Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

It’s my birthday today. I’m not seventeen anymore.  The seventeen that Janis Ian sang about where one learns the truth.  But what she failed to mention is that you keep on learning truths after seventeen, and I want to keep on learning truths till the day I die.

Josephine Alibrandi is attending an upper-class Catholic high school on scholarship.  Strong, opinionated women surround her – the nuns at the school, her dramatic grandmother Katia, her single mother Christina, and her small group of friends.  Josephine is just as opinionated and strong-willed as those who surround her.

Josephine’s world is thrown into chaos when she meets her long-absent father, Michael Andretti.  She must decide whether to build a relationship with him.  Adding to her growing confusion with the opposite sex is her intelligent friend, John who is destined to become prime minister (at least according to his father) and passionate bad-boy Jacob Coote.

Josephine must decide who and what are important to her as she navigates learning more about her Italian family, ethnic discrimination, and growing up.

Review: Looking for Alibrandi is a rich, nuanced novel about what it means to grow up.  It deals with so many issues – family connections and secrets, cultural pressures, depression, relationships – but just as in Saving Francesca, this book feels like a “life” book.  It is as if you are getting an inside look into someone’s head and experiences.

That someone happens to be Josephine Alibrandi who has instantly become one of my favorite characters in Young Adult literature.   Josephine is extremely likable.  I loved the scene at the beginning where she was justifying reading a teen magazine in religion class to Sister.  She is fiery and opinionated.  She is not without faults, though.  Josie often times does not know when to keep her opinions to herself and her temper tends to get her into trouble.  Throughout the novel, though, Josephine shows a lot of growth and learns more about who she is.

The well-drawn relationships made this novel.  I loved the relationship between Josie and her parents.  She discovers that she and her father are not as different as she may have thought.  In fact, they are actually quite similar.  I loved the interactions between these two.  Josephine and her mother also had such a volatile but caring relationship that was realistically portrayed.

The secondary characters are dimensional and realistic – I loved Poison Ivy, John and Jacob.  I especially loved Jacob – who doesn’t love a bad boy with a heart.  Jacob and Josephine challenged each other and made each other a better person.  They also had amazing chemistry.

However, this novel is not at all a typical bad boy and good girl fall in love story.  It is SO much more than that.  It is about real people having real relationships – learning, loving, making mistakes and growing.  There was another added layer in learning about what it means to be an Italian-Australian and the pressures and assumptions that come along with that.

There is only one thing wrong with Melina Marchetta’s books – I am always sad when I am finished.  She creates stories that you want to stay in and characters that you don’t want to leave.  I highly recommend that you read the award-winning Looking for Alibrandi.

**As an added note, this book was made into a movie in Australia (the screenplay was also written by Marchetta)  I am going to track this down next!  I am pretty sure that it will be amazing.  Additionally, I read that this is the most stolen library book in Australia.  Crazy!

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Age Recommendation: 15 and older

Rating: 5/5

I will be hosting a Melina Marchetta book giveaway for my Canadian and United States readers.  This is a giveaway that you will want to enter – details coming on Saturday. :)

Posted in I Heart Melina Marchetta, Realistic Fiction, Tough Issues, Young Adult Fiction | 7 Comments

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

I can’t believe I said it out loud. The truth doesn’t set you free, you know. It makes you feel awkward and embarrassed and defenseless and red in the face and horrified and petrified and vulnerable. But free? I don’t feel free. I feel like shit.

16-year old Francesca is sent to St. Sebastian’s School by her caring but determined mother, Mia, who is convinced that the opportunity will open up new doors for Francesca.  It’s every girl’s dream to attend an all-boys school, right?  Not for Francesca, who has left the safety of her old friends and school behind.  Now the only people who she has to hang out with are the outcasts from her old school – an outspoken feminist named Tara, wild-child Siobhan and Justine, the accordion player.  On top of that, the boys in the school are crass and infuriating – especially the maddening Will Trombal.

Then, one day, Mia’s mother doesn’t get out of bed.  And she doesn’t the next day either.  Francesca’s wonderful, sparkling, out-spoken mother has acute depression, and Francesca is not sure how to help her.  In figuring out how to help her mother find her way back, Francesca must also figure out how to save herself and discover who she truly is.

Review: I first fell in love with Melina Marchetta’s writing after her absolutely brilliant, moving book Jellicoe Road.  Her characters were deep, nuanced and familiar.  The story and the dialogue rang true.  I eagerly sought out her prior novels and am so grateful that I did because they do not disappoint.

