Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Format: 2011 Week 52

Given the amount of books that I read within a month, I often find that I simply don't have time to stop and write about all of them. So, rather than writing lengthy entries on the newest releases, I've decided to use a new format this year, writing a weekly entry with short reviews of all the middle grade and ya books I've read in a week. Posts will typically go up on Saturday or Sunday.

Nearly all of the books in this week's post were required for an upcoming class. Future weeks should be more of a mix of required and leisure reading; we were assigned 15 books to read by the first day of this particular class, but subsequent weeks have no more than three assigned.

Week 52

Title: The Ruins of Gorlan (Book 1 in the Ranger's Apprentice series)
Author: John Flanagan
Publishing Date: 2004/Australia; 2005/US
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards:Aurealis Award for Best Children's Novel short list 2004

My older brother, who has recently started reading ya novels, had actually recommended this series to me over the summer, so I was glad to see it on the required reading list. Telling the story of an orphaned boy who becomes an apprentice to a ranger (think of the D&D class or Aragorn), The Ruins of Gorlan bridges the gap between The Prydain Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings, with a brisk enough pace to hold the attention of reluctant readers and enough action to satisfy them, as well. The story may be a bit cliche, but the characters are likeable and the writing above-average. While the first installment felt resolved, there are enough loose threads to warrant looking at the next volume.

Grade: B

Title: The Burning Bridge (Book 2 in the Ranger's Apprentice series
Author: John Flanagan
Publishing Date: 2005/Australia; 2006/US
Reason Read: I enjoyed the first book and wanted to see how the series would continue -- I plan on reading the first four books as of now
Awards: N/A

Within the first installment, the over-arching plot involving Morgarath was not resolved. This volume focuses on the impending battle with Morgarath and his minions. Will and his friend Horace are the protagonists here, along with a new character named Evelyn who they encounter on their journey. Both boys have an opportunity to shine, Will with his wits and Horace with his sword. Much of the same is present in this second book of the series, which ends unresolved (at least where Will is concerned). Not as strong as the first installment, but I can see why it remains popular.

Grade: B-

Title: Seventeenth Summer
Author: Maureen Daly
Publishing Date: 1942
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

Often considered one of the first young adult novels, Seventeenth Summer was actually written when the author herself was seventeen. The story is rather generic, concerning the first love of a girl about to leave home to attend college. At first, I found it difficult to read, as the dialogue is so trite and corny, but eventually its 40's charm grew on me. It's certainly dated and not for everyone (especially readers accustomed to today's steamy teen romances), but it's fluffy and cute -- perfect for someone who enjoys retro romance.

Grade: B-

Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J.D. Salinger
Publishing Date: 1951
Reason Read: required for YA Resources (previously read junior year of high school)
Awards: Modern Library's 100 Best English-language Novels of the 20th Century

This book needs little introduction, as it's read in high school classrooms all over the country. I never really stopped to consider it as a ya novel before, and I still question that label, despite Holden's age and the issues he deals with in the novel, as I don't think Mr. Salinger's intention was to write for a teenage audience, but a universal audience. Despite its age, The Catcher in the Rye holds up rather well, although like Ms. Daly's book, some of the dialogue does seem a bit dated. I think I appreciated the book more the second time around, though.

Grade: A-

Title: The Outsiders
Author: S.E. Hinton
Publishing Date: 1967
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

Another example of early ya written by a teenager, The Outsiders is a bleak account of a band of greasers and the trouble that ensues when one of them kills a rich kid in self-defense. While on the lam, the killer saves a group of children from a burning building and becomes a hero, though gravely injured himself. The kids from the wrong side of the tracks are presented as victims of circumstance here, enabling readers to empathize with them, despite their background, which was rather ground-breaking at the time. I can definitely see why so many high schools require this to be read, as it's brilliantly written and remains poigant today.

Grade: A

Title: The Chocolate War
Author: Robert Cormier
Publishing Date: 1974
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

A realistic, albeit brutal, portrayal of the mob mentality present in high schools, The Chocolate War concerns a secret society at a boys' prep school and a freshman who refuses to follow their orders to participate in a chocolate fundraiser. Mr. Cormier's attention to gritty detail helps this work to stand out, although the ending left me cold, as the antagonists receive no form of punishment and the acting headmaster seems pleased with the lawless behaviour of the secret society. Perhaps I'm being too idealistic, but I would have preferred a more satisfying conclusion.

Grade: A-

Title: Forever
Author: Judy Blume
Publishing Date: 1975
Reason Read: required for YA Resources
Awards: N/A

One of the first ya novels to frankly discuss teenage sexuality, Forever concerns the relationship between two high school seniors, including their decision to engage in sex. It's a breezy read with relatively accurate portrayals of teenage love, although I question whether a girl would actually refer to a boyfriend's member by a silly name like Ralph and the parents seem a bit too open to the idea of their teenage daughter having sex. These details aside, it tackles not just sexuality itself, but the consequences that come from it, as well as the difficult question of what to do when a relationship ends.

Grade: B+

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