Category Archives: YA


chopsticks_01I saw a positive mention  of Chopsticks: a Novel on a list of notable Young Adult books. I sincerely wonder if I got the wrong Chopsticks. Perhaps there’s another book by the same name?

The Chopsticks I read, is an unusual novel as it’s told mostly through photos, IM messages, and improbable letters and brochures for performances. It’s the story of a teenage romance between a piano prodigy and an Argentinian exchange student who moves next door. Gloria, the prodigy, loses her ability to perform after her romance starts. She seems to have some sort of break down and she can only play “Chopsticks.”

The novel suffers for lack of prose, we never know more than the superficial. Frank, the love interest gets kicked out of school. Somehow he got into an elite private school that suffered a lot of bullying. His grades in most classes except art and ESL were low, which is hardly surprising given that he needed ESL. I know that’s a minor point, but why would anyone think someone from another country, who needs to take English as a Second Language would do well in American history in a class of elite native speakers. It was frustrating that so little of these conflicts was fully described. None of the characters seemed anything but cardboard. The only saving grace is that it reads fast as there’s so little to read.

The photos are okay, but nothing spectacular. Most graphic novels offer much more with their drawings.

The book may interest teens, but it’s not the sort of Young Adult work that appeals to older readers as well.

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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in YA


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An Abundance of Katherines

abundance katherinesColin Singleton, the hero of John Green‘s An Abundance of Katherines, is a dumpee. Time and again, 19 times in fact, he’s been dumped. Every time this prodigy, who’s just graduated high school, has been dumped by a girl named Katherine. He developed his penchant for Katherine’s when he was 8. Some “relationships” lasted minutes, some months. Losing Katherine XIX devastated him. Thus to shake off this bad feeling whiz kid Colin and his friend Hassan take to the road in Colin’s jalopy, which he calls Hearse

The story is clever and I enjoyed Colin, Hassan and Lindsay. Yet I was so keenly aware of Green’s cleverness that I never got lost in the book. I was always aware that Green was telling a story. It’s quite clever, though far from realistic. The boys drive to a small town in Tennessee where they meet Lindsay, who’s a beautiful woman, their age, who is a tour guide for the Archduke Ferdinand’s burial site. Before you know it, Colin and Hassan are working for Lindsay’s mother and living in their pink mansion. The boys must interview old folks for an oral history of Gunshot, Tennessee. While they’re in Gunshot, hanging out and working, Colin has time to figure out an equation that can predict how long a relationship will last and which party will dump the other.

There’s a lot of banter and interesting esoteric remarks. It’s a fast read, and I liked that the cover shown above was designed by a reader. In fact, it’s a lot better than the professionally designed earlier covers, if you ask me. The novel’s end is rather pat and predictable. Still it’s a decent book.

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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in American Lit, contemporary, YA


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John Green on the Boston Marathon Bombing

John Green comments on Flags and Helpers in light of the bombing.

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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in writers, YA


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Paper Towns

I discovered John Green through his Vlog Brothers’ videos on You Tube. His video on The Great Gatsby led me to Bookfighters’ YouTube channel where Green’s Paper Towns was mentioned. The video convinced me to add Paper Towns to my reading list and I’m glad I did.

I did like Paper Towns, especially the last chapter, but it wasn’t as good as I expected. I think Green’s assessment of Gatsby was so trenchant that I expected Fitzgerald level writing. His writing is good and very much like his patter on Vlog Brothers. The patter that wows in a YouTube video can tire in a novel.

Paper Towns centers around Quentin, a.k.a. Q, a smart, geeky teen who’s smitten with Margo Roth Spielgelman, the dream girl next door. As kids, Q and Margo lived in each others pockets. Now in high school Margo, who sees the superficiality and fakery of life in Orlando, inhabits the social stratosphere, while Q lives on the margins with his geeky friends, Radar and Ben.

The first part of the book follows Quentin and Margo on a late night series of vengeful adventures and pranks. Margo’s pure energy and sarcasm. He’s tailing along as she exacts creative revenge from her cheating boyfriend and frenemies.

The next day, Quentin hopes he and Margo can now be friends or more than friends. At least she should acknowledge him at school. Yet part two takes readers in a different direction. Margo disappears. Since she’s over 18, the police can’t launch a search. She’s run off before and her callus parents don’t take any action, in fact they change their locks. So Quentin hunts for her picking up the esoteric, poetic clues she’s left like bread crumbs. The big question is whether she’s still alive.

If I were in a book club, my first questions to discuss would be: Do you think Margo is a narcissist? Was she worth saving? Is she a 21st century Daisy Buchanan?

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Posted by on July 8, 2012 in American Lit, contemporary, fiction, YA


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My Brother’s Keeper

Patricia McCormick’s My Brother’s Keeper isn’t as good as Sold. This novel’s hero Toby just wants life to return to normal and that’s not going to happen. The best he can hope for s that things get better. After his father left, his mother checked out emotionally and the family has no real adult at the helm. Toby’s older brother Jake is using drugs and hanging out with losers. His younger brother Eli is too young and dreamy to really get what’s going on in the family.

That leaves middle child Toby to hoist the world onto his shoulders and try to keep things normal. The only wise person in Toby’s world is Mr. D. the owner of a baseball memorabilia shop who gives Toby words of wisdom and a rare baseball card. The minute Toby got the card, I knew Jake would get it and sell it.

After the dad, who never shows up or calls, abandons the family, money troubles increase. Mom was catatonic for a spell and now works at a hair salon where she meets a new boyfriend. Her dating, which was clandestine at first, makes the mom seem very adolescent.

I felt sorry for Toby, but he was tackling an impossible problem. Obviously, he couldn’t and probably shouldn’t have covered for his brother for so long.


At the climax, mom’s on a date when Eli and Toby fight over the cat. Jake’s out with his druggy pals. Eli goes out to rescue the cat and guilt compels Toby to find Eli. He can’t and return home at 11 pm to find the police at his condo. The police found Eli dangerously close to the highway trying to get the cat and they also found Jake who’s in custody and destined for rehab.

In the real world when a parent goes out and the kids were in such situations, the police would be derelict not to take the kids to child protective services. They’d have to investigate the mother, but McCormick doesn’t go that route.

This slice of life novel doesn’t end with a bow, but it also doesn’t offer much hope. I bet Jake’s back on drugs and unless the new wealthy boyfriend marries mom, the other two boys don’t have much future ahead of them. I like McCormick’s style, but got sick of the narrator and wished there were more characters. Poor Toby has one friend that we don’t see enough of and there are no other relatives in his life. It’s depressing how isolated these people were on their own. Also there were no chapter breaks. I longed for some.

I’m reading about novel writing now and such books exhort writers to ensure that if you take the character at the end of the book and place him in a circumstance similar to his first problem at the beginning, he’ll behave very differently. I’m not sure Toby would despite anything he says. The plot does not follow conventions of featuring a hero who takes action or changes significantly. I expected Toby to come forward and alert the mom to what Jake was into. Now that wouldn’t happen in real life, but I wanted Toby to do something and that’s what the family needed.

I can see that McCormick wanted something edgy, but this just didn’t satisfy.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in teen lit, YA


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Guys Read Website

Hey, know a boy who should be reading more? Stumped how to lead this horse to water? Check out Guys Read, a website designed by author Jon Scieszka to encourage boys to find great books and read them. There’s a lot more than Harry Potter out there.

These books look good. I may read some.

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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Children's Lit, teen lit, YA