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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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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are many days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more number for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for all the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful (p 260).

Fault in Our StarsJohn Green’s most recent best seller is a tear-jerker that has found it’s way to a big screen adaptation (surprisingly, faster than his superior novel, the Printz Award winning Looking for Alaska). In Stars, we meet Hazel Grace, a teen with terminal cancer who meets the deceptively healthy looking and handsome Augustus at Support Group. The two connect, stories and experiences are shared and, predictably, someone dies. Everyone dies, sooner or later… but reading about it makes it feel real. But this is just a book and characters do not have lives outside of the book, as the fictional alcoholic author, Peter Van Houten, brutally informs the pair. Or do they?

Green is most successful when exploring truths about relationships – not through precocious teenage dialogue – but through the genuine reactions his characters have to the suffering of their loved ones and their struggle to find words to describe their myriad (and sometime conflicting) feelings.

In Hazel Grace’s pre-death eulogy to Augustus Waters, she speaks poignantly. Her comments during his actual eulogy are more mundane and rote, a dichotomy I fear will play out in the film adaptation. Will a Hollywood movie capture the unpretty reality of death Green explores or will the movie soften these truths, glamorizing the characters and dumbing it down for a wider audience? If the trailer is anything to judge by, we’re going to get a mundane film with all the components of the book but little truth.

Library copy | Dutton Books | 313 pages | ISBN 9780525478812 | Ages 13+

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Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard (2011)

Cover artThis book was recommended to me by a friend’s wife. Looking for a lighter read, I delved in and, much to my chagrin, I was stuck in a quagmire. Like a witness to a horrific car accident or a devastating nature disaster, I was enthralled… transfixed… unable to turn away, all the while my face contorting in disbelief, despair, and finally, the insane laughter of disbelief and mystification.

Never have I read a book so utterly without style, plausibility, or intrigue. The characters were laughable. The author-professed intellect of the two main characters was undermined ever time the author gave utterance to their thoughts or allowed them to speak. There were so many mixed messages and descriptions, the characters lost all form. All supporting characters were inane and frivolous, merely props.

I can’t help but laugh when I think about this book. It’s absolutely ludicrous. How anyone who maintained consciousness through high school English could enjoy this is beyond my comprehension. To call this literature is a great stretch and entirely too complimentary. To say it strings words together to form semi-intelligible sentences is slightly closer to the truth.

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My SLJ Reviews

So, my regulars (if I have any!) have probably noticed I’m not posting as often as I used to. My first excuse is that I have been promoted to the title of Principal Librarian. I’m now selected nonfiction for my system and it doesn’t leave me as much time to read during work (really, it leaves me no time to read during work!).

I’ve also been reviewing books and apps for SLJ. The good news is that you can read two of my reviews (The Normal Kid by Holmes and Every Day by Levithan) in the September issue of SLJ and my review of The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum app on Touch and Go.

I have read of slew of books that I just haven’t had time to review. Hopefully I’ll get to that soon. Over and out.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)

This is a book I’ve had on my to-be-read list for about 6 years, ever since I started working in a public library. It took a movie trailer to finally pick it up and, boy, am I glad I did! This gem is told through a series of letters written by Charlie and spanning his first year of high school. An observant introvert, Charlie is taken under wing by two free-spirited upperclassman, Sam and Patrick. Experiences are had, feelings are explored and drama ensues. It’s all very poignant and veracious and absorbing. It’s a quick read and I’m delighted that Chbosky has written and directed the movie adaptation. Charlie will be played by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson, The Three Musketeers), Sam by Emma Watson (Harry Potter), and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) will play Patrick. I’m very excited!

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The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick (2008)

It makes me really sad to see that Tiffany is still wearing her wedding ring.
And then suddenly Tiffany is hugging me so that her face is between my pecs, and she’s suddenly crying her makeup onto my new Hank Baskett jersey. I don’t like being touched by anyone except Nikki, and I really do not want Tiffany to get makeup on the jersey my brother was nice enough to give me–a jersey with real stitched-on letters and numbers–but I surprise myself by hugging Tiffany back. I rest my chin on top of her shiny black hair, scent her perfume, and suddenly I’m crying too, which scares me a lot. Out bodies shudder together, and we are all waterworks. We cry together for at least ten minutes, and then she lets go and runs around the back of her parents’ house (p 51).

I picked this up after seeing the movie trailer (starring Bradley Cooper, Julie Stiles and Jennifer Lawrence) and I’m glad I did. After spending years in a mental institution (referred to as ‘the bad place’), Pat Peoples, a former history teacher, continues to manage his mental illness while living with his parents. His mother provides care while his father’s moods are dictated by the Eagles. Desperate to end ‘apart time’ and struggling with memory loss, Pat’s sole motivation is his desire to be reunited with his wife, Nikki. Enter Tiffany, a young woman struggling with depression in the aftermath of her husband’s death. They may be exactly what the other needs.

It surprised me just how much I enjoyed this book. The subject mater is heavy and I felt strongly for Pat and, to a lesser degree, Tiffany. Now I have to wait until November for the movie. Arg!

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Wonder by R. J. Palacio (2012)

I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old. I mean, sure, I do ordinary things. I eat ice cream. I ride my bike. I play ball. I have an XBox. Stuff like that makes me ordinary. I guess. And I feel ordinary. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go (p 3).

August has many facial deformities. Coddled by his parents and protected fiercely by his older sister, August has been homeschooled until now. With his unique features, Auggie’s transition to middle school begins with a series of bumps: the kids stare at him, no one will touch him, and one boy is particularly cruel. But friends emerge and Auggie is ultimately glad of his decision.

