review: Noggin’ by John Corey Whaley

noggin

Noggin’ by John Corey Whaley is a dystopic- no, no that’s not right. It’s realistic fiction that- wait, no. That’s not right, either.

Okay, so I don’t quite know how to categorize a novel about a teen boy who is dying of cancer so he is cryogenically  frozen then given a new, non-cancerous body, via a head transplant. If that isn’t dystopic-science fiction-fantasy-romance then I don’t know what is. I mean, Whaley must really dislike genre stickers that librarians put on novels – or he was going for some kind of record number of stickers on the spine. Either way, the book is un-categorizable. (Yes, I know that isn’t a word. Just like head transplants aren’t real medical procedures. But I did it anyway, all in the name of fiction! HA!)

So I’ve told you the premise of the novel…but what fills the other 300 pages? Oh, right…teen romance. See, Travis feels like he just took a nap. Meanwhile, five years have passed and everyone has moved on. Everyone. Including his girlfriend Cate. In fact, she’s engaged. This, coupled with his parents odd behavior and the stares from his classmates (who were in elementary school when he was put under five years earlier) make for some very weird, mixed-up emotions in Travis that he can’t get a handle on.

I read an advanced reader copy (ARC) of this book laying by the pool at the Vdara resort in Las Vegas. Except for re-applying sunscreen so my pale, freckled skin would stay as perfect as Scarlet O’Hara’s, I didn’t put the book down. (I took sips of my pina colada one-handed. Huzzah!) Although I found Travis to be super whiny and incredibly selfish, I get why Whaley made him such – he is a teen boy (read: pubescent) who just went through a traumatic experience. He is allowed to be a little whiny and selfish. But it’s when his selfishness begins to hurt others that his friends call him out.

This is a fantastic YA novel written by a fantastic author. I don’t think Noggin’ went as deep as his 2012 Printz Award winning Where Things Come Back but that’s just fine. It’s still great. Still worth reading and recommending.

Recommended for: 
Teen boys AND girls. Girls will like the “feels” and boys will appreciate the boy behavior.

Read-alikes:
There are just too many head-transplant books to choose from, so I’ll recommend books that have other, similar themes. Such as The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider and Winger by Andrew Smith.

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review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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Some authors just know what they are doing. Holly Goldberg Sloan is one of them. In April 2012 I read I’ll Be There, a heart-gripping story of two boys on the run from their abusive and psychotic father. Their interaction with the beautifully composed character named Emily made for a novel with staying power. Sloan did it again with Counting by 7s, this time using a quirky adopted girl and her crew of equally-quirky friends.

Willow Chance is a young lady with gumption, questions, and a penchant for the number 7 and the color red. Adopted as a baby, Willow’s parents support her inquisitiveness to the point of letting her turn their backyard into a full and lush garden. She is a character full of humor, despite not meaning to be. Luckily Sloan never lets her readers laugh at Willow, but just chuckle at her candidness.

Everyone else orders spicy pickled tongue sandwiches. I don’t eat meat. And organ meat is a whole other category of stuff I wouldn’t want to chew.

When we are finished they bring us each a bowl of vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on top. The girl next to me starts to cry when she sees the sprinkles. I’m wondering if she’s worried about the long-term side effects of consuming artificial food coloring. It’s a valid concern.

But tragedy strikes, leaving her without her parents, her garden, and everything she loved.

Are you looking for something?‘ I want to say that yes, I’m looking for anything that could make a world gone flat return to its original shape…

Luckily, a crew of unlikely characters find their way into Willow’s world, giving her a reason to get up, then a reason to garden, then a reason to ask questions again. The Nguyen family is realistic, but not so fully-formed that they take away from Willow, or even the oddest character I’ve read in a while – school counselor Dell Duke.

I don’t want to know how you did it. I want to believe that you’re magic.

Willow’s ruminations on life are  sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious. In real life, I imagine I would sometimes find her annoying – but characters are real people, and real people are annoying sometimes. It’s likely, though, that I would adore her and want to care for her like Ms. Nguyen does.

Recommended for:
Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s works might enjoy this for its realism. Also, if a teen is looking to read about death, either as a way to cope or to learn more about the grieving process, this would be a good book to pick up.

Read-alikes
I recently read Bridge to Terabithia for the first time ever (yes, ever) and found similarities in the two novels. Death, from the perspective of a young person with no experience with the topic, is dealt with in a sensitive but realistic manner.

review: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

beginngThe Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider is your typical YA contemporary fiction. Relationships, bullying, involved-but-not-overly-smothering parents, a gay minor character, etc. The exception to this novel is that it contains moments of brilliance that readers will find heartbreakingly poignant.

For a moment, I let myself imagine what it would be like to go East, where leaves turned golden and snow coated the rooftops, where libraries looked like castles and dining halls were straight out of Harry Potter films. But…I realized that there’s a big difference between deciding to leave and knowing where to go.

Ezra is at the top of his class – in terms of popularity, athletic standing, and grades. It all comes naturally to him, everything from his effortless musculature and wit, to his backhand and straight As. Until he runs from a party after he catches his girlfriend in a lewd act with another tennis player. He is struck by a car thereby ending his tennis dreams. No friend or teammate visits him in the hospital, leaving him lonely and lost. Who is he without his title of Prom King, his varsity letter, or his lunch table in the quad?

