The Amaranth Enchantment is a terrific reworking of the Cinderella fairy story, which is not something that they try to hide in any way; the heroine's name is Lucinda, for heaven's sake. Author Julie Berry is not married to the source work, but uses it as a base to start from, shooting the story out in quite unexpected directions. Starting with Cinderella means that the story feels comfortable and like a known quantity, and when suddenly there is a sharp left turn in the plot, it really is tremendously exciting.
Lucinda Chapdelaine was born wealthy and upper-class, but one day, when she was five years old, her parents went off to a ball at the palace and that was the last she saw of them, therefor she was raised in poverty, a drudge for her kind but weak uncle and his cruel second wife. After many years of misery, one day a mysterious woman leaves a mysterious jewel at Lucinda's uncle's goldsmith shop and that's when Lucinda's adventures begin.
The jewel is lost, found, stolen, sold, stolen back again, she discovers a mystery involving her parents' death ten years before, she goes from the dungeon to the ball at the palace and everywhere inbetween, and no-one she meets along the way is quite what they seen, not the mysterious lady, known as the Amaranth Witch, not Peter the thief, not Prince Gregor, not even her aunt can be accepted on face value. The author takes what could have been one or two-dimensional characters and gives everyone just that little bit of extra life to make them seem like actual people. Actual people, in a fairy tale! What will they think of next?
Lucinda has to go through an awful lot to reach her destiny, and she has help along the way, but mostly this is a female hero story, a fairytale about the girl using her own wits to find the end of the story. If you or your child likes Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones or Gail Carson Levine, this book should be right up your alley. This is Julie Berry's debut novel, I flat out loved it, and I am really looking forward to reading more from this writer.
Order the book from an independent bookseller!
When Laurie Halse Anderson is at her very best, there may be no one better, and she's at her very best in her upcoming teen novel Wintergirls. We're back in Speak territory here - haunting, powerful, vital. I finished this book over two weeks ago and still can't stop thinking about it. It's killed me to wait this long to tell you just how good it is.
Wintergirls is the story of Lia and Cassie, best friends whose lives changed forever when Lia first saw Cassie make herself throw up. They were eleven. Cassie learned to do it at drama camp, and she brought her new skill home to share with Lia.
Lia and Cassie's friendship, described mostly in flashbacks, becomes mostly about one thing: being as thin as possible. Having power over your weight. Having power over your world by having power over your weight. They support each other and sabotage each other until finally, after Lia's second trip to a clinic, Cassie begins to blame her for all of her problems and ends the friendship.
So Lia and Cassie hadn't talked for six months, but there was Lia's cell phone, ringing in the middle of a Saturday night - and it was Cassie. Lia was still mad; Lia assumed Cassie was drunk-dialing her, and Lia wasn't going to get sucked back into whatever drama Cassie was planning on stirring up.
There's no way Lia could have known that Cassie would eventually call 33 times that night. And there's absolutely no way Lia could have known that Cassie would die shortly after placing the final call to her. Now Lia's left holding Cassie's gift to her - the eating disorder that she can't get out from under. Her mental and emotional state is deteriorating, but her parents, so easily deceived and so rarely fully engaged in her life, don't see what's happening. And down, down, down Lia goes.
I marked about a million passages in this book, but this one that follows is (I think) one of the best. Cassie's mom wants Lia to talk to her. She wants to understand why Cassie would do this to herself. Lia thinks:
Why? You want to know why?Step into a tanning booth and fry yourself for two or three days. After your skin bubbles and peels off, roll in coarse salt, then pull on long underwear woven from spun glass and razor wire. Over that goes your regular clothes, as long as they are tight.Smoke gunpowder and go to school to jump through hoops, sit up and beg, and roll over on command. Listen to the whispers that curl into your head at night, calling you ugly and fat and stupid and bitch and whore and worst of all: "a disappointment." Puke and starve and cut and drink because you don't want to feel any of this. Puke and starve and cut and drink because you need an anesthetic and it works. For a while. But then the anesthetic turns into poison and by then it's too late because you are mainlining it now, straight into your soul. It is rotting you and you can't stop.Look in a mirror and find a ghost. Hear every heartbeat scream that everysinglething is wrong with you."Why?" is the wrong question.Ask "Why not?"
This is not a happy book. This is not an easy book. Anderson takes us step by painful step through Lia's experience, both before Cassie's death and after, and honestly, by the end of the novel you sort of feel as though you had an eating disorder yourself. That's how good the writing is. That's how terrifying the writing is. Where Lia goes, you go - and where she goes is scary and painful and dizzying. Anderson takes you to the edge and back over and over and does not let you look away no matter how hard it gets.
My most powerful emotion while reading Wintergirls? Do whatever you have to to keep your daughter from going through even a fraction of this.
I always hesitate to use the word "important" when it comes to books, but this one is. Read it. Talk about it. Share it.
It is important.
Purchase at Powell's or find your local independent bookstore.
This is a sweetie pie of a book. A nice book, as I like to say. A book you can hand to a grandmother or a mother or an aunt or the kid themselves and simply say I think you will really like this. There's always enough room in the world for another nice book, and I'm glad this one is here.
Charlotte does not like dogs, but somehow she has ended up caring for Beauregard, the massive Saint Bernard her father has brought home. Her father brings a lot of stuff home that he abandons - hobbies and the like - but Charlotte isn't usually stuck taking care of those things when her father loses interest. But just like always, after a few weeks, her dad has lost all interest in the dog - he forgets to feed him, and never walks him, and never visits him. Begrudgingly Charlotte has begun to do all of these things.
