Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
One of my favorite things about reading a novel is when I come across one with characters so believable, so engaging, that I think about them for days after I’ve finished the book. Eleanor and Parkwas just one of those books for me, and I nearly decided not to read it because it was labeled as young adult fiction. Based on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I trusted, I put my teen lit prejudices aside and found I couldn’t put the book down once I had picked it up. Eleanor and Park are sixteen in 1986, social outcasts, and falling in love over comic books and New Wave. I’m certain I would have been friends with them in high school.
Tension in the novel arises from Eleanor’s home life—she lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather. Her situation is a tough one, and it’s heartbreaking, but author Rainbow Rowell manages present her story in a realistic way without turning it into a schmaltzy after-school special. I consider the absence of schmaltz a major feat since this is basically a story about two socially awkward teenagers falling in love for the first time, and it’s ripe with opportunities for sentimentality. This book is good for anyone, teen or adult, who likes great character development.
Eleanor and Park
Stories about spunky kids appeal to me. Bean, the narrator of Jeannette Walls’ new novel, The Silver Star, is one of them. When their mother doesn’t return after a short trip, Bean and her older sister Liz decide to get out of town ahead of the busybodies who will think they can’t handle things themselves. They head to Virginia to re-introduce themselves to their Uncle Tinsley, who they haven’t seen since Bean was a baby. Fortunately, trouble doesn’t follow them. Unfortunately, new trouble is waiting. But spunk and guts and a little sass will take you a long way, as Bean and Liz find out.
The Silver Star
Missing May is a bitter-sweet story about the after-effects of coping with the death of a most-beloved wife and stepmother named May. For many years May and Ob, her husband, a disabled Navy veteran, lived in Deep Water, West Virginia in a rusty old trailer. They were a childless couple until they met Summer, a distant relative who became parentless at the age of six, and who was subsequently “adopted” by May and Ob.
The story begins after May’s death. May was a very loving woman and both Ob and Summer grieve so desperately that they attempt to find May’s spirit. Cletus Underwood, a kid from Summer’s seventh grade class, befriends Ob and senses Ob’s despair. He tells Ob and Summer about a Spiritualist in a nearby county, so, Ob, Summer, and Cletus begin a quest to find The Reverend Miriam B. Conklin, Small Medium at Large. Do Ob and Summer find what they’re looking for to quell their sadness? You will discover the truth after reading this inspirational story that received the 1993 John Newbery Award.
Teddy wears a dress shirt, tie, and suit every day; he has two and alternates them. He’s also pretty sure he’s engaged to Mia and shows his love by sometimes connecting their wheelchairs by a bungee cord because he has a power chair and Mia doesn’t. Teddy and Mia are two of the teen residents of the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center, a state nursing facility now run by a for-profit corporation.
In Good Kings Bad Kings, a novel by Susan Nussbaum, the voices of Teddy, Mia, and other residents and staff of the ILLC use their own words to tell the heartbreaking story of youth in residential care. I dare you to not care.
Good Kings Bad Kings
Calling all Gatsby fans! If you love the romance, mystery and decadence of The Great Gatsby, then you will be delighted with Starstruck, by Rachel Shukert. This is old Hollywood with screen legends, child stars, intrigue, and enough glitz to bedazzle one and all.
Olympus Studio has an Olympic sized problem, their biggest star, Diana Chesterfield, has gone missing and no one seems to have any answers. While the studio scrambles to find the right spin to put on this mystery, trouble is also brewing for showbiz veteran Gabby Preston and all of the little magic pills that help aid her climb to the top.
In Starstruck, Rachel Shukert has nailed the language, music and essence of the 1930s while spinning a story of deceit, Hollywood magic and teenage dreams. This is a must read if you love old Hollywood. Enjoy!
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a beautiful novel that artfully weaves together the stories of several women into one shared experience. Set in the wake of World War I, it follows the lives of a group of Japanese women who came to California as picture brides, knowing very little of the men to whom they would be married. Told in the first person plural, the narrative begins with the young women as they traveled across the ocean to start their new lives. Marriage, childbirth, earning a living, raising families, and being part of a community, they all learned to navigate life in this strange place. Eventually, what they came to think of as home was taken away as the Second World War called into question their loyalties. At times heartbreaking, and other times wryly funny, this book seems to be more about what actually happened than any purely factual account could contain. It is an album made up of hundreds of snapshots on a loose time line that brings to life a piece of history that is so often forgotten.
The Buddha in the Attic
Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.
Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!
This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.
One Dog and His Boy
Bagels may not often described with the above adjectives, but Sharon Kahn’s Fax me a bagel definitely fits the bill. The first in her Ruby, the rabbi’s wife series, it is a quick and enjoyable read, with quirky characters and old technology (published in 1998 – can that really be fifteen years ago already – facsimile technology and the necessary accoutrements of a business have come a long way). If you enjoy this title, you’ll be pleased to know that we have the rest of the series, which are six in total. Just beware: you may finish reading with a craving for bagels, though you may be as lucky as I was – and coincidentally be offered one. Just in case it wasn’t a coincidence, my next read may be about winning the lottery!
Fax me a bagel
My kids attended a fine arts magnet school in Chicago. The great thing about this elementary school was that everyone danced. Dance was as big a part of the school day as gym. Most kids seemed to enjoy it. Mine certainly did, so when we moved to Michigan it didn't come as a surprise to me when my youngest asked if he could continue dance lessons. It started off good, especially with him being the only boy in the group. He got all kinds of attention from the girls and the instructors. When he walked into class everyone stopped what they were doing and said "Hi, Tommy". My problem was he was growing fast so he kept outgrowing his shoes. I got him through a couple of years by using his older brother's and sister's slippers and tap shoes. Then he outgrew those. It was time to face facts. Although, Tommy was still having a good time in dance and was learning a lot about movement, he wasn't that interested in the actual dance part of it. So, I did what most American moms would do. I bought him a basketball. Then he was a cool kid with a basketball.
Well, the teen book Panic by Sharon Draper is about a real dancer, Justin. Just like Tommy, Justin likes the female attention that comes from being a guy in a dance group. But, he also got a lot of not-so-good male attention for being 16 and liking toe shoes. The major difference between Justin and Tommy was that Justin could dance. He had real talent. Dance was his life. And even though the guys called him a fag he went "boom, boom, pop" with the Black Eyed Peas and that made it all worth it.
But the book Panic is not just about dancing. It's chucked full of teen life, including the scary parts. Sharon Draper has never hesitated to talk about the real life scary stuff, such as, bullying, bad relationships, abuse and abduction, trust and what it means to be a real friend. It's a tough read and although it's very realistic I'm glad it's fiction.
Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph is a classic coming of age story set in Samana, Dominican Republic, and the promising land of New York. Fifteen year old Nina Perez must find the meaning and truth of life, love and self-image. Through her magical gift of gardening, she discovers that it is possible for flowers to grow anywhere; in the tropics, in the grit of New York City, in the sky, or even inside a heart.
Lynn Joseph’s writing style is real, at times lyrical and always engaging. This book definitely goes on the must read list for summer and beach reading. Enjoy!
Flowers in the Sky