One-Minute Book Reviews

November 16, 2007

I Belong to the ‘Tribe of Chronic Masturbators,’ Says the Hero of ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’ Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

By Janice Harayda

Remember how upset some librarians got when the word “scrotum” appeared on the first page of the 2007 Newbery Medal winner www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/? I wonder what they’re going say to when they find out that the hero of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian says that he belongs to “the tribe of chronic masturbators.”

Alexie’s novel won National Book Award for Young People’s Literature on Wednesday, so it’s safe to say that it will also receive consideration for the Newbery that the American Library Association www.ala.org will hand out in January. I’ll review the book in the next week or so (along with Daughter of York, originally scheduled for this week).

Until then librarians who want to check out that “good part” can do it by going to the listing for the novel on Amazon www.amazon.com and using the “Search Inside This Book” tool to search for “tribe of chronic masturbators,” which appears on page 217. [Note: All you teenage boys who found this site by searching for “scrotum” or “masturbation,” go back to your Social Studies. That page number was a public service for librarians.]

Oh, am I going to have fun reviewing this book! Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed if you’d like to read my comments.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 27, 2007

Are You Spending Enough Time on Your Blog to Get the Results You Want? Quote of the Day (Deirdre Day-MacLeod)

Why do some blogs succeed and others fail? Part of the answer may lie in how much time their creators spend on them, Deirdre Day-MacLeod suggests in her new book for teenagers, Career Building Through Blogging:

“According to a study of bloggers conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 31 percent of bloggers spend one to four hours per day doing research for and writing their posts,whereas 65 percent spend less than one hour. The study concluded that: 1) blogs take time; 2) blogs should be planned; 3) blogging is about interaction; and 4) the writing in a blog should be clear, real, focused, and above all, interesting.”

Deirdre Day-MacLeod in Career Building Through Blogging (Rosen Publishing, $29.25) www.deirdredaymacleod.blogspot.com. Her book is a part of Rosen’s Digital Career Building Series for teenagers, which also includes Career Building Through Digital Photography, Career Building Through Interactive Online Games and Career Buidling Through Podcasting.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

October 8, 2007

Sue Townsend’s Comic Masterpiece, ‘The Adrian Mole Diaries’

Filed under: Novels,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:28 am
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A teenager worries about sex, acne, his parents and all the people don’t appreciate his genius in a British bestseller with intergenerational appeal

The Adrian Mole Diaries: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. By Sue Townsend. HarperPerennial, 304 pp., $12.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

In the realm of literary prize-giving, comic novels are the neglected stepchildren, traditionally ignored by judges on both sides of the Atlantic. So you won’t find The Adrian Mole Diaries on any list of winners of the Man Booker Prize, the next recipient of which will be announced on Oct. 16.

But few of the winners have delighted as many people as this fictional journal of a working-class English teenager, Adrian Mole, which has sold more than five million copies since its publication in the mid-1980s. The Adrian Mole Diaries has little in common with all those dreary American young-adult novels that unpersuasively suggest that – no matter how awful high school is – there is always a wise and understanding adult who can help. And it’s not just because the volume deftly satirizes the trends and events of its era instead of sentimentalizing them.

Most teenagers only think they’re smarter than their parents. Sue Townsend has created the rare teenage boy who, though entirely normal, really is smarter than the adults in his life. In his first diary entry, Adrian can hardly hide his disgust that his father got the family dog drunk on cherry brandy and that his mother is too distracted to wear the green lurex apron he gave her for Christmas. But his feelings of superiority don’t keep him from worrying about all the usual teenage concerns, such as sex, acne, a local street gang and the inability of teachers and others to see his genius. Nor is he too self-absorbed to be kind. He and his off-again, on-again girlfriend, Pandora, spend much of their time trying to help a cranky neighbor and to remedy what they see as social injustices.

Adrian embodies so perfectly the typical adolescent mix of insecurity and grandiosity his diary appeals equally to adults and teenagers. “None of the teachers at school have noticed that I am an intellectual,” he writes. “They will be sorry when I am famous.” How nice that his words were, in a sense, prophetic: Adrian has become one of the most famous schoolboys in British fiction.

