Archive for December, 2011


Today I am unveiling a new feature on my blog: Palate Cleansers.  These will be gentle reads that I could hand to anyone capable of reading them, and not worry.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a gentle read, it’s a term librarians use to describe a genre that contains feel-good books, ones with no strong language, sex, or violence, and typically have happy-endings.  Before you yawn, though, these books can be very interesting without relying on edgy topics or breathtaking action.  They can often offer delightful new worlds.

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen by Mitali Perkins is a book I would consider a gentle read.  Let me tell you about it.

Statistics
Checkouts: Coming soon to the library
Typical reader: Aimed at teen girls, but suitable for anyone capable of reading it
Source: Bought on clearance at Scholastic Book Fair

Synopsis: Sunita Sen was living a normal life in California, attending middle school, becoming closer with one of her male friends, and hanging out with her best friend.  Then her grandparents from India come to visit for a year, and turn her world upside-down as her mother takes leave from her teaching position at a university and tries to be the perfect Indian woman.  How will Sunita ever cope?

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

This book could be of interest to sociologists studying the lives of second-generation Americans in fiction.  That’s what this novel is.  Sunita’s parents immigrated to the United States from India, found employment, and are working on raising three children with a mixture of traditional Indian and contemporary American cultures.  Our protagonist, known to classmates as Sunni, is the youngest child, still at home and attending eighth grade.  Her life was what she considered to be normal.  But then she got culture shock when her grandparents came for a visit.  Her mother took a year off from work and started wearing sarees, and forbade Sunita to have any male friends over.  Oh noes!  What ever shall she do?

I was expecting something along those lines when I picked out this novel, and I got what I anticipated.  I enjoy these slice-of-life books that highlight different ethnic lifestyles.  A book about an Indian-American girl also goes well with leftovers from my local Middle Eastern/Indian restaurant.  (Sadly, the Rubaiyat is closing at the end of the year.  Upper Michigan’s cuisine scene shall greatly suffer for the loss!)

The characters are fun and believable.  Sunita’s best friend Liz is particularly notable.  She’s a bespectacled bookworm who Sunni thought wasn’t into boys, but has a lot more going on in her head than her best friend realizes.  I liked her a lot.  Sunni also becomes close with her Dadu, or grandfather, with his tales of life in India (particularly the story of how he met his wife) and his hard work in her family’s backyard.

This book is older than I thought when I bought it.  The current title was published in 2005.  Originally, it dates back to 1993, under the title The Sunita Experiment.  Still, it’s an excellent book, which I could recommend to anyone interested in the immigrant experience or middle school life.

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Isn’t it nice when you read a book that has won awards, and you find it really did deserve those awards?  Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi won the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award, which is one of the American Library Association’s highest awards for young adult literature, as well as several other distinctions.  And it’s well-earned.

Statistics
Checkouts: Not owned by the school library yet
Typical reader: Teen boys
Book source: Personallly bought at the Scholastic Book Fair

Synopsis: Nailer, a teenage boy, lives along America’s Gulf Coast, earning a living in a light crew, scavenging old tankers and other boats for copper wiring and other valuables.  He nearly dies after falling from a collapsing duct into a hidden oil pocket in a ship, but his run of luck begins and he manages to free himself.  The next day, a monstrous hurricane blows through the area.  Afterward, he and a crew mate find a beached clipper ship off a nearby island.  There’s a lone survivor, and despite losing the privilege of scavenging the boat, he decides to rescue her.  But at what cost?

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be: Intense!  This is a book that just won’t quit amazing the reader.  The action is nonstop, the dystopian future is believable and expertly designed, and the characters are awesome.  I want to gush about this novel, but am restraining myself for the sake of a coherent review.

