Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Trapped - Michael Northrop

Title: Trapped
Author: Michael Northrop
Publisher: Scholastic, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 232 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 26, 2011
Finished: July 27, 2011

The day the blizzard started, no one knew that it was going to keep snowing for a week. That for those in its path, it would become not just a matter of keeping warm, but of staying alive....

Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason are among the last seven kids at their high school waiting to get picked up that day, and they soon realize that no one is coming for them. Still, it doesn't seem so bad to spend the night at school, especially when distractingly hot Krista and Julie are sleeping just down the hall. But then the power goes out, then the heat. The pipes freeze, and the roof shudders. As the days add up, the snow piles higher, and the empty halls grow colder and darker, the mounting pressure forces a devastating decision....

I saw this book and thought "oooh, surviving a massive snowstorm locked up inside your high school with 6 other kids, this should be awesome!"...famous last words. Normally I love survival stories, but this one just didn't measure up for a lot of reasons.

First off, and this could be biased because I'm Canadian and well, we have our fair share of snowstorms (but not any more than some places in the northern USA), but the whole reason why these kids find themselves trapped in the school in the first place just reeks of stupidity, like unrealistic stupidity. The school closes early due to the storm (which is normal in insane winter weather), and the buses take all the kids home. Scotty, the main character, and his friends Pete and Jason, decide to stay late at school to work on a go-kart and have a parent pick them up later....hello?! you know it's snowing and it's intensifying and yet the school closing early isn't enough of a sign that you should get your assess home? Plus, with weather reports as they are, where I live most parents and teachers warn their kids the day before or the day of an anticipated major storm to get their buts home safely. Also, the kids have cell phones and they don't think to text or call their parents a little before the massive pile-up of snow? I don't know, maybe again this is because I'm Canadian and we're over cautious about any major snow storms, but the behaviour of these kids is just plain stupid, as in "you deserve to freeze to death stupid". And it's not like they're from a place that never sees any snow either, so I can't even contribute it to that.

The writing style was grating and annoying. The novel is narrated by Scotty in the first person, but his narration is written like dialogue strung together, it sounds like listening to a bunch of low-achieving 15-year-olds in the cafeteria. I know this "written like teens talk" style is great for certain types of readers, like a lot of boys that are reluctant readers, but I personally prefer my books not to treat me like I'm illiterate and can't handle a more sophisticated style of writing (heck even a lot of teen readers prefer a more sophisticated style than this had). Also, the characters aren't developed at all, it's pretty much Scotty's understandings of the other characters that we see, since the characters don't really have deep conversations, which you think they would with nothing better to do.

Good premise, but poorly executed and disappointing.

Thoughts on the cover:
Meh. Not horrible, but granted there's not much of a cover you could make differently for this type of book.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Nightspell - Leah Cypess

Title: Nightspell (Companion novel to Mistwood)
Author: Leah Cypess
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 22, 2011
Finished: July 25, 2011

From the publisher's website:
Here be ghosts, the maps said, and that was all.

In this haunted kingdom, ghosts linger—not just in the deepest forests or the darkest caverns, but alongside the living, as part of a twisted palace court that revels all night and sleeps through the daylight hours.

Darri's sister was trapped in this place of fear and shadows as a child. And now Darri has a chance to save her sister . . . if she agrees to a betrothal with the prince of the dead. But nothing is simple in this eerie kingdom—not her sister, who has changed beyond recognition; not her plan, which will be thrown off track almost at once; and not the undead prince, who seems more alive than anyone else.

In a court seething with the desire for vengeance, Darri holds the key to the balance between life and death. Can her warrior heart withstand the most wrenching choice of all?

When I read Mistwood a year ago, I fell in love with it, mostly because the author not only knows how to write an awesome story, but she's a great writer too. Thankfully Nightspell, although only a companion novel and thus not including any elements from Mistwood (except one, but that'd be spoiling things), shines in the same areas that made Mistwood amazing.

