Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spelldown: The Big Time Dreams of a Small-Town Whiz

Spelling bees are all the rage. The National Spelling Bee championship (not only is it held in D.C., but it will happen at the end of May, so this post is quite timely!) is broadcast in prime time on ESPN and ABC, with the winner embarking on a whirlwind of interviews and appearances. The mania has inspired one of my all-time favorite adult nonfiction books, a documentary, a best-selling novel, and even a current Broadway musical. And now, a young adult novel.

Karlene Bridges is a spelling obsessed thirteen year old living in Red Clover, South Carolina. Not that she doesn't have other interests, of course. She loves listening to current groups and singers, especially Motown singers and the Beatles (Ringo is her favorite). She's also trying to deal with her sudden crush on her best (boy) friend, Billy Ray. Her interests are an escape from her home life, which includes a dad with a drinking problem.

With the encouragement of her parents and her irreverent Latin teacher, Karlene spells down her competition in a succession of rounds, ultimately leading to the national championship in DC.

Karen Luddy has written a debut novel that skillfully alternates between humor and pathos. Karlene is a fun, funny, and fantastic teen character. Mrs. Harrison (Latin teacher) and her family provide a warm and slightly strange (to Karlene, at least) haven from troubles at home.

That being said, this is definitely a teen novel. Karlene swears/curses/cusses frequently throughout the book (nothing very dramatic, though), and several situations call for this being placed in the YA section (but compared to other recent YA novels, it's quite tame). I do review YA books from time to time on this blog, so I will make it clear when the book is YA/young adult.

Spelldown is one of my favorite YA books that I've read this year (it seems like I say that about every book I review, but I don't tell you about the books I don't like/don't finish!). I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of Karen Luddy's work.

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