YRCA 2013 Review: Winter Shadows

Let me start by saying that, Winter Shadows by Margaret Buffie was not chosen as the December book for the Teen Book Club that I run because it’s a Christmas story. That was just a happy coincidence that made me laugh when I realized it.

Winter Shadows is the story of two young women living in the same house in a small town outside of Winnipeg and dealing with similar issues but living in different time periods. Cass is a modern high school student who lost her mother to illness within the last year and is now dealing badly with having a new stepfamily invading her home. Her new stepmother is completely renovating and redecorating the house that Cass’s mother inherited to remove all her completely from their lives and Cass is upset with her father for letting Jean do this.

Beatrice is a few years older than Cass, lost her mother as a child and is now dealing with a new stepmother who seems to hate her. When her story begins, the young woman has just come home early from a school in Upper Canada to take care of her father who had an accident and discovers that he has remarried while she was away. Her new stepmother is unreasonably nasty to her and has allowed Bea’s Cree grandmother to get bed sores.

Cass’s story is told in the normal way and Beatrice’s is told through a journal and they alternate chapters. Early on, Cass finds Beatrice’s star brooch in the fireplace in her room and they start seeing scenes from each other’s lives. Cass is given a ghostly version of Beatrice’s journal to read and eventually they start to communicate with each other a little and give each other support. There is even a romance on each side, although it is way more important for Beatrice than Cass.

It took me a bit to get into this book but once I did I became more and more involved in the girls’ lives and needed to know what would happen to them. I also loved the historical and cultural details of Beatrice’s story. She lives in a village of  English, Scottish, and Metis (mixed aboriginal and European blood) people just before the Red River Rebellion and the author shows the conflicting attitudes of the different groups and Beatrice internal conflict as she worries about sacrificing her Cree heritage for European culture in order to live a better life. Anyway, I came to love this book and was totally satisfied with how it concluded.

Will this book win the Senior Division? That would be nice but I’m thinking one of the Dystopian books will win.

What I’m reading right now: Hogfather audiobook by Terry Pratchett, The Diviners by Libba Bray

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YRCA 2013 Review: Bruiser

At first, I had no intention of reading Bruiser by Neal Shusterman. Let’s face it; the cover is the same boring, generic close up picture of a face that pops up more and more often on teen books. Then I read the back of it. The hint of a fantasy element intrigued me. And then I read the book itself and it surprised me again because it so wasn’t what I expected.

But first a summary:

Everyone at school stays away from fifteen year-old Brewster and he stays away from them. Because of his size and standoffish nature, he’s thought to be dangerous (hence the nickname Bruiser) so everyone is surprised when he starts dating Brontë, twin sister of jock Tennyson. And yes, they are names after the authors; their parents are literature professors. At first, Tennyson is seriously opposed to their relationship but as he learns more about Brewster and his home life (he totally stalked him for awhile) he starts to respect Brewster and to develop a very reluctant friendship with him. He also begins to figure out Bruiser’s secret. Bruiser takes on, often involuntarily, the pain and injuries of people he cares about when he is around them. The more he cares about them the quicker it happens and so until the twins came along, he didn’t let himself get close to anyone but his younger brother, who takes unnecessary risks because he never his has to feel pain, and his uncle, who’s guilt over passing on his pain has made him an angry, abusive alcoholic. As Bronte and Tennyson draw Brewster out of his shell and help him make more friends, he’s hard pressed to decide whether his life is getting better or worse and things soon come to a head.

This book is written in four distinct voices: Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster, and Brewster’s brother Cody. Each adds unique background and perspective and is written in a different style. It took me a bit to realize this because it was subtle at first but then I had an “What?” moment where I noticed that Bronte’s parts were written in past tense instead of present tense like Tennyson’s (which made me really happy as I’m not a fan of first person present tense). Cody’s style was first person past tense as well but told in a very disjointed way that jumps from one thought to another. Brewster’s is really obvious though as it’s all verse. I had mixed feelings about this. I know some people really like verse novels. I am not one of these people. I find it too angsty and it doesn’t flow nicely for me. In this case, though, it served its purpose well. The author really showed Brewster’s inner turmoil well and gave a glimpse at how his past is affecting his present.

At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked this book. The problems of both families are way more realistic and sad than I like in a story. I’m very much an escapist reader. So, near the beginning, when I was not reading this book I kind of avoided it. But at the same time, when I was reading it, I had trouble putting it down. By the time I finished, I had decided that I liked it although I’m still unsure about what happened at the end. I’m choosing to interpret it the way I want so that I can be satisfied with it.

Will Bruiser win the Senior Division of YRCA? Hard to say.

What I’m reading now: Storm by Brigid Kemmerer.

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YRCA 2013 Review: Ship Breaker

So, I just finished Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi and it was really, really good. I mean, I had heard lots of good things about it from blogs and all the awards that it was nominated for. And it won the Michael L. Printz Award from YALSA. But I was still surprised at how much I liked it.

This book is about Nailer, who is a ship breaker. He works on a light crew, scavenging small stuff from small places on the oil tankers that crashed or were abandoned on a beach near the Gulf of Mexico. The light and heavy crews are paid a pittance to risk their lives getting materials off these ships that can be recycled. Recycled materials are important, because things like copper, steel, and oil are scarce. The crews are very competitive with each other because they required to meet a quota everyday and Nailer’s dad is very ruthless. He has a reputation for being a drunk and druggie, and his particularly vicious with his son. Nailer and Pima, a childhood friend and crew-mate, are wandering after a big hurricane that shuts down operations for a few days. They discover a swank’s clipper ship that wrecked during the storm. This is the ultimate score for a ship breaker because the materials on board, like gold, silver, and computer parts, are especially rare. The only problem is that they have found a swank girl alive on the ship. Because they know that they wouldn’t be able to defend a claim on the wreck, they have two choices: they can get as many valuables as possible off the ship in a short period of time or they can save the girl. Nailer, unsure of his own reasons, insists on saving Nita, the girl. This is where his life changes and his adventure begins. Following Nita causes him to leave the beach where he has lived his whole life and changes his perspective and his fates. Nailer is not the only one affected though; Nita sees a whole world that she has never been exposed to in her privileged life.

At first, I found it interesting but was not quite sure what to make of it. Then the world slowly unraveled and opened up. It was done in such a slow way that worked so subtly with the story that it took me a while to realize that, unlike a lot of other post-apocolyptic novels, the experiences and life of the main character are not universal to all the characters of this world. Yes, things are rougher for everyone but Nailer’s life seems, at first, to imply that everyone but a few “swanks” are barely surviving but as he moves beyond the ship breaker’s beach and the wrecks, you realize that there does appear to be a middle class of sorts.

You can approach this book in three ways: you can take it as a commentary on climate change and class structure, you can just sit back and enjoy an adventure story in a fascinating world, or you can attempt to do both. I took the third option with a heavy emphasis on just enjoying the plot. I really enjoyed that this post-apocolyptic world was not caused by one particular event. It is hinted at that climate change over a number of years was the biggest cause and there are references to the melting of the polar ice caps and to super hurricanes that drowned cities.

Will this book win the Senior Division of the 2013 YRCA? I think it’s a strong contender but maybe I’m just biased because it’s my favourite Senior title so far. It’ll be interesting to see if the teens voting are as enthusiastic about this books as the critics and reviewers have been.

What I’m reading now: The Dark Side of the Sun (audiobook) by Terry Pratchet and Black Bird, Vol. 10 by Kanoko Sakurakoji.

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YRCA 2013: Big Nate: In a Class By Himself

 Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce is a fun book about a teenage boy getting in trouble in school by trying to stand out. It’s a quick, easy read done in the same text/graphic novel hybrid as Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That being said, I couldn’t help but keep comparing this book to Origami Yoda. There are some similarities in character types and basic format and… I just really enjoyed OY and BN just didn’t seem as clever. But, on the other hand, I know a lot of kids who love this a series and I have a feeling that it gets funnier in later books. Anywho, fun book but not my favourite.

Will this book win the Junior Division of YRCA? Possibly.  I get the feeling that it’s going to be Big Nate and Origami Yoda duking it out.

What I’m reading right now: Lord of the Vampires by Gena Showalter, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

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YRCA 2013 Review: Heist Society

Heist Society by Ally Carter is the story of Kat and some stolen paintings. Kat is the daughter career thieves and she is sick of running jobs. At the start of the book, she had conned her way into the one of the best high schools in the country in order to have a normal life. But her old life is not ready to give her up and she is thrown out of school after being framed for a prank by an old friend. He tells her that her father is in trouble with a European gangster. He was framed for stealing some painting from the gangster and needs help finding out why and by who before the bad guy kills him. Reluctantly, Kat puts together a team of the next generation of thieves and con men and creates a plan to save her father and get the paintings back.

This book was a fun. It was fast paced with some clever dialogue and occasionally managed to surprise me. I really liked the actual heist scene and how it played out. I’d like to say more about this book but, unfortunately, I read it months ago and I’m finding it hard to remember much beyond the main plot.  Oh well. Anyway, I’m definitely going to pick up the next book in the series.

Will this book win the Intermediate Division? Maybe, maybe not. There’s a lot of stiff competition in this category but I’ve also heard quite a few kids talking enthusiastically about it.

What I’m reading now: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag audiobook by Alan Bradley, Sailor Moon Volume 4

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YRCA 2013 Review: 13 Treasures

After a long break, I continue the YRCA review with 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison. I totally blame the Olympics, by the way. They’ve kind of taken up most of my downtime. As it is, I’m writing this during the Closing Ceremonies.

Tanya can see fairies. Unfortunately, no one else in her life can and this has gotten her into a lot of trouble in her life. In exasperation, her mother sends her to stay with her grandmother for the summer. She doesn’t get along with her eccentric grandmother so it promises to be a terrible summer. It gets more interesting when she discovers that children have been going missing. You can see where this going: changelings. But it’s more than that. I won’t go into it because half of the fun of this book is discovering things along with Tanya.

It took me a couple of months to read this book, not because it was bad or anything but I just got distracted by books that were coming up due or that I was super excited about and then I just kind of forgot about it. So when I finally got back to it, I was only about a third of the way into it. This was probably a good thing because I had forgotten some of the details. It was such a quick read though, that I only took me a couple of days to finish it and I was reading another book at the same time.

I enjoyed this book. At the beginning, I didn’t think I’d continue after this book but by the end I started thinking I might. And I still might but I’m not in any particular hurry. Will this book will win the Junior Division of YRCA? I doubt it. There are just way too many really strong contenders in this category.

What I’m reading now: Incarceron by Catherine Fisher audiobook and The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead.

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YRCA 2013 Review: Smile

Smile by Raina Telgemeier is a true story about the author as a teenager. Oh, and it’s a graphic novel. The main plot revolves around the knocking out her front teeth and getting braces but it really shows how these things affected how she looked at her life.

I’ll start by explaining that Raina was already slated to get braces to correct her overbite before the accident where she knocked out the teeth. From the sounds of it, the whole thing should have been short and easy but instead she had to deal with years of surgeries, headgear, retainers, and a restricted diet. I was totally having sympathy pains throughout all the dental stuff. I went something very similar when I was around the same age, only without knocking out any teeth and no headgear, thank goodness. I’ve always had problem teeth. When I was in Grade 3, I had a spacer that was supposed to get rid of the gap between my front teeth but ended up overlapping them and then they had to reverse it. This is more than likely the reason that I had to get braces. When I was in Grade 8, my dentist discovered that I had a tooth near the front that was coming in sideways, so I had to have oral surgery (like Raina) to expose that tooth and remove seven others (including my wisdom teeth so that they didn’t interfere later). Then they put on the braces and had to slowly drag down the exposed tooth into place, which was extremely painful. Since braces are so expensive, my parents saved money by getting them done at the local university. The students did a good job but unfortunately, they took around twice as long as they should have in an attempt to make my teeth perfect. Also, like Raina, I had a cry in public moment when I was told that they had to stay on longer. Altogether, I had braces for almost three years. The best day of my teenage life was the day that they came off.

I  think that my favourite part of this book is that Raina’s dental problems really made her think hard about her relationship with her friends. I won’t give anything away but there was a part that I cheered really hard for her because she did something I’m not sure I’d have had the courage to do at her age.

This was the second time that I read this book and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time. Will this book win the Intermediate Division? Hard to say.  Oh, and even thought this book is Intermediate Division, it definitely would be good for younger ages, too.

What I’m reading now: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison, The Faceless Ones audiobook by Derek Landy, and Incarceron audiobook by Catherine Fisher.

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