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Archive for the ‘Mal Peet’ Category

Times were tough in 1907 England and Beck’s mother did what she needed to survive. One encounter with a passing sailor resulted in Beck’s birth. He never knew his father. One month before his eleventh birthday, “…his grandparents and his mother and his daft kindly uncle all died in the flu epidemic. Anne [his mother] was the last to go.” Beck was taken to the Catholic orphanage, “…run by the methodically cruel Sisters of Mercy.” Being of mixed race, Beck was victimized both by the Sisters as well as other orphans. One March morning in 1922 he was transferred to the Christian Brotherhood Home for Boys. However, his tenure was short lived when he spurned the advances of one of the priests. He was unceremoniously put on a vessel bound for Canada to work on a farm, an activity totally foreign to him. His sponsors were cruel and bigoted and at the first opportunity, Beck escaped to wander through Canada trying to survive.

Beck, started by Mal Peet and completed by Meg Rosoff after his death, is a marvelous tale of a boy beaten down at every turn, whose self-image is destroyed by his ‘protectors’, trying to find his way in the world. It is an adventure story as well as a love story, although love is a foreign concept to him. Both Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff both are excellent writers as you can see by the quotes I included in this review. Readers will feel Beck’s torture, both physical and emotional. They will experience his physical hardships but will also rejoice when he discovers what true love is. Beck will be enjoyed by fans of Mal Peet, historical fiction and adventure.

Tamar and Life: An Exploded Diagram are the only Mal Peet books I’ve read, both of which I enjoyed. They are vastly different books from each other as well as from Beck. The publisher’s description of Tamar is: “When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War — and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever”. It, too, is full of adventure, has a romantic component, and is extremely well written. It is one of my favorite books.

My suggestion is: read any Mal Peet books you can get your hands on.

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Kirkus recently had an article entitled “How to Read Young Adult Novels and Still Hang Out with Adults” (the link is shown below) which, of course, prompted me to make my own list, because YA books are my passion and there are so many that are ‘suitable’ for adult readers. My only criteria for my short and not all inclusive list are (i) that the books are a few years old so that they might have slipped our minds, (ii) they aren’t the well known books, such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which is a great book, by the way) which has been used in adult book discussion groups and (iii) they are well written.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/lists/how-read-young-adult-novel-still-hang-out-adults/

So, here’s the Goldberg List (I’ve tried to satisfy varying tastes):

DisreputableHistoryDisreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart: For those looking for cerebral stimulation, follow Frankie Landau-Banks, as she tries to infiltrate the school’s decades old secret all-male society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a society her father belonged to, back in the day.

EonDragoneyeRebornEon: Dragoneye Reborn (and its sequel Eona: The Last Dragoneye) by Alison Goodman: A flawless combination of Asian astrology, mythology, action and fantasy, these books are perfect for science fiction/fantasy fans and those readers who just want to get drawn into a magic world.

FreakShowFreak Show by James St. James:  Follow Billy Bloom, a teenage drag queen as he makes his way through his new conservative high school, Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy, and forges a relationship with the quarterback of the football team, in this hilariously funny as well as serious comedy/romance.

MarceloInTheRealWorldMarcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork: A realistic view of a high functioning Asperger’s teenager and his father’s push to have him acclimate to the ‘real world’. Absorbing and well written.

NothingButGhostsNothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart: Ms. Kephart is known for agonizing over every word, making some of her books have an ethereal aura to them. Nothing But Ghosts is a literary treat. As described in Kirkus, “A long-buried mystery weaves its way through this delicately layered portrait of a grief-stricken daughter and father that meditates on the nature of loss. A coming of age story with a mystery.”

RevolutionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Historical fiction (also A Northern Light by Ms. Donnelly) combined with some time travel transports Andi Alpers from her 21st century Brooklyn home to the middle of the French Revolution. Wonderfully written and totally engrossing.

TamarTamar by Mal Peet: A story of passion, love and resistance fighters during World War II, this absorbing story rotates between two Tamars, one current day Tamar following clues to find out about her 1940s namesake.

