Category Archives: Juvenile

Den of the White Fox

Lensey Namioka

From School Library Journal– An intriguing blend of historical fiction and mystery that will be appreciated by fans of either genre. Freelance samurai Matsuzo and Zenta are warned that the valley they are about to enter is an “unwholesome place after dark.” Rumors about a powerful spirit that haunts the area and the more tangible threat of an occupying army fail to dissuade the two, however, and they descend into the valley’s depths. The place is rife with intrigue and the samurai establish an uneasy existence among the locals, ever unsure of who is friend and who is foe. As the plot unfolds, the two warriors attempt to solve the mystery of the White Fox, a shadowy figure who might be the leader of a political rebellion or a supernatural spirit. This extremely well-researched work gives readers a real sense of what life was like in 16th-century Japan. As a mystery, it is methodically planned and resolved with no loose ends. The characters are all well developed and interestingly drawn and YAs will be as unsure as the samurai about whom to trust. The language is challenging and includes some Japanese words. This novel will expose teens to a fascinating period in world history. -Robyn Ryan Vandenbroek, formerly at Otterville Public School, Ontario. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

This might make more sense if I had started with the first Zenta & Matsuzo book.  I did like the historical aspects and some of the characters, but I don’t know how subtly the “plot unfolding” happened.  Intriguing thoughts presented, switching between characters could be a tad more perceptible?

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Cirque du Freak

by Darren Shan

Part of the “Vampire Blood Trilogy”, which comprises the first three of the 12 book saga.  This is a very quick read but I found it very creepy and violent yet juvenile.

On the good side, the description of the freak show was intense and well constructed.  Good writing through most of the book even though it’s in a jejune light.  I would not recommend it.

{From Wikipedia.com: “Darren Shan was fascinated by spiders from an early age. His best friend, Steve “Leopard” Leonard grew up reading horror comics and stories of the Wolfman and vampires.

One day, their friend comes across a flyer advertising the “Cirque Du Freak.”  Darren and Steve are mesmerized by the fantastic and disturbing show, especially by the act of the mysterious Mr. Crepsley and his giant spider Madam Octa. After the show, Steve declares that he knows that Crepsley is a vampire, and Darren sets his sight on Madam Octa, planning to steal her and use his knowledge of Crepsley’s true nature to his advantage as a sort of blackmail.

Continue reading

Just Ella

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Pretty good, but not my favorite.  Enjoyable, but not satisfying.

A good plot summary and character write-ups from Wikipedia:  “This story is a retelling of Cinderella with a feminist twist and is a different version of happily ever after.”

Haddix has a lot of good ideas and topics in the story, like her new conjectures about the myth, Ella’s time in the dungeon, and statements about happiness:  “Happiness was like beauty–in the eye of the beholder.”  I also liked how Ella had a can-do attitude and did not limit herself in her options.  When she was still at her stepmother’s house she planned to run away and become a tutor, a smart solution.

But I found some parts of the book underdeveloped, such as the relationships between the characters, the conflicts in and outside of the castle, and the day-to-day actions of life for Ella.  It didn’t seem like a true portrayal of castle life.  Maybe I’m being too harsh, it is after all a fairy tale and thus the details are up to interpretation. Continue reading

The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

Young Adult books are gaining esteem for their quality and contribution to great literature.  Juvenile fiction can also be an enriching genre not to be overlooked by those over the age of 15.  (Need I mention Harry Potter?)  The Mysterious Benedict Society is one of the juvenile classification that any adult can still appreciate.

Good read.  The intriguing cover is a good representation of what you’ll find inside.  This book can be separated into two parts, the test/finding of amazing kids, and the battle against the evil mastermind.  I enjoyed both; the first part was so interesting, and will excite anyone who likes puzzles.  The second part was full of interesting twists and turns and makes the reader think.  Stewart has a lot of fresh ideas.

Excellent book.

Beheaded, Survived

(1987) by Barbara Williams

More of a pre-teen read, but I definitely liked it.  The main character, Jane, is pulled along on a tour of England by her older sister Courtney, and is inhibited by fear of others finding out about her diabetes.  It is interesting to read it now in 2008 and see what advances they’ve made in diabetes care.  In this book the characters speak of hope of a cure within 4 years, too bad that did not come true.

The narrative of their tour also gives a list of interesting books and authors from England.  (For example, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Murder in the Cathedral, about the assassination of Thomas Becket).  The descriptions of the landscape left me wanting, but that’s not really what the book is about. As Kay E. Vandergrift, Rutgers University, states on Amazon.com: “The title, the maps, and the references to historic works lead readers to believe that the setting will be far more important to this story than it is.  It fails to integrate completely contemporary problems with the background of historic sites of Old England as promised.

Jane’s relationship with troubled Lowell happens very fast without much development but is still nice.  The voices of the characters belied their ages sometimes, but that is easy to ignore to enjoy the story.

A Mango-Shaped Space

by Wendy Mass

A children’s book about the struggles of a girl with synesthesia. Here is an interesting conversation about the book and the condition in general (notice that the author Wendy Mass piped in to the discussion).

In any case, this book is a good read for an insider’s view of synesthesia and what it would be like to have it. The author did extensive research to provide a good picture to the reader.

Wendy Mass’ website on the book

Crispin: At the Edge of the World


Crispin: At the Edge of the World
by Avi

Oh my goodness. Could this book be any more unfortunate? So depressing! How did the decision get made to kill off Bear, Crispin’s one link to reality on earth? And this book felt like one giant segue; they talk about going to the ‘edge of the world’ and then in the very last few paragraphs, “Well, I guess we’re going to the edge of the world.” Like that wasn’t already determined… can we get to some substance to match the title already?

