Friday, November 21, 2014

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

Summary: A childhood friend of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer paints a haunting and tragic picture of Dahmer's early life. This graphic novel is a real-life account of Dahmer's descent into madness. Through personal anecdotes as well as direct quotes from Dahmer himself, Backderf portrays Dahmer as a neglected teen whose desperate cries for help went unnoticed by all. The result is an eerie commentary on an Ohio town that maybe -- just maybe -- could have helped save the lives of those 17 young men.

The Good: This story is a gripping and horrific preview to the events that would lead to Dahmer's downfall. It shows a sad and lonely teen detached from the "social scene" of high school and struggling to cope with obsessive thoughts about corpses and sex. Dahmer drowned his sorrows in alcohol, often drinking throughout the school day. His parents were going through a messy divorce, and the author and his friends amused themselves by creating the Dahmer Fan Club in which Dahmer would fake "fits" reminiscent of cerebral palsy or epilepsy in order to get attention. Despite all the warning signs, no adults stepped in to help the troubled Dahmer.

The graphics in this novel capture the powerful darkness that surrounds the story. The author does a fabulous job of juxtaposing images from his own home life with images from Dahmer's life. While Backderf and Dahmer have much in common, their home lives could not have been more different.

The Bad: My only complaint about this book is that it ends too soon. While the story does a great job showing the events that led up to Dahmer's life as a serial killer, the author's interaction with Dahmer ends when Backderf graduates high school and leaves for college. What happens after that is mere speculation in the book. However, this story is not necessarily about Dahmer the Serial Killer. It is about Dahmer the Teenager, and this story definitely succeeds.

The Verdict: This portrait of Jeffrey Dahmer as a young man will leave readers with a new perspective about one of the most infamous serial killers of the 20th century. I would not say it is a must-read because the subject matter is certainly not for everyone. But for those who need a reason to pay attention to those quiet, forgotten people in their lives, this story will deliver.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Summary: Eleanor is an awkward, overweight 15-year-old redhead from a chaotic, abusive home. Park is an awkward, quirky Asian boy from a loving, conservative home. When they meet on the school bus, magic happens. Set over the course of a single school year in 1986, this story will have teenagers swooning over this star-crossed love story, while adult readers will be reminiscing about their own first loves.

The Good: I loved everything about this book from the humiliation to the heartache to the humor. The point of view switches back and forth from Eleanor to Park, which gives readers a full picture of the emerging relationship between them. Both characters are flawed, and yet each of them is able to see the flaws of the other as a thing of beauty.

While the story feels nostalgic with the characters listening to cassette tapes and talking on landline phones, it also captures the timeless essence of love. Who doesn't remember those first wayward glances, first nervous smiles, first electric touches? This story captures those moments in a way that readers won't be able to resist. Here are just of few of the exchanges between Eleanor and Park that will tug at readers' heartstrings: 

“The first time he'd held her hand, it felt so good that it crowded out all the bad things. It felt better than anything had ever hurt.”

“When Eleanor smiled, something broke inside of him. Something always did.” 

“Nothing before you counts,” he said. “And I can’t even imagine an after.” 

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” 

“I don’t like you, Park. Sometimes I think I live for you.” 
“Maybe Park had paralyzed her with his ninja magic, his Vulcan handhold, and now he was going to eat her. That would be awesome.”  

“It was the nicest thing she could imagine. It made her want to have his babies and give him both of her kidneys.” 

The Bad: Just as Park could find no flaws in Eleanor, I could find no flaws in this story.

The Verdict: This is by far the best book I have read in years. It's one of those stories that I didn't want to end. It is no wonder why this book was named the YALSA Teens Top Ten book of 2014. The story will capture your heart and not let go. This is a must-read book for everyone.

© 2014 Kari Lomanno of The Book Reporter

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Summary: This critically-acclaimed graphic novel features Enid and her best friend Rebecca, two recent high school graduates who are at a crossroad in their lives. Enid wants to go to college, but Rebecca is resistant to losing her friend. Rather than face the notion of growing up, the two girls spend their days wandering around the city gossiping and criticizing everyone and everything they see. 

Their nonstop diatribe against society spares no one, from “ugly people in love” to “guitar-plunkin’ morons.” The girls use their cynical commentary as a weapon against their own frustration with their lives. 

Becky: “I don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. I just want it to be like it was in high school.”

Enid: “I feel like I want to become a totally different person.”

The novel was adapted into a movie in 2001.

The Good: This novel is at times both hilarious and haunting. The characters are so realistic that readers will feel as if they are sitting alongside Enid and Becky at Angel’s Diner as they discuss religion, politics, and philosophy. The story has a timeless feel that generations of teenagers can relate to. The graphics capture the growing sense of foreboding throughout the story as the girls move closer to the impossible decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.

The Bad: The vulgar language in this novel takes away from the intriguing characters and the emotional impact of the story. The “F” word is used on almost every page, and there are references to child pornography, drug use, and sex. The graphics are not overtly explicit, however, and the language adds to the realism of the story.

