Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Book Award Young People's Literature Finalists

Reviews of the 2010 National Book Award Young People's Literature Finalists

                 Dark Water
                   Laura Mcneal

Since Pearl’s father left the family, fifteen-year-old Pearl and her mother have been living in a guesthouse on Pearl’s uncle’s avocado ranch. Soon she has a new focus, finding herself completely smitten with Amiel, a young field worker, whose impaired voice leads him to communicate mostly through gesture and mime and who lives, illegally, in a self-made shelter by the river. A wary Amiel begins to return Pearl’s interest, allowing her in to some—but clearly not all—of his secrets as they become closer. When California fire season brings a conflagration that threatens the area, Pearl fears that Amiel, in his isolation, won’t have heard the order to evacuate, and her determination to save him sets in motion a series of events that will change the lives of Pearl and her family forever. McNeal is skilled at creating a vivid world and multidimensional characters while keeping her writing fluid and unlabored. Pearl’s fall for Amiel is a believable reaction from a girl who’s been abandoned by her father and whose best friend seems to be drifting away, but it’s also sultry and intense, with their leaving of messages and secret rendezvous bringing a romantic poetry to the relationship. The romance is more significant, however, for being the contact point between two stories, that of the extent of Amiel’s marginalization as an undocumented worker (with immigration checking the evacuation points, he can’t flee the fire) and that of Pearl’s family’s shifting dynamics, which get smashed violently into a new phase after her uncle’s death—a consequence of her actions—in the fire. Overall, it’s involving and thought-provoking, it’s got contemporary resonance, and it’s got a conclusion that readers will find hard to forget Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2010, Knopf, 304p.; Reviewed from galleys, $19.99 and $16.99 and E-book ed. $16.99. Grades 7-12. Reviewer: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, October 2010 (Vol. 64, No. 2)).
ISBN: 9780375849732

Walter Dean Myers

Reese Anderson is serving time in a juvenile detention center for something he most definitely did. He is serving his time with appropriate behavior and is now doing a work release program in preparation for an attempt at early release. But another young detainee is being bullied and Reese is not willing to let that happen. The center is a tough, gritty place with guards who look the other way and a code that does not allow Reese to tell them the truth. While on work release at a nursing home, Reese becomes an assistant to Mr. Hooft, an elderly Dutch immigrant who had been held in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Through that relationship, Reese is able to better understand imprisonment, the kind someone does to you, and the kind that you do to yourself. When NYC detectives drag Reese down to the police station, he realizes that he is now being accused of doing something he did not do and the decision he has to make has serious consequences for his future. Reese is caught in a seemingly impossible situation where it is the thought of his kid sister that keeps him going, gives him a new purpose, and helps him see a possible life stretching before him. This novel tells the hard story of getting caught and what it takes to get out of the grim cycle of recidivism. Reese is a smart kid with a tough life but a moral center; readers cannot help but cheer him on. There is adult language and realistic violence. 2010, Amistead/HarperCollins, $16.99. Ages 14 up. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780061214806
ISBN: 9780061214813

              Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin marks time by The Day Our Life Fell Apart, that is, the day her beloved older brother, Devon, was killed in a school shooting. Since then, Caitlin has turned even more inward than usual, and her Asperger’s syndrome exacerbates that withdrawal. In working through Devon’s death, Caitlin must make peace with fellow schoolmate Josh, whose cousin was the shooter, and find closure. Because of her Asperger’s, she struggles with even the most basic social skills during her healing process and is genuinely confused when the school counselor tries to explain how people generally interact. To set off these concepts, Caitlin refers to them in capital letters, such as Look At The Person, Talk About It, Closure, and Personal Space. This device underscores both the foreignness and the importance of these ideas to her. At one point, Caitlin describes her terror during recess, when she shrinks from children’s “pointy and dangerous” elbows and sharp screaming. She also draws the reader into her technique of “stuffed animaling,” which is how she stares at something until it becomes soft and fluffy and therefore less upsetting to her. The plot is more about Caitlin’s emotional growth than any external story line, although her growing relationship with a smaller child becomes a catalyst for the closure she seeks. This book is a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of someone with Asperger’s and takes the reader into a journey of understanding. 2010, Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers Group, Ages 10 up, $15.99. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780399252648

One Crazy Summer
Rita Williams-Garcia

Readers will quickly come to adore Delphine, the eleven-year-old protagonist. Abandoned by her mother and raised by her grandparents, she has developed a naturally protective attitude toward her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. Now, for the first time, they are sent from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to visit their birth mother, Cecile. It happens to be the height of the Black Panther revolution. Although set in summer during the late 1960s, this is a story that today’s teen girls are likely to relate to on several different levels: the confusion of beginning to like boys, the complicated relationships with parents and siblings, and the innate responsibility that girls easily take for their younger brothers and sisters. On a broader level, it gives a unique perspective of a part of history not often seen in youth literature. The Black Panther aspect is thought-provoking, adding depth to the theme of Delphine’s family situation. Aside from the plot, the natural writing makes this a smooth read from start to finish, and the characters and situations are realistic. It is a “must” for library collections. 2010, HarperCollins Publishers, $15.99. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer: Cherie Ilg Haas (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780060760885
ISBN: 9780060760892

Ship Breaker
Paolo Bacigalupi

When fate intertwines with desperation and luck, the outcome can be both a curse and a blessing. In an advanced world, where huge cities have been sunken to the depths of the oceans, humanity thrives on luck and self preservation. In this twisted new world, Nailer has suffered tremendously since the death of his mother, watching his father become a dangerous, reckless alcoholic. Faced with no other choice but to follow in the footsteps of the one man with the strength to kill him, Nailer dedicates his survival to breaking down and stripping rotting oil tankers. Constantly overwhelmed by making quota, Nailer crawls into the deepest bowels of the decrepit ships to scavenge for wire for ungrateful bosses. Fate carries him through a near-death experience thwarted by a coworker, but refuses to leave his side as he narrowly escapes his menacing father and a massive hurricane that hits the Gulf Coast. Upon searching the beach after the destruction of the hurricane, Nailer finds a washed-up clipper ship full of enough silver to seriously change his luck for good. However, the ship holds one survivor, a lone girl who claims to be the heiress to a major shipping company. Desperate to forgo the life his father has doomed him for, he resolves to save the girl and help her find her father’s alliances up the coast. The sincere hope for a better life fuels his dedication to help the heiress, despite the incessant bad luck that follows him at every turn. 2009, Little Brown and Company/Hachette, Ages 14 to 18, $17.99. Reviewer: Patrice Russo Belotte (Children’s Literature).
ISBN: 978-0-316-05621-2

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