Book Review: Make Lemonade

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

SUMMARY: Jolly is seventeen. She can't really spell. She doesn't have much of a job. And she has two little kids from two different, absent fathers. Jolly knows she can't cope with Jilly and Jeremy all by herself. So she posts a notice on the school bulletin board: BABYSITTER NEEDED BAD. No one replies but Verna LaVaughn, who's only fourteen. How much help can she be? For a while, Jolly, Jilly, Jeremy, and LaVaughn are an extraordinary family. Then LaVaughn takes the first steps toward building her own future, and Jolly begins the long slow process of turning the lemons of her life into lemonade. (from the inside flap)

OPINION: This free verse novel has been around for a while (1993), but it is still worth your time. LaVaughn is wholly concerned with going to college and getting out of the ghetto. The babysitting job seems like an attractive way to regularly add money to her bank account. What she doesn't count on is actually liking Jolly and her kids, wanting to support them, and getting on the bad side of her own strong-willed mother in the process. This book breaks down a lot of stereotypes about teen mothers, poverty, and joblessness (interestingly, without ever assigning race to the characters). And LaVaughn proves that tough love isn't the only kind of love that can change the lives of others. This is a great "classic" YA book that I have never read before! I highly recommend it. Also, if you like it, look for the sequel, True Believer.


Book Review: Absolutely, Positively Not

Absolutely, Positively Not by David LaRochelle

SUMMARY: In a touching, sometime hilarious coming-out story, Steven DeNarski, 16, tries to deny he is gay. He covers his Superman posters with pictures of women in skimpy bikinis and lacy lingerie, and he follows the aversion therapy prescribed in a parents' handbook for getting over his "deviant" desires and awakening his sluggish interest in girls. He hangs out with the hockey players and tries to start dating (even kissing), to the delight of his fussy mom and macho dad. It doesn't work. When he reluctantly tells his friend Rachel that he is gay, he has to restrain her from celebrating it to the world and "empowering" him at school. (from the Booklist review)

OPINION: This book is a totally frivolous, funny read. So many books featuring gay teens are heavy-handed or take things very seriously, but this is not one of them. Steven is a typical teen who is trying to figure out what is going on with himself. He obsesses over getting his driver's license. He tries dating girls (if you call playing Scrabble and helping clean out garages "dating"). He even takes a dog to the school dance, after an outragous lie to his mother completely backfires! Pick up this book if you need a quick and fun read.


Book Review: Pretties

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

SUMMARY: Gorgeous. Popular. Perfect. Perfectly wrong. Tally has finally become pretty. Now her looks are beyond perfect, her clothes are awesome, her boyfriend is totally hot, and she's completely popular. It's everything she's ever wanted. But beneath all the fun--the nonstop parties, the high-tech luxury, the total freedom--is a nagging sense that something's wrong. Something important. Then a message from Tally's ugly past arrives. Reading it, Tally remembers what's wrong with pretty life, and the fun stops cold. Now she has to choose between fighting to forget what she knows and fighting for her life--because the authorities don't intend to let anyone with this information survive. (from the back cover)

OPINION: I just finished this late last night, and I couldn't have timed it better since Marissa put up a post about Uglies this morning! I thought Uglies ended with a cliffhanger, but the ending of Pretties is just plain evil. How dare Scott Westerfeld keep us in suspense like this??!! I can't wait for May 9, when Specials comes out! From the first book, I like hoverboards and bungee jackes too. From this book, I want a flash tattoo that moves in time with my heartbeat. Totally bubbly and very pretty-making! This book kept me interested from beginning to end with action, strange discoveries, and convoluted plot twists. Read it ASAP.


Book Review: Can't Get There from Here

Can't Get There from Here by Todd Strasser

SUMMARY: Her street name is Maybe. She lives with a tribe of homeless teens--runaways and throwaways, kids who have no place to go other than the cold city streets, and no family except for one another. Abused, abandoned, and forgotten, they struggle against the cold, hunger, and constant danger. With the frigid winds of January comes a new girl: Tears, a twelve-year-old whose mother doesn't believe her stepfather abuses her. As the other kids start to disappear--victims of violence, addiction, and exposure--Maybe tries to help Tears get off the streets...if it's not already too late. (from the inside flap)

OPINION: This book is a short and powerful discussion of teen homelessness. This is more of a problem than you might think. Many teens each year run away from foster care, abusive parents, and other negletful adults. Where do they end up? On the streets or in the underground economy of sex and drugs. Can't Get There from Here is not graphic in its discussion, but it does deal with these serious issues in a straigtforward manner. Running away from home may seem like a solution to family problems, but it creates a whole other set of troubles. I recommend this book for those of you who like their realistic fiction on the tough and gritty side.


