Alabama Moon by Watt Key

There’s nothing I like better than a good survival story, and debut author Watt Key has penned a fantastic one! It’s 1980, and Moon Blake has never been to school, had a sleepover, or eaten at McDonald’s. That’s because his Pap, a disgruntled Vietnam vet who distrusts the government, has raised him entirely in the deep woods, far from any cities or people. Moon knows how to shoot and skin a deer, and how to make an impromptu shelter out of bay boughs and pine needles, but has no clue how to make small talk or interact with anyone other than his Pap. So when Pap has an accident and subsequently dies, unsuspecting Moon is left to his own devices, and is quickly taken into custody by the state. However, he surprises everyone when he not only busts out of the toughest boys’ home in Alabama, but takes a busload of boys with him, determined to live free or die trying! Alabama Moon is both a deep-hearted adventure story and an amazing character study of a unusual boy you will soon come to root for. This book was brought to my attention by the teens at the 2007 BBYA Teen session at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., who all had good things to say about it. So thanks, guys! I loved it!

Harmless by Dana Reinhardt

harmlessWhen is it okay to tell a lie? When a friend asks if she looks fat in that miniskirt and you shake your head no? When a stranger asks how old you are online and you write 18 when you’re only in eighth grade? How about telling your parents you’re at a sleepover at a friend’s house, when you’re really out partying with senior boys from another school? Anna, Emma and Mariah say they’re having a sleepover in order to hang out with unsupervised older boys they know their parents wouldn’t approve of. Emma even sees it as doing her folks a favor, because “parents don’t really want to know the truth. They just want to know that everything is perfect…so they can concentrate on their own problems.” But when the three friends are unexpectedly busted, they quickly come up with a story of being attacked by a vagrant to cover up their first lie. At first, their parents believe them and everything is cool—until someone is actually arrested for assaulting them. Now, each girl has to decide for herself if she can continue to lie when an innocent man’s life is at stake. What makes matters worse is that something really bad actually DID happen to Emma that night. But she can’t even begin to deal with her feelings about it until they all own up to the truth. Dana Reinhardt’s introspective and richly characterized novel, told in a trio of realistic teen voices, reminds you that even actions that seem harmless at the time can end up having devastating consequences. For more reads about how hard it is to come clean, try What Mr. Mattero Did by Pricilla Cummings or Friction by E.R. Frank.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Deathly HallowsOh, Harry, I’m gonna miss ya.

Like the rest of the country, I’ve been holed up with HP7 for the last few days, dying to know what happened to the Hogwarts crew, while simultaneously hoping this last helping of Harry would never end. I’ve not reviewed any of Harry’s adventures on RR before, as the books are so popular and well known, that there would have been little I could add to the enormous body of critical writing that already surrounds the best-selling series. But with the end of a series that has captivated teen imagination for as long as RR has been on the ‘net, I feel moved to add my two cents at last. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry continues the quest that he and Dumbledore began in Half-Blood Prince: find the remaining horcruxes that contained the tattered remnants of Voldemort’s black soul and destroy them. Joined by Ron and Hermione, Harry and his two BFFs try and puzzle out the obscure clues left them by Dumbledore about where to find the remaining cursed curios. In addition, Harry learns about a trio of objects known as The Deathly Hallows that, possessed together, are rumored to be able to defeat the Grim Reaper himself. Are these objects related to Harry’s quest? Can he use them to destroy the horcruxes? Or are they just a false trail laid by Dumbledore to confound Voldemort, who is hot on Harry’s tail? I can say little more without spoiling the ending for all four of the folks who haven’t read it yet, even though some eager beavers have already posted the entire plot summary on Wikipedia.

Though the outcome of the final tome is often in doubt, one thing remains constant—its length. Like it’s predecessors, Deathly Hallows is a doorstop of 759 pages. And I have to say, about 500 of those pages felt like filler. But when the action comes, it comes hard and fast and violent, and several key players in the Harry Potter epic (not unsurprisingly) lose theirlives. I’ll admit, I shed a tear or two. But, the ending, o the ending! Finally, finally ALL is revealed, including the most hotly debated topic since the end of Book 6: whose side is Snape really on? Suffice it say it was an immensely satisfying conclusion, with an epilogue that some may find a bit sentimental, but one I thoroughly bought into. Mostly because it was just really, really hard to tell such a good friend good-bye. I suppose I’ll just have to order up all the audio books (which I’ve heard are stupendous) and start all over again! I hope you’ll do me the honor of posting some of YOUR Harry Potter remembrances and reviews here on RR. At some point, comments may contain spoilers, so be aware of that fact before clicking on through!

Now, what on earth is J.K. Rowling going to do with all her free time??

I’m Exploding Now by Sid Hite

exploding nowSixteen-year-old New Yorker Max Whooten is angry and bored. (He’s mostly angry because he’s so bored, and people are so stupid. I can sympathize.) His whole summer is one big nothing, until his ancient cat, Mozart (aka “Crappy” due to his inability to utilize the litter box) finally kicks the bucket. Max’s mother, in a fit of conservationism, decides to forgo the usual options and instead sends Max, along with Mozart’s body, to upstate New York, where Mozart can be naturally laid to rest in his hippie Aunt Ginny’s backyard, and Max can learn how to get a life and get his anger under control. In Woodstock, Max discovers Kurt Vonnegut, first love, and the power of poetry. He even has an epiphany, which, despite popular belief, “doesn’t hurt at all.” This slim summer comedy reminded me of Blake Nelson’s equally spare The New Rules of High School. Contrary to the ummm, unrestrained title, (which refers to Max’s anger management problem, get your mind out of the gutter!) this is just a low key, humorous look at what it’s like to be a horny, smarter-than-average teenage boy who just wants the world to cut him a little slack. Clocking in at under 200 pages, this is also one read you could probably finish in an afternoon on the couch instead of watching yet another Pimp My Ride marathon (and it would probably be more interesting, too!).

