Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Why does skipping to the end of a book just to see what happens always feel like cheating? I was so worried for Sam this book called Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff that after only two chapters I just had to skip straight to the end. In one way this was a comfort but in another way I think it might have slightly spoilt the suspense as Sam struggles to make sense of his own identity through fragmented memories of the past.

Sam is about to turn eleven and he is taking every opportunity to find is hidden birthday presents. Sam lives with his grandfather Mack who owns a woodworking shop, Onji who runs a deli and Anima the owner of an Indian Restaurant. Home for Sam is above these shops and at the top of his home is an attic. The story opens with Sam stealthily climbing up to the attic using pipes outside the building that he has reached from his bedroom window. He is looking for his Birthday present.

Up in the attic Sam finds an old, locked, metal box with a “newspaper clipping sticking out of the edge … He crouched down: large black letters on top, a picture of a boy underneath. The bubbly sweater with the zipper down the front looked familiar. He caught his breath. He was the boy, but so much younger.”

This clipping puts Sam into a spin. Perhaps Mack is not really his grandfather, has be been kidnapped? There are answers but to find them Sam needs to be able to read. Knowing this he enlists the help of a new girl in his class called Caroline. Caroline is reluctant to make friends because she keeps changing schools and right from the start she tells Sam she is not here to stay but somehow these two muddle through and the strongest bonds are friendship are formed.

Eleven is a slim novel with a very powerful and emotional story. If you enjoyed 35 Kilos of Hope look for Eleven in your library. The cover makes this book look like a thriller but really it is more about friendship and family mysteries. You might also like to look for other books by this talented writer.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Savvy by Ingrid Law

But a lot can change in a day. A lot.” This profound statement is at the heart of Savvy by Ingrid Law. Mississippi Beaumont or Mibs as she is better known has almost reached her thirteenth birthday. This should be an occasion for celebration but in the Beaumont family thirteen is the age your savvy kicks in and a savvy is a very unpredictable thing.

Savvy for her older brother Rocket means electrical power, for Fish the next oldest it means power using weather and storms, her mum has the savvy of perfection, Grandma collects radio waves in jars and in two days Mibs will know her savvy. Her birthday celebration is interrupted by a terrible accident –“Poppa’s car was badly crushed, like a drink can under a cowboy boot” - which leaves her beloved father lying in a coma in the far away town of Salina.

Mibs is left home with Fish, Gypsy the baby and Samson her younger brother while their mother and Rocket and drive off to poppa. Then Miss Rosemary, the preacher's wife, moves in takes over. On discovering Mibs is turning thirteen she organizes a party at the church hall but it is a party that is doomed to end in chaos.

When Mibs wakes up on her special day some mysterious things happen. Samson’s pet turtle that had seemed dead for months suddenly comes to life and her little sister “who was as difficult to wake as a slumbering sloth” wakes as Mibs quietly steps out of bed. Mibs is convinced this is her savvy and that she needs to use it to wake her Poppa. What she does not yet know is exactly how the journey to Salina will unfold involving a pink bible bus, Lester the bus driver, Bobbi and Will Junior the pastors children, Samson, Fish and a waitress called Lill.

If you loved Because of Winn Dixie and books by Betsy Byars then you will adore this book. The pace is fast, the adventure is wild and unpredictable and the language of this book is like a potpourri of treasures. When I finished reading Savvy I went back and hunted out some of the wonderful words like persnickety, rickrack, tipsy-topsy, quarrelsome, ratty tatty, itty-bitty, a deep fried pickle of a situation, razzamatazz, harum- scarum, chagrin, moseyed, boisterous confetti, bugaboo, flimflamming, a jig shy of jaybird-naked (this is how Mibs feels in a new swimsuit), with a zest and a zing, and finally this one - full on, snot-dripping, chest-wheezing, jibber jabber wailing – this is Mibs crying when they are still sixty miles from Salina Hope Hospital and all hope seems to be lost.

At first I thought the cover of this book was a little uninspiring but now I can see it is very clever. There are thirteen birthday candles, and you can see a small pink bus moving across the cover on a journey filled with twists and turns and on the back cover the candles are all in a muddle. Now that I see the US cover I really like this one from Puffin UK.

Finally perhaps you are wondering about Mibs and her savvy. I am not going to give this away. As you get to know Mibs her savvy will be revealed and it might surprise you. Here is a trailer from Puffin.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

I put a spell on you by Adam Selzer

I love to read books that challenge me and this one certainly keeps the reader right on his or her toes all the way to the end. Using each chapter to present the point of view of each spelling bee participant we read about one class as they prepare for the annual spelling bee. This is an event which impacts on the whole town and which can make or break friendships and even lead to high levels of corruption.

Our main narrator is Chrissy, the town detective. Observing her classmates she has uncovered a huge scandal. The School Principal seems to be planning to rig the spelling bee.

Each chapter heading is a word definition which then ties into the chapter and each chapter is told by one of the major players including the students, the Principal and the ever smiling school secretary Mrs Rosemary!

My favourite character is Mutual a boy who up until now has been home schooled. He convinces his parents that to enter the Spelling Bee you need to be enrolled in a regular school. His mum and dad are fearful of corruption and germs and bad examples but they are also desperate to have their only son crowned as a champion in the Bee so they allow him to attend Gordon Liddy Community School.

If you like the writing of EL Konigsburg. Blue Baylett, Betsy Byars, Carl Hiessan, or Louis Sacher then you will love I put a Spell on you. Check out the author site. You can even read whole chapters. Mr K also has a terrific review of this book which should convince you this is a great book.