Monday, October 27, 2014

The Diviners by Libba Bray

On the Iowa High School Book Award list for 2014-2015, The Diviners, by Libba Bray follows Evie O'Neill as she is "exiled" to New York City to live with her uncle Will.  Evie is one of those spunky girls who love to be the center of attention and don't put much stock in being told "no."  During the twenties, Evie finds excitement in the Ziegfield girls and speakeasies.  She is not that excited about the musesum "of the creepie crawlies" that her uncle runs, but when a murder occurs, Evie finds herself caught in the search for the murderer.  Though at first she is all glitter and society, she ends up in some very unappealing and scary situations and discovers a secret power she finds often gets her into trouble.  This is both a lively romp and a good mystery.

Damaged....beyond repair?  Two very different books explore a similar theme...

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt,
Pulitzer Prize 2014
Boy 21 by Matthew Quick 

These two books could not be more different in a lot of ways.  The Goldfinch, 775 pages long and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner is the epic story of Theo Decker, told in his own voice, as he struggles with the effects of being in a museum bombing and his mother's death there, and a chance meeting with a dying man.

Boy 21, only 250 pages, is about two boys, both damaged by horrible and traumatic experiences, who manage to find a way out of their emotionally crippled state to live more normal lives.  A big difference is the audience the books are written for.  Another difference is the enormous amount of detail in The Goldfinch, the detailed thoughts and attention to every sensory cue in scenes and dialogs.  Boy 21 on the other hand is almost Spartan in coming to the point and moving on.

Where they mesh is the terrible damage suffered by all three as boys and the struggle they go through to become whole again.  A big question, a theme of The Goldfinch is whether good can come from bad.  This theme is present in Boy 21 as well, when Finley wants to refuse the money that will free him because he knows where it came from.  Both books have characters you will never forget.

The Goldfinch is only recommended for upper level high school and adults.  Boy 21 is recommended for 8th grade and above.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Korman, Gordon.  Ungifted.  NY: Balzer & Bray, c2012.

In this funny novel, we meet middle school student Donovan Curtis, who does something typical for him, unexpected and not too smart!  He whacks the school statue, accidentally sending a huge brass globe careening toward the gym's open door.  The principal is so mad at the damage done, and in a hurry to get to a meeting, he mistakenly writes Donovan's name on the list for gifted students going to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction instead of the detention list.  Donovan, of course, decides to play it out and see what happens.  He knows he is not smart enough to succeed at the school, but finds that he has special qualities that make a difference to the robotic team and their upcoming competition.  In the end, things work out and Donovan learns a lot about himself and what he believes in and is capable of.  This book is on the Iowa Teen Award list for 2014-2015.  You'll like Donovan!  Recommended for Junior High and above.

Dark of the Moon 

Barrett, Tracy.  Dark of the Moon.  Boston:Houghton Mifflin, c2011.

This dark story is totally different from Barrett's Sherlock Holmes lighthearted mysteries, but it definitely fits into her imaginative Greek retellings.  In this book, we see the Minotaur through the eyes of his 15-year-old sister Ariadne who loves him despite his monstrosity.  We also meet up with Theseus, who is planning to slay the Minotaur and rule Knossos.  While many details are consistent with Greek legend, there are a lot of details about Ariadne's role as Moon Goddess, which are not for the squeamish.  If you like imaginative re-tellings like this one, Barrett also wrote Stepsister's Tale, a Cinderella story, King of Ithaca, about Homer, and On Etruscan Time about Hector.
Recommended for High School and above.