Can we talk about the cover first? Briefly? Because I hate it. My galley has the same cover, essentially, but with the colors inverted, and the title under the tree and Brashares' name over it rather than the other way around, but whichever they ended up with it's essentially the same. And it's boring. It looks like a boring adult book, and it lacks the punch of the pants from the older Sisterhood series, and the bright colors, and the oomph. Nothing about this says "pick me up! now!" to me.
And honestly, after finishing the book, I feel the same way about it: it lacks the punch of the older series, and the oomph. This book is trying too hard to be Sisterhood 2: Electric Boogaloo. If this had been just a tween novel, I might have felt differently, but you slap "the sisterhood grows" on a cover and I'm going to expect it to be a continuation of sorts of the Pants books and it just isn't. And it is impossible for me to review it as a standalone book; I feel it has to be reviewed as a continuation of sorts of the Pants books because that is what it is billed as. So what you should also know is that I loved the Pants books. I didn't think they were perfect, and I was glad when they stopped at four because it was time for them to stop, but I loved Tibby and Bridget and Lena and Carmen. I loved them, and they didn't need to be a part of this book.
Here we're following three girls, Polly, Jo and Ama, who have been friends since the first day of third grade. Now it's the last day of eighth grade, and, as we learn in the first two pages, the friendship just isn't the same anymore. This theme is continued throughout the book as the three girls have very separate summer experiences: not-unattractive but certainly not model-material Polly gets it into her head to try and become a model, hoping to forge a connection with a grandmother she never knew; Jo is spending the summer at her family's beach house, which is filled with memories of her late brother; Ama had planned to go to an academic camp but was assigned to an outdoorsy one instead and is having, to say the least, a horrible time. There is very little interaction between the three girls as they experience the highs and lows of their last summer before high school, and over and over again one or another laments the loss of the friendship.
The problem? I don't care. I don't care because I don't know these girls. I didn't get a whole book to watch them mailing pants back and forth and sharing their lives. I got some flashbacks sprinkled within the book to tell me how close they once were, how much the friendships meant - but I opened the book not knowing these girls and immediately got told that their friendships were fading away. Why should I care? And I didn't.
We get the first (and major) attempt to join this book to the Pants series at the beginning of chapter 3:
AMAWe first heard of the Sisterhood in sixth grade. You've probably never heard of them, but they became, like, a legend around here. They were four girls who went to our local high school and they shared a pair of jeans that were supposed to be, like, magical. The jeans fit all four of them, and the girls passed them around and decorated them and wrote all over them...By now the Sisterhood has graduated and gone to college, but people still talk about them. They don't even seem real to me anymore. More like a story. ...
Ama goes on to explain that a lot of groups of girls at school (including hers) tried to share pants, but it didn't work, and that she and Polly and Jo also tried sharing a denim skirt, a jean jacket and a scarf, none of which worked either.
POLLYMaybe we tried to hard to be like the Sisterhood because it was easy for them and we wanted it to be easy for us. Because they were lucky and we wanted to be lucky too. They had wonder, and we didn't have any.We looked for the magic, but we didn't find it. We waited for the magic, but it didn't find us.
And I just don't buy it. All of a sudden now the Sisterhood is so well-known at their old school that they've essentially become a type of urban legend? The school is packed with Sisterhood imitators?
Further attempts at connection between the old Sisterhood and the "new" are made by having Polly babysit for Tibby's younger siblings (and, at one point, encounter Brian) and by having Jo waitress with (and get into some trouble with) Lena's younger sister Effie. Jo also once had Bridget as a coach at soccer camp.
But the story doesn't NEED these connections, and is the weaker for them because they feel forced and awkward. The framing story doesn't work, either - the day the three girls meet, in third grade, they are given willow tree cuttings in pots. None of them are picked up and they end up walking home together, which is how they become friends. Once the cuttings start to grow, one of them suggests that they plant the trees together somewhere, and they do. They often visit the trees but of course by the book's opening the visits have fallen off, like the friendships; at the end of the book (you might see this as a spoiler, but it's pretty easy to predict) when the three revisit the trees they see that of course they have grown big and tall and intertwined.
The symbol of the trees is, like the connection to the first Sisterhood, forced.
