Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review of Murder at the Book Group, The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits, and Teardrop by Lauren Kate


This review is from Shelf Awareness, and is about a book that I think my own Tuesday  Night Book Group would enjoy. 

Review: Murder at the Book Group

You can't judge a book by its cover any more than you can judge a book
club by its members. Maggie King entertainingly darkens the common
perception of book clubs (a benign assembly of readers who've come
together to discuss books) in her quirky debut, Murder at the Book
Group. The story begins when normally even-keeled, vain Carlene
Arness--a 50-year-old member of a small Richmond, Va., book group--hurls
the cozy mystery under discussion into a fireplace. "This book sucks,"
she exclaims. "There should be a law protecting the reading public from
such trash!" The shocked members try to placate irate Carlene, who is
also a mystery novelist, then rationally discuss and analyze the plot,
which has to do with cyanide slipped into the teacup of an unsuspecting
victim.

When the group breaks for refreshments, Carlene suddenly drops dead.
Remarkably, her death is deemed the result of cyanide poisoning. When a
note is discovered, Carlene's death appears to be a suicide. Many in the
group, however, suspect someone killed her and forged the note--or is
this kind of thinking the result of having read too many mystery novels?
The quest for both who done it and why unearths a host of insidious
rivalries and romantic entanglements.

The narrator, Hazel Rose, is a computer programmer turned aspiring
romance novelist who cofounded the book club with Carlene. Four times
married and financially secure, Hazel is a commitment-phobic transplant
from Los Angeles who lives a quiet, unassuming life with her cat and her
widowed cousin, Lucy--and has an on-again, off-again relationship with a
retired homicide detective who writes true-crime stories. Carlene's
death gives Hazel's banal existence a much-needed jolt. Her amateur,
high-minded sleuthing is driven by a thirst for justice and is also
inspired--and similarly complicated--by the fact that Carlene was
married to Hazel's first ex-husband.

Hazel's search for a would-be killer is riddled with snags when
Carlene's friends, family and acquaintances offer compelling details of
Carlene's multiple identities, surprising secrets and sordid love
affairs. Coupled with the deceased's recent estrangement from her
husband, this evidence points to a host of possible motives for her
demise. "The shock and drama of Carlene's death explained our tears, not
any real affection for her," Hazel admits.

The amateur sleuth's pseudo-investigative skills and her interactions
with a cast of well-drawn, small-town characters reveal a deception that
ultimately coalesces into a study of human nature and the limits of
perception. --Kathleen Gerard mailto:katgerard@aol.com, blogger at

The Vanishers by Hiedi Julavits was another of the "page turners" that was recommended 
by one of the book websites that I frequent on Facebook. 

It's a bizarre and disjointed tale of a woman named Julia who believes that she is under psychic attack from a mentor in college who is envious of her rising psychic powers, while the mentors are on the wane. Here's the blurb: 
Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?

Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.

Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia's emerging gifts, and soon she's recruited to track down an elusive missing person—a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others—including her own—goes far deeper than she ever imagined.

As powerful and gripping as all of Julavits's acclaimed novels, The Vanishers is a stunning meditation on grief, female rivalry, and the furious power of a daughter's love.
I didn't find this to be as powerful and gripping as I did pathetic and grueling. Julia never seems to know where she is in her investigation, and she has these visions at random, while also trying to find legends of her mother, who worked for the artist she's trying to track down in sick and twisted porn films. She doubts herself at every turn, she hates every environment she's in, and she eventually comes to terms with herself only by accepting her cruelty and by giving up on caring about her mother. I was also underwhelmed by the prose, which was as foggy and dense as the protagonist's mind. The plot jumped around and had many false trails, until by the end, I had been so confused by false conclusions that I didn't really care if Julia found out about her mother and the artist at all. I'd give this book a C-, and I am being generous, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wants a page-turning, fascinating read, because this novel isn't one. 

