Monday, February 15, 2010

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging

Reviewed by Janice
Title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, Book 1)
Author: Louise Rennison
Primary Audience/age group: Teen
Genre: Humor
# Of pages: 256
Year of Release: 2005
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of Several
Rating: 2 (See Below)View Scale
Recommend? No!

We have decided to repost this review due to the recently released movie (Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging) based on this book. The orignal review was posted January 24, 2008.

Description: She has a precocious 3-year-old sister who tends to leave wet nappies at the foot of her bed, an insane cat who is prone to leg-shredding "Call of the Wild" episodes, and embarrassing parents who make her want to escape to Stonehenge and dance with the Druids. No wonder 14-year-old Georgia Nicolson laments, "Honestly, what is the point?" A Bridget Jones for the younger set, Georgia records the momentous events of her life--and they are all momentous--in her diary, which serves as a truly hilarious account of what it means to be a modern girl on the cusp of womanhood. No matter that her particular story takes place in England, the account of her experiences rings true across the ocean (and besides, "Georgia's Glossary" swiftly eradicates any language barriers). (Amazon.com)

Review: I discovered this book and its sequel in the school library at the middle school where I taught in 2003-2004. Many of my students checked them out and read them for reading assignments. I decided to have a look at this book's sequel, "On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God," and was completely appalled. Although these books are undeniably funny, they contain so many undesirable aspects that I have to warn parents to help their children steer clear.

Rating: 2 - for situations beyond kissing, mild language, and general inappropriate behavior.

Positive: I am really thinking hard here, and I can't think of a single positive thing that would outweigh the negatives in this book. The main character does have a sweet relationship with her little sister...

Spiritual Elements: One of the characters in the book wants to bully the other girls into shoplifting. Georgia stands up to her and is accused of being a Christian. During prayer at the school, Georgia and her friends cut up and whisper to each other, leaving the overall impression that religion is not respected.

Violence: None

Language: Several uses of "d***" and the Lord's name. There are also some British words like "bloody."

Sexual Content: At the beginning of the book Georgia decides she may be too ugly to get a guy and should therefore consider being a lesbian (although later in the book she reveals that she didn't know what that meant, exactly). Throughout the course of the book Georgia kisses three different boys. One boy is a "professional snogger" who helps her master her kissing technique. He is impressed with her abilities and they get into a relationship centered around kissing. The second boy lives near her neighborhood. He kisses her and touches her breast twice and her bottom once before breaking up with her for a girl who is easier. The third boy is the "Sex God" that she has feelings for. He kisses her while still dating someone else. At the end of the book he breaks up with his girlfriend, comes over to Georgia's house and makes out with her for 30 minutes before agreeing to see her in secret. Other than that, Georgia's friends talk about their experiences, and some of them have already experienced some above waist touching.

Other: Georgia and her friends are very irreverent towards every adult figure in their lives. Georgia is very disrespectful to her parents, her teachers, and her next door neighbor, and she does not hesitate to lie to get herself out of trouble. I understand that the Georgia Nicolson books are written to be light-hearted and funny (not a serious moment in sight), but I cannot imagine a pre-teen or teen being unaffected by this book. It really fosters a calloused attitude towards parents, sex, and God.

Recommendation: Not only can I not recommend this book, but I would like to go so far as to encourage parents to keep this and all Georgia Nicolson books out of the reach of children!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Last Song

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: The Last Song
Author: Nicholas Sparks
Primary Audience/age group: Adult
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 390
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Year of Release:
2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 3 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

Description: Ronnie Miller was not about to forgive her father for walking out on her mother and had not even spoken to him in over three years. When her mother decided that she and her little brother Jonah would spend the summer with him in North Carolina instead of staying in New York, she was angry and rebellious.

Her father, Steve, a former concert pianist, had moved back to the little beach town where he had grown up and was now reconstructing a stained glass window for his church which had burned down six months earlier. He was seeking peace and a relationship with God and was also hoping to restore a relationship with his seventeen year old daughter. She rejected his efforts, vowing to return to New York until she met Will, who captured her attention in spite every effort to distance herself from him. As she falls for Will, she sees her father in a brand new light.

Review: This is a story about love and forgiveness, guilt and forgiveness, confession and forgiveness, healing, pain, and did I say forgiveness? The whole premise of the book seems to be based on Galatians 5:22 which speaks of the fruit of the spirit – love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This verse is actually quoted in the text. Ronnie’s father adopts this scripture and finds it makes a difference in his life as he attempts to live it out. He suffers from a debilitating illness and seeks God’s will and finds comfort in the music he loves. Ronnie gradually finds out that her father is not the man that she thought he was, and reaches out to him, finding solace in their reconciliation.

Rating: 3 for some sexual situations, mild violence.

