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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guest review: Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal

This guest review comes from my colleague in the Teen Center, Devi. She is a voracious reader of all things non-realistic. When we first heard of this book, we mocked it for a solid 5 minutes. Devi decided to give it the benefit of doubt, and took it home with her that night. Here is what she thought of it:

mothership

Let me start by saying that I have never had a book surprise me like this one did. When I heard about the plot, my first thought was how bad it sounded. Aliens impregnating teens… really? Well, I’m eating my words now.

Mothership by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal follows Elvie on board a spaceship that houses a school for pregnant teens. Elvie is just sixteen years old, and despite being surrounded by other pregnant teens she still has to deal with high school drama, even in space!  Let’s add an alien attack to that drama and you’ve got quite the story with hormonal girls screaming and crying and trying to stay alive. As it turns out, these so called alien attackers are actually the girls’ rescuers. But wait, one of them is the father of Elvie’s child! That’s right – we’re talking alien babies.  So now, not only does Elvie have to deal with having an alien baby, but she is also the smartest person on the ship and the only one who can really help the other girls and aliens escape. Escape from what, you ask? Oh, just the evil aliens that are trying to take over the ship and kill everyone.

As crazy as all of that might sound, this book is a terrific read. You want action? You’ve got it. Romance? Adventure? Sci-fi? Humor? You’ve got it! I could not put this book down until I was done. It is a quick read, but you will enjoy Elvie’s internal monologue as she switches from the present to her past. You meet her best friend Ducky, her quirky father, and Cole, her baby’s daddy who is also her arch-nemesis’ boyfriend. Elvie is not just your typical female protagonist; she is an intelligent girl who uses her resources and her wit to overcome her obstacles. Plus, her sarcastic outlook on everything really brings the humor to the story. She makes the book fun! You will be chuckling your way through the book, right up to an ending that will shock you into immediately wanting the sequel! In short, this book is so ridiculous, light-hearted, and funny, that you have to read it.

review: Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

scar

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos is the story of Harry – an oft-bullied teen who face is covered in scars following an unfortunate lightning incident. I’ll let you read the book to get those details…

Harry’s best friend Johnny is the popular, smart, handsome one. He’s not sure why they are really friends, but Harry goes along with it, if for no other reason than Johnny is the lead singer in their band, The Scar Boys – a nod to Harry’s face, and a pretty rad name for a band. The Scar Boys – who just so happen to have a gorgeous chick rocking out with them – go on the road to see if they have what it takes to go all the way. What happens on that trip, and most importantly, what happens to Harry, is life-changing.

I read an advanced copy of this while I was flying home from Las Vegas last summer, and was immediately drawn in. Harry carried his horrific childhood with him, even though he tried his best not to. When his time to shine arrived, his reaction stunned me.

This book comes out tomorrow, and I suggest you pick it up. And read Len’s essay here. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a drink with, and discuss life – not on an existential level, but life stories.

Recommended for: 
I think teen boys will connect to the raw emotions and words. Adult men will appreciate the musical influences, and might even re-live their own former rock band days.

Read-alikes: 
A.S. King books are quite similar to this one because the characters have been dealt a bad hand and they have to figure out if they are going to let the negative overtake them, or if they will over the negativity.

webinar review: Serving Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder, part 2

In part two of the webinar I learned more about serving youth with ASD, specifically about their sensory needs. Touch is a big part of development for youth with ASD, so programs such as Sensory Storytime – which utilize soft scarves, wet bubbles, and fuzzy felt – are fun and instructive. The webinar presenter Lesley Farmer had the idea to have volunteers install sensory tags inside books for this group of young people. For example, adhering felt, fake flowers, or aluminum foil over other images in the books can turn a book into more than a reading device. This heightened sensory experience can really draw a child into the book.

Another important feature when holding a class or program for youth with ASD is to tell them upfront how the program with progress. Having a timeline of the events or songs will help you youth prepare for the change in tempo or station.

Farmer named a few resources for class participants to check out, including:

Squidalicious – the author of this blog posts videos of her son so viewers can better understand behaviors of youth with ASD, but she is quick to say that not all people with ASD are similar. But I appreciate her giving us an idea because many of us just don’t know.

Zac Browser – This browser is “a virtual playground for children with autism”. Children and parents can access games that are chosen specifically for their positive effect on the young players.

Google games with Autism – Google got on board in 2009 (although you’d think it was 1982, what with that oddly dated picture on the main page). Their page has links to games, tips for parents, and more.

The most important thing I learned from this is that every single child with ASD is unique and different. Just like fingerprints and zebra stripes, no two people with ASD are 100% alike. Because of that, we shouldn’t just offer one type of program and say “Alright. Quota filled.” Instead we should offer a couple different programs to encourage different abilities and interests to shine. In LCPL we host Sensory Storytime for those ages 3 and up, and we offer Gamer’s Union (a gaming program) for those ages 12-18. We have covered development of senses and social interaction, but we have other areas to cover. I hope to be able to create and promote programs for youth with ASD, whether they are special (just for youth with ASD) or inclusive (regular programs that accept youth with ASD).

What programs do you host, or have you heard of?

