Sunday, July 6, 2008


By Linda Sue Park, David Almond, Gregory Maguire, Tim Wynne-Jones, Deborah Ellis, Eoin Colfer,Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby, Ruth Ozeki, Margo Lanagan.

Wow! Ten of the best YA authors took on the challenge of writing a collaborative novel to support Amnesty International. This novel in ten successive stories is the result, and a gripping page turner it is.

The book opens with a “jump story” by Linda Sue Park, easily the best of its kind I have ever read. Maggie’s grandfather, George Keane, known as “Gee”, a famous international photojournalist, has died. He has left her and her brother enigmatic gifts that are to steer and inspire their lives. The chapter is rich with details of Gee’s travels--the pictures he took, the stories he told his grandchildren--and best of all, is loaded with possibilities and puzzles. The next author must continue the narrative, but not necessarily from the same perspective, location, or even the same time frame. All chapters are titled with a name. They are portraits of people whose lives intersected with Gee’s. But they are also an additional layer of detail for our picture of the photographer’s life.

What is most astonishing about this book, is how tightly woven it is for such a schizophrenic project and how clearly each author’s individual stylistic voice can be heard through the words. Click is especially exciting for anyone interested in, learning about, or teaching writing.
Royalties benefit Amnesty International.

Reviewed by Vivian

The Higher Power of Lucky

by Susan Patron

Much, both wonderful and silly, has been said about this Newbery Medal Winner. I would like to tell you what it is really about, as it is indeed a lovely, uplifting and unforgettable read.

Life is grand, and it is hard in turn, and often it’s just about a “lighting strike of luck”-- of the good kind or the bad. 10 year-old Lucky has had a lot of the bad kind, as have the other residents of Hard Pan, California who are valiantly putting their broken lives back together amidst the dusty desert landscape of this novel.

But charming Lucky has something that even the most privileged children need to be happy, and what the current parenting research so harshly shows they lack--resilience. Lucky, an inquisitive young natural scientist, bug collector and a fan of Darwin is struggling with the death of her mother, her love for and longing to be adopted by her guardian, Brigitte, and her sometimes fun, sometimes draining role as a friend to the other children of her town.

But, Lucky at 10 knows already what to do if she starts to “lose heart”, “her favorite sad but exquisite phrase.” She can get out a beautiful, never-used toothbrush from her ever-present survival backpack and make herself feel better. A person, who knows how to help herself bounce back like that, with small joys, will find a way to happiness and those around her will glow.

Patron’s gorgeous, textured novel, is deceptively simple in its language and entirely appropriate for youth 10 and above who may or may not have been thus fortunate. Lucky’s strength will stay with you. I promise.

Reviewed by Vivian

Pretty Little Liars

By Sarah Shepard


These are not the books to take with you for the waiting room of your admissions interview!

I thought I knew our audience very well. Our teen girls are cool, smart, stylish and nice. So why were these nasty little books flying off the shelves at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, CA? I just had to investigate . . . . And so I discovered these viciously fun books whose characters break every rule of what a nice girl does with the style and secrecy of those famous and Desperate Housewives Moms like to watch.

Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna have secrets, and their best friend and clique leader Alison was mysteriously murdered three years ago. Now suddenly in their Junior year their wicked past and present bad behavior is used as a weapon against them by a mysterious emailing, text-messaging, blackmailing, humiliating, disappearing person who signs her/his (?) missives with the letter “A”. So many secrets; such a good time.

Ok, Ok, this is not ”high literature,” but the characters and plot are masterfully fleshed out with well-written, nasty wit. We suspect that many of our customers who are perhaps pure of action, if not entirely pure of heart, will find a guilty pleasure in watching these girls behaving badly, getting their just deserts and once in a while getting away with, well, anything.

I confess.

Reviewed by Vivian


By Kevin Brooks


Robert Smith is the Jason Borne of teenagers.

Robert, 16, goes to the clinic for an endoscopy to diagnose what is giving him stomach troubles. The anesthesia does not quite do the trick so he can feel the pain, and worse, he can hear the surgeons aghast when they take a look inside him:

“Christ. What is that?”
“What the hell are you?”

