The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo

 

Cover of The Big Splash

Captain’s Log:

Module 9

Port of Call:  Ferraiolo, J.D. (2008). The big splash. New York, NY: Amulet Books.

First Lines:

Summary: Matt Stevens is a Jr. High private investigator. Back in Ellie (elementary school) he was good friends with now-turned organized crime boss Vinnie Biggs, and Kevin Carling, his former best friend who is now Vinnie’s right hand man. Vinnie has come up with an ingenious way of getting rid of bullies and those who stand in the way of his organization. His goons and assassins ‘take out’ his targets through the judicious use of squirt guns, cat-pee water balloons and, the ultimate weapon, a diaper smeared with chocolate. From that point, the taunting of the student body alone is enough to ruin Vinnie’s victims’ social lives and send them permanently to the ‘Outs’ to live out their remaining school years as social pariahs. Matt refuses to get involved with Vinnie, his moral standards forcing him to stay away from his former friends, but when Vinnie’s best former trigger-girl, Nikki Fingers, is taken ‘out’ by a mystery assassin, Matt gets coerced into taking the case. Written in noir style, The Big Splash is a new take on highschool drama and mystery, with a fair amount of humor thrown in for good measure.

First Impressions: Although I love noir, I wasn’t feeling this book at first. However, after a chapter or two I got into it. I liked when Matt’s relationship with his mother was explored, and that made me take more of an interest in the story. Also, this book feels like the first in a series, and there are certainly bigger questions that deserve to be answered in consecutive books.

Suggestions for use: A great introduction to the noir style, I would use this book to get kids interested in mysteries, or as a recommendation if they want a mystery more closely derived from real life situations. This is an entertaining book, so any middle-schooler looking for a good read would probably enjoy this story. Perhaps this could be a step up from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly:

“/* Starred Review */ The seventh-grader version of a Raymond Chandler PI, Matt Stevens coolly navigates the mean streets (okay, the mean hallways) of Franklin Middle School in a first novel with an ingenious premise: junior high noir. Matt’s classmate, the once-bullied Vinny Biggio, commands a whole “organization,” complete with hit men, in this case boys and girls who use loaded squirt guns, stealth attacks and their peers’ predictable responses (choruses of “Jimmy peed his pants!”) to ensure their targets’ permanent and total ostracism. The plot has to do with the spectacular takedown of one Nicole Finnegan, aka Nikki Fingers, the school’s most feared “trigger-girl,” that is, until her recent retirement from Vinny’s operation. Just who ordered the hit on Nikki, and why? Twists and curve balls keep readers guessing; extended jokes like one about a petty thief’s desperate need for cash (“On the surface, Peter was a happy-go-lucky model student, but underneath, he had a dirty little secret: He was a Pixy Stixer”) will keep them laughing. With crisp prose and surprisingly poignant moments, Ferraiolo’s debut entertains on many levels. Ages 10–14.”

Staff. (2008). The big splash. Publishers Weekly, 255(37), 67.

School Library Journal:

 “Gr 6–8— Matt Stevens is a seventh-grade Sam Spade who attends a middle school with an organized crime ring run by Vinny Biggs and his goons. Biggs traffics in forgeries, stolen exams, and candy, and has his competition regularly put in the “Outs” with humiliating water-pistol stains to the pants. A kid in the Outs is outcast for life—so when Nikki Fingers, Biggs’s most-feared former hit woman, is taken down by an unseen assailant, Matt is hired by both her sister, Jenny, and Biggs himself to find the culprit. The result is a punchy, clue- and twist-filled plot that falls somewhere between Bruce Hale’s “Chet Gecko” (Harcourt) and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War (Knopf, 1974). Ferraiolo cleverly adapts hard-boiled whodunit roles to a slightly cartoonish middle school arena (Joey “the Hyena” is framed for the crime; Katie Kondo is the vigilant hall monitor chief; Jimmy Mac heads the school paper; Sal Becker runs a root-beer version of a dive bar in his toolshed). Matt’s strained relationship with Kevin, a former best friend who’s now working for Biggs, brings depth to his character, as do his crushes on both Jenny and Kevin’s sister. An intriguing personal mystery involving Matt’s father, who disappeared years earlier, remains unsolved by the end of the book, and Matt’s mother has secrets yet to tell. Well paced, funny, and suspenseful, with some real commentary on bullying and mob mentality, this book will have fans eagerly awaiting the next installment in this faux noir detective series.”

