Review: Project X

Project X
Project X by Jim Shepard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Project X follows 2 middle school boys as their disaffection grows.

Friendless, sleepless, confused, awkward, and periodically physically beaten up by schoolmates and psychologically neglected by school officials, they half-heartedly plan to murder everyone at their school at an upcoming assembly.

The narrator, Edwin, is not a rotten kid. His parents know something’s making him sad but he can’t express himself to them. He stays up at night lovingly watching over his little brother. Edwin is pretty sure no one will miss him if he were dead.

I don’t know what to do with this story. It bothers me, it’s sad, it’s believable. Shepard writes right into the reality of being a lowest-rung adolescent and the helplessness and desperation that could lead someone, who is otherwise potentially good, to do awful things.

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Review: Flawed

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the beginning, Ahern’s writing is a lot of tell, rather than show, and it took me a very long time to become interested in this tale of a society in which bad judgement is a punishable offense. I wish I had jotted down quotes to share, but this is a new YA title and I felt responsible to return it quickly and get it back out onto the shelf. So, you’ll just have to believe me. (Unsatisfying, isn’t it?)

Starting with the scene on the bus, Celestine starts to become an exciting character the reader wants to follow. I think that teen readers with a little patience will enjoy Celestine’s wrestling with her conscience and the expectations of her culture. As she begins to think for herself and weigh the consequences of action, teens may think of times they may need to do the same in their lives.

While there’s a bit too much chisel-y muscled broodiness going on for me, I think this could be a great opener for discussions about laws vs. ethical behavior. I’m a little put off that it’s part one of an apparent series. Must every YA dystopian tale be chopped into volumes?

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Review: The Reeducation of Cherry Truong: A Novel

The Reeducation of Cherry Truong: A Novel
The Reeducation of Cherry Truong: A Novel by Aimee Phan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Follows 3+ generations in a family as they move from post-war Vietnam to a refugee camp in Malaysia, and then to California or Paris. Negotiating cultural and family expectations, loyalties. Loving one another and trying to be helpful, (or hurtful), but not always in the ways that help is needed.

Wrenching and realistic. A fascinating look into the experiences people can have adapting to refugee status and citizenship in a new country, and the ways that children need different things than their parents and grandparents.

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Review: No Ordinary Day

No Ordinary Day
No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very moving book that will introduce young readers to homelessness, leprosy, and . . . child prostitution. There’s nothing graphic here, but children will ask what is happening and you might want to be prepared with how you will answer.

Although this is an easy book from a reading-level perspective, it is a hard one emotionally. The main character is a pre-adolescent girl who runs away upon learning that the not-very-nice family she lives with isn’t really her family. (So, why stay?) She stows away on a truck traveling towards Kolkata and meets people kind and horrible, as well as becoming both kind and horrible herself.

p.119: “They were right, I thought. Books were not for me. I probably didn’t even look like everybody else inside. Under my skin, there was probably just more dirt.”

p. 153 “I wasn’t sure what she was doing. I wasn’t afraid, because I knew she wouldn’t hurt me, but the hug was strange. I had never had one before.”

(As with other publications, I wonder what the book designers were thinking when the put an illustration of such a young child on the cover. Yes, Valli is young, but I wouldn’t give this book to anyone under 10. The cover will make it appeal to an audience that isn’t likely ready for it.)

Kudos to Deborah Ellis for, once again, tackling very hard but important subjects.

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Review: The Big Dark

The Big Dark
The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Three cheers for Rodman Philbrick! has he ever let us down?

The Big Dark tells the story of a solar event that disrupts Earth’s magnetic field and knocks out electricity everywhere. It’s winter in New Hampshire, and this isolated small town community has to figure out how its citizens will survive until power is restored. (Will it ever be restored?)

There are bullies, survivalists, potential leaders, and people with good hearts. This book is especially current and skillfully political – Young readers who enjoy adventure but are ready to also do some thinking and discussing will like this. Riveting.

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