Book Review: Skinny by Donna Cooner

SkinnySkinny
Donna Cooner
Point/Scholastic,
ISBN 978-0-545-42763-0
Hardcover

High school is hell.  I remember the horror of being a teen-aged girl.  Few of us were comfortable in our skin, justifiably so.  We felt ugly.  We had uni-brows, bad skin, horrendous hair and less-than-perfect bodies.

Ever Davies’ high school experience is worse.  She has struggled with her weight for as long as she can remember, but she did it alongside her cherished mother.  Five years after losing her mom, it is clear that Ever stopped fighting. She is 5’ 6” and weighs 302 pounds.

This is why people think terrible thoughts about her.  Ever knows what everyone is thinking, the Goth fairy on her shoulder (named Skinny), tells her.  People are disgusted by her obesity.  Her two step-sisters acknowledge her only when her assistance is needed.  Jackson, a boy that was one of her best friends growing up, stopped speaking to her years ago.  Ever wants him back, as more than a friend, but she knows her weight is the issue.  Determined to reclaim Jackson, Ever has gastric bypass surgery.

Her other best friend since childhood, the one that didn’t abandon her as she gained weight, went through the surgery and healing process with her every step of way.  That was Rat, always there, always dependable, and always, her Rat.

As the pounds melt away, The Beautiful People start to speak to Ever.  Are they being kind, or calculating?  With Skinny whispering in her ear, Ever can’t be sure.  One thing Ever is sure about: Jackson has noticed.  Clearly, the surgery was worth it.  Now, she can have everything she’s dreamed of.  As her “new friends” get closer, Rat seems further away.  She’ll address that soon, it’s Rat, he’s always there for her.

Ever begins to hear things for herself, rather than through Skinny.  Is it possible that her weight wasn’t an issue?  If she appeared to be angry and hateful, it was only in defense………wasn’t it?  Shouldn’t she be ridiculously happy right now, instead of feeling confused, as if something was missing? Being smart, Ever is quick to realize that she has lost more than just extra pounds, but is it too late?

Ms. Cooner perfectly captures teen angst, attitude and dialogue.  Anyone that has felt left out due to a physical trait will relate to and root for Ever.  The story is sometimes sweet, sometimes hilarious and sometimes very sad; but it is a fantastic story from beginning to end.  The characters were very realistic.  I quickly became attached to Ever—I wanted to yell at her, to hug her and sometimes, to shake her.   I enjoyed this book tremendously, and I will certainly be looking forward to whatever Ms. Cooner writes next.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2013.

Book Reviews: Irises by Francisco X. Stork and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg

IrisesIrises
Francisco X. Stork
Arthur A. Levine Books, January 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-15135-1
Hardcover

Some people are raised to believe that all matters are black and white.  This is good, that is bad.  This is acceptable, that is not.  Someone is either alive, or he is dead. From the outside looking in, this may appear to be oppressive.  On the other hand, these people already have all of the answers, they know what they can do, and what they cannot—it is that simple.  Until it isn’t.

Kate and Mary are sisters, raised by a very strict Protestant Reverend and his dutiful wife.  In their mother, they found joy.  Kate and her mother shared a special, secret dream.  Together, they talked of Kate attending Stanford and becoming a doctor.  Mary also shared her dream with her mother, only it was no secret.  Mary is an extraordinary artist, particularly for her young age.  She sees a light around people and is able to subtly work that into her paintings.  Mother is proud of Mary and she enthusiastically supports her younger daughter.  Father thinks painting is a waste of time and he simply assumes that Kate will follow his plan; stay active in church, get married and raise a family. So, for a while, Kate and Mary have the simplicity of knowing what is acceptable and what is not and they experience joy and fantasies with their mother.

A terrible accident leaves their mom in a vegetative state with only a part-time nurse to help the girls care for her needs.  Poor health has father meeting his maker while sixteen year old Mary sits by his side.  Two years her senior, Mary looks to Kate to figure out how they will get by.  Their house belongs to the church, Kate has Stanford waiting and Mary is too young to be on her own; but finding someone to take her and her mother in seems impossible.

