29 March 2010

10-10-10 Reading Challenge: Living Hell by Catherine Jinks

Okay--let's make one thing perfectly clear: I really hate the title of this book. It's schlocky and reminiscent of bad teenage slasher films. Having read the book, I understand why it's used. But.....truthfully....ick.

However, let's make something else perfectly clear; if we're going to sink to dodgy terminology...this book kicks ASS! And I am so glad I read it, because it was a breathless ride from start to finish that grabbed me by the throat and never let go.

I read this book for a number of reasons. 1) I snagged the ARC at ALA, so there was the thrill of reading something before anyone else had a chance (except, that is, for the citizens of Australia, where this book has already been released.) Catherine Jinks has been a popular author in the YA stacks at work. I thought this might be a good intro. 2) It's a sci-fi title, so it was suitable to read for the 10-10-10 Reading Challenge. 3) I brought it with me on holiday, and didn't expect to love it as I did, and had every intention of leaving it behind, thus lightening the return luggage load. Needless to say, it is in my possession still.

Here's the story in brief. The action takes place on board the Plexus, a space ship which left Earth years ago (few on board still remember the place.) The Plexus is more than just a ship; it is an intricately balanced vessel which doubles as the humans' life support system. Everything on board is finely tuned to care for the needs of the people, who exist in four year shifts, taking turns out of stasis to live and breed while they seek out a suitable planet on which to live. The protagonist of the story is Cheney, a 17 year old Second Shifter--although his body is really 33--who narrates the events leading up to and following the Plexus' fateful encounter with a stray radiation wave. The nine seconds in which it takes the Plexus to pass through that wave changes life on board the ship irreversibly. I don't want to reveal too much about what happens, because it's quite dramatic, but I will mention that the ship turns on the humans faster than you can say, "Frankenstein."

One of the strengths of this book, aside from the gripping storyline, is its cinematic feel. Jinks has described the action in such a way that is very easy to visualize. The sequence where the inhabitants of the Plexus are preparing for the encounter with the radiation wave reads like a screenplay, as each agonizing minute is counted down. The cast of characters is initially difficult to keep track of, but their systematic demise helps whittle them down for the reader. Cheney's crash-course maturity from teenager to leader of the human race is believable and heartbreaking. And written in glorious, gory technicolor. Seriously, someone make this a movie (just change the title, please.)

Like all good science fiction, this book is at its smartest when it tells us something about humanity. Our desire to play God never turns out well. In this case, it is more of a necessity than a whim, but the end result is the same. Themes of destiny and survival play out against the backdrop of disaster, much to the delight of this reader. Teens who like their sci-fi to be aggressive rather than cerebral will gravitate to this thriller, hellish title and all. And they won't be disappointed.

27 March 2010

Catching up with BoB

As I've already mentioned, vacation is well and truly over, and it's time to get down to business. Top of my agenda was catching up with School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books, and this afternoon I devoted a chunk of time to the job. I had 8 first round and 2 second round matches to digest, and what fun reading it made! Handbags were at the ready as some favorites toppled early: fan favorite Marcello in the Real World, Newbery Winner When You Reach Me, and Claudette Colvin in a National Book Award rematch with Charles and Emma (my fave)--all gone. I'm so glad I didn't give in to March Madness and try to fill any brackets, because judging by the considerable amount of hand wringing in the comments following each round--no one's doing very well in terms of prediction. I've got nothing at stake and am free to be amazed and amused.

A couple of observations: I was surprised by the number of instances where a book was eliminated either because of an admitted bias on the part of the judges (Julius Lester doesn't like time-travel stories, so When You Reach Me was disadvantaged there,) or because of content (both Nancy Farmer and Helen Frost objected to mature themes finding their way into the hands of young readers.) I found such open criticism by authors of authors strange and unexpected. I guess I thought of authors as one big mutual appreciation society, but I guess they can be swayed by tastes and opinions as easily as....well....I can.

On the flip side, there were some absolutely eloquent, nearly scholarly analysis on the part of some judges. Both Gary Schmidt and M.T. Anderson delivered lengthy, constructive, and downright thrilling reviews which not only analyzed and compared their assigned books, but displayed admiration for the craft of their fellow writers and enthralled this humble(d) reader. I got the impression that it really pained Schmidt to choose one book over the other; his multiple use of the word "dang" made that perfectly clear! And while Anderson did not seem to suffer any qualms about his selection, it was not delivered until after the "loser" (seriously though, there are no losers here) was duly praised for all that was wonderful about it. Perhaps Anderson's thorough treatment of the books stems from having been on the other side of the battle last year, and so agonizingly close to victory. Or maybe it's just that he's so damn good, that he couldn't write a shopping list without making it sound entertaining, intelligent, and persuasive.

Okay, putting aside my superlatives and starry-eyed admiration for this competition, I am now caught up and in position to proceed with BoB through the final rounds. Bring it!

26 March 2010

Sid Fleischman

I was very sad to learn today about the death of Sid Fleischman. I am not as familiar with his rather extensive list of titles as I should be, having only read the Newbery winner The Whipping Boy and his autobiography,  The Abracadabra Kid. But his reputation in the world of children's literature is enormous, and his loss cannot be understated. He was a remarkable individual who did what every writer aspires to: he created a tangible link between books and magic through a simple yet auspicious career change. He applied to his writing the same discipline he applied to his magic, and consequently his books are finely crafted bundles of.......dare I say it?.......magic. As author Elizabeth Bluemle perceptively notes in her blog at PW, he was a master at writing for the 7-10 age bracket, a sometimes tricky level where the reading bug can either be nurtured by the perfect connection between child and book, or nipped by the pressure to move on to longer, meatier chapter books. Any child that ended up with a Sid Fleischman book in their hands was in good shape.

Sid Fleischman's contribution to the world of childrens literature is also unique in the fact that he is the only Newbery winner who has fathered another Newbery Winner, author Paul Fleischman. He really was something special when it came to nurturing readers, considering the success in his own household!

You can read an obituary for this remarkable man here. A complete bibliography, including his final book, a biography about Charlie Chaplin due for release in April, can be found here, at his web site.

24 March 2010

Back from my holiday and ready to go!

I'm back from Barbados, where I did.....not a whole lot. And let me tell you--it was fab! An interesting experience, being in Barbados. I was without internet access for ten days! And I've lived to tell the tale. So, as I regroup and reenter cyberspace, things on my to do list:

--Catch up with BoB. I actually worried about missing out on this for a whole ten minutes, before I melted in the Barbados heat. But now that I'm back in the chill, I need to get serious again about BOOKS! And I can't think of anywhere better to start.

--Comment on Mark Haddon's Boom! and Catherine Jink's Living Hell, two science fiction titles at completely different ends of the spectrum, but they had me from start to finish.

--Try to hold on to that holiday feeling just a little bit longer.....

04 March 2010

Go on--Wimp Yourself!

Okay all you Wimpy Kid fans; here is your chance to really be a wimpy kid and Wimp Yourself! This highly entertaining website allows you to try a number of different wimpy personas. Just to show you how successful it is, here's me:

And, if you know me, you know that this Marcy look-alike, is pretty accurate! All that's missing is a big pair of hoop earrings. And maybe a side parting. But, if it was perfect, it wouldn't be wimpy, now would it?

Oh, just go to the site and have fun. You can also catch a trailer of the upcoming film while you are at it. From the trailer alone, it shows promise. When NMD asks me to take her to go and see it, she won't have to twist my arm too much.

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