Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stargirl

Reviewed by: Shawna Williams
Title: Stargirl
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Realistic Fiction
# Of pages: 186
Publisher: Knopf
Year of Release: 2000
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 2
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes but with one reservation

Description: A new girl has arrived at Mica High, and Leo Borlock as well as most of the student body are mesmerized with her. She is quite different from everyone else with her floor-length flowery skirts and whimsical way of serenading the other students with her ukulele. She captures their hearts at first with her strange antics, but then they start to despise her non-conforming ways. When the students begin to shun Stargirl, Leo devises a plan to make her normal. But, is being normal really worth the cost of losing oneself?

Review: I love books with a purpose, and this book definitely serves a purpose to shine light on the negativity of seeking popularity above all else. I think the book can encourage teens to not be afraid to be themselves as well as to not look down on those who are different. This fun and inspiring tale is a highly recommended read in my book with only one reservation. Please see the recommendation below.

Rating: 4 for mild language

Positive: Stargirl inspires the other students to change for the better. With all her differences she encourages those students without a voice to speak out. She cheers for other’s accomplishments and encourages the others to do the same. She inspires individuality, and she doesn’t care what others think about her.

Spiritual Elements: Stargirl takes Leo to an “enchanted” place in the desert to meditate or in other words to lose themselves in their surroundings and become one with nature.

Violence: Hillari, a popular student who does not like Stargirl, drops Stargirl’s pet rat down the stairs. He is uninjured though. The other cheerleaders play mean tricks an Stargirl to coerce her into quitting the team. Hillari slaps Stargirl out of anger.

Language: Cr*p, fr*ggin’, and for G*d’s sake are used.

Sexual Content: Stargirl kisses Leo.

Other: Archie, Leo’s paleontologist friend, smokes cheery-sweet tobacco as he teaches several students about dinosaur bones. Belief in evolution is implied.

Recommendation: The only part that concerned me about the book was Stargirl showing Leo how to meditate. Meditation in the Bible is not the same as the meditation described in this book. It seems the meditation in the book is the art of emptying the mind and losing your personhood in a sense, which can leave you open and vulnerable. Meditation as depicted in the Bible is reflecting on God’s word or thinking deeply about what you have read in the Bible so that you may apply it to your life. This encourages you to know and understand the Bible better and have a deeper relationship with Jesus instead of detaching yourself from everything.

The Bible says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8 NIV This verse does not mean that we will be completely free from the trials and sufferings of this world, but that by reflecting on God’s word and applying it to our lives we will have success in Biblical standards. Success ultimately is being in the center of God’s will, doing what He asks us to do and thus being fruitful in bringing others to Jesus.

I would encourage discussing these differences with your teens. I would recommend ages 11 and up.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Julie

By Reviewer Leeann N. Cronk
Title: Julie
Author: Catherine Marshall
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult to Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 364
Publisher: Guideposts
Year of Release: 1984
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Description: This is the last book written by Catherine Marshall. She passed away suddenly (months before the novel's revisions were complete) and her editor and husband finished it after her death. While Catherine Marshall's most famous novel, Christy, is a fictitious work about her mother's life, Julie is about Catherine's own life. Set in the fictitious town of Alderton during the last part of the Great Depression, the novel tells the story of Julie Wallace and her family as they move to flood-prone western Pennsylvania and take on the formidable task of taking over the town's only newspaper. The Wallace's find that it is easy to make enemies in this small town and that tensions run high between the immigrant laborers and the owners of the local steel company. From the book jacket: “The drama of valor and corruption is played out against a background of portentous flash floods, culminating in a catastrophic deluge that breaks the dam and overruns the Alderton countryside and town, carrying before it entire farms, houses, cars, trains, animals and hundreds of hapless people. The Great Flood – imbued with the author's meticulous research of the historic Johnstown Flood – threatens to destroy everything in its path: Julie, her family and friends, their crusading newspaper, and a community seething with the tensions of small town American coming of age.”

