Twenty Chekhov stories rewritten (to larger and smaller degrees) so that the characters are celebrities such as David Letterman, Nicole Kidman, Adam Sandler, and Sarah Palin.
Why I picked it up: I've never read any Chekhov, but this concept was just too bizarre to ignore.
Why I finished it: I have an uneasy relationship with literature, and specifically short stories, because I often feel like I'm missing something. But from the first story "Tall and Short" starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as old friends meeting at an airport, I was on board. I know these people, or at least I think I do. Sometimes the stories work because they are well cast ("Bad Weather" starring Tiger Woods and wife) and sometimes because they aren't ("Terror" starring Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones).
I'd give it to: My sisters, because we're a family of starf***ers.
Frederick, Hannah and Giuseppe are three kids in a large city who happen across one other’s paths as they navigate their own crises, soon realizing they have the ability to help each other. Frederick is building a mechanical automaton, but he must hide its creation from his master. Giuseppe, a busker, faces a beating on nights when he doesn’t bring home enough money, a difficult task until he snares a strange violin out of the river. Hannah despairs of earning enough money for her father’s medication until, while working as a hotel maid, she hears of a treasure that will solve her problems.
Why I picked it up: The cover, featuring the open chest of a mechanical man, promised a steampunk book for younger readers.
Why I finished it: The kids cross paths as the various narratives pull together in a creative and satisfying way. There’s also palpable danger as street toughs, art thieves and treasure-seekers close-in.
I'd give it to: Adrian, who would like the supernatural aspects the mechanical man and the green violin. And my daughter, Grace, who has never read this kind of Victorian-era steampunk but would be drawn in by the strong friendships the three kids form.
After Maya’s father is put in prison for good, she is thrown into the foster care system. She soon decides to hit the road to find an aunt in Boise whom she heard of years earlier. She has all sorts of fantasies about how she will be received by this aunt, but almost no plan for how to find her. Her unlikely companion, Nicole, is the sharpest-tongued resident of their foster home. Along the way they pick up a helpless boy with Tourette’s who cannot fend for himself.
Why I picked it up: I liked Ayarbe’s last book, Freeze Frame. Also, the jacket reads like something that will be attractive for at-risk kids and reluctant readers.
Why I finished it: It takes away what little romance was left in being a homeless runaway. Life on the streets is horrifying and desperate, from having to wash their hair with powdered soap in gas station bathrooms to finding dead bodies, frozen from exposure. Maya tries to use her love of science and the scientific method to calm herself in difficult circumstances but her neat equations don't match the reality of abusers and drugs on the road.
I'd give it to: Alicia, who read Ellen Hopkins‘ Crank, which also details what it is like for teens’ lives to spiral out of control.
Jesse is living in Gold Mine City, Colorado, with his aunt, uncle, and favorite cousin Daisy because his parents travel a lot (right now they're building a children's clinic in Tanzania). While looking for rocks on High Peak with his uncle, who's a geologist, Jesse finds what he thinks is a thunder egg (geode). They try to crack it open with his uncle's rock saw, but it breaks three blades. So he puts it in his sock drawer, where it hatches into a dragon. He and Daisy go to the library to look up dragons, where they find a website called foundadragon.org. They contact a professor who warns them about the dragon slayer.
Why I picked it up: I like dragons and I like stories about dragons.
Why I finished it: I wanted to find out if the dragon would survive St. George the dragon slayer, who stays alive by drinking dragon blood.
I'd give it to: Sam's cousin Jacob, who also loved Norbert the dragon in the first Harry Potter book.
Alex promised his mom and dad that when he finished AlienSlayer 2, he’d play outside for the rest of the summer. He just killed the last alien and his parents packed up his game. They also built him a jungle gym that he’s too old for, and arranged a playdate with his weird neighbor, Herbert, an inventor who isn’t the video game type. Herbert’s latest invention, combined with Alex’s jungle gym, sends the boys into the future where their boring hometown is filled with aliens.