Book Review: Pop Princess

Pop Princess by Rachel Cohn

SUMMARY: When fifteen-year-old Wonder Blake is plucked from her job at the Dairy Queen and given the chance to become a teen idol, it seems like a dream come true--even if it wasn't her dream, but her older sister Lucky's. Lucky was on her way to becoming a pop star when she died, and Wonder and her family are still trying to recover from their loss. Offered a recording contract, Wonder jumps at the chance to escape from a dead-end town, her fractured family, and worst of all, high school. Suddenly she has it all: a hot new look, a chart-busting hit single, a tour opening up for superstar Kayla. But stardom isn't all glamour--it's also lots of work. And maybe what Wonder really wants is as simple as a guy who likes her for herself.

OPINION: This is an appropriate title to review today because the fifth season of American Idol starts tonight! (Yes, I will be watching.) If you have ever dreamed of being the next big star, Rachel Cohn's book gives a realistic look at the lifestyle. Screaming fans? Check. Killer workouts? Check. Parties? Check. Hangovers afterwards? Check. It's all here: the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of being the princess of pop, even if it's just for a moment. This book is pure bubble gum pop, just like the song one-hit Wonder records. But it's a lot of fun to read!


Book Review: Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List

Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List by Janette Rallison
SUMMARY: Sixteen year-old Jessica dreams of Hollywood fame, and when Jordan moves into her small town, she dreams of him too. He’s a movie star’s son, and hey, he’s gorgeous to boot. Jordan has always wanted to get out from the shadow cast by his superstar father, but now that he and his mother have moved so far away from LA, how can he get his divorced parents back together? Jessica convinces Jordan the way to get his father to come for a long visit is to be a part of the school play. And if she’s “discovered” in the process, all the better. Things go wrong when she lets Jordan’s secret identity slip, and grow even more disastrous when the principal tries to change West Side Story into a gangfree, violence-free, politically correct production.

OPINION: Maybe it's just because I'm a theater geek, but this book made me laugh out loud! Their production of West Side Story is totally over-the-top, even before the principal steps in and completely (illegally) changes the script. Of course, this book is total chicklit, full of cute boys, spying younger sisters, backstabbing cheerleaders, and other typical characters. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it because there are not a lot of teen humor books written for female readers. And this book was legitimately funny all the way through. Pick it up when you need a laugh!


Huge Yu-Gi-Oh Tournament!

Tonight was our biggest Yu-Gi-Oh Tournament ever! We had 35 competitors and 3 judges all crammed into the upstairs program room. (I had to turn on the air conditioning!) The tournament went really well, with a lot of regular TCG club members in attendance, as well as some new faces.

One potentially bad decision was to let Troy compete, even though he had won a previous tournment, because he "wasn't a threat." Ha! He made it to the very last round, only to be beaten by Greg. Go Greg! It was a close call!

The top four finishers each won a candy bar. Greg and Troy both won packs of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Greg also got a South Park magnetic dart board. Greg joins Tariq, Alan, and Troy on the library Yu-Gi-Oh tournament winners list. It was a great competition and I hope everyone had a good time. We will probably do it again in the summer.


