Bronx Masquerade

Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books, 2002.

Reason read: August is the time of year when parents start thinking about sending their kids back to school. Bronx Masquerade takes place in high school.

Eighteen teenagers from all walks of life use poetry to tell it like it is. In the form of a poetry slam each student in Mr. Ward’s class gets an opportunity to share a piece of him or herself. Not all are eager for the spotlight, but the more students stand up and share, the more the others get to thinking this poetry thing isn’t such a bad idea.

  • Lupa Algann – her big sister had a baby so she wants one.
  • Janelle Battle – has a crush on Devon; has a weight problem she is self- conscious about.
  • Judianne Alexander – she sells herself short; has a crush on Tyrone.
  • Leslie Lucas – lost her mom at a young age.
  • Gloria Martinez – she had a baby while still a sophomore in high school; baby daddy wants nothing to do with the child.
  • Diondra Jordan – a shy artist.
  • Sheila Gamberoni – wants to be more “ethnic”so she asks to change her name in class. Even though she is Italian heritage she has white skin.
  • Raul Ramirez – An artist with ambition.
  • Amy Moscowitz – an atheist who comes from a Jewish family
  • Tyrone Bittings – closest character to a protagonist the story has. He responds to every poem and his perceptions of his classmates. He is convinced he is going to die young if the color of his skin has anything to say about it.
  • Devon Hope – a basketball player.
  • Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone – tough guy who loves music.
  • Raynard Patterson – cousin to Sterling.
  • Darien Lopez – Puerto Rican boy trying to break out of the stereotypical mold.
  • Chankara Troupe – comes from an abusive home.
  • Others: Tanisha, Steve, Sterling, and Porscha

All of these students pull courage from their classmates and try it on for themselves. One by one they are pulled to the front of the classroom to stand up strong. By doing so they reveal glimpses of lives their classmates knew nothing about.
Mr. Ward’s Open Mike class gains momentum when a reporter gets wind of the class and makes a visit.
Best surprise: Grimes features real life poet Pedro Pietri.

Quotes I had to quote, “Knees knocking like a skeleton on Halloween, embarrassment bleaching my black cheeks red, eyes stupid to the page in front of me” (p 4). If that doesn’t describe nerves, I don’t know what!
Here’s another – “I try on my life like a dress and it doesn’t fit” (p 110). Last one, “The truth of his words pinned me to the wall” (p 135).

Author fact: Grimes also wrote Jazmin’s Notebook which won a Coretta Scott King Honor award.

Book trivia: the copy I read was the ten year re-release with a new introduction by the author.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Bronx Masquerade was good for boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 24).


Dec ’12 was…

December 2012 was a decidedly difficult month. I don’t mind admitting it was stressful and full of ups and downs. How else can I describe a period of time that contained mad love and the quiet urge to request freedom all at once? A month of feeling like the best thing on Earth and the last person anyone would want to be with? I buried myself in books to compensate for what I wasn’t sure I was feeling. And I won’t even mention the Sandy twins. But wait. I just did.

  • The Wholeness of a Broken Heart by Katie Singer ~ in honor of all things Hanukkah. This was by far my favorite book of the month.
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner ~ in honor of Iowa becoming a state in December. This was a close second.
  • The Tattered Cloak and Other Novels by Nina Berberlova ~ in honor of the coldest day in Russia being in December. I read a story every night.
  • Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Carol Joyce Oates ~ in honor of Oates being born in December. I was able to read this in one sitting.
  • The Women of the Raj by Margaret MacMillan ~ in honor of December being one of the best times to visit India
  • Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox ~ in honor of Franking being born in December
  • Billy by Albert French ~ in honor of Mississippi becoming a state in December
  • Apples are From Kazakhstan by Christopher Robbins ~ in honor of Kazakhstan gaining its independence in December.

In an attempt to finish some “series” I read:

  • Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects, Vol 3  by Giorgio Vasari (only one more to go after this, yay!)
  • Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

For audio here’s what I listened to:

  • The Galton Case by Ross MacDonald ~ this was laugh-out-loud funny
  • Bellwether by Connie Willis ~ in honor of December being Willis’s birth month

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing here’s what I read:

  • Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap

And here’s what I started:

  • Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws

For fun: Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep.


