Eleanor & Park

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Eleanor & Park (hardcover)

by Rainbow Rowell

AR Level 3.8, 11 points

 

This story is told through two perspectives.  Sometimes you are seeing what Eleanor sees, and sometimes Park.  Eleanor and Park are two socially awkward, misfit juniors in an Oklahoma high school in 1986.  Eleanor is new, and has bright orange hair.  She’s overweight, dirt poor, and lives with her mom, younger siblings, and an abusive step father.  She has no desire to fit in, nor does she have the financial means to.  Park, on the other hand, comes from a financially and emotionally stable family.  He is biracial (half Korean) and bullied because of his race.  Eleanor and Park fall in love over comic books and music.  As their relationship grows, you start to remember the person you liked in high school, and what it was like to hold someone’s hand for the first time.  I found myself grinning like a dumbass while reading this book (which, by the way, I finished in one day, while ignoring my family and other responsibilities as a wife, mother, and teacher).  It was just that good.

What I liked about this book was the raw emotion you feel while reading it.  You want to scoot over on the bus for Eleanor, and urge her to find a toothbrush so Park doesn’t smell her breath.  You’re also rooting for Park, and in bizarro world, you are attracted to a fictional character.  Yes, I said it.  It’s weird, but read about this hapa (half Korean, half white) guy, with his martial arts body, black eyeliner, taste in music, and sensitivity to Eleanor’s needs, and tell me it doesn’t cross your mind.

What I didn’t like about this book was the raw emotion you feel while reading it.  You are rooting for Eleanor through good and bad, and there is a lot of bad.

I’m thinking I might have to buy or borrow Fangirl, because this book made me a fan of Rainbow Rowell.

Book 12 of 52

Doll Bones

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Doll Bones (hardcover)

by Holly Black

AR Level 5.4, 7 points

 

If this book was to be made into a movie, it would be a horror flick.  I’m not kidding.  It’s about a creepy doll that is made of ashes and bones of a dead little girl.  When people see the doll, they often see the little girl instead of the doll.  AND she comes to people in their dreams, and moves on her own while they’re sleeping.  Seriously?  A children’s book?  And a Newbery Honor book, to boot.  I’m not saying it’s not a good book.  I can totally see why it would be chosen as an Honor book.  It definitely garnered an emotional response from this reader!

So Zach, Poppy, and Alice play this game in a make-believe world, even though they’re kind of too old to be playing with dolls.  It’s just their thing.  They have a whole storyline and everything.  Poppy’s mom has this creepy doll, whom they call the Queen.  As it turns out, the Queen is made of bone-china, and comes to Poppy one night (in her dreams) and tells Poppy her story.  Basically, the doll is literally made out of a girl named Eleanor Kirchner, who died in 1895.  Her dad, who made china, cut her up and put her into his kiln to cremate her.  He then made the doll in her likeness (out of some of her ashes) and stuffed the rest of her ashes and bone fragments into the doll.  The kids go on a journey to bury her in her home town.  Poppy is most passionate about doing this, which she sees as an adventure similar to their stories they tell.  Alice goes along with it, even though her grandmother will freak out if she gets caught.  Zach goes, but is more cynical, until Eleanor actually comes to him in a dream and then destroys their campsite.

Yep- destroys their campsite.  And it’s all downhill from there, in terms of reading in dim lighting or by yourself at night or with any sort of doll in your house.  Seriously, it’s creepy.  It had my heart racing several times.  There’s this one library scene, the climax, I’d say… just read it for yourself.  I am totally NOT a horror movie kind of person.  I’m a huge wimpy wussy chicken.  I used to love the Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine (Fear Street series, pre-Goosebumps) books, but now, I totally puss out if something is even remotely supernatural.

What I liked about this book was that it was sustainable.  There is more to this book than just a freaky ghost doll.  It is about friendship and what that means when you’re 12 or 13.  Plus, you really want to know what happened with Eleanor, and not just so she stops haunting your dreams.  Plus, when you find out later that people see her as a person and not a doll, you want to go back and reread situations they were in and read into them.  It’s weird.  It’s creepy.  It draws on your emotions, and I love any book that will make me think about it long after I finished the last page.

What I didn’t like about this book was the lack of character development.  I think I was nearly half way through before I could keep Alice and Poppy separate in my mind.  I’m huge on good, strong characters, and they were a little fuzzy and gray for me.  A student started this book before me, and she put it down, because she said there was too much description.  I could see that… I stuck it out, and it got good, though!  I hope Daniela picks it up again.  Okay, and the bathroom scene… kind of freaky for me.  Horror movie material.  It got my heart racing.

