TeenLit Book Reviews

October 2000

Fresh Girl

Jaïra Placide

Fresh Girl, by Jaïra Placide is a fiction novel with a rating of 3 (on a scale of 1-4, 4 being the best). The most appropriate reader is a mature young adult, male or female, ages 14-18. I would recommend an older reader because of the political and personal violence seen by the main character. Mardi, the main character, is a fourteen- year old Haitian girl who is born in New York, but at age four moves to Haiti to be raised by her father's mother because of her own parent's financial difficulties. Her life in Haiti is filled with disturbing experiences of political violence, and mistreatment of women and children. When she finally returns to New York, at age 12 she is scarred by the haunting memories of her last days in Haiti. A major strength of the book is the vivid imagery of Mardi's daily life, and the fast, flowing, realistic dialogue. One weakness is the lack of details in the development of the other characters besides Mardi. The book is still eye-opening about the 1991 coup in Haiti and the people affected by those changes.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in San Francisco, - Link directly to entry

Locked Inside

Nancy Werlin

Locked Inside, by Nancy Werlin is not your typical, wealthy orphan girl at boarding school story. The genre is fiction with a rating of 3.5 (1-4, with4 being the best). It is written for a young adult audience, age 13-17. The main character, Marnie, is an heiress whose life is filled with a waninginterest in school, and an extraordinary interest in a computer fantasy game called Paliopolis. In the game she becomes Sorceress Llewellyne, who meets another online player named Elf. The characters remain interesting, but not at all realistic. As the plot becomes more complicated, Marnie is kidnapped by her very unbalanced, and angry chemistry teacher, who has developed an intense dislike for Marnie. Marnie's computer friend Elf somehow comes to her rescue, but finds himself trapped along with her in the teacher's basement. Their captivity becomes a real life caricature of the Paliopolis computer game that once held their mutual attention. A major strength lies in the wonderfully constructed descriptions of Marnie's inner thoughts and feelings. Less realistic, but equally intriguing, are the conversations she imagines she has both with her deceased mother and her computer persona, Sorceress Llewellyne. A weakness is the lack of realism in the kidnapping, and the friendship with Elf. Also unlikely, is the unusual and unsettling climax that leads to their escape attempts. One conflict explored is how Marnie wants to get to know herself and her history, and at the same time, makes a large effort to deny herself access to this information. Marnie is clearly struggling and learning about how to free herself from the feeling of being "locked inside" herself during the drama of actually being "locked inside" the basement. She learns aboutunlocking herself with pain, difficulty, grace, and humor.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in San Francisco, - Link directly to entry

Some Kind of Pride

Maria Testa

The main character in Some Kind of Pride is Ruth DiMarco. Ruth is an eleven-year-old who has always dreamt of playing major league baseball, which is a major league dream, especially for a girl. She, as well as her brothers, were named after famous baseball players, her name coming from Babe Ruth. And she definitely has the talent to live up to the name; she is by far the best shortstop her small town has ever seen. Ruth's mother dies when she was young, and she lives with her father, a famous sports writer, and two brothers, both of whom love baseball. Her best friend Ellie proves faithful as being the little league scorekeeper and faithfully goes to all practices and also has big thoughts for an eleven year old as she has already announced herself as a feminist. Ruth also finds a friend in Ross, a writer for Sports Illustrated, who learns a lot from this eleven-year-old prodigy Ruth loves baseball, but when she overhears her father remarking her talent was wasted on a girl she begins to doubt herself. How could a girl ever make it to the major leagues? Her immense talent however soon attracts Sports Illustrated and a writer comes to interview her for a story. Throughout the book Ruth is trying to discover how she can be both a baseball player and a women. She learns more about her mother, who was the first female firefighter, and she learns what being a feminist really is, what she really wants, and who she is without baseball. Some Kind of Pride was a book about a young girl defining herself. The characters were pretty well defined for such a short book. Ruth was sometimes unclear in he thoughts, but I loved Ellie, who was truly a best friend to Ruth. The sports writer for Sports Illustrated and her brothers we also well developed characters. I didn't especially like the way her parents were described or how they developed in the story. The plot was good and it could have been drawn out much more. I did enjoy how her mothers role, even though she was dead she played am important role in he story. This story will definitely be inspiring to girls who want to accomplish something. You find yourself really wanting Ruth to go all the way with her dream. This book would be great for younger readers, especially girls, because it's short but will also hold their attention and teach them a valuable lesson on what feminism really is. "'All this time maybe I should have been wishing I knew how to play like a girl.'" -Ross, Sports Illustrated Reporter Rating: 3 Middle School/5th grade age
Reviewed by Corey. Grade: ----- in Lake Orion, - Link directly to entry