Best line: Townsend shows a nearly pitch-perfect ear for social comedy in this volume, so every page has a “best line.” Here’s a sample involving Pandora Braithwaite, the love of Adrian’s life:

“My precious Pandora is going out with Craig Thomas. That’s the last time you get a Mars bar from me, Thomas!

“Barry Kent is in trouble for drawing a nude woman in Art. Ms Fossington-Gore said that it wasn’t so much the subject matter but his ignorance of basic biological facts that was so upsetting. I did a good drawing of the Incredible Hulk smashing Craig Thomas to bits. Ms Fossington-Gore said it was ‘a powerful statement of monolithic oppression.’”

Worst line: Adrian may be too bright to think, as he does at first, that Evelyn Waugh is a woman.

Recommendation? An excellent novel for adult fans of Nick Hornby and Helen Fielding and for bloggers trying to develop a comic style or persona. Many 12-to-14-year-old boys also love this book.

Caveat lector: I haven’t read the later books in the Adrian Mole series, which some critics regard as less funny.

Published: 1986 (first American edition) www.harpercollins.com. Read an excerpt and learn about the author and other books in the series at www.adrianmole.com.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the seventh-ranked book review site in the world on Google on Sept. 6, 2007 www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 6, 2007

One-Sentence Reviews of Children’s Books Recently Featured on This Site

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:15 am
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Looking for a list of children’s books you can print, save and take to the library or bookstore? Here are one-sentence reviews of children’s books recently featured on this site. A link to the full review follows each line.

Ages 8 and under
Horton Hatches the Egg (Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #5). By Dr. Seuss. Ages 2 and up. A deservedly beloved fable about every child’s struggle to be good, which includes the famous lines: “I meant what I said /And I said what I meant …. /An elephant’s faithful/ One hundred per cent!” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/29/.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #3). By Virginia Lee Burton. Ages 2-6. An old red steam shovel pushes herself to the limit to prove she can still be useful in a classic that is both an exciting adventure story and a moving parable about growing old in America. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/27/.

Miss Nelson is Missing! Story by Harry Allard. Pictures by James Marshall. Ages 3–8. The deliciously vile Viola Swamp returns in a book-and-CD edition of this perennial favorite about a class that torments a kind teacher until a loathsome substitute arrives. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/25/.

Where the Wild Things Are (Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read #4). By Maurice Sendak. Ages 2-8. A picture book that won the Caldecott Medal for its trailblazing portrayal of a boy who tames his frustrations by taking an imaginary journey to a realm “where the wild things are.” www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/31/.

The Z Was Zapped. By Chris Van Allsburg. Ages 2-6. An A-plus alphabet book by the great American author-illustrator who also wrote Jumanji and The Polar Express. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/07/.

Ages 9 and up
The Dangerous Book for Boys. By Conn and Hal Iggulden. Ages 9 and up (younger for strong readers). A best-selling cross between the Boy Scout Handbook and Guinness World Records, which includes instructions on how to tan a rabbit hide and make a water bomb out of newspaper. (Briefly mentioned.) www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/24/.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Books I Didn’t Finish). By J.K. Rowling. The final installment in the series about the boy wizard wasn’t good enough or bad enough to hold my attention, so I quit after two chapters. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/17/.

The Summer of the Pike. By Jutta Richter. Illustrated by Quint Buchholz. Ages 9 and up. One of Germany’s best children’s authors makes her American debut in a brief, thoughtful novel about three friends whose parents serve as caretakers of castle, where they try to cope when one mother’s cancer worsens. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/22/.

And a former adult bestseller that may appeal to ages 11 and up:
Daddy-Long-Legs. By Jean Webster. A charming early 20th century classic novel told in letters from a high-spirited and keenly intelligent student at women’s college to her male patron, which was a bestseller in its day and made into a movie with Leslie Caron. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/04/.

Reviews of books for children and teenagers appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews. Lists of suggested gift books appear at holiday times. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

September 22, 2007

Good Books for Adolescents and Teenagers

Looking for good books for adolescents or teenagers? You’ll find many suggestions at the site for the Young Adult Library Services Association www.ala.org/ala/yalsa/, part of the American Library Association. Click on the page on the site that says “Booklists & Book Awards” to find librarian-approved titles in categories such as “Books for the College Bound,” “Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults” and “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.”

