Paulie Baum is a high school senior with a gorgeous girlfriend, Hannah. But he has just screwed it up by cheating on her, despite the fact he swore never to be like his philandering father. When he admits it to Hannah, she breaks up with him, putting his life into a well-deserved tailspin. None of Hannah’s anger is as bad as his self-loathing over his actions.
Mr. Logs can’t get in trouble anymore because he is only a few weeks from retirement. The students who meet in Mr. Logs’ classroom during “period eight” for lunch insist that if you talk, you must tell the truth. Nothing is off-limits; they even discuss Paulie’s infidelity.
Outside of school, Paulie and Mr. Logs train together for distance swimming in a cold lake and discuss what Paulie’s next move should be. At the same time, a straight-A student from the high school disappears. Paulie looks for her and finds shocking information that puts him, Mr. Logs, and Hannah in grave danger.
Why I picked it up: I have always liked Chris Crutcher. Twenty years ago, when I was a new teacher, I happened to sit next to him at lunch during a day of English teacher training. (He told me he was an author. I had never heard of him, so afterward, I looked him up and saw he was a very popular Young Adult author.) I read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes out of embarrassment, but I loved it so much I’ve read every book he’s published.
Why I finished it: The discussions are the high point of the book. The students who meet in Logs’ room talk about relationships, family issues, and school drama. The sessions can get heated and are often full of curse words. And Paulie turns to Logs for advice (often before or after their swim workouts) on his relationship with Hannah. Logs respects him enough to give it to him straight about how Paulie probably screwed things up for good.
I'd give it to: Vikram, because he will dig the descriptions of the cold-water, long-distance swimming (including the “peeing in the wetsuit for warmth” trick), and appreciate how it factors in to the book’s climax!
@bookblrb: No topic is off limits during Mr. Logs’ eighth period lunch discussions, including Paulie’s infidelity.
Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.
“Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. Recommended for fans of Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book, Shakespeare aficionados, and bibliophiles.”—Library Journal (starred review)
By the time Quinn Cummings' daughter Alice finished fifth grade, she was an accomplished reader, a creative soul, and an expert at manipulating her teachers into believing she couldn't hack long division. Her reasoning was that if she just kept repeating the same math, she would never need to study more difficult arithmetic operations. Quinn and her partner Daniel knew that something had to be done, but none of the schools they sent Alice to fixed the problem. So they decided to strike out on their own into the brave world of homeschooling.
Why I picked it up: I've always been interested in homeschooling, despite having no kids of my own.
Why I finished it: Cummings' humor was infectious, and I kept reading parts of the book aloud to my husband. Cummings is more than willing to play up her own foibles for laughs, from her inability to master hotel keycards to panic attacks in the laundry room (she worries that she's ruining her daughter's future) to snarky internal responses to the, "But what about socialization?" question regarding homeschooling.
In between the self-effacing moments was a great introduction to homeschooling in America. Cummings talks about the types of curricula and the different approaches she and her daughter tried out, but she spends most of the book looking at how homeschooling developed as well as who is doing it how and why. She attends several conferences that promote Radical Unschooling, fundamentalist beliefs, and even Bill Gothard's ultra-religious Advanced Training Institute, which is connected with the Quiverfull movement. She also attends a meet-up in her area (Los Angeles), goes to a play put on by a Catholic homeschooling group's Shakespeare class, chaperones a Christian homeschool prom, crashes a homeschool graduation, and plays around with online classes and curricula. The result isn't as much a guide to homeschooling as it is a fun overview of one aspect of modern American education.
I'd give it to: Janet, who wants to write funny stories, because she'll love to tease apart Cummings' ability to make her laugh via lines like these:
"[Alice] took remainders personally. Had the division just tried a little harder, she felt, there wouldn't be these sulfurous minions left hanging out there, taunting and offending all humanity. Alice decided not to reward long division's bad behavior by actually learning it, choosing instead the elementary school version of a sit-down strike."
@bookblrb: A mother homeschools her smart, creative, manipulative daughter.
Two men climb the gate and enter the Jardin des Plantes to film evidence of the guards bestiality parties. Their “adventure” is interspersed with often unrelated comics, many of which involve the photographers.
Why I picked it up: I wanted to read it after I read this.
Why I finished it: Most of the book is laugh-out-loud cruel, and best of all it’s crass in a way that caught me off guard. In the first short featuring “The Portraitists,” one photographer unexpectedly started insulting the eight-year-old boy whose picture he was taking. In the second, there’s a sequence of speculations (via wordless panels featuring images of their thoughts) about how a man got numerous scars on his face. Things get weirder (but not pornographic) when the photographers set out to document a freaky orgy.
I'd give it to: Richard. He’d like the horrifying parenting in evidence in the sequence in which a father tells his son how to assemble a phenakistoscope, so that a series of drawings on a round disk will, when spun, look like a cartoon. He’ll like that the instructions work, too, and are necessary to view the other phenakistoscopes in the book. (If you don’t have time for the instructions, you can see a few of these from the book here.)
@bookblrb: Two photographers on a lewd, crude, off-colored romp. Includes phenakistoscopes.
“No one helps kids like us.”
Katie and Nate were best friends, social outcasts in their small Michigan junior high. Now they are in juvie with Renata, the new girl, on charges that they all kidnapped Chase Dobson, the town bully.