The Car

Gary Paulsen

The book The Car by Gary Pulsen is about a teenage boy who was abandoned by his parents and goes on a journey to reach his uncle. When Terry finds out that he is alone, he decides to build a car out of his dad’s old car kit. When it is finished, Terry goes from Cleveland, Ohio to Port land, Oregon to find his distant uncle. He had never driven before and ends up having to teach himself. Along the way he meets an extraordinary man named Waylon. Waylon ends up helping Terry to “learn about life”. “’The quality of mercy is not strain’d; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’ And Terry opened his eyes for the first view of Waylon Jackson.” That quote is about the first time that Terry met Waylon. The scripture that Waylon is quoting is by Shakspere. I thought that the author did a good job of describing things but I didn't like how the book just left you hanging. If you like cars or working on cars, this book is for you. It describes a lot in detail about how cars work and how to fix them.
Reviewed by Greg. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Princess in Love

Meg Cabot

This is the third book in the Princess Diaries series rated on a scale of 1 - 4 , 4 being the best, I rate this book a 4. This book is great for pre-highschoolers and highschoolers and who ever is reading the series or just needs a funny book to read. In Meg Cabot’s 3rd book, Princess Mia is getting ready to leave for Genovia to be presented to her people that she will one day rule. She is stuck in a situation where she secretly is in love with her best friends brother, Michael, but is going out with another Guy. This book is hilariously funny and has a great ending, but keeps you guessing up till the end. Anyone who hasn’t already read any of the Princess Diary books could pick up the 3rd book and start reading it, because Meg Cabot’s style of writing informs the reader of what has previously happened in a stuble and un- annoying way. Enjoy Meg Cabot’s newest book Princess in Love!!!
Reviewed by . Grade: 6th Grade in Glen, - Link directly to entry

Thursday’s Child

Sonya Hartnett

Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett is an imaginative piece about a family during the Great Depression. I would rate this book a 3 ½ because of the small difficulty to really get into the book. Over all though, this book was amazing and will stretch your imagination. The book is about a young girl named Harper, who lives in a two-roomed shanty with her family. On the day that her brother Caffy was born, Harper was told to go and play outside with her other younger brother Tin. A mud slid on the banks of the creek somehow buries tin alive, almost, but Tin digs himself out. Harper realized then that Tin liked to dig and liked being inside the mud. Tin started digging under the veranda and making his own kingdom of tunnels, living away from his family. This book unfolds itself in the mind of a child and is truly awesome. This is a great beach book or one that you can curl up and read, it also has an amazing ending. Enjoy getting lost in Sonya Hartnett’s book, Thursday’s Child.
Reviewed by Arlene. Grade: ----- in , - Link directly to entry

