Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lawn Boy Returns

After spending the last couple of weekends working in my flower garden and planting the pots on our deck, I was motivated to pick up Gary Paulsen's Lawn Boy Returns, which is the sequel to last year's Lawn Boy. For those of you not familiar with the first book, you are in for a treat. In addition to the hilarious story, the chapter titles provide economic lessons about our young hero's rise to fame and fortune. After his ditzy grandmother gives him his grandfather's old riding lawn mower, the twelve-year-old narrator manages to become a lawn service mogul through no fault of his own. He is out mowing his own yard, when a neighbor spots him and hires him to mow his lawn. Come to find out the man who mows the neighborhood yards has angered the neighbors and they all want to hire the young lawn boy. Pretty soon, he has more jobs than he can handle. Then he meets Arnold, a hippie stock broker, who hires him to mow his lawn in exchange for stock tips. He invests the money he would have paid Lawn Boy instead of giving him cash. In a chapter entitled "Capital Growth Coupled with the Principles of Product Expansion," Arnold suggests that Lawn Boy hire migrant workers to help him expand his business. When the investments Arnold has made for him are wildly successful, Lawn Boy finds himself sponsoring Joey Pow, a rising prize fighter, who becomes his muscle. In "Force of Arms and Its Applications to Business," Joey has to help Lawn Boy fend off a villain trying to shake him down. At the end of the day Lawn Boy finds himself a little bit wiser and a half million dollars richer.

The sequel Lawn Boy Returns takes up where its predecessor ends, but Lawn Boy is now experiencing the problems that come with business expansion. In addition to tax problems and an unruly bunch of employees, he now has unwanted fame which is threatening his sanity. All he wants to do is go back to mowing lawns and being a kid, but that now seems to be an impossiblity. For those of you who enjoy fun filled quick reads with some entertaining lessons on the side, these books are a "wise investment" of your time!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

Last Friday I had the pleasure of meeting with the Monarch High school teen book club. I shared a variety of new YA novels with them during two separate sessions. I loved meeting these voracious teen readers and especially enjoyed talking with several of them between the sessions. We bonded over our shared love of GLEE, the sensational new TV series about a high school Glee Club. One of the readers asked me about LGBTQ recommendations. The first book that came to mind was Nick Burd's wonderful debut novel, The Vast Fields of Ordinary.

During the eventful summer before he leaves for college, Dade Hamilton watches his parents' marriage implode, his secret relationship with sort of boyfriend Pablo fizzle, and the media's obsessive coverage of an autistic girl's disappearance unfold. He toils away at a boring job at Food World, feeling lost and invisible himself. Then he meets Alex Kincaid, an openly gay drug dealer, who pulls Dade into his world of drugs, sex and rock and roll. Alex openly adores Dade and gives him the confidence to come out to his parents and the rest of the community. When he sees Dade with Alex, Pablo, even though he has a girlfriend, begins pursuing Dade again. Pablo's increasingly bizarre attempts to reconnect with Dade are disturbing and make Dade wonder why he is still attracted to him, even though he is in love with Alex. As the date of his departure to college nears, Dade's parents take off on a trip to Europe to try to work out their problems, leaving Dade home alone. With the privacy for an idyllic time with Alex and the opportunity to explore his emotions freely, Dade works through the turmoil he is feeling before he begins a new chapter in his life.

Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal all gave The Vast Fields of Ordinary starred reviews and I would agree. However, I would definitely recommend it as a high school read, because of the frank sexuality and drug use that are explored in the story.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I was gone for five days last week visiting my sister and her husband in Port Aransas, Texas. They recently retired from their jobs in Austin and moved to the beach. He is now the chief of police in Port Aransas and they just moved into their fabulous new beach house. While there, I consumed mass quantities of seafood, helped them with their house warming party, and read Gone, the final book in Lisa McMann's Wake trilogy.
For those of you not familiar with the Wake trilogy, it is a really unique paranormal series about Janie Hannagan, a girl who is a dream catcher. The first book, Wake, introduces Janie who has been inexplicably pulled into other people's dreams since she was eight years old. Through a patient at the Heather Nursing Home where she works, Janie finds out she has the ability to help people resolve their nightmares. Exhausted by being constantly pulled into the dreams of fellow students who are napping at school, Janie seeks to find a way to control the dreaming. She gets involved with Cabel, a former bad-boy who has hellish nightmares, and Janie realizes her ability may be a blessing and not just a curse.
In the second book, Fade, Janie is now working undercover for the police, using her abilities to help them solve crimes. Janie and Cabel are investigating teachers suspected of drugging and abusing students at class parties. Janie sets herself up as bait, and her relationship with Cabel is strained as he feels unable to protect her. The physical toll her dream catching will ultimately exact is also revealed, and Janie is faced with deciding how much she is willing to sacrifice in order to continue her undercover work for the police.
In the final book, Gone, Janie discovers her long lost father is also a dream catcher. When she meets him for the first time, he is in a coma in the hospital. As Janie is pulled into his hellish nightmares, she realizes that he chose a life of isolation, rather than face the debilitating side effects of using his abilities. However, if she makes the same choice, it means abandoning her undercover work and, more importantly, Cabel, whom she loves more than life itself.
Lisa McMann, in a note to readers, admits that she procrastinated in writing the last book of the trilogy, because she didn't want it all to end. When she finally finished the first draft of the book, she sent it off to her editor, thinking all it need was some "polishing." Her editor sent it back with notes telling her it wasn't strong enough. Lisa realized she had been holding back and Gone needed to be completely rewritten. With only three weeks before she went on a book tour to support Fade, she found a theme song for Janie, Dido's "Here with Me," and listened to it over and over until she had the courage to begin again. I was fascinated by the Morton's Fork (a situation involving choice between two equally undesireable outcomes) concept, which Lisa used to characterize Janie's dilemma. The result is a very satisfying resolution to a terrific series.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coffeehouse Angel

For Mother's Day my guys granted my heart's desire and took me to a chick flick, Letters to Juliet, and out to dinner. Letters to Juliet takes place in Verona, Italy, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) travels with her fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal), for a prewedding honeymoon. When he gets consumed with plans for his new restaurant and neglects her, Sophie gets involved with the secretaries of Juliet, who respond to letters to Juliet seeking romantic advice. It reminded me of a couple YA books I read in 2008, The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper, which is about an American girl who goes to a summer program in Verona and as a class assignment answers letters to Juliet, and Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors, where a girl travels back in time to Verona and tries to save Juliet from her fate.
Suzanne Selfors' latest book Coffeehouse Angel is one of my favorite chick lit books that I've read recently. This book taps into the latest trend of stories involving angels. 16-year-old Katrina Svenson leaves coffee and a Danish for a vagrant, who is sleeping in the alley behind her grandmother's coffee shop, and later finds out he's an angel who is a messenger from heaven. For her kindness he must grant her heart's desire. But what does she want-love, fortune or fame? While Katrina is busy trying to decide, her grandmother's coffee shop is failing, her best guy friend is dating her nemesis, and her cat becomes famous for killing a giant rat in the coffeehouse. To complicate matters, she is falling for the angel and would like for him to stick around. Details of Scandanavian culture lace this supernatural romance and make it an engaging read for anyone looking for a bit of escape.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Whirlwind Trip

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to San Francisco where I watched my son Chris compete in the Golden Shovel competion between Berkeley and Stanford. The two schools' teams are given a location (this year's was a strip mall in Walnut Creek) to develop, and a panel of judges determines which team has the better plan. Both teams came up with a plan for senior housing developments, but Berkeley's was deemed the superior project. They got custody of the revolving trophy which is a life size golden shovel, as well as $2000 for their favorite charity. It was great fun!
There was lots of down time for the visiting mom during the judging process, so of course I brought a book - BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, I'LL BE DEAD by Julie Anne Peters. After many failed suicide attempts, Daelyn signs into an interactive website, "Through the Light," which guides people through the suicide process, including pain and effectiveness ratings for various methods for killing oneself. She gives herself 23 days until her "Date of Determination." Then she meets Santana, a quirky cancer patient who wants nothing more than to live. Despite her hostility, he is determined to befriend her and change her view of life.
Daelyn, who is mute from her last suicide attempt, describes her daily life in a journal. As she slowly reveals the issues that led her to her suicidal frame of mind, the reader begins to realize that this damaged teen is a highly unreliable narrator. In additon to suicide advice and thought provoking questions for the user, the site provides a forum where users can tell their incredibly painful stories. When Daelyn finally spills her guts, she realizes no one in the forum is really listening; whereas Santana never quits trying to engage her. The ambigous ending is highly effective and the author provides discussion prompts, information on bullying and anti-bullying websites, as well as suicide prevention hotlines and websites. Although this is a disturbing read, I would recommend it for high school readers. It might be especially effective in counseling situations.