I love this one to (Reese’s) pieces

Better Nate Than Ever, by Tim Federle (2013)

Opening line: “I’d rather not start with any backstory. I’m too busy for that right now: planning the escape, stealing my older brother’s fake ID (he’s lying about his height by the way) and strategizing high-protein snacks for an overnight voyage to the single most dangerous city on the earth.”

Sometimes when the author reads his/her own audiobook, it’s not great (see: Lord of the Flies). But sometimes it is. And this is one such example. So, so great. (And the Odyssey Award committee agreed.)

Nate is a budding actor. He loves musical theater and has been working for the past two plus years with his bff Libby to develop into the next Broadway star. When Libby tells him about the newest show to head to Broadway, E.T. the Musical, is looking for young male actors for the role of Elliot, Nate is willing to do whatever it takes to get that job. Including hightailing it out of Jankburg, Pennsylvania without his parents’ knowledge or permission and hitting the Big Apple all on his own. Of course, things don’t go exactly how he and Libby had planned, and hijinks ensue. But all along the way, Nate maintains his A-plus attitude readers can’t help but love.

There is some hi-LAR-ious writing in this book, and I basically never stopped grinning throughout the entire thing. The tween dialogue between Libby and Nate is spot on and I found myself wanting to be able to have Nate as one of my students. Loved it to pieces, and probably need to read the sequel now, Five, Six, Seven, Nate.

2.5 stars

#LibraryLove

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein (2013)

In the traditions of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, comes another fun intellectual adventure for middle graders that will be ideal for big readers. Others, I think, will probably be bored.

Kyle Keeley is a bit of a goofball who has landed himself a solid grounding after breaking a window of their house after trying to win a scavenger hunt game with his brothers. Games are Kyle’s favorite thing, and he would do just about anything to win them. In fact, when he finds out that there is an essay contest for all 12 year olds in his town to be part of the first group of kids to experience the brand new town library at a lock-in, he’s determined to get a spot among the winners. And this library is unlike any public library before it — because the man behind the library desk is Mr. Luigi Lemoncello, world famous gamemaker extraordinaire, basically Kyle’s biggest hero.

After some determined finagling, Kyle lands himself a spot among the lucky, along with his best friend and 10 other kids from his school. The library is everything the group could have hoped for, and after an awesome day and night, the kids wake up to find that the adventure has only just begun. Because before they can go home, they have to win Mr. Lemoncello’s biggest game yet — how to escape from the library.

This thing is chock full of literary references, and not just to old classics, but to modern stories that today’s kids have actually heard of and read! It’s a fun mystery that they can try to solve along with Kyle and his buddies, but I don’t think it’s one that will have wide appeal. There are certain kids I can already think of that will love it, but also a lot I know who would roll their eyes. It’s been on a ton of readers’ choice award lists in the past couple years, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that most of those committees are made up of — you guessed it — librarians, and we are an easily swayed bunch.

1.5 stars

I just could not come up with a title for this one. Oops.

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore (2008)

When I bought this book at the Scholastic Book Fair last December for half price (in preparation for YA Lit this semester), I was pretty pumped. The reviews on the back (“…a knee-weakening romance that easily rivals that of Twilight…” “…gentle passion and savage kindness, matter-of-fact heroics and bleak beauty…” “Fantasy and romance readers will be thrilled.”) only excited me more. Let’s be honest, I’ve read Twilight more than twice. Hunger Games had me disregarding homework like it was my job. This sounds just up my alley. I could be ashamed, or I could embrace it. And I embrace it.

Here’s the plot. Well, the beginning of the plot, because really, if I tried to tell you the plot it would take 471 pages. So here’s the beginning of the plot.

Katsa lives in her uncle’s castle in Middluns, one of the seven kingdoms on the land, and acts as her uncle’s thug. This is because since she was a young child, Katsa could kill any person she wanted. Katsa is graced, giving her the ability to win any fight she ever encounters. Those who are born with a grace are set apart from the rest by their two-colored eyes (Katsa has one green and one blue) and are usually collected by the kings of the region to use as they see fit. Katsa’s uncle Randa uses Katsa to kill and injure whoever crosses him. Although Katsa has created an underground organization that works to correct the world’s wrongs, she never thinks to challenge her uncle.

Until Po comes around.

On one of Katsa’s missions to save someone who was kidnapped, Katsa comes across another graced fighter, this one with one silver eye and one gold. Katsa knocks him out so as to complete her mission, but is surprised when he shows up in Randa’s court a few days later. Po enters into her life and suddenly Katsa is questioning everything she ever knew about herself, the world, and her role in it.

That’s as far as I’ll go so as not to give any spoilers. It would be really easy to do. There’s a new surprise practically every chapter. Which is, of course, why I devoured this book in about three days (despite class, work, homework, friends… sleep). And also it makes a point of asking some challenging questions. Can a woman be a successful leader? Can sex outside of marriage be a good idea? Are we defined as others define us or as we define ourselves? Can companionship destroy independence? Although Cashore tends to obviously answer these with her opinions, I tend to agree with her.

I like it, I like it.  (Three stars)