Review: Normally I do not enjoy historical fiction, but this one is modern enough that I could relate to Julie and much of what she went through. The book is set in the 1930's (forty-some years after the actual Great Flood), but the details of the flood itself are quite accurate and well-researched. The story itself is very engaging and kept me interested the entire time. The flood scene was almost overwhelming to me (I had no prior knowledge of the flood before reading the book) and was expecting some water damage to the newspaper offices or something. Despite what I'd read on the book jacket I had no idea that (SPOILER) hundreds of people were going to die, including some characters I had grown to care for. The only thing I did not like about the book was the scene in which Julie finally allows herself to feel God's overpowering love. It was a little less powerful than I felt it might have been. In this scene, Julie's clothes have been ripped off of her body and she is riding the rushing waters on a huge, uprooted tree. As she speaks with God, she realizes how vain she is and stands up straight and tall, deciding to not be ashamed of the way the Lord made her. She wonders why she feels ashamed, noting that she had admired her body in the privacy of her room. I see what the author was trying to do in this scene (the whole point is that nothing matters except our relationship with God) yet I found the image of her standing up straight, tall and naked while other people were around distracted me from what was taking place between her and God. Overall, however, this is a very wonderful book on multiple levels.

Rating: 4 for violence and language

Positive: There are many positive elements to this novel. Greed and deceit are continually shown in a negative light while honesty, hard work and integrity are promoted as honorable. The book continually returned the focus to God and service to Him.

Spiritual Elements: The young minister of the family's new church, Spencer Meloy, becomes a potential love interest for Julie and she is challenged by his sermons and passion to serve others. Julie's father is a former minister who has left the profession after encountering trouble at his last church (what this trouble was is revealed as the story goes on). Both he and Julie are searching for answers, questioning God at times and uncertain of His plans for their lives. A man named Dean befriends Julie's father and provides invaluable help throughout the story. Dean's obedience to God and his desire to encourage struggling Christians in their faith is admirable. His service to others results in changed lives and shows that the impact one simple man can have for the Kingdom can be tremendous. Some members of the congregation protest efforts to reach out to the poor – worried that they don't want the “wrong kind of people” sitting next to them on the pews on Sunday. These attitudes are portrayed as negative.

Violence: There are several attacks on the newspaper office, including a minor case of arson and an attack by masked men with sledgehammers and clubs. Descriptions of the attack are handled tastefully. A family pet is poisoned. Most troubling are the scenes from the catastrophic flood which killed hundreds of people and several dead bodies are seen floating in the water. All of this was handled well, but the knowledge that so many people and animals died was, of course, disturbing.

Language: “H*ll” is used about three times and “My G**” is said once. Additionally, as a proofreader for the paper, Julie fails to notice that the “R” is left out of an advertisement for “Men's Shirts”. Although the word is obviously not used intentionally as a curse word (and in fact brings much embarrassment to Julie) the actual ad is reprinted in the novel, mistake and all.

Sexual Content: Several kissing scenes that lead to “wild, giddy heights” and “a series of conflicting emotions” surging through Julie's body. As mentioned earlier, during the flood, Julie's clothing is ripped from her body and she finds herself floating down a river of water and debris, clinging to a floating tree, completely naked.

Other: Julie's best friend, Margo, smokes cigarettes. This is not glamorized nor demonized, just mentioned in one or two scenes. Margo's father owns and operates a bar/restaurant and Margo is a waitress there. Julie has a few encounters with men who are drunk. In one scene a train tanker filled with wine overturns. Numerous townspeople gather with empty vessels to salvage and take home the wine that is pouring out – including Julie's younger brother and sister. They carry a wash basin filled with wine home to their mother, who is appalled. Julie's father allows the children to store the wine in empty mason jars in the basement because he does not want to squelch their initiative. He reminds his protesting wife that Jesus turned water into wine and drank wine Himself.