Big Mouth & Ugly Girl

Oates, Joyce Carol. Big Mouth & Ugly Girl. New York: HarperTempest, 2002

Anyone who has felt like an outcast even once in his or her life can relate to Ugly Girl. Anyone who has been caught in the crossfire of a rumor gone bad can relate to Big Mouth. Put the two of them together and you have the quintessential high school experience that we have all had. Matt opened his Big Mouth and said something terrible, so terrible he was accused of being a terrorist. Ursula walked around with a chip on her shoulder, scowling like an Ugly Girl but her insides were a different story. In her heart of hearts she knew Matt could never be the bomber everyone accused him of being so she had to say something… Together they make an unlikely pair but as rumors escalate they find out exactly how much they need each other.

The best part for me was when they became friends and then realized how much they had in common.

Reason read: Joyce Carol Oates was born in December.

Book trivia: I loved the email exchanges between Ursula and Matt.

Author fact: This is Oates’s first young adult book.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 25).


In Country

Mason, Bobbie Ann. In Country. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985.

In Country is deceivingly simple. The language is so straightforward and uncomplicated you think it was originally written for children. Here’s the scoop: 17-year-old Samantha Hughes acts obsessed with the Vietnam War. She lives with her vet uncle and pesters him daily about the possibility of Agent Orange reeking havoc with his health. He has bad acne on his face and strange headaches. Despite having a boyfriend her own age Sam also starts to fall in love with a local mechanic, another vet. To the average witness Sam’s fixation with all things Vietnam is borderline mania, but Sam has good reason. The father she never knew was lost in the war. He died when she was only two months old. He never came home. No one knows very much about him and if they do they aren’t saying much. As a result Sam feels her entire existence is shrouded in mystery. After being rejected by the vet and reading her father’s journal Sam decides she needs a change of pace. She loads her uncle and paternal grandmother in her clunker car and travels from Kentucky to Washington D.C., to The Wall. There the entire family finds some sort of closure.

I had to come back and modify this review because I forgot to point out the best thing about this book. Sam has another obsession – music. I love the way the hits of the 80s, especially Bruce Springsteen’s album ‘Born in the USA’ ground the reader and orient him/her to the timeframe of the story.

Author Fact: Bobbie Ann Mason wrote criticisms and short stories before writing In Country, her first novel.

Book Trivia: As a best-selling novel In Country was made into a movie in 1989 and starred Bruce Willis. In Country is even studied in high school English classes.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p 159). Pearl liked it enough to mention it again in another chapter called “Teenage Times” (p 216).


Call Me When You Land

Schiavone, Michael. Call Me When You Land. New York: Permanent Press, 2011.

If Nancy Pearl had to categorize this book for one of the chapters in Book Lust this would easily fit into either her “Families in Trouble” or “First Novel” chapter. If she had to categorize this book as a selection in More Book Lust it could easily fit into her “Men Channeling Women” chapter. First, there’s Katie Olmstead. Alcoholic, artist, single mother slowly losing her grip on reality. Then there’s Katie’s reality, C.J., the angst-ridden son. C.J. is uncommunicative, lonely and lost. Finally, there’s great-uncle Walter. Coughing up blood, stoned, patient and pathetic. Parsing out words of wisdom to said mother and son while quietly raging against his own frailty. Spoiler: he disappears from the story halfway through; a disappointment because he was the glue that held mother and son together.
All of these characters fit an eye-rolling stereotypical mold. Katie, in a spurt of mothering, makes her son breakfast. C.J. isn’t used to seeing his mom awake much less standing at that hour is skeptical and more than a little suspicious. Their dialogue is full of cliche zingers like, “what’s your deal this morning?” and “I’m not poisoning you.” Character development is minimal. People like Peter and Caroline pop up without introduction. There is a lot of backtracking to fill in the blanks.
To be honest I read this book like it reads: in fits and starts. It wasn’t the kind of book I could read for hours on end without coming up for air. I was beyond frustrated by all the name brand products. Aquafina, Alka-Seltzer, Aleve, Advil, Best Buy, Barolo, Benadryl, Ben & Jerry’s, Coors, Claratin, Cabernet, Capri Sun, Chips Ahoy, Clearasil, Dunkin Donuts, Disney, Dewars, Diet Coke, Dairy Queen, Desitin, Dolce & Gabbana, Emergen-C, Eggos, Febreze, Fruit Rollup, Gap, Gatorade, Grand Marnier, Halo 3, Hydroxycut, Hot Pocket, iPhone, J. Crew, Joy, Keds, Kools, Kleenex, Liz Claiborne, Mountain Dew, McDonalds, Marc Jacobs, Odwalla, Pepsi, Pellogrino, Palmolive, Prozac, Ray-Bans, Ritalin, Rockstar, Rice-a-Roni, Ragu, StairMaster, Starbucks, Sprite, Snuggie, Shiraz, Splenda, SeaWorld, Timberland, Tylenol, Trader Joe’s, Target, Tag, Tuff, Tropicana, Tanquerey, Under Armour, Visine, Vasaline. I know I could list a dozen more. If this were a movie the product placement would be nauseating. Writing should be timeless. If the products aren’t around ten years from now the piece becomes dated and clunky. There is the danger of alienating the reader as well. Not everyone will know what Halo 3 or Rockstar is. Something gets lost in translation when the product is the punchline to a funny line.

