Bone Gap

I finished reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a couple of days ago, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it. It was beautifully written, kind of creepy, and kept me guessing, but I don’t know that it was one of my favorite books. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I’m writing this post.

The people of Bone Gap don’t know what happened to Roza, a young woman who left the town as mysteriously as she entered it. Maybe she went back to Poland. Maybe she left for greener pastures. Maybe she just had enough of living with the O’Sullivan brothers. Or maybe the younger brother, Finn, had something to do with her disappearance. No one knows the truth, but they’re not really looking for Roza, either.

Well, no one except Finn.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza was taken by a strange man, but nobody believes him. Finn can’t recall what the man looks like, just how he moves. Finn looks for the man everywhere he goes, and he catches glimpses of him a couple of times, but the people of Bone Gap continue to think that he’s making up a crazy story.

Even Finn’s big brother Sean, the guy who was probably closest to Roza, refuses to believe Finn, and the situation is driving the brothers apart. Only Petey, a girl with her own experiences with Bone Gap’s rumor mill, seems to believe Finn. She eventually comes to realize that maybe there’s a reason why Finn can’t remember what Roza’s abductor looks like.

As for Roza, she is being held captive by a man who wants to make her his. This man has been obsessed with Roza for a long time, and he gives her everything she could possibly need…except her freedom. Roza wonders if anyone is looking for her or even cares what happened to her. She searches for ways to escape her situation, but all seems lost…

…or is it?

How can Roza flee from a man so powerful that even the dead obey his commands? Can Finn find a way to save Roza even though everyone around him thinks he’s crazy…or worse? Whatever happens, what will it mean for the O’Sullivan brothers, Roza, Petey, and the people of Bone Gap?

_______________

I don’t know if I’ve made it clear here, but Bone Gap has a bit of magical realism in it. It’s rather subtle in the beginning, but it’s more and more evident the longer you read. I guess maybe I wasn’t expecting the mystical elements of the book, and that’s why I’m not sure how I feel about it. Truthfully, even though I love books with magic in them, I would have liked this book more if there had been a more realistic explanation of Roza’s disappearance and several other occurrences in Bone Gap. (I know I’m probably in the minority on this. That’s fine with me.)

Bone Gap is a good addition to libraries that serve young adult and adult readers. I think it may be a little too deep for younger readers (and some older readers, to be honest). There’s also some mature content that could keep it out of middle school collections.

Bone Gap was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, so that might tell you a little about the quality of this book. (If you’re curious, the winner of this year’s prize went to Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to get to it eventually.)

If you’d like more information about Bone Gap and other works by Laura Ruby, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Tumblr. I also found a book trailer for Bone Gap on YouTube. It captures the mood of the book fairly well.

 

War & Watermelon

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately. The only thing I can blame is the end-of-year craziness that comes with working in a public school library. Two weeks ago, we had PASS testing (and don’t get me started on standardized tests). Last week, my library had our third book fair of the year. (We raised around $4,000, but my clerk and I are exhausted.) While that was going on, the library remained open for the last week of checkout for the school year. Today, about 9 million books were returned…which now have to be shelved. So, when I get home in the evenings, what little time I do have that’s not devoted to housework, paying bills, or that most heinous of chores–mowing the lawn–goes to doing absolutely nothing. My desire to read has been almost nil, but I have hopes that things are turning around…

Yesterday, I read a book that a student brought to me. The book is Rich Wallace’s War & Watermelon, and one of my fourth graders brought it to my attention. She read it and came to the conclusion that it didn’t belong in an elementary library. Well, of course, I had to read it after that. This student is not one to go crazy over every little thing, so I really took her concerns seriously. (Not that I don’t take all other concerns seriously, but you know how people are. Some get their knickers in a bunch over nothing. This girl isn’t like that.) After reading the book, I have to agree with my student. War & Watermelon is not a book for an elementary school library…but it is a great addition to any middle or high school collection.

War & Watermelon takes place in the summer of 1969, and it explores what life was like for one almost thirteen-year-old boy during this time. Brody is a pretty typical kid. He likes football, he’s starting to be interested in girls, and he’s dealing with drama at home. Typical stuff, right? Well, kind of. This is also the summer of ’69. (Cue Bryan Adams music.) The Mets are winning, man just landed on the moon, the U.S. is at war in Vietnam, and Woodstock is about to hit New York. It’s a lot for a kid to take in, especially when his brother’s about to turn eighteen and become eligible for the draft. Tensions are high at home and everywhere else, and Brody often doesn’t know which way to turn. No matter what happens, though, this will be a summer that Brody will never forget.

War & Watermelon sort of fills in a gap in some historical fiction collections, but I really don’t think it’s a good fit for my school library. Elementary school kids probably wouldn’t understand some of the humor, and they probably shouldn’t understand some of the drug references. (Notice I said shouldn’t.) The main character does go to Woodstock, and many young readers (and their parents) might focus a little too much on the nudity and drug use present at the music festival instead of the message of peace it was intended to be.

I’ll be passing this book on to a local middle school, and I hope that students there will enjoy it. I just don’t think my kids are ready for this book. Do with that what you will.