I liked Polly and Jo and Ama. Each of their stories has something interesting and valuable to say - Polly's deals with self-worth and parental relationships and denial and timidity; Jo's with grief and denying your true self and the beginning of romantic relationships and developing responsibility; Ama's with growing out of your comfort zone and facing your fears. The girls are distinct and flawed and smart and stupid and funny and believable, and writing a book about them was a good idea. Trying to link them to the Sisterhood? Not so much. It just doesn't work, and it doesn't need to work. These girls don't need the Pants. They don't need the trees, either.
These girls are good enough for their own world, without the Sisterhood, and tying them to the Sisterhood weakens their stories. I wish I'd gotten a chance to get to know them without first having to compare them to Bridget, Tibby, Carmen and Lena.
Oh, aimed-at-tweens books featuring tween characters doing tweeny-age-appropriate things, how I do love you.
Sixth-grader Molly is really not happy about things. Her dad is going to get married again (her mother passed away years ago) to a woman Molly and her best friend Tanna call The Claw. The Claw has changed her basketball-loving, Chinese food-ordering, hanging-around-the-house, don't-ever-call-me-Mitch-my-name-is-Mitchell father into an organized activity- attending gourmand Mitch. The Claw has no idea how to act around kids (she treats Molly like she's six) and doesn't seem to particularly like them, either.
Molly was already having enough difficulty adjusting to the difference between fifth and sixth grade: co-ed lunches, switching classes every period, and the fact that she was apparently supposed to now be throwing herself at boys were all giving her some trouble. Add into that the Frizz (her problem hair) and her complete ineptitude in P.E. class and you can see that the last thing Molly needed was to hear Mitch and the Claw singing the Wedding March.
The Claw takes over most of the house for wedding plans, and Molly and Tanna's daily afterschool hanging-out session is banished to the basement - where the Claw has "helpfully" set up an arts and crafts station that would be more at home in a preschool than with two sixth-graders. Out of frustration they begin digging around in the antiques that the Claw stores down there, and they make a bonanza of a discovery: a machine that accurately predicts who a person will marry.
Molly is horrified by what the machine predicts for her own future, but is more concerned when it confirms that the Claw will be her stepmother. What happens when she tries to change the results (and when the word gets out around school about the machine) makes for some truly excellent reading.
I could hand this book to anyone. There are never enough books like this. I enjoyed Wollman's previous book Switched but I hope she sticks to tweens now because tweens need her. There are some serious issues in this book but it never becomes depressing; there's a lot of lighthearted moments in this book but it never becomes fluff. I know my former bookstore is going to sell this like mad.
As soon as this book is published in January I am buying it for my cousin's 11 1/2 year old daughter. She is going to love it.
Preorder at Powell's or find your local independent bookstore.
Angela's parents have shipped her off to Hidden Oaks as a last resort. After an incident with her boyfriend at home that ended in the death of her grandfather, they were no longer willing to deal with her themselves. Hidden Oaks is a boarding school for dangerous girls - girls who have been delinquent, committed crimes, been amoral, terrorized their schools or their families - and is seen as the last stop before prison (or worse). But Angela soon begins to wonder if Hidden Oaks really exists to reform girls - or make them disappear from society altogether.
Girls begin disappearing from the group after committing some sort of infraction as early as the first few days, and it is assumed that they have been kicked out of the school. It is only later that Angela discovers what has really happened to them, and becomes determined to do something about it. But what happens when she becomes one of them?
Well written, thrilling, scary, horrifying, and even occasionally funny, this book is sure to captivate teens. I certainly enjoyed it.
Pub Date: January 2009
(Man, am I behind. Vacation really messes with galley review! I have about 12 books to write up.)
I have to confess that in my former life as a bookseller I would not have picked up this galley. In my shop we all had our reading niches and our reading loves and more often than not I was reading fantasy and YA chick fic. However, in my current life as a "reading books for my old store" person, I am trying to branch out. So I picked up HEART OF A SHEPHERD and read it quickly, and in the end, was very glad I did.
What a lovely little book this is. It's the kind of book that's a hard handsell because of the subject matter, but if you can get a kid to read it I think would be successful. It's not the happiest of books, and there aren't any sports in it and there aren't many female characters and there isn't a lot of action until the end.
So what is there? Really fantastic writing. A wonderful main character. Heart.
Brother is the youngest boy on the ranch, and he's never felt the same love for the land that the rest of the family does. But his father's shipped out to Iraq with the National Guard and his brothers are away at school and he's left alone on the ranch with his grandparents: man of the house, despite his wishing otherwise. He wants to do a good job and make sure everything is perfect when his dad comes home, but life plans otherwise and Brother has to reach deep within himself to hold his family together and learn his true calling.