Mr. Stork masterfully captures the stoicism and detachment that, at first, encompass the household.  By sprinkling in bits of family history, he coaxes empathy from the reader.  The girls’ characters develop as they struggle to leave the confines of their black and white world and make decisions they’ve never imagined. Kate’s use of her newfound freedom may amplify their troubles.  The choices they are faced with could bring them closer, or forever rip them apart.

I found this story to be enlightening and compelling.  I will certainly pick up another Francisco X. Stork book.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2013.

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Revenge of the Girl with the Great PersonalityRevenge of the Girl With the Great Personality
Elizabeth Eulberg
Point/Scholastic, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-47699-7
Hardcover

Yes.  The book is as good as the title.  I love a story of self-discovery and acceptance through trial and error.  Revenge of the Girl With the Great Personality centers around that theme, but is so much more.

Lexi is an almost-typical teen living with an atypical family.  Her narcissistic, unhappy mother that tries valiantly to live vicariously through her youngest daughter is easy to despise, yet somehow, manages to elicit a bit of empathy here and there.  The young sister appears as a despicable, spoiled brat; but, there may be hope for her. One of Lexi’s best friends, Benny, steals the show.  The Beautiful People are well depicted, with each adding unique traits to enrich the story.

I found this book compelling.  I enjoyed the layers of Lexi: the “adult” and the big sister at home, the Great Personality at school and work.  Lexi hadn’t initiated a journey of self-discovery, which (to me) makes the tale so much cooler.  Her transformation is immediate and stunning.  Effects are varied, resulting in confusion, hurt feelings and lots of attention.  Fortunately, Lexi’s drastic change encourages her not only to truly examine herself, but to take a hard look at real friends versus Beautiful People.

I admire the way the author captured true teen personalities, without resorting to the use of crude and lazy conversations that I’ve come to expect from Middle School and High School students (Don’t misunderstand, I do love the crazy kids.)  Ms. Eulberg’s writing weaves in small details that enhance the story.  Benny’s t-shirts make me smile, and the chapter titles are hilarious.  I couldn’t wait to see if Lexi’s 180 became a 360, or if she could create a middle ground.  Rooting for her to summon the courage to speak her mind to those she finds oppressive, I forfeited sleep to see how her story would end.  I am not sorry for that, I liked everything about this book.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2013.

Book Review: The Dead and Buried by Kim Harrington

The Dead and BuriedThe Dead and Buried
Kim Harrington
Point/Scholastic, January 2013
ISBN 9780545333023
Hardcover

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It begins with an entry from the diary of Kayla Sloane.  She appears to have a remarkably high opinion of herself, coupled with an incredibly low opinion of everyone else.  She is the ultimate Mean Girl.   It is easy to despise her…..even after learning that she is also the Dead Girl.  Of course her death is shrouded in mystery.  Was it an accident?  Was she killed?  If she was killed, who did it?  These questions envelop Woodbridge High like a thick, smothering fog.  Chasms among the student body are created.

While Kayla’s diary entries appear throughout the book to provide insight and clues, we really get the story from Jade’s point of view.  So enters the New Girl.  Jade believes her dream has come true as she prepares to start her senior year in a suburban high school, instead of her tiny hometown school.  Jade has the confidence to stick to her beliefs, she is honest, thoughtful, willing to give anyone a chance, and she is loyal and strong.

There are two traits in particular that I feel make Jade a stand-out character.  She is completely smitten with her adorable little brother.  She is fiercely protective of him, and will do anything to keep him safe, even if it means making a deal with Kayla’s ghost.  Her “hobby” of collecting gemstones adds that ‘something different’ that I long for in such outstanding novels.  Jade knows what each crystal represents and what powers it is thought to possess.

Ms. Harrington was spot on with the personalities of the supporting characters.  We have the Jock and his Little Sis, the (Sorta) Mean Girl, the Robot Girl, and the Sullen Boy. If someone did kill Kayla, surely it had to be one of these people.  Everyone had a motive.  Everyone had opportunity.  Jade must sort this out quickly. Kayla’s spirit is angrier and more threatening each day.

This captivating story unfolds at a fast-pace.  I hated having to put the book down.  When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about when I could squeeze in another chapter.  Not only would I highly recommend this book to my fellow readers, I would also suggest it for any teacher and/or parent hoping to get kids to enjoy reading.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2012.