Saturday, October 31, 2009

Book Review: Gravity [2008]

I was recently on a panel for the New England Library Association entitled Alterna-Lit for Teens. I'll probably be writing reviews of some of the books I read for my portion (coming out books) at some point when I have the energy, but in the meantime I wanted to write about Gravity, by Leanne Lieberman, which was actually presented by one of my colleagues.

Gravity is set in the 80s in Toronto and revolves around a family of Orthodox Jews. Although the narrative is from the perspective of the younger daughter, Ellisheva Gold, who falls in love with a girl she meets while on vacation, the story is really about the entire family and their struggle with faith. Ellie's mother works to find ways to express her faith despite the restrictive confines of orthodoxy, Ellie's sister Neshama is determined to leave and never look back as soon as she finishes high school, and Ellie's father believes that if the Jews had been more observant, the Holocaust would never have happened. Against this background, Ellie fights doggedly against her attraction to Lindsay and also her desire to know more about the world and science than her religion finds strictly acceptable. When she accepts that she does prefer girls over boys, she must come to terms with what that means for her belief in God. The story resonates at the end with the balance she finds between her faith and her sexuality.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts: I don't love the cover photo--I think the model's skirt is much too short. I did like that the book was set in the 80s, although that didn't have too much to do with the movement of the plot. I especially liked the tension between Ellie and Lindsay--they don't have much in common, and they may not actually like each other much, but they nevertheless find themselves drawn together.

The author's website.

Book Review: Saving Francesca [2003]

Some list somewhere of YA literature "for adults" recommended Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta, and it has the distinction of being the book I was reading during that whole labor & delivery thing. Therefore, my recollection of it is a little fuzzy--however, I do remember liking it! Francesca is accustomed to struggling with her vibrant, overbearing mother, until the day that Mia doesn't get out of bed. To make things worse, Francesca is the only one in her group of friends to begin 11th grade at St. Sebastian's, a formerly all-male school still adjusting to its transition to co-ed status. As Francesca's family falls apart, she loses touch with her old, shallow friends and finds herself bonding with an unlikely group of girls and boys. She is embroiled in an initially adversarial flirtation with House leader William Trombal, who unfortunately already has a girlfriend.

The strengths of Saving Francesca are both the subject mattter (the ripple effect of Mia's depression strains Francesca's relationships with her father and teachers in addition to her mother) and the slow, deliberate filling out of characters through Francesca's sometimes unreliable narration. Francesca's eventual group of friends isn't just a clique-y group of girls as in many teen school-based novels, but a mix of slightly outcast boys and girls whom circumstances have thrown together. The characters are fresh and vibrant, and the ending brings the story to a satisfying full circle.

Grade: A

The author's website. I especially like the Australian part--she lives in Sydney.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians [2007]

As an Evil Librarian, I must say that this book is libel of the worst kind. If the world were secretly controlled by librarians, as author Brandon Sanderson claims, surely we would be able to accomplish all sorts of things, like come up with a plan for affordable health care and keep the Yankees from winning the World Series this year.

On Alcatraz Smedry's thirteenth birthday, his world changes drastically. Having spent the previous years of his life in a series of foster homes (sometimes for very short spans of time due to his "Talent" for breaking things), suddenly he finds himself propelled by an eccentric grandparent--whom he has never met before--into the forefront of a long-standing war between the Free Kingdoms and the Librarians, who rule the Hushlands. That would be where we live, in a society controlled entirely by Librarians and policed by their various minions. Sanderson's characters, including Bastille, the kick-ass knight who is also a thirteen-year old girl, are fun to watch as they attempt their seemingly impossible task: retrieve the Sands of Rashid from the bastion that is the Central Library.

In some ways, Alcatraz is like a well-made children's movie that has an extra layer of meaning that adults can appreciate. Sanderson's books always contain some humorous elements, but in this first-person volume for young adults, he really gives his zany, tongue-in-cheek character free reign to embrace silliness. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. At times, the narrative is in jeopardy of being too clever, but for the most part, reading it left me with a light heart. The book ends with a major cliffhanger, and I know there are at least three more in the series, which I definitely plan to read.

Sanderson's website.