Goddess of Yesterday

Caroline B Cooney

Goddess of Yesterday, by Caroline B Cooney is an absorbing historical fiction novel. The rating is a 3.5 (1-4, 4 being the best). The most appropriate reader audience would be young adult females, ages 11-14. The main character, Anaxandra, lives in the early 13th century in a world full of rivalries and deception. Her self-reflection is brought to life in the widest range of historical settings. The story begins when King Nicander of Siphnos takes Anaxandra as a hostage. Early on, Nicander and his family are killed by pirates. Anaxandra takes on the role of Nicander's princess daughter so that she would not become a slave. She lives in constant fear of punishment by the Greek gods that she so firmly believes in. As the plot thickens, the story becomes complicated to follow, unless the reader is familiar with basic facts about this period in Greek history. Fortunately, the relevant information is included in the afterward. A major strength is the reader's insight into the inner-workings of Anaxandra's mind: the thoughts of a twelve year-old living in the 1200s. One weakness is the abrupt ending without even a reference to a sequel. I would highly recommend this book.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in Menlo Park, - Link directly to entry

The Shell House

Linda Newbery

The Shell House, by Linda Newbery is a fictional novel with a rating of 3 (1-4, 4 being the best), for readers ages 14-18. I suggest an older teen reader because of the complex, and controversial themes. The main character is Greg, a seventeen year-old boy who is seeking to learn about himself through the plot device of the unfolding mystery of an old mansion that he is exploring. The other main characters are his two friends, Faith and Jordan, without whom his journey would be lonely and less meaningful. The Shell House is set in present day England. The symbol of the "shell" is important throughout the story as a metaphor for Greg's life and his relationships with his friends. His life has openings for new opportunities to learn about himself, like a shell can be curved and open to the world. Similarly, the old mansion without a roof is open for investigation, like the open shell. The main plot movement is about how Greg learns about himself and at the same time finds out about the previous owner of the mansion. Themes of homosexuality, depression, disability and self-revelation are explored. The Shell House falls down in its weak development using the metaphor about the "open house" and its parallel to Greg's openness to learning about himself. The symbol is briefly and interestingly developed, but then is quickly forgotten. A strength is the descriptive narrative, which is often hidden in lines about Greg's photographs. I recommend this book for mature readers who want to think beyond the main story line.
Reviewed by Katie. Grade: ----- in Menlo Park, - Link directly to entry

China’s Son

Da Chen

It’s the year 1962. Your eyes open, revealing dried yams, chopsticks and eager eyes all subsumed within the obscure town of Yellow Stone in Southern China . Like every other baby you enter the world armed with a bag of opportunities, or do you? It was acrimonious, a pot spitting its contents, and began in 1966 – it was termed the Cultural Revolution and tarred many a person within the population with the epithet ‘bad’. Your ancestors were land lords, people many cocked a snook at due to Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s ideas which the wealthy and poor “pro-revolutionists” alike drank like adages. Thus your fate has been donned; you are to become nothing more than a farmer. That life was to be lead by Da Chen, the protagonist and writer of this book. The book is a memoir of his youth and what become of demure Da with nothing but drawbacks lacing every bridge. Da has four siblings of which he was the youngest. His three sisters, Si, Ke and Huang, and brother Jin were forced to drop out of school due to the political reform. They, thus, turned to their only other avenue: farming. Da’s education was threatened many a time by the authorities but Da, in elementary school was the top student, and thus he remained. I was fascinated by his thirst for knowledge and his determination to complete his studies. As it’s a true story it makes one reflect on one’s own life and I can with candor admit that I as a being have grown from all that Da experienced. One also discovers the acerbic antics of this so called revolution , in that for e.g. Da was the only member of his entire school who was banned from joining the Little Red Guard’s , a communist organization for the youth . I was angered by many of the goings as I’m confident any reader would be for e.g. intellectuals were the tortured refuse of China . The people lived in a commune and many fathers’ either farmed the land or, as Da’s did, were responsible for “mining” it.- many books are either set in England, America or Australia and this location informs one of the inhabitants’ cultural and living conditions during that period in history. During Mao’s reign he fed his people with the idea that education was of no relevance and thus Da, the shunned ‘enemy’ of china, reverted from a student of note to an insouciant smoker, drinker and gambler. At one period in his school career he had not a friend and when he did eventually make friends they cared not about his family being landlords as all the others had. Da was integrated into their “family” and soon adopted their ways – the result was that school hibernated lying dormant until the death of Chairman Mao. A death which sparked ideas about education and suddenly there was this lust for knowledge. College became ‘the’ fad and examinations were being held in search of 100 possible applicants. These could be of any age and political background. If one was accepted you were made as the government was willing to pay for your tuition and there was a promise of a job. Da’s studies lay in taters as before Mao went on his “vacation” academics meant nothing and after all he was the grandson of a landlord, a nothing. What becomes of this boy will amaze you – I know I was juggling tears and smiles at the end of this book. I think it’s quite controversial to pin a rating on such I book as it greatly depends if this book’s attributes will interest you. For e.g. if you are a fanatic of soppy romance novels don’t attempt it and if the book had to be rated by such a person the rating would be rather low. However, I am a lover of history and could drown in other’s cultures. Bearing that in mind I dub this book with a rating of 4 (on a 1-4 scale). If you wish to leave home and travel back in time without incurring the expense of a ticket or magical portal this book is for you. The diction is of a basic and easy to comprehend level – what a quick palatable read! From cover to cover I digested this book and the hope this book gives to any dreamer of reaching their utopia is so profound that I sincerely recommend this book.
Reviewed by Nicole. Grade: ----- in Johannesburg , South Africa , - Link directly to entry