Recommendation: This was a well-researched and engaging novel. I would highly recommend this book for ages 12 and up.

In addition to being an author and speaker, Leeann is a wife, mother and middle-school teacher. She resides in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More Book Giveaways! Blog Party Update

Ultimate Blog Party 2010

Welcome to Teen Lit Review! We hope you're having fun at the party, thanks for stopping by.

On Wednesday we gave away Chop, Chop by L. N. Cronk to one lucky winner. Congrats to Shannon of Homeschooling Their Hearts...For Life for winning.

Today, we are announcing a drawing for another book - The Outriders by Kathryn Mackel. You can view our review of this book here.
This drawing is now closed.
All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below with your email address. We'll draw a winner on Saturday, April 17 - after the party is all done!
We hope you'll take a minute or two to look through our reviews - here are a few of our favorites and some of our most talked about:
My Life Unscripted - by Tricia Goyer
The Bark of the Bog Owl - by Jonathan Rogers
Hollywood Nobody - Lisa Samson
Dragonspell - Donita K. Paul
Twilight - Stephanie Meyer
Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Umbrella Summer

By Reviewer Missy Edgmon
Title: Umbrella Summer
Author: Lisa Graff
Primary Audience/age group: 2nd -6th grade
Genre: Fiction
# of pages: 235
Publisher: Scholastic
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 5
Recommend? Yes

Description: After her older brother, Jared, dies, Annie Richards knows she must look out for herself or something bad may happen to her as well. She no longer rides her bike fast; every insect bite could be the beginning of a disease, and just in case, she even wears her bike helmet in the car. Only, Annie’s fears begin to affect her relationships. A new neighbor and some steadfast friends help Annie realize that she has to choose whether she wants to sit under her umbrella of protection, or get out and enjoy the sunshine in life.

Rating: 5

Positive: Annie is part of a close-knit community where she is free to figure life out. Neighbors help Annie out since her parents are too consumed with grief to notice when she needs help at times. Adults are quizzical, but kind about her strange behavior. Her friendships with other children are honest and simple.

Spiritual Elements: Annie’s friend attends church on Sundays. One of Annie’s friends believes a house is haunted. Annie’s brother’s birthday is coming up, and Annie struggles with the idea that he’s no longer alive to get any older. Through several conversations, she decides the best way to celebrate his birthday is to remember the things he did.

Violence: none

Language: none

Sexuality: none

Recommendation: Yes. The entire story takes place over the course of about three weeks in the summertime. It’s only been about four months since Jared’s death, so some of the resolution seems a little too simple and quick, but the story is a good one nonetheless. Annie’s paranoia is funny many times, and her comments and thoughts made me chuckle as well. As an adult, I felt a pull on my heart when her parents’ behavior is described. I think any child who has grieving parents—for whatever reason-- will relate to that part of the story. Annie’s decision to honor her brother by remembering him is a very healthy and positive solution.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Ultimate Blog Party 2010 and Book Giveaway


Update: For another Book Giveaway - go here to enter! Enjoy the party!
The 5 Minutes for Mom Ultimate Blog Party is about to be underway again beginning Friday, April 9. It is our 3rd year to participate, and we can't wait to meet some new readers as we do every year. If you have a blog, you can host your own party. There will lots of other bloggers participting and lots of prizes to be given away. Go to 5 Minutes for Mom to see how to participate. Non-bloggers are welcome to join in the fun, too. Don't forget to sign the Mr. Linky at 5 Minutes for Mom so others can find your blog party.

We will be giving away a few books to celebrate for our party. Stop by throughout the week for the giveaways. We will begin with one of our most recently reviewed books, Chop, Chop by L.N. Cronk. We will draw the winner on Wednesday, April 14 @ noon. This drawing is now closed. Go here for our next drawing.
Leave a comment on this post telling us about yourself in a sentence or two. Make sure you leave an email address so that we may contact you if you win. The contest is open to US and Canadian residents only.