Pollard, R. (2008). The big splash. School Library Journal, 54(11), 120.

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Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 10:21 am  Comments (1)  
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Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Cover of Life As We Knew It

Captain’s Log:

Module 8

Port of Call: Pfeffer, S.B. (2006). Life as we knew it. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc.

First Lines: May 7

Lisa is pregnant.

Dad called around 11 o’clock to let us know. Only Mom had already taken Jonny to his baseball practice and of course Matt isn’t home from college yet, so I was alone to get the big news.

Summary: Miranda is a teenage girl living in Pennsylvania. Her life revolves around her friends and social life – her friend Megan is becoming increasingly religiously fundamentalist while her other friend Samantha is falling into a promiscious lifestyle. Miranda also is an avid fan of Brandon Erlich, a local figure skater increasing in fame, and who inspires her to want to ice skate. In the midst of this busy, teenage life, Miranda pays little attention to the news about the asteroid about to hit the moon. Everybody expects the asteroid hit to be a minor occurrance, but instead it knocks the moon into a new orbit and sets off a chain of events that effect the entire world: tidal tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, volcanic ash that creates an early winter and power grid failures send Miranda’s family into survival mode. Living off of canned food and the firewood they were able to gather, Life As We Knew It is a gripping story that makes you think about what could happen if our world was effected by a cataclysmic disaster.

First Impressions: From the moment I read the description of this book I was interested, as this sort of survival/post-apocalyptic sci-fi is one of my favorite genres. I was unable to put this book down and read it in a single day while travelling across the country by airplane. This book made me want to go and stack up on canned goods.

Suggestions for use: This book could prompt great discussion about natural disasters and survival, or as a unit on the effects of the moon or natural events on climate change. Of course, this book was compelling enough that I think many readers will pick it up just for fun.

Reviews:

BookList:

“/*Starred Review*/ A meteor is going to hit the moon, and 16-year-old Miranda, like the rest of her family and neighbors in rural Pennsylvania, intends to watch it from the comfort of a lawn chair in her yard. But the event is not the benign impact predicted. The moon is knocked closer to Earth, setting off a chain of horrific occurrences: tsunamis, earthquakes, and, later, volcanic eruptions that disrupt life across the planet. Written in the form of Mirandas diary, this disquieting and involving story depicts one familys struggle to survive in a world where food, warmth, and well-being disappear in the blink of an eye. As life goes from bad to worse, Miranda struggles to find a way to survive both mentally and physically, discovering strength in her family members and herself. This novel will inevitably be compared to Meg Rosoffs Printz Award Book, How I Live Now (2004). Pfeffer doesn’t write with Rosoff’s startling eloquence, and her setup is not as smooth (Why don’t scientists predict the possibility of this outcome?). But Miranda and her family are much more familiar than Rosoff’s characters, and readers will respond to the authenticity and immediacy of their plight. Each page is filled with events both wearying and terrifying and infused with honest emotions. Pfeffer brings cataclysmic tragedy very close.”

Cooper, I. (2006). Life as we knew it. BookList, 103(1), 127.

School Library Journal:

“Gr 6-8 –Pfeffer tones down the terror, but otherwise crafts a frighteningly plausible account of the local effects of a near-future worldwide catastrophe. The prospect of an asteroid hitting the Moon is just a mildly interesting news item to Pennsylvania teenager Miranda, for whom a date for the prom and the personality changes in her born-again friend, Megan, are more immediate concerns. Her priorities undergo a radical change, however, when that collision shifts the Moon into a closer orbit, causing violent earthquakes, massive tsunamis, millions of deaths, and an upsurge in volcanism. Thanks to frantic preparations by her quick-thinking mother, Miranda’s family is in better shape than many as utilities and public services break down in stages, wild storms bring extremes of temperature, and outbreaks of disease turn the hospital into a dead zone. In Miranda’s day-by-day journal entries, however, Pfeffer keeps nearly all of the death and explicit violence offstage, focusing instead on the stresses of spending months huddled in increasingly confined quarters, watching supplies dwindle, and wondering whether there will be any future to make the effort worthwhile. The author provides a glimmer of hope at the end, but readers will still be left stunned and thoughtful.”