Book Review: Drowning Anna

Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield

SUMMARY: When Anna Goldsmith moves from her posh city school to a small town, everyone's gossiping. Her accent makes her stick out a mile away, while her near-perfect grades set her apart as a teacher's pet. But when the most popular girl in school, captivating and witty Hayley Parkin, befriends Anna, she couldn't be more thrilled. Then Hayley begins her cruel games. What starts as innocent teasing leads to mean remarks, and even violence, toward frightened Anna. But Hayley's cunning leaves a deeper impression on Anna than anyone, even her best friend Melanie, could have ever anticipated. (from the inside flap)

OPINION: There are a lot of books for teens that deal with themes of bullying. Many of them are extreme and do not reflect the day-to-day truths of school life. This book, however, is disturbingly close to reality. Hayley does not beat Anna up or steal her lunch money or engage in other bullying behaviors often seen in books. Instead, she calls Anna names, passes nasty notes, writes things on the board, and turns the other students against Anna. This may not seem like much, but it affects Anna in a devistating way. The worst part is that Hayley never gets caught, or even suspected of this behavior, by teachers or parents. If you have seen a school bully in action, you will recognize Hayley as the real thing. (PS--Amy from book group recommended this book to me.)


Book Reviews: The Face on the Milk Carton series

Books in the Series by Caroline B. Cooney:
  • The Face on the Milk Carton
  • Whatever Happened to Janie?
  • The Voice on the Radio
  • What Janie Found

Summary: The story begins when Janie sees a picture of a missing child on a milk carton...and realizes it is herself at age 3. Memories of an earlier life start to resurface, and she realizes that she was kidnapped! But how? And by whom? In the four books, Janie tries to put back together the pieces of her fragmented life.

Opinion: Some of you may have read The Face on the Milk Carton for summer reading a few years ago. I remember reading it for fun as a teen (yes, it's been around for a while). I picked it up again last Monday, and ended up reading all four of the books in the series in one week. They are not hard reading, but the plot is very gripping. I had to read all four, just to find out how the story developed. These books have it all: hate, fear, kidnapping, romance, travel...you name it! If you are looking for a suspenseful read, I suggest checking out this series.



One of the teens at last week's beauty product event asked for recipes to try some things at home. Below are some we used at the event, plus a few extras for you to try! If you want to find more recepies, look at these sites:

Kitchen, Crafts & More
Make Your Cosmetics
Natural Beauty

Bath Soaking Salts
* 2 1/2 cups Epsom salts (available at drug stores)
* 1/2 cup Kosher salt (available at grocery stores)
* 1 cup baking soda
* Up to 5 drops of food coloring and 3 drops of food flavoring (for scent)
Mix Epsom salts, Kosher salt, and baking soda in bowl. Put small amount of mixture in another bowl and stir in food coloring and flavoring, mixing well. Combine all ingredients and stir well. Pour mixture into a container for storage. Use a few tablespoons in your bathwater.

Body Glitter
* 3 tablespoons of aloe vera gel (clear, blue, or green)
* 1/8 teaspoon of cosmetic grade glitter (available at craft stores)
Mix gel and glitter in a bowl. Store in a small container. Use on your arms, neck, face, and even your hair!

Body Scrub
* washcloth
* rubber band
* 1 cup oatmeal
Place oatmeal in center of washcloth. Gather edges and fasten with rubber band. Use in the shower or tub for a facial, or for an all-over body scrub. Oatmeal is great for dry or sensitive skin. After use, undo rubber band and throw the oatmeal away.

Hand Treatment
* 4 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 tablespoon sugar
Mix olive oil and sugar. Gently rub mixture into your hands and nails. Leave on for 5-10 minutes, then rinse off. (For really soft hands, cover with cotton gloves and leave on overnight.) Discard remaining mixture.

Microwave Lip Gloss
* 2 tablespoons petroleum jelly (Vaseline)
* 1/4 teaspoon lipstick (any color)
* 4 drops cinnamon oil (or any flavor candy oil)
Place petroleum jelly in small microwave container. Top with lipstick. Microwave for 20-30 seconds on high power, or until mixture has softened (not melted). Blend well. Mix in cinnamon oil. Store in small container.


Books on Censorship

Since Fahrenheit 451 deals with topics of censorship, here are some YA books with censorship themes that you might want to look for:
  • The Sledding Hill by Chris Crutcher
  • The Trouble with Mothers by Margery Facklam
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Garden
  • The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff
  • Phoebe by Marilyn Kaye
  • Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky
  • Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book by Betty Miles
  • A Small Civil War by John Neufeld
  • The Last Safe Place on Earth by Richard Peck
  • The Trials of Molly Sheldon by Julian F. Thompson