SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: The Daughters Break the Rules

The Daughters Break the Rules by Joanna Philbin; published by Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, New York, tentative publication date: November 2010; 276 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The cover art, below, and the publication information is subject to change.

In the anticipated sequel to The Daughters (reviewed in the previous post), Lizzie and Hudson scramble to help Carina, who has been whisked away by her very angry father, picking up the cliffhanger which closed the debut novel of the series.  Carina suffers the consequences of a poor choice–ratting out her Dad to The Smoking Gun website.  The daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest men finds herself cut off; no credit cards, a $20 a week allowance, and a mass transit pass.  Will this make or break the daughter?  How will it impact her social life, her family life and most importantly, her friendships?  When Carina’s story ends, we are left wondering what happens to Hudson…the cliffhanger for book three in the series (tentatively due on shelves in May, 2011).

Philbin spent the better part of book one introducing us to the three friends while weaving in Lizzie’s story of self-discovery.  In this book, the second in the series, she maximizes her opportunity to fully develop Carina’s character while giving little glimpses into the characters of Lizzie and Hudson.  I was impressed by the depth of character portrayed, but was left a little flat by the pacing of this book.  I felt that some story lines weren’t developed enough: Specifically, Carina’s relationship with her father, which is quickly and tidily wrapped up in the last bits of the book; and Alex’s family, particularly Marisol, who is miraculously present at the Silver Snowflake Ball after all and is offered a job by Carina.

I like that there are real consequences for poor choices.  I like how friendships are portrayed; that some friendships endure through very hard times, some fade away without any real explanation, and that friends can be found in unexpected places.  All are very real experiences well-woven into this tale.  I like that Carina found her inner-strength and that she discovers she is more like her father than she expected.  I’m glad that the parent-child relationship blossoms in the end, in a relatively believable (if not sudden) resolution.  In some ways, I feel that series does a nice job of bridging readers from children’s literature, in which parental figures play an important role, to young adult literature, where parental figures are often scarce at best and veritable monsters at their worst.

I still like the characters and anxiously await Hudson’s story.  I still think the books are nicely written and target the middle school audience well (this story might appeal more to early high school girls than the previous one).  I hope Philbin continues to follow The Daughters through all of high school.

5P     3Q     Grade Level: 7-10

Cover Art: The art is likely to change but I’ve included the cover of the ARC I received.  Again, it is a catchy image of the besties sitting at a diner counter.  Their photographic image juxtaposed in a line art setting highlights the realness of their friendship and the falseness of the world they live in.  Again, the cover makes this look like the perfect book to curl up with at the beach (or on the couch over winter break).

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The Daughters of celebs face high school

The Daughters by Joanna Philbin; published by Poppy, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2010; 275 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reader copy) provided for free by the publisher.

BFFs.  In Manhattan.  The daughters of the rich and famous.  They have a privileged life and that makes high school a whole different scene.  Or so you’d think.  Lizzie Summers is the ugly-duckling daughter of a supermodel.  Carina Jurgensen is the sole heir of a billionaire, multimedia mogul.  Hudson Jones is the daughter of a pop music icon but she wants to make her own kind of music.  Even with so much privilege surrounding them, these three best friends struggle with identity, self-expression and the school social hierarchy.  In this, the first book in a new series, Lizzie stumbles out of her ugly duckling pinfeathers and into the plumage of a beautiful swan.

I was skeptical when I picked up this book.  Joanna Philbin is the daughter of talk show host Regis Philbin.  But does life-experience make her an author?  Well, in the case of this book (and its subsequent sequels), I think it helped.  She has the insider’s point of view of the glamorous side of these teens, as well as having lived in the shadows of a famous parent.  Those qualities helped her form the plot, but did not prepare her for writing.  That’s a gift she has developed on her own.  Is this literature, in terms of writing of an “artistic” quality?  Hmm, not in my opinion.  Some of the dialogue seemed contrived and often the descriptions seemed pasted in during a late draft of the book.  However, it is a good read.

What makes it a good read?  Well, Philbin has a gift for showing without telling, for pulling the reader into the room as a fly on the wall making astute observations. For example, she does a remarkable job of showing us the fierceness with which these girls protect their friendship (and The Rules that all daughters–even strangers–must follow).  They are completely supportive of one another, feeling happy with another’s successes and feeling sad when things fall apart.  Their lack of jealousy is a lesson many freshmen in high school could use.  Aside from their friendship, Philbin’s ability to pull us into the life of the Manhattan elite let’s us experience what many teens dream about.  I can remember overhearing a gaggle of eighth grade girls talking about their aspirations during commencement last week.  Overwhelmingly, they want to be supermodels, writers and pop stars.  Well, The Daughters gives them a chance to live vicariously like their heroes, or at least the children of their heroes.  Is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Nope.  And Philbin paints that reality just as vividly as she treats the friendships.

