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Review: Red Scarf Girl by Ji Li Jiang

in a sentence or so: Ji-li is a very smart 12 year old girl with a loving family, a leader at school, and close friends. When the much anticipated and supported Cultural Revolution begins, she soon discovers the confusion and horror that humanity is capable of.

Ji-li's story begins with the start of the Cultural Revolution in China. She is passionate about the revolution, about Chairman Mao, and about getting rid of "fourolds", or the old ways of life to make China a new and better country. She witnesses other families torn apart by the persecution and pointing of fingers of the "authority figures" who were just days before the local weirdos. Her entire world is dumped upside down when her plans for school changes, her social status in school and at home changes, and her family is no longer happy and smiling, but worried and having late night discussions in the bathroom in secret. Throughout her story, Ji-li is faced with the wonderful revolution or staying true to her family, and what exactly both sides mean to her.

This book was incredibly conversational and I felt (as the reader) I was friends with Ji-li from the way she wrote. The reader is able to feel her frustration and experience the confusion. Her words are that of innocence that is quickly fading with her struggle to please schoolmates, Chairman Mao, and her family - which is impossible because of their differing values. This memoir serves to fill in all of the world what it was like for a 12 year old during this time in China, and her story is just one among many. The young adult reader in me felt confused right along side Ji-li. What was she supposed to do? Give herself totally to her country at the expense of her family? Give up on her country to be with her loving family? The adult reader in me knows how the Cultural Revolution ends, and just hopes she will be able to make the "right decision" and stick it out. This memoir takes us through the most difficult time and decisions of Ji-li's life, and it does so in a simple eloquence that keeps the reader turning pages and hoping the best for Ji-li and her family.

Title: Red Scarf Girl
Author: Ji Li Jiang
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins
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Review: Amandine by Adele Griffin

in a sentence: Lonely Delia moves with her loving parents to a new town, again, and on her desperate search for a friend is picked up by the dramatic Amandine whose friendship goes from weird, to worse.

This novel is slathered with anxiety and the overwhelming feeling of discomfort through and through. Delia is awkward, overweight, and self-conscious. She is noticed by the overly confident, underweight, and bizarre Amandine. Perhaps it's her desperation to find a friend, or that Delia is just intrigued by Amandine's 'stage presence' that she allows their friendship to continue despite red flags all over the place. The reader feels for Delia and her frustrations. She has great parents, they just lack a little in the compassion and understanding department. No matter how great her life may be at home, her relationship with Amandine is rocky and unhealthy, and a total thrill ride for her and for the reader.

I am still in awe of how Adele Griffin was able to completely capture the angst of Delia in a caring and real way. The young adult reader in me feels for Delia, while the adult reader feels bad for Delia. The line is thin, and is walked very well. Amandine's character is outrageous, but believable in context of a teenage girl with social issues. This was an incredibly quick read, and the fact that it's hard to put down makes it that much quicker. The young adult reader within me was completely absorbed in the subtle drama and tense emotions from all of the characters. The dialog reflects the angst in Delia, and the reader is always guessing as to what is going to happen, when the turning point is, etc. The biggest shortcoming of this novel is that I feel it could potentially only reach out to young adult women will be unable to stand the test of time.

Title: Amandine
Author: Adele Griffin
Genre: Contemporary, Edgy, Problem Novel
Publisher: Hyperion
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Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

in a sentence: A 15 year old is faced with starvation and desperation while discovering true love and family all at the same time.

Daisy is a teenage girl with an evil stepmother, a nonchalant father, and an eating disorder. After she is shipped off to live with her never before seen cousins in England, her journey begins. She (and the reader) encounter mystically intriguing characters with a lifestyle completely unlike her own. Much to her own surprise, she fits right in with them, and falls in love with them all in their own way. The peaceful country landscape creates a serene start for this story, before everything changes thanks to war.

The journey we as the reader experience through Daisy is incredible, to say the least. She falls in love with her cousin, learns how to be a farm girl, and begins to learn about the mother who died in birth - all before the "real" story begins. The vivid emotions and experiences described by Daisy are scary, sad, exhausting, and completely enthralling. A young adult reader would be drawn in by her writing, her view of others, and her private thoughts that are all so authentic. The author doesn't shy away from gruesome details of war or the struggle that they face every day. The raw emotions are always present in the novel, which I think really sets it apart. While the emotions present are what really make the story consistently raw and real, there are elements of the journey we can't understand. It is this lack of understanding experienced both by Daisy and the reader, combined with the raw unusual language and punctuation and the wide array of emotions, that make the novel something haunting and amazing.

Title: how i live now
Author: Meg Rosoff
Genre: Coming of Age, Edgy, Lisa's Faves
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
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Review: The Body of Christopher Creed

in a sentence: A class reject mysteriously disappears and the while the whole town gossips about what
could have happened to him, a select few try to find out why.

This story is a very solid read for young adults. The plot is both strong and believable, as are the characters. The main character is the "typical teen" and allows for a "typical teen reader" to relate easily. However, Torey (the main character) is more caring than most, and we as the reader feel sympathetic towards that and his efforts. The high school drama and cliques are all too real, and the author does an outstanding job of character development while staying true to the reality of high schoolers - meaning there are no abounding epiphanies within the novel. The main character and a choice few progress, but the majority remain in their snobby rut. The reader is always drawn deeper into the dark mystery of what happened to Christopher Creed while being intrigued by the dirty little secrets of the town. Young Adult readers will be reluctantly drawn into the gossip, showing them how easy and sneakily that can happen to even the most conscious among us. The setting of the novel takes place in "Smalltown USA", with the amazingly vivid backdrop of thick woods and a spooky Indian burial ground which makes for an easy transport of the reader into the character's experience.

While this novel packs a lot of wonderful qualities, there are a few which I believe disqualify it from the level of the Printz award. While the author was pretty consistent with the characters and avoidance of stereotypes, I thought she did slip into some associated with the "boons" in the novel by associating verbal abuse, physical abuse, and neglect present in all the families from the other side of the tracks. The dialogue between the characters and the main character's thoughts are sometimes broken or trying to be too current or edgy, which might kick some Young Adults out of the story. While presenting the moral of the story - to treat others as we wish to be treated - in a new and very creative way is one that all readers should hear and will be able to relate to, it does come off as a bit preachy.

Title: The Body of Christopher Creed
Author: Carol Plum-Ucci
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Problem Novel, Printz Winner
Publisher: Graphia
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