Friday, March 25, 2011

Trash by Andy Mulligan: A Review

Raphael, Gardo, and Rat are dumpsite boys.  They live in the enormous dump in an unnamed South or Central American city.  They survive by savaging through the garbage dumped each day by trucks from the city or by barges or train cars from other locations.  Although none of them have parents, both Raphael and Gardo have relatives with whom they live.  Poor Rat, whose real name is Jun-Jun, has no one and lives alone, except for the rats, in a pit that once housed equipment.  They find paper, plastic, and metal, which they can sell.  It is a meager existence, and they are often hungry.  All of this changes when they find the little leather bag.  Inside are a map and a key which will change everything.
The perilous adventure which ensues requires each boy to exercise his own skills and strengths to ensure the survival of the group.  They must battle corrupt officials and police as well as other desperate, poor people.  This suspenseful novel will keep the reader riveted until the last page. 
There are some unpleasant scenes, including violence, that might be unsettling for younger readers.  The narration shifts, sometimes mid-chapter, between the three main characters and some other minor characters.  Although it is seamless, it could cause difficulty for some readers.
Overall, I would highly recommend this novel for middle school and high school students.  It will appeal to both boys and girls.  Mulligan manages to create characters whose honor and innate goodness rise about their horrific surroundings.  These characters will stay with you a long time.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie finds herself enmeshed in the political undercurrents of faculty life in the latest installment of the Maisie Dobbs series.  Contacted by the secret service, Maisie goes undercover as a lecturer in philosophy at a small college in Cambridge.  She finds that she enjoys teaching, but her enjoyment is short-lived when the college’s president is murdered in his office.  Maisie’s private investigation service is still operating under the able hands of her assistant, Billy, and her newly hired secretary Sandra, whom Maisie knows from her days in service.  As Maisie tries to root out threats to the crown at the college and solve the murder of the president, she also finds herself investigating affairs connected to Sandra and worrying about her relationship with James Compton.
As usual, the war (World War I) plays a role in the mystery.  In this installment, however, a new war is looming on the horizon.  As always, Winspear does a wonderful job of creating the atmosphere, culture, and setting of the period.  Although a number of novels preceded this one in the series, Winspear consistently presents enough background to make each book clear to the new reader without boring the fan.  These books present a strong female character who succeeds because of her brains rather than her beauty.  I think they would, therefore, be an excellent addition to a high school library collection.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Twins Separated at Birth: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton and The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards

First, let me say that I enjoyed both of these books immensely.  If I hadn’t read them back to back, I would not have experienced the déjà vu of trying to keep the two stories straight.  Both books deal with multi-generational mysteries surrounding abandoned girls. In both, a granddaughter investigates to solve a mystery.  Both are set in about the same time period, although Morton’s deals with Australia and England and Edwards’ with upstate New York with just a bit of England.  Both books even contain a pivotal character named Rose. 
The Forgotten Garden tells the tale of four generations of spirited, rebellious women.  Cassandra is surprised, upon her grandmother Nell’s death, to learn that Nell had purchased property in England when Cassandra was just a child.  She begins to investigate her grandmother’s roots.  Abandoned on the docks in Brisbane, Australia, Nell was taken in by a dock master and his wife who loved her dearly and raised her to the best of their ability.  Still, she was haunted about what had become of her real parents.  Cassandra picks up the investigation, uncovering a number of surprises.  Interwoven with the tales of Nell and Cassandra are those of Rose and Eliza, the previous generation of the family.  Also interwoven are Eliza’s fairy tales, which offer clues to what happened so long ago.
In Lake of Dreams, Lucy is haunted by the accidental death of her father during her senior year in high school.  After his death, she travelled across the country to attend college and has traversed the world in her career as a hydrologist.  She returns home to check on her mother, who has been in an accident, leaving her boyfriend in Japan, where earthquakes and changes in him have left Lucy unsettled.  She is dismayed and perplexed to find all of the changes at home when she returns after a two year absence.  The serendipitous discovery of some notes, old newspaper articles and pamphlets sets Lucy on a quest to discover who Rose was and how she is connected to the family.  
Both novelists use descriptive language to create beautiful natural settings and to bring alive long-ago places.  Both have likeable main characters, and, although each is unique, both provide satisfying mysteries.  I would highly recommend both of these novels, but I would not recommend reading them back to back!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

2012 Sequoyah Masterlists Available Now

The masterlists for the 2012 Sequoyah Awards are available now.  There are some awesome books here!

Bumped by Megan McCafferty: A Review

Imagine a world where society encourages teenaged girls to get pregnant, as early and often as possible.  This is the world of Bumped by Megan McCafferty.  The Human Progressive Sterility Virus has made a majority of adults sterile.  In order to perpetuate the human race, teenagers must reproduce.  Melody Mayflower is a star in this world -  sixteen, tall, blond, beautiful, athletic, intelligent, artistic, socially conscious.  Melody has signed an exclusive contract to reproduce for a couple named the Jaydens receiving full college tuition, a Volkswagon plug, a postpartum tummy trim, and a six-figure signing bonus.  She is simply waiting for the Jaydens to select someone for her to “bump” with.  Her life is proceeding as planned until her identical twin sister Harmony, adopted by an ultra-religious family, decides to reconnect.  Raised in a church compound, Harmony was supposed to marry at 13, but things didn’t work out.  Wearing an ankle-length, long-sleeved, high-necked dress and a veil, she arrives on Melody’s doorstep in order to help her find God. 
Both girls find out a lot about themselves.  Despite their very different upbringings, they are alike in more ways than they imagined.  How much of who we are is determined by DNA and how much by environment?  That is one of many topics this novel examines.  McCafferty creates a dystopian not-too-distant future that manages to seem futuristic, yet familiar.  She creates slang that sounds completely natural, and technology, including the MiNet which connects everyone at all times through contact lenses and earbuds, which seems like it might be right around the corner.
The novel ends with something of a cliff-hanger.  Perhaps the author wants the reader to decide the ending for him/herself, or maybe there’s a sequel in the making.  I hope it’s the latter.  This novel is thoroughly enjoyable - funny, touching, and thought-provoking.  It should be a big hit with teenaged girls.  School libraries should be aware, however, that this novel does deal with sex, and although slangy euphemisms are used in most instances, some readers (or their parents) might find language or topic offensive.