The Verdict: There is a reason this novel is considered a classic. Teenagers will devour this book, and some will aspire to become Enid and Becky. They are cool because they are so flawed, which is what makes this story so brilliant. This novel is for young adults only. Mature high school students can handle the vulgarity, but this book is definitely R-rated.

© 2014 Kari Lomanno of The Book Reporter 

Monday, November 10, 2014

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Summary: Mary Katherine Blackwood, also known as Merricat, is an immature and superstitious 18-year-old who lives with her agoraphobic older sister Constance and her elderly Uncle Julian. The rest of her family is dead, supposedly poisoned by Constance. The Blackwood family has been shunned by the rest of village and are treated as outcasts because of the family's macabre past. When gold-digging cousin Charles arrives, more family secrets are revealed and the villagers get an opportunity to take their revenge on this haunted family.

The Good: Shirley Jackson, best known for her disturbing short story "The Lottery," continues in the genre of the classic horror tale here. Told from the point of view of Merricat, readers will find themselves delving into her madness. They will wonder how much of the story is real and how much is simply a product of her own twisted mind. The story's spooky tone is a good fit for readers looking for a good scare.

The Bad: The story takes readers down several roads that are never fully developed, which leaves them with more questions than answers. I kept waiting for a plot twist that never happened. While the tone of the story stays true to the dark and macabre, the plot is weak and anticlimactic.

The Verdict: This story is a bit disappointing. Those who enjoyed "The Lottery" will probably find this story inferior, but those who are looking for a good spooky tale on a dark and stormy night will probably enjoy the ride.

© 2014 Kari Lomanno of The Book Reporter 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen

Age range: 12-17 years

Summary: High school social groups go to war as the president of the robotics club and the head cheerleader battle over funding for their respective groups. At the heart of the brawl are Charlie, the  basketball team captain, and Nate, the robotics club leader, who decide to campaign against each other for the ultimate power position: student body president.

Things get even more complicated when the teens realize that in order to reach their funding goals, they must work together to turn the robotics club's beloved robot Beast into a fierce competitor that kills other robots. Can these enemies learn to cooperate? Which group will rein supreme in the end?

The Good: This book is action-packed with intriguing characters, humor, and drama. There are plot twists and surprises throughout the story that will keep readers turning pages. The black-and-white graphics do a phenomenal job of capturing the facial expressions and emotions of each character. The story builds to an exciting conclusion.

The Bad: There are not many negatives in this story. Although middle school readers would probably enjoy it, there is some language that might not be appropriate for younger readers. However, it is an overall wholesome story.

The Verdict: This story will appeal to both male and female readers. Because it features all members of the high school social strata from basketball players to cheerleaders to nerds, it will capture the interest of everyone. It is a fun roller coaster ride that readers will most certainly enjoy. I highly recommend it.

© 2014 Kari Lomanno of The Book Reporter 

Peanut by Ayun Halliday


Summary: When Sadie has to move to a new high school, she decides to "reinvent herself" by pretending she has a peanut allergy. The affliction gives her the attention she craves, but how will she manage to keep up the charade as her new friends and "frenemies" become suspicious?

The Good: This is a fast-paced, enjoyable story. Sadie is a likeable character, and the reader sympathizes with her desire to fit in at her new school. The mess she creates adds to the drama and keeps the reader's interest. The graphics are creatively implemented in black and white with Sadie always wearing red to help her stand out on the page.

The Bad: There is not much of a downside other than the fact that the plot is a bit simplistic and the characters are teenagers and can get a bit annoying at times.

The Verdict: This book will appeal to teenage girls because they can relate to the need to be accepted. It's a fast read and can probably be finished in one or two sittings. Overall, I would recommend this story to teenagers looking for an easy read.

© 2014 Kari Lomanno of The Book Reporter 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

Age range: 12-18

Summary: Rose has been going to the lakeside cottage in Awago Beach with her family every summer since she can remember. Her younger friend Windy is there, and they enjoy watching horror movies and pigging out on junk food.

But this summer, the girls notice that things aren't quite the same. Rose's parents are fighting a lot, and the local teenagers begin stirring up some drama. Rose's childhood innocence starts to fade as she encounters some adult issues for the first time.

The Good: This coming-of-age story is realistic and touching. Readers will sympathize with Rose, her mother, and the teenagers in the story as they all struggle with their own issues about growing up and growing old. The sketchbook-inspired graphics are the perfect complement to the story.

The Bad: The story is more of an exploration of adolescence than a complete tale. It is a sketch of a girl dipping her toe into the waters of adulthood. As a result, it tends to leave the reader wanting more. There is some adult language in the book with references to sex and alcohol.

The Verdict: This story will appeal to preteen and teenage girls. Although it is more than 300 pages, it is a quick read with more graphics than text. The characters will touch the hearts of readers of all ages. I recommend this story to teenage girls looking for an intriguing coming-of-age story.

© 2014 Kari Lomanno of The Book Reporter