TeenLit Book Reviews

October 2000

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

The Wave

Todd Strasser

The Wave by Todd Strasser is a true story about the students of Gordon High who become participants in a experiment that goes too far. Ben Ross, their teacher as well as the wave’s leader, has no idea how far his “little experiment” has gone. All Ben wanted to do is show his senior history class why Adolf Hitler had so much power. The experiment gets out of hand when the wave goes from his class to the whole school and the students that don’t want to join are harassed. “She really was blowing it out of proportion, wasn’t she? It really was just a fad, wasn’t it?” Laurie Saunders has just realized that the wave isn’t that good. Soon after, David Collins realizes the same. Can they stop the wave before it goes to far? The author of this book put it together wonderfully! He explains with such ease and the ending comes together so well. If you enjoy reading true stories or are just looking for a good book, then go to the library and get a copy of The Wave.
Reviewed by Liz. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Durable Goods

Elizabeth Berg

Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg is a story about a teenager who has an abusive father and solves that problem by running away. The main character Katie, along with her older sister Diane, have been physically beaten by their father. With her mother dead nobody is there to defend them. After moving place-to-place, the family finally settles down and makes friends. But when the girls are told that they have to move again, they decide to take action. Along with Diane’s boyfriend, the girls decide to runaway to Mexico. But after calling her best friend, Katie decides to have her father pick her up. Although her sister and boyfriend move on, her father is forgiving. I think the author in this book was awesome. She had a good plot. But some words and actions were for more mature people. But how she described the characters was great. I recommend this book to only mature teens.
Reviewed by Benjamin. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

The Car

Gary Paulsen

The Car by the author Gary Paulsen is an exciting adventure about a teenage boy named Terry who has been abandoned by his parents. His father, an overworked mechanic leaves behind a car kit in the garage. “Tell your mother I’m not coming back-I’ve got all my stuff, or everything I want. I’m sick of the whole thing.” (Paulsen 9) Terry’s father says. Terry pokes around at the car kit a little, and soon he finds himself building the car called “Cat” alone in the garage. Soon enough, the car is built and Terry is on his way to Oregon seeking an uncle he hardly knows. Terry learns very quickly how to drive this car. On his way out West Terry picks up a very strange war veteran named Waylon. He teaches him many things about the world, and life. The two of them pick up one of Waylon’s war buddies on the way. They visit many people and places on thier journey. The story ends when the two men get into a fight and the police come. I think the author did an extremely good job on the whole story-except the ending. The story ends too suddenly! I wanted to know what happened next. I would rocommend this book to anyone who likes cars or somebody with a like for suspense.
Reviewed by Marshall. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Durable Goods

Elizabeth Berg

Durable Goods, by Elizabeth Berg, was about a young girl going through life with her abusive father and trying to deal with the death of her mother. The only two people who seem to care for her are her best friend , Cherylanne, and her older sister, Diana. Their father tells them they are moving. Katie and Diana can’t handle the abuse so they run away with Diana’s boyfriend, Dickie. Katie decides she can’t go on when they get half way to Mexico and she calls Cherylanne. Her father comes to get her with their new puppy along with him. They return home and move in three days. Unlike Diana, Katie finally gets through to her father and live with no abuse. “For a moment I see him as someone other than my father, and he seems so curious to me, and sad, like an animal wrongly tied up.” I think the author means that the softer side of him was showing for a moment. I really enjoyed reading this book but I think it could have been a little more exciting. This story is mainly about dealing with life. If you like books about life and dealing with life, then I highly recommend this book.
Reviewed by Kyla. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

