Teen Book: Everybody Sees the Ants

In A.S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants, the narrative voice belongs to fifteen-year-old Lucky Linderman, bullied by a peer and surrounded by kind but ineffective adults. No one stands up for Lucky, not even his mom and dad, whose marriage seems to be unraveling. To complicate matters, in his recurring dreams, Lucky is trying to save his POW-MIA grandfather―his father's father―who was left behind in Vietnam. Through all these difficulties, Lucky tries to act as though everything is fine, even when the bullying gets worse and his mother takes him to her brother's house in Arizona. There Lucky catches his breath, learns to lift weights, and finally finds some strong, helpful friends.

The story skillfully blends realism with a touch of magic. As he struggles for traction at home and in his community, Lucky's voice is by turns angry, confused, funny, and heartbreakingly self-perceptive. There are resolutions for his troubles that are satisfying and entirely believable. In this memorable coming-of-age story, a fascinating and complex young man manages to pull himself together and to find an emotional path toward adulthood.

Recommended to me by members of a young-adult book group, the novel, for grade nine and older, rates very strongly in my book for characters, plot, writing and verisimilitude (the quality of seeming true to life). A.S. King won the Printz Honor for her book Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

The Five Year Engagement on DVD

The much talked about and read about film, The Five Year Engagement, contains many scenes filmed last summer around Ann Arbor. The local movie-making created quite a flurry of celebrity sightings of the movie's stars, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, and John Krasinski, and plenty of mid-summer snow scenes on the streets of downtown Ann Arbor.

The romantic comedy features Blunt and Segel as a couple whose engagement is continually delayed as changes happen in their lives. From the producers of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Knocked Up, this film will have you in stitches, too. Not only was The Five Year Engagement filmed in Ann Arbor, but Ann Arbor is also the setting for the story. True, it’s not the most amazing movie, but it’s funny, and definitely fun to see so many Ann Arbor landmarks on the big screen, especially since the University of Michigan and Zingerman’s play big roles in the couple's lives.

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey"

I’ve never been a fan of Elmo; I felt he overshadowed the awesomeness of Grover. But after watching the documentary Being Elmo I can’t dislike Elmo anymore, because then it would seem as though I disliked Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind that famous red face. The film is a wonderful look behind the iconic character and makes you think that maybe dreams can come true.

A gentle natured man, Clash embodies the spirit of Elmo. He grew up in Baltimore in the 60s and 70s as a fan of Sesame Street and all things Jim Henson. He fell in love with puppetry at a young age and started making his own puppets and performing puppet shows for neighborhood kids. While it was clear that he had skill, his “playing with dolls” was frowned upon by fellow high school students. But in the end, he was voted "Most Likely to be a Millionaire."

Clash stuck with it, and eventually landed a job on “Captain Kangaroo” and “The Great Space Coaster.” This lead to his ultimate gig, Sesame Street, made possible after he met Muppet designer Kermit Love and got the official Henson connection.

In theory, Elmo represents love, childhood, and innocence. After seeing the film, it’s easy to see why small children fall in love with the Muppet. The bottom line is that Elmo loves every single one of them unconditionally, and what kid doesn’t want that?

"Tales of the New World"

From time to time, the desire or the time to commit to a full length novel just isn't there; this is where short stories come in. The best selling point of short stories is that if you are not particularly interested in one story, you can move on the the next without the guilt that can come with putting an entire book to rest without consideration.

Tales of the New World is a collection of ten short stories by PEN/Faulkner Award winner Sabina Murray. Some of the stories are firsthand accounts and others outside perspectives of exploring new lands around the world. Murray delves into the complex world of writing historical fiction focused on recognized historical figures. A few well-known explorers are represented in this compilation, including Magellan and Balboa, as well as lesser known explorers, such as English-born Mary Kingsley.

While there is a definite tone of bleakness and isolation, Tales of the New World offers a fascinating glimpse into the perspective of world explorers, with fictional tales of adventure tinged with strife.

Action + Dystopia + Romance = "Divergent"

Check out Divergent, Veronica Roth's first young adult book, and like me, you may find yourself staying up way too late reading it. Exciting and dystopian, this book may remind you of The Hunger Games, although it also manages to hold its own weight in the world of contemporary teen literature. Divergent was written for age 14 and up.

The novel is set in Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, where sadly, Lake Michigan has become a swamp, but some trains are still running. Society is divided into five factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). All sixteen-year-olds, including Beatrice, must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. In the vicious initiation process for her selected faction, Beatrice struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out choices. Everyone undergoes extreme physical and psychological tests, including disorienting computer simulations. "Tris" -- her new name -- is small but mighty, as she decides who her friends are and tries to save her family. Her love interest, Tobias, is fascinating and mysterious. Readers will be left wondering where this relationship can possibly lead in such a dangerous world.