Why I picked it up: My daughter and I saw the orange cover with the tentacles and decided to read it together.
Why I finished it: Lots of fun to read aloud together, particularly because the G’Daliens have Australian accents.
I'd give it to: Colette’s little brother Alex, who could handle the low level tension as GOR-DON (alien janitor) chases the boys, and who would also like the way a futuristic version of T-ball figures into the ending.
So this guy wants to build the first subway in New York City, but the payoff he would have to give to Boss Tweed and his cronies was more than he could afford. So he builds the whole thing in secret, renting a department store basement and removing the dirt under cover of darkness (cue the theme from The Great Escape).
Why I picked it up: Not only did it promise a secret subway, it promised a pneumatic subway.
Why I finished it: The intersection of vast municipal corruption, an insanely congested city, and the technology of not only propelling subway cars with compressed air (cleaner than the coal-fueled London subway) but also digging and reinforcing massive tunnels under a busy city made for a gripping story. Pre-subway, New York was congested with enough pedestrians, horse drawn carriages and horse drawn busses that it could take hours to travel five blocks. Plus all the vehicles produced ample quantities of poo.
I'd give it to: My dad, who worked with city zoning and permitting departments for years. Fans of David Macaulay who want more literal and figurative dirt. Anyone ready to take a vacation to NYC who might not appreciate the miracle of subterranean transportation.
A young woman sells fruit shakes on the streets of Phnom Pen. She need money to pay for her father’s medicine, but she really wants to dance. A recruiter talks her into working at a karaoke bar, where she can earn more money for her family. It’s filled with businessmen and government officials, some of whom were part of the Khmer Rouge. She begins seeing an older American businessman who treats her well. But he’s not who he pretends to be. When she tries to end the relationship, he makes it clear the choice is his. Later, the man’s wife seeks revenge.
Why I picked it up: It appeared mysteriously on my bookshelf. I think Bill put it there, after someone involved in the project gave it to him.
Why I finished it: The book was written, illustrated, and designed by fifteen people in just six weeks. It has a clear, somewhat politicized agenda to make readers aware of the choices faced by some young Cambodian women. Sounds like something I’d never enjoy, but it was truly excellent. The spacious layouts make the book feel unrushed, and the different artists’ styles work together in unexpected ways. Too many nonfiction graphic novels are text heavy, relying on exposition to get the facts out. Shake Girl avoids this mistake, substituting fictional dialogue that allows Shake Girl to come alive, and made her story real to me.
I'd give it to: Liz, who enjoyed Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza, and may be ready for a more fictionalized, less polished graphic novel. If she likes this, I’ll recommend the first collection Ariel Schrag’s high school comics, Awkward and Definition to show her what contemporary high school life is like.
Tess is eager for thirteen-year-old Aaron to live with her family. (His drug addicted mother is unable to care for him, though he doesn’t see it that way.) She has a younger sister, but that’s not the same as having someone near her own age, and there aren’t many other kids on the island. Keeping the school means everything to Tess. Her mother is the teacher, and her father’s income as a lobster fisherman is not enough to support the family. If the school closes they’ll have to move to the mainland and she’ll have to give up her dream dream of becoming a fisherwoman. But Aaron feels used, like he wouldn’t have been invited to live with the family if their school didn’t need students.
Why I picked it up: I was a huge fan of Lord’s Rules and curious about this novel, inspired by the steps a Maine community took to save its school.
Why I finished it: Tess has such a great heart! She over-involves herself in Aaron’s life, trying to make everything right. Aaron has a lot of anger in him because he feels let down by those who should be there for him. But he also longs for family, acceptance and unconditional love. I wanted to see how life would work out for these two.
I'd give it to: Nate, who hasn’t always had the best of luck with his family and needs to know that he can find love and support outside of his biological relatives. My friend Mike would love that each chapter heading is a superstition that relates to its content.