code orange

July 16, 2006

Cooney, Caroline B. Code Orange. NY: Delacort Press/Random, 2005.

narrator: third-person limited, Mitty (Mitchell John) Blake

Just finished first chapter and I’m hooked. Check out this last section of chapter 1…which switches to an omniscient third-person narrator:

“Scab particles were in Mitty Blake’s fingerprints. He had wiped them on his cheek and rubbed them against his nose. He had breathed them in.

Every virus, although not quite alive, nevertheless has a shelf ‘life.’ The shelf life of some viruses is known; the shelf life of others is uncertain.

In this case, it was the shelf life of Mitchell John Blake that was uncertain.”

Dun dun dun dunnnnn…great first-chapter cliffhanger. And I like Mitty. He’s a total schlubb when it comes to academics, but he’s passionate about music. He has ambitions; he wants to become a rock concert reviewer. His family is rich, has other plans, pressure him to become a doctor. We get a good sense of place — contrast between NY City and Connecticut. That’s a lot of information and setup for the first chapter, the first fourteen pages. Then there’s the mystery; what are those scabs? And what will happen to the lackadaisical Mitty, who has a crush on Olivia, the most studious girl in the class?

Just finished…this is a good read. Great for history, science. Mitty remains an entertaining smartmouth and does go through a transformation. I did not like the caricature of terrorists and the heavy references to the World Trade Towers. On some level, Code Orange is Cooney’s pledge to NYC, her fierce condemnation of cowardly hate-mongers. At least, that’s how she pictures them. Doesn’t help to foster that kind of absolute Us vs. Them, first-world and everybody-else schism.


autobiography of miss jane pittman

July 16, 2006

Gaines, Ernest J. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. NY: Bantam Books, 1971.

narrator: first-person, Miss Jane Pittman, the editor, collective voice

My son is reading this book as required summer reading before 9th grade and I’m reading with him. I love Ernest Gaines’ writing and have taught Love and Dust and In My Father’s House at graduate and undergraduate levels. Now, this is writing! Such an ear for Luzana voices, such an eye for the bayous and the country. So much to learn here and so much that catches at my researcher’s heart: were there a lot of schools for orphaned slave children right after the Civil War? was the old man with the maps in the middle of the country based on an actual figure? who were the Beero investigators and how did all that work? So many memorable characters who only appear for a scene. Why are those scenes so indelible? Tension — will Jane and Ned survive? what will the others do? Description. Josh is supposed to finish Book Two today. I get frustrated having to wait for him to get reading further so I can catch up and then we can talk. I’m reading the other books. Does Gaines’ book qualify as YA lit. since the narrator is ‘leven or twelve? I love the editor’s introduction and hope there will be some return to it by the end of the novel. I love that this is a novel called an autobiography. What does that mean? How was this book received in 1971? Roots started showing on TV in 76?

last shot

July 16, 2006

Feinstein, John. The Last Shot. NY: Knopf, 2005.

narrator: third-person limited, Steven Thomas

I’m not a sports fan, not a sports-writing fan, except for a few who write about issues, but this book works well, maybe because it’s also a mystery, “A Final Four Mystery,” as the cover states. Nice interweaving of all the issues (hmm…except race, gender) in college basketball, great character in Sue Carol Anderson, the other winner besides Steve Thomas, of the writing contest that gets both of them to New Orleans and the Final Four. Enough tension and well-paced so that I stayed to the end and might…consider reading another. But not before I pick up another Sammy Keyes novel…


July 14, 2006

Westerfeld, Scott. Uglies. NY: Simon Pulse, 2005.

narrator: third-person limited, Tally

Finally started this book. I really want to read Peeps, which I also have from the library. I’ve got this whole course mapped out on the vampire trope: Angel, Westerfeld’s Peeps, Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, Ann Rice. Start with the black and white Nosferatu. Buffy. What is up with the resurgence of the vampire?

