BOOK REVIEW: Scat by Carl Hiassen

Scat by Carl HiassenScat
By Carl Hiassen
Completed August 26, 2011

My son will be reading Scat as part of his sixth grade Language Arts assignment, so I decided to try a new strategy: Read his assigned book first so I know what he’s reading! It was fun to read this book, making mental notes of plot twists or characters that I thought he would enjoy. And it didn’t hurt that Scat was a well-rounded story.

Nicky Walters and his friend Marta were students in Mrs. Starch’s biology class, when she vanished into the swamp during a field trip. Nicky and Marta were suspicious of their classmate, Smoke, who had a falling out with the teacher during class. Little did Nicky and Marta know that Mrs. Starch and Smoke were in “cohoots” – along with a colorful naturalist, Twilly – to help protect endangered panthers from being killed.

Scat had a little bit of everything: well-developed charactes, plot twists, secrets, bad guys, good guys and animals with their own characterizations (I especially loved Horace the bloodhound). Set in Florida, I enjoyed learning about panthers and other wildlife that live in my home state. I was a bit surprised, though, by the anti-Iraq war stance in the novel. While I don’t disagree with what Hiassen wrote, I am not sure it had its place in the story. I will be curious to see if my son picks up on it.

This is just a little quibble; overall, I was very pleased with Scat and think it’s the perfect book for my son and his classmates. I look forward to my son’s interpretation of this fun book. (  )

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BOOK REVIEW: Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Prep by Curtis SittenfeldPrep
By Curtis Sittenfeld
Completed August 1, 2011

Lee Fiora decided at the tender age of 13 that she wanted to escape her hometown of South Bend, Indiana, and take part in an idyllic rite of passage – boarding school. Despite her parents’ lack of financial support, she applied to Ault School in Massachusetts and received a scholarship for her tuition. Prep is the story of Lee’s life as a boarding school student – an intriguing look at the socialization of high school students at a prestigious boarding school.

As a graduate of a small, all-women’s college, I found many of Lee’s experiences very similar: the traditions, hazing rituals, cafeteria food and dorm experiences all seemed like pages from my life history. Attending small, private institutions can be very alluring. Unfortunately, though, for many students, it can turn into a private hell.

High school is tough – the feelings of being left out, socially awkward and trying to second guess everyone’s motives weigh down most teenagers. Lee did all this and more. Lee was blessed with a wicked sense of humor but rarely showed it. She had a few good friends but remained aloof with most of her classmates. And when she finally gets the attention of her crush, Lee surrenders herself without a second glance. As I read Lee’s story, I commiserated with her plight as a scholarship student in a sea of wealthy kids but frowned at some of her mistakes. Sometimes, Lee was her own worst enemy.

And then I smiled, because that’s what being a teenage girl is all about: learning, growing and making mistakes. As Prep concluded, I knew Lee was a better person as a result of her Ault experiences.  This story was a great reminder of the journey teenage girls take to become self-sufficient women. If you’re a mom to a young girl or a young woman yourself, put Prep high on your reading list. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this enchanting coming of age tale. (  )

REVIEW: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta SepetysBetween Shades of Gray
By Ruta Sepetys
Completed December 29, 2010

In her debut novel, Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys explores the Lithuanian deportation by the Soviets in the early 1940’s. Certain citizens of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were swept up and arrested during World War II. The women and children were sent to labor camps in Siberia, and it’s this journey that is told through the eyes of Lina, the 15-year-old Lithuanian girl who narrates this story.

Between Shades of Gray is written for a young adult audience, but I think readers of all ages could read and learn from this story. Lina is a talented young artist, and her visual depictions on what she experiences leaves nothing for the imagination. Despite the plainness of the language (again, intended for younger readers), the reader gets a bird’s eye view of the torture, cold, labor and death that surrounded Lina’s camp life.

World War II history can be tricky. When we think of genocide during this period, we understandably think of the Holocaust. As someone who frequently reads about this historical period, I am often surprised at the complex layers of this war. You peel away one layer, and something new emerges. In this case, the new thing was the genocide of the Lithuanian people and neighboring countries. Knowing that these atrocities continued in the Soviet Union well after the war makes Lina’s story that much more important to know.

I received Between Shades of Gray as an ARC through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program. The galley came with a video – a beautiful tribute by the author to her family and Lithuanian survivors of the Siberian camps. Please check it out:

If you have an interest in tales of human survival or learning from our past, I would recommend Between Shades of Gray to you. I think Sepetys’ writing style will appeal to young readers – and her story will appeal to many more. ( )

REVIEW: Getting the Girl by Markus Zusak

Getting the Girl by Markus ZusakGetting the Girl
By Markus Zusak
Completed November 26, 2010

Wanting to read more beautiful prose by Markus Zusak, I stumbled into the final story of a trilogy for young adult readers. Haven’t read the first two, I languished over the insighful Getting The Girl, the story of Cameron Wolfe and his challenges being the youngest brother to popular older brothers.

Cameron was a loner, and through Zusak, he comes alive to show the anguish and sometimes-fun of being a teenage boy in Australia. Cameron might have liked to be alone, but he was typical boy – girl crazy, liked sports and wondered what people thought about him. At the end of each chapter, the book changes font, and we get a deeper look into Cameron through his journal writings. It’s in these writings that we see the true Cameron.

Admittedly, Getting the Girl can’t be loved for its plot – for it really doesn’t have one – but it can be appreciated for Zusak’s lyrical writing style and showcasing of the human spirit. If my boys were older, I would definitely add this book to their shelves. I hope to read the first two books, The Underdog and Fighting Ruben Wolfe, in order next year. Until then, Getting the Girl was a satisfying read – not in the same class as The Book Thief – but a book that’s perfect for young adults who, like Cameron, are struggling to find themselves. Markus Zusak knows how to speak to that generation.

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