When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire. Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck! But train wrecks always make the front page.

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What a daring debut from 24 year-old, Raziel Reid.  The book is inspired by the true story of Lawrence Forbes King.  To avoid giving away the storyline, look up King after reading the book.

In this fictional story, readers are introduced to the flamboyant Jude, with a stripper mom and sexually promiscuous best friend.  Jude is confident in his sexuality, and expresses himself by regularly wearing stripper boots, lipstick, and nail polish. He asserts “… it’s better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you’re not. (pg. 100)”

The title ‘When Everything Feels like the Movies’ comes from Jude picturing his life as a glossy Hollywood movie. Even though classmates verbally and physically assault him, he consoles himself by imagining himself as an actor in a movie, a tabloid celebrity with haters. He likes to always be trending.

Even chapter titles relate to the film industry (Hidden Feature, Final Cut, etc.). This illusion may have served as a guard or protection against reality, but in the end, Jude realizes “the script had been altered, and I didn’t want to star in this cheap fucking movie anymore (pg. 166).” I think the self-deception was the strongest element of the novel, as it was heartbreakingly clear to readers that Jude’s largely homophobic small town was taking its toll.

Although this book was awarded the Governor General Literacy Award Winner for Children’s Literature, it is a teen book. The sexual content, graphic violence and strong language are not suitable for a younger audience.  For the rest of the winners, click here.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Night Gardener follows two abandoned Irish siblings who travel to work as servants at a creepy, crumbling English manor house. But the house and its family are not quite what they seem. Soon the children are confronted by a mysterious spectre and an ancient curse that threatens their very lives. With Auxier’s exquisite command of language, The Night Gardener is a mesmerizing read and a classic in the making.

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This mysterious middle grade tale was such a treat inside and out! I loved the visually appealing cover, chapter title decorations and black outer pages. They hinted at the dark, spooky, Victorian ghost story that lurked between the pages.

Divided into three parts Arrivals, Pursuits, and Departures, the story surrounds two orphans that find themselves deep in the middle of a forest, in a strange house with a mysterious tree and night guest. It is a magical, yet creepy tale that reminded me of The Brothers Grimm and Neil Gaiman. Indeed, in the Author’s Note, Auxier acknowledges many influences in his writing.

The atmospheric story also has underlying themes of greed, honesty, loyalty and family. There are consequences and lessons to be learned. The power of storytelling is also explored through the travelling old woman- Hester Kettle. It is Hester that first tells Kip and Molly about the legend of “The Night Gardener”.

This excellent standalone is chalk full of intriguing characters and exciting suspense. However, be warned that there are some darker scenes (including death) and may not be suitable for younger readers.

Moon At Nine by Deborah Ellis

Fifteen-year-old Farrin has many secrets. Although she goes to a school for gifted girls in Tehran, as the daughter of an aristocratic mother and wealthy father, Farrin must keep a low profile. It is 1988; ever since the Shah was overthrown, the deeply conservative and religious government controls every facet of life in Iran. If the Revolutionary Guard finds out about her mother’s Bring Back the Shah activities, her family could be thrown in jail, or worse. The day she meets Sadira, Farrin’s life changes forever. Sadira is funny, wise, and outgoing; the two girls become inseparable. But as their friendship deepens into romance, the relationship takes a dangerous turn. It is against the law to be gay in Iran; the punishment is death. Despite their efforts to keep their love secret, the girls are discovered and arrested. Separated from Sadira, Farrin can only pray as she awaits execution. Will her family find a way to save them both?

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Recommended by a colleague, Moon at Nine tells the heartbreaking story of Farrin and Sadira; teenage girls in love in 1988 Iran.  I must say, I learned a lot from reading about the culture and Farrin`s very different set of experiences.  For instance, Farrin`s parents throw dinner parties to drown out the sound of nearby bombings, and she regularly attend school remembrance ceremonies for classmates.

I have grown accustomed to hearing news reports about political upheavals and violent demonstrations, but reading about the characters and knowing that the book is based upon a true story really struck me. Sadira and Farrin`s love is true and strong; and they decide to risk everything (including their safety) to be together.  I loved reading their secret notes, and their strategy to communicate `I love you` by coughing three times.

