Book Review: Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks

Myracle, Lauren. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks. New York, NY: Dutton, 2009.

Growing up in a world of wealth and pastel-tinted entitlement, fifteen-year-old Carly has always relied on the constancy–and authenticity–of her sister, Anna. But when fourteen-year-old Anna turns plastic-perfect-pretty over the course of a single summer, everything starts to change. And there are boys involved, complicating things as boys always do.

With warmth, insight, and an unparalleled gift for finding humor even in stormy situations, beloved author Lauren Myracle dives into the tumultuous waters of sisterhood and shows that even very different sisters can learn to help each other stay afloat.

This book is awesome, can I just say that right off the bat? I can relate to main character Carly because I’m also the older sister, and also because after a six week summer program before her Sophomore year in high school, she is a bit of a granola girl. The whole family dynamic is familiar to me, especially the sister-sister relationship. I never knew if Carly was going to be mad at her sister or friends with her, and sometimes it changed on a dime, which is so realistic. Even when she’s pissed at Anna, Carly drops all hostility if Anna is in trouble. No matter what happens, she knows that if her sister needs her, it’s her responsibility to be there.

One of the minor parts of the novel is that Carly and Anna are only one year apart in school, therefore there is some overlap in the kids they know, and the friends they have. Peyton is Carly’s friend at the beginning of the novel, but she’s also friends with Anna. Further on in the story, Peyton starts spending more time with Anna, and Carly spends more time with another classmate, Vonzelle. I could relate to this too, sharing friends and sometimes “losing” them to your sister. Over the years with my own sister, though we are two years apart and not just one, we had similar things happen with our friends, especially in high school when the years don’t matter as much as in elementary school.

And then there’s the boy thing. Liking the wrong guy but not wanting to believe he’s wrong for you? Yes. Having a huge crush from afar and being content to not do anything about it, but being upset when he starts dating another girl? Yes. All your friends telling you one boy is into you, but you just like him as a friend? Yes. These are all things I know very well.

Lauren Myracle has been hailed as this generation’s Judy Blume, and I can see why. At one point, Carly has to explain a few things to her sister, like the terms “muffin top” and “whale tail.” There are a LOT of parts that talk about breasts, particularly Anna’s. I think this is good. Judy Blume is a bit outdated for today’s kids, but it’s important that authors continue writing frankly about things that their parents might not feel comfortable discussing with them.

This YA novel is a great beach read, with short chapters that mean it’s easy to pick up and put down. But I devoured it in less than a week.

This entry was posted on June 13, 2011, in YABook.

Book Review: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June

Benway, Robin. The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June. New York, NY: Razorbill, 2010.

April, the oldest, can see the future. May, the middle sister, can disappear. And June, the youngest, can read minds. At the time of their parents’ divorce, the three sisters recover these strange and magical powers from their childhood, powers that help them cope with the hardest year of their lives. When April gets a vision of disaster, the girls must come together to save the day-and their family. But in the process they learn that there’s one thing stronger than magic: sisterhood.

April, May, and June are sisters and they are all in high school together. When they suddenly “get” magical powers, they seem to recall one day as children when some strange things happened. The powers went into hibernation mode for some reason, but now they are back in a novel that is reminiscent of the TV show Charmed, minus a book of shadows and all the demons and whitelighters. The chapters alternate point of view, with each girl telling equal parts of the story. Sometimes this kind of technique is difficult to follow, but I had no problems with it here.

Each girl’s power is fitting for her personality – and birth order. As the oldest child, April can see the future. Even without powers she would be able to predict things that might happen to her younger sisters, because she’s been there. But now she can literally read the future like a book, and quickly (perhaps a bit too quickly) learns to “scan” the future, like skimming the pages of a book, to see if sometthing will happen. While the future can change, so there is no certainty, I still felt like it was a little bit of a cheat… but in a book for teens, about teens with magical powers, I suppose there has to be a bit of wish-fulfillment.

May, as the middle child, hates feeling like she’s invisible when her older and younger sisters get all the attention. But then… she really does disappear. At first she’s upset that her power makes her even more insignificant. But then she realizes she can eavesdrop on conversations, and leave the house when she’s supposed to be grounded. Maybe being invisible isn’t so bad after all.

