Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Most of the time I look up at the sky pretending I’m somewhere else. I’m definitely not tangled up in a net in my underwear with forty-nine sophomores watching me. I’m not practically naked in front of the girl I want to impress most in the world." - Andrew Zansky

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have – Allen Zadoff

320 pages

Genre:  YA; Realistic Fiction; Sports

Summary:  Andrew Zansky, an overweight teenager who is sometimes bullied, but mostly ignored in the halls of his high school, wishes he could be someone else.  While he does enjoy spending time with a handful of friends, Andy tends to turn to food for comfort and has become a bit complacent with his lot in life.  All that begins to change, however, when he spots a beautiful girl named April at an event, blurts out that he’s a jock, and begins to wonder if he can really turn himself into another person.  Will Andy be able to change his life, or will everything blow up in his face?

Review:  Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have was a humorous, touching book, and while it was a solid 320 pages, I read through it quite quickly.

One of the things that Zadoff did best in this work was authentically capturing the teenage experience through his characters.  Andrew was an incredibly believable character who was full of insecurities, but through his streaks of self-deprecation, he was also able to keep his sense of humor alive.  He knew he wasn’t perfect, and was basically just your average kid trying to make his way through high school; the fact that he had flaws made him quite relatable.  O was another standout character in my mind, and much like the rest of the school, I really grew to like him as I got to know him more, which surprised me because I don’t often like archetype jock characters.  April was also rather compelling, and while I didn’t particularly like her, the insecurities that she exhibited also made her a believable character.  She desperately wanted to be popular and would sometimes put her own interests aside in her quest to be liked, which is probably something many teenage girls can relate to.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like this book at first because it kind of spelled out everything about Andy on the first page, but I am extremely glad I stuck with it. The plot moved along quite quickly without any slow parts, and just when I thought things were finally going to get easier for Andy, they tended to take a turn for the worse.

If you’re looking for a quirky, fun, realistic read with an unexpected hero, definitely give Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have a try.

Rating:  3.5/5

Other Books by this Allen Zadoff:  My Life, The Theater, and Other Tragedies, Hungry:  Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin

Read-alikes:  The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things – Carolyn Macker, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging – Louise Rennison, The DUFF – Kody Klepplinger

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn't be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd."

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

325 pages

Genre:  Contemporary; Literature; French

Summary:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog unfolds through the eyes of two Parisian narrators who live in the same building:  an aging concierge named Renee; and a suicidal twelve-year-old named Paloma.  Throughout the course of the novel, each narrator reflects upon their lives, and in the process, make discoveries about themselves.

Review:  If forced to summarize this novel in one word, I would definitely have to choose “fantastic.”  The Elegance of the Hedgehog hooked me from the very beginning and didn’t let up until the last page.

Both Paloma and Renee were believable, well-rounded characters, and I loved being able to get a glimpse into what their lives were like.  Paloma was such a smart kid, and her observations about life were incredibly illuminating, especially when her age was taken into consideration.  Her “profound thoughts” were quite interesting to read, and I looked forward to them whenever I saw the font change.  I thought it was really interesting that Renee tried to hide her true intellectual side in order to play the role of the stereotypical concierge.  It was quite heartbreaking that she felt she had to do this, yet I understood why it was necessary.  Both characters grew tremendously throughout the book, and it was quite an adventure to watch them do so.

Aside from being psychological observations about life, The Elegance of the Hedgehog also provided social commentary on the classes in modern-day Paris.  People had their airs and pretentions throughout, but as one could see when examining the two main characters, appearances could often be deceiving.  The way in which the book was written was lyrical and thought-provoking, and I read each page eagerly, taking breaks every once in awhile to really reflect upon what I had just read.

If you’re looking for a well-written book that focuses on the interior life of two distinct characters, definitely give The Elegance of the Hedgehog a try.

Rating:  5/5

Author read-alike:  Margaret Atwood

Other Books by Muriel Barbery:  Gourmet Rhapsody

“People need reasons. Explanations. If they aren’t given them, they create them.”

Songs for a Teenage Nomad – Kim Culbertson

204 pages

Genre:  YA; realistic fiction

Summary:  Calle Smith is just your average 14-year-old girl, with one big exception:  as soon as she starts to get comfortable somewhere, her mom picks up both of their lives and moves them somewhere else.  This typically happens when one of Calle’s mom’s romantic relationships comes to an end, as she feels that leaving everything behind will give them a fresh start and erase bad memories.  Instead of forgetting, moving causes Calle to cling on to every memory she has, associate them with a song, and write down into a journal.  When the duo reaches their newest destination, Calle doesn’t realize that she will come face to face with her past in a much greater way than ever before.

Review:  Songs for a Teenage Nomad was an incredibly fun read, and I read through the entire book in one sitting.

The story itself moved along at a nice clip, and I really enjoyed how Calle chronicled her life through journal entries and song titles.  I tend to associate memories with songs, too, so it was easy to relate to Calle in that regard, and it also made me want to keep a song journal of my own.  It was interesting to see Calle adjust to her new environment as she tried not to get too comfortable, but craved normalcy all the same.  There was plenty of plot twists and action throughout, and the twist at the end was particularly poignant; I definitely didn’t see it coming.

The characters were quite well-drawn, and all of the teenagers were believable.  I especially enjoyed Calle and Sam’s relationship as it seemed incredibly realistic for high school students, and watching it develop was quite a rollercoaster.  It was also interesting to look at the home lives of both Calle and Sam, as they both didn’t have the average family and their lives were far from perfect.

If you’re looking for a realistic YA book that focuses on relationships and what it’s like to be a teenager, definitely check out Songs for a Teenage Nomad.

Rating:  3.5/5

Another Book by Kim Culbertson:  Instructions for a Broken Heart