This review is based on an ARC (advanced reader copy) because I was unable to check it out of any local libraries: It’s been off the shelves since it’s debut in May.  The book buzz is working!  Now, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got an ARC of the sequel that I’m just about to crack open….

5P     3Q     Grade Level: 7-10

Cover art:  The three amigos stand out in color, under an umbrella showing us how united they are, walking down a line-art street.  Definitely a fun, read-this-book-on-the-beach cover.  Girls will eat it up.

Like sand through the hourglass…Sand Chronicles

Sand Chronicles (Vol. 3) by Hinako Ashihara; published by VIZ Media, LLC, San Francisco, 2008; 200 pages.

Having jumped into this graphic novel series somewhat in the middle, I can summarize this installment of the story along with a little background information thanks to a recap provided at the beginning of the book.  Ann is a 16 year old girl whose mother committed suicide in an earlier installment of the story.  Her father lives in Tokyo and Ann stays with him during the school year.  But she spends her summer with her grandparents in Shimane, where she has a boyfriend (Daigo) and friends Shika and Fuji (wealthy sister and brother who have a family secret—one of them is illegitimate).  In this volume, Ann finds herself in the throes of first love (physical and all) with Daigo.  Siblings Shika and Fuji throw a wrench in the works as threats to the love story.  In the end, we find the four friends struggling with emotions—all the typical teen angst.  The cliffhanger for this story is that Ann recognizes some of her mother’s depression in Fuji and expresses her concern to him, only to find that he has disappeared….  Stay tuned to Volume 4; like Sand through the hourglass, these are the days of our teens.

I have to get used to the idea that a graphic novel is different from a comic book:  The story is told more through images and what’s between the lines than in the text.  The themes and content are far more mature than the Archie comic books I read in the dentist’s waiting room.  At first, I was confused by the story and the stilted dialog, but then I enjoyed the rhythm of the tale.  The book will appeal to teens because of the “soap opera” content and because it is manga.  

Several things made reading this book unique.  First, it is manga.  That means that the book is read from back to front and from right to left—on each page and from page to page.  That took some getting used to but then it was actually fun to read in a different style.  Second, there is a glossary at the front—I mean back—of the book explaining terms and expressions that are unfamiliar to Western readers.  Third, there is a short summary of “the story thus far” and a list of main characters on the table of contents page.  Lastly, there is a parental advisory label on the copyright page.  Apparently, the publisher has rated this page “T+” meaning its content is for teens 16 years old and older; it is described as having mature content.  I can’t imagine an author or publisher in the United States labeling their books.

4P     3Q     Grade Level 9-12+

SAND_CHRONICLES_3Cover Art: The manga images will appeal to fans.  The colors and images on the cover will pique interest among teen girls especially.  The cover art belies the maturity of the content however and may make the book appeal to a younger crowd than the book intended.

From Reading List: Great Graphic Novels for Teens (2009 Top Ten List)

Sneak a peek into Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Greg won’t mind.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney; published by Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 2007; 217 pages.

Greg Heffley is about 52nd or 53rd in line for most popular at his middle school.  The thought of a meteoric rise to the top spot affects nearly every decision Greg makes.  Inevitably, all his endeavors backfire, usually with his best friend Rowley Jefferson benefiting in the popularity department.  Lucky for us, his mom buys him a diary—uh, journal; sorry, Greg—to record his escapades.  Between his naïve descriptions of misapprehended plots for popularity and the cartoons that are worth-a-thousand-words, readers will be kept in stitches.  Middle school readers will identify with Greg’s problems.

This book artfully combines text and illustrations to tell the often humorous tales of this middle-schooler.  It has been off the shelves in the elementary library where I work since we added it to the collection.  Whenever Book Fair rolls around, the “Wimpy Kid” series are the hottest sellers among the fourth and fifth graders.  However, it is typically the fifth graders that check it out—especially as the end of the year rolls around and middle school looms across the summer.  I love its humor and lessons in coping, but most of all, I am grateful for another author that glamorizes journaling. 

This book won the 2008 Buckeye Children’s Book Award for grades 3-5.  It’s popularity among younger teens can’t be denied.   Another interesting fact to share with tweens is that author Jeff Kinney is the creator of Poptropica.com, a popular tween website that is part virtual world and part gaming paradise for the younger set (ages 8-15).

