Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Travis' Book Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini

At age 15, Ned Vizzini began writing a series of personal essays about his high school experience that was eventually combined to form his first book, Teen Angst? Nah…A Quasi-Autobiography.  Since then, Vizzini has established his ability to charm readers with his quirky sense of a humor, an often sardonic, but equally intelligent, commentary on his own experience with social awkwardness. It is Vizzini’s personal experience and self-awareness that allow him to portray the trials and tribulations of the socially-alienated teenager, providing readers with a personal, believable, and genuinely funny account of male adolescence.  In The Other Normals, Vizzini’s fourth offering, he continues the trend of exploring his own teenage years (and possibly his recent Magic: The Gathering fixation) through the eyes of Perry Eckert.

Fifteen-year-old Perry has an addiction. Unlike his brother Jake, however, Perry doesn’t drink, party, or really do anything that requires having friends and being social. And why would he? Everyone calls him “Mini Pecker.”  He’s too short, too skinny, has no idea how to talk to a girl, and worst of all, Perry is addicted to role-playing-games. Specifically, Perry is obsessed with Creatures & Caverns, a blatant juxtaposition to Dungeons & Dragons.  In fact, Perry is so socially alienated, he doesn’t even have anyone to actually play the game with. Instead, he spends hours on end simply reading the manuals and creating characters.  One day, however, Perry meets Sam, another C&C player who smokes, swears, skips class, and begins to fuel Perry’s obsession to the point that he, himself, is skipping class just to play. His parents take notice of this new trend and decide Perry needs to learn some social skills, forcing him to attend summer camp. While at camp, Perry has a encounter with someone he wasn’t supposed to meet – Mortin Enaw, a being from The World of the Other Normals.  Mortin takes Perry into his world, a land filled with many fantastical creatures, where he learns that he must embark on a quest to save the princess and thwart a rein of violence that will impact both of their universes. Perry’s quest, however, lies in his own world and will be the most difficult thing he has ever done – kiss a girl.

 

Unlike most fantasy novels I’ve read, The Other Normals is an incredibly quick read. Each Chapter is surprisingly short but written in a manner that makes you want to continue.  I often found myself wanting to stop reading but continued the next chapter after noticing it is only a few pages long. A few pages will quickly turn into a few chapters.  The best thing about the novel, though, is Vizzini’s witty sense of humor and the fact that he makes the reader very aware of the prevailing theme.  The first line, “This is a story about becoming a man,” establishes that this is a coming-of-age tale, but then, the line continues, “so naturally it starts with me alone in my room playing with myself.”  The writer is referring to C&C, of course, but it’s this kind of humor that sets the tone for the rest of the story.

 

What Vizzini does best in The Other Normals is utilize the concept of adolescent male fantasy to create believable (and often too familiar) internal dialogue. While the universe and creatures that Vizzini create are not spectacular and the quest itself, saving a princess, is cliché, it’s that fusion of the fantasy genre and real-world adolescent fantasy that keeps the story fresh.  So, not only will the reader get the satisfaction of watching Perry grow on his quest to manhood, but will also get to see Perry “level up” in the fantasy sense.  Plus, Vizzini does a nice job integrating the two concepts.  At one point, while Perry is being attack by a pack of dog-faced human hybrids, he’s as focused on the females’ bare chests as he is with trying to avoid being eaten.  Other times, it’s Vizzini’s voice shining through, offering a bit of keen social commentary.  For example, when Perry looks at a map for the first time while plotting a path through a valley full of creatures known to eat travelers, he notes that the land is shaped strangely similar to New Jersey.  The weakness of the novel lies in the ending. Since the book reads so fast, the ending seems too rushed.  The climax and conclusion do not have the kind of epic feeling or build-up that a fantasy reader might crave, leaving holes in the fantasy portion of the narrative.

 

Overall, The Other Normals is both a quick and fun read. I would recommend this book to any reader that enjoys the fantasy genre, has played an RPG, or just wants to have a little fun exploring the often confused, sometimes misguided, mind of an adolescent male.  While the novel is written from a male point of view, a concept that is especially noticeable when discussing puberty and adolescent male perception of girls, anyone can appreciate the humor and the insight.  After all, growing up, learning to fit in, and learning how to talk to your first love, is the one adventure we all take.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

School of Thought:: Pumpkinpalooza!

Last Tuesday in School of Thought: Teen Homeschool Group, we had a Pumpkinpalooza!

