associated with my job.  To get an idea of what's going on see Anderson's blog

These kinds of things always seem more noticeable around Banned Books Week (September 25-October 2), but this is what some people call "a hill I would die on."  Speak is one of those titles that goes beyond the debate about whether or not its approach to the subject matter outweighs the subject matter itself.  This book is the kind that lets people who have gone through what Melinda does know that they are not alone, and it also lets the rest of us know how awful this problem (rape) is so that [hopefully] we can help make a difference.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


For the last 6 months, almost every time I would talk to my mom on the phone (which is a few times a week) she would ask me if I'd read Scott Westerfeld's steampunk adventure yet.  My answer was always no...until last week.  With the coming of my YARP list reading season looming, I've been furiously trying to read everything I can that I want to read, and Leviathan was one of those titles.

Loved it.  Westerfeld has created one of those societies that is based in historical fact and tweaks it to make it more interesting for young people.  Westerfeld's world is dominated by the Clankers - those who create super-machines and Darwinists - those who weave the DNA of living creatures together to create new ones.  Set during the first weeks of what would become World War I, the Clankers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire) become the aggressors toward the Darwinists (Britain, France, Italy, and Russia)

Alek must flee for his life to Switzerland and hide until the end of the war.  Deryn Sharp also has something to hide - she's disguised as a boy to make it into the British Royal Air Force.  These two, Clanker and Darwinist, are thrown together in an unlikely alliance on the great Darwinist "fabricated" airship Leviathan, and while fighting to stay alive, must keep their secrets. 

The book has been out since 2009, but the sequel Behemoth is due out next month, so I think I read it at the right time because now I don't have to wait very long for the next one!

Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World

I don't know why I've been putting off writing this review other than maybe I still feel drained from Mockingjay.  Maybe it's because Katie from the publishing company knows I am going to be writing this and I don't want to disappoint her!  This is actually a hilarious book so I don't know if I will do it justice, but I don't think I can put this off any longer.

Vordak, who was raised as a proper super villain, will give you all the tips you need to make a name for yourself (he even has a handy guide for that), how to build your army of minions and underlings, how to verbally out-wit superheros, and how to look good doing it.  Junior high boys are going to love this book.  Adults will also love it and probably get more of the jokes.  It's silly, full of diabolical laughter, and though sinister, absolutely delightful.

When my preview copy arrived, the first person to read it was not me, it was my non-biological-but-practically-adopted teenage daughter, Elisha.  She read parts out loud to me or would pass me the book so I could read something because she was laughing so hard.  Ironically, while she was reading page 65, which covers reasons to keep spare costumes handy in case of dangerous activities, including eating (accompanied by an illustration), the sushi she was eating dripped soy sauce on the book.  We won't tell Vordak because I'm sure he would immediately put her into one of his diabolically clever yet extremely slow-acting death traps, and I would miss her dearly.

P.S. The author is really Scott Seegert and the illustrations were done by John Martin, who is still awaiting rescue from Vordak's dungeon.  Someone go get the poor guy out of there!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Part of me just doesn't know what to say.  Maybe I was expecting something else, but I am really not sure if I love it or hate it.  The first two were so good but I feel........unsatisfied somehow.  My feelings of non-satisfaction for once have nothing to do with this being the end of the series.*  I just do not care for how the whole storyline wrapped up, especially Gale's exit from the main narrative. He gave up - he didn't bow out gracefully, he just faded away.  Also, I like my heroes and heroines to have little falls so that they do seem human, but when they fall too far & too much, they become caricatures or someone you really wouldn't want to read a book about because they always annoy you.  Katniss eventually did that for me and she felt nothing like the character that Collins first wrote her to be.  Too much of the essential character of Katniss was lost.

One last thing, which is not a positive statement for Collins' writing: I started liking the secondary characters in the storyline more than I like Peeta, Gale, or Katniss.

I don't even think I can summarize this book.  You'll just have to read it yourself and be the judge.

*Actually I lied: J.K. Rowling once again sets the standard, in my opinion, for YA series fiction.  She wrapped up the Harry Potter series so beautifully that I didn't feel unsatisfied with that ending.