Siblings Varis and Darri are the prince and princess of Raellia, traveling to Ghostland to marry Darri off to Prince Kestin and to exchange her for Callie, their younger sister who'd been sent off to the Ghostland court four years ago at the age of ten as a prospective future wife for Kestin. All Darri wants is to save her sister and bring her home, but unbeknownst to her, Varis has other plans she isn't privy to, and when they arrive and realize circumstances have changed, she'll need to go to extreme measures to follow through on her plan. But what if Callie doesn't want to leave....or can't?

Nightspell is a different book than Mistwood, it's completely darker and less romantic, but still wonderful. The author draws you into the world and the plot really quickly and gets you hooked right away. Nightspell is deliciously dark in a really creative way. Ghostland is populated by living subjects as well as dead ones, but the dead ones aren't quite ghosts, they can appear to have solid bodies and eat and can make their bodies respond in human ways, and what's even better is that no one can really tell the difference between who's living and who's dead (the dead can't even always sense that someone else is dead). In the midst of all this is the fact that someone in Ghostland is trying to kill Varis, Darri, and to some degree Callie. It's wonderfully creepy to read about them walking into an empty room and then having a ghost materialize behind their backs and put a knife to their throats. The plot twists are unexpected (at least for me they were), and really helped to make things more interesting.

If you read and liked Mistwood, read this! Even if you haven't read Mistwood, give Nightspell a try (you don't need to read Mistwood first to enjoy the story), the premise is creative, the plot is well done with lots of twists, and the author writes wonderfully, need I say more?

Thoughts on the cover:
Even though the two books aren't really related, I like the continuity between the covers for Mistwood and Nightspell (especially the use of purple). I love the image of the Ghostland castle at the bottom, the lighting and sunset around it make the picture look so cool. The image of Darri (I'm assuming it's Darri) at the top is integrated nicely among the stars.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

Title: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 348 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Mystery
Started: July 16, 2011
Finished: July 21, 2011

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

As soon as I first saw this book listed months ago, I knew I had to read it. The premise seemed just the right amount of creepy and cool. I think my expectations might've been a bit too high, 'cause I felt a little disappointed by the time I finished reading.

Jacob grew up listening to his grandfather's stories from when he lived in a children's home in Wales during WWII. His grandfather also speaks of the children that lived in the home with him, and how 'peculiar' they were, each seeming to have a special talent or ability that was the stuff of tall tales. Jacob started to believe the stories less and less as he got older, but when he's 16 years old and receives a frantic call from his grandfather and witnesses a tragedy upon investigating it, he begins to doubt his own sanity. Jacob eventually finds his way to the island in Wales where the children's home was, and digs deeper into his grandfather's stories. What he finds there will challenge everything he thought he knew about his grandfather and himself.

This book has an amazing premise. The old creepy house, the weird kids, the photos interspersed throughout the book that are woven into the story, it has the potential to be awesome. Unfortunately, the execution didn't go quite as well. The plot started out great in the beginning, but once the home and the children fully came into the picture, things started to go south; the plot wasn't realistic in some spots despite the suspension of disbelief that readers need for this type of book (the logic behind the time loops didn't always make sense, and the whole ending between Jacob and his dad was so unrealistic). Jacob's character was mature and smart while being naive and clueless at the same time, so he felt disjointed half the time. The peculiar children weren't really developed in terms of character, which was sad because some of them (Enoch and Millard) seemed interesting and I would've liked to see them developed more. The whole romance between Jacob and Emma was just ewwwwwww for reasons I can't explain cause then I'd be spoiling things, but it was just icky and didn't work, there wasn't even enough build-up for it to be believable in my eyes.

All in all, I loved the photographs, I think they were woven in quite nicely, and I give the author credit for integrating such a weird collection of photos into the story. The whole book as a package is very visually appealing, it's just too bad the story and character development fell flat for me, because I really wanted to adore this, I really did.

Great premise and quite attractive visually, but the story just doesn't deliver unfortunately.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love all the visuals they've used for this book, and the cover is not different. The picture of the girl who appears to be levitating conveys just the right amount of creepy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness (From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd)
Publisher: Walker Books, 2011 (UK, Hardcover)
Length: 215 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Fantasy
Started: July 13, 2011
Finished: July 15, 2011

From the author's website:
The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming...

