I'm a little behind on my posting, what with gearing up for Teen Summer Reading, so I'll be doing both of the books that I read recently.
The first one was Annette Curtis Klause's Freaks Alive on the Inside. It's about Abel, a boy in the late 1800's who grew up in a community of circus freaks. He actually feels out of place because he's "normal" and decides to run away and try to make his own way in the world as a knifethrower. He ends up as part of a traveling freak show run by a nasty guy who exploits the people he employs. There's a fantasy element mixed in, as Abel is haunted by strange dreams and is given a ring which seems to have a strange effect on both him and anyone else who happens to touch it. The book wasn't bad. I did finish it. However, if you're interested in life in a circus, I'd have to recommend Iain Lawrence's Ghost Boy over this one.
The other book I recently finished was Sarah Dessen's Dreamland. I guess this is another part of my recent venturing into the realm of "chick books." This was the first Dessen that I've read, and I thought it was quite good. It dealt with a lot of common teen issues - parental expectations, living in the shadow of a seemingly perfect sibling, how one person's lifestyle decisions effect the rest of the family, and the increasingly common problem of violence against teenage girls by their boyfriends. (You'd think all of that would make it a muddled, preachy sort of book, but it wasn't.) The violence issue was handled very well. The author takes us from the couple's first meeting, through their early dates which seem to be ok, but have hints of what's to come, and into the stage of control and violence. Dessen does all of this through the eyes of the girl who is at the center of it, so you see her reaction to things, her attempts to rationalize what's happening, and her feelings of isolation and fear. I really wish that this was a rare occurrence that didn't need to be addressed in teen literature, but unfortunately statistics indicate otherwise. This would be a good book for someone that might be getting into a potentially dangerous relationship because it's non-judgemental. It would also help those people who might know someone in an abusive relationship by showing them what goes on inside the victim's head while it's happening.