June is the youngest, and she desperately wants to be one of the popular girls at school. When she starts reading minds, she knows exactly what to say to fit right in. But what if she can’t get the voices out of her head? I like that she could read minds because the youngest sibling often feels left out when parents or siblings discuss something in private, telling her “we’ll tell you when you’re older.” June is the wish-fulfillment of the youngest-child’s desire to know what everyone else knows.

The climax of the novel comes when April predicts a disaster, and she and her sisters must come together to try to prevent it from happening. Each girl’s power plays an important role in the plot, and of course there is a happily-ever-after for everyone. (Oh come on, that’s not a spoiler – look at the cover above, and you don’t have to be April to know there’s a happy ending.)

Overall, it’s not one I would read again but I did enjoy it. I recommend it to teen girls who wish their own lives had a bit more magic, or who want to read about sisters.

Author Robin Benway’s blog

This entry was posted on June 6, 2011, in YABook.

Book Review: Fat Cat

Brande, Robin. Fat Cat. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2009.

You are what you eat. . . .

Cat smart, sassy, and funny—but thin, she’s not. Until her class science project. That’s when she winds up doing an experiment—on herself. Before she knows it, Cat is living—and eating—like the hominids, our earliest human ancestors. True, no chips or TV is a bummer and no car is a pain, but healthful eating and walking everywhere do have their benefits.

As the pounds drop off, the guys pile on. All this newfound male attention is enough to drive a girl crazy! If only she weren’t too busy hating Matt McKinney to notice. . . .

This funny and thoughtful novel explores how girls feel about their bodies, and the ways they can best take care of their most precious resource: themselves.

This is the first book I read by author Robin Brande, who also wrote Doggirl. The funniest thing about my experience of reading the book is this post from my Facebook page in September:

I can’t say hominids too well. Reading a book that uses that word a lot, and that in-my-head reading voice keeps saying homonyms instead. (This book is making me get better at it- that word is, by necessity, on almost every page. Fat Cat by Robin Brande)

I really enjoyed this book. I love that Cat loses weight not to gain male attention, though that is an unexpected side effect, but because she’s doing a science project where she learns that her eating habits are really not that healthy. I didn’t know much about early man before reading this book, and the facts Cat discovers are really interesting. I was inspired after reading this book to try to change my own eating habits (though in the interest of full disclosure, I must say that without the incentive of a grade that Cat has, my efforts were far less successful, and less permanent).

(Vague potential spoilers ahead) Similar to Doggirl, I found my adult mind read into things differently than Cat did. While she felt Matt was an enemy, who hated her and was always finding ways to talk to her just to annoy her, I could see that she was holding a grudge from long ago that was probably unfounded. In fact, as children often do, Cat made a mountain out of a molehill, and Matt can’t figure out what he did wrong – she made a big deal out of something he doesn’t even remember happening, and now years later there is still fallout from the miscommunication.

What this means, about both of Robin’s books I’ve read, is that the antagonist of the novel is not a bad guy. I love that there is no real villain, just fully rounded characters that are seen as “bad” in the eyes of the protagonist based on past experience, but who turn out to be pretty good in the end. I find that a lot of children’s stories are good vs. evil (fairy tales, for example, usually have characters that are either pure good or pure evil), and it’s important for teens to understand that the real world is full of shades of gray. You should never judge someone’s entire life based on a single incident, which I suppose is why so many people are against the death penalty. YA authors have a responsibility to their audience to reflect these shades of gray, and Robin certainly fulfills this responsibility.

The only thing I can think of that would have made the book “better” (and I’m hesitant to use that word because really I don’t think of myself highly enough to think I could do better) would be to include some recipes in the back of the book. Cat creates healthy vegan meals for herself and her family, and ends up being hired by a local vegan coffee shop as a cook. With so many people going vegan these days, especially teens, I think a small cookbook would be great as an addition to a future edition of the book, or as a companion book.

Love love love this book, and this author. Highly recommended.