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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Category Archives: ya

In 2002, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman was published.  The book was a discussion on the inner world of girls, from cliques to drama, in a way few parenting books bothered to eclipse.  The book became the basis for the hit movie Mean Girls, staring Lindsay Lohan.

Now Wiseman turns her sights on writing fiction, with her young adult debut, Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials.  Charlotte, or as she’s more known, Charlie, has suffered at the hands of mean girls during middle school, and is eager to start anew at Harmony Falls High. But people from the past arrive in her new life – Nidhi, also a victim of mean girls, and Will, her childhood best friend.  And when Will becomes a varsity athlete  and tries too hard to fit in with “the guys,”  an innocent man is hurt during their hazing prank. Charlie realizes she must make a choice between her friendship and doing the right thing.

It’s Rosalind’s experience with the microcosm of high school from Queen Bees that richens Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials.  While certainly not a flawless depiction of high school, her take on the mean girls was refreshing.  I loved Charlie, who wasn’t like most of the teenage girls in fiction – here was a girl who wasn’t constantly obsessed with her appearance.   Same for Sydney and Nidhi – friends that Charlie had left her old high school to find.    The dialogue feels fresh and real, not the product of a weekend’s worth of MTV viewing.  The plot of the damage mean boys can wreak, a converse of what Queen Bees introduced, was refreshing. However the plot with Will and the near-fatal prank came too far toward the end of the novel for me.  As a central plot device, one on which a character-altering decision hinged, it felt awkward to confront so near the conclusion.

There are great things to take from this novel, and I’m always a fan of a book that makes me think:  How Charlie must confront her past in the form of Nidhi and Charlie.  How far one will go to fit in.  Sexual harassment. The list goes on.  But they’re all presented woven into the narrative, never does a character speak for the author and real-life teen issues she writes about every day on her website.     Might be a great book for parents of teen girls to read with their children to spark some conversations.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title:  Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials
Author:  Rosalind Wiseman
Date:  January 2010
Publisher: GP Putnam
Pages: 288

The link above is simply to Amazon and is not an affiliate link.


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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine and lets bloggers spotlight the upcoming releases they’re anxious to read.

Yes, this is another “the book-is-far-off-from-release-date-yet-I-post-it-as-a-WOW-post.”  Like I did with Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds, I’m posting about another far off release.

This time it’s Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls.  There’s very little to go on here, but I managed to make a mockup cover that I like, which is pictured to the right.

Why do I want to read it?

  • Nova’s first novel, Dani Noir, just kills me. It’s so good, and so perfect. I re-read it occasionally before I tackle my own work-in-progress because it’s one of my favorite examples of first person for a young girl.
  • It has gothic fiction elements, and is compared to Shirley Jackson.
  • The plot.

Here’s the synopsis from Publishers Weekly:

The novel, which is tentatively slated for summer 2011, features various spooky elements—Penguin called it “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s supernatural family dramas”—and follows two sisters, one of whom is shunned by their town after discovering a dead body in the local reservoir.

And here’s what Nova has to say in my interview with her in September 2009:

It’s the story of Chloe, little sister of Ruby, the girl everyone in town looks to and wants to be. But one night something goes horribly wrong and a dead body is found. When the sisters are torn apart, Ruby will do whatever she can to make it right.

Alas, summer 2011 is a very long time.  In the meantime, visit and read Dani Noir!

It took me awhile to get out of academic-mode and into book reviewing again, but I’m back. I earned my M.S. in Communications and it was a long haul, but here we are!  That aside, time to review The Brain Finds a Leg by Martin Chatterton.

My idea of Mavis.

The Brain is actually Theophilus Nero Hercule Sherlock Wimsey Father Brown Marlowe Spade Christie Edgar Allen Brain.  The “Brain” nickname comes from his oversized cranium, which, as you can guess is full of information.  The Brain has arrived in Farrago Bay, Australia where Sheldon McGlone is still mourning his father, lost at sea after a mysterious accident while driving a tourist-laden whale watching boat.  And there’s other peculiar animal happenings.  Possums stealing a Land Rover.   Lorikeets covering pet psychologists in waste. Kangaroos robbing convenience stores of tasty snacks.  And did I mention the fetching and barking pet crocodile named Mavis? Yes. Crocodile.

Sheldon becomes The Brain’s sidekick, primarily out of boredom and also urgency, after his brother is thrown into jail. When the city’s pride and glory, surfer Biff Manly, ends up dead with his leg severed, suspicion falls on Sean McGlone, and The Brain decides to take the case. Nobody’s exactly offering it to him, but he takes it.   And the animals’ behaviors aren’t the only thing that’s off in Farrago Bay. But how does it all fit?

