Book Review: Beautiful Dead, Book 1—Jonas by Eden Maguire

March 8, 2010

Darina can hardly believe her eyes when she stumbles upon a gathering in an old barn near an abandoned home way out of town. Drawn to the area because of tales around town of strange sightings there, she is shocked to see Phoenix, her recently dead boyfriend, and three other teens from town who have died in the last year, looking very much alive. An older man is with them, and Darina runs when she thinks he’s about to discover her. But the possibility that Phoenix may still alive draws her back to learn the truth—they are all dead and brought back to earth by Hunter, who protects them. They all have unfinished business to set right before they can rest.

Beautiful Dead, Book 1—Jonas is the first in a new series by Eden Maguire. It imagines a realm where the dead can return, commune with the living, and solve a mystery surrounding their deaths. Anyone living who discovers them has his memory of the event wiped away. Except for Darina. Her strong connection with Phoenix, and her promise to help the group find the answers they’re looking for makes her a vital accomplice. She is under a strict vow of silence about what she knows.

Beautiful Dead is full of complex, conflicting relationships. Darina feels ostracized at home because she doesn’t get along with her stepfather. Caught in the middle, Darina’s mother mostly frets about the right thing to do. Darina is befriended by Phoenix’s brother, who has promised to look after her. But many in town question his motives. Darina’s old friends aren’t sure if they can trust her, and some lash out as she pulls away from them to keep her secret.

As the story evolves, we find that Darina must help each of the Beautiful Dead find out the mystery surrounding his or her death. The first is Jonas, who has been dead the longest. While Darina looks deeper into what happened the day he crashed his motorcycle, she must also deal with the grief, anguish and confusion of those closest to Jonas. And the outrage of one who has something to hide.

Beautiful Dead is imaginative and intriguing. Issues to talk about in a book group include personal feelings of spirituality and what happens after death, the bond between dating teens, jealousy, and mother-daughter relationships. While I found the descriptions of the rules that existed for the beautiful dead the least compelling part of the book, I was able to read past those and enjoy the mystery and the story enough to look forward to reading the second in the series.

Read an excerpt from the first chapter and learn more about the author at the Beautiful Dead page at Teen Fire.

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New YA Publishing Imprint, Sourcebooks Fire!

January 8, 2010

Sourcebooks publishing is introducing a new imprint for young adult literature. It’s called Sourcebooks Fire! The website to go along with it, http://teenfire.ning.com, has a couple of interesting pieces of news that may appeal to teen readers.

One is a writing contest for teens that will accept submissions from February 1 to February 28, 2010. Sourcebooks Fire! is also searching for teens to give editorial input into the titles they choose to print. Here’s a description from the website of what review board members do:

“What you’ll get to do:

• Make editorial suggestions on novels in progress • Give feedback on covers in progress • Discuss books with other teens as smart and cool as you are—long before the books are in stores • Participate in the publishing industry • Meet authors, editors, and designers • Shape the next wave of teen fiction”
For complete details of how you can be eligible and apply to be a member of the teen review board, visit http://teenfire.ning.com/events/join-the-sourcebooks-fire-teen. You can also take part in discussion groups of  Sourcebooks Fire! books.

Book Review and Discussion Questions: Dear Big V by Ellen Leroe

September 23, 2009

Dear Big V

Courtney Condon is a junior who is suddenly facing a lot of issues. The school club she started a year ago for students committed to staying virgins until marriage is being taken over by a new girl who wants to ramp us the club’s profile and be more confrontational. Her mother won’t talk about sex, and she acts as though it’s the cause of all evil. To make things worse, Courtney finds her own resolve weakening as she becomes attracted to the cutest boy in school, who has a reputation as a “player.”

As she navigates the minefields all around her she turns to the “Big V,” her virginity, for advice, and she’s surprised to find it sometimes answers back. Courtney’s observations about the world around her are often laugh-out-loud funny. Reminiscent of Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging (Louise Rennison), Dear Big V by Ellen W. Leroe is for older girls who will appreciate the frank treatment of conflict between hormones and values.

The issues are definitely in your face, but the book provides a great forum for moms to talk with their high school daughters about important issues: premarital sex, appropriate behavior at school dances, sexual abuse, normal sexual feelings, dating, “good girls/bad girls,” seeing issues in black and white, and family rules. Fiction is a great way to address topics that have the potential to embarrass moms and daughters and inhibit frank discussions. Group conversation about these topics is also a great way to take the pulse of your daughter’s peers and other moms.