Steinback wrote about tide pools and how profoundly they illustrate the interconnectedness of all things folded together in an ever-expanding universe that’s bound by the elastic string of time. He said that one should look from the tide pool to the stars, and then back again in wonder. And maybe things would have been different if I’d heeded his advice….but I didn’t. Instead…the only stars I saw were wearing varsity jackets.

His loneliness abates with the arrival of new girl Cassidy Thorpe, and the re-emergence of his childhood best friend Toby (who’d actually never gone anywhere). Budding friendships with his new group of friends draws Ezra out little by little, and the high school experience begins to feel a bit tired. Just as readers are wondering if something is going to come next, something comes next. And it’s not far-fetched, and it doesn’t make you gasp…it just…is. And isn’t that high school? Isn’t that life? Not everything is dramatic and life-changing, but it something that makes you take pause and start again and move forward. I liked that about The Beginning of Everything. 

Recommended for:
Teen and adult readers who enjoy contemporary YA fiction. Teen boys, because the male perspective is a unique one.  (Well, at least for this lady reader.) It’s not as crass as Winger, but along the same lines.

Read-alikes:
You won’t walk away from this feeling as distressed or worn out as when you end a Rainbow Rowell novel, but you will feel a little more prepared to take on unexpected events, because they just might be the beginning of something better than what was.

review: Winger by Andrew Smith

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Winger by Andrew Smith left me stunned. The cover, the overly sexualized protagonist, the cartoon drawings…none of that prepared me for what hit me square in the heart at the end.

But I would read it again, hard hit and everything, to get to share another day with Winger. Immature, adorable (sorry, Winger!), and hilarious Winger. And Joey, because he is the truest friend. And Annie, because we’ve all let one get away because of some superficial reason. Each of Smith’s characters struggled. The language and pacing made this book a pitch-perfect YA novel. A bit crass for the ladies, but worth reading 428 pages if only to feel like I did at the conclusion of 439. Spent. But full…I still don’t know of what. Sadness? Yeah, definitely. Pain? It’s like I felt Winger’s pain. But more than that. I felt the authenticity of the novel and have been looking for Winger ever since.

I guess you want to know what the book is about. A 14-year-old high school junior (incredibly intelligent for his age, skipped a few years) at a boarding school on the west coast. He plays rugby (a few brief but fun scenes; don’t let the “sports thing” keep you from reading it), loves Annie, hates mean people (which there seem to be a lot of at Pine Mountain), and has a knack for ending up in trouble. His is a fun (albeit cringeworthy at times…just look at the cover) Junior year to follow.

It’s a story about a teenaged boy, his love life, and his friends. But oh guys, it’s so much more than that.

Recommended for:
Boys who need a good a**-kicking, because they know what is right but still do what is wrong. Winger will bring ’em back to reality.

Read-alikes:
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell was just as heart-breaking, but throughout the entire novel. Read it!

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. I just began reading this at my dinner break tonight, and I see some of the angsty-teen-boy commonalities, which I dig.

Memories

I don’t know why, but it seems as though my mom stores pictures in picture frames. There is the picture that is seen, then there is a picture or two behind it. I used to love stumbling across them when I was younger. Well as it turns out I am kind of similar. I gave my boyfriend a couple framed pictures earlier this year and in one of them there is a second photo (not that he has found it yet). As it turns out, I also did it with a collage I made in 2005 when I was going through a particularly rough time in my life. It is a collage of the most important women in my life, as of mid-2005. And when I opened up the back, look what I found. It is a note to myself, to remind myself why I chose to put those seven women in my frame:

This is my collage:

As you can see, there are 7 women: My mother, my sister, Michelle, Dawn, Emily, Kristin, and Erin. Two are still proud to be related to me and we talk daily. Two still call me best friend and we speak every few days. One I rarely, if ever, see or talk to, but when we do it’s like there was no time lapse. Two I have not spoken to in more than 4 and 2 years, respectively, although for years they were very important people in my life and I would never erase those years or the memories. Nor would I regret or forget the break-ups, because both led me to discover more about myself. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. But I digress.

Surrounding the photographs are quotes I cut from a daily calendar that had a very feminist, Inner Bitch persona. See the quotes around me and Michelle:

“Sometimes I wonder what the difference is between being cautious and being dead?” _ author Sue Grafton
“Laughter is the shortest difference between two people.” -Anonymous
“Your Inner Bitch knows that the path to true love begins with knowing what you want – and not settling for less.”

I figured tonight was as good a time as any to dismantle the collage. I want the shadow box for another project, but I also want to put the past where it belongs; in a memory. But luckily, four of those women have starring roles in my daily life. Whether they know it or not, I ask myself “Would (Mom, Amanda, Michelle, Dawn) approve? Appreciate? Hate? this particular decision.” I love being alone to read, to be alone with my thoughts, to study…but I would not be able to go on another day if not for the support and friendship of these four women. So for that, I thank them. And don’t worry about the dismantling of my collage; my dresser is currently covered in nothing but photographs and reminders of these women.