Tag Archive | Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Book Review: Losing It by Erin M. Fry


There’s something about a belly button sweat stain that’s just really gross.

Losing It

Losing It by Erin M. Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since Bennett’s mom died when he was five, it’s just been him and his dad. And the best times with his dad have been hot summer afternoons parked in front of the tv, watching their beloved Dodgers and munching on burgers and fries, their “game food”. As much as Bennett loves baseball, though, he knows he could never really play, because he is too fat. His dad is fat, too, and when Bennett comes in last during P.E. class runs, his best friend P.G. is right there beside him, so Bennett is mostly okay with his lack of physical fitness.

That changes one beautiful summer day when his dad collapses in front of the television. Bennett doesn’t know when – or if – his dad will recover. In the meantime, he has to move in with his bossy Aunt Laura and her family. And Aunt Laura has a mission: get Bennett healthy.

I didn’t hear much about this book (which shares a title with another 2012 book about losing an entirely different “it”) when it came out, but I was intrigued by the description. It is set in my adopted city of Los Angeles, and I wondered how Fry would tackle the issue of childhood obesity, which was clearly central to Bennett’s story.

As it turns out, she handles it very, very nicely. Bennett is a thoroughly believable and sympathetic eighth-grade boy. He knows he is out of shape, and he knows his dad is unhealthy, but he’s a kid, you know? It’s not his job to worry about that stuff. His dad has to work a lot to make ends meet, and watching baseball games while eating tasty food is their thing. It’s how they bond. His dad wants him to be happy. And Bennett is happy, mostly. His weight is just part of who he is.

Another part of who he is has to do with losing his mother. The realistic and sensitive portrayal of Bennett’s grief was a lovely surprise. It’s a common thing is children’s books for one (or both) parents to be out of the picture, whether dead, missing, or just neglectful. It lets the child protagonist get on with being the lead of the story. But all too often, the loss of parent(s) seems to have no lasting effect on the character. For Bennett, it’s formative. The loss of his mother has left a gaping hole in his heart and home. It shapes his view of the world.

Bennett’s physical transformation is believably gradual, and Fry shows the effort it takes in a realistic way. He changes not only physically, but mentally, becoming stronger and more capable of handling the challenges coming his way. Despite the serious topics addressed, the narrative resists becoming didactic. It is contemporary realistic fiction for middle graders that will appeal to both boys and girls on several levels.

Recommend to: Fans of realistic fiction and tales of the underdog

Source: Checked out from my public library

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Book Review: Past Perfect by Leila Sales


There are only three types of kids who get summer jobs at Colonial Essex Village instead of just working at the mall, like the normal people do.

Past Perfect

Past Perfect by Leila Sales

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
Chelsea Glaser has spent every summer since she was six years old acting the part of Elizabeth Connelly, Virginia colonist eternally stuck in 1774. This summer, all Chelsea wants is to get a job at an air conditioned shop at the mall, but her best friend talks her into another summer at Essex. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the boy who broke her heart has also joined up. A crush on a new guy would be the perfect distraction, if only she hadn’t fallen for someone she can’t be with. Chelsea soon realizes she is going to have to come to terms with her past or be doomed to keep reliving it.

Review:
From the first page of this contemporary teen romance, the reader is brought into Chelsea’s world. From her daily duties as a Colonial reenactor to her not-quite-comfortable leadership role in the battles with the Civil War reenactors across the road, little details bring the scenes to life. Her interactions with her parents are laugh-out-loud funny and oh-so-familiar. Her heartbreak is painfully apparent early on, although the facts of her recent relationship are left vague until well into the book. Sales works in some serious thoughts about memory, history, and “what really happened” in a way that feels completely natural. This is a sweet tale perfect for summer vacation.

Which is why I find the cover so completely odd. It has nothing at all to do with the book. And it looks like she’s trying to catch bits of chalk on her tongue, which just sets my teeth on edge.

Final Word:
Laugh-out-loud funny contemporary teen romance with a little bit of historical trivia tucked inside – a just about perfect summer read.

Source:
Checked out from my public library

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Book Review: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart

The only kind of music I remember Mom and Dad making together was loud fighting.

Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen
Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
Until her dad moved to California two years ago, Olivia Bean watched Jeopardy! with him every night. Now she watches it on her own, unless Mom’s annoying boyfriend insists on watching, too. Olivia dreams of competing on Kids’ Week; besides the money she could win, the trip to the taping would give her a chance to visit her dad. But even if she makes it, will her dad manage to make time to spend with her?

Review:
This sweet middle-grade contemporary takes on Parents Behaving Badly. Olivia adores her father, but it’s clear from the first chapter that he is not quite the man she wants him to be. She remembers how, when she was learning violin in the fourth grade, he would ask her to play “Over the Mountains and Far Away”, then says, “It took a bit of research to learn that Dad was teasing about my screechy playing. There is no song called ‘Over the Mountains and Far Away’; it was Dad’s fun way of asking me to practice somewhere else.” And when her father tells her that she “wouldn’t do well” on Jeopardy! because it would have “a ton of geography questions, and geography just isn’t your thing”, her reaction, even years later, is, “Dad was right, of course.” She follows her statement, “I am lousy at geography”, with her hope that she can overcome her weakness with lots of studying, but it remains painfully clear that she has taken her father’s careless comment to heart. Gephart slyly reveals the real character of Olivia’s father through these small observations over the course of the novel, and Olivia takes a long time getting to the realization that readers will have probably already reached.

