Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine

memissingdead.jpgLucas Swain is almost sixteen years old. On October 16, 2002, his father disappeared without a trace. Has he been kidnapped? Died? Lost his memory? Abandoned his wife and children for a better life? Nobody knows. As for his family, they can’t decide whether to worry about him, hate him, or plan his funeral.

One morning at 5:00 a.m., Lucas stumbles into a London taxi-cab office and notices an urn on the storage shelf — the sort of urn that holds the remains of a dead person. This particular urn contains the ashes of one “Violet Park” a 75-year old lady who passed away several years ago. Right away, Lucas becomes weirdly obsessed with the urn and with finding out its story – who was Violet Park? – why were her ashes left behind in a taxi? – and, most importantly, why is she suddenly communicating with Lucas from beyond the grave?!?

Suddenly, innocently, Lucas finds himself entangled in a bizarre supernatural intrigue. What is Violet trying to tell him? Could it have anything to do with his father’s disappearance?

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The Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

Joys of LoveThis novel, about a small summer theatre in Maine, is absolutely delicious. Elizabeth Jerrold is a 20-year old college graduate trying to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming an actress. Both her parents are dead, and her guardian — the stern, Southern Aunt Harriet — “doesn’t approve of the theatre.” However, because Elizabeth has completed her Bachelor’s degree at Smith College, as promised, Aunt Harriet agrees to fund her niece’s apprenticeship with a professional company on the New England coast. There, Elizabeth works at the box office, ushers evening performances, takes acting classes, rehearses Chekhov monologues, and feels happier than she ever has in her whole life.

Even though I’m not an actress, I would love to have a summer like Elizabeth’s – living in a cottage with a bunch of zany apprentices, staying out all night on the beach, meeting famous performers, and making lifelong friends. Oh yeah, and there’s a page-turning romantic element to the story that makes you want to shout at Elizabeth – “What are you doing with this guy, when this one is so much nicer and clearly head-over-heels in love with you?”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote this novel when she was a young woman in the 1940’s. She died last year before the book was published. I’m so happy her granddaughters decided to bring this novel forward, finally. It’s a terrific treat. If you haven’t yet experienced the dreamy atmosphere and meandering pace of a Madeleine L’Engle romance, what are you waiting for? You have so much to look forward to!

Blue Like Friday by Siobhan Parkinson

Blue Like FridayHow much can you expect from another person? Is there a limit? How big a favor can you ask of, say, your closest friend?

Olivia and Hal, two Irish kids, are “best mates.” They’re both “over the top” and “a little bit monstrous.” But when Hal tells Olivia that he wants to figure out a way to drive his mother’s boyfriend, Alec, out of the house — forever — Olivia isn’t sure she should follow her friend down this particularly monstrous path, especially when it’s Hal’s mother who disappears instead. Suddenly, Olivia is forced to look at Hal in a new way, and to consider the sorrow and pain that has made him the funny, fascinating — eccentric — boy that he is.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

Keturah and Lord Death

Have you ever felt confused about why a certain book is so popular? That you’re the only person who isn’t going wild over some novel that you think is just OK at best? The last time I felt that way was with A Great and Terrible Beauty, which was a big letdown for me after all the hype. (Kathleen, thanks for agreeing with me on this one!) Sadly, I am right now experiencing a similar disappointment with Keturah and Lord Death. So many people have told me to read this one, and I’ve just finally gotten around to it. Only one more chapter to go, and unless it totally amazes me, I think I’m going to just have to scratch my head and wonder. What popular books have you not liked as much as you thought you would?

Laika by Nick Abadzis

LaikaLaika was a stray dog picked up by the USSR’s rocket program in 1955 and launched into orbit two years later. She was the first living space traveler, and one of the most famous dogs in history. But poor little Laika had a difficult life, and her mission was a one-way adventure; the scientists provided no return flight for her, and she ended up dying far, far away from home. Many people were outraged that Laika had been sacrificed in the name of Science; and Miss Yelena, the woman who cared for her, was devastated.

To tell Laika’s story, author-illustrator Nick Abadzis has written this moving, well-researched graphic novel. It contains a ton of information about the Cold War “space race” between the USSR and the USA. Both countries desperately wanted to be the best, which is one reason Laika’s mission was scheduled before they had time to arrange for her return. I loved this book and recommend it to anyone interested in history, space exploration, illustration, or animals.

The Declaration by Gemma Malley

DeclarationIt’s the year 2140. Scientists have developed a “miracle-drug” called Longevity that allows people to live forever — with a catch. To receive Longevity, you must sign the “Declaration” and agree never to have any children; otherwise, the world will become overpopulated and its food sources will disappear.

14-year old Anna should never have been born. Her parents broke the law when they had her. Now, they are in prison, and Anna is a resident of Grange Hall, a home for illegal “surplus” children who are training to be servents and to spend their short lives making up for the sin of their very existence. “Surplus” children never receive medical care because they are not meant to be alive in the first place. If they get sick, the adults will let them die.

When a new boy named Peter, another teenage Surplus, arrives at Grange Hall, Anna is forced to question everything she has ever been taught. Peter has spent his life in the outside world, hiding from the police and meeting with other outlaws who believe that Longevity is bad and that being young is not a crime. He encourages Anna to run away from Grange Hall with him, but the life he describes sounds dangerous and unreal. Can she trust him? And if not, how can she ever forget about him?

Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell

Carpe DiemEvery detail of 16-year old Vassar Spore’s future is already planned: she will attend an elite college, earn her PhD, write a book, and receive the Pulitzer Prize before the age of 30. At some point after that, she will find time for boys and romance. To Vassar, “unpredictable” is a four-letter word. Her overachieving parents have taught her that the three most crucial elements to success are planning, planning, and planning.

So when her nutty, artist grandmother blackmails Vassar’s parents into letting her spend the summer backpacking through the jungles of Southeast Asia, Vassar finds herself totally unprepared for the adventure. Malaysia and Cambodia were NOT part of her ten-year plan. Soon, she is visiting ancient ruins, dodging poisonous centipedes, fleeing from the Cambodian police, falling in love with a Malaysian teenager, and investigating a family secret that will turn her world upside down. To survive, Vassar must scrap her plans (gasp!) and learn to live in the moment. But can she find the courage?

Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

Wild GirlsWhen Joan moves from Connecticut to California, she’s prepared to be miserable; after all, she doesn’t want to leave her whole life behind her and be the new kid in town. But then she meets Sarah, a girl in her neighborhood who loves to play in the woods, catch lizards in the creek, and climb trees. Sarah is nothing like the girlie-girls at school who talk about shopping and lip gloss all day. Soon, Joan and Sarah become kindred spirits and begin writing a story together about “the wild girls” who live in the woods. When the story wins a contest, the girls are recruited to join a special writing class at UC Berkley. There, they learn about friendship, creativity, family, and what it takes to remain “wild” when everyone else is trying to make them tame.

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Stephen Cameron

somedayIf you love suspense, mystery, and action, this is NOT a book for you. 18-year old James doesn’t have any intriguing problems — no lost diamonds to find, no bad guys to catch. Basically, he’s a rich kid living in Manhattan with an acceptance letter from Brown University. What could be wrong? Well, according to James, everything. He doesn’t like his job at the art gallery, he doesn’t like school, he doesn’t even like other people all that much, especially not people his own age. The only things that bring him hapiness are reading and hanging around with his grandmother. But no matter how boring James claims to be, I couldn’t help but him one of the funniest, smartest characters I’ve ever met in literature. A great, realistic novel for thoughtful readers, 8th grade and up.