Monday, October 10, 2011

Leverage by Joshua Cohen, or There's No Way this Book Doesn't Feature Roid Rage

Which is totally true, by the way. Lots of steroids, and all the ways that drug can destroy things in high school.

The three football captains are the king of the school, and no one, no matter how talented in any other sport is excused from their bullying. Especially not the gymnastics team. Danny has a real chance at eventually qualifying for the Olympics in gymnastics and Kurt is a stuttering hulk who’s new to the school and the football team. Neither of them like the bullying, and they forge an unlikely friendship that is in jeopardy after they both witness a graphic attack that has tragic consequences. Leverage has some of the most awesome sports writing I’ve ever read, but this is also the most intense and possibly disturbing book I have ever read, so I recommend it to more mature readers.

Kurt is damaged going into the story. He's a foster kid, and in his last placement he experienced treatment that will scar him for his entire life. This is told in flashback in slow and desperate reveals, and the memories send him into a red rage. Danny and his teammates have been trying to hold their ground, retain their dignity, and fight the football team for access to the weight room, something they all know they need to be able to truly compete on the level they aspire to. But every which way they turn, they keep running into the immovable bulk of the impossibly large football team.

Characters are flawed, even broken. Some come into the tale that way, others will fall apart right before your eyes. You will hold your breath and read faster to get through the dark, drastic, brutal parts, most likely wiping tears of fury or sadness away as you turn the pages. They make huge mistakes out of fear and shame and pain. They suffer consequences that will haunt them.

I wish I could say that these kids experience abuse and bullying so brutal that it is unbelievable, but sadly, we all know that isn't true. And that's one reason I think that this book is important. Maybe it will help some kid out there find his voice and stop the cycle. Get help. It's a solidly upper high school read, unless you know, or have an inkling, that it's something an 8th or 9th grader may have had some experience with. Or the kid's just a fan of A Child Called It (I jest, don't give it to those 5/6th graders).

The horrible thing is that it is all so frighteningly believable. Until you get to the Hollywood ending, where you witness a shift from bleak to a resolution that doesn't match the tone of the rest of the book. Which, while satisfying, doesn't ring true, because despite the honesty in which the rest of the novel was handled, this was just a little too neat. A little too grand. A little too unrealistic. That's not how these stories ever end in real life. Fine, usually, for most novels. But not when nary a punch was withheld during the previous 270-ish pages.

I will admit that I booktalked this (along with around 30 other titles) this past June for 7-10 graders. I did so ONLY with a strong emphasis on the graphic nature of the story, and encouraged the teens to self-censor if they didn't think they were ready for it, but that I thought that it was an important story because this level of abuse and bullying does happen. I had warned the school librarians and teachers of the title before I talked it, and after hearing about it, I had specific requests from a few teachers to be sure to share it with some classes, which I found very interesting. Of the 875 holds I placed for students after my June visits, there were 25 for this title.

Recommend for older fans of:
Ellen Hopkins. Patricia McCormick. Compulsion by Ayarbe. Courtney Summers. Dirty Little Secrets by Omololu. Laurie Halse Anderson. Anything brutal.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Between Shades of Gray (mini post)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

"'Nothing could be worse than Stalin," said one of the men at the dining room table. 'He is the epitome of evil.'

'There is no better or worse,' said Papa, his voice low. I leaned farther around the corner to listen.

'But Hitler won't uproot us,' said the man....

'My point is that we're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell'" p168.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Books I Want to Read

Here's a post of non-content for you. I want to read:

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe R. Lansdale. Because that is a beautiful title, and the writing continued to be beautiful when I started. Unfortunately the Cybils nominations began, and I really can't read or finish anything that isn't on that list for the next three months. I read the first chapter aloud to my insanely critical husband, and even he was impressed.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Because I haven't read a good ghost story since Beating Heart by AM Jenkins. Or Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light. Whichever came out later. I shouldn't be able to count good ghost stories published for teens on one hand.

Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith. Because I truly loved The Way He Lived, and I very much want to see more from her. It's been out since April, so the only excuse I have is that I've never once seen it on the shelves here at my library.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Because everyone seems to be falling over themselves for this, and because I've been waiting for my hold to come in FOREVER. Which is really unusual for a first-time novelist. Although, Amanda did say "It's no Book Thief." But, really, what is?

Big Crunch by Pete Hautman. Again, this one's been out for ages. I think for the first 6 months I wasn't able to even understand that this brightly colored cover actually had Pete Hautman's name on it.

Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern. Because I loved Into the Wild Nerd Yonder with unbridled passion. And the title reminds me of the Queen song.

Everybody Sees the Ants by AS King. Because I think AS King is one of the truly fresh voices of YA.

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan. Because it's David Levithan. Even though the cover model looks just not-Joseph Gordon-Levitt enough to weird me out.

A Plague Year by Edward Bloor. Because how many books for teens have you read about meth?

The Silence of Murder by Dandi Daley Mackall. Because I'm curious as to what happens when a someone who's written a metric ton of horse books for tweens writes a murder mystery for teens. I tend to forget that she also wrote Eva Underground (which I liked a lot), and a few other teen titles.

You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis. Because there's a certain 13 Reasons Why angle there, but I'm hoping for a little bit more depth.

I don't think I meant for this list to get so long... lala, back to Cybils madness. Have you submitted your nominations yet?