The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

This will not be a standard post, but please bear with me.

Like most avid readers, I use books to escape from the pressures of everyday life. Something happened a couple of days ago, though, that even books can’t really help me with. (Please allow me just this little bit to get this out, and I’ll get to my latest read.) On Sunday morning, my uncle was killed in a tragic accident. Anyone who knew my wonderful uncle knew that he was larger than life, so the news of his death was a shock to everyone. I still don’t fully believe it. I’m waiting on him to walk through the door with his huge smile and a hug for everyone he encounters. Everyone adored him, and none of us can really process why this happened. Right now, the platitudes that people offer during times like these mean absolutely nothing to me (or the rest of the family, I imagine). We simply want David back.

I haven’t mentioned this to anyone except my mother, but my uncle’s passing has hit me very hard. You see, Sunday wasn’t just another day for me. It was my birthday. For the rest of my life, I’ll associate that day with the loss of one of the men I loved most in the world. I’m sure the rest of my family will feel the same. My birthday is no longer something to celebrate. That date is something to mourn. I don’t even know how to reconcile that in my own mind, and I know my uncle would fuss about this, but I just can’t help it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get past my feelings about this, but it is not this day.

I do ask everyone to keep my family in your thoughts and prayers. We’ll need all the help we can get to make it through this tragedy.

I did try to escape through a book during the past couple of days. I put away the book I was reading (which dealt with way too much death), and I began reading a somewhat light-hearted novel that I thought would lift my spirits just a little. That book was The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini by Peter Johnson. (I’ll be calling this book Houdini from this point forward. That title is a little long to keep typing.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I read this book because one of the teachers at my school was concerned about some swearing in it that a third grader had brought to her attention. Before I made any decisions on whether to keep or remove the book from my school library, I knew I had to read it, so I figured now was as good as any time. Yes, there is a little swearing (the “d” word a couple of times), but, in my opinion, it was not gratuitous, and it fit the character’s situation. (Not every kid is raised in a wholesome, religious, stable, conservative family.) The main character also mentions that a good, publishable kid’s novel (which he’s trying to write) shouldn’t contain any explicit sex. (He’s right, by the way.) Some kids and parents might simply see the phrase “explicit sex” when browsing through this book and decide to throw a conniption fit. I was a little concerned as well…until I actually read the book.

Houdini tells the tale of a thirteen-year-old, nicknamed Houdini as the title suggests, who has decided to write a novel about his life after hearing an author speak at his school. He explores what makes a good kids’ novel and proceeds to write the happenings of his rather eventful life. He talks about his family’s struggles with making ends meet, his brother’s deployment to Iraq (and what happens when he eventually returns), dealing with the neighborhood bully, and his relationships with his friends and neighbors. At the end, even Houdini is surprised at how writing (and noticing) everything around him changes not only him but his family and friends as well. He realizes that nearly everything is interconnected and that, if he takes the time to really get to know someone, they may just surprise him.

Even in this dark time in my own life, Houdini put a smile on my face. This was a good book that I think a lot of readers, particularly boys, will relate to. After reading it, I will say that this is not a book I would recommend to a third grader. I think this book is okay for readers in fifth grade on up. Middle grade readers will enjoy it.

Here’s the big question: am I going to remove Houdini from my school library? No. I think it does have a place in the elementary library, but I do believe library professionals–including myself–should know their readers and be mindful of which readers are mature enough to handle a book like this one. (Also be aware of which parents or teachers will have a problem with a bit of swearing or frank talk between a group of thirteen-year-old boys.) As I’m sure everyone knows, maturity levels vary greatly between a group of kids (or adults). What one reader may find offensive or scandalous, another will view as commonplace or even funny. As always, keep this in mind when recommending any book to a reader, no matter what his/her age may be.

Perpetual Check

I know it may shock some people to know that I don’t play chess.  As nerdy as I am, I’ve just never had any interest in the game.  My latest read, Perpetual Check by Rich Wallace, revolves around the game of chess, but you really don’t have to know a lot about the game to enjoy this book.

Zeke and Randy Mansfield are two brothers with issues.  Zeke is a senior in high school, an all-around athlete, and their father’s favorite son.  Randy is a freshman, kind of pudgy, and is generally liked by everyone except his father and brother.  One thing the boys do have in common is chess.  They are both exceptional chess players and are competing in the state qualifying tournament.  There is a very good chance they will end up playing each other.

As the brothers deal with their own relationship and the chess tournament, they must also come to terms with their super-competitive father, the ultimate sideline parent.  Mr. Mansfield is always pushing his sons, yelling at them, berating Randy, making excuses for Zeke’s failures, and living through both boys’ victories.  Both Randy and Zeke know that they must confront their father, and they must do it united.  Can they put aside their own differences to save their family and themselves?  And how can they compete with the distraction of their father in the background?  Read Rich Wallace’s Perpetual Check to find out.

Perpetual Check is a very short, easy read.  I can see a lot of guys checking this one out of my library, mainly because of the length (only 112 pages).  I hope they do actually read the book because it is a good story about two brothers who learn there is more to life than sibling rivalry.  This is a lesson that more people need to learn (myself included).