Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life is Funny

Author: E. R. Frank

First line: At first Ebony and I don't want to, but then her mom, Ms. Giles, says she'll pay us, and we say okay because Ebony's twin sisters' day care isn't that far, plus it's across the street from McDonald's.

Why you should read this book: A series of interconnected stories told from the perspectives of a loosely connected group of teenagers follows their joys and sorrows, frustrations and solutions, over a span of seven years. Themes of drug abuse, self-harm, sexuality, physical violence, and the strand of hope that keeps them living to fight another day weave themselves through the book, as each character becomes fully realized through their own account and their friends' descriptions of them. Each life is unique, and while the characters may not always recognize their own strengths or understand their choices, the reader can also take away a message of determination and perseverance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe that sex, drugs, and violence are appropriate subjects for adolescents, who must be protected from knowledge of these distant concepts, which they will never encounter in their everyday lives.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramona Quimby, Age 8

Author: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby hoped that her parents would forget to give her a little talking-to.

Why you should read this book: Incorrigible, exuberant Ramona is back, and now that she's in third grade and her father is in school to be a teacher, there are more obstacles than ever. Can she get along with her sister, best the class bully, learn to cook, and impress her teacher without looking like a show-off? The Quimby family must work to overcome the hundreds of little stressors that threaten to turn them from a nice family into a not-so-nice one.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your teacher has already assigned you another, less interesting book on which to write your book report.

The Secret Life of the Underwear Champ

Author: Betty Miles

First line: The whole thing began on a street corner in New York City.

Why you should read this book: Larry Pryor is minding his own business after an unpleasant dental appointment when he gets discovered by a big modeling agency. Since he is a fifth-grade boy, he could care less about this development and is irritated with anything that interferes with baseball practice, but his family could use the money, so he agrees to film some commercials. Only too late does he learn that the commercials are for underwear, and the whole world is going to see him on TV without his clothes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't see anything funny about underwear.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Author: Mark Haddon

First line: It was 7 minutes after midnight.

Why you should read this book: Christopher Boone is gifted in math but crippled by severe autism: he cannot be touched, he cannot understand facial expressions, and he cannot abide anything yellow. He does like walking around in the dark, and when he finds his neighbor's dog stabbed to death with a garden fork one night, he undertakes a project to catch the killer and detail his findings as a mystery novel. The investigation carries him to places and revelations that he never thought possible and provides a reader with an intimate glimpse into the world of the autistic teen as well as an inspiring account of overcoming obstacles.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You only like proper novels with lots of complex metaphors and no tangents.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Author: Stephenie Meyer

First line: I'd never given much thought to how I would die--though I'd had reason enough in the last few months--but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

Why you should read this book: Described in some literary circles as “abstinence porn,” this book is the perfect companion for the lonely teen who believes herself less pretty, less graceful, less interesting than other girls and dreams of a handsome, dangerous, mysterious man to validate her in his eyes and set her above, rather than apart from, the rest of her high school world. Bella is the perpetual martyr who exiles herself to the rainy Pacific Northwest so her mother can travel the country with her pro athlete boyfriend; Edward is the achingly beautiful vampire who cannot stay away from the hapless heroine, his supernatural and immortal love trumping his immediate, omnipresent, and almost overwhelming desire to kill her and drink her blood. Their love defies the expectations of family, friends, acquaintances, and enemies, as Edward spends well over four hundred pages not biting the most delicious thing he has ever smelled.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: If you had eternal youth and beauty, the last place you’d sequester yourself would be a small-town high school, or any locale where human teenagers are known to congregate. This book also suffers from a surfeit of adverbs, adjectives, repetition, and overblown adolescent emotions and dialog.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Waldo & Magic, Inc.

Author: Robert A. Heinlein

First line: The act was billed as ballet tap--which does not describe it.