I want to say welcome to our blog party visitors. My name is Shawna, and I started Teen Lit Review back in 2007 along with co-owner and blogger, Angi. We couldn't find another site that reviewed books based on content, so God put the site on our hearts and allowed us to become public in January 2008. But, you can learn all about that at our Welcome link and our 5 Minutes for Mom Interview.

To make things interesting I'm supposed to tell a little bit about myself. I enjoy lists, so here goes.

7 things about me related to books:

1. My two girls and I are regulars at our favorite book/movie/gaming store. The coffee guy knows our order and just where to find us, sitting in the carpeted kid's corner.
2. My favorite genre is romantic suspense followed by any book that draws me closer to God.
3. I enjoy young adult books but usually take turns reading a book for TLR and a Christian fiction book I don't have to review.
4. I am super-protective of every book I own. I rarely write in books even the ones where there's space to journal.
5. My favorite teen books are princess novels like Ella Enchanted. I love those types of movies, too.
6. I often skip ahead a few pages in books to see where the story is going. I consider what I find out a "preview" kind of like they give you at the end of TV dramas..."Next week on Lost..."
7. I judge books by their covers. Doesn't everyone??

I hope you enjoyed your visit. If you'd like to hear more from us, sign up for our newsletter on the sidebar. If you enjoy reviewing books, check out our Reviewer Interview for more details. And even if you're not interested in the giveaway, leave us a comment anyway so that we may visit you.

And our Top 3 Prize Choices are: International 8, US and Canada 16, International 3 (Blog Redesigns)

Followed by US 39, US and Canada 8, 37, 35, 39

Our next top choices would be for a blog redesign (Blogger) or money/ Amazon or book store gift cards towards purchasing more books/supplies for our site.

The Shadow of the Bear

By Reviewer: Amy Jane
Title: The Shadow of the Bear: A Fairy Tale Retold
Author: Regina Doman
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult
Genre: Modern Fantasy
# Of pages: 206
Publisher: Chesterton Press
Year of Release: 1997
Part of a Series? Yes, 1 of 4
Rating: 3 View Scale
Recommend? Yes

Description: A modern retelling of Grimm’s tale Snow White and Rose Red, a story of two sisters who welcome a bear into their home and become entangled in his conflict with a greedy dwarf. Only in this story Bear looks more like a street kid who survived to adulthood, and one of the sisters suspects him of dealing in drugs.

Review: Very satisfying story. The characters are unexpected. Though for a while you might think the author is putting too much grown-up talk in their mouths, you can see before long this is consistent with the characters, and it’s not so mature after all.

The pay-off is having the young adults proven grounded enough to make the hard decisions they are forced to make, and the pleasure of seeing positive models, despite some (occasionally) unwise decisions.

Rating: 3 for violence and peril elements.

Positive: So much. A few highlights: Strong family relations—mutual dependence, honesty and trust between the two sisters and their mother. Though the girls feel distinctly outside their peer group because of their love of reading (and their reading choices), the negative attention doesn’t change them from their true selves. Homeschooling is portrayed positively, and even the girls’ (currently negative) impression of high school isn’t a blanket condemnation of non-homeschooling. A strong abstinence message is delivered believably from one of the teenagers.

Spiritual Elements: The book is written by a Catholic, and all the main characters are Catholic in their expressions of religion. The girls attend a Catholic school, are taught by a nun, one lights a candle as she prays. A priest is a major role model, and a major plot point hinges on the sacred objects connected to the sacrament of Communion.

Violence: Blanche, the elder sister, is bullied in school. At one point her sister, Rose, strikes someone in her sister’s defense. Bear, the young man their family “adopts,” gets into a street fight. [SPOILERS!] One (overheard) scene of torture, several murder attempts (largely bloodless), and what looks like a setup for a date rape—though the girl escapes.
Some gun violence as well.

