Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Middle Grade Trio! "11 Birthdays" "A Corner of the Universe" "Elsewhere"

So I decided to review a few books in one here, because there's only like a month and a half left in 2012 (how??!) and I'm still reviewing books from May. :[ I'm going to try my hardest to get all caught up here by the end of the year, so let's get started shall we? These are all probably considered "middle grade" books, but I would suggest the 2nd and 3rd with a warning: they have some serious subject matter and are tear-jerkers, big time. If you have a sensitive child, you may want to read first to see if they can handle it. Before we get into that though, let's start with a happy little book. :)

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
4 out of 5 stars

This was such a cute, quick read. I actually read it sitting at Barnes & Noble one afternoon. I know, bad, I should go buy it. I probably will eventually, because I just realized there are 2 more books in this little series, centered around the magical town of Willow Falls. :)

Amanda and Leo were born on the same day, at the same hospital and have been best friends ever since they met again at their first birthday party. Fast forward to their 10th party, which they had together as usual, until Amanda overheard Leo saying some ugly things to a couple of guy friends about her. She is devastated and vows never to talk to Leo again. One year later, she has kept that promise...until their 11th birthday.

Amanda knows her birthday is going to be horrible this year, especially after she hears about the fabulous party Leo is going to have. And she was right: her mom has convinced her to have a costume party, she has to wear a horrible itchy Dorothy costume with shoes that give her blisters, she has a pop quiz in class, she totally humiliates herself at gymnastic tryouts, and hardly anybody shows up at her party that evening. Even worse, the few that do show up leave early to go to Leo's awesome shindig. Poor kid. I had a sleepover for my 15th or 16th (I can't even remember now lol) birthday and invited 4-5 of my best girl friends over. I planned all this fun stuff, my mom made awesome food, we laid out blankets and pillows all over our huge living room, we had dishes of candy all over the place. And only 1 of my friends showed up. The others got sick or grounded or forgot or something. I was very sad. But that 1 girl became my BFF for the rest of HS so that was good. :)

Anyway, Amanda goes to bed that night just happy that the day is finally over. Until she wakes up in the morning and finds her SpongeBob birthday balloon staring at her. Again. And she goes downstairs to birthday greetings from her parents. Again. At first, she thinks this is some stupid joke, but when she realizes that they really think it's her birthday again, she gets a little worried. And when all the same things happen that day, as the day before, she gets upset. And when the same thing happens again the next day and the next, she gets downright frantic. Is she the only one stuck in this loop? How and why did this happen? How the heck does she get out of it?

A Corner of the Universe by Ann M Martin
2 out of 5 stars

This book started out decent, but it ended not so great for me. I'm going to be pretty spoilery, so if you are interested in reading it after the first two paragraphs, stop reading there! :) It's set in 1960 (but was published in 2002) and centers around Hattie, an 11 year old girl who lives with her parents in their boarding house. She loves her small town and the odd inhabitants of her home and even refuses to go on summer vacation with her best friend so she can roam around town on her own. Hattie is enjoying her summer, when it is disrupted by the arrival of an uncle that she never knew she had, and everything changes.

Adam is 21 years old and, according to her parents and grandparents, "different". He has mental problems (it's implied that he is autistic) and has been living at a state school since Hattie was a little girl. Adam is a happy young man, except where his mother is concerned (who isn't? hah! JK!!) and becomes fast friends with Hattie. She learns how to handle his mood swings and minor behavior issues (up to a certain point) and the two have lots of fun together.

Hattie is a very shy young girl and doesn't have many close friends, so when a carnival comes to town for the first time ever, she is excited to meet a young girl named Leila there. Leila works with her family at the carnival and gives Hattie (and later Adam) the backstage pass tour. Hattie and Leila spend most days together and one evening they decide to bring Adam along (sneaking him out of his mother's home). They have a wonderful time at first but it ends badly when Adam has an "episode" on one of the rides and ends up having to go into the hospital. This is around when the book starts turning from a light, interesting read into a darker, more serious book.

Hattie is worried about Adam but she's also in huge trouble for sneaking him out and is forbidden to go back to the carnival, not even to say goodbye to Leila. She hates how everyone treats Adam like a "freak" but doesn't know what to do about it. One day, Adam shows up at her house with flowers for one of the boarders, a young woman named Angel Valentine. (That is a lovely name btw.) Adam has developed quite a crush on Angel and while she hasn't been mean or rude to him (even after catching him staring at her chest repeatedly) she also hasn't explained to him that they do not have a relationship and never will. When Adam goes up to Angel's room and opens her door without knocking, he and Hattie are shocked to find Angel on the bed with her boyfriend, who has his shirt off. (That is as explicit as it gets.)

Adam runs off, crushed, and Hattie is incredibly disappointed in Angel, whom she has always looked up to as the cool older sister. Later, the grandparents call and ask if Hattie has seen Adam because he has disappeared. Of course, she hasn't and they end up calling the police and searching all over. Finally, they get news, but it's not good. Adam hung himself in his parents' garage. Honestly, I was very shocked by this turn of events. Especially by Miss "Happy Endings Only" Martin. The suddenness made me cry and it just got sadder as Hattie had to deal with her grief and Adam's funeral and everything after that. This was a moving book for sure, but I didn't think the suicide was necessary for her to make her point.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
3 out of 5 stars

Okay, if you got thru that book and you still feel like crying, then this is the one for you. :) This may be considered more of a YA novel, as it does have some sex talk and the whole book is about death. Liz is/was 15 years old when she was struck by a hit and run driver and killed. But her story doesn't stop there. She wakes up to find herself on a boat called the SS Nile heading to a place called "Elsewhere". At first she goes thru some serious denial (get it? deNILE? Hah!), of course, and it takes her a long time to adjust.

She is helped along, slowly, by her grandmother Betty, who greets her at the Elsewhere docks. Betty explains where she is and how things work now: everyone ages backwards now from their current age until they reach zero, when they are sent back down the river to Earth as a new baby. Liz is horrified to realize she will never reach 16, get her driver's license, fall in love, and all kinds of other things. Once she finally comes to terms with her new "life" though, she realizes that she can still be happy, get a job, and even fall in love after all.

This is a pretty heartbreaking story, obviously, but the part that got me the hardest was the dogs. The story opens with a short paragraph told from Lucy's point of view, who is Liz's dog. Lucy is so sad and all she can do is lay down in Liz's room and pretend she has gone off to college and will be back soon. :(( I don't know why that part makes me cry, but it does. Our first dog was named Lucy (my sister got to name her, after I Love Lucy), when I was a kid, maybe that's why. Lucy and Liz are reunited though, towards the end of the book, when Lucy is an old dog in Elsewhere. Also, Liz gets a job helping dogs find new families in Elsewhere and she meets Sadie, a sweet dog who decides that Liz is her new human. Sadie ages backwards, just like Liz, until she is a tiny pup and then sent back up the river. Gah, more tears!! The book does end on a more upbeat, optimistic note, so it's not all sad tears all the time. Lol...just most of the time!

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