Monday, January 25, 2016

The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

This is a clever novel unlike many I have seen before and I won't be surprised if it gets on many "must read" lists. I say that because while it mentions many of the popular YA tropes of the past few years, the overall theme is that real life is a much scarier proposition for teens to navigate.       
23830990.jpg (314×475)Mike and his older sister Mel have their own problems for which they have sought help. Their mom is determined to achieve her professional goals and perhaps this has caused her to shirk some of her motherly duties. Their dad is little help since he has his own demons to manage. 
Mike's best friend Jared, a giant teddy bear of a kid is a loyal and supportive ally even though he has his own issues. Mike is also experiencing the classic teen conundrum- how to tell someone you've known alllll your life that you may have feelings for them. While all this is going on, there are some weird happenings in the town and some weird flashing blue lights are seen at night. 
 I admire Ness' forthrightness. The characters in this novel are on the cusp of adulthood but they are just as scared as little kids.  They do however have a variety of coping mechanisms some good some bad and they will have to learn to distinguish between the two.  Dealing with feelings is perhaps the most difficult part of adolescence and even smart kids have a tough time with that. Ness' characters do end up much better for their experiences however. This was a great read but because of some language and other sensitive material I think this book is best served for kids 13+. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall

I picked this book up because of its title and appealing cover image. While I would not have been disappointed if the story dealt with an American kid from the suburbs taking a trip out West, this book exceeded my expectations because it features Native American protagonists.

Jimmy Mclean is proud of his Lakota heritage even though despite his mixed ancestry he doesn't look like a full-blooded member of the tribe. Two of his peers remind him daily of this fact as well much to his dismay.  He confides in his grandfather and the latter decides to take him on an epic road trip.

The pair visit various monuments in several states in an effort to follow Crazy Horse's path and along the way grandfather gives his perspective on the many adventures the famed Lakota warrior had in his life. As with most famous individuals whose deeds were larger than life, Crazy Horse's life was filled with highs and lows and Marshall makes sure and provide some insight into why the Lakota and their allies did what they did in some cases.

Sherman Alexie may have the market cornered for fiction based on Native Americans for teen and older readers but Marshall may just be on to something here with this sensitive, honest portrayal of Native Americans. It is not every day that children and younger readers can read a book that is a labor of love and in which the author is actually sharing a piece of himself in the process. This book is one such novel and I highly recommend it for readers of all races, colors and creeds. I firmly believe that literature is one way in which we can learn about each other.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes:In Real Life You Need Real Friends by Randy Ribay

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So a black kid, a white kid and a nerdy kid walk into a park. No that's not a joke but it is one of the turning points of this great new novel by Randy Ribay in which he brings together a diverse group of friends who are entering senior year in high school and life chooses just this moment to throw some curve balls at them all.

Feelings for the opposite sex are perhaps the most difficult obstacles to navigate since teens are just coming into their own as individuals and have so much other pressures (schoolwork, family etc.)  In this novel, Archie's parents have just divorced and he suddenly finds himself attracted to Mari, a girl with whom he plays a board game with every Monday (and has done so since middle school). Mari for her part has her own issues bubbling up as do the rest of the group, gentle giant Dante and the odd couple Sam and Sarah.

It is the latter two persons who propel the narrative forward and the book turns into a road trip of epic proportions. Some of the supporting characters are unforgettable to say the least.  As the old saw goes, travel broadens one's horizons and I would add that travel with friends does this even more and can either make or break a friendship.

Ribay doesn't sermonize or come off as preachy but he makes his point. Life is hard but turning away from those who genuinely love us and care for us makes no sense and may very well ends up hurting us.  Adolescence is fraught with many dangers and kids, for some reason try to move away from the very people who most want to help them (their parents) and move closer to the people they think can empathize and help them. While I don't think that many parents would be as permissive as the ones in this novel I do think that as parents we learn when to step away and let kids learn lessons for themselves. This is a good read for older tweens and teens due to some of the topics covered and the language used.