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

Jutta Richter, One of Germany’s Most Honored Children’s Authors, Makes Her American Debut in a Book for Fans of ‘Tuck Everlasting’

A sensitive young-adult novel about loss set against the backdrop of a castle, where the parents of three friends serve as caretakers

The Summer of the Pike. By Jutta Richter. Illustrated by Quint Buchholz. Translated from the German by Anna Brailovsky. Milkweed, 91 pp., $16.95 (hardcover), $6.95 paperback. Ages 9 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Librarians didn’t give a Newbery Medal to Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt’s great young-adult fantasy about immortality. But in the three decades since its publication, it has found its own kind of eternal life for its sensitive treatment of the cycles of the natural world and their relation to the question, “Why must we die?”

The Summer of the Pike is a couple of notches below that modern classic. But this brief, poignant novel may still appeal to many fans of Babbitt’s book. Like Tuck Everlasting, it offers a complex and thoughtful exploration of death, set against the backdrop of a changing natural world.

Anna and her two best friends, Daniel and Lucas, live on the grounds of a castle in modern Germany where their parents are caretakers. The manor allows the children to enjoy diversions such as feeding the peacocks on the lawn and watching the small silvery fish in the moat. But one May, the boys’ mother begins to show the effects of her cancer treatments, and Daniel suspects she is dying even as adults try to hide the truth from him. Daniel tells himself that if he can catch an elusive pike in the moat, his mother will live. Anna wants to comfort him but is too wise to believe in magic. She dreads that he will catch the pike, because she doesn’t want to see him kill it.

This allegorical novel further resembles Tuck Everlasting in its richness of symbols, some involving water. The moat lacks the magical powers of the spring that confers eternal life in Babbitt’s book but represents the circularity of life and death. There’s also a dual symbolism into the fearsome pike. As a natural predator, it represents that greatest of all predators, death. But the act of fishing in novels often signals the plumbing of a psyche or soul, and its frequent appearance in this book suggests the greater understanding of their lives that Daniel and Anna gain through their losses.

Jutta Richter has won many honors in Germany, and this book leaves no doubt that deserves a wider audience here.. She never denies how sad the loss of a parent is for children. But she avoids the dreary pedagogy of so many American young-adult novels on death, which read less like stories than a forced march through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. Her tone emerges in Anna’s thoughts as her friends’ mother grows weaker: “She was in the process of disappearing. Just like the yellow of the mustard had disappeared, and the red of the poppies. Just like the little white chamomile blossoms would disappear, and after that the summer lilac.”

Best line: Quoted above in the last line of the review.

Worst line: Anna Brailovksky’s translation is lucid but includes occasional solecisms. One is her use of “alright,” which is not an English word, for “all right.”

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Published: November 2006 www.milkweed.org

Furthermore: Jutta Richter’s The Cat: Or, How I Lost Eternity (Milkweed, $14, paperback) will be published later this month in an edition translated by Anna Brailovsky and illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner. Richter’s German honors include the 2004 Herman Hesse Prize for her body of work.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

August 17, 2007

Harry Potter and the Critic Who Gave Up (Books I Didn’t Finish)

The latest in an occasional series of posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Scholastic, $34.99), by J.K. Rowling

What it is: “The seventh and final installment in the epic tale of Harry Potter” (dust jacket).

How much I read: The first two chapters, a total of 29 pages.

Why I stopped reading: This novel wasn’t good enough or bad enough to hold my attention. I hadn’t read the first six books in the series, so opening this one was like walking into cocktail party full of people I didn’t know. The first chapter seems to involve mainly the bad guys. They have names like Snape, Malfoy and Voldemort, and they’re all sitting around a table plotting to kill Harry. But I was skeptical about whether they’d pull it off, because a white peacock appears on page 2. And here’s how critics read books: “White (symbol of purity) + peacock (symbol of immortality in Christian art) = pure character/Christ figure lives.” White is also a symbol of resurrection. So, I figured, the deal might instead be: “White peacock = Christ figure dies but is resurrected.” Naturally, I have no idea how things turned out. I may have looked at one too many peacocks on cathedral walls or altarpieces. But I didn’t want to slog through 759 pages only to yell at the end, “It was obvious! Major resurrection symbol on page 2!”

