Monday, February 14, 2011

Catching Up

While I don't have the time or inclination to do individual posts of my recent reads, I do want to highlight them on this blog. So, without further ado:

Shine, Coconut Moon

Sam doesn't have much connection with her Indian heritage. Her mother doesn't make a big deal out of it, and she doesn't even hang with the other Indians in her New Jersey high school. All that changes after 9/11, when her uncle reconnects with his sister and his niece. Sam's uncle wears a turban, which attracts stares and unwanted attention. Although resistant to learning more about her heritage, Sam is drawn to the idea of community and extended family, none of which she has experienced due to her mother's estrangement from her family. Called a "coconut" by another Indian student, Sam's confusion over how to unite her American and Indian heritages is heightened when her uncle is attacked and called "Osama."

Shine, Coconut Moon is an excellent coming of age novel set against the immense tensions and fears felt immediately after September 11, 2001. Sam is a realistic and empathetic character who can appeal to all readers, regardless of their background.

Taking Off

I impatiently waited for this book, and I'm so happy that it is as compelling and gripping as I had hoped it would be. Annie is a poet among a town full of astronauts; living in Clear Lake, TX means that you are surrounded by NASA families. Annie has no interest in the space program until she meets Christa McAuliffe, the energetic and friendly high school teacher selected to be the first "Teacher in Space." Although Annie is a high school senior, she is unsure of her future, whether it is to join her best friend at UT-Austin or to stay in Clear Lake with her boyfriend, where everything is familiar and comfortable. McAuliffe encourages her to follow her dreams; Annie is so inspired and taken with Christa that she begs her parents (who are divorced) to take her to see the Challenger liftoff.

Devastated by the Challenger disaster, Annie is even more bewildered about her future. Finally, she summons the courage to take heed of Christa's message and pursue her love of poetry.

I love, love, love this book, for many reasons, small and large. Small reasons: being familiar with the area, I got a kick out of recognizing the little geographic details sprinkled throughout the story (Kemah Bridge, Seabrook, etc), especially when the group was driving along I-10 from Clear Lake to Florida (although I was a bit amazed at how quickly they reached the Louisiana swamps! But maybe I'm just a slower driver.).

Big reasons: Although the disaster is incredibly sad (I could actually feel my nerves on edge when I was reading the shuttle countdown), this is a positive and hopeful book. It is not a downer at all, which surprised me. There are also key facts about the Challenger that are incorporated into the story rather seamlessly. The frustration over the multiple delays and the all-too brief elation over the launch is palpable.

Moss knows her subject extremely well; she trained several Challenger crew members (not McAuliffe) for their mission. Her knowledge of the disaster and of space flight in general never overwhelms the story; it only enhances it and makes it richer.

Across Five Aprils

This was assigned reading in my elementary school, yet I know I missed much of the maturity and quality of this Newbery Medal winner. Over a period of five years, in which the United States is plunged into the Civil War, Jethro's family experiences the trauma and tragedies that befall many families on the homefront. This is a mature and thoughtful read; the writing is dense at times with historical facts. Across Five Aprils is unique in that it is set neither in the South or the North; it is set in Southern Illinois, which felt the pull of both the South and the North.

Up a Road Slowly

Confession: I enjoyed this book until the very end, which is unfortunate. The book becomes quite dated and obviously 1960s (when it was written as a contemporary novel). Yes, I know it's a Newbery Medal book.

Five Flavors of Dumb

This is a great read. Piper is the manager of local teen indie band Dumb, even though she is deaf. Piper fits in as normally as she can despite her deafness, although there are instances in which it does cause issues with friends and everyday life (not to mention the fact that although she prefers to communicate through sign language, her parents have never really bothered to learn to sign, which is not uncommon among deaf children of hearing parents). Her younger sister, Grace, has just been fitted with a cochlear implant, which also causes strain within the family.

Deaf issues do surround the story, but they never overwhelm the overall plot or become preachy. Those looking for an honest characterization of a deaf teen should definitely read this. Fans of the Seattle music scene, especially the 90s grunge era, will also enjoy this.

Sugar and Ice

Claire is offered the opportunity of a lifetime when she wins a scholarship to train with a prestigious Russian skating coach. Her training schedule puts strain on her closest friendship and denies her the opportunity to participate in other fun after school activities, but it's all worth it, right? Skating fans will love this; it's a fun tween read.

Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze

Milo is only twelve, yet he's had a lot to deal with recently, namely the death of his mother and moving into a new home and starting a new school. Milo deals with the everyday happenings of seventh grade life, including his first major crush, in a believable and endearing way. Milo's grief over his mother's death is rendered tenderly and truthfully; it's a sensitive portrayal, yet never maudlin. Interspersed throughout the narrative are funny and moving cartoons. A real winner.

I need to post about our new books soon! Look for it in a few days.

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