Bubblegum Flavored Gender, Sex, and Romance

Absolutely, Positively Not by Larochelle
A perky book about coming out. Seriously. Steven's best friend Rachel already knew, and his parents just tell him not to tell the other parent. But basically it all works out okay, and he even finds a support group. It's nice to see some bubblegum fiction for gay teens.

The Breakup Bible by Kantor
Why was I drawn to this book about what it feels like to be broken up with cold, left hanging with no explanation, and then find that one's boyfriend has taken up with someone else on the staff of the school paper? I don't know, but it worked for me. The cover is pink, and this is book 2 of the bubblegum reviews in this post, though the protagonist Jen does come to terms well with her new assessment of her ex-boyfriend. He is, in fact, a jerk. Convenient that he is... the real heartbreaks are over people who *are* worth it. Anyhow, this is another 1-hour teen fic romp if you're in the mood for hetero romance.

Parrotfish by Wittlinger

Or maybe you're looking for something a little more transsexual... Though the tone is heavier as Angela changes her name to Grady and his gender to Male, the basic bubblegum principles of this post continue to operate. Parents are upset, but Dad comes around quickly, and Mom starts calling him Grady within a few short weeks or less. Geeky Sebastien asks Angela out to the dance, but is cool when Grady replies that he doesn't date girls. My personal favorite portion of this was the clueless father who forces the entire family to enact 19th century Christmas traditions for the entire neighborhood to see each year, entirely missing the irony of the power plant worth of Christmas lights and lawn ornamentation that stands between then 19th century scene inside and the neighborhood onlookers. Ever wondered how hard it would be to be transsexual? Ever wondered how hard it would be to be the neighborhood freak whose father thinks he's Santa Claus? Now you can experience two for one!

Someday This Pain....

I hope that someday the pain of reading <span style="font-style:italic;">Someday This Pain will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron will be useful to me. I found this on the Horn Book Fanfare list, and picked it up with high expectations. The opening did not disappoint... our protagonist James and his sister Gillian are rich Manhattan kids whose mother is off in Las Vegas on her third honeymoon when suddenly their mother comes back. This is not like the ending of the Cat in the Hat though. Instead, it's the start of a story about James' depressed mother dealing with the fact that her marriage lasted only days until her husband snuck off with her credit cards to the casino for some gambling and lap dances. The first few chapters are great. Then the novel loses steam. This is very much like Catcher in the Rye, but James is less appealing than Holden. Enormous amounts of inner monologue seem overblown for a character with a pretty desolate emotional life, as he proves when he stalks and sexually harrasses his coworker through an online site. Similarly, entire therapy sessions are recounted in toto, which does not substitute for plot. I kept expecting the therapist to diagnose him with mild autism, Aspberger's, or a personality disorder, and frankly I was disappointed when she didn't.

I did read the book all the way through, which is probably why the above is so full of vitriol. When I do finish a book and I feel that, like this book, it has led me on a pointless wander, I get irked. Ah, the many opportunities that books give me to know more about myself as a reader... Kate the Irkable.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

This is a newfangled graphic novel with an satisfying story. Hugo Cabret is an orphan who has been abandoned by his drunkard uncle. Hugo hides in the train station, continuing to do his uncle's job of winding the station clocks. He also works on the automaton that he rescued from the rubble of the museum where his father was killed in a fire. The boy has become convinced that, if he can fix the clockwork man whose mechanical hand holds a pen poised over paper, he will find a message from his father. What he finds instead is more complex and leads him on a goose-chase through movie history that ends when our orphan protagonist finds a home with a once-famous filmmaker. The reader has a rare treat in the cinematic complexity of the book, which shifts between textual narrative and black-and-white movie stills reminiscent of silent movies. Indeed, there is some true film history buried in the fictional story.

I found myself wondering about the paper that this required. Even though I appreciated many of the expressive images, there would have been other ways of conveying some of the moods without flipping through so many film stills. There was an eco-friendly designer whose major treatise on design was printed on readily biodegradable paper; at 534 pages, this book could use some environmental friendliness. From a design standpoint, far too many of the book's images are marred or partially obscured by the gutter created by the binding.

Admittedly, fragility is not becoming in a children's book, and this is a solidly children's title; the illustrations are often literal depictions of what is happening. All in all, I enjoyed this greatly, but wished for... more. More surprises in the overall effect of the story, more care in the book design, more impressive art.

A fantasy trilogy to be reckoned with...

The Magic or Madness series by Justine Larbalestier
Magic or Madness, Magic Lessons, and Magic's Child

Any book reviewer knows that talking about trilogies is tricky... How much does it matter if you've read the other books? What will you lose if you treat them as one enormous narrative rather than three distinct books? So the short answer is, you could read these separately, but you won't want to once you start the first.