The author, Ellen W. Leroe, has developed some great discussion questions to go with Dear Big V that should be really helpful when discussing the book. Here they are;

  1. In the novel, Courtney talks to her Big V and the Big V sometimes answers her. Did this surprise you in a positive way, or prove distracting?
  2. Have you ever wished that you could speak to your virginity the way Courtney did? If so, what questions would you ask? Or perhaps you would like to communicate with another personality trait or quality about yourself in order to understand your behavior. What would that trait be, and why?
  3. Were the individual members of the Condon family fleshed out enough, and did their personal stories work to enhance Courtney’s problem with her mother?
  4. Did Maggie Condon, Court’s mom, seem realistic or was her stress about abstinence over-the-top?
  5. Was Courtney’s antagonistic relationship with Poe one you could believe? Did you identify with the clashes between the two girls, and if so, how? If not, why not?
  6. Mollie and Rob (“Roblie”) are depicted humorously throughout the book. Did that detract from the seriousness of their conflict whether to sleep with each other for the first time?
  7. Courtney strongly resents Lance “love ‘em and leave ‘em” Lindsey until she gets to know him better at Carlos Mesa’s party. Could you relate to her change of heart when she feels an unexpected physical attraction to him?
  8. Courtney sips beer at the party and dances closely with Lance, then later makes out with him in his car. How do you feel about her choices?
  9. Maggie Condon flips out when she catches Courtney dressed in provocative clothes, kissing Lance, and smelling of alcohol. Does this reaction ring true after you discover that Maggie Condon had been sexually molested by her uncle?
  10. Courtney and her mom are open in expressing their negative emotions during mother-daughter arguments. Can you see both sides to each character’s strong stand, and why mother and daughter feel the way they do?
  11. Many characters in Dear Big V keep secrets, one of the biggest being Maggie Condon’s abusive relationship with her uncle. What would have happened if Courtney’s mom had opened up to her family about her childhood sexual abuse at the beginning of the story, instead of keeping it hidden? Would that have changed Court and Cody’s reactions to their mother’s strict religious views?
  12. Courtney lies to her mother on certain occasions. Are any of these lies justified? If not, what would you have done in her place?
  13. Why is Courtney so angry when she learns that Mollie is planning to sleep with Rob on his birthday? And does her reaction change when she feels physically attracted to Lance?
  14. At the end of the book, Courtney is angered and hurt when Lance shows up with a number of girls for their date to Sadie’s dance. Yet she still is torn about staying with him as one of his dates. Did this indecision seem realistic?
  15. Do you think Court’s deciding to stay true to her values was a hard one for her to make? What decision would you have made in her place, and do you think she made the right choice in leaving with Mark to be with her mother?
  16. In the epilogue, Court and Andy resign from Donuts and Coffee when Poe takes it over. Was that a good choice on their parts, or should they have stayed in the club? If so, what actions would you have liked them to take to change Poe’s leadership?
  17. Discuss the way or ways Courtney changed at the end of the story. Who or what affected these changes the most, and why?
  18. Did the ending of the novel tie up all the loose ends, or were there still some questions left unanswered? If so, what were they?
  19. How did you come away feeling about the main characters (Courtney, Maggie Condon, Lance, Mark, Mollie, Poe)? Did all of them experience various degrees of growth or change, or only some? Did Courtney change the most after her experiences with Lance?
  20. What do you think the odds are that Courtney will start talking to her Big V again once she becomes romantically involved with Mark?

Book Review: The Real Real by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

September 18, 2009

The Real Real

Jesse is a senior at a high school in the Hamptons where she sees lots of celebrities and other wealthy people drop in for vacation. Life for most of the locals is anything but glamorous, that is until TV network XTV decides to train its cameras on the students in Jesse’s high school. What they want is real teens, doing real things in their real lives. Everyone at the school tries out, but Jesse is sure that she won’t be among the chosen ones.

When the line-up is announced, there’s no surprise that the school’s hottest teens made the list—Nico, Jase, Rick and Melanie—but Jess is surprised to find that she’s been picked too. While none of Jesse’s friends made the list, she’s excited that the guy she has a crush on, Drew, did.

While having the cameras film her every move is kind of a pain, it’s also kind of glamorous and at first everything goes well. But when real teens doing real things in real life proves to be really boring, the producers at XTV decide to shake things up by orchestrating real drama. The ensuing events may make for interesting television, but the effect they have on Jesse and the other stars of the show are anything but expected.

Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, the bestselling authors of The Nanny Diaries, have written a book that should resonate with reality TV viewers, and it feels as though we really are behind the scenes of a reality TV show. The teens in The Real Real aren’t perfect, in fact it can be frustrating to watch as some of them make some pretty big mistakes. But then you realize just how much the adults in the equation fail them and contribute to the mistakes in so many ways. Recommended for mother-daughter book clubs with girls 15 and up.


Book Review: Shock Point by April Henry

August 27, 2009

Shock Point

Sixteen-year-old Cassie is being kidnapped by two men in a van parked in her driveway. She fights like mad until her mother shows up with a suitcase, letting Cassie know she’s being sent off to a school for troubled teens. It seems that Cassie’s step-dad, psychiatrist Rick, has found crystal meth in Cassie’s room, so he’s found a place that will help her turn her life around.

But Cassie has never used drugs, and the school she’s being sent to in Mexico is more like a prison and less like the tropical spa Cassie’s mom thinks it is. Cassie soon finds out there’s a slim chance she’ll even make it out before she turns 18. Can she find a way to escape and tell the world the secret she discovered about Rick before he sent her away?

Shock Point by April Henry opens with an adrenaline rush and doesn’t let up until the last page is turned. Henry offers a glimpse into the abuse that’s possible when teens are sent out of the country to be reprogrammed by parents who don’t really know or don’t really care about the means used to accomplish the goal. It’s a cautionary tale as well as an adventure story of how one teen fought back.


Book Review: Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli

August 14, 2009

Alligator Bayou

Calogero is a 14-year-old immigrant to Louisiana from Sicily, and he lives in the small town of Tallulah where his cousins and uncles sell groceries and produce. The year is 1899, and the small band of Sicilians find the constraints that won’t let them mingle with whites because their skin is dark also keeps them from socializing with blacks.

Calogero and his 13-year-old cousin Cirone are lonely and want to fit in: they work to learn English, eat American food and try to learn the customs of their new country. But tight economic times lead to tension between the white Louisianans and the Sicilians, who the whites see as taking business away from them. When Calogero and his relatives become friends with blacks, tensions escalate.

Based on a true event, Alligator Bayou by Donna Jo Napoli brings this powerful clash of cultures to life with tales of alligator hunts in the bayou, Italian immigrant communities, picking cotton, selling watermelons, cooking sweet potatoes and eating alligator.

This tale reminds us that the immigrant story in the U.S., like the story between whites and blacks, was and is often wrought with difficulties. The story was particularly poignant for me, because I grew up in Louisiana amongst many long-established Italians, and I had no idea of the hardships many of their ancestors endured so their descendants could one day become part of the accepted American community.

Napoli understands the time period she writes of well, and there are references to the all-but-gone Tunica tribe of Mississippi and Louisiana and the 1890 U.S. Census, in which some blacks found out for the first time they were free from slavery. It’s truly amazing to look back on the time and issues that dominated the day: Jim Crow laws, the relationship between white and blacks, and the threat immigrants posed to the normal routine of life. Mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 10 to 13 will find a lot to talk about.


Book Review: Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley

August 7, 2009

Lipstick Apology

Emily Carson is in the midst of a party when she finds out her parents have died in a plane crash. She is further shocked when a seat-back tray is discovered with a message written in lipstick from her mom to her: Emily, please forgive me.

Those four words keep Emily from grieving in peace, as the national media focus on her and the lipstick apology that she doesn’t know the meaning of.  All summer she hides within herself and her childhood home before heading off to New York City to live with her glamorous aunt Jolie, a make-up artists famous for all the famous people she makes-up and for her skin care product line. Never married and childless, Jolie isn’t sure how to help her niece overcome her grief and settle into their new lives together.

Emily is enrolled at a prestigious New York City school, and at first all she can see are the differences between the students there and her friends back home in Pennsylvania where she grew up. As she slowly adjusts to her new world, she must learn to distinguish true friendship based on the person within, not the looks outside. And she grapples with the meaning of her mother’s message.

Lipstick Apology by Jennifer Jabaley starts off somewhat rocky, with characters that seem more like caricatures than real people. There’s a gay hairdresser, rich prep school girls, and self-centered high school jocks. In some ways, it reads like a made-for-TV movie, covering issues on the surface, but not very in-depth. However, as the book moves along, we get a closer look at Emily and her motivations, her insecurities and her quest. While I never felt as though I truly got into Emily’s brain and understood what she was going through, I do believe this book offers lots to talk about in a mother-daughter book club with girls in high school. It offers good discussions on forgiveness, friendship, family, love and