I’m a big fan of the author Christopher Moore, which is why I offered to review this.  Brain author Martin Chatterton’s style and plot seemed to be in the same vein, and I wasn’t surprised I loved it.   I loved the rollicking humor and wacky sense of plot throughout the book. Chatterton appears to have a enjoyable time writing this, and the effort shows.  His flair with exaggeration and hyperbole run rampant through the book, with ridiculous names (Infinity Override) and even more outlandish incidents: the police sergeant having to play the role of ‘stick’ for the fetching crocodile,  The Brain   I knew I’d love Sheldon McGlone from his first appearance: groggy, and nearly hungover from a massive candy and chocolate binge.

I’d recommend The Brain Finds a Leg to middle readers to teens looking for a fun mystery, fans of Christopher Moore, and anybody who loves offbeat absurd comedies such as Arrested Development.

Read my guest post with author Martin Chatterton!

Visit his website, WorldofChatterton.

Copy for review provided by the publisher

Title: The Brain Finds a Leg
Author: Martin Chatterton
Date:  October 2009
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Pages: 224
Format: Hardback

Note: This is actually one of the first YA reviews I wrote.  I wrote it in 2005 for Amazon.   This is still one of my favorite books to this day, so I wanted to publish it here.  I remember when the hardback came out, my store didn’t have a teen/YA section, only a few shelves with the Sweet Valley Books, Go Ask Alice, Judy Blume’s titles, and a few Buffy and Charmed novelizations.  Thankfully, that isn’t the case today.


Elsewhere caught me immediately with its beautiful cover and captivating story. I can also remember sobbing uncontrollably as I read it at lunch and in the cafe.  I would recommend this book to ages thirteen to one hundred, it has so much to offer.

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Hall has just died and now is in Elsewhere, a place that is just like Earth, only every year she will now grow younger instead of older.  At first, I thought this was The Lovely Bones for kids. But I gave it a chance, and was greatly rewarded.

Elsewhere is a rare find, with richly developed characters and an unique plot. The enthusiasm of the deceased in this novel is happy and uplifting. They all approach their ‘afterlife’ with a sense of adventure and purpose. They don’t wallow around feeling sorry for themselves, but there is realism as well. They ‘acclimate’ to their death slowly and surely and realize that they can still have a life worth living.

What makes the book so enjoyable is the effect of Liz’s death on her family and friends. Their reactions to it are interwoven throughout the book, as Liz gains experience and knowledge. In the end, she is wiser at age 4, than she was at 15, because she died and lived.

Although one might be sad about aging backwards every year and dying, the subject is approached with such a tenderness and beautiful touch that I actually felt breathless at the end. Zevin has humor, emotion and and an almost philosophical tone present in every page. 

Title: Elsewhere
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Date: May 2007 (Paperback)
Publisher: Square Fish

Pages: 304
Format: Paperback

Emma Goiner’s pastor mother has just told the entire congregation of their church, Living Word Redeemer, that Adam was a hermaphrodite, and now her position is in jeopardy. If this wasn’t enough, Emma’s got her best friend not talking to her, a boy she’s known since childhood in love with her (and he just so happens to be the member of a family trying to oust her parents from the church board). Right now though, she’s going to head to the Crispy Dream camp, where fans are lined up to be the first customers at the new donut store. It’s her chance to write a feature story for the newspaper, and maybe score a scholarship for a non-Christian college, contrary to her parents’ wishes. And thus begins one long weekend.

This title was on my wishlist for awhile, it just sounded so good. I thought based on the summary, that it’d be a comedic story. I was wrong. While Donut Days is quite funny, it’s also a exploration of faith and family, with a realistic protagonist. As Emma tries to reconcile with the idea of her family leaving their church, she also deals with her own guilt on not being a “perfect Christian” in the eyes of the congregation, unlike her saintly little sister. I’ve never seen a teen novel approach a struggle with one’s choice in faith and beliefs, without being shelved under “teen christian fiction,” and it was refreshing to read. I was drawn to the biker gang, The Angelfire Witnesses, particularly Bear, as their appearance – rough and edgy – challenged Emma’s and possibly readers’ preconceived notions about biker gangs. As Emma accepts them instantly, it’s a testament to her character, and the very foundation of Christian ideals she follows.