Jinx by Meg Cabot

Ever since the hospital she was born in was hit by lightning, PK (preacher’s kid) Jean Honeychurch has been plagued with bad luck, so much so that her friends and family have dubbed her Jinx. When her run of ill fortune results in her high school boyfriend turning stalker, Jean’s parents decide that a change of venue might be just the thing to turn her luck around. So Jean journeys from rural Iowa to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to stay with relatives and start over in a new private school. Feeling very much the country bumpkin, Jean is more than a little worried about fitting in with her sophisticated city slicker cousin, Tory. But hottie-next-door Zach, who shows her around school and introduces her to the delicious world of NYC take-out, soon allays her fears. Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well with Tory, who has a crush in Zach herself. Will Jean’s bad luck draw Tory’s ire and cause her to lose Zach’s friendship? Or does this seemingly bumbling preacher’s daughter, who spills and trips through life, actually have a trick or two up her sleeve? This Charmed-meets-7th Heaven story, while not quite as sexy as its cover might imply, is nevertheless a sweetly entertaining read that makes a perfect posting for Friday the 13th! Full of Cabot’s bubbling good humor and go-down-easy prose, Jinx should join Meg’s other light and frothy reads (How to be Popular, Avalon High) on the beach towel this summer.

Head Case by Sarah Aronson

head case “Once I was a boy who became a man. Then I was a man who became a head.” Frank Marder had one too many, and still tried to drive his date home. Riding high on five beers and his girlfriend’s laughter, he hit a tree. His girlfriend Meredith was killed. A pedestrian unlucky enough to be between Frank’s car and the tree was killed. But Frank was not. Instead, Frank, broke his neck in the crash and will live the rest of his life as a quadriplegic, or as Frank likes to say, “a head.” Without the use of his arms and legs, Frank faces endless days full of his mother’s worrying, his father’s blustering and his own gnawing guilt. He tortures himself by reading an internet site set up just to debate whether or not he should have gone to prison for his crime, and constantly wonders, is life worth living if you’re just a head? “If you can’t have, can you still want?” The answer is yes, and Frank learns that life as a head still has meaning–especially when the last person he ever expected offers him the forgiveness he needs to move on. First time novelist Sarah Aronson’s take on a situation that most people would consider nightmarish manages to not only be hopeful, but also full of humor and the strength of the human spirit. Pair this one with Cynthia Voigt’s Izzy, Willy-Nilly for an interesting “he said, she said” look at dealing with a catastrophic disability.

Dramarama by E. Lockhart

dramaramaOh, E. Lockhart, could I love you more? I thought my love was complete after reading The Boyfriend List and Fly on the Wall. But, incredibly, my love for both of those books has been surpassed by my passion for the delicious Dramarama, which does for theater camp what Craig Thompson’s Blankets did for Jesus camp! (no not that one) Sayde (which sounds so much more “gawky-sexy” than plain old “Sarah”) and her best boy friend Demi (who has been in “straight drag” for far too long) travel to the Wildewood Summer Theater Institute in order to escape Ohio and finally be their true, fabulous selves. But the chance to unlease their amazing inner Lizas doesn’t go quite as Sayde expected. Instead of growing even closer, the BFF’s begin to drift apart. Demi discovers the strong, gay black man he was meant to be, and learns to toe the line when it comes to the rules of rehearsals, while Sayde is constantly pushing boundaries, and coming to the realization that she may be a better director than actor. Can Sayde learn to tamp down her “lurking bigness,” or is it about to explode all over the place and get her thrown out of not only drama camp, but also Demi’s heart? My teenage friends, you don’t have to be a Sandy or a Shark to appreciate both the drama and the real soul-searching that’s going on between these two friends. But if you are not of the musical theater ilk and want to hear the tunes Sayde’s obsessed with, visit E. Lockhart’s website and click on “Sadye’s iMix” in the right hand column for the songs that inspired the characters.

The Restless Dead: Ten Original Stories of the Supernatural edited by Deborah Noyes

restless dead In Deborah Noyes’ latest horror anthology, the dead not only won’t stay put, they’re hanging out at dance clubs and visiting the local 7-11! Noyes, whose first collection Gothic!: Ten Original Dark Tales knocked my socks off, has assembled another winner with The Restless Dead. Marcus Sedgewick tells a story of a transplanted heart that takes over its’ new owner’s body in “The Heart of Another,” while Annette Curtis Klause shares what it’s like to infiltrate a trendy vampire nest in “Kissing Dead Boys.” Chris Wooding’s traditional Victorian ghost story will keep you guessing until the last line, while Herbie Brennan’s unexpectedly funny story about a greedy old grandpa who refuses to go back to his grave will have you laughing even as you suppress a shiver. Libba Bray, Holly Black, and Nancy Etchemendy also all penned chilling shorts that gave me the heebie jeebies, but I have to say my favorite was M.T. Anderson’s “The Gray Boy’s Work,” a strange historical fiction about the horror that comes home with a Revolutionary War soldier who deserted his post. Give yourself some goose bumps in the middle of summer, or anytime of year with this gorgeously ghoulish collection!