The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Costa Award winner Patrick Ness spins a tale from the final idea of much-loved Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, whose premature death from cancer prevented her from writing it herself. Darkly mischievous and painfully funny, A Monster Calls is an extraordinarily moving novel of coming to terms with loss from two of our finest writers for young adults.

Published May 2011 in the UK, and September 2011 in the US.

This book's reputation precedes itself. It isn't even out yet in this continent and every review has been glowing. Plus, it's by Patrick Ness, whom I love, so this was a must buy for me; and I knew I couldn't wait until the domestic release in September, so my copy is the UK version. I was blown away by A Monster Calls, the hype is completely warranted. As is usual of Patrick Ness' work, it's brilliant, though the writing has a different kind of quality from his Chaos Walking Trilogy. It's a bit simpler and less post-modern, but in this case, less is more I think.

Conor is 13 years old, and his mother is undergoing cancer treatments. His dad lives in America with his new wife and family, so when he visits for the first time in years, in conjunction with his grandmother coming in to help, Conor knows things are going downhill. He gets bullied at school, he feels like his grandmother's ruining everything, plus he's struggling to deal with his feelings and grief about his mother's illness. He is visited one night by a creature made of a yew tree (think of the massive tree creatures from Lord of the Rings), who demands Conor's truth in return for three stories. Each of the stories the monster tells Conor, each one on a subsequent night, contain elements that relate to Conor's situation in real life, which make him think about the aspects of his grief. When the monster finally demands the truth from Conor, it forces him to come to terms with his deepest fears.

This is a book about grief and loss, and it's heavy duty. Not only have I been through grief in my personal life, but also in my classrooms, so this book hits hard, and I can guarantee that it will make you cry because it just gets everything right. It's wonderfully written, the monster weaves lessons that aren't really lessons in his stories which convey subtle truths to Conor to help him through the horrible mess that he's living in. The monster itself is an amazing element too: it's horrible but not nightmarish, and it actually has a sense of humour. The entire setup is so imaginative you can't help but be ensnared by the book and enchanted by it. This is a novel that everyone should read, especially since it deals with aspects that everyone faces in their life, plus the fact that it's all done so incredibly well.

One of the best I've read so far this year, truly brilliant. I'm probably not explaining things in a way that does the book justice, but trust me, just read it, it'll blow you away too.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the illustrations that are peppered throughout the book, they add to the whole experience, especially since they're in black and white and there's so many different textures you can see in them. The cover is just ominous enough with the right amount of creepy to set the mood.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ashes, Ashes - Jo Treggiari

Title: Ashes, Ashes
Author: Jo Treggiari
Publisher: Scholastic, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: July 6th, 2011
Finished: July 11, 2011

From the author's website:
A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.

Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.

This is more of a post-apocalyptic survival story rather than a typical dystopian, and I love those types of stories, but I found I was disappointed by this one.

Lucy is a survivor in futuristic New York City that has been decimated by global warming floods, followed by a virulent strain of plague that seems like smallpox mixed with bird-flu that manages to wipe out all but one percent of the world's people. Surviving all by herself in what remains of Central Park, she soon realizes she can't continue on her own when the park is further flooded, destroying her camp. She joins up with Aidan's group of fellow survivors, all children and the elderly, who are frequently attacked by teams of Sweepers that kidnap people and take them to an island health facility, never to be seen from again. When it becomes obvious that the Sweepers are looking for Lucy specifically, for a reason she's not aware of, she and Aidan and what remains of the group are determined to go and rescue their imprisoned friends.

This book started out leaving me unsatisfied. When the narrator is explaining Lucy's backstory and how things got to this point in the world, I felt rushed, like I was being brought up to speed in a recap of stuff already previously explained but actually wasn't. So there was no real world-building here, which I would have liked to see more of, or just done better. Next, the plot seems so spastic, the author goes from focus to focus to the point where I wasn't sure what the point of the story was. At first Lucy is surviving by herself, which was cool to see, then she goes to Aidan's community and commune living stuff happens, then the sci-fi stuff at the end about the blood and vaccines. I'm sure the plot could have remained as is without changes, but it definitely could have flowed better. The characters fell flat for me, there was more time spent on plot than character development, so I really didn't give a damn if Lucy lived or not because I wasn't emotionally invested in her, or Aidan, or any of the group, especially Del since she was petty and annoying. Because the characters weren't developed, in my opinion, the romance didn't work, which wasn't a big part of the book anyway.

