Monday, December 07, 2009

What Mrs N's Been Reading - The Spectacular Now, Marcelo in the Real World, and Newes from the Dead

I have hit an all-time low. This is the first time that I've finished 3 books before I got around to posting my review on them. I've got a litany of excuses, but never mind. Let's just get to 'em.
The first was Tim Tharp's The Spectacular Now. The narrator is Sutter Keely, a high school senior and king of the party animals. He lives with his mom and step dad. His sister is the trophy wife of an older, incredibly snooty executive. His girlfriend, Cassidy, breaks up with him early in the book because she sees him as a lot of fun, but never serious, never considering anyone else's feelings (especially hers), and has no future. But this doesn't really slow down Sutter's partying. He goes from one good time to the next, always carrying his whiskey flask. One night he wakes up in the middle of a lawn with a girl looking down at him. Aimee is a socially awkward but really sweet girl. Sutter helps her with her predawn paper deliveries then devises a plan to go out with her a few times, as a good deed, to improve her social life. Of course, things don't go quite as planned. Sutter's voice is egotistical, but honest. You see him throwing his life away, but you also see his good intentions. There's no nice, neat sitcom ending here, but it's realistic. Not for middle schoolers due to heavy drinking and other adult situations.
Francisco Stark's Marcelo in the Real World, is the story of Marcelo Sandoval, a 17-year-old boy with a high functioning form of Asperger's Syndrome. He has been going to a school for special needs students all of his life. He is looking forward to the job he has lined up for the summer working with the horses at his school, but his lawyer father has other plans for him. He wants Marcelo to work in the mail room of his law firm, and to attend a regular high school for his senior year. He thinks that Marcelo is better able to function in "the real world" than he thinks, and that experience in dealing with "the real world" will do him good. You see inside Marcelo's head as he struggles to cope with the noisy city streets, and the nuances of dealing with other people, that he finds incredibly difficult. Going from an entirely sheltered existence to dealing with the cast of characters in a cut-throat law firm is quite the culture shock, but he manages to handle most things. Then he is faced with a moral dilemma that could effect his entire family and his own future, as well as people he has never even met. Wonderfully written! Nothing really objectionable for older middle schoolers, but I think high school students will get more out of it.

Mary Hooper's Newes from the Dead starts with Anne Green waking up in absolute darkness, unable to move. As she tries to figure out if she is dead or alive, in heaven or hell or purgatory, she remembers that she had been hanged. In alternating chapters you see the story unfold from two points of view, Mary's as she describes the events leading up to her hanging, and that of Robert Matthews, an Oxford scholar who is witnessing the dissection of Mary's body along with several other doctors and medical students. This is based on actual events that occurred in England in 1650. Very compelling reading! Mary's story will keep you engrossed, and you will also get a look at the politics of the 1600's, as well as the medical procedures and theories of the time. At one point I was wondering how the things they were putting on Mary's body (turpentine, sheep dung, etc.) didn't take out half the other people in the room! Probably not for younger middle school students. Considering the subject matter, there's very little gore. But Mary was hanged for infanticide, believed to have killed her newborn baby, whose father is the grandson of the master of the house where Mary had worked as servant. That subject is handled as discreetly as possible, but it's still not for younger readers.

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