Peters, J. (2006). Life as we knew it. School Library Journal, 52(10), 166.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Cover of Leviathan

Captain’s Log:

Module 8

Port of Call: Westerfeld, S. (2009). Leviathan. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

First Lines: The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised. Behind them stood two ranks of diesel-powered walking machines stood ready to fire, cannon aimed over the heads of the cavalry. A zeppelin scouted no-man’s-land at the center of the battlefield, its metal skin sparkling.

Summary: Alek is the son of the Archduke of Austria and is suddenly whisked out of his bed for his own safety when his parents are assassinated. Europe is thrown into turmoil on the brink of the first world war, and Alek must escape and survive until he can find allies to reclaim his birthright. He and his advisors hide from German clankers, giant war machines, while those who want him dead try to hunt him down. In the meantime, in England, Deryn Sharp has inherited her deceased father’s love of airships and decides to sneak into the British Air Service disguised as a boy. During an early training exercise she is separated from her base and is picked up by the British Darwinist ship Leviathan a giant flying whale that houses complex eco-systems all working in harmony as a deadly war airship. Her skills as an airman keep her onboard as a midshipman, and she goes with the Leviathan as it is assigned to a top secret mission to the Ottoman Empire. On the way, they encounter German forces and crash into a glacier near where Alek and his advisors are hiding. Alek makes the choice to try and help the stranded airmen and the two meet and form a friendship despite their differences and the secrets each is trying to hide.

First Impressions: I loved this book from the minute I saw the cover. I thought the alternate history to WWI was cleverly constructed and I am eagerly looking forward to the next book, Behemoth.

Suggestions for use: This book is a great inroduction into sci-fi and steampunk, so I can see using this book to introduce teenagers to these genres. I think this book has greater significance if the reader has some knowledge of WWI. This might even be a great companion story for students studying this period of history.

Reviews:

School Library Journal:

“/* Starred Review */ Gr 7 Up— This is World War I as never seen before. The story begins the same: on June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated, triggering a sequence of alliances that plunges the world into war. But that is where the similarity ends. This global conflict is between the Clankers, who put their faith in machines, and the Darwinists, whose technology is based on the development of new species. After the assassination of his parents, Prince Aleksandar’s people turn on him. Accompanied by a small group of loyal servants, the young Clanker flees Austria in a Cyklop Stormwalker, a war machine that walks on two legs. Meanwhile, as Deryn Sharp trains to be an airman with the British Air Service, she prays that no one will discover that she is a girl. She serves on the Leviathan, a massive biological airship that resembles an enormous flying whale and functions as a self-contained ecosystem. When it crashes in Switzerland, the two teens cross paths, and suddenly the line between enemy and ally is no longer clearly defined. The ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, and that’s a good thing because readers will be begging for more. Enhanced by Thompson’s intricate black-and-white illustrations, Westerfeld’s brilliantly constructed imaginary world will capture readers from the first page. Full of nonstop action, this steampunk adventure is sure to become a classic.”

Campbell, H.M. (2009). Leviathan. School Library Journal, 55(9), 176.

Publishers Weekly:
“/* Starred Review */ Launching a planned four-book series, Westerfeld (the Uglies series) explores an alternate 1914 divided between Darwinists, who advocate advanced biotechnology, and Clankers, masters of retrofuturistic mechanical engineering. Austria-Hungary’s Prince Aleksandar is whisked away into the night by trusted advisers; he soon learns that his parents, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie, have been murdered and that he has been targeted by prowar Germans. Half a continent away, Deryn Sharp successfully passes as a young man to join the British Air Service; her bravery during a catastrophic first flight aboard a genetically enhanced jellyfish (“The creatures’ fishy guts could survive almost any fall, but their human passengers were rarely so lucky”) earns Deryn a post on the living airship Leviathan . The fortunes of war lead Aleksandar and Deryn to the Swiss Alps, where they must cooperate or face destruction at the hands of the Germans. The protagonists’ stories are equally gripping and keep the story moving, and Thompson’s detail-rich panels bring Westerfeld’s unusual creations to life. The author’s fully realized world has an inventive lexicon to match—readers will be eager for the sequels. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)”
Staff. (2009). Leviathan. Publisher’s Weekly, 256(34), 62.

