Saturday, April 14, 2007

Flip by Paul Lubar

Summary: Ryan and Taylor are twins, but don't look or act anything alike. Taylor is concerned with her grades while Ryan is constantly getting in trouble for his lack of concern for anything. One night Ryan is certain he saw an alien crash and investigates the next morning behind their middle-school. He and Taylor don't find any wreckage, but instead find metal discs, about the size of a coin. They have no idea what they are, but Ryan is determined to find out. While bored one day in school, Ryan discovers their secret and what happens is even more amazing. Ryan learns he can take on the personality of famous people, from Babe Ruth to Albert Einstein to even Queen Victoria. Ryan is having the time of his life living through other people, but for Taylor, things just gets worse. As she's trying to keep their secret, she also has to convince their father that Ryan hasn't gone crazy, and keep her brother away from a bully who is bent on his destruction. Finally, Ryan realizes that he's got to face up to his own actions and decides it's time to behave himself in school, and face up to the bully. He flips the disc that morning and becomes Spartacus rallying the kids to follow him. But when it's time to face the bully, he flips again and becomes not a gladiator, but an even greater hero - Mahatma Gandhi.

Assessment: I discovered this book accidentally in a giveaway pile at work. I found the premise intriguing, but what really captured me was the writing. Lubar does a great job filling in the details of middle-school life: the snobby girls, the bully, the dorky friends, the pressures to be cool, make good grades, and survive teachers and parents. I was amazed at the realism he managed to pack in a sci-fi/ fantasy book. Yet don't get me wrong, it's not a gripping drama. It's quite humorous, and fast paced. The quick chapters make you want to turn the next page to discover what was going to happen next. And usually what happens is quite amusing. However, I recommend it for middle-school readers for it covers middle-school life quite well, including words I usually don't really approve of in children's books such as "crap" and "jackass", but work here with the realism and the characters' personalities.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Skellig by David Almond

Summary: Ten year old Michal should have been having a great time in the new house he and his family just moved into. But when his baby sister falls sick and has to stay in the hospital, his world is turned upside-down. Worried about her, he discovers a strange, small creature in the dilapidated garage. He seems to be human, but is small, covered in dust, and has some sort of strange wing-like structure growing from his shoulder blades. This strange creature named Skellig asks to be left alone to wither away, but Michael and his new friend Mina won't hear of it. Nursing him back to health with chinese take-out, they help change his life, and he, theirs.

Assessment: I actually had the good fortune of meeting the author at a writer's conference and fell in love with the first line. After reading Skellig, I found its beautiful simplicity stayed with me. It is essentially a story of love and the power of the human spirit. Michael and Mina are helpless when it comes to Michael's sister, but they continue assisting Skellig, despite his protests. Skellig almost seems to embody the spirit of the sick baby, telling the children towards the end that babies are weak. But Michael isn't ready to lose anyone, and tells Skellig that babies are strong. This strong spirit of determination brings forth a magical ending for both Skellig and the baby. This book itself is pure magic.