Sunday, November 29, 2015

Going Bovine, by Libba Bray

Cameron Smith is a high school slacker who suddenly begins to suffer from hallucinations.  Over time, he learns that he’s come down with Creutzfeldt-Jakob variant BSE, more commonly known as the deadly “mad cow disease”.  Fearing that he may be dying, Cameron escapes from the hospital with help from his dwarf friend Gonzo, an honest-to-goodness angel named Dulcie, and a Norse god named Balder who’s been cursed with the appearance of a lawn gnome.  These unlikely friends set off on one last wild Spring Break adventure that’s almost too insane to be real!

Even though this book has a couple of mature themes, I’d feel comfortable recommending it to most high schoolers.  The tough issues that Cameron faces are dealt with in a very respectful manner, and Ms. Bray’s writing presents a raw, unvarnished picture of a less-than-perfect kid.  With all the drama involved, this book might have become a real downer if it wasn’t so absolutely hilarious!  The situations that Cameron and his crew encounter are completely over-the-top, and there were some points when I felt like I was dreaming this story instead of simply reading it! 

One of my favorite parts about “Going Bovine” was that it made me wonder if Cameron was actually dying, or if the whole story was simply a sickness-induced hallucination.  Either way, it made for a fun experience since everyone has considered the possibility of their own death at some point.  And if you’re ever stuck for ideas on a writing project, you couldn’t ask for a better prompt than imagining what you might do if you only had a few weeks left to live.  If Ms. Bray could create this amazing story from that one simple idea, just imagine the story you could write!  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Crash, by Jerry Spinelli

John “Crash” Coogan is a seventh-grade football star, and I’ll go out on a limb and call him kind of a bully as well.  Crash enjoys the fast-paced, macho world of sports, and he lives every other part of his life with the same intense passion.  His head-long behavior continues when he meets a new neighbor, Penn Webb, who’s basically the exact opposite.  Penn is a quiet, thoughtful boy whose Quaker family doesn’t condone violence, eat meat, or seek out material things.  When Crash strikes up a reluctant friendship with Penn, he’s forced to re-think many of his own behaviors.

I loves the way that this book unfolded over the course of the entire school year, so it gives the reader a chance to get to know Crash while organizes his life priorities.  The year holds a lot of surprises for Crash, including changes in his parents’ employment, his little sister’s growing social activism, and new friends at school.  The most serious concern is his grandfather Scooter’s sudden illness, which serves to remind Crash that having a healthy family and supportive friends is much more important than having nice clothes, toys, or even being popular.  At the end of the book, I really appreciated the way that Mr. Spinelli intentionally left the conclusion kind of open and unresolved, almost as if he realized that Crash wasn’t a perfect person but he still wanted to give him more time to improve.  It was a very cool and thought-provoking way to close out a fun book!

This book would hold a lot of appeal with any upper-middle-grade readers, especially young men who consider themselves to be sports fans.  The hilarious circumstances and quick pacing make “Crash” a fast read, even though it’s not necessarily a short book.  Pass a copy along to the jock in your life and I guarantee, this is one book that they won’t be embarrassed to be seen reading in public!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

Alec Ramsay is a young boy returning from visiting his uncle in India.  While his steamship is stopped at an Arabian port, Alec witnesses the crew struggling to bring an untamed black horse aboard.  Days later, after a terrible storm at sea, the ship goes down with the only survivors being the horse and Alec!  Alec soon learns that his new horse is built for speed, but any dreams of the racetrack will have to wait until after they can be rescued!

I enjoyed this book because it’s a story that’s half adventure and half sports.  Also, even though the book was a contemporary novel when it was published in 1941, it reads more like a well-researched historical novel today.  When Alec eventually gets rescued by a passing freighter, his parents send him a telegram with instructions to book a ticket on the next ship bound for New York.  I thought that was hilarious, compared to the availability of instant messaging and jet travel that we take for granted nowadays!

Even though this book is nearly seventy years old, it’s still just as exciting to read today.  “The Black Stallion” is pure escapist fantasy about a boy and his horse, the two of them alone against the wild world.  Whenever you mix together ocean travel, deserted islands, wild animals and athletic championships, that recipe is sure to be a success with boys who love to read!