Positive: There was a lot to like in this book. Even though Ronnie had a rebellious streak, she did not drink, smoke, use profane language or have premarital sex. She cared deeply for her younger brother, even though she sometimes considered him a pest and had a tender heart for anyone or anything small or weak. (She even slept on the beach to guard a nest of sea turtle eggs against marauding predators.) There was much healing and restoration of broken relationships which brought the book to a very satisfactory conclusion.

Spiritual Elements: Steve’s deepening relationship with God was a key element in the story, as was the mentoring relationship that developed between Steve and his pastor.

Violence: One character was a pyromaniac, setting several blazes during the course of the story, which resulted in injury to others.

Language: There was some objectionable language.

Sexual Content: There was some fantasizing on the part of one unsavory individual, but nothing graphic.

Other: One group of rebellious teens that Ronnie got involved with when she first arrived at the beach town was prone to drinking and generally caused trouble. She quickly sensed that they were bad news and she tried to steer clear of them.

Recommendation: Although the targeted audience is adults, the seventeen year old protagonist and a teen romance will hold the interest of most teen girls, and I see no problem recommending it for older teens, especially considering the strong spiritual elements.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kira-Kira

By Reviewer Missy Edgmon
Title: Kira-Kira
Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Primary Audience/age group: 6th grade and up
Genre: Fiction 2005 Newbery Award
# of pages: 244
Publisher: Alladin Paperbacks
Year of Release: 2004
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 1 View Scale
Recommend? No

Description: This is the story of the Katie, a young Japanese-American girl living in Georgia in the 1960's. Her relationship with her older sister, Lynn, is very close. Lynn is like a mother to her. The family moves to Georgia to follow the parents' jobs in a chicken hatchery. Lynn and Katie see very little of their parents after they move to Georgia because both of their parents work such long hours. Lynn takes care of Katie, protects her, and teaches her about the world. When Lynn becomes very ill, Katie must do the the caring for her sister and young baby brother. Although their parents are absent, there is a small but strong community of Japanese-Americans who help. After Lynn dies, Katie must learn how to find hope, and she uses her sister' explanation of shiny things: kira-kira, to see the beauty in the world despite her sorrow.

Review: This book feels bleak from the second chapter on. The family is subjected to the prejudice of their new community as well as unreasonable working conditions for the parents. The girls' mother must wear an adult diaper because the workers are not allowed bathroom breaks. Lynn grows up and begins to pull away from Katie, then the rest of the book, from almost half-way through until the end, centers around Lynn's illness. Katie is left to figure life and death out for herself. The parents are absent for most of the story, although the father does make an appearance to teach Lynn a valuable lesson about honesty and integrity. And her uncle is also a loving, although slightly unstable personality. The defining characteristic in the story is absence. Parents are absent, authority figures are almost absent, guidance is nearly absent. When Katie looks at the glittery things of the world, the kira-kira her sister described to her, as a comfort in the end, it is not enough to breathe light into this heavy story.

Rating: 1

Spirituality: After Lynn dies, Katie builds an altar to her for 49 days until her soul is released. This is the only religious reference in the book.

Violence: Katie's father smashes a man's truck windows. No injuries.

Language: s**t (1x), G** d**n (2x)

Sexuality: Lynn and her friend talk about and experiment with French kissing boys. No details described. Katie's cousin uses the word "sperm" in his Scrabble game.

Other: Katie steals nail polish from a local store. Her mother pays for it later when the store owner confronts her. Katie's dad smashes out a man's car windows, but later confesses what he did and vows to pay for it. His admission cost him his job and taught Katie a lesson. Katie frequently skips school to be with her sister. She forges her mother's name on the notes; she is never caught. Katie's mother has Katie and her baby brother spend entire days waiting in the car in the parking lot when she's at work.

Recommendation: No. Although this book received a Newberry award, I do not recommend it because it is dark and hopeless, despite the kira-kira focus in the end. The instances of coarse language are unnecessary to the characterization or development of the story. Details about the inhumane working conditions the parents live with are not explained clearly enough for most middle schoolers to understand, and since there is no resolution for them in the end, one is left wondering why any details were necessary. Adults are viewed as being overwhelmed and hopeless. None of them got to do or be what they had hoped when they were young. There isn't a stong sense that there is more hope for the following generation. Authority figures are absent or unreliable, so the children are left to care for themselves as they see fit. Other than the lessons the father teaches Katie about honesty, I do not see the value of this story.