 

Homeschool teens studied some fun facts about pumpkins, ate some pumpkin treats, and then decorated little pumpkins in the hopes of winning a grand prize of a $10 Barnes and Noble Gift Card.

 

 

 

We had so many awesome entries that we decided to give away some additional prizes to four runners-up! These pumpkins won prize books for their decorators. Look below to see some of the pumpkins that teens created!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Susan's Book Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the gorgeously told story of 17 year-old Karou, a blue-haired art student living in Prague. Karou is human and lives among humans, but she was raised by chimaera, creatures made with a combination of human and animal aspects. She has no idea how she came to be raised by them and knows nothing about her own history—they won’t tell her anything--but she considers them her family. She lives halfway in our world and halfway in their world, visiting the shop they call home to be assigned errands to run in the human world. The errands are usually dangerous and far away--sometimes they take days to complete--and involve teeth. Human teeth.

 

Karou’s family includes Brimstone, her father/mentor who can grant wishes. Not all wishes are created equal, so they have different prices. For instance, wishing for flight is expensive, but wishing for blue hair is cheap. It’s Brimstone who pays handsomely for the teeth, but he won’t tell her what he does with them. One day black handprints start appearing on the doorways that serve as portals out of this world, and then the portals disappear altogether. Karou struggles to find out what’s become of her family, but is she ready to know what they’ve worked so hard to hide from her? Meanwhile, an angel named Akiva, who is tired of the never-ending war in his world, flirts with the idea of living among humans after an accidental meeting with a strange blue-haired girl.

 

This book is paced so well and written so beautifully that I was pleased to find out it’s the first in a trilogy. The sequel is called Days of Blood and Starlight and will be out next month. I especially love fantasies grounded in the real world because it’s important I’m able to relate to the characters, and the author has created such a fascinating world and mythology. Even though I’m sincerely tired of books that feature magic, fallen angels and pretty much anything supernatural, Daughter of Smoke and Bone proves that there is always room on the shelf for a great book, even if the plot devices sound tired.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

It's Teen Read Week!

 

Have you heard? October 14-20 is Teen Read Week!

 

Teen Read Week started in 1998 as an effort to encourage teens to read for the fun of it…which is something we do every day here at SCPL Teens. We crank it up a few notches for Teen Read Week, though, by running contests throughout the whole month of October.

 

Have you entered any of our contests yet? There are three to choose from, and you can enter all of them! (Some of them involve fine print, so read closely.) Entry forms for all contests can be picked up at any SCPL location.

 

Candy Counting Contest: We’ve placed jars stuffed with candy at each of our 10 branches! Correctly guess how many pieces of candy are in the jar at your branch (or come the closest), and you could win ALL THE CANDY!

 

Design a Bookmark Contest: Create a bookmark using the Teen Read Week theme—“It Came from the Library”—and you could win a $100 gift card to Barnes and Noble! The winning design will be professionally printed and distributed at all SCPL locations.

 

-       To be eligible to win, participating teens, or someone living at the teen’s permanent residence, must be a full-privilege Spartanburg County Public Library cardholder.

-       Design can be full color and must be 1.5” x 7” and include the 2012 Teen Read Week theme. Digital entries must be 300 dpi and saved as a .jpg, .pdf, .tiff, or .eps.

-       Entries need to be accompanied by the artist’s name, address, phone #, age and grade in school, and can be turned in to any Spartanburg County Public Library location or emailed to teens@infodepot.org.

-       Entries will be judged based on originality, use of theme, and design. The contest ends October 31st, and the winner will be announced in November.

 

It Came from the Library Photo Contest: Take a picture of yourself posing with a book that “came from the library.” The winning teen will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.

 

-       To be eligible to win, participating teens, or someone living at the teen’s permanent residence, must be a full-privilege Spartanburg County Public Library cardholder.

-       Photos must be accompanied by your name, address, phone #, age and grade in school, and can be submitted at any SCPL location or emailed to teens@infodepot.org. Digital entries must be 300 dpi and saved as a .jpg, .pdf, .tiff, or .eps.

-       Entries will be judged based on creativity, composition, and picture quality. The contest ends October 31st, and the winner will be announced in November.

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Introducing Laura!

SCPL Teens has gotten a lot of new faces! We’re featuring them here so you'll know who to look for when you need a recommendation for your next awesome teen read. 

 

Today, meet Laura of the Boiling Springs library!

 

 

  

HOMETOWN: Palm Beach, Florida

 

THEN WHAT: We moved from Florida in 1997.  I was a middle school science teacher for eight years.

