TeenLit Book Reviews

October 2000

What Janie Found

Caroline B. Cooney

What Janie Found, by Caroline B. Cooney, is the sequel to three other novels, all based on a similar theme. The genre is fiction, for a young adult audience, ages 13-16. The rating is a 3 on a scale of 1-4, with 4 being the best. Someone who has read the first three in the series would be the best reader of this book, but it is remarkable how easily this novel can stand alone after a brief reading of the introduction. The main character, Janie, was kidnapped at age three, and brought up by her kidnapper's parents, after her kidnapper disappeared. This unlikely plot is balanced by the more common and well- developed themes of love, guilt, family attachments, and all of their complexities. These universal themes help the reader go beyond the unlikely plot. Janie's need to know her kidnapper, Hannah, and the details about her life, drive this novel to a peaceful conclusion. A major strength is the character development of Janie, and also, surprisingly, the character development of Hannah in her absence. One weakness is the implausibility of the events, but again, this is countered by the universal nature of the more important themes of the novel.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in San Francisco, - Link directly to entry

Alice the Brave

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Alice the Brave is by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It is about a girl named Alice McKinley who faces many of the problems teenage girls confront. In this particular book Alice is afraid of deep water, but by the end of the summer Alice overcomes her fear. Alice’s mom died when she was four years old of Leukemia. She lives with her dad and her brother Lester who is twenty-one. She doesn’t have anyone to talk to about personal things besides her two best friends Pamela and Elizabeth, but Pamela and Elizabeth are pretty much clueless about them also, so Alice has to call her Aunt Sally long distance in Chicago. Aunt Sally is a little paranoid though. The biggest problem Alice had was her fear of deep water and all of her friends are going to spend most of their summer swimming at Mark Stedmeister’s pool. Alice trys to make up excuses of why she can’t go in the pool , but after a big incident at the pool, Alice learns to swim, with some assistance of Lester and goes back and shows all of friends she indeed can swim. This was a wonderful book and I would recommend it to anyone who likes to read books that are humorous, realistic, and about adolescense.
Reviewed by Lea. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Catherine Called Birdy

Karen Cushman

Catherine Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman, takes place in the Middle Ages in A.D. 1290. The setting is the Village of Stonebridge, outside of London, England. It is the story of 14 year- old Catherine whose diary writings tell the story of her wish to be free of the suitors who her abusive father has chosen for her to marry. As the story develops, so does her keen, funny and disrespectful sense of humor. This is clearly needed as she tries dismiss suitors that she would never choose for herself. In the end she is content being herself and finds an acceptable man to marry. She continues to wish, and feels that she has wings and freedom, even if she never leaves home. The main character, Catherine, sees herself as a “plain gray and brown goose”(Cushman, 31). In deciding what “birdy” best describes her she says “I think I love geese more that any other birds because no one else does. They are not small and delicate like larks and sparrows, or swift and clever like hawks and falcons. They do not sing like nightingales, and cannot be trained to talk, or dance, or do tricks. They are cunning, greedy, shortsighted, and stubborn--much like me, now that I think on it.” (Cushman, 30). Her goal is to be different from other girls of her time. She wants to choose her own husband, and stop pursuing traditional girl’s roles, which she feels will not allow her to be comfortable with herself. Her biggest obstacle is carving out a unique identity free from the control of her father. She resolves this challenge by developing a better understanding of herself and learning that she doesn’t have to leave home to be free. She is able to hear this from the fortuneteller Madame Joanna who tells Catherine “You are lucky. Little Bird, for you have wings, but you must learn to master them. Look at the baron’s hawk there on her perch. Just because she doesn’t flap her wings all the time, doesn’t mean she can't fly” (Cushman, 104-105). Another challenge for Catherine is to find a safe way to express her feelings in a society where women are not outwardly emotional. She is able to do this by complaining to her diary. The reader learns about how medieval life is defined by social roles based on economic class and inherited position. Girls are born to grow up, be married off, and have children. Women’s work also consists of spinning, sewing, and making ointments and potions. Young boys have the right to play, and men can work at a paying job. In contrast, most modern women are free to make choices about their lives and it is not at all unusual for women to work outside the home. Young girls and boys both have opportunities to be educated. Catherine Called Birdy is highly recommended for readers ages ten to fourteen. It would be particularly fascinating for a young adult who already had background information about the Middle Ages. The greatest appeal would be to a female reader who could most easily identify with the emotional life of the main character. The many rich details of medieval life are a colorful addition to a simple story line. Katie R.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in San Francisco, - Link directly to entry