At its heart, Saving Francesca is a book about a girl trying to find out who she is and her place in the world, which I think is a theme that Marchetta explores in all of her novels.  From her writing, it is obvious that she was a high school teacher as she knows her characters innately and has a real feel for the high school voice.  I absolutely love the characters in all of Marchetta’s works.  They stick with you and you can’t stop thinking about them, wondering what they are up to, where the story goes next.  Francesca’s unlikely group of friends is a group that any high school girl (heck, 28 year old) would want.  They care about each other.  They are unique and fun and spunky.  They feel real.

I also love how realistically Marchetta portrays issues relating to young people – love, acceptance, self-discovery.  She also handles Mia’s depression in a very even-handed, realistic way.  The author writes about issues WITHOUT IT BEING AN ISSUE BOOK!  It’s just a life book – characters learning, growing, and developing.

Francesca’s relationship with Will was realistically portrayed as well.  I have read some reviews in which the reviewer didn’t like Will.  There are times that I didn’t like Will – however, I remember back to high school and I think that sometimes high school boys (at least the ones that I remember) can do jerky things.  I love a swept-away romance as much as the next person, but this relationship felt raw and true.

After attending many, many years of Catholic school (including 4-years at an all-girls high school), I can relate to Marchetta’s setting and loved the little “insider” jokes she threw in about using butcher block paper and the small group skits that the students had to do.  The students even attend a retreat in which they have to create a pyramid representing the Catholic church.  It was really hilarious.

Melina Marchetta is an author to be excited about.  I love her writing voice, her characters and the “realness” of her stories.  If you want a moving book that is sprinkled with humor, this is your book.  If you want a strong story about a girl trying to discover who she is and be her own person, this is your book.  I absolutely love anything Melina Marchetta writes and this book is no exception.  It is fantastic.

Genre: Realistic fiction

Age Recommendation: 14 and up

Rating: 5/5

Review coming upLooking for Alibrandi by (surprise, surprise) Melina Marchetta!!! AND… be on the look-out for a very special give-away featuring books by (you guessed it) Melina Marchetta!!! (whose name should always be followed by gratuitous exclamation points)

Posted in I Heart Melina Marchetta, Realistic Fiction, Tough Issues, Young Adult Fiction | 3 Comments

A Very Bookish Update!

Long time, no see!  November proved to be an insanely busy month for me with parent/teacher conferences, unit planning and report cards.  Sadly, the National Novel Writing Month and this blog had to be put aside.  However, I have some great posts and book reviews planned as I will always make time for reading. ;)

A few thoughts…

1.  Is Melina Marchetta the world’s best writer?  I think I could make a case for it.  I just finished Saving Francesca and it was A-MAZ-ING!  I can’t wait to write a review on it and I am eagerly anticipating the companion novel, The Piper’s Son, which will be published in America March 2011.

2.  There are so many great new releases out there!  I recently read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and Matched by Ally Condie.  LOVED!

3.  Have you read Graceling by Kristin Cashore yet?  If you haven’t, run to the book store immediately and purchase it.  I never thought I would be a fan of fantasy novels but I am loving them more and more.  The world and characters that Cashore have created are unforgettable.  Fire, a companion novel to Graceling, is on my To Be Read list.

4.  Speaking of my To Be Read list…do you have any suggestions for me?  I still need to read The Scorch Trials and am really looking forward to Across the Universe.  Tell me some books that I absolutely must read.

5.  My husband got me a NOOK for my birthday!  I have always been somewhat of a book purist but I don’t know what I ever did without an e-reader.  Look for a full product review soon.  They are dangerous, though – you can download books instantly.  I must learn to restrain myself!

What’s new with you? I have missed all of you and can’t wait to catch up on your blogs!

Posted in I Heart Melina Marchetta, Realistic Fiction, Updates, Young Adult Fiction | 12 Comments

Waiting on Wednesday – We’ll Always Have Summer

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event held by Breaking the Spine.  This event features books that we can’t wait to be released!

This week, I am waiting on…

We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han!

LOVE this!

It is no secret that I am one HUGE fan of Jenny Han’s Summer series that includes The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You. I read these scrumptious books in two days flat.  The characters are absolutely engaging and draw you into their story.  The end of each novel really leaves you hanging and wanting more.  Darn you, Jenny Han, for being such an amazing writer!  And for forcing me to use capitals and exclamation points when speaking about you and your books!