Best line in what I read: A line from a newspaper obituary written by one character for another: “Several of his papers found their way into learned publications such as Transfiguration Today, Challenges in Charming, and The Practical Potioner.” Nice satire, especially that Challenges in Charming.

Worst line in what I read: The names of some characters, such as Dolohov and Grindelwald, clash with the best in the series and seem unconsciously to imitate Tolstoy, Agatha Christie and others. It’s as though Rowling had named these characters 15 minutes after she finished reading War and Peace or Murder on the Orient Express.

Published: July 2007

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 24, 2007

What I’m Reading Now … ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:56 am
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Still way behind on everything I’d hoped to do this week … I’m reading Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book for Boys (Collins, 2007), the bestselling British import for ages 9 and up that’s a cross between the Boy Scout Handbook and Guinness World Records. My favorite part so far: how to make a water bomb out of newspaper. (I didn’t even know you could do that; when I was growing up, we used water balloons.) I wonder if anybody has made a water bomb out my old columns for The Plain Dealer?

Update 7/31/07: Based on my own research, I’d pegged this review for about ages 9 and up, but younger ones may like it, too. Jason B. Jones says in this review that his 4-year-old son loves it : http://www.popmatters.com/pm/archive/tag/boys/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 22, 2007

When They’re NOT ‘Just Wild About Harry’ … Books for Adolescents and Teenagers Who Have Lost Interest in the Harry Potter Series

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:03 am
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What kinds of books would interest older adolescents who have outgrown Harry Potter? One-Minute Book Reviews had suggestions for teenage boys on July 6, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/06. Today: a couple of recommendations for teenage girls. Both of the following new releases are adult books that may also interest many girls ages 13 and up (and some younger ones who are strong readers).

By Janice Harayda

Looking for a book for a teenage girl who loves to read? Consider Mindy Schneider’s Not a Happy Camper (Grove, $24) www.not-a-happy-camper.com. Schneider remembers her eight weeks an off-the-wall summer camp at the age of 13 in this light and lively memoir. (Sample experience: A bunkhouse burned down when a group of boys put candles under their beds to see if they could warm them up by nightfall.) Not a Happy Camper is a book for adults, reviewed on this site on July 17 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/17/, that teenagers and their parents may enjoy for different reasons. And because it is an adult book, you don’t have to worry that most 16-year-olds will find it “too young.”

Teenage girls may also enjoy Marjorie Hart’s lovely memoir, Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.95). As students at the University of Iowa, Hart and one of her sorority sisters become the first female pages at Tiffany & Co. in 1946, when the Fifth Avenue jewelry store had trouble finding male employees because World War II. And Hart recalls the experience warmly in Summer at Tiffany, reviewed on this site on July 2, 2007 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/02. Bcause Japanese surrendered while she was living in the city, she also gives a memorable account of how New Yorkers celebrated the end of World War II.

Caveat lector: The books reviewed today and on July 6 are not gender-specific. Many girls might like the books reviewed two weeks ago, and many boys might like those discussed today. I’ve recommended the books for “boys” or “girls” only because many parents come to this site looking for books for one sex or the other. And those labels will make it easier for them to find the posts through search engines.

Read excerpts from Not a Happy Camper and Summer at Tiffany: You can read an excerpt from Not a Happy Camper at www.teenreads.com/reviews/0802118488.asp. To read the first chapter of Summer at Tiffany, to www.harpercollins.com and search for the title of the book. Click on “Search Inside,” then on “Chapter 1.” When you see the first page of Chapter 1 on your screen, click on the arrows on the top of the toolbar to “turn” the pages.

Click on “Children’s Books” under “Categories” in the right-hand column on the One-Minute Book Reviews home page to read reviews of books for younger children, including toddlers, preschoolers and young school-age children.