This is the first book in the “Divergent” series. The next installment is Insurgent, in which, according to Publishers Weekly, "the novel's love story, intricate plot, and unforgettable setting work in concert to deliver a novel that will rivet fans of the first book."

"Lamb," an Unusual Gospel

I am currently on my second copy of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. My first copy of Christopher Moore's novel was read, re-read, and loaned out so often by myself and others that it eventually fell apart.

Jesus' pal Biff is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing thirty-year "gap" in the Gospels by writing his account of growing up with the Messiah. Moore writes with a sense of humor and sarcasm that some may find crude or offensive, but others may find themselves laughing out loud every few pages. This "gospel" is nothing like what you would expect; it's full of all the taboo topics: religion, politics, sex, drugs, and rock (just rock, you know...stonemason stuff?). Since Moore pokes fun not only at Christianity, but also at Buddhism, Hinduism, and just about every other major religion, this is a book for those who don't take religion or life too seriously. I find myself picking up Lamb any time I need a good dose of wit and sarcasm or a good reminder to step back and laugh.

Youth Historical Novel: "The Lions of Little Rock"

While researching The Lions of Little Rock, author Kristin Levine zeroed in on 1958 when Little Rock, Arkansas, was starting to react to forced integration of the public schools. By setting her novel at that time, she gives it a compelling undertone, as readers witness the governor closing the high schools and citizens forming groups such as the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC).

This historical novel for youth offers dynamic characters and plot, starring painfully shy twelve-year-old Marlee. Readers will be moved when Marlee bids good-bye to her beloved older sister who is sent away for high school. Left at home, Marlee struggles to make friends, when suddenly an unexpected friendship with a new girl, Liz, boosts her confidence and helps her to understand where she stands in the fight against racism. I found Levine's book informative, warm, and highly entertaining. Reviews have been strongly positive, including this from the New York Times Book Review: ". . . Satisfying, gratifying, touching, weighty — this authentic piece of work has got soul." Levine also wrote The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults.

The Future, on DVD

Written, directed, and starring the quirky Miranda July, The Future tells the story of a thirty-something couple whose decision to adopt a cat changes their perspective on life, literally altering the course of time and testing their faith in themselves and their relationship. The cat, which has a voice over in the film, acts as a symbol for waiting. He needs a month to heal a hurt paw before the couple can take him home. Sophie and Jason decide that the next thirty days is the last free time they’ll ever have, and ponder what to do with their time, their relationship, and their adult lives as they wait for the cat to join their lives. How would you spend your “last” thirty days?

The film can be difficult, and is not for everyone, but this also makes it powerful, strange, and charming at the same time. I’m not a huge fan of Miranda July’s work, such as Me and You and Everyone We Know, but I enjoyed The Future and found it awkwardly engaging. (For fun, you can also have your fortune told weekly by Ms. July.)

"Crossing the Tracks," Tenderhearted Historical Novel for Teens

Poor Iris Baldwin lost her mom as a young child, and now that she is a teen, her overbearing, insensitive dad is sending her away for the summer. Iris feels awkward, alienated, and angry about his latest girlfriend as she spends the summer with kindly Doctor Nesbitt and his elderly mother. Gradually Iris finds friendship, compassion, and a mindset that feels like home. Set in Kansas and Missouri in the 1920s, this coming-of-age novel -- the first by talented author Barbara Stuber -- offers romantic and tragic subplots, including a young neighbor's pregnancy and a violent death in Iris' family.

Once I picked this novel up, I couldn't put it down. After I finished reading it, I was delighted to see that this historical novel was picked in 2011 for Best Fiction for Young Adults by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association. Written for kids in about sixth through eighth grades, the story "offers strong character development and an engaging protagonist," according to School Library Journal. It's a natural for readers drawn to the Great Plains. Check out the author's website here.

Checkout the Thrilling Tale, "God's Spy"

If you are looking for a new adventure and don't shy away from murder, intrigue and graphic violence, God’s Spy could be the next book for you! Originally published in Spain, Juan Gomez-Jurado's God’s Spy is a thrilling story about a serial killer loose in Vatican City just after the death of the last pope, Pope John Paul II. The tale alternates between past events leading to the killer's arrival in Vatican City and the present circumstances, where a new Pope must be elected and potential candidates for the honor are being murdered.

Our serial murderer is revealed from page one, a former priest forced into a rehabilitation home for wayward clergy members with substance abuse problems or sexual repressions that manifest as physical abuse. Led by Paola Dicanti, head of the Laboratory for Behavioral Analysis, investigators must find the killer before another victim can be taken. Using her incredible talents, Paola must get inside of the mind of the disturbed priest and create a profile that will enable investigators to track him down. Definitely not for the faint of heart, this book is a great read if you have an interest in psychological profiling and general intrigue.

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