Thursday, December 27, 2012

For What It's Worth by Janet Tashjian

For What It's WorthThis book was recommended by our school librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The setting is in Los Angles, in 1971, and Quinn is an obsessed, fourteen-year-old expert on rock music. He meets Caroline on the first day of school, and she becomes his first girlfriend. He sometimes wishes there was a handbook on how to talk to girls, but he consults with his Ouija board instead. He discovers that the Ouija board is connecting him with the spirits of Club 27, famous rock stars who died at the age of 27. He frequently calls on the board for advice. Quinn loves to spend his time buying new albums, playing his guitar, and starting a rock band. Then, Caroline's brother is drafted into the Vietnam War, and Quinn meets one of his sister's friends, a draft dodger trying to flee to Canada. Quinn realizes there are more important things in life than rock music.

If you don't like classic rock music, then you won't like this book. I do. Almost every page has references to rock musicians and their songs. The template for the plot is not unique; a teenage boy finds his first love, and some important event threatens their relationship. However, most of Quinn's problems are created by himself, although the Vietnam War becomes a major issue in their lives. In the end, he makes some life-changing decisions to resolve his problems. It was fun to see Frank Zappa and Mama Cass Elliot included as actual characters.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead

Liar & SpyThis book was on a recommended list for 2012, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Georges (the S is silent) moves into an apartment building after his dad loses his job. He discovers a note about a spy club posted in the basement, and he meets a boy named Safer. Safer and his sister, Candy, do not go to school, and Safer asks Georges to help him spy on a resident named Mr. X. Mr. X always dresses in black, and Safer has seen him doing some suspicious things. They're not sure what the man is up to, but murder is not out of the question. Georges isn't sure how far he'll go to help Safer, but he's the only friend he has right now. When Safer asks Georges to help him break into the man's apartment, Georges wonders if that's too dangerous and illegal.

The plot was interesting, and Safer is an eccentric character. He never leaves the building, and he's discovered different ways to spy on other residents. The plot offers a twist later in the book when Georges discovers a startling secret about Safer. Their relationship takes a dramatic turn but helps to solve the mystery.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

Darth Paper Strikes Back (Origami Yoda #2)This book is the second in the Origami Yoda series, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Type Origami Yoda in the search box at the top-left of this screen to read about the first book. Origami Yoda is back giving advice, but he's in big trouble. Dwight, the voice of the paper Yoda, has been suspended and may be sent to a school for students with severe behavior problems. Tommy leads a campaign to persuade the school board that Dwight, and Yoda, are not behavior problems and that they have helped many students with their own issues. Yoda/Dwight help the student body raise money without selling any of the disgusting popcorn for the school fundraiser. They help a girl with body odor survive the school play and help a "profoundly deaf" girl feel normal. However, Harvey and his origami Darth Vader do everything in their power to get Dwight out of the school. Why is Harvey being so mean, and will Tommy and his friends be able to save Dwight?

As in the first book, this book contains a collection of funny, realistic problems that most students have probably experienced. The students in the book come to Yoda to get his advice, and the results always work out. It's fun to see how the students relate to Yoda; they're not sure if he actually has any real power, but they trust him with their lives. This book is not high-end literature, but it will be fun reading for most people.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Funny: A Middle School Story by James Patterson

I Funny: A Middle School StoryI read an advance copy of this book, and I gave it a rating of five out of five. I just saw a commercial for the book on television today. Jamie Grimm is in a wheelchair and uses humor to deal with his life. "Did you hear about the karate champion who joined the army? First time he saluted, he nearly killed himself." He compares his home life to Harry Potter living with the Dursleys. He lives with his aunt, and her family doesn't express any emotions. The school bully also happens to be his stepbrother. Then, Jamie's uncle, who he does not live with, suggests that Jamie enter a young comedian contest being held in New York City. He's not sure that he's funny enough, but his good friends at school tell him he's hilarious. Jamie enters the contest and learns a lot about himself in the process. His classmates and family learn a lot about him too.

The book is funny. Jamie is constantly making jokes, even in serious situations. It gets to the point where Cool Girl, a lovely girl who befriends him out of the blue, forces Jamie to go five minutes without being funny. She actually times him. I was wondering where the plot was headed, but I began to suspect that Jamie hadn't really accepted being crippled. He didn't talk about his parents either, so I suspected he had been involved in a tragic accident. The author did a nice job of mixing the humor with seriousness. The first half of the book was filled with the funnies, and the second half of the book got into the serious message of the book. However, the humor continued throughout. His last joke in the book? "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang

Red Scarf GirlThis book is a memoir about the cultural revolution in China, and I gave it a rating of three out of five. Ji Li is finishing elementary school when Chairman Mao and the Communists take over. The Communists try to get rid of all fourolds, any beliefs that have to do with the way things used to be. They try to stop signs that any people are better than others, but it gets out of hand. Ji Li's aunt is publicly disgraced, because she dresses too nicely. Ji Li's family is worried, because they have a housekeeper. The grandmother of Ji Li's best friend kills herself, because she is afraid the Red Guard will accuse her of something. Signs are posted all over the town with Chairman Mao's beliefs, and people are told what they are supposed to think. Ji Li is torn between trying to fit in with the new society, and her loyalty to her family; her father is imprisoned, and Ji Li is asked to testify against him.

This book is not for everyone, but it will be enjoyable for readers interested in cultural history. It describes how the Communists were able to take over the Chinese culture, and it is still in power today. Most of the citizens enthusiastically supported Chairman Mao when he first took power, but they became confused when they saw how they lost control of their lives. They lived in fear of the Red Guard and had no way to defend themselves.