June 28, 2012

Wilderness adventure

The Boy Kelsey
by Alfred Silver

In 1690, young Henry Kelsey is sent on a two-year surveying and trading expedition on behalf of the Company of Adventurers (Hudson's Bay). After he is abandoned in the wilderness by his Cree guides, Kelsey is rescued by Meyokwaiwin, daughter of the Cree leader. Together, Kelsey and Meyokwaiwin survive the cold winters while making their way back to the York Factory fort.

This is a book with a lot of description, making it a bit hard to really get into at first. But persistent readers will find much to interest them, especially if they like history and wilderness adventure. From the rugged Canadian landscape to the Indian way of life, the novel also highlights the fragile relationship between European fur traders and the Native Canadian tribes. An author's note at the end discusses the facts and myths about the real Henry Kelsey, the first explorer to set foot in Saskatchewan.

June 26, 2012

Dealing with deportation

Illegally Blonde
by Nelsa Roberto

When seventeen-year-old Lucy do Amaral dyes her hair blonde, she expects another lecture from her strict parents. She's totally unprepared for the shocking news that her family are illegal aliens who are being deported to their native Portugal. Devastated and furious, all Lucy can think about is missing prom, missing graduation, and being separated from her boyfriend Joel. She's not at all pleased at being stuck in a town and a country that she doesn't remember. Refusing to make the best of things, Lucy schemes and lies in a desperate attempt to get back home. Falling for handsome Filipe Delgado adds to her confusion. Torn between right and wrong, Lucy struggles with conflicted feelings, until she gains some measure of understanding in a rather unexpected way.

Lucy's unhappiness and depression permeates much of the novel. Her determination not to accept her fate can elicit in the reader both exasperation and admiration. But her voice is strong and true. Less well done are secondary character development and situations. The conflict between Felipe and his half-brother seems simplistic and is left unresolved, while the relationship between Lucy and her cousin Marta isn't dealt with until the end of the book. The plot also veers into soap opera territory, with class conflicts, family honor, and even an unhinged matriarch. Still, it is an engaging read that many teens will find enjoyable.

June 21, 2012

Dealing with divorce

Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom
Twelve-year-old Violet is not reacting well to her parents' divorce and her dad's new-and- improved family with new-and-improved children. It makes her act out in wildly inappropriate ways. Violet's mother has been dating, but her tastes in men leave much to be desired. When she takes up with the unfortunately named Dudley Wiener, owner and operator of bath store Skip to My Loo (the man likes bad puns), Violet's had enough. If her mom can't pick the perfect man, Violet will choose one for her: George Clooney. With help from her best friend Phoebe, Violet writes Mr. Clooney a letter. When she doesn't get the appropriate response, she decides she'll have to meet him in person. Since Violet's dad is a television director who is working at the same studio, it should be easy.

Outrageous, funny, and touching in turns, this is nonetheless a realistic account of the emotional turmoil that comes as a result of divorce. 

June 19, 2012

Word games and secrets

Word Nerd

Ambrose is a lot like Marcus in the Hugh Grant movie About a Boy. They're both misfits - a bit nerdy, with an unfortunate knack of saying the wrong thing at the worst times or dressing inappropriately. Though even Marcus would have had the sense not to wear purple cords and a t-shirt with the words Number One Mom on the front.

Unlike Marcus, Ambrose is saddled with a wildly overprotective mother who keeps her son on a pretty tight leash. So it's no wonder that he keeps secrets from her, especially about his friendship with the landlords' son. Cosmo just got out of jail and is trying to figure out what to do with his life. When Ambrose discovers that he and Cosmo share a love of Scrabble, he talks Cosmo into taking him to the West Side Scrabble Club. Cosmo is reluctant until he meets Amanda, the club's director. One small deception leads to another until everyone's secrets are exposed in tumultuous fashion.

A fun, rollicking read, with memorable characters and an optimistic ending.

Highly recommended.

June 14, 2012

Teen courage

Chance to Dance for You
by Gail Sidonie Sobat

Ian lives in town where everything's the same. The houses are the same, the cars are the same, the families are the same. But this place, Ian tells us, has lots of secrets. The biggest secret of all? Ian's in love with popular quarterback Jess Campeau. 