Missy Edgmon is the librarian for Cornerstone Christian Academy in Sugar Land, Texas. She is a loving wife, and mother to three young boys.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When You Reach Me

By Reviewer Missy Edgmon
Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Primary Audience/age group: 4th grade and up
Genre: mystery/sci-fi; 2010 Newbery Award
# of pages: 197
Publisher: Random House
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

Description: This story tracks a year in the life of Miranda, a sixth grade "latch-key" child living in New York in 1979. Her mother works in a law office to support the two of them. Her mother's boyfriend is a kind, dependable presence (who doesn't live with them, and no mention of staying over). There is excitement at home as her mother prepares to be a contenstant on the $20,000 Pyramid. At school and in her free time, Miranda's relationships with her friends shift and change. Her best friend, Sal, gets punched randomly, and he wants nothing to do with her after that event. She begins to spend time with Colin and Annemarie. The three of them volunteer at a sandwich shop during their school lunchbreak. Life is interesting, but gets a little too interesting when a note from a stranger pops up in her library book. The note asks her to write a letter to the stranger telling where her house key is hidden: "I will not be myself when I reach you." But who is the stranger; how can she send a letter when she doesn't know who to give it to, and is this safe?

Review: This is the best book I have read in a long time. I thought the descriptions of childrens' lives in the 1970's rang true, although that amount of freedom may seem difficult for today's children to imagine. With the exception of one mentally unstable character, all the adults in the story are loving, responsible examples, and they work together to take care of the children. All the elements of this story wind together to reveal the answer to the central mystery. The ending is very thought provoking and satisfying.

Rating: 4 for violence, language, and mild sexuality.

Violence: Miranda witnesses a fight between two boys. No blood or injuries are described. Miranda's friend, Sal, gets punched in the stomach. An elderly man gets hit and killed by a truck. A family friend shields Miranda's from viewing it.

Language: God is used as an exclamation in two or three places: "My God!"

Sexuality: Colin and Miranda kiss. Very little time is spent on the topic, and no details, emotional or physical, are described.

Other: Miranda's new friend, Colin steals from the sandwich shop they work at. The sandwich shop owner is prejudiced. No drug or alcohol use or crude behavior.

Recommendation: Yes! This story is refreshingly free of the angst we have seen in recent Newbery selections and young adult literature. The adult characters are loving, responsible examples. Miranda matures as a person over the course of the story. And the mystery is very compelling!

Missy Edgmon is the librarian for Cornerstone Christian Academy in Sugar Land, Texas. She is a loving wife, and mother to three young boys.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Brother Sam Is Dead



By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: My Brother Sam Is Dead (Apple Signature)
Newberry Honor book
Author: James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
Primary Audience/age group: 12+
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 216
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of Release: 1974
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 1 (View Scale)
Recommend: Yes

Description: (from book cover)”All his life, Tim Meeker has looked up to his brother, Sam. Sam is smart and brave and always knows the right thing to do. Everyone in town admires him. Until now. Sam has enlisted in the new American Revolutionary Army. He talks about defeating the British and becoming independent and free. But not everyone in town wants to be a part of this new America. Most people are loyal supporters of the English king – including Tim and Sam’s father. War is raging and Tim knows he’ll have to make a choice. But how can he choose when it means fighting is father on one side and fighting his brother on the other?”

Review: This is an older book, I know, but if you or your kids are like my kids, one part of the reading requirements for school is an award-winning book, or some historical fiction. This book fits both of those categories. I hope no one will get the idea from my rating that I think the book is inappropriate; according to the criteria in the rating scale, I must give it a 1 because of the use of some strong language. However, I think the book has value as a portrayal of the terrible toll a war (in this case, the American Revolution) can take on a family and a community.

Rating: 1, for violence and some strong language

Recommend:
Yes

Positive: Tim takes on grown-up responsibilities as the war pulls his family apart. He tries to stay loyal to both his beloved older brother and his father, even though they disagree.

Spiritual Elements: Church is a part of the community’s life. Tim is conscious that some of the things he does (or thinks about doing) are sinful. His mother prays with Tim for her husband and son.

Violence: The Collier brothers tried to portray the war in a more realistic manner than earlier accounts of the Revolutionary War had done, and as a result, there is quite a bit of violence and some disturbing conflict. For one thing, Tim’s father and brother have an intense fight over Sam’s choice to join the Continental Army (Tim’s father is a loyal Tory). Tim observes an attack by the British troops on a group of “Rebels,” including seeing one man’s head being lopped off. One part that I found disturbing was when Tim’s father was kidnapped by a group of outlaws; we don’t see it happening, but the suspense of knowing it is happening is pretty intense.

Language: There is some very strong language sprinkled throughout the book.

Sexual Content: None to speak of. Sam seems to have a relationship with a neighbor girl, but the relationship isn't developed in the story.

Other: Tim’s family runs a tavern, so part of their livelihood is selling rum. As a result, drinking is included throughout the book. (Spoiler!) When Sam is condemned to be executed, his mother spends about a week drinking too heavily.

The ending of the story is so unjust.

Rating: 1, for violence and some strong language

Recommendation: Yes. Although the book is pretty intense, I think it is worth reading as a portrayal of the tensions that really pulled apart families and communities during the American Revolution.