Sadly, we will have to wait till May of 2011 to find out what happens to Belly, Jeremiah and Conrad in We’ll Always Have Summer. (I am so nervous about this title, by the way…)

What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Posted in I Heart Jenny Han, Realistic Fiction, Waiting on Wednesday, Young Adult Fiction | 3 Comments

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

And Devon said, It’s not about the dog!  It’s about people!  You shouldn’t hurt innocent people Scout.  That’s what it means.

I guess the evil school shooters didn’t listen in English class because they did not Get the meaning of that book at all.

Caitlin’s family and community has just been rocked by a terrible tragedy.  Three people – two students and a teacher- were gunned down in a school shooting at Virginia Dare Middle School.  One of the students was Caitlin’s brother Devon.  A situation that is sad and awful is made even more difficult for Caitlin.  She has Asperger’s syndrome which allows her to only see the world in very strict terms – in black and white.  Caitlin has trouble processing her own feelings, her feelings about others and does not know how to reach her father. One day, after hearing a newscast about the shooting, she discovers the word Closure, and determines that closure is exactly what she and her father need.  How will she and a grieving community find closure after something so horrible occurs?

Review: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine is a beautiful, moving novel that not only gives voice to Caitlin, a young girl with Asperger’s syndrome, but gives a voice to communities affected by school violence.  The book is extremely moving and takes a look at all sides of  school violence but in a very subtle and realistic way.  We see all of the reactions of the people around her through Caitlin, who proves to be a very interesting filter.  Caitlin is working on becoming more empathetic and developing a sensitivity to others’ emotions.  Caitlin often cannot understand why the things that she says hurt the people around her – especially her father, who in his grief cannot help her the way Devon did.  I thought that Caitlin as the narrator was a bold move but it really worked and her voice and spirit were spot on.

I also loved how Caitlin’s art was utilized as a metaphor throughout the novel.  Caitlin was an extremely talented artist but would only draw in black and white.  As she grew and changed, developing empathy for others, so did her acceptance of using color in her art work.

The plot was really beautiful as well.  Devon had been a devoted Boy Scout and was actively working on earning his Eagle Scout when he was killed.  He and his father were building a chest.  Caitlin decides that for closure they need to finish the chest.  We also see how others in the community need healing as well and we see how that occurs, or doesn’t, through Caitlin’s eyes.

I have done a terrible job of describing how meaningful or wonderful this book is.  All I can tell you is to go read it.  Go read it and let the words convince you.  This is a lovely, poignant novel that I plan on sharing with my students.  I think a lot of important discussion can come from this novel about people’s differences, acceptance, understanding, and how our actions affect others.

Genre: Realistic fiction

Age Recommendation: 11 and up

Rating: 5/5

Posted in Middle Grade Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Tough Issues | 11 Comments

What’s New @ Literature for Lunch?

What a busy, crazy week!  A few updates for you….

I accidentally read four novels this week!  I recently reviewed the first one, Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper.  It was a moving read with a spunky, dimensional main character named Melody.  I think that this is definitely a front runner for the Newbery.

Jenny Han = Amazing

I also read The Summer I Turned Pretty and It’s Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han.  That was a HUGE mistake!  I have become so invested in the lives of Conrad, Belly and Jeremiah that I simply cannot wait until NEXT MAY to find out what happens.  The end of It’s Not Summer Without You…I just died.  I must have read that page 9,000 times to see if I was missing something or I could read more meaning into it or if another page would magically appear. Write faster Jenny Han! Look for two mini-reviews of these books coming soon.  Here’s a hint: I loved them.

The book Mockingbird by Kathryn Erksine is going to knock your socks off (excuse the cliche).  This poignant, emotional novel about a girl searching for empathy was beautifully written and extremely meaningful.  Not only does it give a glimpse into what it is like to live with Asperger’s syndrome but also into grief and the anatomy of a healing town after something horrific occurs.  A layered, important read.  This could also be a serious contender for the Newbery.

Finally, I have bit the bullet and am going to participate in National Novel Writing Month.  An idea came to me today, and I need where it takes me.  I would love to know if you are participating so I can cheer you on!

Anticipated Before and After Pictures for National Novel Writing Month:

Me on November 1st

Me on November 30th

Finally, check out my brand new review and teacher feature pages.  I have done a lot more reviews than I had thought.  Have a great week and happy reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Everybody uses words to express themselves.  Except me.  And I bet most people don’t realize the real power of words.  But I do.