5P     4Q     Grades 5-8

Diary_of_a_wimpy_kidCover Art: The title alone is enough to get the attention of preteens and tweens.  The art and description (“a novel in cartoons”) will be irresistible to this group:  a taped on piece of notebook paper with a backpacked, sad sack drawing of a kid; the obvious formally embossed “diary” from the cover of a journal; and the hastily added blue and white “of a Wimpy Kid” are all descriptive of the contents of the book. 

From Reading List:  Teens Top Ten

Blue Lipstick left me tickled pink!

Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems by John Grandits; published by Clarion Books, New York, 2007; 48 pages.

Jessie is wise, innovative, sarcastic, reflective and funny.  She is also a teenager.  What a treat to explore the mind of a teenage girl through concrete poetry (I learned it as “shape poetry”—the words are typed or written into a shape which helps express the theme of the poem).  For example, in “Bad Hair Day,” the lines of the poem sprout from the top of a line art head in crazy, skewed lines.  Another fun example is “The Secret;” a trail of he-saids-and-she-saids leads from one circled name to the next, all the while portraying the drama and damage of sharing a secret.  By the end of the book, I had a hard time remembering that “Jessie” is actually a he, poet John Grandits.

I was delighted by this collection.  It took me back to the spiral notebooks of my junior high years, with poems scrawled in the margins or taking up entire pages (and class periods).  I imagine this book would be gobbled up by middle school and early high school aged girls who are doing a little creative writing of their own.  For those who aren’t already writing, perhaps this will inspire them!  After reading Blue Lipstick, I was inspired to read Technically, It’s Not My Fault, a collection of concrete poems which was published before this one and is from Jessie’s brother’s point of view.  Combined, I imagine a middle school librarian using these books in April for a lesson in poetry and an introduction to Dewey’s 811’s.

blue_lipstick4P     5Q     Grades 6-9

Cover Art: The use of a concrete poem format with reflective silver, black, magenta and blue is ingenious—all girls will be attracted to this book by its cover alone and then will fall in love with the poetry.

From Reading List:  It Doesn’t Always Have to Rhyme (Verse)

Unraveling…and rebuilding

Unraveling by Michelle Baldini and Lynn Biederman; published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.  New York.  2008.  230 pages.

unravelingAmanda “Himmelfart” Himmelfarb struggles with everything from her dysfunctional family (especially her mother, “The Captain,” and her sister, “Malady”) to her dysfunctional body (frizzy hair, untimely menstrual disasters and lack of gross motor skills).  In an attempt to redeem her self-esteem, she makes compromises and cuts deals.  Most of those efforts revolve around sex—she is an adolescent, after all.  In the end, her attempts backfire and hurt her, her family and her friendships, but result in an unexpected connection with her mother.  Unraveling is written in Amanda’s voice.  It is witty, sad, and funny.  Although the supporting characters were rather one-dimensional, their development was not important to the story because it reads more like a diary.

Initially, although the story absolutely absorbed me, I thought the rather graphic sexual descriptions were gratuitous and unnecessary.  But as I think of this in terms of adolescent girls, the descriptions are necessary to fully express the depth of the emotional trauma Amanda experiences.  Baldini’s and Biederman’s descriptions build to fully describe the blow to Amanda’s self-esteem that couldn’t be accomplished otherwise.  Unraveling feels like a true story about the treacherous path girls have to follow through adolescence: changing family dynamics, daily attacks on self-esteem, and dealing with raging hormones.  The authors’ use of fortune cookie fortunes is an unusual way of providing a glimpse into Amanda’s psyche.  Occasionally, I noticed a shift in style that made it apparent that two people wrote this book, but that did not occur often enough to distract me from the story. 

In another SLIS course, we discussed the need to provide materials about sexuality and identity in the young adult section.  I believe this book is a necessary addition to a YA collection, and pathfinders about sex, as it realistically portrays the problems encountered while navigating adolescence.  I also think this book will have appeal to teen girls who might feel like they are the only ones experiencing the awkwardness and isolation of growing up.

4P     3Q     Grades 10-12

Cover Art: After reading the book, I “got” the cover art but it did not fully convey the story.  I expected the story to revolve around mishaps at the prom based on the cover when it really was so much more.  Girls might be attracted to the pretty purple text and the lovely lavender dress but I really don’t think this cover works.

From Reading List: “Keepin’ It Real” realistic fiction

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