Back to Uglies. I’m having a hard time…it moves well. But some of the uglies/pretties stuff seems forced. At the start, clear condemnation of pretties, their shallowness, forced plastic surgery. Dunno. I think I’ll like this better as it goes on. I like Westerfeld’s piece in his blog about Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing (July 7 2006 posting). And in Westerfeld’s 26 June posting when he’s at the ALA conference in New Orleans, he lets us know that 20th Century Fox with producer John Davis has bought the Uglies series … so we’ll see movies eventually.

15 July and I’m done with Uglies wanting to get on to Pretties. Lots of action, enough build-up of characters. Of course, there’s my most favorite thing in the world: hoverboards. Definitely most detail on hoverboards I’ve read in any sci-fi. Neal Stephenson’s skateboard-rollerblades-hoverboards come close in Snow Crash. I really want to know what middle-school students think of Uglies. Really.

So B. It

July 12, 2006

Weeks, Sarah. So B. It. NY: HarperCollins, 2004.

narrator: first-person, Heidi

Wow. Some gorgeous language: “I cried so hard, it felt like my ribs might crack open. I imagined my heart flying out like a small, red bird escaping its cage, going off in search of a more promising person to live in” (63); or, “Bernie taught me everything I knew, and she was a very good teacher. When she explained things, they shot into my brain like arrows and stuck,” (9). Can’t put this one down. There’s a mystery around a word — one that Heidi’s mom says: “Soof.” And Heidi becomes obsessed. Her mom’s mentally challenged and she appeared at Bernadette’s apartment door in Las Vegas with Heidi in her arms; Heidi was a week-and-a-half old. Heidi’s mom has a vocabulary of twenty-three words and says her name is “So Be It,” so Bernadette spells it out like a real name: So B. It. Bernadette is agoraphobic, ever since her father died suddenly. This is quirky, some beautiful writing, and I also want to know what “soof” means almost as much as Heidi does.

It’s 13 July and I’ve finished the book. Still love the language. Every character is flawed and heroic. I like the ending.

sammy keyes

July 11, 2006

Van Draanen, Wendelin. Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief. NY: Knopf,

1998. Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes. NY: Knopf, 2002.

narrator: first-person, Sammy

Van Draanen is quickly becoming one of my fav YA authors. She works at creating strong female characters, and Sammy Keyes has already become my 21st century Nancy Drew. I was wondering when someone would come along and create a modern sleuth. But Van Draanen adds a lot of social insights, too. So Sammy has been dumped by her would-be actress mom on Grams, who allows Sammy to live with her in the Senior Hotel. Sammy has to keep all her stuff in the bottom drawer of her Grams’ dresser, because no one can know that she’s living there.

The friendship between Sammy and Marissa is also a focal point. Van Draanen offers plenty of conflict: between Grams and Sammy, Sammy and Marissa, Heather Acosta and the rest of the world.

In Sammy Keyes and the Search for Snake Eyes, Van Draanen takes on the subjects of gangs and teen pregnancy. Mexican American gangs in So. Cal. get represented through several characters in a fairly complex way. Dealing with bullying also is a part of the two books I read. I’m ready for the rest of the series, but I’ll put those off for treats along the way. After reading The Search for Snake Eyes, I find myself thinking about the issues, so Van Draanen accomplishes what I think good books do — she gives us a great read while making us think.

the house of the scorpion

July 8, 2006

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. (NY: Atheneum, 2002; NY: Simonpulse, 2004).

I love this book. Couldn’t put it down. I learned about it from an eighth-grade teacher, a TC from Red Mountain Writing Project, who said her students loved it. I keep wanting to teach it at the college level along with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (cloning, individuality, community). What a great read! I love that Farmer has placed this at U.S. border and relied on a lot of Mexican language and culture. Adult allies for main character (whose name I’ve forgotten, since it’s been a while since I read the book) are the woman who takes care of main character at start and the bodyguard/boxer guy. Like The Giver, society is dystopic in that it relies on eradication of individuality — here, it’s for cheap and lethal labor. Third-person narrative from main character’s P.O.V.?