What this book does have are good glimpses of life in the olden days of England. That part was very interesting, talking about the different regions, how people move around, the conflicts with France.

Maybe the last book will wrap everything up and actually make sense.

Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Suzanne Collins

Worth reading. It is for a little bit younger audience but I still enjoyed it very much. The author describes it as her New York version of Alice in Wonderland. She has created a fascinating world full of danger but also hope.

the Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia

by C.S. Lewis

I started this series a while ago, at the wee age of 12 or so, the age when every young person picks up this series with delight. But I didn’t fall rapturously in love with it. I had this weird thing against chintzy old stories of English kids, like Narnia and another book called The Amulet (which I refused to read, and still have not read to this day, maybe it’s next).  But this summer I decided to finish it.

I found the rest of the books very interesting and full of scintillating story details and frankly transparent views on religion.  My favorite books in the series are The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In The Last Battle, the end was slightly shocking when it was revealed that the children had died and entered heaven.  I’m glad C.S. Lewis let one of the true-hearted Telmarines into heaven, but he was still very biased against people of different religions.

All in all this is a very creative series and one necessary to read because it is such a famous series in literature history.

The DragonKeeper Chronicles

Donita K. Paul

Great summaries for DragonSpell, DragonQuest, DragonKnight, DragonFire and DragonLight.

I don’t know what to think of the huge leap between #3 and #4, (in three years Bardon and Kale got married and have been living in the Bogs) but otherwise I’m excited for this last book.

In general Donita K. Paul has very good, fresh ideas but I cannot relate to the characters at all, they have no individuality. Also sometimes the rhythm isn’t quite on, like the scene will completely change with out my noticing it.  Somewhat wishy-washy and undefined in parts but otherwise an addition to fantasy literature.  But still, very good books.

Milkweed

Jerry Spinelli

Pretty good, liked it a lot better than Eggs. The whole time I wanted to slap Misha and say, “Rewire your brain, you idiot! You don’t think like a normal human being! Snap out of it!” but I guess that isn’t really possible. >_<

And also, I love milkweed plants. I have this obsession, everyone thinks of them as weeds (for some odd reason, even though they are sold in fancy garden stores) but I got wild seeds and plant them all over (i.e. my mom’s flower beds). It made me a little upset that this book wasn’t actually about milkweeds at all, but about some little alien’s experience in the ghetto. Whatever.

Eggs

Jerry Spinelli

Not really about eggs, even though the cover art is quite cool. I liked this book okay, but I’m not one for Spinelli’s wishy-washy style.  It’s one of those “little kids find themselves but my don’t they have a strange view of the world and there’s probably some really deep message in this but I can’t tell if the author is trying to show me that or just writing random words about crazy people” books.

Small Steps


Small Steps
by: Louis Sachar

Very, very, very different than the book it comes after, Holes. It follows the life of two kids from Camp Green Lake, Armpit and X-Ray. I liked it a lot.

It is a very different tone than Holes, none of the magical-tale feeling, more down-to-earth.

One thing I didn’t like was the ending. It was way too practical for my liking. I was looking forward to something romantic, such as Armpit rushing off to makeup with Keira. Also, Ginny had a large role early on in the book, but was then cast off like she had served her purpose.

The Divide


The Divide
by: Elizabeth Kay

Esperanza Rising

Pam Muñoz Ryan

I had heard about this book so much that I just had to read it, even though it is meant for a younger audience. I love the cover art, her rising above her challenges, with the roses of memory.  Esperanza means ‘hope’ in Spanish, a very fitting title for this novel.

Some of my favorite parts:
Anza and her father listening to the earth’s heart beat, then later on Anza and Miguel. Anza had to find her inner peace, and be around those she loved, to be able to hear the heart. Anza giving her doll to Isabel after she was not chosen for the Queen of May. Miguel bringing back Abuelita, a happy ending at last.
This is a true story about the author’s grandmother.

“Esperanza Ortega possesses all the treasures a young girl could want: fancy dresses; a beautiful home filled with servants in the bountiful region of Aguascalientes, Mexico; and the promise of one day rising to Mama’s position and presiding over all of Rancho de las Rosas. But a sudden tragedy shatters that dream, forcing Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp.  There they confront the challenges of hard work, acceptance by their own people, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression.  When Mama falls ill from Valley Fever and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must relinquish her hold on the past and learn to embrace a future ripe with the riches of family and community. Pam Muñoz Ryan eloquently portrays the Mexican workers’ plight in this abundant and passionate novel that gives voice to those who have historically been denied one.”
~ Scholastic Press

Author’s website

Random House online catalog

Julie of the Wolves

Jean Craighead George, 1972

Magnificent little book.  Starting this book I was turned off by the rude and all too realistic beginning, where Julie is dishonestly married off to a mentally handicapped person who cannot handle being married.  But the story that takes place afterward left me with grand memories, breath-taking memories of the relationship Julie forms with her wolves.

{Summary from Amazon: To her small Eskimo village, she is known as Miyax; to her friend in San Francisco, she is Julie. When the village is no longer safe for her, Miyax runs away. But she soon finds herself lost in the Alaskan wilderness, without food, without even a compass to guide her.

Slowly (skillfully) she is accepted by a pack of Arctic wolves, and she grows to love them as though they were family. With their help, and drawing on her father’s teachings, Miyax struggles day by day to survive. But the time comes when she must leave the wilderness and choose between the old ways and the new. Which will she choose? For she is Miyax of the Eskimos–but Julie of the Wolves.}

Mary Ellen Halvorson describes the book as “uniquely sensitive” and “wonderfully educational” in a review for The Courier.