All in all, this book really fell flat for me, which is sad because I think it had the potential to be awesome based on the basic plot alone, it just wasn't executed all that well. The author's writing style wasn't bad either, so perhaps this was just poor plotting.

Sadly, not all that great, which was disappointing.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the ruined buildings with the flood waters and the position of Lucy and Aidan looking out towards them. I don't like how the characters are supposed to be ragged and dirty, yet the models, especially Lucy's, are wearing almost perfect clothes with decent hair...c'mon, it's said they ran out of detergent and can't wear plant fibres, at least make them look like they're desperate in the clothing department.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Am J - Cris Beam

Title: I Am J
Author: Cris Beam
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 326 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 2, 2011
Finished: July 3, 2011

J always felt different. He was certain that eventually everyone would understand who he really was; a boy mistakenly born as a girl. Yet as he grew up, his body began to betray him; eventually J stopped praying to wake up a "real boy" and started covering up his body, keeping himself invisible - from his family, from his friends...from the world. But after being deserted by the best friend he thought would always be by his side, J decides that he's done hiding - it's time to be who he really is. And this time he is determined not to give up, no matter the cost.

An inspiring story of self-discovery, of choosing to stand up for yourself, and of finding your own path - readers will recognize a part of themselves in J's struggle to love his true self.

I've read a fair bit (though still not nearly enough) of YA books with gay and lesbian characters, but I've never come across one that involved a transgender character until now.

J was born Jenifer, a girl, but ever since he was little he's identified as male and struggled with the consequences of trying to be true to that. He constantly gets picked on by people that think he's a lesbian, and it doesn't help when he gets a crush on his female best friend, who doesn't understand his situation. In addition, J's ethnic Puerto Rican/Jewish family refuses to accept his desire to be true to himself, and they keep insisting that he act more feminine and won't even listen to him when he tries to suggest that he wants to sign up for testosterone injections to help make his transformation more authentic. When J's finally had enough, he decides to make it on his own whether his family or friends support him or not.

I love that there's finally a YA book about a character who is transgendered (an FTM specifically in this case). What J goes through is realistically portrayed, and I like how the author made J from an ethnic family, since that kind of circumstance is unique in itself (I'm from an Italian family and growing up we knew the worst thing you could be was any variety of GLBT because of how the family would react). His struggles are wonderfully real and I like how J wasn't the nicest person, cause really, enduring that kind of treatment day to day wouldn't exactly make a person warm and fuzzy.

Excellent book about the issue of transgendered teens and some of the struggles they face.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how the cover looks like J's layered clothing that's talked about in the book, it's an interesting choice of image.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Nothing - Janne Teller

Title: Nothing
Author: Janne Teller
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 227 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 2, 2011
Finished: July 2, 2011

From the inside cover:
"Nothing matters."

"From the moment you are born, you start to die."

"The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. You'll live to be a maximum of one hundred. Life isn't worth the bother!"

So says Pierre Anthon when he decides that there is no meaning to life, leaves the classroom, climbs a plum tree, and stays there.

His friends and classmates cannot get him to come down, not even by pelting him with rocks. So to prove to him that there is a meaning to life, they set out to build a heap of meaning in an abandoned sawmill.

But it soon becomes obvious that each person cannot give up what is most meaningful, so they begin to decide for one another what the others must give up. The pile is started with a lifetime's collection of Dungeons & Dragons books, a fishing rod, a pair of green sandals, a pet hamster -- but then, as each demand becomes more extreme, things start taking a very morbid twist, and the kids become ever more desperate to get Pierre Anthon down. And what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is not meaningful enough?

A Lord of the Flies for the twenty-first century, Nothing is a visionary existential novel -- about everything, and nothing -- that will haunt you.

Good's kind of hard for me to say something about this book without getting emotional. This book is depressing as heck, I was in a complete funk for about a day after I read it, to the point where I had to watch a cute, fluffy movie to get over said funk. Granted, I think it's brilliant, but still depressing.

