Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jennifer's Book Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff is not just a ghost story. Sure, Hannah’s best friend, Lillian, died six months ago and is now spending her days haunting Hannah. Yes, there are some murdered dead girls who eventually make some creepy, bloody appearances. But Paper Valentine manages to rise above its ghostly premise and is so much more. It’s a book about not making snap judgments and eating disorders and speaking up for oneself. It’s a book about family and friendships. And it’s a mystery featuring a creepy serial killer who has a thing for paper hearts.


Lillian slowly wasted away because of her battle with anorexia. Hannah was very aware of the diseased girl’s condition, although both girls seemed incapable of doing anything to stop the gradual decay of Lillian’s body. Yovanoff could have handled this issue many ways. Although not as heart wrenching as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, the author does a passable job of explaining how helpless Lillian felt, how her need to be in control over her body overwhelmed her. At the same time, Hannah’s own feelings are remarkably realistic, ranging from anger at the disease itself to Lillian for crying out for attention in such a horrible way, to Lillian’s mother for not paying enough attention and especially to herself for not speaking up.


As for Hannah, she’s a quiet girl, often unwilling to stand up for herself, not wanting to cause waves. Everything is “fine”; everything is “okay.” She works hard to put on a normal façade for her parents and friends, often going along with anything regardless of her own desires. Hannah’s younger sister, Ariel, and Finny Boone, a teenage delinquent who Hannah can’t stop thinking about, seem to be the only ones who truly notice: “If Hannah was on fire, she would still say she’s okay,” Ariel observes. With Ariel and Finny’s support, Hannah slowly crawls out of hershell, taking a stand for what she wants. (Seriously, though, what kind of name is Finny?)


Woven through Hannah’s emotional journey is the primary conflict: One by one young teenage girls have begun to die, bludgeoned to death and then staged amidst broken and old toys, topped with a homemade valentine heart. Hannah “plays” at investigation, spurred on by the appearance of the ghosts of the dead girls.Hannah isn’t a plucky young Veronica Mars, however, staking out possible suspects and following clues in an effort to show up the police. Rather, she obsessively pores over newspaper clippings, trying to figure out why they died. Lillian is a huge instigator in this research, for the ghost is also fascinated by the morbid deaths. When the killer is found, it’s by random happenstance, and even then Hannah doesn’t 100 percent solve the murders until the final reveal. The killer is a surprise, but the true identity doesn’t have any real impact. This is fine,though, because he’s not important. Paper Valentine is perhaps one of the few ghost stories in which the ghosts of the murdered play second fiddle to a spirit who didn’t die under suspicious circumstances, and the mystery is not as important as Hannah and Lillian’s healing and acceptance of Lillian’s death.


Hannah is relatable without being too perfect and avoids the “one flaw” description that so many female protagonists seem to have in young adult lit nowadays. (You know the type – like Bella Swan…she’s smart, nice, pretty, but she’s so gosh darn clumsy! FLAW!) Ariel is the cutest sister ever, and Finny is a sweet love interest who also avoids the “mysterious guy with the perfect looks” cliché.


Paper Valentine isn’t a tearjerker (and easily could have been, considering the subject matter), but it is thought-provoking, well-written and engaging, and I have already checked out Yovanoff’s other novels in the hopes that they are at least as good as Paper Valentine

Emily's Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell


Park is just a shy Asian kid with earphones on and a lap full of comic books, trying to avoid conversation with his violent classmates, when new-girl Eleanor shows up on his bus.  With massive, curly, red hair,a man’s plaid shirt, and dozens of scarves and bracelets, she is a sure target for those around her, and before he knows what he is doing, Park angrily asks her to sit down.  It is weeks before the two speak again, and as they ride in silence to and from school, the book shifts between their points of view. Readers soon learn that Eleanor doesn’t dress in ragged clothes for attention—she dresses that way because she doesn’t have a choice. Her stepfather Richie kicked her out a year ago, and she has just been allowed to return home. Richie drinks away the family’s money and keeps Eleanor, her four younger siblings, and her mother in a constant state of trepidation. Eleanor stays about as nervous at school, where she soon gains the nickname “Big Red” and ends up with maxi pads taped to her gym locker. Too afraid to have her head down on the bus, she never brings any reading material of her own but soon starts reading Park’s comics. He begins silently sharing them with her, first giving her reading material, then music, then batteries so she’ll have a way to listen at home. Then, one day he finds himself holding her hand. After weeks of silence, Eleanor and Park are the least likely couple at their school in 1986 Omaha, and between their classmates and Eleanor’s stepfather, they seem doomed from the start.


I loved this book.  It’s rare to find a book that is so cute and so sad and so real and just a little bit edgy all at the same time.  I’ve also read Attachments, Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel for adults, and I was excited when I found out she had a young-adult book coming out.  Rowell writes just as well from Park’s point of view as she does from Eleanor’s, and both of them are well-rounded and well-developed. Eleanor is odd, but she isn’t a caricature, and while Park is a fairly ordinary teen boy from a stable family,we see that his family life is imperfect as well. Fans of well-written realistic fiction will enjoy this book, and I can see it particularly appealing to those who are into the music references in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I would recommend it more to older teens, since the language is a bit strong at times, but this book would be great for high-school aged teens and nostalgic adults. Rowell is definitely an author to watch for fans of realistic fiction,and I hope that she continues to write for the young-adult world.


Susan's Book Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Drama is a graphic novel that chronicles the story of Callie and the Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. (I’m not a big fan of live theatre--it makes me too nervous--and just assumed I’d never heard of that play, but according to Google it’s not real!) Callie has loved the stage since her mom took her to see Les Miserables. At first she wanted to perform (Cosette specifically), but after realizing the limitations of her voice, she turned her talents behind the scenes. Now in 7th grade, she is in charge of set design and takes it very seriously, trying to do as much as possible with the time and budget allotted. For Moon Over Mississippi, that involves building a cannon!


The book is cleverly arranged and paced like a theatre production with an overture, different acts, an intermission—the whole bit. I really enjoyed Telgemeier’s illustration style and think she does a fantastic job of making the characters in Drama look and act like real, current teens (from their clothing to the use of texting, chatting, and other technology.) At first I thought the story was lame compared to the art, but she won me over largely by making Callie so relatable. I adore passionate people and Callie’s love of the theatre is infectious. She got me interested in what’s going on backstage since there is arguably more drama happening there!


There are a lot of crushes in DramaBonnie and West, Justin and West, Callie and Greg, Callie and Jesse, etc.--and I had to reread a few sections to keep everything straight (twins play a major part and that got confusing). There are several panels where Callie sends a text and anxiously awaits a response that made me want to hug her! Homosexuality is sensitively addressed and presented in a realistic way that I think echoes most teens’ attitude about it. Callie’s in-love-with-this-boy-no-I-mean-this-one is so typical of the teen years and in one of my favorite scenes, she surprises me by turning down a crush that’s finally starting crushing on her.


I was not in the drama department in high school and only on the fringe of it in college, but I’ve had friends who were very involved and I kept thinking how much they’d like reliving it via this book. Drama is intended for a young teen/middle school audience, but I think anyone who’s spent time in the theatre world could relate to it and nearly anyone else could enjoy it! I would love a Callie encore, maybe about her experience as the 8th grade student stage manager of next year’s production?