Teardrop by Lauren Kate is a YA fantasy that was supposedly similar to Carrie Jones and Maria Snyder's "Glass" series. Unfortunately, it was a very watered-down version of YA fantasy that hit all the tropes popular in horribly mangled works like Twilight. There's the girl who is "aloof" and different from her classmates, but is still beautiful.There's the hot "otherworld" guy who mysteriously appears to rescue her, yet can't seem to tell her what the heck is going on until she's in deep trouble toward the end of the book, (and of course he has otherworldly powers, and she's instantly drawn to him) and there is the best guy friend who becomes embroiled in the whole thing because he's secretly carried a torch for the protagonist since they were children, but of course has never acted on it until strange things start to happen to her. Add in the obligatory best girlfriend who is wild and crazy and funny and all the things a sidekick must be, and you have this tedious novel. Here's the blurb:
An epic saga of heart-stopping romance, devastating secrets, and dark magic . . . a world where everything you love can be washed away. The first book in the new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fallen series

Everywhere Eureka goes he is there: Ander, a mysterious blond boy who tells her she’s in danger. Ander knows things about Eureka she doesn’t yet know herself, but not her darkest secret: ever since her mother drowned in a freak accident, Eureka wishes she were dead, too. She has little left that she cares about, just her friend, Brooks, and some heirlooms—a locket, a letter, a mysterious stone, and an ancient book about a girl who got her heart broken and cried an entire continent into the sea.
The haunting tale is more than a story. It’s real.
And Eureka’s life has far more evil undercurrents than she ever could have imagined.
 
Seriously, if you have read Twilight and Jone's Pixies series, you will know exactly where this novel is going. There is no "heart-stopping" romance, and even the "dark magic" is pretty lame until we reach the end of the book, where Eureka finally uses her mother's gifts to her to save her family (with the exception of the mean stepmother, whom you know is going to die after the first chapter). There's even a girl at Eureka's high school whose hair "smells like strawberries" just like Bella in Twilight (a series I found to be loathsome). Of course, like Bella, Eureka isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and she spends an inordinate amount of time acting like someone who has never seen a fantasy movie or read a fantasy novel, or even encountered someone who has read the myths and legends that most of us have heard of by the time we leave grade school. I mean really, who hasn't heard of the legend of Atlantis? And just because she's a teenager, does that automatically mean that our heroine has to be a complete b*tch to her parents? Especially her father, who has done nothing but remarry and try to rebuild his life. But of course our love's young dream girl finds all that to be a betrayal, and even though she claims to love her little stepbrother and stepsister, she's more than willing to hate on their mother and watch her die because the stepmother insisted on Eureka getting counseling/therapy after she tried to kill herself in the wake of her mother's death in a car accident.  How horrible of the stepmother to care. And who didn't see Brooks, the best friend, becoming a possessed and possessive nightmare by the third chapter? It was all too obvious, as if the author was following a "How to write a YA novel similar to Twilight" pamphlet. I'd give this novel a C-, and again I feel that is a generous grade, due to the low quality of the work, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone seeking surprising or page-turning YA fiction. I certainly won't be reading the next book in the series.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

3rd Third Place Books, Bookshop Pledge, RIP Normal Bridwell, Books as Gifts and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

I love it that there is good news on the horizon for one Seattle area book store, in the wake of so many others closing (RIP Old Renton Bookstore)

Third Third Place Store to Open Next Year in Seattle

Third Place Books http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz23535699, which has stores in Lake Forest Park, Wash., and in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle, is
opening a third store, in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle, in
late 2015. The new store will be in a 7,200-square-foot building that
currently houses PCC Natural Markets, the natural foods retail
cooperative that is moving next year to much larger space in the nearby
Columbia City neighborhood.

Third Place owner Ron Sher is purchasing the building, which will be
used for the store, a restaurant and possibly a pub. Managing partner
Robert Sindelar said about 3,500 square feet of the building would be
devoted to the bookstore but the layout plans are still tentative
because Third Place is looking for a restaurant partner. Third Place
doesn't intend to make additions to the building, but will raise the
basement ceiling, i.e., the main floor, to make public access to the
basement legal--enabling the restaurant to operate on two levels.

The project will be similar to the Ravenna store, which is about 10
miles north. (The Lake Forest Park store is 17 miles away.) "We hope to
have the restaurant elements and bookstore coexist on some level, but
our experience with our Ravenna store has shown us that each business
needs to be really good at what it does without sacrificing its service
or identity to the other businesses," Sindelar said. "They are there to
enhance and complement one another."