Falling From Fire

Teena Booth

As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough, Teresa Dinsmore also has to deal with her mother, the frequently married town beauty; her wild sister, and just not fitting in anywhere. That is, until the fire\ In Teena Booth’s debut novel, an outcast freshman gets the opportunity to reshape her life after a raging fire destroys her home. When Teresa is flooded with attention after the disaster, she begins to wonder if this sudden fame could be just what she needs to find her place, both at home and at school. The answer to this question and more await you in “Falling From Fire.”
Reviewed by K’si. Grade: ----- in , - Link directly to entry

An Ocean Apart, A World Away

Lensey Namioka

The book An Ocean Apart, A World Away is basically about a young Chinese girl of sixteen who dreams of being a doctor someday, in early 1920s china. The young girl, nicknamed Yanyan, meets a handsome young man, who she develops feelings for. This young man, in turn returns the affection, but later on, she finds out that the boy has plans to change the state of government in china. She is invited to go on this dangerous adventure with the boy, but in order to, she has to leave everything behind, including her dreams of being a doctor. This book is suitable for children 12 years and up. It is an interesting book, and teaches a lot about our differences, morals, and growing up. On a scale of one to four, this book is rated a solid three.
Reviewed by . Grade: ----- in Silverspring, - Link directly to entry

Durable Goods

Elizabeth Berg

Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg is a novel about a young girl who lost her mother and is trying to help and understand her father’s feelings and grief. Katie, the main character, has a father who is in the military and her family has to move quite often. Her mother died, and her father misses her very much and is having a lot of trouble raising his two daughters. He is definitely not a mother and does not know how to handle the things that happen to girls. Katie and her older sister have been trying to deal with his anger and frustration toward the loss of their mother for a long time and can’t take it any more. They decide to run away. Elizabeth Berg did a great job writing this book; it was exciting, interesting, and fun to read. In the end it didn’t seem like she really finished the book; it seemed like everything went back to how it was before. After an interesting or exciting part, it went dull then exciting then dull. It needs to stay interesting throughout the book. I recommend this book for girls who want to read about how it is to live without a mother, or have the experience of living without a mother.
Reviewed by Lynsey. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Both Sides of Time

Caroline B.Cooney

Any novel by Caroline B.Cooney should be read between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. Her writing is simple yet includes masterful created conflicts that may take a few minutes to clew into but, are worth it in the end. This novel has no specific gender aim. I think this is an excellent novel to read in the classrooms. Annie Lockwood, a fifteen year old romantic living in 1995. When she travels back a hundred years she is faced with difficult situations even more complicated than 1995. Strat, a young man about to embark on the adventure of his life. Devonny, Strat's younger sister who although loves a great mystery, can't keep herself from revealing the truth. Throughout this novel we are taken back to a time where manners and thoughtfulness were a necessity in everyday lives. In a novel where romance begins young and morals are the logic of the story, we learn from the characters. Both sides of time is an amazing novel, it brings life to a young spirit and hope to a forgotten heart. The knowledge throughout the novel is thoughtful and has a great significance to manners in today's society. Rating: 4
Reviewed by Julie Ann . Grade: ----- in Wallaceburg, ON, Canada, - Link directly to entry

Carolina Autumn

Carol Lynch Williams

Starting high school and having a real boyfriend is unsettling enough for fourteen-year old Carolina, but she’s still trying to cope with extreme changes from the last year. First her father and sister went on a trip and never came back. Then she and her mom moved to a different house, and her mom seemed to forget Carolina was there. But it’s new neighbor Garret who becomes a real boyfriend, and thank goodness for her friend, Mara—at least she’s been there for support. When Carolina, Mara, and Garret sign up together for a photography class, Carolina doesn’t need the camera’s lens to see that Mara intends to add Garret to her “other-girls’-boyfriends-I’ve-stolen” list. Her mom wants to reconnect with Carolina’s life, too, and Carolina isn’t sure she even wants that. With “Notes to You” sprinkled throughout her story, Carolina gradually reveals to the reader where and why her father and sister went away. Carolina is bruised by her family and friends, but she is not broken. The reader will root for her as she picks herself up and faces the changes in her life.
Reviewed by Carol. Grade: ----- in , - Link directly to entry

