Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #47: LibraryLove November 19, 2010

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Book description~ Jason Blake is an autistic 12-year-old living in a neurotypical world. Most days it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong. But Jason finds a glimmer of understanding when he comes across PhoenixBird, who posts stories to the same online site as he does. Jason can be himself when he writes and he thinks that PhoneixBird-her name is Rebecca-could be his first real friend. But as desperate as Jason is to met her, he’s terrified that if they do meet, Rebecca wil only see his autism and not who Jason really is. By acclaimed writer Nora Raleigh Baskin, this is the breathtaking depiction of an autistic boy’s struggles-and a story for anyone who has ever worried about fitting in…

As if the teenage-angst years weren’t hard enough, imagine how frustrated and confused you’d feel if you struggled with Asperger’s Syndrome as well as being a typical teenager? For Jason, his life is “Anything But Typical”. If you may recall from my earlier review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult, we met a teenage boy with the same disease, a mild form on the autism spectrum that affects social behaviors and the way you view and articulate your world. In Typical, Baskin’s latest novel, the main character and budding young teen author Jason Blake, also struggles with Asperger’s, living in a wo rld that is a confusing one that he can’t quite seem to grip. His two major outlets- writing and surfing the online writer’s forum he joins, help him make sense of the world as he knows it.

“There are only seven plots in the whole world: Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Environment, Man vs. Machine, Man vs The Supernatural, Man vs Self, Man vs Religion”.

Jason uses writing as an outlet for his creativity and along the way builds his confidence independently while having other members of the online writer’s forum critique his works. One day a girl named “PhoenixBird” stumbles upon his writing. Through providing feedback to each other, they develop a friendship where they correspond through email about writing.

“I click on one from PhoenixBird, the one I was saving until I got home. Now I am home. [“I feel I could have written your story. It is so beautiful. I have to go to cheerleading practice but I can’t wait for your next story”.] I think this girl has just said something nice to me.”

As the rising action develops, a writer’s convention comes up in a nearby town. As a surprise, Jason’s mom springs him with tickets to the convention. He and PhoenixBird have a chance to meet but of course, Jason is so socially awkward, the story unfolds into a heartwarming, sad, and uplifting tale about coming of age and acceptance.  Teen angst mixed with more social awkwardness than any one teenager should bear, and you’ll finish this book in a day or two. It brings me back to that “interesting time” where as teens, we overanalyzed every action and reaction, word, movement, etc.

“Truthfully, language arts is my best class, but not because I have a good grade in it. I like it because there are no right answers, even if the teachers says there are. Even when they mark something wrong on your test or book report, it’s really just their opinion and in my opinion they could be wrong. It’s like when you read the directions on the back of a package of brownie mix. Chewy or cake like? There is not wrong answers. Books are like brownies. “

I haven’t read a young adult novel in a while, but to quote Jason in the phrase above, one of my favorites from the book,  sums up why I just love the genre. Thanks to Sarrina for recommending I pick up this book from my library. I couldn’t put it down. I laughed and cried and wanted to give Jason a hug. He dreams of meeting his mother’s expectations, but by the end of the novel, Jason’s mother realizes how much he actually teaches her every day.

I would have liked to see another 100 pages fleshed out of this story, but as a young adult novel, I have to keep the author’s audience in mind….but dang you, oh good book for making me want more!

I would write more, but I’m exhausted from a recent week-long business trip and I need to move on to the next book which is quite a chunkster, at 600+ pages! The year is almost over. Eeek!

4/5 stars

Happy Thanksgiving one and all 🙂

47 down 5 to go!

In progress- True Colors




Book #27 LibraryLove May 17, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Book description~ Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.

What an unexpected read- curious indeed! Immediately the reader is drawn into the world through Christopher’s eyes – a world where he doesn’t like the color brown, is a genius at the most complicated math problems, doesn’t like to be touched, and focuses on prime numbers to manage his anxiety when in certain social situations. This 15-year old has a type of high-functioning autism also known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Written in 2003, The Curious Incident reminded me a lot of Jodi Picoult’s House Rules. Both books’ main character was a 15-year old with Asperger’s who were each also fascinated with solving crimes and investigations. Christopher’s story was a much  faster-paced read told so simply yet so complex at the same time. I enjoyed every moment of Haddon’s novel. Usually, when writing characters with mental illness, authors describe characters with a disease like Asperger’s to explain a character’s quirks. Instead, Haddon invites us along for the ride, inside Christopher’s hear, every step of the way as he tries to solve the mystery of what happened to his neighbor’s poodle. I wanted to give Christopher a hug and tell him everything would be ok. I felt like Christopher was my little brother that I wanted to help and calm his nerves when he was scared. Haddon does such a meticulous job with Christopher’s character analysis, using Christopher’s voice in such a fresh and light way. Christopher’s life changes course in such a dramatic way and I enjoyed it immensely. He sets out on a trek to solve a mystery for his neighbor, and ends up in London on a mission to solve his own life’s mystery and unearthing some family skeletons in the process. As usual, my reviews are not meant as spoilers so I won’t give away the best parts. But I read this book in two days and if you need a quick read that will leave you with a smile, I recommend Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

4.5/5 stars

27 down 25 to go, over the hump!