Muchacho by Louanne Johnson

Cover of Muchacho

Captain’s Log: Module 7

Port of Call: Johnson, L. (2009). Muchacho. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

First Lines: I seen Miss Beecher today at the library checking out a old lady’s book. She had her head tipped down so I couldn’t see her face real good but I knew it was Beecher on account of her hair is the exact same color as a car I stole once. Bronze metallic. Beecher doesn’t look like a regular librarian but at least she didn’t look like she was falling off a cliff the way she did most of the time back when she was trying to be a teacher.

Summary: Eddie Corazon is a Mexican-American living in one of New Mexico’s poor neighborhoods. He grew up surrounded by crime, gang bangers, and racism, and is struggling to even graduate high school. Eddie has a lot of cousins, including his primo Enrique who once shot a man in front of him, but his cousins are also a lifeline, forming a protective gang of their own that keeps them from being forced into a life of drug running. Eddie starts to find purpose in his life when he meets Lupe, an incredibly smart and beautiful girl who thinks he’s interesting, and who opens his eyes to the possibilities he has, if only he could get his life on track. Slowly, Eddie begins to change himself, and to become a man his family, Lupe’s father, and himself can respect.

First Impressions: I was hesitant to get into this book because I assumed it would be depressing. However, the story was much more upbeat and meaningful than I anticipated. Now I think this is a very carefully constructed book with a number of useful messages about shaping your own destiny, no matter the terrible circumstances you find yourself in.

Suggestions for use: Definitely a powerful book for inner-city kids, teenagers in difficult neighborhoods, and very empowering for poor latin-americans.

Reviews:

School Library Journal:

“Gr 9 Up— High school junior Eddie Corazon and his Mexican-American family live in a crime-infested town in New Mexico where kids are often pressed into service as drug runners if found on the streets alone. Eddie has his older cousin to look out for him, and he tells of the day when he was eight, and felt so proud to ride along with Enrique, drinking beer and smoking. But when Enrique stopped the car, knocked on a door, and shot the man who opened it in the face, young Eddie messed his pants, “smelling the stink of hopelessness that hung around my life.” Eddie is now in an alternative high school and brandishing his role as juvenile delinquent until he meets Lupe, a bright girl with dreams of college. Keeping her as his girlfriend is the impetus for change, but poignant memoirs of a caring former teacher and the book The Four Agreements play a major role in Eddie’s transformation into a reflective honor student. In the end, the future appears hopeful for the teen, though his change is a bit too didactic as he writes, “you can open a book and follow the words to some new place.” Sometimes the first-person narrative is disjointed, and the story and characters don’t always ring true. While the content may appeal to reluctant readers, the nonlinear story line will be a challenge. Also, the heavy-handed message could be a turnoff, and the numerous allusions to contemporary literature, while interesting, will be lost on most struggling teen readers.”

McClune, P.N. (2009). Muchacho. School Library Journal, 55(9), 162.

Kirkus:

“An experienced English teacher, prolific writer and speaker, Johnson gives life to a sensitive, contradictory character, Eddie Corazon, a Hispanic teenager—”muchacho”—overcoming the obstacles that thousand of adolescents face as high-school students in the United States. Eddie lives in a diverse and hostile environment. He is challenged every day by peers of different ethnic backgrounds and lifestyles at his alternative school for at-risk students. Some of them envision their future in the streets and are not afraid to end up in jail, but others dream of graduating from high school and attending college. Eddy is crossed by different emotions, but perhaps a book, a teacher and a girl—”Lupe full of grace”—will make a difference and transform one of the most challenging and distressing periods of his life into a new beginning. Eddie’s first-person narration and street language will hold teenagers’ interest. Set in New Mexico, one of the states with the highest drop-out rates among Hispanics, this novel unveils the social pressures and struggles of teens living in inner cities.”

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2009, retrieved from NoveList database October 19, 2010

Schooled by Gordon Korman

A yellow schoolbus with rainbow tie-dyed windows is shown sideways over a large peace sign on a yellow cover

Cover of Schooled

Captain’s Log:Module 7

Port of Call: Korman, G. (2007). Schooled. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.