145th Street (short story collection)

Walter Dean Myers

Myers writes ten fiction short stories that are a powerful collection of stories about people with strong emotions in often desperate situations. The rating is a 4, on a 1-4 range, with 4 the best. The audience is young adult, age 13-16. There are many characters in each story. All characters are inhabitants of 145th street, in New York's Harlem. Although the stories are brief intrusions into the difficult lives of many characters, there is time in relatively few pages to get to know people suffering with problems of violence, drug abuse, and loss, and the relief they experience with friendship, humor, love and irony. A favorite story is "Angela's Eyes," about Angela, who has prophetic visions about death. She dreams about events before they happen, and that gives her power and status in her rough neighborhood. The story is also humorous with details about mundane life, such as breakfast food (eggs) mixed in with themes about death, and Angela's inability to rid herself of her visions which have become more of a burden and curse than a gift. The book makes a strong impression on the reader, leaving you wanting each story to be a short novel, but still giving you something from the contained unit of the short story.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in , - Link directly to entry

Dear Papa

Anne Ylvisaker

Dear Papa by Anne Ylvisaker is an absorbing, emotional and sensitive novel that would appeal to readers of any age and in particular, eight years and above. This novel-in-letters set during World War II revolves around Isabelle, who is highly individualistic and independent and keeps her ‘Papa in ‘heaven’ up-to-date with what is happening in her family. For a debut novel, the caricature of the characters, especially that of Isabelle is par excellence. The heroine of the novel is created with much care and imagination coupled with a pinch of psychological insight, especially while she struggles to cope with the loss of her father. Dear Papa unfolds itself in the mind and heart of Isabelle and this is the unique feature of the book. Emotionally-charged words, innocent actions, the fear of God, dilemma between Lutheran and Catholic beliefs, conflict between idealism and reality – all these are very finely fabricated to produce a honest and powerful book. The major strength of the book is the readers’ insight into the child’s mind: how an eight-year-old girl perceives her immediate environment in the absence of her beloved father. I would rate this impressive fiction as 4+ (1-4, 4 being the best).
Reviewed by Prathiba. Grade: ----- in Canberra, AUSTRALIA, - Link directly to entry

Flags of Our Fathers: Heroes of Iwo Jima

James Bradley (adapted by Micheal French)

When I first saw the cover of the book, the words "adapted for young people" stared out at me. This was a major disappointment for me because I hated most adaptations and abridged versions of popular novels. However, as I read through the first chapter, I was completely taken in by the events in the account. Little did I know that this would prove to be one of the best nonfiction books I have ever read. This book primarily focuses around the lives of the six flag raisers in the famous photograph captured during the American invasion of Iwo Jima in World War II. Personally, I've never really paid much attention to this picture before, even though it's in all my history books. We mostly remember World War II as the Holocaust, when millions of Jews suffered in Europe. Images of Hitler and concentration camps race across our minds. No one remembers the war in the Pacific. In fact, I've never heard of Iwo Jima before I read this book. It's very interesting to see a part of WWII that I haven't heard about before. Also, when we think about war, we connect it with the army. In this book, we get to see how the marines played a big role in one of the most destructive wars in history. James Bradley, the author, is the son of one of the flag raisers. Through many interviews and years of research, he is able to write down an account of what went on during the U.S. invasion of Iwo Jima. We follow the six flag raisers, as well as their fellow comrades, through a series of dark and painful events that happened during the war. I can't even remember how many times I cried when reading this book. Every time a soldier dies, I just can't help but shed a tear for the loss of an innocent life. Then there are passages that tell of the self-sacrifice of one soldier to save his buddies, which brings more tears to my eyes. Bradley did a wonderful job by filling this book full of emotions. Be sure to have tissues ready when reading! Flags of Our Fathers is truly one of the best nonfiction pieces for young adults today. I highly recommend that everyone, especially those interested in history, give this book a try. My suggestion on who should read this is the 12-16 age group. For some teens, however, this book might be a bit graphic. If you can't stand to hear about deaths, don't read this book! Those older than 16 could still try this book, but I really think that the original would appeal more to them. I can't wait to check out the original, unadapted version at the library. I hope that every teen who picks up this book will enjoy it as much as I did. rating: 4 (scale of 1-4, 4 being highest) who should read: age 12-16
Reviewed by Rachel. Grade: ----- in E. Brunswick, - Link directly to entry

