The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Part of my "banned books" series. I am surprised that I had never heard of this book before, considering how famous and controversial it was in the 1970s (it was even made into a reportedly mediocre movie). This was a really great read, but I could also see why some parents would get their panties in a twist over their teenagers reading it. It's got violence, corruption, bullying, masturbation, loss of innocence, all that bad stuff you think your high school-aged children know nothing about, but actually do. The ending is a Cormac McCarthy level of downer. Highly recommended for misanthropic mood days.
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
So I read The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen not too long ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This was before I learned that every Sarah Dessen book appears to be the same. Read one, and you've read them all. I kept getting distracted throughout this book (which is about a girl's addiction to drugs and her abusive boyfriend ... serious stuff) by deja vu. Upper-middle-class, gorgeous girl who is successful to the point of obsession? Check. Elusive sibling? Check. Dark, dangerous love interest? Overbearing, irritating suburban mom? Masculine, idealized father figure? Quirky, free-spirited best friend? All check. Seriously? Why bother to write another book? You know how annoying it is in movies like Orange County when someone gets touted as a great writer but really he's just fictionalized all the quirky folks in his life and not created anything original? Yeah. That. I think I have a pretty decent handle on Ms. Dessen's life.
The thing that really upset me about Dreamland is that the subject of domestic violence is really important to me and I want there to be lots of believable, empowering literature on the subject for women and teenage girls. But this one fell so short that it mostly just pissed me off. Also, how often do real people actually brush their hair out of their faces? According to Dessen everybody does it like every three seconds.
If I'm way off and her other books are really good and super original, please let me know.
Peter and Wendy (AKA Peter Pan) by J.M. Barrie
To balance out how disappointed I was by the previous book, this book was everything I hoped it would be and more. I deeply identify with confused, motherly Wendy. I was just like that as a little girl. I am still like her, actually. And I love how dark and dangerous and totally-not-for-kids the storyline is. It feels exactly like how I imagined the world as as child--dangerous in a way that no adults truly understood. Read this book.
Escape from "Special" by Miss Lasko-Gross
Speaking of suburban teenagers, this was much more likable than Dreamland. Melissa "Miss" Lasko-Gross wrote this autobiographical graphic novel (isn't it cool how those two words echo each other?) about growing up as a misunderstood kid that everyone perceived as "different." Of course, many of us different kids grow up to be writers. She also chronicles the loss of her faith and her relationship with her parents, who seem pretty cool. If you haven't read a non-fantastical graphic novel before, this would be a great introduction to the genre.
Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
Yeah, yeah. I decided I wanted to read this after I saw the (hilarious) movie. Mostly because I wanted to see if the kissing-Jacob scene was any good. Why do I keep doing this to myself? Her writing makes me cringe in a way that only Ms. Meyer and Sarah Palin can (stay tuned for me review of Going Rogue ... I am clearly a glutton for punishment).
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
There are a couple of defining childhood books that I missed out on when I was actually a child. Since I am out of school and planning to be a teacher (of children) I figured now is as good a time as any to catch up on some of those aforementioned books. Also, NPR did an interesting podcast on Laura Ingalls Wilder a while back that piqued my interest.
This book was OK. I am definitely not going to read the nine or so other books in the series. I can see why they would have appealed to me as a kid, reading about the mundane happenings in the life of a happy little girl. She lives in the woods and churns her own butter and loves her parents. Anytime you think anything exciting is going to happen (a bear in the front yard!) nothing ever does. Everybody just ends up safe and snug in their little house eating maple syrup. Again, I can see how that would have been sort of comforting to a young child (I think a second grader could easily plow through one of these books in a week or so) but at this point in my life I don't find it very enthralling.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd et al.
This and books like it are probably the reason why I didn't find Little House in the Big Woods very exciting. I am having a moral crisis trying to figure out if I like this book better than Watchmen, which is also a work of staggering genius, and now I think I love them both equally but for different reasons, as if they were my children. V for Vendetta gets into your head a little more, I think. But it's just as fascinating and surprising and character-driven as Watchmen and holy cow, I loved this book. I doubt I will see the movie, though. Especially after Watchmen broke my heart like it did. The fifteen minutes of awesome didn't make up for all that other stuff they did.
Stuart Little by E.B. White
I can't believe I never got around to reading this, especially since Charlotte's Web is one of my favorite books of all time (animals! vegetarians! baby spiders!). It was a nice little read. I liked how they put this very absurd character (an anthropomorphic mouse born to human parents) into this very idealized version of New York City and no one ever reacts like anything weird is going on. It's like Magic Realism for Kiddies. One of my favorite scenes is his failed date with an inexplicably tiny girl. How many of us have ruined a potentially perfect relationship because we were being narrow jerks? You so have, too.
Oddly, I felt like the end of the book was setting it up for a sequel, but there isn't one, is there?
Webslinger: Unauthorized Essays on Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man by Gerry Conway (ed.)
This is proof positive that I am a huge nerd. Particularly the fact that after a while, I wasn't even embarrassed to be seen reading this book in public. Also, because this book is really, really fascinating. It consists of essays written by a bunch of gifted pop culture writers about various topics as they relate to spider-man: psychology, religion, philosophy, various literary themes. It's a veritable feast of comic-book-obsession-hood. If you like that sort of thing, read it.
Matched by Ally Condie
Thank you thank you thank you Kayla for this book! It arrived in the mail only a few days ago and it was one of the most exciting packages I have gotten in a long time. Kayla and I were talking one day about how we like getting mail, and how we both like books, and she was like, "Hey! Why don't I send you a book in the mail! Then you can send a different one back to me! It will be fun!"
It totally is fun. Not only is this an advance copy of a book by an author I have never heard of (she lives in Salt Lake City so she may or may not be Mormon? she makes no mention of it in this book either way) but it was a really fun, pleasurable YA read. I read it in one day while I was doing front desk reception at a really slow office (today, actually). Matched is a dystopian romance along the same lines as The Hunger Games (which I love), but even though the plot is a little tread, Condie is a good enough writer that I was totally engrossed. It's not predictable, either. I was genuinely concerned about the characters and how/if things were going to work out. I'm not positive if Condie is planning on a sequel, but I hope she is. If she is Mormon, the book turns into a very interesting commentary on our ideas of destiny vs. agency. But either way, it's a great book.