Wednesday reads: Dreams and Reality

A coworker loves to point out when the universe provides, or connects things in a way that seems uncanny. Last year I read Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (about a small Arkansas town that sees the return of a long-extinct bird and the vanishing of the narrator’s brother) and, for the first time in my life, read the term “ornithologist”. That very week I was hanging out with a friend who used the term to describe her dad’s hobby, and I knew the word! Thanks, universe! I find this happens to me quite often, in fact, and when I notice it I say out loud, “Thanks, universe!”.

And it JUST HAPPENED AGAIN. Yesterday morning a coworker brought me my ID saying she found it in the parking lot. And I get into work this morning and see a chain of emails about one of my employees misplacing his own badge, but finding it shortly after the search began.

Universe, you’re killing me! I love it!

Currently I am reading a book about a boy who can pull physical objects from his dreams, and another book where a man’s reality is the stuff dreams (okay, nightmares) are made of. Okay, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but still…go, universe.

dream thieves

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I just haven’t had time to sit down and really get going on this, unfortunately, but only 25 pages in I can tell you I am very, very excited to keep going. I’ve read other reviews that say this is even better than the first, which is never true of the second book in a trilogy, so I’m intrigued.

 

house of

 

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I wrote two weeks ago that this was going to take me some time to get through. That fact is still true. But I book-talked it in a job interview last week; one of the interviewers jotted down the title, and another recalled its popularity back in 2002 when it was released online.

 

 

to the end

 

To the End of June by Cris Beam. Last year I read Flight by Sherman Alexie, an intense novel about a foster child whose anger at the world takes him into the lobby of a bank, holding a gun. Subsequent time-travelling to various times and places teach him about himself, about perseverance, about courage. This non-fiction expose into the world of foster care in America interests me because Alexie’s story was fiction, but for millions of children it is pure truth.

Wednesday reads: Paris, Paris, Paris

Sometimes I get on a kick. My current kick (read: obsession) is Paris. Again. Listening to The Sharper Your Knives the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn doesn’t help. Nor does watching Julie & Julia. Or The Devil Wears Prada. You could argue that I am torturing myself, and I wouldn’t deny it. So why not continue my French obsession and read a graphic novel-memoir?*

french

 

French Milk by Lucy Knisley is the graphic representation of Lucy’s journal from the 6 weeks she spent in Paris with her mother – both of whom were celebrating monumental occasions – college graduation/entering adulthood and turning 50 years old. There are even a few black and white photographs included in the book, which are in stark contrast to the simple black and white drawings the author sketched.

 

dream thieves

 

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater!!!!! Ahhh!!!!! (That is all. I’d say “read my review of book 1” but I am embarrassed to say that I did not, in fact, write a review of it. I find that hard to believe, but, the blog don’t lie.)

 

 

*Yes, I know novel and memoir mean completely different things. But what if I’d written “graphic memoir”? You’d think I was reading the autobiography of Heidi Fleiss or something.

review: Reality Boy by A.S. King

realityA.S. King has a way with words. A way that makes me cry. Not like it takes much to make me cry, but there are some books that do it to me, and it is genuine. This is one of those books.

It’s also one of those books that makes me question why we – Americans, humans, decent people – think certain things are okay. Why is it okay that we put children on reality TV shows, often in unflattering situations? Just for a good laugh? Or to make us feel better about our own not-so-great family lives? “Man, we sure are effed up, but at least we aren’t like those crazy fools on TV! Honey, grab me another beer!”

I should tell you what it’s about. That’s what a book review should begin with, right?

Reality Boy by AS King is about Gerald. He is sixteen now, but was only six when his family was on a reality TV show that is a lot like Supernanny – an actual TV show that puts a British nanny into an American household to whip the kids and family into shape. Gerald’s family was on the show, and his actions led him to be ridiculed and bullied over the past ten years. Dubbed “the crapper” for his penchant for defecating in random locations around the house – shoes, closets, tables, beds –  Gerald was thought to be acting out when in fact it was the only way he could think to respond to the violent sociopath living right under his own roof.

Gerald attends anger management classes, practices stress-reducing techniques including deep breathing and going to a safe place in his head, all in order to stay calm and not violent. Sometimes he is successful, other times not. Gerald’s story is a very difficult one to read, but one that just has to be true. There’s no conceivable way that real-life “reality kids” are not as scarred as the fictional Gerald. No way can a film crew walk into their lives and leave it in a better state.

I’ve been a reality TV show fan for many years. I love Top Chef, Rock of Love (yeah…the Bret Michaels show), Biggest Loser, Bachelor, etc…but those are adults. Adults who know what reality TV is like, that they can be portrayed as someone they are not by creative editing, that it is a game to be played. But those are adults. I have no sympathy for them. But when children are pulled into this crap, I can’t stand it. Even if it’s not a competitive show, even if it’s just a look into their lives – a la the Duggars – it is not okay. They didn’t ask for the cameras. They have no idea that what is filmed can be edited to make them look whatever way the producers think will grab more viewers.

Reality Boy is believable. It is scary and sad, but hopeful. Gerald, and a couple people in his life, hope for a better future. There is despair, but there is also hope. And for some people, that is what helps them push through each and every day.

Recommended for: 
Boys, girls, teens, and reality TV show fans (for the behind-the-scenes chapters. I wonder if King did any research into that).

Read-alikes: 
Eleanor & Park
and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, for their gritty realism.