Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Reviews: WONDER and LIAR & SPY

New and Noteworthy MG

 Just finished two MG novels that I highly recommend!

WONDER, a debut novel by R. J. Palacio, is the story of Auggie, a boy with a congenital facial deformity who, as a fifth-grader, goes to school for the first time. That mini-synopsis may not make it sound like a fun read, but it was so captivating, I couldn't put it down. The story is told in the first person from multiple POVs. Over the course of the novel, we hear from Auggie, his older sister, the sister's boyfriend, the sister's ex-best friend, a girl from Auggie's school, and a boy from Auggie's school. I felt that several of the characters sounded alike. Even so, I think the variety of perspectives worked well for this story. WONDER is being mentioned as a possible Newbery contender, though it does have its share of critics. Some feel that the characters behave too much like older teens. They are savvy and precocious, and some are  experimenting with boy-girl relationships--but, honestly, that's the reality of fifth grade for many kids. Other critics suggest that the book is unsubtly manipulating readers' emotions (though I'm not going to tell how, for fear of spoilers.) All I can say is that while I was reading, I did not feel manipulated. I cared about Auggie and the other characters, and was anxious to find out what would happen to them. The ending was a little arbitrary, I will admit, with an award bestowed for no real reason. But Wonder is an amazing book that deserves the Newbery buzz it has generated. Give it a try--I predict you won't be able to put it down either.

LIAR AND SPY, the third novel by 2010 Newbery winner Rebecca Stead, is also a realistic, contemporary MG with a boy protagonist. Seventh-grader Georges (named after Seurat) is having a rough time--he's bullied at school; his family just had to give up their house and move to an apartment; and his mom isn't around much. Things get interesting when his home-schooled neighbor starts training him to be a spy. I started this one with a bias. I figured there was no way it could possibly live up to WHEN YOU REACH ME; the bar was set too high. Luckily, LIAR AND SPY turned out to be a real page-turner. The characters are quirky, authentic, and very likeable, and there's a bit of a mystery. Apparently I checked my analytical skills at the door, because I devoured the book like a kid, and not like a writer. It seems straightforward, but be forewarned: All is not as it seems. When the muddy waters start to clear (which, for me, happened 17 pages from the end) I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it coming. All in all, LIAR AND SPY is a wonderful story, and I highly recommend it.

I'm a sucker for heartwarming novels with a ragtag bunch of flawed characters who band together and learn the meaning of true friendship.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

10 Bookish People I Want to Meet

10 Bookish People I’d Love to Meet is the Top Ten Tuesday theme for September 18 over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Sadly, some of my literary heroes, people I have long admired and wished to meet, are no longer with us. Madeleine L’Engle was 88 when she passed away in 2007. Maurice Sendak died in May 2012 at the age of 83. Else Holmelund Minarik, 91. Diana Wynne Jones was only 76. Anne McCaffrey was 85. Ruth Chew, 90. Eleanor Estes, 82. Ray Bradbury, 91. Russell Hoban, 86. Sid Fleischman, 90. And my favorite childhood author, Catherine Woolley, whose Ginnie and Geneva books I read, reread, and reread again--was 100.

I’m sad that they are gone. The world is not the same without them. But isn't it interesting and encouraging that so many of these folks lived well into their 80s and 90s? I choose to believe there’s something about the process of imaginative writing that keeps a person mentally and physically young.

If only I could do what Owen Wilson did in Midnight in Paris! But since I haven't yet found that magical clock tower, what living authors do I most want to meet?

I want to pick her brain about creating memorable and universal characters. Who doesn't know and love Henry, Ribsy, Beezus, and Ramona?

She is simply brilliant, and I’m in awe of her accomplishment. 

Water for Elephants and Ape House gripped me from the first page and never let go. Tell me, Sarah, please--what’s your secret?

In an NPR radio interview years ago, she impressed me as someone I would  very much like to know. And I love her writing.

I’ve read a lot of children’s fantasy, and Midnight for Charlie Bone and its sequels still top my list of favorites.

I want to know how she writes so many incredible books so quickly, and sustains that pace over time. I’m also impressed with her kind and straightforward manner in online interactions.

Nobody writes magical realism like Hoffman. How does she do it?

Anyone who can write like that is sure to be an interesting dinner companion! Also, I’d love to learn about his system of worldbuilding.

I was twelve when Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret came out. Forever was published when I was 17. I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and its sequels to my kids. Judy Blume is an icon, and I want to hear her insights on creating groundbreaking literature for kids and young adults.

Sorry to be heretical, but I’m not going to talk about The Giver or Number the Stars. After all these years, I still love Anastasia best of all.

What a multitalented guy! From the whimsical, pastel mice of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse to the honesty and emotion of Olive’s Ocean, Henkes can do it all.

Oops, that might have been eleven. And even so, I’m sure I’m unintentionally omitting lots of people who deserve to be on the wanna-meet list. But it’s a start.

What literary people do you most want to meet?