Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Wendy Mass is a favorite around my house.  In the past she was just a favorite of my 10-year-old daughter.  After reading Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life she is a favorite of mine now, too. 

Jeremy is one month from turning 13 when a mysterious wooden box arrives in the mail.  The box was sent from his now deceased father and the instructions are to open it on his 13th birthday.  The note with the box claims that the meaning of life can be found on the inside,  but there is one problem.  The box was made with 13 different key holes and the keys are missing!  Jeremy and Lizzy (his adventurous and slightly more social best friend) set out to find the keys.  They are so determined that they get caught breaking into Jeremy's family friends' office building.  As a result of their innocent-yet-law-breaking escapade, they are senteced to community service.  While completing their community service they are assigned to work for Mr. Oswald Oswald, a collector and decendant of a former pawn shop owner.  Jeremy and Lizzy tromp all over the city returning long-ago pawned items to their past owners.  With the  help of Oswald's limo driver James, Jeremy and Lizzy learn that the meaning of life may not be what they thought it was. 

I am a big fan of age appropriate boy/girl friendships like the one Jeremy and Lizzy have in this book.  And Mass does a perfect job of letting Lizzy be Lizzy  and Jeremy be Jeremy but keeps them true to themselves when they are together, too.  It's refreshing compared to the pre-teen drama that is so typical of most books written for this age group. 

Mass gives us a strong characters, too.  Everyone from Mr. Oswald, his driver, and Lizzy and Jeremy are developed just right.  The characters of Lizzy's dad and Jeremy's mom are not central to the book, which seemed lacking to me at first.  Lizzy and Jeremy are the main characters but it is evident that the reason they are so independent is because of their parents.  Their freedoms are a result of being raised by single parents that have set solid rules and boundaries for them. 

The book was a bit emotional (Jeremy reliving his dad's tragic car-accident death) but it's message is touching and heart-felt.  I recommend it for 4th grade through high school. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Back in March, I reviewed Polly Shulman's novel, The Grimm Legacy, because I just adored it. I couldn't wait to tell everyone about it (see the review here.)

Come to find out, it was her second novel! Who knew? So, a week or so ago, I decided to order her first novel, Enthusiasm, and I can also recommend it, though it's definitely a different style and type of novel.

Cute cover, no?

Like me, sophomore Julie (or Julia, if you're being formal) has a great fondness for Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. She is a quiet girl, a poet, gawky (she feels) and shy. Her best friend, Ashleigh, however, is loud, excitable, and, well, odd. Ashleigh gets ideas. BIG ideas. She finds something she loves with a passion, for a while, at least, and acts on them in ways that most people wouldn't think to do. Just before their sophomore year begins, Julie is a little unhappy to find that Ashleigh's newest Big Craze is Pride and Prejudice. Ashleigh wants to dress, talk, act, dance like an Austen heroine, and, of course, that means finding a Mr. Darcy for both of them.

The Quadrille

Ashleigh decides that the best way to find a Mr. Darcy and dance the quadrille and such noble pursuits is to crash the local all-boy boarding school's Fall Frolic. Confusion, hilarity, and teen heartbreak ensue. This is not a re-do of Pride and Prejudice - it reminds me a bit more of Emma (or Clueless) though it's still not the same story - but a little knowledge of Austen's style certainly wouldn't hurt, and I probably enjoyed the book a bit more for loving Austen in the first place.

The writing is superbly done, again, and the characters are believable and enjoyable. However, unlike The Grimm Legacy, which had both fantasy and mystery elements, this is a straight-up teen romance. There's not much in the way of adventure, but the love story is quite well done. Ashleigh and Julie are both eyeing the same boy, and Julie's a good enough friend to back off. Ashleigh is, well, clueless, but not mean. There is a bit of comedy-of-errors plot and humor. There is also some family drama - Julie's parents are divorced, and there is a slightly evil stepmother involved - and again, the characters ring true. 

I really liked this book, but again, in a different way than I liked her later effort. I wouldn't recommend this to my boys - I just think it's too much of a straight romance for them to enjoy. However, it's a great read for the slightly older tween girl. 

Rating: PG
There is very light romantic description of kissing, and one mention of (undrunk and confiscated from an icky boy) vodka at a party. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Is this thing on?

Oh, good.

We've been gone because our calendar keeper lost track of time.

But things return to the regularly scheduled fun next week.

Sorry for the radio silence.