Olivia gets a little help along the way to that conclusion from Neil, her mom’s live-in boyfriend, who provides an excellent foil for the absentee father. Gephart does an admirable job creating a realistic blended family dealing with familiar problems. The story is peppered with trivia factoids (including tidbits about Jeopardy! itself), a treat for readers who share Olivia’s passion. A light romantic subplot also helps leaven the mood. The only real weaknesses lie in some clunky narration and in the pacing, which occasionally drags before picking up again. Olivia repeatedly refers to an “unfortunate hula hoop incident”; by the time the details are revealed near the end of the novel, it seems like a let-down.

On shelves March 13, 2012.

Final Word:
Despite some clunky narrative and pacing, the realistic characters and situations make this sweet contemporary novel a good choice for grades 4-7.

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request

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Book Review: Faking Faith by Josie Bloss

School was the same sort of hell every day.

 

Faking Faith
Faking Faith by Josie Bloss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Synopsis:
After a bad break-up and an ugly sexting incident, Dylan Mahoney is an instant pariah. She finds refuge in surfing the Internet, stumbling on the blogs of homeschooled fundamentalist Christian girls, quickly becoming obsessed with their clean, wholesome lives free of the kind of confusion and regret she feels. She makes herself a part of their world, blogging as “Faith”, sharing invented stories of her fictional life. Dylan even manages to get herself invited to visit Abigail – one of the most popular bloggers – at home. Abigail’s life is clearly more complicated than her blog suggests, and Dylan has to quickly decide whether to keep hiding behind “Faith” or to come clean about who she really is.

 

Review:
Worlds collide in this YA novel. In Dylan’s hyperconnected but emotionally distant home, both Mom and Dad are focused on their careers, hardly aware of anything going on in their children’s lives, trusting them to make good choices and somehow shocked when Dylan makes a bad decision. On Abigail’s family homestead, Mama is never far from the kitchen, while Daddy makes decisions for all the family members.

These are extremes, of course, but hardly outside the realm of possibility. Quiverfull families pop up in the news from time to time (usually when Michelle Duggar announces another pregnancy), and the Dean family is pretty clearly in that mold. (A quick web search will also net you a handful of blogs remarkably similar in tone to Abigail’s.) Meanwhile, Dylan’s workaholic parents’ dependence on overscheduling and/or nanny-care for their kids reflects a pretty common modern suburban set-up.

Despite their initial characterization as polar opposites, though, Dylan and Abigail are, of course, more alike than either would have thought. A striking example comes in their respective reactions to certain events. After topless pictures of Dylan and a video of her tirade against her ex-boyfriend go viral, the entire school body heaps daily abuse on her, she blames herself, saying, “The thing is, I deserved it. Even though I still couldn’t admit it out loud, I knew for certain that I deserved everything that came to me. I had been so stupid.”

Abigail’s echoes the self-blame when talking about an older man putting his hands on her, insisting that maybe she did something to make him do it. That incident, too, tells a lot about the safe and sheltered life Dylan believes Abigail leads.

Interestingly, the one thing Dylan never seems to quite realize is that when she hopped on a bus to meet her Internet friend, she could very well have found someone entirely different waiting for her at the station. (Kids: don’t try this at home.) Of course, that would have been a very different sort of book, too.

This is an engaging story about friendship and loyalty, belief and confusion, and figuring out which path to take. You know, the things teens are thinking about every day. Bloss uses a light touch in this girl-centered contemporary realistic fiction all the way through the hopeful conclusion. Recommended for 9th grade and up (due to language and references to sexual situations).

 

Final Word:
Friendship, loyalty, and honesty are the heart of this girl-centered light contemporary realistic novel.

 

Source:
Checked out from my public library

 

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Book Review: The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

Mom and Dad were in their room with the door shut. Again. Cautiously, I pressed my ear against the wooden frame. Hakuna Matata, no Discovery Channel-like sounds could be heard. Only two mammals speaking so quickly and intensely that their voices were nearly inaudible.

 

The Edumacation of Jay Baker

The Edumacation of Jay Baker by Jay Clark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

Synopsis:
Jay Baker’s world is starting to crumble on all fronts. He has to face his mortal-enemy-since-the-seventh-grade in a Freshman Class Presidential debate. He only decided to run for class office to impress cheerleader Cameo Appearance Parnell, his best friend and unrequited crush, but she’s still dating the jocks who’ve been bullying Jay for years. His parents’ 19-year marriage is clearly not doing well; he just found out his mom has been sleeping with Some Dude Named Keith. It’s all enough to push a smart-mouthed, IBS-prone kid to the breaking point. Jay can try to cover up his worries with a fast-paced monologue of quips, puns, and pop-culture references, but, at some point, he’s going to have to figure out how to just be himself.

 

Review:
With a quick-paced narrative filled with snarky, coarse humor, this should be a hit with middle-school boys. Jay’s problems are instantly recognizable: he wants to impress a girl or two, he wants football-player Mike Hibbard to quit bullying him, and he wants his parents to get their act together. Jay and his older sister, Abby, make quite the sarcastic comedy team, leavening the mood whenever it seems in danger of turning serious.

Overall, this is a decent contemporary realistic novel with plenty of boy-appeal, appropriate for the younger range of YA. Jay’s heavy reliance on pop culture references will probably endear him to some teen readers, although they may date the book as pop culture moves ever onward. The narrative veers perilously close to “too clever” from time to time; maybe Jay is trying to impress the reader just as he tries to impress Cameo and Caroline. Clark’s debut novel won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but readers looking for light realism (no big issues here, just the everyday problems just about every teenager faces) served up with a heavy dose of snark will find it hits the spot.

On shelves January 31, 2012.

 

Final Word:
Middle school boys seem to be the ideal audience for this light contemporary realism that’s heavy on the snark.

 

Source:
e-ARC via NetGalley, provided by the publisher by request.

 

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