Book 11 of 52

All the Wrong Questions “When Did You See Her Last?”

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All the Wrong Questions: “When Did You See Her Last?” (hardcover)

by Lemony Snicket

AR Level 5.2, 6 points

In this second novel in the ATWQ series, we follow Lemony Snicket on another mission to solve the mystery in the town of Stain’d By the Sea.  This time, he is looking for a girl who he believes was kidnapped.

I’ll be honest… I procrastinated on blogging about this novel, and it wasn’t all that memorable.  I love Lemony Snicket, but this series isn’t nearly as engaging as ASOUE.

Plus, I borrowed it from a student and had to return it nearly a month ago, the same weekend I read 3 books.

 

Book 10 of 52

Hollow City

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Hollow City (hardcover)

by Ransom Riggs

AR Level 5.7, 15 points

 

Did you read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children?  If you didn’t, don’t bother reading this book, because it’s part 2, electric bugaloo.  So at the end of the last novel, Jacob and his friends were leaving the island with a Miss Peregrine who couldn’t change back from her falcon (bird) form to her human form due to something the wights had sprayed on her.  The kids have about 3 days (they believe) to change her back, or she’ll be in bird form forever.  The novel begins with the kids rowing their way across the channel to what they hope is near London, because they believe if they find another ymbryne, she will be able to help them.  The story is the kids’ journey to, through, and out of London.  They face new challenges, meet new friends, and of course, develop their characters even more.  We learn their backstories, which will explain how they discovered their peculiarity, and enlighten us to why they behave the way they do.  The love story between Emma and Jacob takes some turns, and there’s a wild twist at the end.  But of course, I won’t give away too much.

What I liked about this book was the fact that in many ways, this isn’t a children’s novel at all.  Yes, Riggs uses words like “whit” instead of “shit” and he does avoid the inappropriate topics that make fifth graders giggle, but he throws in a naked man at the end, and discusses going to Hell.  I think this is what I love about authors such as Riggs and Snicket- there are so many topics and situations in this book that are so well-written, their meanings are lost on younger readers, but they have adults rolling or on the edge of their seats, or pondering the deeper philosophical meaning.  I’d be interested to see what my student (who lend me this book) would think if she read it again in 5 years.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it was kind of dark.  The wights were just pure evil, and hollowgast are frightening for young readers, I would think.  Some of the characters are forced to kill.  There is a lot more death and destruction in this novel, and then you have to deal with love and loyalty, and not being able to change the past.  But then again, the reader has to know what they’re getting themselves into… it’s a story that takes place in London, during World War II, with wights and hollowgast chasing these orphans.  It was an exciting story, but not a lot of humor or positivity.  Because it’s book 2 of an ongoing series (how many are in the series, I’m not sure), it left off with a cliffhanger.  What I hated the most was the fact that we don’t know when book 3 comes out (sometime in 2015 is not specific enough for me!).

Thanks again to Daniela for lending me the book.

Book 9 of 52

Looking For Alaska

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Looking For Alaska (audiobook)

John Green

AR Level 5.8, 11 points (though definitely not recommended for younger students)

I am seriously slacking.  It’s been 8 days since my last finished book.  I ought to be much further along, but it is May, the last month of school, and I am just Crazy Busy.

Looking For Alaska is not a book for children.  A junior nicknamed Pudge goes away to a boarding school and for the first time, has friends.  Alaska Young is a beautiful, intriguing, but disturbed young woman with a wild streak.  Pudge and his friends pull pranks, experience normal *ahem* high school boy things (and some girl things), and deal with the peer pressure of drinking and smoking.  Alaska makes a decision that changes the life of Pudge and his friends forever, and they have to learn to deal with her consequences.

What I liked about this book was of course, John Green’s writing.  It’s almost like he writes in prose instead of paragraphs.  He creates and develops interesting characters.  This novel was a bit of a mystery, because the chapters are a count down, and you had to figure out what he was counting down to.  Honestly, that’s about it.

What I didn’t like about this book was the gratuitous drinking, smoking, and sexual references.  I am way too old to think like a high schooler.  I never drank or smoke or experienced sexual peer pressure when I was in high school, so I can’t relate to that.  Some of it brought humor to the story.  Plus, there was the suicide references.  And at one point, I walked downstairs, jaw hanging open, angry at John Green for what he did to a character.  Honestly, it was just kind of a dark story.

Book 8 of 52

 

On a side note, I got my Scholastic Book Order in, and of course, I bought a bunch of books for myself with my points.  I ended up buying Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  Both are NY Times Bestsellers.  I’m converted.  But first, I have to finish Hollow City and the next Lemony Snicket.  I’ve also had The Book Thief sitting on my counter for awhile now.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (paperback)

by Sherman Alexie

AR Level 4.0, 6 points (not recommended for children!)

So my husband came home last night with his high school’s required summer novel.  Each year, the English teachers get together and choose a book the entire school (students, teachers, staff) should read, and then they spend the first 2 weeks discussing it when school starts in the fall.  Last year, it was The Fault In Our Stars, which I didn’t read until last month, and I totally fell in love with John Green.  They’ve read Maus, Hunger Games, and Old Man and the Sea, as well.  It’s kind of hit or miss.  Well, I decided to read the first chapter before I started cooking dinner, and let’s just say that before bed, I only had about 30 pages left of this 229-page book.  I thought my class could use some extra AR time (do you believe me?), so we took a little longer after lunch, and I finished it off.  I guess you could say it was pretty good.

What made it better was learning it’s a “banned book” in many libraries, schools, and even towns.  I have to get my hands on a book people think I shouldn’t read.  It’s how I roll.

This book is written from the point of view of a 14-year old Indian boy on a reservation in Spokane.  He suffered a lot of trauma as a child, being born with a disorder and nearly dying, but overcame not only his surgeries, but his life on the rez.  Junior/Arnold is obviously different from the other boys in the Indian school, and a teacher realizes that, urging him to go to a different high school and get off the reservation.  We learn about Junior/Arnold’s transition into a “white” school, and the backlash he receives from the other Indians.  Of course, being the underdog, you’re rooting for him to rise above it all throughout the entire novel, and since it is inspired by the author’s own experiences, I am assuming he was successful.

What I liked about this book was the writing.  You really, really, really want Arnold to be successful, and that is due to the author’s ability to create such a likable character.  You feel his pain, laugh out loud with him, and experience his angst and embarrassment.  It is very well-written.  The illustrations (Arnold wants to draw comics) add to the experience of reading this book.  It is an easy read, not only because it’s written at a fourth grade level, but because you really want to see how Arnold gets out of certain situations.

What I didn’t like this book was the reality.  It is easy to say that it makes me sad to think of racism, poverty, and alcoholism in our country, because I am a middle-class white lady who has A drink maybe once every few months.  I’ve read about the way Native Americans were pushed onto reservations, how they have casinos, and the diabetes and alcoholism that occurs on the reservations, but this book described those issues in a different light.  It was from the viewpoint of a lucid 14-year old boy who is expected to fail, and thinks so little of himself, it is frightening to think that there is another person out there with the same perspective, much less thousands of people.  It made me want to take up a collection or volunteer my time educating others.  It was really eye opening.  So was that what I liked or didn’t like?  I’m not sure.

Book 7 of 52

File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents

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File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents (hardcover)

by Lemony Snicket

(Too new for an AR quiz!)

This is an addition to the All the Wrong Questions Series, not one of the series of 4.  It is a set of “incidents” Lemony Snicket investigated while in Stain’d By the Sea.  Some of the characters are familiar (because they were in the first book), and some I’d never heard of.  You didn’t have to read the other books of the series to understand this book, but I’m sure it would have helped.  I have read “Who Could That Be At This Hour,” and I plan to pick up “When Did You See Her Last” as soon as summer vacation begins.  His third installment is supposed to be out this September, if I remember correctly.

What I liked about this book was, of course, Snicket’s humor.  I cannot get past his sarcasm and play on words.  His puns keep me rolling, and I’m constantly reading bits and pieces aloud to my husband, who either rolls his eyes or suppresses a chuckle (as not to give me the satisfaction of humoring him).  The fact that there is a company named Ink Inc. and a rocking chair store named Cozy’s (who is is suggested, should sell items like bubble bath, blankets, and pictures of kittens) makes me want more.  I will be the first to admit that I have a fifth grader’s sense of humor.

What I didn’t like about this book was the lack of connectedness.  The only book of short stories I can recall reading is by Edgar Allan Poe, and he didn’t really leave me wanting more.  13 Suspicious Incidents is a series of mysterious events requiring Snicket’s expertise in asking only a question or two to solve the mystery.  It was good, of course, but again, not A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Book 6 of 52