Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bird, Lake, Moon by Kevin Henkes

Twelve-year-old Mitch was recently informed by his parents that they are getting divorced. Spencer is visiting the lake for the first time with his family since his brother drowned there when Spencer was two. Both boys have complicated internal struggles and their friendship develops slowly.

The pace of the book is slow compared to lots of my students' favorite series, but there is lots of mystery and tension and the two main characters work through problems that I'm sure are overwhelming and scary and huge to children.

Of course the timing for me reading this book was rather serendipitous. From my current perspective I appreciated how the story dealt with the very real and legitimate issues that these boys face, and although many of these issues are related to the adults in their lives, the adults' problems are not the focus but are also not over simplified. The parents aren't portrayed as anything but real humans with complicated lives of their own. Yeh, I guess I'm oversensitive to these issues, but still appreciated the care Henkes took with his story and characters. Yes, divorce is really hard on kids, but they can get through those initial weeks and months and be okay.

What I predict kids will like: real kids dealing with very real problems.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Lou, the sixteen-year-old narrator of this book is a typical teen boy. He's a bit shy and introverted but gets along okay socially. The entire student body of Mica High School is turned upside down when a new student who has named herself Stargirl shows up on the first day of school. This odd, formerly home-schooled girl plays the ukulele, wears long pioneer dresses, and she seems to not care a single whit what other people think of her or of her whacky style and personality.

Lou is smitten and the two gradually develop a romantic relationship. The rest of the students at Mica start out bewildered of Stargirl, they soon develop a fair weather form of admiration and raise her up to super-star popularity. But quite suddenly the rest of the students turn on her for some of the same qualities they so admired, her non-comformity and passionate compassion.

Lou's dilema in all of this is captured by a single question: "Whose affection do you value more, hers or others?" This isn't an easy struggle for Lou. He isn't as able ignore the cold stares of his classmates and he begs Stargirl to change, to become more normal.

There were several things I liked about this book. High school group dyanamics were represented very realistically and all those new and dizzying feelings of first love were also captured through Lou's descriptions and narration. My only criticism was that Stargirl's character was a bit over-the-top. Overdone. But for middle schoolers working through identity issues, I'm sure she is a perfect hero.