What I liked best about Call Me When You Land is the potential for a happy ending. The promise of change is hanging in the air. Differences are happening and that’s all that matters.


Cruddy

Barry, Lynda. Cruddy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

From the very first pages you want to know what this Cruddy book is all about. First, you are introduced to sixteen year old Roberta Rohbeson via her bizarre suicide note. Then, hoping to shed some light on the situation, you read chapter one which is only seven sentences long which says nothing about anything. Then you encounter chapter two and read the word “Cruddy” nineteen times in the first paragraph. Funky, funky, funky was all I could say. I was not prepared for what happened next. Little did I know I would end up saying sick, sick, sick by the end of the book.

Cruddy is told from the perspective of Roberta Rohbeson at two different times in her life; as an eleven year old troubled little girl and as a sixteen year old angry teenager. Her story is tough and tragic and tinged with terrible humor. As an eleven year old she is thrust into the raging, alcohol-blurred world of her father who refuses to see her as his daughter. Instead, Roberta is not only his son, called Clyde, but his accomplice. When he discovers her in the backseat of his getaway car he takes her on a murderous journey across the desert fueled by hatred for his suicide-dead father who left him nothing.
As a sixteen year old Roberta is strung out on drugs and driven by abandonment. She befriends a group of outcast suicidal drug dealers who do nothing but fuel her craziness. One boy in particular, Turtle, gets Roberta to tell her sad tale.

This was a book I found myself wondering about long after I put it down. Was Roberta modeled after anyone Lynda knew? Where did she come up with such a violent, messed up plot? What was the acceptable age range for this book? Would parents cringe if they knew their kid was reading this under the covers late at night?

Lines that got me: Roberta’s father’s motto: “Expect the Unexpected and whenever possible BE the Unexpected!” (p 142), “He was explaining how perfect it would be because he could kill me right in the concrete ditch itself and when the water came it would gush me and all the evidence away” (p 163), and my personal favorite, “There is a certain spreading blankness that covers the mind after you kill someone” (p 273).

Author Fact: Lynda Barry was born on January 2nd, 1956 and is a cartoonist (among many other things).

Book Trivia: This was called a novel in illustration but only the start of each chapter has an illustration (creepy illustration).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lustand More Book Lust . From Book Lust in the chapter called “Graphic Novels” (p 104), even though Cruddy isn’t a graphic novel. Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Teenage Times” (p 217). What Pearl should have called the category for this book was “Fukced up Teenage Times.”
Book Lust trivia – Lynda Barry and Cruddy were not mentioned in the index to Book Lust. In fact, only One! Hundred! Demons! made it into Book Lust’s index.


Day of the Assassins

O’Brien, Johnny. Day of the Assassins.Somerville: Templar, 2009.

Any action/adventure series geared toward teenage boys needs to be fast paced. It requires suspense, daring escapades, narrow escapes, and of course, a little violence. Day of the Assassins has all of that while cleverly inserting a history lesson along the way. In order for character development and foreshadowing, Day of the Assassins starts off slow. Jack Christie is a typical video-playing teenage boy who comes from a broken home. While he doesn’t really understand the nature of his parents divorce, he is smart enough to know when his questions are being evaded by mom. Interesting enough, all will be revealed when Jack and his best friend, Angus, are transported back in time to the year 1914, right before the start of World War I. Suddenly, they find themselves in Sarajevo with the bad guys one step behind. The only problem is Jack and Angus don’t know who to trust. Everyone who appears to be on the right side turns out to be a traitor of sorts. It’s a cat and mouse game played out through the days and events leading up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Day of the Assassins is cleverly enhanced with photographs, maps, background information and an author explanation for the book.

I am assuming Angus was supposed to be named Albie in an early version – either that or there is a typo on the map on page 193.