She’s Come Undone

Wally Lamb

This is the life story of Dolores Price, an over-weight, abused girl from a divorced household, written geniously by a man. Lamb follows her from age 4 to age 40, and it's amazing the way he describes things that happen only to woman from a perspective that is so uncannily a man's. This story deals with divorce, over-eating, depression, rape, insanity, and controversial issues. I'm not sure i'd recommend it to anyone who is immature enough to get embarrassed at sexual situations or language. It has adult content (though very well done) and a lot of 'vulgarity', but that only emphasizes this story's real life objective. Dolores goes through just about every problem imaginable, and at times, this book just made me want to cry and scream. It's an interactive story. I suggest reading it, but not for anyone under the mental age of 14. It's tough at parts, and isn't really appropriate for immature minds.
Reviewed by Vada. Grade: 10th Grade in Harrison, - Link directly to entry

Gone From Home

Angela Johnson

Gone From Home, by Angela Johnson, is a series of twelve stories of young people gone from home. This book can be read by boys or girls, ages 13 and up. This book is really short and makes for easy reading. The stories deal with hope, compassion, and hardships teens have to or can deal with. There is a different main character in each of the different stories. The stories are from 2-12 pages long. This book is very good and some of the stories you might be able to relate to, I could. Some of the stories have surprise endings to them and that makes it all the better. Hope that you choose to read this book, I definitely recommend it.
Reviewed by Crystal. Grade: ----- in Watkins Glen, - Link directly to entry

Songs of Faith

Angela Johnson

That summer was a “hot summer, a sad summer, an everybody-going-away-and-leaving-me summer…” for Doreen. Her father has moved to Chicago after the divorce, her best friend moved to the east coast and her brother stopped talking. Somehow, joining in with the rest of the country celebrating the bicentennial just doesn’t feel right. Through it all, Doreen learns about herself and the strength she has inside and she learns to keep her mind and heart open, no matter how things might hurt because you never know what you might miss if you don’t. The major strength is Angela Johnson’s richness and depth when telling a story. You often feel that you are eavesdropping on the characters. However, the story line was somewhat difficult to follow. It is told in first person narrative but the speaker, Doreen, changes subjects so often that it’s hard to keep up. Johnson’s fans, though, will appreciate the storytelling. This would be most appropriate for grades six and seven but not for those students who have trouble reading as they will have great difficulty following the characters. I would give this an overall rating of 2.
Reviewed by Donna. Grade: ----- in Atlanta, - Link directly to entry