This is by definition a book I should not have liked. I am a anti-war, anti-gun, city-dwelling bleeding heart liberal. This book is none of those things. And yet Parry's exquisite writing makes this a story that transcends political, religious and personal beliefs. She's created a story about a boy who really could be any of us; a boy who is young and flawed and scared and hopeful and strong and smart and makes mistakes and carries on. I think this book is going to be around for a long time. I think this book could be an award contender. I think this is a book you should read, which is why I'm not saying too much about it beyond what's right here.
Publisher: Random House
Pub date: January 27, 2009
Here's my husband Greg with a review of SCAT by Carl Hiaasen. He's a professor, so his writing makes mine look like that of a one-handed blind monkey. Or a fork. Or something else that can't write. Don't get used to it, though, because he doesn't read much kidlit - he just loves Carl Hiaasen. I may, however, have to rope him in for an occasional guest column on graphic novels and comic books. Hmmmm....
Anyway, his guest review!
Carl Hiaasen, whether he’s targeting adults or younger readers, always manages to write interesting variations on the same basic elements: South Florida, environmental awareness, and a believable male protagonist who joins with an unlikely group of comrades to make life miserable for some truly bad people.Hiaasen’s new middle grade novel Scat keeps this proven formula fresh.
Nick Waters has a nascent crush on his classmate, Marta Gonzalez; fears his tough biology teacher, Mrs. Starch; and steers clear of the big, scary kid in his class, Duane “Smoke” Scrod.Nick also worries about his dad, a National Guard officer deployed in Iraq.In short order, two events shake Nick’s world: his dad comes home without his right arm, and Mrs. Starch vanishes in a fire during a field trip to the BlackVineSwamp, with the aptly nicknamed Smoke the leading suspect in her disappearance.Nick’s anxiety over his dad drives him to enlist Marta to help him solve the mystery of Mrs. Starch.Their stumbling but determined investigation leads them to a mysterious ecological avenger, a failed Texas oilman out to use daddy’s money for one last scam, and an endangered Florida panther cub.The intricate, fast-paced story ends happily but sends a stern warning about environmental degradation in the name of profit.
Hiaasen is one of the best writers working in crime fiction, and Scat adjusts his plotting and stylistic talents for a middle grade audience without dumbing anything down.The book misses a bit of Hiaasen’s mordant humor, mostly because Nick is your basic nice kid and not the sort of weary, damaged older protagonist typical of Hiaasen’s adult novels.But Hiaasen’s people are still what drive his tricky and imaginative plot home.In fewer than 400 pages, at least 15 characters leave indelible impressions.Marta’s underdevelopment compared to Nick makes this – like most crime novels – more likely to appeal to boys than girls, and a couple of plot coincidences strain credulity.But Scat boasts a combination of heart, smarts, style, and ideology that few authors for any age level can match.
Wendy Mass hits it out of the park again with this middle-grade tale of a friendship and birthday gone horribly wrong. Amanda and Leo have been best friends almost since birth and have celebrated their birthdays together every year. However, at their tenth birthday party, Amanda overhears something Leo hoped she wouldn't, and all at once their friendship is over. Now Amanda is facing down her 11th birthday party, the first she's ever had on her own, with the knowledge that most of their classmates will be attending Leo's much fancier bash to be held on the same night. It goes just as badly as she had feared - but nothing's quite as bad as waking up the next morning to do it all over again. Amanda and Leo discover that they are stuck in a time loop, living the day of their 11th birthday over and over again. Why is this happening to them? How can they stop it? How many problems will they have to fix before they can return to normal life - and, when they do, will their friendship return as well? Mass answers these questions and more in this funny novel that proves that having a do-over isn't necessarily a good thing.
I love Wendy Mass's books. She really is a master of voice. Her books always feel true to me - Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is a personal favorite. I didn't loveEvery Soul A Star, which is coming out this fall from Little, Brown, but I think it's authentically written and I think that kids will like it more than I did. Her books are also good at tackling some touchy subjects without feeling like you're being banged over the head with a message. The fantastical elements in this one are handled well, too - you feel like Mass is in on the joke. Of COURSE this can't actually happen, but you feel like Amanda and Leo are right there rolling their eyes along with you at the ridiculousness of it all.
Also? GREAT cover. I love it.
Pub date: January 2009