Book #21: LibraryLove April 11, 2010

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Book description~

Jacob Hunt is a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s hopeless at reading social cues or expressing himself well to others, and like many kids with AS, Jacob has a special focus on one subject–in his case, forensic analysis. He’s always showing up at crime scenes, thanks to the police scanner he keeps in his room, and telling the cops what they need to do–and he’s usually right. But then one day his tutor is found dead, and the police come to question him. All of the hallmark behaviors of Asperger’s–not looking someone in the eye, stimulatory tics and twitches, inappropriate affect–can look a heck of a lot like guilt to law enforcement personnel — and suddenly, Jacob finds himself accused of murder. House Rules looks at what it means to be different in our society, how autism affects a family, and how our legal system works well for people who communicate a certain way–but lousy for those who don’t.

The first Jodi Picoult (pronounced Pee-koe, like the tea) book that I read was The Pact. Recently I read Change of Heart, My Sister’s Keeper and Keeping Faith. Jodi understands character development, proper pacing, the importance of rising action, and planting little “Easter Eggs” of information that excite when their significance is revealed to the reader, drawing them in right away. Jodi has an artistic way of taking the reader inside a handful of characters in one novel, each through first person narrative. Reading a “Jodi book” is like the feeling you get when the optometrist finally settles on your new prescription- you can see the world in a whole new and clear way. House Rules did almost all the above  for me. Jodi’s writing style is precise and careful. She bravely writes about controversial topics with such grace and consideration.

When I read, I want to be challenged. I want to re-assess the way I view the world, so I embrace the controversy her books can spur.

In House Rules, we spend the majority of the story hearing from Emma Hunt and her two teenage sons Theo, and Jacob Hunt. We also hear from the Attorney, and the local detective. Jacob is 18 years old with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), a highly functioning form of autism. Most of us are vaguely familiar with autism through the popular movie Rain Man but our understanding as a society is very minimal. Before reading House Rules, I too, knew nothing about autism and AS. This book expanded my knowledge and opened my eyes to the misunderstood behavioral condition that is Asperger’s. This behavioral disease challenges the way justice is/will be served in our legal system, and how it’s limited scientific proof can affect judgments about right and wrong.

Theo, 15, has issues of his own. He often gets frustrated by how attentive his mother Emma is of older brother Jacob. Theo acts out to get attention or claim his place in the world by sneaking into houses and stealing things.

Emma has to cook all the food gluten and casein-free for Jacob, by color, by day. For example, on green food day, all the food served at the dinner meal must be green or Jacob will spin out of control. Dietary restrictions, rigorous vitamin supplementation and sensory quirks like Jacob’s hatred of the color orange, are just the tip of the iceberg for what it means to have AS.

Part of Jacob’s routine is to watch CrimeBusters everyday at 4:30pm sharp. He loves anything to do with forensic science and investigations. Unfortunately, the Hunt brothers end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and fall victim to unfortunate circumstances. I’ll leave it at that, as many of you have House Rules on your TBR lists!

I love “Jodi books” and always will. However, I felt a bit let down with this one, just by the ending. Maybe it’s the pressures of being one of the hottest modern writers of our time, being forced by her publisher to hammer out a book or more per calendar year? Regardless, I figured out the twist extremely early on, and felt like I was watching a rerun (because I knew how it would end). Despite the above, this book would be fabulous to discuss as a book club selection. The downside- the reader must wait unnecessarily long for the pay off at the end that left me annoyed. I know that part of Jodi’s MO is to leave the reader with their mouth agape and leave you wondering and pondering in your own mind. But I felt at a critical point in the book, pieces of vital information were left out until the absolute end, making the ending a bit too abrupt. I didn’t think it worked as well as it had in Change of Heart or My Sister’s Keeper. We, as the reader, need/want to know those morsels of detail. Let us in! It’s one thing to include twists and turns in a story, but it’s another to withhold vital information to the reader, almost like the story was redacted. It affected my sense of rising action and ultimate “pay off”, which left me a bit perplexed.

Despite my criticism, every single “Jodi book” I’ve read left me changed somehow. I love when books make a real impact on me, and I look forward to the thought-provoking discussions my book club babes and I will have over House Rules.  I am disappointed Picoult won’t be touring around in my area this time around. I can’t wait to hear about her creative process and how she juggles her responsibilities as wife and mother of 4. Jodi will always have a cemented place on my list of top 5 favorite modern authors. I look forward to reading many more “Jodi books” in the future and hope I don’t figure out their twists as early next time 😉

Which authors are your favorites?

4/5 stars

In progress: The Inheritance by Tom Savage

21 down, 31 to go!