“So, we will live then,” said Farrin. “We will love and work as though we could die tomorrow. And then we will have no regrets.” P. 96

They remain true to themselves, even though being gay is against the law and punishable by death in 1988 Iran. It`s definitely a story that needs to be told, and a sad reality that being gay is still considered a criminal offence in more than 70 countries.  The final outcome of their story was tough to swallow.

Even though Moon at Nine is a short and quick read; it is one that will stay with you for a long time. I can definitely see this book being used in the classroom to explore cultural and LGBT issues. Ellis even includes Book Guide Questions to start the important and thought provoking discussions to engage youth.

Review: The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers

From Goodreads: Tink Aaron-Martin has been grounded AGAIN after an adventure with her best friend Freddie Blue Anderson. To make the time pass, she decides to write an encyclopedia of her life from “Aa” (a kind of lava–okay, she cribbed that from the real encyclopedia) to “Zoo” (she’s never been to one, but her brothers belong there).

As the alphabet unfolds, so does the story of Tink’s summer: more adventures with Freddie Blue (and more experiences in being grounded); how her family was featured in a magazine about “Living with Autism,” thanks to her older brother Seb–and what happened after Seb fell apart; her growing friendship, and maybe more, with Kai, a skateboarder who made her swoon (sort of). And her own sense that maybe she belongs not under “H” for “Hideous,” or “I” for “Invisible,” but “O” for “Okay.”

Scholastic sent me some new fall releases and I immediately gravitated towards this middle school junior fiction novel about a witty pre-teen girl, Isadora. Like many girls her age, her life revolves around family, friends, and obsessing about first crushes. I remember being that age and going through similar experiences- especially feeling the confusion and hurt over the demise of a friendship.

Written in encyclopedia format, I found that sometimes the random entries (like ‘Stephen King’ or ‘Mesopotamia’) disrupted the storyline. They definitely acted as filler, as only a couple of the entries like ‘Mega Mall’ were much longer in comparison. These longer entries were used to help move along the plot and storyline. There was also use of photos (hairless cat, paella, etc.) and footnotes throughout Tink’s encyclopedia to allow for her random (yet hilarious) thoughts.

Although sometimes fluffy, the book also includes deeper issues like: being bi-racial, bullying, autism, and social pressures. I think Rivers did a great job at ensuring that Tink acted age-appropriate when dealing with those issues.  From the beginning to the end, Tink’s character grew and matured.  I was rooting for her the entire book, so her transformation was truly satisfying to read.

Pick up this touching and hilarious book September 2012. If you don’t take my word for it, Meg Cabot endorses the book too, declaring: ‘What every girl will be reading this year!’

PS-For all those still wondering what ‘quince’ is… it’s an Asian fruit tree.

Book Review: Box of Shocks by Chris McMahen

From Goodreads:

Oliver has helicopter parents—they love him, but they seriously cramp his style. He decides to fill an old wooden box with souvenirs from some of his outrageous and daring exploits. That way, he’ll never forget the zombies, the killer dogs and the crazy cows, and his parents will never know that he once jumped from a bridge with the police in hot pursuit. But the biggest shock comes when Oliver realizes that the most terrifying things of all can’t be controlled or contained.

I received this book as an advanced reading copy (released October 2011) from a library supplier (thanks Helen!) and was surprised to find that not many reviews exist on this great book for juveniles! Time to get the word out!

In short, Box of Shocks is a quick, memorable read that would definitely capture the attention of young readers. Hooked right from the first chapter, readers are curious to learn what amazing things the rebellious Oliver will collect to shock his parents. Although the majority of the book is adventurous and fun, it does include some serious subject matter, including poverty. However, like Oliver, I’m not sure young readers will quite understand the seriousness of the situation, as it is never fully explained.  That being said, the book is best suited for readers aged 8-12, so I’m not sure how in depth it could have went without losing the fun, lightness of the storyline.

TEACHERS- Want a free Box of Shocks study guide? Just email the author and he will send you the attachment!http://www.chrismcmahen.blogspot.com/

 

Other reviews:
“The settings where daring young Oliver carries out his secret adventures and collects his shocks (souvenirs to remember the experience) are vivid…A memorable story, full of age-appropriate jokes and sayings, and a plot that moves along quickly enough to hook even the most reluctant reader. Highly Recommended.” (CM Magazine )

“Oliver’s effective first-person narration shifts from accounts of his adventures to a growing understanding about the complicated lives of others—lives that are, often times, more shocking than anything that can be contained in a box.” (Booklist )

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