This is Lara Zielin’s debut novel, and I’m really looking forward to her new book. With Donut Days, she demonstrates her knack for sharp dialogue, intriguing characters, and a fine craft.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title: Donut Days
Author: Lara Zielin
Date: August 2009
Publisher: G.P Putnam’s and Sons
Pages: 256
Format: Hardback

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The review below might contain slight spoilers.

The Faustian Bargain is a popular worldwide legend about the devil. The bargain is the ultimate an individual might pay: the price of his soul for a devilish favor. Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri is the tale of five children and how they unwittingly make such a deal.

In locations around the world, five children vanish without a trace. Five years later, they appear at an elite New York party on Christmas Eve, accompanied by their governess, Madame Vileroy. As strikingly beautiful as she is devious, Vileroy has endowed each of the teens with a mysterious gift. The gifts are special, fitting for each child’s personality, and allow for some fun and mischief, such as Valentin’s ability to stop time leads to replay a scene over and over helps a nerdy classmate win over the popular cheerleader. The gifts also enable them to advance beyond their peers. But as it’s a Faustian Bargain, the gifts may have devastating consequences.

Another Faust’s characters and the historical backgrounds of the novel are the features I enjoyed the most from the novel. Each chapter opens in a different historical period, such as the time of the Romanov family or Egyptian pharoahs. If there’s dialogue, the speakers often aren’t named. This only adds to the sinister nature of Vileroy and the bargain. The scenes darkly echo the underlying tone of the chapter they open.

My favorite such scene is below:

“Why do you care about all of this? Why would someone like you bother helping someone like me?”

“Because some things that seem unimportant now can change the course of human history – and I am a student of human history.”

“Well, I’ve only ever been a failure. I sign here?”

“Lots of big accomplishments begin with failures.”

“Like what?”

“There was a man who owned a clothing store that went bankrupt.”

“Let me guess. He learned from his failure and started over as Georgio Armani.”

“No. He left the clothing business. He became president and dropped a bomb on Hiroshima.”

Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri

The characters varied in personality and villainy, and the use of different viewpoints gives the reader a thorough view of their complexities. As Villeroy has erased their previous memories and implanted new ones (only one child knows the truth), they’d formed an awkward little family, and are siblings. I was so both horrified and intrigued by Victoria, the power-hungry teen who would stop at nothing – and I mean nothing – to win even above her brothers and sisters. Save Victoria, I wanted all of the teens to gain redemption even as they used their gifts to “cheat” over other students: Christian, the skilled athlete. Bice, who only wanted to hide away. Belle, as beautiful as she was odorous. Valentin, the liar with the soul of a poet. As they struggle with the unexpected consequences of their gifts and deceit, you’ll be asking: to what lengths will someone go to win? And what happens when they reach that point?

This book grabbed me instantly. The first chapter , illustrating each of the children’s lives before they were taken was so engrossing as it spanned countries and social classes, it got my attention and didn’t let go until the last page. I read this on vacation, and I spent more time by the pool reading, than actually swimming. The ending was nothing like what I expected and if this title is indication, the second in the Another series will be just as suspenseful.

Another Faust is available this week, and it’s a must-read. Just don’t sell your soul for it.

Check out the book trailer below.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title: Another Faust
Author: Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Date: August 25, 2009
Publisher: Candlewick
Pages: 400
Format: Hardback

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Liyanaland – Interviews with all the characters and the authors, plus a book playlist and more)
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Waiting on Wednesday is an event started and hosted by Breaking the Spine. Every Wednesday, you spotlight the releases you’re awaiting.

My first W.O.W. is Claire Zulkey’s An Off Year. I first read about this release in an interview with the editor by Lauren B Jorkman at the Class of 2K9 blog. Looking it up brought me to the author’s website, the hilarious

Cecily has always done everything as she was supposed to: taken the right classes, gotten the right grades, applied to the right colleges. But after a lifetime of following the rules, she surprises everyone by arriving for her freshman year of college . . . and turning around. There are infinite possibilities for Cecily’s unexpected gap year. She could volunteer, or travel around the world—but, for now, Cecily is content to do absolutely nothing. What follows is a year of snarkily observed self-doubt and selfdiscovery during which Cecily must ask herself, for the first time, what does she really want to do with her life?

September 22, 2009

As somebody who has absolutely been there in that gap between high school and college (and went to college anyhow for a frustrating couple of years), I can totally relate. Plus I’ll read anything with the word “snarkily” in the description. Also, that cover just catches your eye immediately.