Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Nature of Jade

I finished reading The Nature of Jade, by Deb Caletti, a couple of days ago. I felt a real sense of mourning when it finally finished. Not because it was a sad book, but because I hated to end such a satisfying and well-written one. I would follow these characters forever.

Jade is a sixteen-year-old living in Seattle. Senior year is approaching and all of her friends and even her family are going through major changes and growing pains. Jade herself has anxiety, panic attacks. The only thing that helps calm her down is lighting her saint candles and watching the online elephant cam from the nearby zoo. When Jade sees a mysterious boy with a baby who keeps reappearing by the elephants, she becomes interested in him. How can someone you have only seen seem so right? Is that love at first sight?

As the year progresses, Jade’s family falls apart, her group of friends begins to break-up, but Jade becomes more sure of herself, partly due to starting to work with the elephants. And finally, Jade encounters the boy with the baby, who is even more mysterious in real life than he was in her imagination.

The writing in this novel is phenomenal. The characters are so multi-faceted and Jade's parents are especially human. As is so rare in this genre, Jade comes to truly see her parents as the frail human individuals they are, rather than the sterotypes she would like them to be. There are also really deep and tricky moral questions that will leave the reader wondering what things in life are really magnets for our moral compass.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

Just this very minute, I have finished one of the best children's novels I have read all year! All I can say is, Finally! I feel like it's been months since anything truly wonderful crossed my desk. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, by Lynne Jonell, is extremely well-written, with bathroom humor, pathos, and believable and sympathetic characters of both the human and rodent kind.

Emmy is a very rich, very lonely little girl. Her parents are constantly going off on long trips and leaving her with a horrible nanny, Miss Barmy. Worse, she recently changed schools and no one in her class acts like she exists. When Emmy starts hearing the class pet rat talking to her, a whole exciting and fantastical series of events unfold.

The rat has special powers; in fact, he is one of many rodents with special powers, most of them living in a shop in town where the evil Professor Vole does experiments with them. Soon Emmy begins to learn the powers of the other rodents and she realizes that Miss Barmy is using the rodents to control her, her parents, and even her classmates! Miss Barmy is after Emmy's family's fortune and she will stop at nothing to get it.

Emmy, the rat, and Emmy's new friend Joe join forces to stop Miss Barmy's evil plan. Using the resourcefulness of the other rodents, some ingenious catapults, and a lot of sneaking around, they wage war against Miss Barmy with hilarious and satisfying results.

This book has everything a good children's novel should: abandoned children, talking animals, a truly evil villian, and a little bit of magic. Hooray!

I mustn't forget to mention the terrific illustrations by Jonathan Bean on each page of the novel. As the reader creeps through the story, a rat creeps across a tree branch and then falls, very slowly, into outstretched hands. It is a flipbook and a beautifully done one, too.