Monday, April 14, 2008

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I like books that get into the heads of characters; I like understanding what makes people tick, what makes them think the way they think, or act one way while someone with similar experience acts in the opposite. So when I saw Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult at the airport recently, I picked it up. I'd heard from more than a few kids my daughters' age group that Picoult has a real flair for understanding their generation. And after closing the cover on a gripping but terrifying read, I have to agree.

Ten students are gunned down in nineteen minutes in small-town U.S.A. Picoult's fictional account makes it clear that she gets exactly how such a tragedy might happen and why. She gets teenagers. Frankly, she gets adults too. She uses a multi-narrative approach to personalize what leads up to those terrible high school shootings that we read about in the papers. She exposes the terror that a little boy getting on a school bus feels every morning wondering what the kids who sit at the back are going to do to him today. We see that same little boy shrink further and further into himself, trying to make himself small enough that his tormentors won't notice him. With what he's experienced, it's easy to see how taking refuge in an artificial computer gaming world where he is the one in charge can warp him. Meanwhile, it's just as easy to sympathize with his parents initial protection and then blind hope that things are better even while it is clear that they are not. We even understand why his childhood friend take sides with his tormentors rather than risk remaining on the outside. Still, Picoult's characters are complex; even a boy like this can still hope for love. Even a girl who betrays her best friend might rethink her actions. By the time that small flame of hope is crushed though, we are afraid of what this last blow will unleash. Of course, the inevitable occurs; a trail of violence that few will be able to forget or forgive is the result. Wisely, Picoult doesn't stop with forgetting or forgiving though. She pushes us to understand despite the bewilderment and anguish that follow such an event. Nineteen Minutes is a work of fiction but Pictoult's fiction is wrapped in the fabric of a truth so real that it will make your heart ache. The question is, will it also open your eyes?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy by Ally Carter

Good news; the second teen spy school novel by Ally Carter has hit book stores, although still in hardcover. I couldn't resist, and made the mistake of cracking the cover when I should have been working which can be translated as no work got done the rest of that day! It was unputdownable. I know...I know. Stop making up words Sheryl!

But seriously, Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy was just as much fun as the first. The opening finds Cammie Morgan, girl-spy-in-training, back at school after the summer break along with her genius, code-cracking friends. Cammie is still recovering from the loss of her first boyfriend who had to be brainwashed into forgetting about the mission he interrupted in a heroic attempt to save her. While she settles into school and ponders if her ex will even remember her name, she notices that her mother, who happens to be the head of the spy school, is acting awfully strange. But, Cammie barely has time to figure out why before she is blamed for a security breach that puts her top secret school at risk. While trying to clear her name, she overhears her mother and one of the other teachers discussing "Blackthorne," which Cammie figures must be a code name for some mysterious covert op. Soon she and her friends are crawling through walls and surveilling the school to uncover the truth. What they discover will turn their world upside down and send them on a wild ride that you won't want to miss. Once you've finished Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, you, like me, will only be hoping that Ms. Carter has the third in the series is well under way.