Eric McDaniel, an assistant manager in the Lake Forest Park store who
has worked for Third Place more than eight years and who lives in Seward
Park, will manage the new store.

Many in the community have welcomed the news. Shelf Awareness publisher
Jenn Risko, who lives in the neighborhood, said she's "thrilled,"
adding, "This vital, growing area has been immeasurably underserved in
books and a 'third place,' and I know it will embrace the store with
open arms."
I don't know if I will go to see this yet, but I might since I read the whole series.

The first full trailer has been released for Insurgent
the second movie in the Divergent Series, based on Veronica Roth's YA
novels. Deadline.com reported that "Shailene Woodley returns as Tris,
and this time she and Four (Theo James) are fugitives hunted by Erudite
leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet)." The cast also includes Ansel Elgort,
Miles Teller, Naomi Watts, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoƫ
Kravitz, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Dae Kim and Octavia Spencer. The
film, directed by Robert Schwentke, opens March 20.



This is a great idea, but I don't know if I can do it financially. I have a lot (meaning a ton) of medical bills and we live on one income, so I will still probably have to buy books second-hand from garage sales, used bookstores and thrift shops.

"I claim to love books; and, more than that, to love bookshops. Yet for
eight years I have poured money into a company that many booksellers
regard as the greatest threat to their survival.... It is the time of
year to make resolutions. You could resolve to eat less, or jog more. Or
you could join me in making a simple pledge: to buy every book you read
next year from a bookshop. I don't know about you, but Amazon has had
quite enough of my money already."

--Laura Freeman in a piece for the Daily Mail headlined "Why I'm


Yes, indeed! There are, in my opinion, a million reasons to give and receive books this holiday season!
"Gluten, nut, dairy, calorie and fat free." That's just one of the "top
15 reasons why books make the best gifts http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz23544343"offered by the helpful crew at BookBar http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz23544344,
Denver, Colo.

RIP to Clifford the Big Red Dog creator, Norman Bridwell. I used to read my son Clifford books and he watched the TV show all the time, too, though Emily Elizabeth kind of set my teeth on edge.

Illustrator and children's author Norman Bridwell
Clifford the Big Red Dog series of children's books delighted children
for decades, died last Friday. He was 86. Bridwell created Clifford in
1963 and went on to write and illustrate more than 150 titles. His first
Clifford manuscript was turned down by nine publishers before landing at
Scholastic, which has published Bridwell's work for more than 50 years.
There are now 129 million books in print in 13 languages. In 2000,
Clifford made his TV debut on PBS Kids, and the animated series quickly
became a hit.

Scholastic CEO Dick Robinson said Bridwell's books about Clifford,
"childhood's most loveable dog, could only have been written by a gentle
man with a great sense of humor. Norman personified the values that we
as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children--kindness,
compassion, helpfulness, gratitude--through the Clifford stories which
have been loved for more than fifty years.

"The magic of the character and stories Norman created with Clifford is
that children can see themselves in this big dog who tries very hard to
be good, but is somewhat clumsy and always bumping into things and
making mistakes. What comforts the reader is that Clifford is always
forgiven by Emily Elizabeth, who loves him unconditionally. At
Scholastic, we are deeply saddened by the loss of our loyal and talented
friend whose drawings and stories have inspired all of us and
generations of children and their parents."

Before his death, Bridwell had completed two more Clifford books, which
will be released in 2015: Clifford Goes to Kindergarten, in May, and
Clifford Celebrates Hanukkah, in October.

This is a great little bookstore right next to the famed 74th St Alehouse (bring back the roasted filberts!) I enjoyed shopping there, though their prices were high. 

Phinney Books Has 'Captured the Mission Statement'
 Facing his first holiday season
as co-owner of a bookstore, author and Jeopardy! champion Tom Nissley
told the Stranger that when he opened Phinney Books
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz23568155, Seattle, Wash., "earlier this year, he knew he would be operating on a steep learning curve."