A review of a book or books for children or teenagers appears every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews. Today’s review is a day late because of the Harry Potter feeding frenzy and, in a normal week, would have appeared yesterday.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 17, 2007

Mindy Schneider Remembers Loopy Bunkmates in ‘Not a Happy Camper’

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:13 am
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A memoir of an offbeat kosher camp where the cook put cheese in the beef stew and campers wrote parodies of “O Come, All Ye Faithful”

Not a Happy Camper: A Memoir. By Mindy Schneider. Grove/Atlantic, 240 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Remember when camp meant S’mores and “Kum-Ba-Yah” instead of math, computers or weight loss? When you went for fun instead of self-improvement? Mindy Schneider was born at the shank of the baby boom, perhaps the last generation to have experienced camp as something closer to Animal House than an Advanced Placement course with sunblock. And her memoir is an offbeat elegy for that vanishing world of pranks, mosquitoes, bad food, color wars and name tags sewn into your underwear.

Schneider was 13 when, in 1974, she spent eight weeks at the idiosyncratic Camp Kin-A-Hurra on Lake Wally in Maine. Kin-A-Hurra was nominally kosher. But that didn’t keep the cook from putting cheese in the beef stew and the campers from writing parodies of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Anyone who went there could pretty much forget about making lanyards.

As Schneider tells it, Kin-A-Hurra was an “anti-camp,” a place where the supervision was so lax that the loopy inmates often ran the asylum. Once a bunkhouse burned down because the counselors were too distracted to notice that a group of boys had put candles under their beds to try to warm them up before they turned in. Campers took hikes from which they were lucky to emerge with only one body part in a cast and got carbon monoxide poisoning from the dilapidated green truck that served as the camp van. Girls in training bras tried desperately to find boyfriends among boys who, when they wanted to get your attention, shot a rubber band off their braces.

Schneider has shaped all of this into a kind of backwoods sitcom-in-print, heavy on anecdotes and light on insight and analysis. Her book is amply padded with such things as a full-page parody of “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” three verses of which consist of nothing but successive iterations of the phrase “peanut butter.” And it’s hard to know how much of her story to take literally, given that she admits to using composite characters and to altering the chronology of events. It’s also difficult to believe that even composite 13-year-olds would say some of the lines she puts in their mouths.

But if her details at times defy belief, Schneider captures extremely well the spirit of a certain kind of prelapsarian camp experience, a combination of agony and exuberance. In her last chapter she describes a 1997 reunion that took place after Kin-A-Hurra closed. Five hundred former campers made the trip back to Lake Wally, and most came alone. They left their spouses at home, Schneider says, “knowing full well they just wouldn’t get it, this thing we once belonged to, this cult we can never leave.”

Best line: Schneider reflects on her first sleepaway camp, Camp Cicada: “Every play put on at Camp Cicada was an adaptation of an extravagant Broadway musical, though they kept the costs down by doing only the first act. Due to this restriction, the two oldest bunks’ production of 1776 ended with Congress still in disagreement and nobody ever signed the Declaration of Independence.”

Worst line: A camper suggests that the popularity of folk songs at Jewish summer camps may reflect a desire by Jews to cling to hope. Then she corrects herself: “But these songs aren’t just for Jewish summer camps, so maybe it’s more of a widespread adolescent cry, a plea for a different kind of change, internal as opposed to external. With hormones raging out of control, coupled with an inability to understand why is happening to us, perhaps the only way to release the pent-up frustrations and anxiety is by shaking our fists and boldly screaming out, ‘Yes! Someone’s crying, Lord! Kum-Ba-Yah, dammit!’” This is one of the places where Schneider’s teenagers sound more like tenured sociology professors.

Recommendation? Not a Happy Camper is an adult book, but many teenagers would enjoy its irreverent humor and send-ups of the camp staff. You might also consider this book as 50th or 60th birthday gift for a baby boomer who still knows all the words to “Great Big Globs of Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts.”

Read an excerpt: You can find an excerpt from Not a Happy Camper at www.teenreads.com/reviews/0802118488.asp.

Editor: Lauren Wein

Published: June 2007 www.not-a-happy-camper.com

Furthermore: Kin-A-Hurra is a homonym for the Yiddish phrase kein ayin hora (“no evil eye” or “may the evil eye stay away”).

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is a former book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. She wrote the comic novels The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s, 1999) and Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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