 

FAMILY: Husband- Sean, Daughter- Paris, Son - Sebastian

 

HOBBIES: I love to hike in the mountains, draw and sculpt, and read murder mystery books.

 

FAVORITE QUOTE: “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent”. – Thomas Jefferson

 

FAVORITE TEEN BOOKS: Harry Potter series, Surviving the Applewhites 

 

FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center

 

RECENTLY READ: The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, Inside the Mind of Casey Anthony: A Psychological Portrait by Keith Ablow

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Emily's Book Review: Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers

Supergirl Mixtapes is the story of Maria Costello, a sixteen year old girl who leaves the comfort and familiarity of her small South Carolina town to reunite with her free-spirited artist mother in New York City.  Though Maria has always felt stifled by life in the South, her father and grandmother have never allowed her to move north, fearing her mother’s irresponsible nature and general instability. When she finally gets to New York, Maria learns a lot about the excitement of city life with its late night diners, vintage record stores, and flirtatious NYU students—and about the demons hiding in her mom’s closet.  Her adventure in the city starts by her mother leaving her at the train station for twelve hours and quickly progresses into the family moving to an apartment above a famous Brooklyn strip club.  Plenty of music and mixtape-making is woven throughout the story.

Supergirl Mixtapes is the kind of book that is totally absorbing, the kind you scheme ways to get back to once you have to put it down.  I loved the way Brothers wrote about New York City, capturing it as a living entity full of the music her character loves.  I also loved Maria herself.  She’s shy, but she’s confident.  She faces the normal uncertainties of adolescence, but (as her mom and her mom’s young boyfriend often reflect) she’s far more “together” than an ordinary sixteen year-old.  I loved watching her navigate New York with far more confidence than I could probably muster now, while still being naïve about many of her mom’s obvious problems.  I felt for her because she didn’t have a supportive or even stable home life, but I was proud of her for succeeding as well as she did.  Plus, Maria is simply cool—cool enough to make mixtapes for her friend Dory back home, cool enough to hang out and drink sweet tea with Southern college kids in New York, and cool enough to take care of herself when her parents don’t.

I would recommend Supergirl Mixtapes to anyone who loves music, the punk scene, or New York City—or to any teen who has felt less than mainstream at some point in her life. 

Fun Fact: The author of Supergirl Mixtapes grew up in Spartanburg and now lives in New York City.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Susan's Book Review: What Comes After by Steve Watkins

 

I picked up this book because I heard it had an animal rights message, and I’m so glad I did! It tells the story of newly orphaned 16 year old Iris Wight. Her Mom, while still alive somewhere, abandoned her as a child, and her beloved veterinarian Dad died recently of cancer. The plan was to stay in Maine and live with her best friend Beatrice’s family, but that falls apart along with Beatrice’s parent’s marriage. Iris is then sent to live with her only relative, her Aunt Sue in North Carolina. Aunt Sue works the night shift at Wal-mart, runs a goat farm, and is raising her teenage son, Book. She’s not looking for more responsibility and is not receptive to Iris coming to live with them, but the money from Iris’s father’s estate is very welcome.

Iris loves animals and finds peace taking care of the many neglected ones on the farm. She plays with and loves on Gnarly the dog and takes over milking the goats because she’s gentler with them than Book or Sue. I thought I knew where the story was going. I figured eventually Aunt Sue would warm up to Iris, accept that she’s a vegetarian and make her a nice meal, maybe confess a story about her sister/Iris’s mom and we’d learn why she was so gruff in the first place. Instead, Iris protects some baby goats and Aunt Sue has Book beat her so badly that she ends up in the hospital and they end up in jail. After recovering, Iris is placed in foster care away from the animals she loves and feels more alone than ever. I did not see that coming!

I think the author does a great job of developing a realistic protagonist in the character of Iris. I cried for her, cheered for her, and alternately loved her and wanted to shake her. Aunt Sue was kind of a one-note character because we never find out what’s behind her rage, other than bitterness at the cards she’s been dealt. But a therapist, a love interest named Littleberry, a farmer’s market, a softball friend, her foster parents, and even the animals, make great side characters that enrich the story.

There’s a lot to learn from this book—how to make goat cheese, that ferrets can use litterboxes and need walks, that parents should have a plan A and B (and maybe even C) for the care of their children should something happen to them—but I think the biggest lesson is that family might disappoint you and friends too, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone. Several people came to Iris’s aid when she needed it most and when she finally trusted them and accepted help, things got better.