In a small town in Denmark in the early 90s, a group of grade 7 students (so between 13- 14 years old according to the Danish system) attempt to convince a fellow classmate that there are things that matter in life. Pierre Anthon one day proclaims that nothing in life matters in the end, climbs a tree and stays there. He harasses his classmates as they pass by the tree each day on their way to school, so as he depresses everyone more and more, they all decide to make a huge pile of things that have meaning to each of them. Each classmate is told by another what they must give up to the pile, and that person in turn dictates to the next person what they must sacrifice. They start out pretty innocently enough: a pair of favourite shoes, a set of Dungeons and Dragons books, all material things that have significant meaning to each child. Then the kids start getting ruthless, they demand something more than just material possessions, to the point where your jaw drops at what the next child demands. I can't say much without giving away the whole thing, but I think it's safe to say you will be shocked (they weren't kidding when they compared this to The Lord of the Flies). But despite the shock, it's easy to see the brilliance in how the message is conveyed, I can totally see this being assigned reading in a philosophy or ethics class, it would be a discussion goldmine.

I won't lie, it's pretty disturbing. But if you can stomach the disturbing stuff, you've got a wonderful introspective read here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, can't say much for fear of giving it away, but the cover fits the theme of the book perfectly.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One Crazy Summer - Rita Williams-Garcia

Title: One Crazy Summer
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad (Harper Collins), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 215 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Started: July 2, 2011
Finished: July 2, 2011

From the inside cover:
Eleven-year-old Delphine has it together. Even though her mother, Cecile, abandoned her and her younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern, seven years ago. Even though her father and Big Ma will send them from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to stay with Cecile for the summer. And even though Delphine will have to take care of her sisters, as usual, and learn the truth about the missing pieces of the past.

When the girls arrive in Oakland in the summer of 1968, Cecile wants nothing to do with them. She makes them eat Chinese takeout dinners, forbids them to enter her kitchen, and never explains the strange visitors with Afros and black berets who knock on her door. Rather than spend time with them, Cecile sends Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern to a summer camp sponsored by a revolutionary group, the Black Panthers, where the girls get a radical new education.

Set during one of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, one crazy summer is the heartbreaking, funny tale of three girls in search of the mother who abandoned them—an unforgettable story told by a distinguished author of books for children and teens, Rita Williams-Garcia.

This book felt a little different to me than most. Everyone who's read it has loved it (and for obvious reasons, it is excellent) but for me it excelled in its characters, not necessarily for the story or plot portrayed.

Delphine is 11, and is in charge of taking care of her sisters Vonetta (9) and Fern (7) while they are shipped off from Brooklyn to Oakland, California for one month during the summer of 1968 to meet their mother for the first time since she abandoned them seven years ago. The sisters have never really known their mother, so of course they have fabricated ideas of their mother in their head in spite of their father and grandmother's remarks. The girls aren't completely naive, the girls know they were abandoned and Delphine doesn't sugar coat it, they have a mother who gave birth to them, they don't have a mommy that takes care of them. Once they get to Oakland and actually meet Cecile, who also goes by her poet name Nzila, they realize she still isn't the mother they imagined. She's involved with the Black Panthers and cares more about her poetry than taking care of the girls, she would barely feed them if Delphine didn't insist that she do so (even though it's take out food all the time). During the day, she sends the girls to a breakfast program and summer camp run by the Black Panthers, and lets the girls fend for themselves during the weekends. It isn't until the end of the book where Cecile gets some redeeming moments, not to the point where she's anything other than a horrible mother, but more to the point where the girls realize she is what she is and she's not a horribly evil person, just that she wasn't cut out to be a parent.

Delphine makes this book, she's only 11 years old and is remarkably precocious and well-spoken for her age. She's street-smart to a certain extent (she lives in Brooklyn), but the racial climate of Oakland and the Black Panthers throws her for a loop at first because she hasn't experienced racism to that particular degree. Delphine's narration is wonderful, you get to know herself as a character, as well as her sisters, her mother, and the political climate of Oakland in a mature, but still childlike point of view. Every chapter focuses on one particular idea or plot point or character, and everything weaves together as you go along. I liked the focus on names and naming, 'cause I'm big on that myself, and it was interesting why Cecile chose the names she did for the girls, including what she chose for her alias for her poetry as well.