Reason is the child of Sarafina, who has kept them on the run all of their lives from Reason's grandmother, Esmerelda. Esmerelda is magic, uses magic, and drained young Sarafina of her magic as a child. This is a world where people who are born magic but die young, and the choice is this: either they use their magic and live to maybe 30 (unless they feed off the young) or they don't use it and go insane. The story begins when Sarafina has finally succumbed to all her years of resisting magic by losing her mind. Reason, who was raised to believe in science, logic, and above all math, has landed at Esmerelda's house, thanks to the Australian child welfare system.

But Reason doesn't plan to stay, not even after she meets Tom, a boy her age, whom her grandmother has taken in along with his family. Reason is guarded, and Esmerelda told Tom not to tell Reason about magic, and so much of the tension in the first book is watching how little these characters actually say to one another about what is happening.

The entire trilogy takes place over the course of a few weeks, as Reason's plans to leave are complicated when she discovers a magic door in the back of her grandmother's house that transports her instantly from Sydney to New York City and from summer to winter. The combination of Aussie teen slang and New York misunderstandings is amusing but never slapstick. Larbalestier has created a robust and contemporary fantasy setting that is entrancing without being flighty or etherial and well worth the 3-book reading.

The rest of my Thanksgiving break reading

What I've been reading most, lately, are IMLS grant guidelines, my own draft of a grant, my own abstract for a paper that I'll be presenting in January, my own draft of what I thought was the same paper but actually turns out to be quite different than I expected, and my own journal. I keep journals in 3-ring binders, and I look at the pages twice; once when I write them and once when I revisit them to put them in the binder, usually 1-3 months later. It helps me remember what I've actually been doing, where I've actually been, and keeps me from setting unbelievably unrealistic goals for myself.

Now on to the really fun and juicy stuff that I read over Thanksgiving break but haven't yet blogged...

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst

The Wild is a mass of green vines that lives under Julie's bed. Her mother, Rapunzel, and other fairy tale characters want to keep it that way, and keep the wild from trapping them in their old stories and making them play out the same scenarios again and again. Until, one day, the Wild gets loose and starts to expand again, taking over familiar landscape in Julie's Massachusetts town. Her mother and grandmother are among the first to be re-assimilated into the Wild, which seems to have vicious plans of its own for those it captures. Julie is thrown into multiple tales, but she learns to survive because, as some of the more helpful people-becoming-characters tell her, she will keep her memories of her real life so long as none of the stories that she enters in to ever comes to a logical end. When she's pulled into the tale of Snow White, she's almost gone for good. Even though 7th grade is less appealing on many levels than the Wild, Julie fights the good fight and saves the world from becoming an endless mass of repeating tales.

My favorite quote from the book (with spoilers):
"On the other side of the door was the real world, with all its embarrassments, disappointments, and losses. In here was happily ever after. Here was the father she'd always dreamed of having. Yes, he was the Wild's puppet, but he was here. She had a chance to make up for all those lost years. If she stayed with him, she would always have a role, the prince's daughter. The future wouldn't be a scary unknown. [...] And yet...five hundred years ago, Mom had chosen the real world over the Wild, and Dad had sacrificed himself to give it to her. [...] Julie felt as if she'd swallowed a tornado, and it was churning inside her, tearing her up." (pgs 243-244)

The Faerie Path
by Frewin Jones

Anita discovers that she is really Tania, the lost faerie princess of 7 sisters. What at first seems like a dream when she is hospitalized after a boating accident just won't end. The faerie kingdom was plunged into a gloomy twilight for the 500 years of her disappearance, and no one wants to see her go missing again. However, Tania/Anita is eager to get back to her real world parents and tell them she's okay.

The book is great for a frilly escape, complete with romance and a deceptively charming villain. There are some problems with the logic, like the insertion of reincarnation as the explanation for her 16-year-old current life and the 500-year gap since she went missing. The ending is also mildly annoying in that it's all set up for the sequel... I always feel like I've been had when I read an ending like that. After 200+ pages of sticking with you, don't I, the reader, get an ending of my own? Complaints aside, this was great fun, and I'd recommend it for a holiday.

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

Okay, first... this book is scary! I was scared when the kid was just lost in the underground river under an enormous mountain with a dead body. You'd think it would get really scary when he meets a live guy who has been there for 3 years and seems to have some screws loose. But no, the scary part is when his mother is tied up on her bed by a bunch of guys who are eager for the treasure lost in the mountain. She's helpless and unable to contact anyone who might legitimately want to rescue her son, Tom. I was glad I held back from giving this one as a gift to my friend's son Isaac, because I think it's really too scary for somebody 8 years old. The protagonist is 11, and I think an adventuresome 11-year-old could handle it, especially if they're slightly desensitized to violence already. This is a great read, but if you're like me you'll have to finish reading it all at once in order to go to bed without nightmares.