Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont Book Review

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
(Algonquin, Hardcover)


Inspired by a drug-bust at a prep school in the 1980's, Nina de Gramont's debut novel takes a look at friendship, peer pressure, and the lasting consequences of adolescence. Gossip of the Starlings is a coming-of-age novel about Catherine Morrow's troubled friendship with her schoolmate, the famous Skye Butterfield. When Skye walks into the Esther Percy School for Girls, lonely Catherine is surprised and pleased to find a friend. Skye has been sheltered her whole life and she's ready to break free. Her chosen methods are destructive and she doesn't care if she brings Catherine down with her.

This is actually an adult book but I think that is has appeal for teens. It's told from the point of view of Catherine when she is an adult. Maybe 30ish? Catherine's story is told with equal parts jaded maturity and bright-eyed youthfulness. As I was reading Gossip of the Starlings, I knew that Skye was a bad influence but I felt myself becoming seduced by her words as much as Catherine was. Skye made being bad seem like so much fun. Nina de Gramont perfectly captures what is like to be an adolescent on the verge of adulthood--the pressure to succeed, to conform, and the yearning to stay young. I think Skye describes it best when she says,
"That's how I feel sometimes. Like there's this language I knew when I was a kid, and every year of my life it unravels just a little bit. Becomes more and more indecipherable. So that I'm left all alone, trying to figure it out." (page 85)
There are other mitigating factors than Skye's self-destruction in this story. Catherine's adult role models include husbands who cheat on their wives, senators who break promises, and a president with his finger hovering over a bomb. The novel is set during the Cold War and the characters are desperately trying to make sense of a world that is out of control. Why take responsibility for their actions when the adults around them showed a flagrant disregard for the rules?
"We understood that nobody would save the world. It would have to find a way to survive on its own." (Page 154)
I didn't grow up during the Cold War. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in constant fear of nuclear attack. De Gramont uses these feelings of fear and hopelessness to show that her characters, though flawed, were trying their best to cope with a world they couldn't understand.

That's the long review.
The short review? Read this book. It is haunting, it is engrossing, it is lively, it is tragic, it is good.

Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning Book Review

Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning
(Puffing, Paperback)


Molly's idol, Ruby X, once said that if you knew three chords then you could play the guitar. That's how it all started, with three chords and a poem about a highlighter. Before Molly knows it, boys are invading her girl band, recording label execs are banging on her door, and she's an overnight sensation. But fame is a little more than Molly bargained for.

I seem to be on a music novel kick lately. I read Audrey Wait (review coming) and then Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. So when I picked up Guitar Girl, I was in the mood for music. And, boy, did it deliver. Molly was a fun character to read about and I completely understood her idolization of Ruby X. Molly bases her new life around what she thinks Ruby X would do. Fall in love with your lead guitarist? Cliche, but pop star worthy. Sign contracts without reading them? Happens all the time. Watch your best friend pass out at each post-gig party? All part of the fame. But the fame starts to become more than Molly can handle. She's just a girl who writes great lyrics and her new life is taking that away from her. Is the rock star life really what she wants? Guitar Girl is about our dreams and the reality of them; it's also about our idols and the roles they play, both good and bad, in our lives. Molly is a powerful female character and, even though the book has it's serious parts, it's fun to read about her rise to fame. Also fun is that interspersed throughout Molly's story are magazine snippets about her band, The Hormones.

Interestingly, Sarra Manning's newest book, Let's Get Lost, includes some characters from Guitar Girl. I've already added it to my BookMooch wishlist.

**This review gets a special shout out to Chloe of Chloe's BookBag. I've had Guitar Girl on my shelf for awhile and kept meaning to read it. Then Chloe left a comment asking if I could write a review. Thanks for the prompt, Chloe! Hope this helps!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Perfect by Natasha Friend Book Review

Perfect by Natasha Friend
(Milkweed, Paperback)


Isabelle Lee has a problem. Her little sister has ratted her out and now she has to go to group therapy for her eating disorder. Isabelle thinks that she needs to lose weight and so what if she throws up after she eats? There are bigger problems in her house, such as the death of her father and the fact that her mother cries all the time. Group therapy is going to be torture, until the most popular girl in school joins the group.

We all handle grief differently and Isabelle handles it by becoming bulimic. Throwing up makes her forget the pain of losing her father. Beautifully written and heart wrenching, Perfect tells the story of a girl who desperately needs a role model. Ashleigh, the most popular girl in school, becomes that role model when she joins Isabelle's Eating Disorder and Body Image Therapy Group. But Ashleigh has her own problems and her friendship is more destructive than Isabelle could have predicted. I was rooting for Isabelle from the first chapter and she didn't disappoint. Natasha Friend has created a thoroughly likable and real heroine who shows that sometimes we need to stand up to our friends and to the ones we love.

Note: This is the first book that I've read by Milkweed Editions, an independent non-profit literary publisher. Perfect won their Milkweed Prize for Children's Literature and I'll definitely be checking out their other award winners.

How To Raise Your Parents by Sarah O'Leary Burningham Book Review

How to Raise Your Parents by Sarah O'Leary Burningham
(Chronicle Kids, Paperback)


There are a million books out there for parents about raising kids. Now Sarah Burningham has written a book for teens about how to raise their parents. Subtitled "A Teen Girl's Survival Guide", How to Raise Your Parents is filled with helpful hints and clues about how to survive your teenage years without killing your parents. It's got everything, from how to talk about curfew to breaking the news about a bad grade to learning how to negotiate. My favorite part is the funky drawings throughout that help set the mood for each section. This is a book for younger teens but hip parents should consider giving it to their pre-teens.

The Elite by Jennifer Banash Book Review

The Elite by Jennifer Banash
(Penguin, Paperback)

Casey McCloy is moving to the big city to live with her grandmother. Casey has lived in a small town all her life and she's not quite prepared for New York City or for the private school in which she's been enrolled. Then Madison, the most popular girl in school, befriends her, and Drew, the cutest guy in school, starts paying attention to Casey. But is Madison really her friend? And is Drew still hung up on Madison, the girl he broke up with?

The Elite is the first in a series by Jennifer Banash and it feels like it. Several plot elements are left open and the ending hints at a sequel. Banash has a knack for creating interesting characters. Madison is a snotty rich girl, but she also has family problems. Casey is a small-town girl determined to fit in to her new school. And even though Drew can't resist Madison, he proves himself to be an incredibly sweet, smart guy. The flow of the novel is interrupted by the plethora of brand names and designer names. If you're into fashion and feel like googling every single item of clothing and accessory that is mentioned, then you'll be fine. Otherwise, prepare to be frustrated by the descriptions. I only gave it two stars because I found the fashion name-dropping distracting. If you are interested in fashion, then this will probably be a three star book for you. I did really enjoy the characters in this book and look forward to future installments.