Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Mission Burritos

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Tor Teen, 2008) is chock full of information, of which some will be useful, some eye-opening, some confirming, to some-to-most readers: but I'll wager only a San Francisco thirteen-year-old who likes Mission burritos will find the two paragraphs dedicated to Mission burritos interesting, because they will provide an opportunity for self-congratulation. Now, I am the parent of a 13-year-old, and have been a 13-year-old, and I know how precious and necessary a little self-congratulation can be at that age; but there's too much extraneous explanation in this useful, eye-opening and confirming novel, choking the life out of an otherwise gripping story.

In its own way, the book is a graduate of what I like to call the Barbie School of Writing--you know, where the heroine doesn't just toss her hair, but tosses her golden, shimmering hair that bounces from a long session with a blow dryer and just the right amount of [au courant product name here]. Let's call this the Star Trek 401, though—where every bit of tech is explained, whether the explanation is necessary or not. It's cool to know that you know that bit of tech already; and sometimes it's cool to be taught (there's a few things I'll be Googling, that's for sure) but I really can't stand the author explaining things just because it's cool for him or her to explain them.

You can call me shallow (I've never got through a Great Russian Novel for all the damn philosophy those characters were always yammering on about); I agree with the writer in Wired who said that science fiction is the last bastion of idea novels, and I really appreciate all those ideas. But that writer also pointed out that the genre tolerates execrable writing (he really used that word!) and though the writing in this book is far from execrable, it could be a lot tighter. I blame the editors, or lack thereof. I mean, no one should be allowed to get away with a sentence like this (coming from the 17-year-old narrator who lives and is on good terms with his parents): I never watched TV, but I knew my parents did.

All of that said, I am not flaming this book. It's very very nice, and not just if you like that sort of thing. I'll give it to 13-year-old Son, and recommend it to High School Teacher Sister.

Friday, September 12, 2008


In Between New Yorkers

For Daughter's sake (the possibility of a need for m'audition) I checked out of the library Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (Robert Boyd ill.). This is another feat of liberal, devil-may-care publishing (2007) from the amazing Candlewick Press. The author wrote the book for a class that wanted to culminate their study of the Middle Ages with a play "with no small parts". The series of linked monologues, some "broken prose" (as Nikki Grimes calls the poetry-looking format), some straight prose, some verse, paints a picture of life in a English medieval settlement, from the point of view of varied young characters living it. The detailed and warm illustrations make it a book; and you can't get through the book without reading at least one of the monologues aloud to a family member (and then the family member insists on reading one back to you).

Kanada by Eva Wiseman (Tundra, 2006) tells, again, the story of the horror perpetrated on the Jews by the Nazis during World War II. It is a good novel, well-built and solidly written, and adds the voice of a young female Hungarian to the grievous chorus. But it doesn't do anything else. It tells no other story. I am always longing for another Milkweed.

Daughter rapidly ingested Click Here (To Find Out How I Survived Seventh Grade) by Denise Vega (Little, Brown and Co., 2005) and stated flatly that I had to read it. So I did, and it was charming. And the chasm between my grade 7 experience and the one Daughter is likely to have cracks even wider.

Saturday, September 06, 2008


The New Year

Everyone I know feels that September is the real beginning of a new year. The turn of the season, the start of school, and that indefinable something in the air that fires you up to start some big projects. I have three I'd like to start on, but today spent several hours blanching beans and chopping peppers, etc, to put in the freezer. Tomorrow Husband and I will can peaches. I realized this morning at the farmer's market that this is my way of holding onto summer and its plenty. In spite of all this September-type industry, I managed and whisk-in visit to the library, to pick up a hold and some DVDs; and in the spirit of September, I'll tidy up my mind by talking about the three... no, four books I read this week.

First, the book Younger Sister lent me, Sarah Waters' Fingersmith (Virago, 2002). I loved Tipping the Velvet, and this book was not a disappointment. It displays some uncommon and tangy slices of Victorian London life (that amazingly pestilent and fertile—at least for writers—place) and rather makes up for the raunchy and, really, when it comes down to it, horrible The Pearl. and I still am not clear on how those dear girls are going to collect on the will (doesn't the real Maud have to marry, first? according to the conditions of the will) but the story worked itself out to a satisfying conclusion.

Virago... I discovered so many authors through this marvelous press, the year I was in Sweden and dependent upon the English section of the big public library downtown. For some reason the English book buyer liked Virago, and I started to simply look for those characteristic dark green spines.

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2005) was really delightful—and this from me, the one so thoroughly sick of Faerie! I thought the socks were dumb, mostly because I think the missing-sock "mystery" is as fake and overblown as Santa Claus; but that one detail—"we leave them where they are because they tell us where a house is"—kind of made it all right. I could not resist getting up and going to the piano to try out a few of the melodies. I'm going to give a little sketch now, to tempt you, V.T., in case you haven't read it yet. A teenage Irish boy decides to give his mother what she wants for her birthday: more time. It seems to be running out—no one has time for a wander or a cup of tea with a neighbour anymore. In spite of the pressures of modern life, however, this family keeps up the generations-old tradition of the music party (fiddle, bodhran, flute, dancing), and the boy is a crack fiddler. It really isn't a surprise why, but how the author gets there is so much fun, it's no trouble to be patient and let her unfold it for you. And P.S.: the mother does get her birthday present, in the end.

The Shadows of Ghadames by Joelle Stolz (Delacorte, 2004) was rather fine, making real and human a world in which women and men lead completely separate lives. It almost doesn't seem that bad... except for that bit where the girls are taught from the beginning to walk "like women." And, of course, that they aren't allowed to go anywhere. At all. And that the male world is superior to the female. As usual.

Finally, there's Smart Dog by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 2005): short, sweet, and containing nothing objectionable to the educational market. Enough humour to make the somewhat stodgy bits (popularity blah blah) swallowable. Very cute cover.

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