But she doesn't want to, so she plans to get rid of Beauregard. First she tries to give him to Grace, the new girl at school, but that doesn't work. So then she takes him to the shelter and says that she found him. Score! They take him in. That works for awhile, until her dad calls the police to track the dog down and discovers that he's at the shelter. Despite her dad's disinterest, he goes and gets the dog anyway.
Charlotte hopes that this means her dad will take renewed interest in Beauregard, thereby freeing her up from her unwanted duties - but of course this doesn't happen. Charlotte's right back where she started, scheming to free up her time. However, as she continues to try to figure out how to get rid of the dog, something strange starts to happen to her. Could she actually become a dog person? And if she does, what is the best thing for Beauregard?
I love the family in this book - the dad that continually brings piles of crap into the house; the mom with postpartum depression who really needs the dad to help more instead of bringing more crap into the house; the funny toddler brother and the enterint-the-eyerolling-stage teenage sister; and Charlotte herself, sarcastic and pouty and loving and generous. There's also a great subplot where Charlotte helps take care of an elderly shut-in for some extra money; this subplot really fleshes out Charlotte's character and introduces us to her friends in more depth.
I'm not really a dog lover, but this book made me think I could be.
Pub date: March 2009
(I keep not posting reviews because I think they always have to be longer than this. So instead of not posting them because they're not long enough, I'm just going to post them when they're short anyway.)
What does a family lose when a child is lost? What is stolen from a girl's life when her sister is stolen? Cantor tackles these difficult questions in THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS. Abby's mother has always called Abby and Becky the September Sisters because their birthdays are one day apart, and she acts as if they are best friends. However, this was not actually the case - Abby and Becky fight constantly and Abby carries a lot of resentment for what she feels is preferential treatment of Becky by her parents. When Becky disappears from her bedroom in the middle of the night, Abby feels guilty for not having a better relationship with her sister; even more resentful that despite her absence, Becky is the one getting all the attention; and sorrowful at the loss of her. A relationship with her neighbor's grandson helps Abby to begin to heal even as her family falls apart around her.
No adult content. Pretty depressing. Very nicely written. I thought Cantor did a great job with Abby and her very complex all-over-the-map emotions.
I did not want to read this book for two reasons.
1. It's about a girl named Molly whose baseball-fiend dad is killed in a car accident. (My daughter's name is Molly and my husband is a baseball fanatic.)
2. I really, really, really, really, really don't like baseball and don't usually like books that feature sports heavily.
However, I am trying to read every galley I am sent, and this was next up in the Random House pile, so I grit my teeth and opened it. And guess what? It's really good.
Molly's in the 8th grade, and her life is upside down. Her dad recently died in a car accident, and her mother's become an entirely different person. There's no HOME left in Molly's house - no cooked dinners, no comforting hugs, no talking about her dad to make some of the hurt go away. School's hard too; everyone seems to think that losing a parent is contagious, and most of her classmates stay far away. If it weren't for her best friend Celia, Molly would feel completely alone in the world.
Baseball season is about to start up again, which means it's back to girls' softball for Molly. Molly's never really been happy playing girls' softball:
She didn't really dislike softball; she just wasn't all that interested. There was something second-class about it, for sure: people said "girls' softball," but nobody said "men's baseball." The roundhouse windup, the kneepads, the cheers and chants from the bench, like playground jump-rope songs. It seemed, well, a little girlish, fine if that was the sort of thing you went for. But it didn't have much to do with the game she and her dad had watched...
Molly's dad had taught her to love the game of baseball practically from birth. They watched together and played together, and by the age of 9 he had even taught Molly how to throw a knuckleball - a difficult, special pitch that was a rare gift among pitchers. But you couldn't throw a knuckler in girls' softball. You couldn't really do anything in girls' softball that made Molly feel close to her dad.
So with Celia's encouragement, Molly goes out for the baseball team and earns a spot in the lineup. Many of the boys are unhappy about it, but she gets support from quiet, artistic, loner Lonnie and her two coaches, who seem to see her as a player first, girl second. Slowly Molly starts to feel not only as if her dad is still with her, somewhere, but also like she has a comfortable place in the world. Molly's mother doesn't seem to understand, but maybe if Molly holds on long enough, baseball will heal that relationship too.
It's a little sad, and a little funny, and a little enraging (to this feminist), and a lot lovely. Really, really good writing here.
This is listed as being a teen book, but I'm not sure why - it doesn't read any older to me than Mike Lupica's stuff does. I think it's fine content-wise for middle school.
Publisher: Random House
Pub Date: March 10, 2009
This book is a lot of fun; great for fans of Ally Carter's I'D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU. I don't think that zombies are going to be the next big thing like all the publishers are seeming to, but I do think that this zombie book might do well (especially since it's coming out in trade and not in hardcover).
The premise here is that zombies are primarily created when a dead person has something in their former life left to settle (a score, a disagreement, a goodbye they didn't get to say) and get up out of their graves to do so. When this happens, they are drawn to a Zombie Settler, who listens to their problem, helps to solve it and then sends them back for eternal rest.
Megan's 15 and a Zombie Settler, and she's really rather not be. She's much more interested in going to homecoming with one of the hottest guys in school and getting a place on the pom squad with her best friend. Unfortunately, someone else has other plans - they're using black magic to turn ordinary unsettled zombies into the nasty flesh-eating kind and sending them after Megan. She's got to figure out who it is and stop them in time to both save herself and ensure that she gets to live a normal high school life. Toss in some friction courtesy of a crush on an older fellow Settler, Ethan, and you've got ordinary high school angst with more than a dash of otherworldly danger and fun.
This has a bit of a Buffy feel to it, so if you like your YA fic to feel like a cross between Stephenie Meyer and Joss Whedon, I'd recommend this to you.
Publisher: Penguin (Razorbill)
Pub date: March 2009