The Xenocide Mission

Ben Jeapes

Before you read this book, I'm going to ask you to do something that may seem a bit odd. Trust me; once you find out about the author, you'll better understand the often complex, always challenging nature of his first science fiction novel. Here's what I want you to do: visit his web site at http://www.jeapes.ndirect.co.uk/ Yes, Mr. Jeapes is British and this shows up throughout his writing. But as you can see from his web page, he is also a very, VERY free spirit. "The Xenocide Mission" is one of those rare young adult sci-fi books that respects the reader. Sure, it's got slam-bang action good enough to be brought to the attention of some Hollywood studio, but it's the characters that dominate the action, not the other way around. The year is 2154 and human beings have developed a race of robots known as 'First Breeds' (and also by a less-than-nice term 'Rustie') Lt. Joel Gilmore is introduced to the reader on the very first page as a young, inexperienced soldier finding himself in an impossible situation. Even with the aid of First Breed 'Boom Round', Lt. Gilmore is facing certain death....and you're only on Page Ten. Joel's father isn't doing much better; he's on a runaway space-ship carrying a Doomsday device and headed on a collision course with the sun. Ben Jeapes knows how to grab the reader on Page One and not let go until the action-packed, nail biting ending. Here is a new author to science fiction who will definitely make a place for himself in the small circle of intelligent sci-fi writers. Rating: 3 Gender appropriate: Both
Reviewed by Joe. Grade: ----- in Lompoc, - Link directly to entry

The Ghost Train

The Ghost Train

In the book Ghost Train by Jess Mowry, a boy and a girl try to unlock the secrets of The Ghost Train, a mysterious train that comes only in the middle of the night. A young boy from Haiti, Remi, meets a wrong side of town girl, Niya. They met while they were walking to school one day, get to talking, and Niya finds out that Remi has been seeing The Ghost Train. In time the two grow closer together, and begin to trust each other. One night they plan on meeting and trying to find the discarded body of the aimless spirit haunting the train tracks. Eventually, after lots of research, Niya and Remi discover that the man whose spirit is haunting the tracks was once hit and killed by the train. “What really happened has happened. He was run down by his own train... over 50 years ago.” I liked the way the author used real life language but, he started the book off too sharply. If you like real life description and can handle a little bit of profanity, this book is for you.
Reviewed by Isaac. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Born to Fly

Shane Osborn

Born to Fly, by Shane Osborn, with Malcolm McConnell, is a biography that reads like a fictional novel. The rating is a 2.5 (1-4, 4 being the best). The book would fit a male or female audience, ages 11-14. The hero and main character is Shane Osborn who fought his way to become a navy pilot, and then had a distinguished career as a survivor of a near fatal accident. The main character, Shane Osborn, overcomes facial reconstructive plastic surgery at age 16 after a car accident-at a time when he thought his dreams of being a pilot were over. A major strength is that the reader learns much about training to become a pilot, aviation vocabulary, and details about the design of airplanes. The reader will be surprised to find himself drawn in and interested in this topic, even if it was not a previous interest.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in San Francisco, - Link directly to entry

The Rag and Bone Shop

Robert Cormier

The Rag and Bone Shop, by Robert Cormier is an engrossing mystery novel written for a mature teenage audience. The rating is a 3 (1-4, with 4 being the best). The author explores themes of crime, guilt, innocence, morality, and sadness. The main characters are Alicia, a seven year old girl who is found murdered, Jason, a twelve year old neighborhood boy, Brad, Alicia’s brother, and a relentless interrogator named Trent. The plot unfolds mostly in dialogue as the characters of Trent and Jason are developed during a long interrogation in which Jason is the main suspect for Alicia’s murder, since he may have been the last person to see her while she was alive. The title of the book was taken from a line of a Yeats poem. “I lie down where all the ladders start, In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” These lines underscore both the theme of the novel, and the mind of the interrogator, Trent. Cormier's strength lies in his skill of character development with unexpected details about body movement and thought process. The book reads easily, but seems to end abruptly before many questions are answered.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in San Francisco, - Link directly to entry
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