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: A haunting look at teenagers and eating disorders.

I could go on, but I won’t. I truly hope you’ll give these books a try.

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For a while, I thought I’d be hard pressed to come up with a 2011 Top 10 list for YA books. It was only in the past two weeks that I heaved a sigh of relief. Late reads solidified my list. So, here goes:

Topping my list at Number 1 is You Are My Only by Beth Kephart. I commented that, “As always, Kephart chooses her words with care, and while the language is not as ‘ethereal’ as in some of her recent books, her images and descriptions and wording remain essential in understanding the characters and surroundings.  There are secrets that need to be unearthed and things to ponder.  There are relationships that you are jealous you are not a part of and those you are glad you have not experienced.  You can read You Are My Only quickly and enjoy the story or you can read it slowly and savor every word and nuance and description.  Either way, you must read Beth Kephart’s latest addition to Young Adult literature.”

Night Circus by Erin Morganstern may or may not be considered a YA book, but I’m sure it will appeal to teens, so it comes in at number 2. It takes place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Night Circus is dream-like.  Celia and Marco are unwilling pawns in a competition between two magicians, one that will last years, if not decades.  The competition’s only rule: there are no rules and neither player knows what to do and how a winner is determined. Erin Morgenstern has written a dream-like book similar to the dream state of the book’s Circus of Dreams.  It’s indescribable.  A must read.

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet, a late comer to my 2011 reading, lands the number 3 slot.  Peet masterfully merges two stories, the first about England during WW II and and the second about the Cuban Missile Crisis into a book you can’t put down. His language, his sarcasm, his observations, his stories keep you reading way past bedtime.

Any Top 10 without a Brian Selznick book is lacking, so I must include Wonderstruck. Ben lives in Gunflint, Minnesota in 1977.  Rose is a lonely deaf child, living in Hoboken, NJ, overlooking the Hudson River, in 1927. Similar to Mal Peet, how these two stories, taking place 50 years apart, converge is one of the wonders of Wonderstruck.    There are more, such as the fact that Ben’s story is primarily written while Rose’s story is presented entirely in illustrations.  Selznick’s illustrations entice the viewer to scrutinize every line, every object, every picture, they are just so amazing. While you’re at it, reread The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m sure you’ll find something new in each drawing.

You know how much I love Joan Bauer and Close to Famous was as good the second tiem around as it was the first time. Number 5 on the list, it’s got great characters, a good story, and luscious sounding baked goods. It teaches you how to overcome adversity.

Coming in at nubmer 6 and 7 are Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver and Widsom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, two wonderful fairy tales with amazing characters, wonderful writing and absorbing stories. Liesl and Po is geared more for upper elementary or lower middle school while Wisdom’s Kiss is for slightly older audiences.

Eona: The Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman is an action adventure with roots in Chinese astrology. The sequel to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, it is action packed. This will attract boys and girls since there are  protagonists of both sexes. It is a marvelous way to introduce teens to the 12 astrological signs.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine got great reviews and rightly so. Twleve year old Caitlin has to deal with the death of her mother from cancer two years earlier and the recent middle school shooting death of her older brother Devon.  It’s a lot to contend with even if you don’t have Asperger’s.  While her father understands her, he must deal with his grief, and is unable to translate that to Caitlin.  It was Devon who really understood her and explained the world to her.  Caitlin’s special nature comes through loud and clear; her drawing ability, her affinity for dictionaries and the meanings of words, the comfort she feels when she puts her head under the couch cushions to feel closer to those people who sat on it.  Erskine doesn’t downplay the socialization difficulties Asperger children have because of their unique nature.  What you come away with after reading Mockingbird is a real sense of who Caitlin is–she is a real person and you want to get to know her, to be her friend.  There is a love and warmth that emanates from Erskine’s writing…you get the feeling she really loves Caitlin, not an emotion you often get when reading a book.   I had picked up Mockingbird back in mid-September and put it down within a chapter.  I guess I wasn’t ready for the book.  This time, I read the book in one day; that’s how much I liked it.  Mockingbird is a book for all age groups.  It is beautifully written, tender and informative as well.  It is worthy of its award (not something I can say about every award winner).