"The most overwhelming thing is the receiving," he said. "Every day,
we're selling tons of books and that means every day I have to bring
books back in.... We have eight square feet that's not on the showroom
floor, [so the unboxing of books] all happens behind the counter in a
noticeable and not quite tidy way."

Another challenge with owning a small bookshop is finding a variety of
people to make recommendations. At Phinney, many of the shelf talkers
are contributed by customers. "We're just a small place compared to
Elliott Bay, where there's this great staff of readers who can fill up
all the shelves with shelf talkers," he said. "I'm very happy to give
the store over to other voices than mine, and to not just make it an
echo chamber for the books that I love."

During the Christmas season, Nissley asked local authors to contribute
lists of a book they want to receive for Christmas and a book they are
giving. He has also launched a new subscription program, Phinney by Post
make it as eclectic as possible," Nissley said. "The biggest coup as a
bookseller is when you have a customer who you know has read a ton of
stuff and has interesting taste and you can find something they love."
He noted that many people are buying subscriptions as gifts. When
choosing titles, he looks for "that sweet spot of both awesomeness and
obscurity so we can both please and surprise our subscribers."

Nissley "may be new at the bookselling business, but he's captured the
mission statement in a nutshell," the Stranger observed.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is a YA book that my son said he wanted me to read, as a swap for him reading "Stargirl" by Jerry Spinelli.
The book is set in Australia, and while I gather that Australia/New Zealand can be a bit backward in terms of societal  progress for women and minorities, I was startled that the author of the Book Thief, which was a very sensitive book with a young female protagonist, would have his main character in Messenger, Ed Kennedy, feel that he is "owed" sex with his best friend Audrey, though she has made it plain that she doesn't return his feelings of love/lust. Not that Ed is anything but a kind of screw up from the get-go, but even his mother doesn't like him (apparently because he looks/acts like his father, who is lionized as some kind of hero, while his mother, who is admittedly mean, still managed to raise him, if not praise him). I find it abhorent that women/girls are viewed by many young men as prizes to be won with qualifying behavior, as in doing good deeds or being good at sports or the stock market or whatever. Never mind what the female wants, she's just a possession, a thing to be bought, sold, bartered or won. This attitude is so wrong, so very misogynistic at its core that it makes me physically ill. It leads to a rape culture that sees women/girls as worthless, or only as toys for men/boys, to be used and disposed of once they are no longer sexually viable. Here's the blurb:
Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail. That's when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?

This book is a 2005 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and recipient of five starred reviews.
After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year-old cab driver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness.
So yes, Ed does a number of great things and helps people along the way. He also gets the crap kicked out of him more than once. He seems like not the brightest guy, and his friends are worse, as is his stinking dog. But 2/3 of the way through his journey, just as I believed he was becoming somewhat enlightened as a person, he begins to whine about "What's in it for me?" and laments that his friend Audrey isn't in love with him and won't have sex with him, as he's fantasized about having sex with her hundreds of time. So he lunges in and kisses her while his lip is still bloody from a fight, and then is all bummed out when she seems surprised and leaves. Personally, I think the more realistic reaction would have been for Audrey to haul off and slap his face. She's not a prize to be given for good behavior, Ed! But of course, since a young man wrote this book, he does get Audrey as a prize at the end. Why, we are never sure(her change of heart seems sudden and based on a few moments of dancing, which is again unrealistic) But I believe this idea of women as things to be given is something that young men in particular need to learn is actually wrong, abusive and contributes to rape culture and violence against women and girls. Though the general theme of the book, finding yourself by helping others, is a good one, I'd still give this book a C, and feel generous in so doing. I don't know that I'd recommend it to any teenagers, again because I don't believe that the misogyny is something to recommend. The prose is decent and the plot not too full of holes, though. My son loved this book, and felt that the good of it far outweighed the bad. So he would give it a B.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Hundred Food Journey Movie and Tidbits


I completely agree with Ms Rhodes about the joys of book shopping in a bricks and mortar store. That said, when you read as much as I do, (and when you have Crohn's Disease keeping you housebound at times) there is a place for online shopping at Barnes and Noble as well. I also visit used bookstores and thrift shops, garage sales and library sales to feed by bibliophilia. 

