The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp

 

SUTTER KEELY. He’s the guy you want at your party. He’ll get everyone dancing. He’ ll get everyone in your parents’ pool. Okay, so he’s not exactly a shining academic star. He has no plans for college and will probably end up folding men’s shirts for a living. But there are plenty of ladies in town, and with the help of Dean Martin and Seagram’s V.O., life’s pretty fabuloso, actually.

Until the morning he wakes up on a random front lawn, and he meets Aimee. Aimee’s clueless. Aimee is a social disaster. Aimee needs help, and it’s up to the Sutterman to show Aimee a splendiferous time and then let her go forth and prosper. But Aimee’s not like other girls, and before long he’s in way over his head. For the first time in his life, he has the power to make a difference in someone else’s life—or ruin it forever.

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I know a female version of Sutter; the charming social butterfly and life of the party. Fun at first, but soon it gets sad and embarrassing to be around. Referring to himself as ‘God’s own drunk’, Sutter lives in the ‘spectacular now’ and refuses to plan for the future.  In this character driven story, the totally flawed narrator, Sutter is constantly drinking booze at home, school, work, and in the car with his giant 7up and whiskey cup. His alcohol addiction is apparent, but he lives in complete denial. While I’m happy Sutter meets Aimee and slowly helps her gain confidence to stand up to others, I hated seeing her pick up some of his lushness in the process.

Although it was true to Sutter’s character, the ending saddened me.  It was a realistic conclusion that reminds readers that real life is messy, and happy endings aren’t in the cards for everyone. I have to wonder how Sutter’s ‘spectacular now’ concept is still holding up for him…

Look for the film adaptation of The Spectacular Now in theatres August 2013.

 

 

 

The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki

Does an abandoned asylum hold the key to a frightful haunting?

Everyone’s heard the stories about Graylock Hall.

It was meant to be a place of healing – a hospital where children and teenagers with mental disorders would be cared for and perhaps even cured. But something went wrong. Several young patients died under mysterious circumstances. Eventually, the hospital was shut down, the building abandoned and left to rot deep in the woods.

As the new kid in town, Neil Cady wants to see Graylock for himself. Especially since rumor has it that the building is haunted. He’s got fresh batteries in his flashlight, a camera to document the adventure, and a new best friend watching his back.

Neil might think he’s prepared for what he’ll find in the dark and decrepit asylum. But he’s certainly not prepared for what follows him home. . . .

 

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The Ghost of Graylock
is a must read for young horror fans that have graduated from books like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and looking for a more frightening read. But beware! Detailed descriptions of abandoned asylums, ghosts, and a shocking murder could potentially be nightmare inducing, especially for a middle schooler.  The plot surrounds the legend of Graylock Hall and the result of four kids breaking into the abandoned asylum.  I still have visions of Eric and Wesley hiding in the closet and Rebecca’s (the ghost) shadowy figure peeking in…terrifying!  However, I liked the ‘bread crumb’ aspect of Rebecca’s clues and how she helped Neil and Bree ultimately solve the mystery of her own tragic death.  Overall, short chapters (64 to be exact) and a fast paced story will take even the most reluctant readers on a thrilling adventure, filled with twists and turns!  You may just want to sleep with a nightlight…

Other recently reviewed MG spooky titles:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing . . . and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity . . .

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This spooky adventure story for middle graders is my first Holly Black read. I must say, that I was quite impressed because even as an adult, I still enjoyed this tale.  While the storyline revolved around the quest to rightfully bury a potentially haunted porcelain doll, there was a wonderful message  about growing up. The three amigos are twelve years old, and right on the cusp of adolescence.  The three are encouraged to stop playing with make believe, and ‘grow up’. Zack’s dad even goes as far as throwing out his beloved action figures.

Even without this heartbreaking event, Zack along with Poppy and Alice are beginning to realize on their own that their relationship is undergoing change and perhaps they are getting to old to play. However, they embark on one last quest together that involves some pretty risky moves, including: sneaking out of the house, stealing a boat and bike, and breaking into a library.  I hope impressionable young readers don’t get any ideas from these three adventurers.

I adored this book because I empathized with the characters (especially Zack after his dad tossed his action figures) and could relate to that awkward, sticky transition from childhood to adolescence. Although their hobbies and friend groups are beginning to shift, I’d like to imagine the three of them beating the odds, and remaining friends.

Additionally, I’d like to thank Black for challenging the stereotypical image of a librarian. Miss Katherine rocked pink hair and stylish shoes, and as Zack pointed out, not like any librarian he’d seen before. Not all of us keep our hair in buns and wear penny loafers, thank you very much!

In terms of graphics, the cover is brilliant. Dolls are creepy enough to begin with, but one made with human bones, filled with ashes is creepy x 100.  In their quest to bury ‘The Queen’, a handful of illustrations were a welcome addition to the text.  In the end, whether or not the doll was truly haunted, remains a mystery.  However, believing in the doll’s magic allowed the three friends for one last bonding and memorable journey to become the hero of their own story.

 

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