Life is tough in the future.  Climate change has apparently occurred, with the polar ice caps gone, shorelines changed around the world, and “city breaker” F6 hurricanes bombarding the Gulf Coast so much that after Orleans 3, the people gave up on trying to have decent cities in the lowlands of Louisiana.  But there are plenty of old abandoned tankers and other metal ships in the vicinity, ready for crews to scavenge everything useful from them.  Oil is a scarce, precious resource, a relic occasionally found on the old gas-guzzling ships of the past.  The book is never preachy, though.  The characters are struggling to survive too much for that.

The characters are perfectly flawed.  Everyone has a hard life in Nailer’s world, from the low-life trash that break their oaths to their crew, to the “swank,” the members of the upper class with their internal politics and backstabbing.  There are no flat characters here, no black-and-white heroes and villains, no throw-away character filling a stereotype.  Another thing I liked about the characters was that they could grow and learn.  This was particularly true of the protagonist, Nailer, and the swank he saves from the clipper, Nita.  Nita never came across a plot device, despite being a driving force behind much of the story, and her experiences outside her “white-bread world” really added to her character.

There is a companion book, The Drowned Cities, due out next spring.  It features a secondary character that was quite interesting in my opinion: Tool, a genetically engineered half-man, similar to a werewolf minus the shapeshifting, who has no master.  I’ll be looking forward to it.

Yes, yes, it’s December 1st, and November is over; therefore my Dystopias and Dead Things should be as well.  In my defense, I read this book in November, and yesterday I might have gotten a review done if the library hadn’t gotten in four great boxes of donated books that my boyfriend and I cleaned and cataloged until 11:30 p.m.

Excuses aside, here’s my take on The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

Statistics
Checkouts: Personally bought at the Scholastic Book Fair; it will probably end up in the library collection
Typical reader: Teen girls who like the dystopian trend

Synopsis: Mary grew up in a village surrounded by fences through which the Unconsecrated reach, and ruled by the Sisterhood.  Her mother, who is bitten through the fence shortly into the book’s story, used to tell her stories of the ocean.  After her mother dies and reanimates, her life is in chaos until her childhood friend Harry asks for her hand.  On the day they are to marry, the Unconsecrated break through the fences.  Will Mary and her friends escape?  If so, can they find the ocean?  Or is there no end to the Forest of Hands and Teeth?

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

This book started out with a lot of promise.  And throughout, the writing is excellent, the plot compelling.  But there’s something about Mary, and I hated her by the end.

The concept for the book was solid, and I enjoyed the story.  This is a post-apocalyptic zombie tale, set generations after the Return, and only pockets of fenced-in civilization remains.  The religious Sisterhood keeps the village in line, and the Guardians, including Mary’s older brother, keep the fences intact and secure.  Mary faces a lot of difficulties in the story, both before and after the fence is breached.  The Sisterhood definitely isn’t what it seems, and it would have been great if the author had chosen to explore that aspect of the setting more.  The plot keeps moving with twists that kept Mary’s life from ever getting dull.

There’s also a love triangle, which initially was a bit interesting.  Mary loves Harry, and his brother Travis.  They both love her.  Aw.  And while Mary is staying in the Cathedral with the Sisterhood, Travis is brought there to be treated for a broken leg, and they become closer during her semi-clandestine visits to his room.  But he doesn’t come for her before the day of her wedding to Harry, and is himself betrothed to her best friend Cass.

The story remained intriguing throughout the book, like I said.  But Mary is something of an unreliable narrator.  It shows most in her characterizations of her companions and acquaintances.  All other women are weak and useless, or stone cold shrews.  Harry and Travis love her, a fact that can readily be taken for granted; why they do is never explained.  The truth of the matter is that Mary is selfish and completely self-centered, caring only for herself unless caring for others benefits her.  Seriously, I would have been happy if Mary had been bitten.  Then at least she would have shown some interest in other people.  Her one good trait is that she’s actually handy in dealing with zombies and escaping.

Does this make the book bad?  I really have to say no on this, because I couldn’t be apathetic about Mary.  She was written well enough to be hated, if that makes any sense.  It just doesn’t make it a good book.