"The pleasure of a book can be further heightened by the way in which it
is bought. There is nothing luxurious about buying a book on Amazon,
with its grim efficiency, bright white webpages and impersonal clicks.
Likewise, there's little pleasurable about paying for a book at the
robotic self-service checkouts of the supermarket or WH Smith. These are
places of deals and vouchers, built to maximize speed of transaction. By
contrast, going into a good bookshop--and to have survived, they have to
be good--is a joy. These are places where you are greeted by a real
person, where the air is thick with the dusty smell particular to books,
the hushed enthusiasm of conversations which meander delightfully
unalgorithmically, and the thrill of discovery."

--Emily Rhodes in a Spectator piece headlined "Long Live Bookshops!


I think this is an interesting idea, but I don't know that our POTUS needs such a pledge, as I think he pretty much does all these things already.

President Obama purchasing books at Politics & Prose last weekend.
As part of the SaveOurBooks
James Patterson has launched a petition drive
President Obama to follow up on his highly publicized book-buying visit
to Politics & Prose
Washington, D.C., over the holiday weekend by taking the following


"I, President Obama, do solemnly swear to help draw awareness to the
importance of reading in the following three ways, none of which will
cost taxpayers a single dime. At least once a month, for the remainder
of my term in elected office,

1) I will appear in public carrying a book.
2) I will go to a library or store and get a book for myself, a friend,
or family member.
3) I will go on record (at a public event or on social media) saying
that I am concerned about the state of reading in our nation."

I've been wanting to watch The Hundred Foot Journey for most of this year, but since it only came out on DVD today, I was thwarted until now.
The movie stars Helen Mirren and a gorgeous young man named Manish Dayal who plays a burgeoning chef, eager to learn the ways of French cuisine. Here's the blurb: 
Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented culinary ingenue. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in a quaint French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery. However, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant just 100 feet away, strongly objects. War erupts between the two establishments, until Mallory recognizes Kadam's impressive epicurean gifts and takes him under her wing.
The movie was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, whom I believe also directed the wonderful "Australia" with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. Oprah says in the behind the scenes section of the DVD that she wanted to make a movie about racism and recovery from its effects, and though the blurb doesn't mention it, the Kadam family is burned out of their home and restaurant in Mumbai by racist people, and they experience some of the same at the hands of Madam Mallory's chef de cuisine, who tries to burn the Kadams from their new home in small town France, only to be admonished by Madam and sent packing, while she cleans her chefs written slurs off the rock fence around the Kadam household. What follows is the coming of age of Hassan, who, once under Madam's wing, earns her restaurant two Michelin stars, and then goes off to Paris to earn a third. While there, he realizes that he misses the family cooking of his small restaurant across from Madam's place, and he misses her sous chef, played beautifully by Charlotte Le Bon (I wonder if she's any relation to Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran?). Of course, Hassans father, the elder of the clan, has been romancing Madam while he was away, so romance abounds when he arrives back home, and it is decided that the two restaurants, the Indian and French, will merge and run together, and they will all live happily ever after. While I felt the racism message got a bit lost in the coming of age of chef Hassan, and in all the romance and bickering of Madam and elder Kadam, I still enjoyed the sheer beauty of the food and the French countryside and markets. If you can watch this film and not be hungry for something delicious, fresh and homemade, then you're a lot stronger than I am. And as usual, Helen Mirren delights. She's so classy and elegant and generally impressive as an actress that my heart sings whenever I see her in a movie, where she generally elevates the tone and plot just by being there. She's still gorgeous at nearly 70, and seems to be at the peak of her career. I'd give this movie an A, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful movies about food, family and romance.

