Friday, February 10, 2012

Recent Reads

City of Orphans

Avi is such a prolific author that his books, I've found, can be hit or miss. Luckily, he hits more than he misses, and even his misses are better than average. City of Orphans is definitely a hit. It's a gripping historical mystery set in 1893 New York. As a newsboy ("newsie"), 13 year old Maks faces danger every day from thugs who target the young newsboys and steal their cash. Like many other children of immigrants, Maks's family depends on his wages and the wages of his sisters. Older sister Emma is falsely accused of stealing a watch from a guest at the Waldorf Hotel at which she works; not only is the family down one wage earner, but Emma's grim conditions at the women's prison and the real fear that she will be found guilty sends the family into even greater stress. With the help of a homeless girl whom he befriends and an eccentric detective, Maks is determined to discover the truth behind the crime.

Avi brilliantly brings to life late nineteenth century New York; the constant daytime cacophony of noises and action on the streets of the Lower East Side, the high-risk conditions of child laborers, the newspaper culture of the time (40 newspapers in New York alone, not counting the ones printed in non-English languages, and all trying to outdo the other with sensational headlines) and the plight of the newsboys, and the daily struggle of immigrants in their new homeland.  Although Avi captures a very difficult and highly charged era in American history, he also captures the excitement of a city and country on the cusp of a new era and the warm close-knit connections in a Danish immigrant family. Add in adventure with a hard-boiled detective story, and you've got yourself a fine historical fiction read.

The Pregnancy Project

Gaby Rodriguez was a great student and active in her community and church, yet many in her hometown assumed that she would end up just like her mother and older siblings: a teen parent statistic.  When brainstorming ideas for her upcoming senior project, she hit upon a truly original idea: what if she pretended to be pregnant as a social experiment? 

With the knowledge and (reluctant) approval of her mother, one older sibling, principal, boyfriend (his family remained unaware that it was an experiment), best friend (who she recruited to act as a second pair of ears around the school), senior project supervisor, personal physician, and superintendent of schools, Gaby slowly began to drop hints about her "pregnancy." Although most were slow to catch on, there was an immediate explosion when Gaby and her boyfriend finally began to tell people about her "pregnancy." While some were supportive, many, including friends and teachers, were viciously catty behind her back and even to her face. Others were naturally very disappointed, particularly an older brother and a teacher with whom Gaby was particularly close. At the six month mark, Gaby announced at a school assembly that she wasn't really pregnant and discussed what she had experienced and learned during the experiment.

Rodriguez and Jenna Glatzer, her collaborator, movingly and matter-of-factly recall Gaby's roller-coaster of emotions throughout the experiment and the surprising aftermath, particularly the diverse reactions to her reveal and the enormous media attention that followed. Rodriguez spends the first 100 pages detailing her family's background and their many struggles with young parenthood.  In addition to her story, they weave in facts about teen sexuality and pregnancy, stereotypes, and even Rodriguez's thoughts about MTV's two series on teen parenthood. This is a unique and appealing memoir that is accessible and relatable to teen readers, regardless of their circumstances.

No comments: