Your Constant Star by Brenda Hasiuk

Some people are lost, maybe for good, but others are found.

Faye is the “good” adopted Chinese daughter. Bev is the wild child. Mannie is the unambitious stoner. What brings them together—and tears them apart—is a need to move beyond the clichés and commit to something—anything—that will bring meaning and joy to their lives.  When Faye’s long-lost childhood neighbor, Bev, turns up out of the blue, wanting something from her old friend, Faye goes along with Bev’s plan. But Mannie, the joyriding daddy of Bev’s baby, has a half-crazed romantic agenda of his own. As one cold, miserable prairie spring inches toward summer, a series of unexpected and sometimes explosive decisions sends the trio hurtling toward disaster. A darkly funny portrayal of three unforgettable teenagers feeling their way into adulthood in an imperfect world.

star

Your Constant Star revolves around three flawed Winnipeg teens and an unwanted pregnancy (aka. “little alien.”) “Happy ho-hum” Faye introduces this young adult story, followed by pregnant Bev, and her druggie boyfriend, Mannie.  While the different perspectives were interesting, I enjoyed reading about Faye’s cultural heritage and adoption story the most.   That being said, for various reasons, I didn’t particularly like any of the characters.  They annoyed and frustrated me. Especially when they embraced the ‘I don’t give a %&#$’ attitude and put themselves and others in serious harm. However, I recognize I don’t fit into the intended reader audience, and perhaps Faye, Bev and Manny would have a different effect on teenage readers.

Indeed, CM Magazine writes:

“With all their flaws, the three narrators jump off the page with terrifying realism. They are teenagers to make any parent or guidance counselor cringe in recognition. Hasiuk doesn’t flinch from adolescent anger and frustration…Bev, Mannie and Faye are hard to forget…A novel for older teens who want realism with no preachiness…Recommended.”

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten

‘A compassionate, funny, heartwarming story about a band of misfit teens. It’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for the YA set’ – Susin Nielson

unlikely

This book came to my attention as a recent recipient of the 2013 Governor General Literacy Award for Children’s Text. This award winning title beautifully captures life for those living with OCD.  Through OCD group therapy, readers learn the many aspects and triggers of OCD.  Their therapist, Chuck encourages them to choose superheroes as alter-egos, and they are referred to by their chosen name the remainder of the book.  There are a few touches of comic book Wham! Pow! type illustrations throughout.

The main character Adam (aka ‘Batman’) identifies his compulsions as ordering, tapping, counting, and magical thinking (threshold issues with entering certain doors).  We watch as Adam gets progressively worse as his family stress begins to take a major toll on him.   Although he falls for fellow group member, Robyn immediately, he painfully recognizes that he is affecting her recovery and breaks it off. His struggles are well documented in his homework lists instructed by Chuck.

Through his councillor Chuck and the group therapy sessions, I learned a lot about OCD.  Toten’s research to portray Adam and mental health issues is evident. Although the right med combination and dosage helps, I can’t imagine daily life for these individuals.  I can only hope that one day, Adam attains his ‘heaven’, “a quiet mind. Quiet. Shh (p.208).”

Creeps by Darren Hynes

Fifteen-year-old Wayne Pumphrey wishes he were courageous enough to actually send the heartfelt letters he writes to friends and family. He also wishes his father would drive on the right side of the street, his mother would stop packing her suitcase to leave, and his sister would stop listening to Nickelback. But most of all, he wishes that Pete “The Meat” would let him walk to school in peace. After all, how many times can one person eat yellow snow?

Then one morning, while facing Pete and his posse, Wayne is rescued by Marjorie, the girl with a dead father and a mother who might as well be. Together, the two of them escape Pete’s relentless bullying by rehearsing for the school play, and an unlikely friendship is formed. As they grow ever closer to one another, they begin to dream of escape from their small town and restricted lives. But Pete now has plans for both of them—and after a moment of sudden violence, nothing will ever be the same again for Wayne, Marjorie, or Pete himself.

creeps

Named after a Radiohead song, this Canadian book realistically portrays the affects of bullying on victim, perpetrator, and their families.  Set in Labrador, this story is mostly told in third person narrative, but also includes letter entries from fifteen year old Wayne Pumphrey.  He writes to his family, teachers, bullies, God and his only friend Majorie. I enjoyed this addition as it allowed insight into Wayne’s world, including his nightmare home life. The letter to his bully, Pete the Meat (on pg. 104) was particularly heartbreaking as Wayne tries to understand why he had become the target of their aggressive bullying.

Dear Pete The Meat,

Is it the way I walk? Talk? Is it because I’m small? Is my laugh strange? My voice? Do I smell funny or dress stupid or style my hair the wrong way? Are my eyes too far apart? WHAT?

