“Surrender” by Sonya Hartnett

I’m about 8 books and 2 weeks behind on writing posts. I keep saying it: but it’s much easier to just keep reading, rather than taking the time to reflect.

If you don’t like books with unreliable narrators and/or ambiguous endings, this book is definitely not for you.

And it wasn’t just the end that was ambiguous, everything (everything!) all along the way was off kilter, and just want I thought I had a clue, something else weird would happen.

Disturbing and strange — I still haven’t decided if I’m a fan of this one or not. The language was beautiful in many places –I highlighted a section that described a car catching on fire as a passage that particularly struck me:

“The Wolseley was parked in the driveway and its blue bulk was swollen with molten flames, which brightened my father’s pale face. I stopped on the lawn, shielding my eyes, and as the fire banked and swept I glimpsed the warped seat, the dashboard consumed, the bonnet buckled into a scream. The air was dense with toxic stink, and blankets of black smoke surfed up to the sky. Sparks arched across the lawn and fell glowing into the grass.”

An ugly thing to describe, but at the same time: made amazing and compelling by Hartnett’s word choices. I can see that car on fire, and I can’t really look away.

A lot of the time, though, the language went from wonderful to completely overblown and over the top. I didn’t highlight any of those passages, because I tended to skim when it got like that.

It’s been about 2 weeks since I read this one — it has lingered, as I tried to decide what I thought. What was real (or not…)? How much was fantasy, mental illness, wishful thinking, or reality and truth. I think this would be an excellent book to read with others, to have someone to argue about it with and to get their opinions. I suspect that you’d get different interpretations from every single reader.

“Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” by Gary D. Schmidt

I feel like I should like this one a lot more than I actually do. Yes, it kept my attention, I didn’t set it aside and moan about having to read it, and yes, Turner, the main character was very likeable. But everyone else seemed like a cardboard character. The bad white guys are very bad. The black inhabitants of Malaga Island, that the bad guys want to get rid of, are all good. Sure, Turner’s Dad comes around a bit, and when his Mom is finally acknowledged as a character that can speak, she stands behind Turner, but where was she sooner? Why did it take Turner’s Dad so long to get his act together for his son?

OK, fine, some of the bad characters weren’t so bad after all, they had Reasons for being like they were, but it all felt very staged, very much a Book with an Important Message.

Needless to say, I was underwhelmed.

“The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things” by Carolyn Mackler

I was worried, based on the title, that this was going to be like Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, but thankfully it was so much better. It had a lot more emotional depth and punch, and the crisis was much weightier. It wasn’t perfect, I’m not sure how you write a book about a girl with body issues and not have it hit the wrong note for someone.

And for as much self-hate as Virginia expressed for most of the book, I thought it ended up wrapping up a bit too neatly.

I’d also like to point out, that I’m not crazy about the whole “all of these books are set in NYC” thing — this one was too!

Spoilers below:

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The description references a shocking revelation about her older brother: he is accused of date-rape and is sent home from college. I thought it was interesting to see how this affected not only Virginia, but also her parents. Personally, I thought it was well-handled, and did a nice job of showing how sexual assault affects more than just the principals. I had never really thought about what it must be like for the family of someone accused of a crime like this. As you can imagine, their emotions ran the gamut, and even now I get a little bit of a knot in my stomach thinking about how I might cope in a similar situation. Probably not as well as I might hope.

 

“Keesha’s House” by Helen Frost

Another novel in verse. Before starting this project, I would have completely passed these by. Now, though, I’mexcited when I find that another book is a novel in verse.

This one, though, was just too short and spare for my taste. A lot gets left out when there is just the lines of poetry, and a lot more is left to the imagination, but this seemed too bare bones. I think part of that, for me, was having too many voices — we were following 7 teenagers (I think? It was hard to keep track of them when they each got so little time on the page. I wanted more from each, or fewer voices and more from each one.

What is there, though, is great and important. These are all teens in crisis, with lives and situations very far removed from my own, but not necessarily from many of the students around me.

I’d love to see the teenagers at my school read some of these great books — not necessarily spending 6 weeks wringing every bit out of one novel, but a new novel every week, dipping and tasting. Experiencing different genres and techniques — I bet some of them would find they actually *like* poetry if they read it in a setting like this.

Of course, there’s not enough time and not enough money. Wouldn’t it be nice if we spent millions on books for kids instead of on professional athletes?

“Fat Kid Rules the World” by K.L. Going

I didn’t want to like this book, but it grew on me and it ended up giving me warm fuzzies by the end. Unfortunately, I’ve let a little too much time go between reading it and trying to write about it, and I’m at a loss as to what to say about it.

I might be making this up, but it seems like an overly large proportion of the books I’ve read for this project have taken place in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York City as a place to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there, or try to raise kids there. But I bet there are plenty of people who look at the life I lead in Iowa and wonder how I survive without Big City Opportunities.

(The answer is, just fine. I have the Internet. And books.)

As with  many of the books that are honored by the Printz awards, this book is full of stuff that us parents probably wish our kids didn’t know about, like sex and drugs, as well as things we wish they didn’t have to worry about, like body issues and death. There’s a lot of hope in this book, too, though, and humor, and that’s the kind of thing that kids who are dealing with scary stuff need to hear about.