Ian is openly gay in a homophobic high school. Fortunately, he has a supportive mother, an understanding best friend, and his love of dance. Ian's dream is to become a professional dancer. He's just been accepted to the National Ballet School's summer program, and he musn't lose focus. However, his secret relationship proves to be very distracting. Especially since Jess is still closeted. Ian tries his best to help Jess accept himself, but Jess is too fearful. Most disturbingly, he turns away when Ian really needs him.

Gail Sidonie Sobat has written a realistic and clear-eyed account of the hazards that continue to exist for gay teens. Ian's brave acceptance of who he is and his courageous stance against injustice makes him a highly sympathetic character that many readers will root for. An excellent novel.

June 12, 2012

A different kind of beauty

A Different Kind of Beauty
by Sylvia McNicoll

Elizabeth is a young teen about to start high school. She owns a dog called Beauty and is training her to become a guide dog for the blind. Kyle is 15, has diabetes, and recently lost his sight. Elizabeth and Kyle are fated to cross paths, but before they do, they have to work out relationship problems with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend, and other family matters. Kyle has an especially hard time. In denial about his diabetes and vision loss, he makes many poor decisions, jeopardizing his health and safety. Often angry and resentful, Kyle is not very likeable. But when he finally meets Beauty, he starts to rebuild his life.

McNicoll writes with a light touch that keeps the story flowing nicely. Having the story told in both Kyle's and Elizabeth's voices make them very real characters that young readers can sympathize and relate to. A heart-warming ending makes for an enjoyable and satisfying read.

Other books about Beauty: Bringing Up Beauty, Beauty Returns.

June 7, 2012

A mystery with a difference

From Charlie's Point of View
by Richard Scrimger

The police think Charlie Fairmile's dad is the Stocking Bandit, who's been attacking bank machines with an ax. Even though the evidence is purely circumstantial, things are looking pretty bleak. So Charlie decides to find the real criminal. His task is made more difficult because Charlie has been blind since birth. Helped by neighbor and friend, Bernadette, who acts as his guide, and non-stop nervous talker Lewis, Charlie gradually puts the clues together. 

The plot veers toward the ludicrous at times, but is saved by funny dialogue and a relatively fast-moving plot.  Scrimger also includes an interesting character named Gideon, a guardian angel who shows up at key moments for last-minute rescues. But it's Charlie who holds our interest. Despite his lack of sight, he is never totally helpless, and is even braver than most people, as witnessed in the final, exciting crypt-crawling climax.

A surprising, laugh-out-loud mystery.

June 5, 2012

Life in Florida

by Edward Bloor

Paul Fisher is legally blind. However, special goggles enable him to see well enough to play goal for his middle school's soccer team. Paul doesn't remember how his eyes were damaged. His teenage brother, Erik, has been telling everyone that Paul had stared at the sun during an eclipse. This puzzles Paul since he doesn't think he was that stupid. He has other problems to deal with, anyway.

His family has just moved to Tangerine, Florida—once a citrus paradise. But the groves of trees have been burned and new housing developments placed over them. Due to environmental damage, these new areas face severe problems like constantly burning muck fires, torrential rains, and lightning strikes that sometimes kill. Meanwhile, Paul’s father pursues the Erik Fisher Football Dream, doing everything in his power to advance Erik's potential career. And Paul’s mother likes to interfere in everyone’s business. Both parents deliberately turn a blind eye to Erik's tendency towards violence and his lack of empathy for others. They pretty much ignore Paul. When part of Paul’s school falls into a sinkhole, he seizes the opportunity to attend another school in a rougher neighborhood. That school has a fierce soccer team, and Paul’s hard play gains the team’s approval. Now he's got friends who back him up no matter what.

Bloor does an excellent job of revealing each character's true nature and failings by showing how they handle incident after incident. Paul is an especially worthy protagonist. Never a victim, he bravely stands up for himself and others. With smart dialogue, exciting action, tense relationships, and ethical conundrums, Tangerine is a memorable novel and a highly worthwhile read.