Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Adam Selzer's I Put a Spell on You

It is the rare author whose books I will purchase without reading, but Adam Selzer tops the list. There is something pitch-perfect about his characters and his humor that invariably has me laughing until tears stream down my face. His newest is no exception; if nothing else, buy this for the "motivational" songs in the appendix. (To the tune of America the Beautiful, the chorus: "Now I'm a homeless junkie and/I live on crumbs and gruel/'Cause no one ever told me that/it's cool to stay in school." pg. 241)

In short, Gordon Liddy Community School is gearing up for the annual spelling bee. And they take their bee seriously-- everyone from Mutual (a home schooled child who enrolls so he can take part, even though he doesn't have to), to the principal (who is essentially evil and involved in questionable activities), to the parents (one of whom breaks into the building), to the workers at the nearby Burger Baron (who are running a betting pool). The chapters are from the point of view of different characters, which was slightly confusing for me because I have comprehension problems, but this gives wonderful insight into all of their personal vicissitudes.

That's the appeal of Selzer's books. The plot is fine, and moves quickly (who will win the bee, and what are all the interpersonal conflicts that will emerge in the meantime?), but it's the description of the characters that I love. They all have their flaws and quirks, but I still would like to know them all, even Chrissie, who is leading the investigation into the scandal AND knows what kind of underwear everyone in her class wears! There's something sympathetic about the portrayal of each character that all young adult authors should note well-- you can have characters who are weird as long as they know this, and know how other people perceive them! Bravo, again! A great, funny book for ALL middle school students!

I was glad to read this, because I thought I was cranky and not liking anything. Kathryn Lasky's Born to Rule was okay, but I was somehow expecting more from this author of the excellent The Last Girls of Pompeii.
This will be fine for reluctant sixth grade girls who are still in the Disney Princess phase. Camp Princess is full of quasi-medieval princesses in their elaborate dresses, but they do embark on some character-building exercises at camp when they are not worrying about how their crowns look on their hair. This is going to be a series. I'll see how popular the first one it.
Must not have been in the mood for Pink and Fluffy books, because Hogan's Susanna Hits Hollywood also seemed a bit cloying to me. Susanna gets the opportunity to go to an awards show, and goes through all sorts of shenanigans to obtain interviews with especially desirable stars. Will be popular. The first book is Susanna Sees Stars. Do love the covers.

Also loved the cover for Dear Julia, but that was all. The main character was instantly unlikable, and there were too many technical cooking terms for me to care for very long. Here is the description of Elaine, the main character: "She wore a retainer to school. Her blouses were too loose, her slacks too tight, and her jeans cut too high at the waist. She had a tendency to use big words and complicated syntax..." (p. 6) This would just not go over well with my students. Pinot and Prose liked it as a book for foodies.
Also took a dislike to Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go. The nonstandard language usage and the boy having a conversation with his dog about the dog needing to poo (really, on and off for 12 pages?) just didn't appeal. Jen Robinson is reading it right now, so I'll see whether I need to give this another chance.
I'll have to be less cranky tonight!


  1. You're so right about Selzer! He's laugh out loud funny, which makes him so easy to promote to middle schoolers.

  2. You know, I just finished The Knife of Never Letting Go, but I'm still not sure what to tell you about it. It definitely gets better, and is quite compelling, but it's also a painful read, lots of suffering. I have a pretty high threshold for dark, but I think it was a little dark for me. Brilliant, but a little dark.

  3. OMG those last 3 are exactly what you'd see on my shelf! I loved BORN TO RULE--not as good as LAST GIRLS, but fab still! I love Mary Hogan, so I ordered the 2nd Susanna book off of Amazon and can't wait. And I agree about DEAR JULIA. Love the cover, hated the first half! It just bored me, especially boring, boring Elaine. And it felt like it took place on medieval times! Ick.