Language: Very controlled.

Sexual Content: [SPOILERS] Rose goes to her date’s house after prom and unwisely lets herself alone with him in an unsafe situation. Of all the peril in the book this bothered me the most; since she was a good model of trusting her instincts and getting away whatever it cost her, but it appears she never followed up with the police and was content with the delicious-but-useless zinger about “that kind of love.”

Other: Bear and his brother served time in juvenile detention on charges of drug possession. Alcohol is consumed at an after-prom party. The principal is portrayed as frustratingly clueless.

Recommendation: Highly recommended to anyone who is not threatened by Catholic Christianity. The relationships, morals, attitudes and responses are of the caliber Christian parents everywhere desire their children to mature into. [SPOILER] Minus, perhaps, the independent murder investigation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Girl with a Pearl Earring


 
By reviewer Greta Marlow
Title: Girl With a Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Primary Audience/age group: Adult
Genre: Historical fiction
# Of pages: 233
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Year of Release: 1999
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 2 View Scale
Recommend: Yes, for older teens

Description: (from book cover)”History and fiction merge seamlessly in Tracy Chevalier’s luminous novel about artistic visual and sensual awakening. Through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Griet, the world of 1660s Holland comes dazzlingly alive in this richly imagined portrait of the young woman who inspired one of Vermeer’s most celebrated paintings.”

Review: Don’t be put off by the reference to “sensual awakening” in the blurb for the book. Although Griet does feel attraction for her master (the painter Johannes Vermeer), the book is not full of sex. Actually, the story raises a very interesting question about a person’s “great passion” vs. a more realistic relationship that is also more mundane. Even though the book is written for adults, I think the issues it addresses are some that teens face as they begin navigating the waters of romance and self-determination.

Rating: 2, for some sexual content

Recommend: Yes, for older teens

Positive: Griet is forced into being a maid in order to provide for her family after her father is blinded in an accident. She takes the responsibility seriously, and works very hard for the Vermeer family, even when they treat her poorly. Although the stereotype is that maids steal valuables and seduce masters, Griet makes a point of trying to be as honest and honorable as possible.

Spiritual Elements: Griet is a Protestant who is sent to work as a maid for a Catholic family. When she arrives in the house, she is disturbed by paintings of the crucifixion. At one point after her mother speaks against the paintings, Griet has a conversation with Vermeer about the spiritual meaning of art. There are several mentions of Griet attending church and of her prayer book.

Violence: Nothing, really.

Language: I don’t remember very much offensive language. There are a few times when the word “whore” is used.

Sexual Content: Griet never comes out and says, “I have a crush on my master.” But the details slowly build up like the layers of a painting until we can see the full picture. All through the book, I kept expecting there would be some sort of physical consummation of their attraction to each other (SPOILER!), but the only physical contact they have is a touch when Vermeer puts the earring in Griet’s ear. However, there are two other characters who are more overtly sexual. Vermeer’s patron is a groping, lecherous man who becomes fascinated by Griet and pursues her, though she makes it clear she won’t succumb to him (as others have). Also, the butcher’s son (Pieter), who is determined he will marry Griet, touches and kisses her in alleys. At one point when she becomes too restless in her sensual feelings for her master, Griet goes to Pieter and they have sex in an alley, but the description is not explicit. (Actually, that scene seemed a little out of place in the story, in my opinion.) The groping scenes are the most explicit, and they aren’t all that bad.

Other: Three of the members of the Vermeer household treat Griet very badly, especially one of the little girls. Griet puts up with it until the very end of the book, and then she allows herself an act of revenge on the girl. I was a little disturbed by my own reaction to that act – I was so glad Griet did it. But it’s certainly not a Christian, turn-the-other-cheek moment, and I was a little ashamed of feeling so gratified that the girl finally got her comeuppance.

Rating: 2, for some sexual content

Recommendation: Yes, for older teens