The ending kind of threw me for a loop, it didn't seem realistic and was rushed, but all in all, this was a really engaging story, purely because the characters were so wonderful.

Excellent novel, I can see why it was a Newbery Honor Book.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love it, it's quirky like the girls' summer, but still shows their personalities. I like that you can see the Chinatown motifs and the teal font used for the title, plus Vonetta's pose behind Fern is so like her character it's funny.

Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork

Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2009 (Hardcover)
Length: 312 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: June 28, 2011
Finished: July 1, 2011

From the back of the book:
Marcelo Sandoval hears music no one else can hear--part of the autism-like impairment no doctor has been able to identify--and he's always attended a special school where his differences have been protected. But the summer after his junior year, his father demands that Marcelo work in his law firm's mailroom in order to experience "the real world." There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm.

He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face -- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

Reminiscent of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" in the intensity and purity of its voice, this extraordinary novel is a love story, a legal drama, and a celebration of the music each of us hears inside.

I can't remember why I finally decided to pick this book up, but I'm soooooo glad I did, this is one of those amazing YA books you come across that you just become an advocate for, not that it really needs it, but I'm sure the book would appreciate it.

Marcelo Sandoval is 17 years old, and is on the highly functioning end of the autism spectrum (so more Aspergers than Autism I suppose). His mother and sister are very supportive, but his father, who is a co-partner in his own law firm, denies that his son has anything wrong with him that deserves a label. His father insists that Marcelo spend his summer working in the mail room at the law firm instead of working with the therapy horses at the special private school Marcelo attends, thinking this will help expose his son to the 'real world' instead of the protected environment of the special school. Marcelo is highly functioning, so he acclimates to the law office without any hassle, helped by his co-worker Jasmine, but he does question the things he sees. When he discovers proof that his father's firm is helping cover up evidence of a manufacturer of faulty products which led to human injury, he feels very conflicted as to what he should do. His religious nature tells him that he must do the right thing to help the girl in the photograph he found, but he knows that in the process he will also hurt his father and affect other good people that work at the firm. Marcelo must also come to terms with what he wants to do with his life, to follow the internal music he hears to its end without being influenced by the opinions of others.

This book is beautifully written, mainly as a result of Marcelo's narration. Marcelo is a highly functioning autistic, and if you've ever had exposure to this type of person (I've taught autistic children of various levels of functionality), the first thing you'd notice is how realistically he is portrayed and yet how the author manages to make his character stand out. Some of Marcelo's quirks are typical of a highly functioning autistic: difficulty in adjusting to changes in routine without doing so gradually, avoiding looking people in the eye, and also the various social aspects. Marcelo is highly intelligent, as well as religious (not in the bible-thumping kind, it's more that he is very well versed in all kinds of religions). He also lives in a tree house (so cool), and wants to work in therapy for special needs children.

Once you get to know Marcelo, you really become involved in his exposure to the evils of the real world; things that are black and white to Marcelo (this is right, this is wrong), are all shades of gray to everyone else, which puzzles him. He's kind of naive too, and doesn't realize for example that people use sex for evil purposes, or hurt animals just for fun. Essentially Marcelo learns that everyone has to determine what their own morality is and how they're going to respond to it; will they do the right thing regardless of the consequences or will they turn a blind eye and continue to act in a way that benefits them? This message of doing the right thing in a world that encourages self-serving behaviour at the expense of others would seem a little forced if the character was anyone but Marcelo, but because Marcelo is who he is, the message and how it is conveyed is just beautiful, I cannot stress this enough. I actually cried towards the end of this book at a scene where Marcelo is talking to a female rabbi that he frequently meets with; the dialogue and how things are resolved just hit you and disarm the barriers people put up to avoid being affected by all the hurt we witness every day.

Trust me, just read this. It's beautiful and lyrical and genius all wrapped up in a book-like package, you will adore this novel.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The night sky with the tree house and Marcelo walking with Jasmine is a really pretty image.