Friday, January 27, 2012

Booktalk: Marcelo in the Real World (Virginia Readers' Choice, 2011-2012)

If you were to see Marcelo just walking down the street, you wouldn’t think there was anything different or special about him. He’s tall, healthy, dresses normally, and has a summer job working for his dad’s law firm. Normal, right? Well, yes, he is normal. However, he also can hear musically internally in his head (no ipod required), can memorize long passages of scriptures from different traditions, can bond with animals (especially ponies), and has a very hard time figuring out human beings and their motives. Marcelo really wanted to spend his summer working with animals – and he would have – except that his dad, a big shot lawyer, wants Marcelo to experience what life in the “real world” is like. Uh oh, the real world. We know what that’s like, right?

Marcelo has Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, and he can function pretty well in society, but he’s not as good at reading people. For example, there’s a guy at work, Wendell, who’s a real jerk. Wendell has an agenda, and Marcelo is about to fall victim to it. There’s also a girl at work, Jasmine, who can be pretty tough and blunt but seems to understand and like Marcelo. Wendell has the hots for Jasmine, by the way. Yeah. And perhaps Marcelo does, too, but he’s at a real disadvantage here. You know how it’s hard for Marcelo to figure people out? That means that they can take advantage him: manipulate him, use him, con him. And it’s unfair, because he’s such a cool person, and innocent, too. Will Marcelo be able to figure out people in the “real world” before he gets burned? Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. 2009: Scholastic. 312 p. Booktalk to high school. Virginia Readers’ Choice: 2011-2012.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Booktalk: The Red Necklace (Virginia Readers' Choice for 2011-2012)

A good horror movie keeps you on the edge of your seat. Although this book is not a horror movie – in fact, it’s set during the French Revolution – it’s got a character named Count Kalliovski who would fit in fine to any horror movie.

There are signs that the Count is the devil in human form. The count is incredibly wealthy, seems ageless, lends people money, and in exchange, gets their deepest, darkest secrets. In other words, he’s extremely powerful. He can get people to do virtually whatever he wants. His private motto is, “Have no mercy, show no mercy.” This is a dangerous sentiment to have during the French Revolution, a time of great upheaval, violence, murder and instability in France.

And the Count is going after a young gypsy boy named Yann who can read people’s minds. The Count is pretty relentless, too, when he wants someone dead. His victims are found wearing a red necklace which resembles drops of blood. It’s sort of his own personal way of saying, “I did this.” Can the devil be successfully evaded?

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. 378 p. Dial Books: 2007. Booktalk to high school. Virginia Readers' Choice for 2011-2012.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Booktalk: The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez (Virginia Readers' Choice for 2011-2012)

Some people are actually really funny when they’re making fun of themselves and their families, and Sonia Rodriguez is no exception. Sonia and her family are Mexican-Americans: in the eyes of the law, Sonia’s here legally, but her parents are not.

Her dad works two (sometimes three) jobs to support the family, and he rarely gets any time off. Sonia’s mom is addicted to sitting on her butt and watching telenovelas; for someone who has been in this country for 16 years, Sonia’s mom speaks virtually no English. Sonia’s a witty, smart, loyal teenager, and like many of us, she has some … interesting … relatives. Her uncle, whom she calls her drunkle, is always drunk and lying around or freaking Sonia out completely. Her aunt is extremely religious and often tells people to their faces that they’re going to hell. This is normal in Sonia’s family.

And family loyalty and discretion – keeping one’s dirty laundry inside the family and not leaking it – are paramount within the family code. The adults in Sonia’s family know this code extremely well. Familia es todo. You protect family members at all costs: right? But Sonia is starting to question this code: find out what her secret is in The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.

The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer. Hyperion: 2008. 312 p. Booktalk to high school. Virginia Readers’ Choice 2011-2012.