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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

I was horrified by the use of the word fault, with its negative connotations, especially as it was being employed by someone in authority. I abandoned my decision not to deviate from the genetic issues. The matter had doubtless been brewing in my unconscious, and the volume of my voice may have increased as a result.

“Fault! Asperger’s isn’t a fault. It’s a variant. It’s potentially a major advantage. Asperger’s syndrome is associated with organization, innovative thinking, and ration detachment.”

A woman at the rear of the room raised her hand. I was focused on the argument now and made a minor social error, which I quickly corrected.

“The fat women – overweight woman — at the back? (p 10)”

Rosie ProjectWhat can I say? I was charmed by this book from the beginning. I could not pull myself away from Don’s voice and perspective. I was immediately and hopelessly enthralled.

Don is a professor of genetics in Melbourne, Australia. As he nears his 40th birthday, he attempts to find a wife via questionnaire. He has specific requirements that a prospective mate must satisfy. Then Rosie walks into his office and disrupts his well-constructed life, simultaneously inconveniencing Don and delighting him.

Reading this as I am also listening to Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon, I applauded Simsion’s perspective on Asperger’s syndrome and his treatment of it as a matter of identity rather than illness.

My only qualm with the book come in the last quarter when the narrative meandered and took on a cinematic (read: wild goose chase) quality. Otherwise, it was a complete delight and I look forward to a sequel.

Library copy | Simon & Schuster | 292 pages | ISBN 9781476729084 | Ages 16+

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Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (2008)

As many other bloggers have pointed out, the strength of this novel is in its romance. Elkeles handles the uptown girl/downtown boy cliché with finesse. The attraction between Brittany and Alex is convincing, the scenes between then charged and unforced. The dialog (ok, foreplay) is excellent and keeps the book moving forward. I found myself eager to get to the next interaction.

What many have failed to point out are the weaker aspects: the prose (too much tell) and the plot (very sappy in parts). Booklist got it though, saying “An idealized epilogue drains away some of the book’s realism, but if the ‘romance’ angle isn’t pushed too hard, this is a novel that could be embraced by male and female readers in equal measure.”

The novel’s mystery surrounding the death of Alex’s father unfolds predictibly and seemed more like a sidebar until it forces Alex into great peril at the conclusion. I would have been just as happy if it had remained a mystery.

This is a good book to indulge in, though, and I’m sure many teens will. It’s highly readable and it has a great cover.

Library copy | December 23, 2008| Walker Childrens | ISBN 978-0802798237 | 368 pages | Ages 15-19 | $17.99

Read other reviews:
A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Book Obsessed
Book Scout
Persnickety Snark

If you enjoyed this, I recommend:

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Rules by Cynthia Lord (2006)

I watch the back of David’s head and repeat in my mind: Do well today. Do well today (p 66).

In this coming of age story, twelve-year-old Catherine must reconcile her desire to be a normal with her role as older sibling and part-time caretaker of her younger, autistic brother David whose behaviors she finds embarrassing. Her attempts to control his behaviour by stressing a set of rules more often backfire than not.

Each chapter begins with one of these rules or guidelines.

If you don’t have the words you need, borrow someone else’s (p 50).

These rules seem simplistic and universal when listed at the beginning of the novel, but they gain dimension with each passing chapter, weaving together to reflect the complexity of Catherine’s feelings. The reader is drawn into Catherine’s routine by her authentic voice, feeling her frustration, anxiety and love with every interaction. Her situation becomes even more complex when she strikes up a friendship with Jason, a young paraplegic. Though seasoned readers will anticipate the ending, it doesn’t detract from the feeling the story clearly means to elicit.

Thankfully, I listened to this book while on a long drive. I didn’t have to pause because that would have been unbearable. The reader, Jessica Almasy, was wonderful.

Library Audio Book | Recorded Books | ISBN 978-1428152113 | Ages 9 and up | $17.49

Read other reviews:
Books for Sale
Deliciously Clean Reads
Hope is the Word

I also recommend:

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Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (9/13/2011)

Outside, the wind picked up and rustled through the leaves on the giant trees surrounding the house. Voices droned from Robby’s CB radio, which he insisted stay on all night. It didn’t bother Ben that much. Being deaf in one ear had it’s advantages: he could sleep with his good ear on the pillow to block out all the noise. Ben used a similar trick in school. He’d lean his good ear on his hand when he wanted to tune out his teacher or his classmates. It made it easier to read the books about outer space that he hid in his desk (p 17).