First Lines: I was thirteen the first time I saw a police officer up close. He was arresting me for driving without a license. At the time, I didn’t even know what a license was. I wasn’t too clear on what being arrested meant either.

Summary: Capricorn “Cap” Anderson has been raised in a hippie commune all his life. He is completely unfamiliar with what most of us would consider to be commonplace, “normal life” occurrances. However, when his grandmother, who has been raising him in solitude, has to go to the hospital, Cap is placed in a local high school until she gets better.

Claverage “C Average” High School is a typical midwest school with its fair share of cliques and high school drama. When Cap arrives, it doesn’t take long for the entire school to realize he is very different. As a joke, he is nominated to be class president, and everyone expects him to crash and burn for the entertainment of all. Sure enough, Cap’s strange ideals get him into lots of troublesome situations, such when he thinks checks are free money and spends all the Halloween dance funds on charity. This is a humorous story about high school power struggles and culture clashes as Cap struggles to understand his place in the modern world.

First Impressions: This story has an entertaining pretense, and so I found it quite easy to get drawn into this book. This story is definitely aimed at middle school students, and the characters are not particularly complex, but their motives and ambitions are carefully constructed which makes the character interactions mesh well. I finished this book quickly and thought it was an interesting and fun read.

Suggestions for use: This is a great book about being true to yourself and dealing with social challenges in high school. While this book can seem intimidating (high school can be scary!) I think Cap is a character kids can learn from. Cap undergoes difficult times, but he never doubts himself and doesn’t let what others think or say change his ideals. I suggest this book for anyone who has had to deal with bullying in school, or has had trouble fitting into a new situation.

Reviews:

BookList:

“Gr. 6-9 /*Starred Review*/ Homeschooled on an isolated “alternate farm commune” that has dwindled since the 1960s to 2 members, 13-year-old Cap has always lived with his grandmother, Rain. When she is hospitalized, Cap is taken in by a social worker and sent—like a lamb to slaughter—to middle school. Smart and capable, innocent and inexperienced (he learned to drive on the farm, but he has never watched television), long-haired Cap soon becomes the butt of pranks. He reacts in unexpected ways and, in the end, elevates those around him to higher ground. From chapter to chapter, the first-person narrative shifts among certain characters: Cap, a social worker (who takes him into her home), her daughter (who resents his presence there), an A-list bully, a Z-list victim, a popular girl, the school principal, and a football player (who unintentionally decks Cap twice in one day). Korman capably manages the shifting points of view of characters who begin by scorning or resenting Cap and end up on his side. From the eye-catching jacket art to the scene in which Cap says good-bye to his 1,100 fellow students, individually and by name, this rewarding novel features an engaging main character and some memorable moments of comedy, tenderness, and reflection. Pair this with Jerry Spinelli’s 2000 Stargirl (the sequel is reviewed in this issue) for a discussion of the stifling effects of conformity within school culture or just read it for the fun of it.”

Phelan, C. (2007). Starred review of schooled by gordon korman. BookList, 103(22), 71.

School Library Journal:

“Gr 6–9— Capricorn, 13, lives with his hippie grandmother on a farm commune. He’s never been to school, never watched TV, and doesn’t even own a phone. When Rain falls out of a tree while picking plums and is sent to rehab for several weeks, Cap stays with a social worker and is sent to the local junior high school. There he is introduced to iPods, cell phones, spit balls, and harassment. Cap, with his long frizzy hair, hemp shoes, and serene ignorance of everything most of the kids care about, is the dweebiest of the dweebs, and it’s the custom at this school to elect such a kid to be eighth-grade class president (which offers extra humiliation opportunities). The story is told from multiple points of view, adding depth to even the most unsympathetic characters. Korman’s humor is a mix of edgy and silly, the plot moves along at a steady pace, and the accessible and smooth writing style brings all the elements together to make a satisfying whole. The plot is not long on plausibility, but maybe that’s not important in this case. Will Cap’s ingrained peacefulness and sense of self win out in the end? Will it matter that he’s entrusted with writing checks to help pay for the eighth-grade dance, even though he’s not clear on the concept of what a check is? Readers will stay tuned to the last page, and Korman’s many fans won’t be disappointed.”

Persson, L. (2007). Review of schooled by gordon korman. School Library Journal, 53(8), 118.