Thoughts need words.  Words need a voice.

I love the smell of my mother’s hair after she washes  it.

I love the feel of the scratchy stubble on my father’s face before he shaves.  But I’ve never been able to tell them.

Fifth-grader Melody Brooks loves her little sister Penny, her dog Butterscotch and the sweet twang of country music.  She has a photographic memory and dreams of joining her grade school quiz team.  Until recently, no one knew any of this because Melody had been locked inside her head.  She was born with severe cerebral palsy limiting her movement and her verbal capabilities.  Written off by doctors and educators as “retarded” (a word Melody hates) and mentally incapable, the dedication of her 5th grade special education teacher, her aide Catherine, her loving parents and the uncompromising Mrs. V, allow Melody to unlock the voice inside her with the addition of a special Medi-Talker.  Not everyone is ready for Melody to have a voice, though – including members of the quiz team she wants to join.  However, with a spunk, spirit and courage all her own, Melody works to make her voice stand-out and be listened to and prove that she is a force to be reckoned with.

Review: Kids like Melody have a very special place in my heart.  Throughout my high school years, I volunteered with people who had profound mental and physical disabilities at a long-term care facility called The Saint Joseph Home in Cincinnati, Ohio.  We took the residents on outings to places like the zoo or a ball game, dressed them up in their Halloween costumes and had a parade, did art projects and just spent time together.  They were an amazing group of people, and I loved the time that I spent there with them.

Sharon Draper gives a voice to those who are voiceless, like those individuals at the Saint Joseph Home, in her extraordinary book, Out of My Mind.  I absolutely loved the main character, Melody, who has such a unique, beautiful and honest way of looking at the world.  She describes country music as “lemons – no sour but sugary sweet and tangy.  Lemon cake icing, cool, fresh lemonade.”  However, the words swirling around in her head have no voice, and I felt her extreme frustration when she was unable to communicate to her dad that she wanted a Big Mac and a shake or to tell her parents that she loved them.  Melody was also matter-of-fact.  She describes the difficulty she has eating and the messes she makes on her shirt and the jerking motions she makes when she gets excited or upset.  She knows when others are uncomfortable around her, and she hears them whisper about her in hushed tones.  As a protagonist, Melody weaves her way into your heart and doesn’t let go.  The first-person narration in this book works extremely well and lets the reader see out of Melody’s eyes.

Draper realistically portrays the family dynamics of taking care of someone who is severely handicapped.  The love that Melody’s parents have for her is extremely evident – from their insistence to the doctors that Melody is bright to singing and reading to Melody at night to advocating Melody’s need for a Medi-Talker.  However, Draper also shows the stress that Melody’s care plays into their marriage and relationship, especially when Melody’s new sister Penny is born.

Two characters that I loved in this book were Mrs. V, a family friend, and Catherine, Melody’s new college-age aide with a quirky fashion-sense.  They constantly advocated for Melody, pushed her, and were cheerleaders for her talents and abilities.  I can only hope that all children have a Mrs. V or Catherine in their lives.

The main conflict in the story revolves around Melody making the quiz bowl team and the reactions to her presence on the team by those around her. However, this conflict leads to Melody making an important realization:

Fifth grade is probably rocky for lots of kids.  Homework.  Never being quite sure if you’re cool enough.  Clothes. Parents. Wanting to play with toys and wanting to be grown up all at the same time.  Underarm odor.

I guess I have all that, plus about a million different layers of other stuff to deal with.  Making people understand what I want.  Worrying about what I look like.  Fitting in.  Will a boy ever like me?  Maybe I’m not so different from everyone else after all.

Out of My Mind is Melody’s story- a nuanced, poignant, honest story of a girl growing up and finding her voice – something all students can relate to.  This is an absolutely fantastic book that I plan on recommending to all students in my classroom.  It is an important book to share and treasure and discuss.  I really hope that the Newbery buzz is true because this book truly deserves the highest honor in children’s literature.

Genre: Realistic fiction

Age Recommendation: 9 and up

Rating: 5/5

Posted in Middle Grade Fiction, Realistic Fiction | 5 Comments

The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade

Dying should have been the worst moment of my life.  I mean, hello, getting run over by a school bus full of band geeks while wearing the regulation gym uniform of red polyester short shorts and a practically see-through white T-shirt?  It doesn’t get more tragic than that. Or, so I thought.

