Friday, September 23, 2011

New Town, New Possibilities

Okay for Now
by Gary D. Schmidt
National Book Award finalist 2011

The late 60's were a difficult time in which to grow up. Civil rights, the Vietnam War, the assassination of Robert Kennedy...These all made it increasingly difficult to navigate through childhood and adolescence. For Mr. Schmidt's protagonist, Doug Swieteck, add in being the new kid in town, and having an alcoholic father and a brother newly returned from the war. Life is far from easy for Doug.

After a local store is robbed (and the younger of Doug's two older brothers is suspected), Doug is either treated with contempt or ignored completely by his fellow classmates, teachers, and townspeople. The only people who give him a chance are Mr. Powell, the local librarian, and Lil Spicer, the daughter of the local grocer for whom Doug works as a delivery boy. Throughout the book, Doug's moods fluctuate wildly, depending on how he's being treated, which I found to be extremely realistic.

The other major story thread throughout the book concerns a copy of Audobon's bird prints, which are being auctioned off one by one to fund the library. As Doug learns how to draw with Mr. Powell each Saturday, copying the Audobon prints, he gradually becomes attached to the pieces and begins a crusade to return the sold prints to the library. In an age where government funding of libraries is being significantly decreased, as law-makers question the role of libraries in this digital age, it was wonderful to see Mr. Schmidt portray the library as a place of learning, and also for him to promote advocacy.

What I was probably most impressed with was Mr. Schmidt's ability to convey a broad range of emotions through simple text. Since our protagonist begins the book as an illiterate, the sentences are succinct and usually devoid of adjectives, yet they never seem to condescend to the intended audience.

There's a lot of buzz about this book at present, and a good many people are predicting a Newbery. I haven't read the other books that people are predicting will be nominated, so I can't say for certain if Okay for Now will win, but I can say that it's well worth a look.

Grade: A

P.S. I still don't know why the cover depicts a boy with a paper bag over his head.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Chasing the summer I spent with you, I pass through the end of winter."

by Maggie Stiefvater

I previously reviewed The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy this spring and had been eagerly awaiting the final installment, which was slated for publication in July. As soon as I received proof of residency and was able to obtain my library card here, I put the book on reserve, with 42 people ahead of me. Last week, I received the e-mail stating it was on hold for me, and I picked it up on Thursday night, finding time to read it this weekend.

Was it worth the wait? Definitely. I have to admit, after reading Linger, I felt that Shiver would have been better served as a stand-alone novel. I didn't like the addition of new characters and the switch between POV each chapter, not to mention the mad science and the increasing implausibility of the entire scenario. While those things are still present in Forever (and the solution to the pack's problems feels like a total deus ex machina), Ms. Stiefvater's brilliant writing convinces even the most skeptical reader that certain actions are feasible.

Just as in Linger, the narrative is split four ways between Sam, Grace, Isabel, and Cole, who channels more of his mad scientist persona than his rock star one in this installment. While the trilogy predictably ends happily, there are some twists and turns along the way.

What I especially enjoyed with this installment was the writing of the wolves. It can be rather difficult to portray animal intelligence accurately, but I think Ms. Stiefvater hit the nail on the head.

While I stand by my earlier statement that the idea works best as a stand-alone, since the trilogy does exist, I wouldn't want its last installment to be any other way.

Grade: A-

*Note: The title of this post comes from the translated song lyrics of "Cloud 9", a song from the TV anime Wolf's Rain, which I highly recommend if you're looking for another wolf-related property, or simply a great show.