Brian Selznick’s follow up to the convention-defying The Invention of Hugo Cabret (which went on to win the 2008 Caldecott medal) is another novel told in words and pictures.

Two stories, set 50 years apart unfold. In words, we meet Ben Wilson, an orphan living in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota in 1977. A book called Wonderstruck and a book mark are the only clues that might lead to his father, a man his beloved mother could never bring herself to talk about.

Set 50 years prior and told through pictures, we learn about Rose, an isolated, lonely girl who dreams of New York, visible to her from her bedroom window on the other side of the Hudson River. As both stories unfold and settings overlap, readers begin to see the connection between these two curious, courageous young people.

Those who loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret (and really, who didn’t love it?) will not be disappointed. Wonderstruck is every bit as amazing as Hugo Cabret. Even better. Selznick does his research. His illustrations are beautiful. His story is tight.

Finally, I’ll have something to hand patrons who ask for something “just like” Hugo Cabret! Relief! Can we consider this for a Newbery, please? We could get to work on correcting this. You can read a bit more and see an illustration at GalleyCat.

Read Nina Lindsay’s take on Wonderstruck‘s Newbery/Caldecott chances or head over to Fuse #8 for a great review. Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review.

Advance Reader Copy | September 13, 2011 | Scholastic | 640 pages | ISBN 978-0-545-02789-2 | $29.99

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Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos (2006)

Joey Pigza is different. He doesn’t want to be different but he can’t help himself: he spins into lockers like the Tasmanian Devil, eats an entire shoo-fly pie, jumps from the roof of a barn and swallows his house key before he even realizes what he’s doing.

His decisions are made instantanously and sometimes result in injury to himself or others. It doesn’t help that his parents abandoned him and his elderly grandmother is unfit to care for him.

Then, his mother returns and, after an accident at school, Joey gets the medical attention he needs.

Jack Gantos is not only an excellent writer, he is a fabulous story teller. The audio version of this excellent book about an ADHD boy is one of few I have enjoyed. I as tough on readers as I am on authors, but Mr. Gantos excels at both!

Audio CD | Library copy | Listening Library | 2 hours and 58 minutes | ISBN 978-0807220030 | $22.60

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Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (2011)

Anya is a Russian immigrant who has spent years assimilating – wearing the right clothing, concealing her accent, and basically blending so she isn’t teased. Lately, she has become obsessed with slimming down in the hopes of attracting an American boy - the school’s star basketball player to be exact.

She dodges Dima, a short, intellectual Russian immigrant who is bullied at school, and skips gym class tests to avoid embarrassment. When she falls down a well, she meets Emily, a ghost. Emily claims to have been murdered and the two strike up a friendship. But when Anya investigates, she finds Emily is not who she claims to be.

This was a quick, easy read. Graphic Novels are not my genre of choice but this was easy to follow. Panels weren’t cluttered and the story moved along quickly. It wasn’t the most original tale but because I haven’t read many graphic novels, I’m not sure how it compares. The following reviews are glowing:

Good Books and Good Wine
LA Times
Mother Daughter Book Club
NY Times
Opps… Wrong Cookie
Stacked Books

Lirbary copy |  June 7, 2011| First Second | 224 pages | ISBN 978-1596437135 | $19.99

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011)

Every new year Mother visits
the I Ching Teller of Fate.
This year he predicts
our lives will twist inside out (p 4).

In 1975, ten-year-old Kim Hà, her mother and her three brothers celebrate the New Year, praying for the safe return of their father missing these last nine years from the South Vietnam Navy. In beautiful verse, Lai tells of the family’s decision to flee Saigon aboard a deserting Navy ship, their rescue by an American ship and the family’s decision to strike out for America to start a new life.   

Hà is a vivacious, spirited girl who carries this heavy story with humor and veracity, bringing to life the beauty of her country even in wartime. Spats with her brothers, anger at being treated unjustly by schoolmates in Alabama and a desire for sweet things will have readers of all backgrounds relating to and cheering for her.

Inside Out and Back Again received a starred review in Kirkus. Read other reviews: Fuse #8, Bookends, Pipedreaming, and Sherry’s Book Reviews and Tidbits.

If you enjoyed this, you must read:

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The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango (3/8/2011)

“Don’t even think about running away. You’re parents will just sell you to another family. A family who doesn’t treat you as well as we do. Your parents don’t want you anymore. You hear me?” (p 33).