Palacio uses various narrators to tell Aggie’s story giving it a wholesomeness I enjoyed. But as I read this as part of my system’s Mock Newbery club, I judge it by higher standards. It did not move me the way Gary Schmidt’s Okay For Now did nor did the writing impress me as Dead End in Norvelt did (both were last year’s contenders for our group). I do believe it will resonate with middle grade readers. While the main character’s condition is rare, all will relate to the awkwardness of middle school, social anxiety and parental troubles explored in these pages.

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Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (2012)

I once read that football was invented so people wouldn’t notice summer ending. But I couldn’t wait for summer vacation to end. I couldn’t wait for football. Football, dominator of fall–football, love of my life (p 1).

As captain and quarterback of the Hundred Oaks High football team, Jordan led the team to a championship game in her junior year and lost because she threw an interception. As a senior, she intends to win it all. Then Ty arrives. He led his Texas high school team to a championship title and he has the skills to challenge Jordan. Things are even more complicated because Jordan finds Ty incredibly attractive. How could this happen to a girl whose primary goal in life is a football scholarship to Alabama?

This was a highly readable and enjoyable, if predictable, book which is sure to please teen chick lit readers. I always enjoy stories about sports and especially women breaking into the male arena. Jordan has an authentic voice and both Sam and Ty behave like teenage boys. In fact, it’s the same behavior often exhibited by adult males. So, funny and veracious. Super easy to book talk, this will appeal to Simone Elkeles fans.

I do have a problem with the cover. No top ranked QB looks like that slender dame on the cover. I don’t think Jordan would be caught dead in a miniskirt. Nor did she wear bracelets once in the book (that I can remember).

Read other reviews:
Between the Pages
Chick Loves Lit
The Magic Attic

I’d s recommend:

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books That Broke Your Heart A Little

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish:

  1. Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin: A heartbreaking tale of a Haitian immigrant family living in New York told from sixth-grader Karina’s perspective. Karina’s father abuses Karina, her sisters and her mother. School Library Journals says, “The author writes with insight about the realities of immigrant life, Haitian American culture, and the double worlds inhabited by many first-generation Americans like Karina. Readers can see the compromises that family members make in the name of survival and the stresses that drive the stepfather’s rage, while still holding to the truth that these girls and their mother deserve a life without violence. Although the resolution is brutal, this story is a compelling read from an important and much-needed new voice.” Read my review of Touching Snow.
  2. The Devil’s Paintbox by Victoria McKernan: This book has not received much attention but it is in my top 100 YA books list (see the full list). Life on the Oregon Trail is difficult and character’s I cared about were injured, infected, or died along the way but one death (and I won’t spoil it) shook me to the core. I just didn’t see it coming. And yes, life (and the book) went on but my heart was a little broken. Read my review of The Devil’s Paintbox.
  3. Grandpa Green by Lane Smith: I was in tears over this beautiful picture book. It won a well-deserved Caldecott honor this year!
  4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness: I sobbed and sobbed. Full on. Just one of the most poignant children’s books I’ve ever read.
  5. Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin: A book about verbal abuse that was so so horrible. There is a scene in which the mother drives recklessly with her kids in the car… chills. Chills. My heart broke for those kids.
  6. Everything is Fine by Ann Ellis: Read my review of Everything is Fine.
  7. The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochran: Themes of death and abandonment, grief and alienation, discrimination and friendship set against a baseball backdrop. Just lovely. Read my review of The Girl Who Threw Butterflies.
  8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: I cried and cried and cried.
  9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling: The water works started when Hedwig was killed and I flooded the room when Fred died. Just thinking about this book brings tears to my eyes. I was in love with Fred. LOVE, people. And now he’s dead.
  10. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: I did not see the ending coming at all. The movie version of this film is one of the best book adaptations ever.
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Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (2011)

My cynicism has been known, from time to time, to get me into accidental trouble. I was especially cynical in groups, perhaps feeling that a witty cut-down about a stranger would earn me the respect and admiration of friends. This rarely worked. You can only act like a jerk so many times before people stop listening to you (p 47).

This is going to be a rather unfair review. I read this book after it won both the Morris Debut Author Award and the Printz Award. I was hoping Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt would win the Printz. This book is not Okay For Now and I am therefore going to unfairly compare it to Okay For Now.

I begin with the voice. Told with alternating points of view, those chapters told in first person from Cullen’s pov told about a boy who enjoys thinking up book titles and fantasizing about zombies. Doug Swieteck’s first person narration is so damn good (go to my earlier post “Road to the Newbery” to read more) that Cullen’s narration, while good, pales in comparison.

Then there are the third-person-pov chapters told first from Benton’s and then Cabot’s perspective. The link between Benton and Cullen is revealed at the book’s conclusion. While some refer to this as ‘complex,’ I thought it was unbelievable and served the plot. The characters were all over the place messed up. I could probably express this sentiment better but I don’t have the time and the book’s details are already fading from my mind.

The best aspect of the novel is its treatment of Gabriel’s disappearance. Gabriel is Cullen’s younger brother and a character I took issue with while he was present. Praise for Gabriel’s intellegence and uncanny abilities suffused the narration and yet Gabriel didn’t actually do anything that justified the praise… unless a literate teen who enjoys reading is supposed to be considered brilliant.

So, am I disappointed in the book? A bit. It’s a good book, but it’s not Okay For Now. In terms of literary quality, it sure isn’t The Isle of Blood. So I can only sit here and scratch my head and wonder how both those books were overlooked by the committee.

Other review are more favorable:
A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
Reclusive Bibliophile
Reading Rants!