Alona Dare is your quintessential popular girl – beautiful, catty, center of attention with a hot boyfriend.  But now, due to an unfortunate run-in with a school bus, she is dead…though certainly not gone.  She is a ghost and needs to figure out how to leave Earth to go to the “bright light.”  Enter Will Killian, the goth kid who can actually see, hear and touch ghosts.  Alona needs Will to help her navigate the ghost world.  Will needs Alona, too.  On top of the normal problems that hearing and seeing the dead might bring, a frightening ghost named Gus has been trying to destroy Will.  Will Alona and Will be able to get past their differences and help each other before it is too late?

Review: If you are looking for a fun, light read from a new voice in paranormal fiction, look no further…The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade is the book for you!  There are a lot of things that I loved about this novel:

  1. Two words:  Alona Dare. What a sassy, enjoyable character!  The language that she uses throughout the novel really define her character and give her dimension.  For example, when she is about to be hit she says, “God, buses are so ugly when you see them that up close.”  Kade crafts Alona to have a distinctive voice – she can be self-centered, insensitive and honest-to-a-fault but she still is extremely likable.  Alona grows a lot during the story as well, but not an unbelievable amount.
  2. The relationship between Alona and Will. There was so much tension and banter between the two protagonists.  I loved it!  I was really rooting for them to get together and realize their feelings for each other, even though it would be a little bit creepy.  You could tell that they really cared for each other, and I love how the relationship progressed.
  3. The tone of the book. While there was danger and romance and a paranormal element, the tone of the book was light and fun.  This book is like a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a sweltering hot day.  It was refreshing and just what I needed after reading a string of more serious novels.
  4. There is going to be a sequel! To be honest, I was kind of sad when this book ended.  I wanted more Will and Alona – more banter, more romantic tension, more ghostly encounters!  The characters are that likable.  Never fear, though, friends.  There is going to be a sequel called The Queen of the Dead coming out on June 7, 2011.  Yay!

An enjoyable read with memorable characters.  If you are looking for something a little bit different in the paranormal category, try The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade.  You won’t be disappointed.

Genre: Paranormal romance

Age Recommendation: 13 and up

Rating: 3.9 / 5

Posted in Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction | 4 Comments

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Thank you to everyone who entered my I LOVE JANE! Giveaway.  I loved reading all of your choices for your favorite literary couple.  The couples ranged from Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice to Gemma Doyle and Kartik from A Great and Terrible Beauty to Mary Anne and Logan in the Babysitters Club Series.  Who is my favorite literary duo?

Frog and Toad!

Yes, I know that they are not a couple per se, but I think that they have a beautiful friendship, and I loved reading about their adventures as a child.  In the romantic relationship category, I would choose Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs from Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road.

On to the winner…I used a random generator to pick a number, and the number that came up was 4!  That means that the 4th commenter, Jenny @ Supernatural Snark, is the lucky winner of a copy of Jane by April Lindner and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Congratulations, Jenny!

In Jenny’s comment, she wrote:

I read Jane Eyre forever ago, so I’m excited to read this new interpretation! Hm, my favorite literary couple? I would love to pick a couple classically tragic and epic and all that, but that’s not really me, so I will have to go with Chess and Terrible from Stacia Kane’s Downside Ghosts series, or Rose and Dimitri from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, or Barrons and Mac from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series (though they’re not technically a couple…yet. I’m holding out hope for Shadowfever when it comes out in January). Phew. That was too many, but I can’t pick just one.

Thanks again to everyone who entered!  Be on the lookout for my end-of-October Halloween giveaway in which I will be giving away two Mary Downing Hahn books and a copy of The Ghost and the Goth by Stacey Kade.

Coming up this weekend, I will have a review of The Ghost and the Goth and a new teacher feature post.  Have a great Friday!

Posted in Giveaway | 1 Comment

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event held by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.  Bloggers get to share what books they are anticipating!

I know that this book has been talked about a lot but I can’t wait for…

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads …

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she’s less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris — until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all . . . including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? Stephanie Perkins keeps the romantic tension crackling and the attraction high in a debut guaranteed to make toes tingle and hearts melt.

I love that this book is set in a boarding school in Paris!  I am really anticipating reading about Anna’s adventures.  This book is set to be released on December 2, 2010.  I know that I will be counting down the days.  What are you waiting on this Wednesday?

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments