Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

A fun, predictable, light read about girls, boys and dating - or lack thereof!
Penny Lane decides to swear off boys, after a nasty break up with her childhood sweetheart, Nate. To help herself achieve this dateless existence, Penny forms The Lonely Hearts Club.
Soon, girl after girl asks to join Penny Lane's club. However, Penny herself may be in danger of breaking the Club's first rule, "All members agree to stop dating men...for the rest of thy high school existence...." when Ryan asks her to come with him to watch a Beatles tribute band. Is it a date? And does Penny Lane find herself falling for one of the nicest guys at McKinley High?

Book Details:
The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, 2010
290 pp.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day of Tears. A novel in dialogue. By Julius Lester

This heartwrenching novel tells the story of the slave auction held by Pierce Butler, who needed to sell his "assets" in order to pay off his gambling debts. This auction which was held over the span of three days was the largest slave auction ever held in the United States. History records that Butler owned an estimated 900 slaves. He was married to Fanny Kemble, a British actress who had no idea Butler owned slaves at the time of her marriage.
Butler attempted to dissuade Fanny from coming to Butler Island but eventually she would no longer be put off and was horrified when she saw the conditions of the slaves.
She attempted to intercede for them without success. Unable to reconcile herself to the practice of slavery, Fanny eventually left Pierce and they were divorced. He was able to gain custody of their two daughters.
Lester's novel tells the story of slaves, Mattie and Will, their only child, Emma. There are also several other characters who are part of the story including Rebecca and George who are runaway slaves, Joe who likes Emma, Charles and his wife Winnie and father Sampson.  Other characters include several slave owners and businessmen. These are all fictional characters who are used by Lester to bring out the story of the Weeping Time from the various viewpoints of the characters. This is well done, giving the reader a truly realistic perspective on what happened. Lester includes details such as the names and prices real slaves were sold for.

Mattie has been promised by Pierce Butler that he will not sell Emma. However, Emma is dearly beloved by Butler's oldest girl Sarah who has the abolitionist views of her mother and Frances who is more like her father. This bothers Pierce and he eventually breaks his promise with devastating results to himself. The novel presents an exciting and rewarding conclusion following the closing of the auction.
This book is historical fiction at it's finest. Highly recommended.

For further research on this event see

The Weeping Time from the African American Registry

For extensive information on the Weeping time and the Butler plantation:

Weeping Time

Monday, March 29, 2010

Wrecked by E. R Frank

Anna Lawson doesn't like parties and she usually doesn't drink. But this time it would be different. Instead, Anna decided that she would drink and try to mingle more. When she sobers up, Anna drives her intoxicated friend Ellen Gerson home. Except they don't make it home. Instead, they are involved in a serious car accident that leaves Anna with minor injuries, critically injures Ellen and kills Cameron Polk the driver of the other car. Frank describes in detail, Anna's experience immediately after the car crash. These details are important because they help us to understand what Anna experienced and how they affect her later on.

And I keep hearing that screaming and screaming and screaming and screaming, and then I hear the screaming stop, and instantly I vomit all over myself and all over Ellen's head.

But Anna's injuries are much deeper than anyone, including herself ever expected. Anna struggles to cope with her grief over the death of Cameron, who was her brother Jack's first girlfriend. She knows it was Cameron she heard screaming. She killed Cameron. She is bad, very bad. Will her brother ever forgive her?

There was screaming. Screaming and screaming and screaming. It wasn't Ellen, and it wasn't me. "Hoooow looong, hooow loooong..." And then the screaming stopped. It stopped because the life stopped. Somehow I knew it then. I know it now. I don't need anybody to tell me. I heard the life stop.

Anna experiences flashbacks, nightmares, cold sweats and shaking spells. She struggles daily with feelings of shame, guilt and fear.

Like, I killed somebody. How do you make the fact of something like that go away? How do you make the fact of something like that not nag and poke at you, like somekind of virus that's stuck in your blood, stuck in your cells, stuck in who you are and who you will be forever?

Eventually, after several very public panic attacks, it is Ellen's mother who realize that Anna is "shell shocked" from the accident. When a vacation fails to help, Anna seeks the help of a therapist who uses EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) to help with PTSD. These sessions help Anna resolve her guilt and shame from the accident and help her to come to terms with other problems in her life, especially those involving her father.

An excellent book about the issues of drunk driving, underage drinking, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anger, and family dysfunction. I found the information on EMDR very interesting.
Anna was a sympathetic and real character. It was also interesting to see that Ellen, while telling Anna that she is "messed up" doesn't recognize her own drinking problem.

Book Details:
Wrecked by E.R. Frank
Atheneum Books 2005
247 pp

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Would You by Marthe Jocelyn

You are a young teen, Natalie Johnston with your entire life before you. Life consists of boyfriends, pool parties, school, life guarding, riding your bike and shopping. You have an older sister, Claire whom you love. She's the one who goes before you, showing you the way, leading you. The two of you share a room and a life. She knows things about you that no one else knows.
And then, in a blink of a eye, life changes. In a terrible way.
Your sister is seriously injured in a pedestrian car accident. She lies in hospital, comatose. Her EEG shows no brain activity. Your parents must make the painful decision of life and death.
Marthe Jocelyn tells the Johnston story through the voice of younger sister Natalie. It is a story of pain and horror that is part of any sudden family tragedy. This short but well written book explores the issues of fear and loss, forgiveness and mortality.
Would You doesn't have chapters. Instead the book has subtitles throughout;Who Was Driving? Invasion of the Well-Meaning, and Did You Ever See Dad Cry?
I liked the short subtitles because the helped keep the story focused.
There is only one flaw with this book and that is with the science at the very end. Claire and Natalie's parents decide to donate her organs for transplantation. The description is as follows:

They said it won't take long, they said just a few minutes. As soon as the ventilator stops sending in oxygen, the rest of the system shuts down.
I keep my eyes shut and try not to listen to anything except the beating of her heart. The doctor comes in and there's some murmuring and I know they've turned off the machine because the beep stops.
There's rustling around me, and sniffling, but mostly there's just this distant drum inside Claire.
But then it's fainter and then hardly there. And then, it's not there at all. I guess I'm the first one to know, becuase I'm listening to nothing.
Another minute goes by. There's movement around me. Someone lifts Claire's hand. I'm more aware of being uncomfortable, but I don't want to get up yet. I sure don't want to open my eyes.
And then the doctor's voice. "The patient has died. Time of death is 12:16pm"

If only this were how things were done. But it is not. In organ transplantation, the donor patient is kept alive until the organs are removed. The family is certainly NOT present at this time. The heart must continue to beat because the minute death occurs, chemical processes begin directly and immediately upon death, which make vital organs unusable for transplantation.
It was for this reason that brain death criteria were developed. A way was needed to declare death without the donor patient actually biologically dying. But in fact, the donor patient is in the process of dying and is not yet dead. Therefore, doctors keep donor patients on life support, heavily sedated and paralyzed while the organs are removed.
Such a realistic portrayal in a young adult book would not bode well for either the teens reading the book nor for the organ transplantation lobby. Sad but true.
Secondly, EEG is not a reliable measure of "brain death". In fact, there is no international standard used by doctors to determine brain death.
If you don't believe me, read up on it from these links:

Vital Organ Transplantation and Brain Death

EEG Alone Cannot Diagnose Brain Death

Book Details
Would You by Marthe Jocelyn
Tundra Books 2008
165 pp

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Mango Season

Mango Season is a novel which explores the culture clash a young India born woman experiences when she returns home for a visit after living for seven years in the United States. Priya Rao is a database programmer who comes back to her home town of Hyderabad to visit her family and relatives. She dreads the visit because she knows that at age 27, her family will, sooner or later, attempt in earnest to marry her off.
"I had escaped arranged marriage by coming to the United States to do a master's in Computer Sciences at Texas A&M, by conveniently finding a job in Silicon Valley, and then by inventing several excuses to not go to India."
As it turns out, Priya's concerns are well founded. The culture shock Priya endures makes it increasingly difficult to relate to her family, particularly her mother. She is now viewing her family through the lens of a Westerner. She learns that her family's focus has been on finding her cousin Sowmya a husband. Sowmya, unattractive and uneducated, has endured 64 "bride-seeing ceremonies". She finds her family insensitive and bigoted towards Westerners, whom she was cautioned to never get involved with. Her family's attitudes towards Westerners, and their intent on finding her an Indian husband begin to cause her great distress. Especially since Priya's family doesn't know she is engaged to a Westerner, Nick Collins!

Priya can't bring herself to tell her family because she fears her family will no longer love her and will disown her. At the same time she also feels that if she doesn't tell her family the truth before she returns to America, her fiance, Nick, will stop loving her. These paralyzing fears and her resulting procrastination bring about a family crisis of epic proportions when she is set up to meet a prospective husband.

I found myself irritated with Priya, the educated, liberated woman, who was seemingly unable to deal with her parents, especially her mother. It is Sowmya, who seeing her chance at happiness slipping away, takes charge of her life and in doing so, helps Priya to find the courage to tell her secret.

I enjoy reading about the cultural aspects of India and the role of women in traditional Indian society. Often I find fiction set in India full of rich descriptions of life, often focusing on tastes and smells, rituals and traditions. This book gave me sweet doses of all of these. The end was satisfyingly predictable but nonetheless, enjoyable.

Well recommended.

Book Details:
The Season of Mangoes by Amulya Malladi
New York: Ballantine Books 2003

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka

Sister Wife is a novel that explores the issue of polygamy and more specifically the practice of grooming very young girls to be a plural wife in religious sects.

Celeste is a young girl living in Unity, a religious sect that practices polygamy. She is on the threshold of becoming a plural wife - that is being assigned to a much older man as a sister wife. Except Celeste is full of impure thoughts - she likes a young man, her own age named Jon. Celeste also wants to continue on in school and work, something the young women of Unity are not allowed to do after the age of 15. In these ways she is very different from her younger sister Nanette who at 13 feels ready to marry. She has her sights set on Mr.Nielsson who is old enough to be her father.

When Nanette discovers Celeste has become friends with Jon Nielsson she sets in motion a chain of events that are catastrophic for Celeste and Jon. In the end, Celeste must ultimately choose between living a life of subservience in the cult or facing an unknown future free to make her own choices. Unfortunately, her conflict between hurting her family and doing what she believes is right for herself result in tragic consequences for her life. It is only with time and maturity that Celeste is able to free herself and make her own choices.

Sister Wife portrays the life of a polygamous cult in an unbiased manner, making no judgments on the practices or views each of the characters have. However, based on the actions and descriptions, it's hard to like the older men in the cult. They are bullying and controlling. The older men exercise complete control over the women, who have no choices, education or rights but all of the responsibilities of adulthood. I found the aspect of marrying very young girls, who are evidently "groomed" to be brides for older men, especially revolting. Hrdlischka's character Nanette is used to portray the woman who loves life in the cult, fully prepared to marry old men and have many children. Celeste and her mother however, portray the suffering many of these women undergo at the hands of older men in the cult.
The book touches briefly on the phenomena of the "lost boys" of these cults but doesn't go into any real depth about what it's like for them. Most are sent away since they are competitors for the older men. We see some of this in the character, Jon Nielsson, who under normal circumstances would most likely have dated or married Celeste. 
No doubt this book was inspired by the events in recent years at a polygamous sect in Bountiful, British Columbia.
Well recommended for older teens.

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka
Orca Book Publishers 2008
269 ppp