John Neufeld

Twink, by John Neufeld, is a true story about a young girl who was born handicapped but discovers the joy that life has to bring. After being handicapped since birth, Twink developed a disease that is very deadly. She has an operation that saves her life, but a few days later, she finds out that the operation cost her her eyesight. She is very grateful for her life and praise to God every morning for the day that is dawning. “ Twink was crushed. She had to be. But she soared afterward...” I think this quote showed how much courage or bravery Twink really has. The author of Twink I felt rushed the ending a little bit. I wish he would have explained a little more about what Twink’s future was going to be after the book ended. I believe that if you like to read about people who have a disability that they learn to deal with, that you would enjoy this book.
Reviewed by Chelsea. Grade: 7th Grade in Worthington, - Link directly to entry

Food Fight

Janet Bode

"Food Fight" is a book about eating disorders targeted to America's most at-risk group- adolescent girls. This is their book as much as it is author Janet Bode's. Sprinkled throughout the facts and statistics of anorexia and bullimia, are bits and pieces of the writings of young girls. They write about their families, their friends, their lives at school, and mostly, their body image. One writes: "I hate my entire appearance. My hair is too thin and I wish it was curly. I hate my face. My ears stick out and now I have acne... but the worst is my weight... I can't stop thinking about food. I am fat. I am disgusting." It only makes it worse to realize that this girl is ten years old. In fact, "Food Fight" makes one aware that the problem of eating disorders is getting worse. The girls who develop the disorders are younger and younger. Clearly American girls are in trouble, and Bode wants us to do something about it. This book is her contribution to the battle against anorexia and bullimia. It serves as a sensitive guide to these girls, girls who are so often labled as "over-achievers" or "good" girls. On the outside, Bode notes, girls who develop eating disorders may look as though they have everything going for them. But on the inside they feel upset. But Bode wants people to understand that an eating disorder is not just a problem with an individual girl. It is a problem with families, with society, and with American culture. She explains the many reasons why a girl might develop anorexia. It may be triggered by a comment her father makes. It may be that she sees a skinny woman in a magazine ad, or all the supermodels she sees on TV. For whatever reason, the girl begins to think her life would be better if she just lost a little bit of weight. It often begins with a diet. But then she wants to lose more and more. Often, before she or her family notices, her problems with eating have spun out of control. Most frightening of all is the fact that studies have shown that children as young as two years old have already learned the message that thinner is better. Is it any wonder that, as Bode notes in a chapter headed "Food for Thought", in one school 43% of girls in 5th through 8th grade had dieted? And 54% felt they looked fat? Despite these alarming statistics, no one has really listened to young girls themselves about their thoughts on eating disorders- no one, that is, until Janet Bode. As author Janet Bode explains in her concluding chapter, this book was a project on many levels. Bode spoke to experts on nutrition and eating disorders. She spoke to parents. But what makes her book unique is that she collaborated with a grammar school English class and used the writings of hundreds of girls in the seventh and eighth grades. Although many books have been written on this topic, this is the first book that takes it into account that the age of girls afflicted with anorexia and bullimia is getting younger and younger. This is Janet Bode's wake-up call. It is both well-written and easy to understand. It is informative and educational, with instructions readers on nutrition and good diets; diets meant not for losing weight, but rather achieving health. It is a guide for parents also, instructing them to the warning signs and the steps to take to help build a girl's self-image and prevent eating disorders. It is personal and sensitive, the stories of these girls are all too familiar. These girls are our friends, sisters, daughters, and maybe even ourselves. All in all, Janet Bode has written a wonderful and necessary book that certainly gives us food for thought.
Reviewed by Adinah. Grade: ----- in , - Link directly to entry

The Guy Book

Mavis Jukes

This is more of a informative book than one which you could sit down and read with a cup of hot chocolate. I reate to it well as I am still going through puberty and that is bascially what the book is about. I would give it 2 out of 4 as I did find it quite boring although very informative. This book would be suitable for pre teens and teenagers. The book is set in the style of a car manual to try and make it as interesting as possible but it just didn't work for me.
Reviewed by Andrew. Grade: ----- in , - Link directly to entry
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