I just finished reading "The Stockholm Octavo" by Karen Engelmann about an hour ago, and I was surprised at what a page-turner it was, and how fast I blasted through the 400 plus pages. Here is the blurb to get us started:
Stockholm, 1791. Emil Larsson is a self-satisfied bureaucrat in the Office of Customs and Excise. He is a true man of the Town–a drinker, card player, and contented bachelor. That is until Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, fortune-teller and proprietor of an exclusive gaming parlor, shares with him a vision she has had of a golden path that will lead Emil to love and connection. She lays an Octavo for him, a spread of eight cards that augur the eight individuals who can help him realize this vision–if he can find them.
But as Emil eagerly searches for his eight, he comes to the startling realization that finding them is no longer just a game of the heart, but crucial to pulling his country back from the crumbling precipice of rebellion and chaos.
I've never been a fan of political fiction, but the characters, plot and storyline of this novel are so riveting, I could not put it down! Between Emil's search for love and connection and Madam Usane's determination to kill King Gustav with her spider-like machinations and manipulations, I was on the edge of my proverbial seat during the whole book. I was surprised by the use of the "f word" throughout the novel, because I wasn't aware that that kind of cursing was popular in the 18th century. Despite that, however, the prose was so muscular and tense that I was 200 pages into the book before I noticed that I had to stop and use the facilities and get something to eat, because I hadn't moved for hours. There are some scary twists at the end, but I still feel the book deserves an A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical/political thrillers or even historical romances.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is a YA book that has gotten a lot of good ink lately, and since I'd heard and read so much about it, I decided to give it a shot. Here's the blurb: 
Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don't stand out—under any circumstances! Then Stargirl arrives at Mica High and everything changes—for Leo and for the entire school. After 15 years of home schooling, Stargirl bursts into tenth grade in an explosion of color and a clatter of ukulele music, enchanting the Mica student body.

But the delicate scales of popularity suddenly shift, and Stargirl is shunned for everything that makes her different. Somewhere in the midst of Stargirl's arrival and rise and fall, normal Leo Borlock has tumbled into love with her.

In a celebration of nonconformity, Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the fleeting, cruel nature of popularity—and the thrill and inspiration of first love.
In this story about the perils of popularity, the courage of nonconformity, and the thrill of first love, an eccentric student named Stargirl changes Mica High School forever.
 I found a number of parallels between my high school experience back in the dark ages of the late 1970s and the experiences of Stargirl and Leo at Mica High in Arizona today.
I, too did my best to not stand out, so as to be less bullied and beaten than usual, but of course trying to hide never really works with bullies, who will find the weakest kids in the herd by sheer instinct. What amazed me is that she didn't have the administration of the school come down on her antics, and that she wasn't bullied or harmed in a more regular and strong fashion for being so "different." My son is 15 years old, and will be in 10th grade this fall (2015), but I don't believe he's as cowardly, "shy" or cruel as the boys are in this book, because though Leo is attracted to Stargirl, he doesn't have the courage to stand by her when she needs him to. Instead, he tries to get her to be "normal," which results in her being shunned further by the cruel teenagers who comprise her classmates. Once she goes back to being "weird" (playing the ukelele and dressing in costumes created by her mother while carrying around her pet rat), Leo wants nothing to do with her and refuses to take her to the school dance, where she enchants the majority of the student body into doing the bunny hop long into the night. After being slapped by the head b*tch of the popular clique, she leaves and never returns to Mica, or sees Leo again. At some point after she leaves, Leo realizes what a fool he's been to have not supported her for the amazing person that she was, but he is never granted a second chance, and I was glad to read of his chagrin and shame. This book put me in mind of my friend Roger Blakesley who, during our years as friends at Ankeny Senior High school, had occaision to witness what happens when you are different. Roger came to school one day with all of his clothing on backwards, and you would have thought he instantly became a rock star. He was called into the principal's office and forced to change, but that only added to his allure, and suddenly, kids who didn't even know his name the day before wanted to be his best friend. I was even slightly less of an outcaste, because I was his friend and other kids thought I'd tell them why he had done such a bold and audacious thing. Stargirl dealt with that kind of attention frequently, because she was unpredictable, kind, and honest. I have to say that I was saddened that in this day and age, kids who are different, non conformists, smart kids, theater kids, fat or skinny kids are still the target of the cheerleaders and sports guys and other popular kids.  What a shame that teenagers still haven't learned to embrace the different kids for their genius. I take comfort in the fact that most of the popular kids weren't popular or that successful once they graduated from high school, so they were paid back by karma for their short sighted cruelty. I'd give Stargirl an A-, and recommend it to most of the 15 year olds that I know, because it makes some good points about the importance of being your own person, no matter what others say or do or think of you. BE YOURSELF!