Forgotten by Cat Patrick was an unexpected find. Each night at precisely 4:33 am, while sixteen-year-old London Lane is asleep, her memory of that day is erased. In the morning, all she can “remember” are events from her future. London is used to relying on reminder notes and a trusted friend to get through the day, but things get complicated when a new boy at school enters the picture. Luke Henry is not someone you’d easily forget, yet try as she might, London can’t find him in her memories of things to come. When London starts experiencing disturbing flashbacks, or flash-forwards, as the case may be, she realizes it’s time to learn about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future.

I hope you pick up a few of these books and enjoy them as much as I did.

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In my last post, I stated that readers would be hard pressed to realize that Tamar and Life: An Exploded Diagram were written by the same author. Now I’ll go a step further. I’m positive Mal Peet suffers from multiple personalities because I was hard pressed to realize that the first part of Life and the second part were written by the same author.

I almost didn’t read Life because of a bad review I read, but that would have been a grand shame, because it is one of my Top 10 of 2011, which hopefully I’ll get to next week. Part One: Putting Things Together recounts Clem Ackroyd’s life from his birth in 1945 through the early 1960s in England. His father, George, was in the military during World War II and didn’t meet Clem until he was 3 years old. Before that, Clem grew up with his mother, Ruth, and grandmother, Win. Peet is a knowing observer, talking about Ruth and George’s sexless marriage, their rise from poverty to lower middle class, their mindless, unworldy existence. As he ages Clem, he adroitly contrasts his teenage lust with his parents. Clem, a typical teenager, is a sex crazed boy in love with Frankie, daughter of the local manor owner–a couple both of whose parents would frown upon from a ‘class’ standpoint. But they are truly in love. Peet’s cadence in this narrative shifts from totally laid back to highly energized as Clem and Frankie’s passion escalates. Peet’s various characters are unique, extraordinary and loveable.

But, in Part Two: Blowing Things Apart, Peet abruptly shifts to the Cuban Missile Crisis, where he describes (at times tongue-in-cheek, hopefully) President Kennedy and his military advisors, Premier Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. In his Author’s Note,  Peet states “Clem Ackroyd is an unreliable historian”, so I’m sure there’s some ‘Author’s License’ in the depiction of these world leaders. However, it is riveting. In this second part there are occasional reversions to Clem and Frankie, but few and far between.

How Peet masterfully intertwines these two stories is not something I want to reveal to you. You must read it for yourself. And, if you’re like me, you may be surprised, saddened and surprised, by Part Three: Picking Up the Pieces. I could not put Life: An Exploded Diagram down. I chuckled. I smiled. I frowned. My emotions ran the gamut. Do yourself a favor. If you’re looking for that great end of year book, pick up Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.

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Mal Peet

I am really enjoying Mal Peet’s latest book, Life: An Exploded Diagram. However, if you compare it to Tamar, which I also enjoyed, you’d be hard pressed to say it was written by the same author. They are soooooooooo different.

Life, so far, is a rambling story of a man from his birth in 1945. So far, I’m in the early 1960s and he’s going through what every teenage boy goes through. He thinks about sex. But the way Peet describes his life and that of his family, the surroundings in which he lives, the girl he falls in love with, is unique, in my opinion. But, I’ll tell you more when I finish the book.

Tamar, on the other hand (the full title is Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion and Betrayal), is just what the title suggests. It takes place during World War II and involves the Resistance, love and betrayal.

From the publisher: “When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War — and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever.”

Tamar is full of mystery and suspense and action, unlike Life which, so far is much more laid back. Tamar was a book I considered worthy of shelf space at home, so now it proudly sits in my own personal library. I think it’s time for everyone to catch on: Mal Peet is a great author.

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