This is a review based on an advance reader copy received by the publisher, Delacorte, an imprint of Random House, Inc. It is slated for publication on March 8, 2011.

Born in an impoverished Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia is sold/given by her parents at the tender age of seven to a mestizo couple, light-skinned and rich and of Spanish origin. Being a longa tonta - a stupid Indian, indigenous - Virginia is their servant, taking care of their two children, the housekeeping and cooking.

The Doctorina - a dentist, teacher and the family’s breadwinner - is controlling and abusive to Virginia, treating her like an animal that needs breaking. Her husband, Niño Carlitos, acts as a father figure to Virginia, even teaching her to read, until she reaches adolescence and he becomes possessive and lustful.

Virginia is a brilliant character. She has such a strength to her. Her situation is not black and white but nuanced. As we travel with her - from a poor small mud hut where her father’s beatings leave her legs scarred and her mother’s cutting words leave her emotionally scarred to the Doctorina’s more elegant apartment in Kuna Yaku, where luxury comes at the price of her heritage -we also travel from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood.

I feel like the water that transforms from a flowing river to a tranquil lake to a powerful waterfall to a freshwater spring to a meandering creek to a salty sea to raindrops gentle on your face, stinging hail to frost on a mountaintop, and back to a river again (p 340).

Readers will identify with her as a defiant child, a servant bent on subterfuge, a wily student who learns in secret, a star-crossed lover, a frightened beauty and finally, an independent thinker and ambitious youth.

The Queen of Water has received a starred review from Kirkus. Read LizB’s review at A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy.

If you enjoyed this, I also recommend:

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Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus (2010)

“Fall down seven times, get up eight,” Manjiro said. “So my mother used to say” (p 161).

Heart of a Samuri is the delightful bildungsroman of Manjiro. As a young Japanese boy, Majiro finds himself disgraced and so runs away from home to take up as a fisherman. The crew soon find themselves stranded on a barren, deserted island and nearing starvation when the John Howland, an American whaling ship, discovers them.

It is 1841 and Japan is practicing Sakoku, an isolationist policy under which trade is strictly limited and citizens are forbidden to leave Japan. Foreigners are touted as blue-eyed barbarians.

But it is these same barbarians who deliver Manjiro and his mates from certain death. The captain takes a liking to the inquisitive Manjiro, whose American name becomes John Mung, and offers to adopt the lad. The rest of the crew remain on Honalulu. Manjiro casts his lot with the captain.

Under the watchful eyes of Captain Whitfield, Manjiro flurishes, learning to read, write and speak English. He settles into a farmer’s life, marveling at the differences in cultures and behaviors and dealing with prejudice and misunderstanding before returning to the high seas in an effort to return home. He has grand thoughts of becoming more than just a fisherman’s son. He wants to educate the people of Japan and help build relations between the US and Japan.

The story moves along gracefully, with a strong sense of place and distinct characters, though many never gain as much dimension as our hero. I found the intermittent illustrations whimsical and slightly distracting and extraneous to an otherwise well-rounded tale.

There are several outstanding passages, including a humorous exchange between Manjiro and his American friend Terry, regarding the functionality of a headless man’s body (p 156) and later, Terry’s attempt at helping Manjiro write a love poem for his May Basket (p 176-77).

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Journey of Dreams: Fleeing for their Lives on a Perilous Path to Freedom by Marge Pellegrino (2009)

Our family does not talk about the helicopter that slashes the air like a machete. Instead, Papa strikes a match and lights the lamp. He takes on the voice of a storyteller and makes our fear vanish (p 7).

Tomasa lives in a small highland village in Guatemala, struggling to survive during the government’s ‘scorched earth’ campaign. First, mama and Carlos, Tomasa’s older brother, flee in the night after 14-year-old Carlos narrowly avoids being taken into the army. Then, caught between guerrillas and the military, Tomasa and her remaining family make the dangerous journey to freedom in the United States.

The journey is fraught with peril; helicopters chop up the sky, check  points threaten to undue all their progress, coyotes try to cheat them. All the while, Tomasa is missing her mother and brother, wondering if they will ever be reunited again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

This is a solid middle grade book that brings the immigrant experience home. It is well told, giving the reader a glimpse at another culture, the horror of genocide, the danger of merely living in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the fathomless capacity for hope and courage. All without being overwhelming.