As the story of what really happened during the week of Chase’s “captivity” unfolds (through journals the three write for their social worker, Greta), it becomes clear that there is much more to the “crime” than any of the three is willing to tell.
Why I picked it up: I was flipping through some book Gene gave me, and this one’s disturbing, black-and-white graphics, labeled “Renata’s Journal,” got my attention.
Why I finished it: Because of his family's status in the community, no one doubts Chase is the innocent victim of seriously misguided kids. Each of his tormentors is very bright and has a highly developed talent, like Renata's artistic abilities, and each has a terrible secret. Everyone, including Chase, is determined to keep quiet about what really happened during the week Chase was their “prisoner,” even if it means jail time.
Seeing Greta's determination to figure out why they’re keeping secrets, and what those secrets are, made for one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read.
I'd give it to: Holly, who enjoys books about teens struggling with dysfunctional mothers, like Emmy's Question, because each of the three main characters tries to deal with a mother who is out of touch: Katie and her over protective mom; Nate, whose mother lives in a medication-induced reality; and Renata, whose mother has ignored her since a crippling car accident.
@bookblrb: Three outcasts kidnap the town bully.
After noticing a heart shape in a puddle of melted ice cream during a going-away party, Eric Telchin began seeing them everywhere. He started a blog, Boy Sees Hearts. The book is a collection of photos of the found hearts paired with short text.
Why I picked it up: I love the idea of "found" items as art, and I was intrigued that there could be so many naturally occurring hearts in the world.
Why I finished it: Looking through the book was a constant reminder of why I need to slow down and look around. Sometimes I notice shapes in clouds or leaves, but the photos show hearts in unlikely places, made of shadows, sidewalk cracks, and rocks. Every page showed me the simple beauty of the everyday world.
I'd give it to: My daughter, Hannah, who likes to talk about poop almost as much as Gene does. I know she will be impressed by the bird droppings that form a heart.
@bookblrb: Photos that capture heart shapes in the world around us from the blog Boy Sees Hearts.
A brother and sister inherit a strange house. They explore its nooks and crannies. Something wicked awaits them.
Why I picked it up: At our first comic convention, buried in the small press section, some very generous folks were nice enough to listen to our pitch and buy our book. Now I try to do the same at every comic convention I attend. While walking around ECCC I was attracted to the bright red spine of this big, handsome picture book. A quick glance at the moody Disney-esque artwork (turns out Victoria does in fact do animation at Disney) sold me on it.
Why I finished it: Every room in the house is devoted to the story of a deceased aunt or uncle, each of whom was peculiar in different ways. The writing style varies -- sometimes it’s a brief description, sometimes a poem, sometimes a short essay -- but all are very witty and beautifully illustrated.
I'd give it to: J.T., who shares my love of words. The first four pages (it's a shame they don't pull out into a single spread) illustrate Aunt Tricia’s life's work: a race between stuffed animals. A Taxiderby. Genius.
@bookblrb: A brother and sister inherit a strange house. They explore its nooks and crannies. Something wicked awaits them.
Twelve-year-old James is just another English hoodlum-in-training who gets picked up by the cops for various small crimes. Then his mother passes away and he is sent to an orphanage. There he goes through a rough patch trying to fit in, hanging out with dangerous older kids and getting pinched for theft.
Then one morning James is shocked to wake up at a posh school campus, which is clearly not the orphanage where he went to sleep the night before. He has been taken to a secret MI-5 base where he is offered the chance to become a young spy for CHERUB, a branch of the British spy agency.
Why I picked it up: I am a middle school librarian, and this book has been flying out of the library. I cannot stand the thought of all those boys having read a book I haven’t.
Why I finished it: The plot moves quickly, and I liked it better than other spy stories because of details that seemed realistic. For example, instead of having access to every technological gadget in the world and driving an Aston Martin, the most high-tech piece of equipment James is issued is a cellphone. When he finally does go on a mission, he must rely on his training and survive on his wits.
I'd give it to: The Goodwin boys who live down the street, who always act like they’re in the middle of a professional wrestling match, even at formal holiday parties. They would like the martial arts classes where younger students pound James mercilessly, and especially the moment when a much smaller CHERUB trainee bruises James’s body and ego, and then dislocates James’s thumb for good measure.
@bookblrb: A hoodlum-in-training wakes up at a posh school where he’s offered a chance to become a young spy for MI-5.
Musk Ox thinks alphabet books are boring because they all start with “A is for apple.” Despite Zebra’s many objections, he rewrites this alphabet book so that most letters are for “musk ox” and feature musk ox-related terms (for F it’s “Does this fur make me look fat?”).
Why I picked it up: On the cover, Musk Ox has taken a bite out of the apple; the bite-shaped hole reveals his grinning, chewing face on the bottom of the title page. Zebra looks on, arms akimbo, like he’s trying to figure out what’s up.
Why I finished it: I loved that the story started on the cover. The first bit of dialogue is Zebra confronting Musk Ox about eating the apple on the cover of the book. He says he can’t remember even though his mouth is full of apple.
I'd give it to: Claire, who would have fun reading the insane back-and-forth, especially when Musk Ox declares, in the middle of the book, that “M is for apple.” (He feels a little bad about the beginning of the book.)
@bookblrb: Musk Ox rewrites an alphabet book so that it’s less boring (now it's all about him). Zebra objects repeatedly.