I found Wayne’s letters to carry more maturity than how he typically acted and spoke, so it’s a real shame that he never found the courage to send them out.  Although, I’m not sure how much of an impact it would have had on his bullies, but maybe, just maybe it could have prevented the awful, terrible, horrific scene involving Wayne and Majorie. I quickly moved from being extremely uncomfortable to utter shock with the surprising ending!

For all the above reasons, I think Creeps is a great conversation starter about bullying for high school students.  For more books on bullying, see: Hate List by Jennifer Brown & 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

Review: Crush. Candy.Corpse. by Sylvia McNicoll

I received this ARC from McNicoll’s publisher Lorimer at OLA last month. The book follows high school student Sonja (Sunny) Ehret and she stands trial for manslaughter. Every chapter alternates between last year (Sunny serving volunteers hours on an Alzheimer’s ward), and this year (Sunny’s manslaughter trial). So just how are the two connected? Well you have to pick up this uh-mazing book to find out! I actually read this book in less than a day as I could just not put it down.

Since McNicoll is a Canadian author, I really appreciated the Canadiana infused throughout the book. From the Canadian justice system, to everyone’s favourite-Timmies doughnuts! I especially related to the high school graduation requirement of 40 hours of volunteer work. Rather than having a choice of placement, Sunny is reluctantly sited at an elder care facility called ‘Paradise Manor’. In comparison, I really enjoyed completing my forty hours of volunteer work and hope it remains a requirement for years to come.  However, I think it is crucial that students pick their own placements rather than be forced to be somewhere they don’t want to be.  I chose to volunteer at a wide spread of organizations-including an elderly home!  Due to this experience, I could definitely sympathize with some of the sights and smells Sunny complained about. I wish I thought of making a coffee bean necklace…

I loved how the elderly residents really started to change the way Sunny felt about volunteering at Paradise Manor. Each individual had a unique personality and made me laugh. My favourite was Jeanette with her love of lipstick and how she complimented Sunny on her non-existent fashions. Despite the lighter moments, this book definitely deals with heavy, mature content. I liked how McNicoll was able to describe the devastating disease of Alzheimer’s through Sunny’s class presentation so readers are aware of all that it entails without it feeling too medical or pushed. The book also skims the surface of the euthanasia debate and whether a suffering person with a terminal illness has the right to die on their own terms. It truly is a legitimate concern since the Alzheimer’s rate is likely to skyrocket as baby boomers in Canada age. Hopefully, a treatment or cure can be realized so Alzheimer’s won’t become the defining disease of the Baby Boom Generation.

Look for Crush.Candy.Corpse. at bookstores and libraries March 12, 2012.

Fighting. Friends. Fitting in: The Luck of Jude by Andrew Larsen

At the recent OLA conference, I saw a large line-up to grab a free ARC (advanced reading copy) for Andrew Larsen’s ‘The Luck of Jude’. To my surprise, he was also there to speak to individuals and sign the book. Although we only had a minute, I was able to quickly tell him about a unique program my library offers—a book club for fathers and sons. The content of the book follows a boy in grade four, and I knew this would be an excellent novel for my boys to read (grade three and four). Larsen was impressed with the idea, and signed ‘Good Luck!’ in my copy!

Although The Luck of Jude is a short chapter book (106 pages), it manages to tell an interesting story of grade four student, Jude (yes, named after the Beatles song). The ‘Luck of Jude’ comes from being hit on a head by a chestnut. His friend informs him that being hit in the head by a chestnut means good luck. She then teaches him the game Conkers (attach a string to a chestnut and battle against player to destroy their chestnut). Jude is able to use his new love of the game to relate to the new student in his class.

What I liked about the book:

1)      Throughout the story, the reader learns how much Jude loves lists (as do I). Larsen starts each chapter with a list. For example: Things that help me fall asleep, or Things that bug me about my dad.  These lists are great for grabbing the reader’s attention, and adding visual interest.

2)      It oozes Toronto content–from listing the local parks, to poking fun of Toronto’s beloved Leafs, Larsen makes it known that he is Canadian.

3)      Jude’s Nani (grandma). She teaches Jude to see beyond differences and be a friend. It is an important lesson for all individuals to learn.

4)      Even though I didn’t particularly like the amount of blood and fighting, I liked how Larsen redeemed himself when Jude doesn’t resort to violence after being punched in the face. Hopefully young readers will also realize that violence is not the answer.

5)      I know reluctant readers will love the content. It’s all about fighting, friends and fitting in.  Larsen is able to include all of these aspects in the short, quick read.

Warnings:

-Violence, and a couple of references to ‘ass’ and ‘idiot’.

-After reading this story, I know many kids would love to try playing Conkers. However, it can be a dangerous game! In the past, schools in fear of legal consequences have actually banned the game. I just hope the book doesn’t cause any problems for the local school boards…

Blog Stats

  • 31,910 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 140 other followers

Goodreads

Check out my books on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3608158-brie