The Baboon King

Anton Quintala

The Baboon King, by Anton Quintala, is a story of survival. The story itself seems so real that it is hard to believe it is a work of fiction. Morengaru is an independent, solitary, strong native hunter, living in the areas of Tanzania and Kenya, most likely in the present day. Born of a Kikuyu mother and a Masai father, Morengaru has felt like an outsider for all of his life. After a fatal misunderstanding, Morengaru is banished from the Kikuyu tribe. He wanders through the African grasslands until he meets up with a tribe of baboons. Their leader, or king, steps forwards and challenges Morengaru to a fight. Armed with only his knife and his brute strength, Morengaru accepts. The fight ends: the baboon king is dead, Morengaru is seriously crippled. Morengaru’s helplessness forces him to stay near the area of the baboons. Morengaru now must adapt to living with the baboons; yet still somehow hope to return to human civilization. Gripping and realistic, this story will have you on the edge of your seat. Quintala writes with the knowledge and confidence of one who has been around these African and baboon tribes. I felt that this book was very well written. As said, Quintala writes with knowledge and confidence. Originally I had thought that the book wasn’t going to be that good. My mind had no empty space that was craving to be filled with knowledge of the baboons or African tribespeople. However, my mind changed upon reading into the book. The story is very nicely tied together, in connections that make sense and are easy to grasp. The book is filled with descriptions: descriptions of the African grasslands, the jungle, the animals who live there, and the tribes of the Kikuyu and the Masai. These descriptions are great for laying down the setting of the book and they are not too long, losing the reader’s attention. No book is perfect though, and The Baboon King had its weaknesses. At one point during the story, when Morengaru is first living near the baboons, I was struck by this “this is getting a little boring,” thought. However, the action rose after a little bit, and then I was engrossed once again. The Baboon King, a story of survival, is not for everyone. This book is for people who enjoy reading about situations of survival, and plots set in the present-day world. Although I knew nothing about the life of African tribespeople, I did not let this hinder my reading. In the end, it did not matter what my knowledge was, since the book was very clear and knowledgeable. Readers who will probably enjoy The Baboon King are those who have liked other novels such as Hatchet and The Lord of the Flies. The Baboon King is difficult reading material, and I would recommend it to readers in sixth grade and above. Basically you, the potential reader, decide for yourself whether or not The Baboon King is for going to capture your enthusiasm. I highly enjoyed this book and recommend it to others interested in such novels. 3½ (out of 4 stars)
Reviewed by Carolyn. Grade: ----- in Sherrill, - Link directly to entry

Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes

Wendelin von Draanen

Mystery, Ages: 11-15 I readily enjoyed this teen mystery. It's in the tradition of Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls. However Sammy Keyes is a rather original character though she has some all-too familiar traits. Think Harriet the Spy. The story revolves around Sammy, her best friend, Marissa, her grandmother, and some pretty rough gang members. This is the first novel in the series that I've read. However it seems that Sammy should know better. She always gets herself into these weird situations. But this girl has got guts! When Sammy is left a "surprise" from a scared-to-death girl in the mall, she knows there is a mystery to solve. Danger lurks in her path at every moment. Snake Eyes with his "Hatred for eyes, steel for a mouth" is a pretty intense character. However it keeps your adrenaline going. A lot of surprises came from this novel. I was happily and not-so-happily surprised sometimes. The last fews sentences of each chapter left me wanting more. At times, I felt I couldn't put down the book. Ms. Von Draanen was very good at keeping someone's attention. For the most part, the story was believeable. Just don't try this at home! However I was disappointed a few times when it seemed unrealistic. It seemed as if Ms. Von Draanen just needed to give the reader this information whilst forgetting realism. I mean come on, why would a tough guy start spilling family history to some little girl he doesn't know? But again, for the most part, Ms. Von Draanen was pretty consistant. The whole side story about softball was pretty much the same as every other teen novel. I think it would have been better if Ms. Von Draanen had stuck with the mystery which is ultimately the main and best part of the novel. The side story really doesn't entangle with the main story so it seemed like a waste of time. However Ms. Von Draanen is a talented writer and kept my attention throughout these times. Overall, I'd rate this novel four out of five stars. It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough that it kept me reading for at least an hour at a time. Hats off to Wendelin von Draanen and Sammy Keyes!
Reviewed by Jeanette. Grade: ----- in Waldorf, - Link directly to entry
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