Why you should read this book: Two novellas examining the unlikely but entertaining intersection of magic, science, and bureaucracy. In "Waldo" a brilliant but disabled and antisocial sociopath is presented with the problem of technology that refuses to work according to the laws of nature, technology upon which the human race depends. In "Magic, Inc." an unassuming but hard-headed building supplies salesman refuses to be bullied by a consortium of magicians and initiates the mother of all anti-trust investigations, taking his case right to hell when the state legislature fails him.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You demand technical purity from your speculative fiction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pippi in the South Seas

Author: Astrid Lindgren

First line: The little Swedish town was very picturesque, with its cobblestone streets, its tiny houses and the gardens that surrounded them.

Why you should read this book: Pippi's back, and her irrepressible charm and joie de vivre cannot be mitigated. Following some of her typical antics (lying to property investors, perplexing adults, undermining the natural order), she receives a letter from her beloved papa, King Ephraim I Longstocking, demanding her presence on his island in the south seas. Along with her companions Tommy and Annika, Pippi charms the native children, fights sharks, and foils a pair of incompetent criminals before returning safe and sound to Villa Villekulla.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You expect children to be seen and not heard, and to obey without question.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Author: Peter Dickinson

First line: Eva was lying on her back.

Why you should read this book: With a primatologist for a father, Eva was raised in close proximity with some of the few remaining chimpanzees on a crowded, paved-over planet, so when a terrible accident leaves her human body broken and persuades her parents to approve a risky procedure that implants her consciousness into the body of a chimp named Kelly, Eva decides to make the best of the situation. Embracing the part of her that will remain Kelly, Eva tries to balance the mundane human activities of going to school and making friends with her need for chimp socialization, while coping with the distressing fact that the media owns her body. When she makes friends with a jet-setting socialite whose radical ideas seem to predict some hope for the future on a distressed world, Eva must begin making decisions that could spell the difference between life and death for sentient creatures on Earth.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're reckon that what the world needs is a couple more strip malls and a lot more parking spaces.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Barefoot Serpent

Author: Scott Morse

First line: He cam from an old samurai family, but Akira liked to paint.

Why you should read this book: A children's biography of acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa frames a story about a little girl coping with the death of her brother in a tale that is all at once dark, mystical, and uplifting. Kurosawa's life story, told in simple sentences with colorful images, bookends the black and white drawings of a child whose broken family has traveled to Hawaii in an effort to heal from a child's untimely death. When the little girl hears ghostly drummers haunting the coast, she embarks on a day-long adventure with a young mask-maker that helps to exorcise her own ghosts.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't confront death; you simply ignore it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Author: Eleanor H. Porter

First line: Miss Polly Harrington entered her kitchen a little hurriedly this June morning.

Why you should read this book: Nearly a hundred years old, this optimistic novel challenges the most cynical among us to circumvent fatalistic thinking and find ways to be grateful for what we have. Although she is newly orphaned and sent to live with her strict and humorless aunt, Pollyanna continues to play "the glad game," in which one seeks out reasons to feel glad despite the blackest circumstances. Gradually, her optimism infects the entire town, including its most pessimistic citizens, until the rays of sunshine spread by Pollyanna's attitude are reflected back into her own darkened bedroom.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The glass is always half empty. Always. No exception. Unless it's completely empty.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ballet Shoes

Author: Noel Streatfeild

First line: Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil are not really sisters, but they have been brought up together like one family.

Why you should read this book: An enduring tale, written and set before World War II, this is the story of three orphan girls adopted by an eccentric collector who has disappeared on a voyage to strange, uncharted islands. With no money to speak of, they are sent to an academy that trains young children to appear on stage, where Pauline becomes an accomplished actress, Posy develops into a promising ballerina, and Petrova dreams of nothing but motorcars and aeroplanes. The adventures of this intentional family as the girls struggle to support themselves and enjoy a few pleasures of a simple life have inspired generations of children interested in taking charge of their own future.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are traveling to strange islands in search of exotic curios and you have quite lost track of time.