Men in suits show up. They make demands:

“Open him up. . . . listen Professor. You are doing it now and you are doing it alone. . . . You cut that thing open now.”

As they slice in again Robert finds he can overpower the anesthetic. Indeed, he can inexplicably overpower his keepers, handle weapons, and control the situation like a pro. He gets himself sewn up, restrains the mystery men, and escapes. Next time he hears the news, the doctors in that surgery room are dead, and a manhunt is on for Robert Smith, murderer. What is going on?

He has been raised in a series of foster homes so he has no stable memories of anything in his past. He enlists help of a beautiful, brilliant and dangerous document forger who is first his hostage and soon enough, his romance. There are no official records; he has no history. The men on his trail also have no history. Their records have been wiped clean. They do not exist.

Robert is determined to find out who he is; and more importantly what he is. He thinks; he feels; he loves. Answers are not easy, and does it really matter?

Told with clear, visceral expertise you will want to turn the pages of this gritty story as fast as your pulse is beating. The book is ripe for discussions about identity and morality. Although it has few gluttonously graphic descriptions, it’s all here—violence, sex, drugs, intrigue. And if you read this book, you’ll have to deal with it.

Reviewed by Vivian


By Lesley M.M. Blume

11-year-old Tennyson’s parents have raised her and her sister in isolation in the woods, away from everyone. It is the Depression, and times are hard, especially in the South, but the girls love their free life of adventures and games in the forest and the river. Tennyson is a writer, born one. This is crushing for her fragile mother, Sadie, who has attempted all her life to find the “right words,” to be a published author. One day Tennyson innocently “fixes” one of her mother’s stories and shortly thereafter, Sadie abandons the family.

Everything changes. Their father must go search for Sadie. He sees no choice but to take the girls to their delusional aunt Henrietta at Aigredoux--his family’s ancestral home, and symbol of a heritage he detests. This ruin of house has a wicked and tragic history which it wants to reveal to Tennyson in her dreams. Tennyson dreams her family’s story in words so beautiful that when she writes them down and secretly submits them to “The Sophisticate Magazine,” a publication desperately admired by her departed mother, they publish the stories on the spot. The mysterious author is hailed as the “writer of the next great American novel”. Tennyson really just hopes that her mother, wherever she is, will read her words and return to her.

This is a haunting gothic ghost story that travels between the age of slavery and the Civil War and the Depression Era South. Tennyson observes “how hard history tried to repeat itself” even with her own life. Despite the fact that her father abandoned his betrayal and slavery- tainted heritage, Aigredoux has managed to bring his daughters, the only remaining descendants, back into its walls. Henrietta still seeking the family glories of the past, sees the girls as a commodity to marry off into a wealthy family who would help her restore Aigredoux.

Tennyson comes to see Aigredoux “like a strange poison-like candy that stayed in your blood”. Will she break free and become the first member of her family not crushed by its past? The writing is gorgeous and the story is haunting. One page and you will be in Tennyson’s world.

Reviewed by Vivian


By Guy Gabriel Kay

A crossover title for Teen and Adult Readers who lust for a thrilling, complex, story without trite, comforting resolutions.

Ned, a Canadian teen, is alone inside a vast, dark locked cathedral while his father, a famous photographer, takes portraits of the building. Led Zeppelin blasts through his Ipod earphones when he realizes he is not, indeed, alone. Two others have somehow entered the building--an American exchange student, Kate Wenger, who seems to know a great deal about this structure and this region of France; and an agile, nameless man, who seems determined to murder and carries a knife.

Ned and Kate have wandered into “a very old story” full of myths and magic; love and lust; rivalry and cruelty; courage and sacrifice. Their pursuit of this mystery will explain the history of Provence, where even the light shines differently upon the world. It will also explain much of Ned’s Celtic heritage, his undiscovered personal powers, and even why his mother is compelled to repeatedly enter dangerous war zones as part of Doctors Without Borders. This book will send you searching the internet on the trail of its myths, its geography and its secrets.

The author, Guy Gavriel Kay, was chosen as a young man to finish Tolkien’s Silmarillion. With Ysabel he proves that he is still cutting edge. This novel defies and encompasses categories: contemporary fiction; Fantasy; Historical novel; Adult or Teen Literature.

Reviewed by Vivian

Waiting for Normal

By Leslie Connor

Sixth-grader, Addie’s life is complicated. Her “Mommers”, is increasingly flaky and given to get-rich schemes, long absences, and immature outbursts. Addie has dyslexia so learning is an act of will and persistence. Her father died when she was small, but her stepfather, Dwight, now divorced from her Mom, cares deeply for her and the couple’s other two natural children. The court awards him custody of the younger girls, but not of Addie because she is not her “real” Dad. As Mommers falters, he continues to support them but the only home he can purchase for them is a small trailer home parked on a city corner beneath a train overpass and across from a mini-mart. Hardly “normal”, huh?
Even here Addie attempts to “normalize” her life around meals, learning pieces on her flute, home-making, visiting her beloved “neighbors” at the convenience store. She clings to any routine she can construct and holds tight to her ability to love, even to support a sick friend. She finds great pleasure in small things like the swing Dwight hangs from the overpass, a short visit from her sisters, a warm synthetic apple pocket pie, or a slide down the mountain of dirty snow left behind by the snowplow.
I found it impossible to leave Addie until I finished. Beautifully and convincingly written in Addie’s voice, this book will force you to think about “normal,” --about what you, and all of us, really desire and find joy in. What is a normal relationship with a parent, a friend, a lover, a home, with learning, with illness, with food, with music?
Indeed, now Addie won’t leave me. She makes me think about our lives so lucky and full that we miss so much. I want to celebrate Addie’s resilient spirit and patient courage as she waits for “normal” to come to her life. When it does, you’ll want to dance.

Reviewed by Vivian

Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature

By Robin Brande

Mena fervently believes in God. Her entire life has been embraced by the Church to which her family belongs. But when people from her Church Youth Group, at their pastor’s instigation, harass a young gay student to suicidal depression, Mena feels alone and guilty. She writes the student a beautiful letter of apology. Then her life unravels.

The young man and his family use her letter as evidence in their lawsuits against the Church collectively and against all the families of her Youth Group personally. Mena is ostracized and bullied by her former friends and excluded from her home life by her parents. They break her heart. But in doing so, they also unintentionally thrust her into the world outside her Church and open her mind.

Mena needs to adapt and find a way forward on her own. Cautiously, as she begins High School, she makes new friends, experiences a sweet first romance and begins to judge new ideas for herself. The most provocative of these are those presented by her science teacher, Ms. Shepard, who insists on teaching facts, not opinion. When the curriculum moves into evolution Mena’s classmates alert her ex-pastor who instigates a new hate campaign-- this one on behalf of the ideas of Intelligent Design and against the Theory of Evolution. The confrontation spreads at school, at Church, through the press, Online, at home, and inside Mena’s thoughts.

Eventually Mena affirms her belief in god. But she also sees her adaptation into a larger social environment as one that enables her to be honest with her parents and herself, as one that makes her more capable with her talents, and one that brings her loyal and varied friends. Her life opens.

This is an exciting book.

Reviewed by Vivian

Death by Bikini

By Linda Gerber
Aphra lives on a gorgeous tropical island resort owned by her father and frequented by celebrities. She spends as much time in her bathing suit as in any other piece of clothing. Alas Aphra! She is very, very lonely for anyone her age.

In a splendid Agatha Christie move, young, handsome Adam Smith and his family mysteriously arrive on the island. They appear to have a connection to Aphra’s mother who abandoned her years ago. Aphra’s father clearly wants their presence to remain secret, and uncharacteristically refuses to discuss these new guests with his daughter.

But a starlet strangled on the beach with her own swimwear quickly entangles everyone’s attention and shocks Aphra into action. Her daring investigative exploits prompt Aphra to re-discover much of the “training” ingrained in her during the purported “adventures” her mother crafted for her as child, and thrust Aphra right into . . . Adam’s arms.

Remember to slap on the sunblock because as you slip past the pages of this snappy, satisfying, sultry read, you’ll be laying around exposed much longer than you planned.
Reviewed by Vivian