Monday, December 31, 2007

Kimchi and Calamari

Joseph Calderaro is turning 14. What can possibly happen on his birthday to bum him out? Well...starting the day off with burnt PopTarts is a sign. Then with 10 minutes left in social studies, Mrs. Peroutka drops the bomb in the form of the assignment "Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay". The essay is to be 1500 words long, and here it is May already. But the word count is not Joseph's biggest problem. He's adopted. What the heck does he know about his heritage.

Joseph thinks that maybe his mother's famous birthday dinner will save his spirits a bit. The eggplant Parmesan does go down nicely, but once the presents come out there is more trouble. Joseph's dad gives him a corno. You know...the Italian gold horn that keeps away the malocchio? Aside from the fact that no self respecting 14-year-old is going to walk around with that kind of gold chain, Joseph just doesn't know how to break it to his parents that he's not Italian...he's Korean. At least that is how he feels at that moment.

Joseph goes on to explore his past without the knowledge of his parents. Along the way, a new Korean family moves into town, and Joseph's parents nudge him over to try and help him out with his identity. But when Joseph is with Yongsu and his family, he doesn't even feel Korean.

So where does this leave Joseph? If he's not really Korean, and not really Italian, what is he?

Rose Kent does a bang-up job of finding the voice of a 14-year-old boy. Joseph's struggles with his parents and his identity are equal measure growing pains and adoption pains. Books about adopted kids are always tricky, because the fact of the matter is, every adoptee feels a bit different. In my own family, my father and his brother and sister were all adopted, and they all had very different reactions to finding out and toward the idea of a search for birth parents. Kent lets readers in on not only the world of adoption, but quite a bit of information about Italian and Korean culture. Joseph is such a great character and is so easy to relate to that readers will cheer for him as he finds his way.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Getting Air

I first grabbed this book off the pile at work because of the cover. Being married to a skater means that our family life is surrounded by things skateboarding related. Also, a good skateboarding story by Gutman would serve well at my school. Is this book about skating? Not-so-much.

Jimmy and his buddies (and little sister) are all on a plane, heading for California and the X-Games. Jimmy, David, and Henry (a.k.a. the woodpushers) are going to skate around and try to find sponsorship....or at least some free gear. Jimmy can't wait to get there. Not that he's scared to fly, but he just feels better on the ground.

Before they can get too far, the unthinkable happens. Terrorists are on the plane, hijacking it with plans on crashing. They quickly kill a stewardess and breech the cockpit. Jimmy can't believe it. His worst nightmare is happening, and the only other people on the plane are a bunch of old ladies heading to a knitting convention. They boys, with the help of hot stewardess Arcadia, put a plan in action to take down the terrorists.

The plane does end up crashing, and the boys, Jimmy's little sis Julia, Arcadia and one of the old women (Mildred) survive. But how will they end up surviving in the woods of the Canadian wilderness?

Now, I have never been a tween boy, but if this is what tween boy fantasies are like, then wow! This is a fast-paced adventure story that necessitates suspension of belief. Quite a bit happens in the week time period, but I won't pretend that I wasn't entertained. I just think that it's important to know that despite the cover (with a big gaff concerning the placement of the trucks on the skateboard pointed out by aforementioned husband) this is a survival story...not a skate story.

Peiling and the Chicken-Fried Christmas

Peiling is dreading the Christmas break. She hates hearing all of the other kids talk about Christmas, when her family does not celebrate the holiday. She always wanted to celebrate Christmas, but was afraid that her stodgy dad would say "no". With a little pushing from her Uncle Samson, Peiling approaches her parents who to her surprise say "yes" to Christmas this year.

Peiling has the perfect Christmas in that she imagines would be happening over at Laura Hamilton's house. It has Christmas cookies, carols, a perfect tree and a turkey for dinner. When Peiling's mother invites Peiling's teacher Mrs. Rosenweig for dinner, Peiling is suddenly embarrassed by her family. The mahjong and karaoke are bad enough, but when she realizes that mother has added Chinese elements to all of the dishes, she is put over the edge. It's hard enough being the only Chinese girl in her class...why does it have to be so hard at home too?

Pauline Chen has written a quintessential culture clash story with Christmas as a catalyst. Readers get to see well-meaning Mrs. Rosenweis use Peiling as an example of multiculturalism, as well as the everyday under the radar racism that kids face. We get a real sense of Peiling's family and culture effortlessly, and the story is sweet and readers can easily relate to Peiling's sense of embarrassment, no matter what culture their families are from.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

Enola is back right where she left off!

She has set up shop in January 1889 as London's only Scientific Perditorian. Of course, she is in disguise as Miss Meshle, a secretary. She is shocked when her first client is none other than Dr. John Watson, friend of her famous brother, Sherlock Holmes. It seems that Sherlock is beside himself that he cannot locate his younger sister Enola.

Enola, of course, is quite pleased that she is hiding right underneath her brother's nose, and feels that she can use Miss Meshle's new relationship with Dr. Watson to her advantage.

Enola is not just using her time to hide from her brothers and boarding school. She is continuing the search for her mother, using the magazines and cipher codes that she knows her mother will read and recognize. Soon enough, she is in communication with her mother. While she is partly happy, Enola is still angry with her mother for leaving her on her own, and at the mercy of her older brothers.

She is also on the hunt for the missing daughter of Lady Theodora Alistaire. The disappearance has been hushed up due to it's discrete seems that she has run away with a love interest. Upon examination of Lady Cecily's room, however, Enola fears that the young lady did not leave of her own volition.

Chock full of Victorian age details, Nancy Springer has a hit series on her hands. From the stench of poverty, to the pervasive flim-flam artists of the day, the setting and characters seem real. Readers will fear for Enola and Cecily, and be caught up turning pages to find out what happens next.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Mysterious Case of the Allbright Academy

When Zoe Sharp gets recruited for the swanky Allbright Academy by none other than Secretary of State Martha Evergood, she says that she will not attend without her twin brother J.D. and her older sister Franny. All of them are relatively freaked out by the 2 days of testing, but thanks to Zoe's moxie, they all end up on the picturesque campus, and are thinking that this opportunity is too good to be true.

Franny is bothered at first by the perfection of the place. Everyone seems flawless in appearance and in habits. Who has every heard of a perfectly clean dorm that houses 6th-12th graders? But eventually she gets over it. She is realizing her potential and changing her ways with the help of her PD (personal development) counselor. Her grades are climbing, her room is neat, and she wants her friends to do as well as she is doing. Cal looks amazing, compared to when Franny first met her, and she's much more positive, and Brooklyn is changing his name to Brook and cutting off his dreads so that people will take him seriously.

Franny, Cal and Brooklyn are a threesome whenever it's possible. They sign up for the same field trips and the same PE option. One day while they are on their PE hike, Cal doubles over in pain. Franny, Brooklyn and Cal try to carry her back to the dorms for help. It turns out Cal's appendix has burst and she needs emergency surgery. Cal is out of the picture for weeks.

When Cal comes back, she is different. Very different. And she has a theory about why this is. Is Allbright Academy exerting control over it's students? How is this being accomplished?

Franny, Cal and Brooklyn are soon knee deep in a mystery that has enormous repercussions. Can a school drug its students and get away with it?

Diane Stanley has written and fun, intriguing and fast paced mystery with a hook every kid who has ever gone to school will love. The cover is spot on, and I've had many middle schoolers reach for my arc over the last week. Mystery lovers, and fans of boarding school fiction will approve!