• Bay State RA Home

  • Badge for A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour
  • RoofBeam Reader graphic

This One’s a Winner!: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (AUDIO)

I take back everything I’ve ever said about authors narrating their own audiobooks (don’t, please, don’t!) after listening to Libba Bray‘s incredible performance on Beauty Queens. She brings to life her own satirical look at advertising and news media, corporate ethics, commercialism, and pop culture, through the darkly humorous story of teen beauty pageant contestants who survive a plane crash onto a jungle island. (Only a small percentage of the original fifty states’ contestants survive. Miss Massachusetts is not among them, although her gown does come in handy at one point.) The airline staff, the camera crew…all dead. As if in a reality show without the show, the girls appear to be on their own with only few supplies other than some waterlogged bags of airline pretzels and a surfeit of beauty aids.

With this year her last chance to win before she ages out, the bold and brassy Taylor Rene Krystal Hawkins, representing Texas, takes charge, insisting that the girls keep up their pageant routines while Adina (Miss New Hampshire) sardonically observes that shelter, food, and water should probably take priority, but is ignored. Each of the main characters has a story that gets revealed as they begin to trust each other, but there’s no time to sentimentalize each girl’s individual discovery of strengths she didn’t know she had, as the author throws the girls into one dangerous situation after another, and not just snakes, tropical storms, slumbering volcanos, or other jungle threats. The author’s wild subplots involving terrorist, politics, reality shows, and more, keep the action and humor going strong. And, yes, some hot boys do eventually come into the picture, so there’s romance too, but with a few twists on the usual YA romance fare.

Like the Miss Teen Dream contestants themselves, who are not all as they present themselves to pageant judges and each other, this young adult novel is more than meets the eye. Under the hilarious satire, skewering everything from product placement to international arms dealing, lie serious themes that readers of both sexes can think about and form opinions on. The salty language, frank talk about sexual desire in teens, left-leaning politics, and the distinctly Sarah-Palin-by-way-of-Tina-Fey voice of Ladybird Hope (former Miss Teen Dream now presidential candidate) might make this book slightly less humorous to social conservatives than to more liberal-leaning readers. But I was impressed by the author’s even-handedness in many parts of the book where she avoided the common pitfall of only being open-minded about opinions that match our own, allowing for the girls from both red and blue states to experience some brief, eye-opening moments of understanding before switching the story over to crazed villains or hot pirates.

The audiobook production – with its distinctive voices for each contestant, sound effects signaling the end of a CD, and Saturday Night Live-worthy “commercial breaks” – is far more than just a reading of the book. It deservedly won this year’s Audie Award for best narration by an author. An interview with Libba Bray at the end of the audiobook is also humorous and enlightening.

a

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr & Saving June by Hannah Harrington

Doing two overdue reviews in one post today! How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr and Saving June by Hannah Harrington are both realistic young adult novels that deal with grief after sudden death, so it actually makes sense to review them together. They’re not all that similar, but both have several scenes that might make tears spring to your eyes, so have tissues handy while reading if you’re a crier like me.
It’s refreshing in How to Save a Life, to have at least one of the two mother-daughter relationships in the book not be completely dysfunctional, and see it improve over the course of the story. Seventeen-year-old Jill MacSweeney is grieving for her father who died in an accident ten months ago, and still angry at the drunk driver who killed him, when she finds out that her mother has (insanely) decided to adopt a baby (sight unseen) from a pregnant teen she connected with online. To make matters worse, the pregnant girl, Mandy – just a little bit older than Jill – is traveling from Omaha to Denver to stay with Jill and her mother for a few weeks until the baby is born.
As readers, we get to know Mandy (naive and a little dishonest) from Jill’s point of view, and Jill (prickly and unappreciative of her friends and family) from Mandy’s perspective, as they sort out their mixed feelings while waiting for the baby. Mandy is afraid she’ll be as bad a mother as her own mother has been to her, sure that her baby will be better off with Jill’s mother. Jill, whose life and plans have already been upended once by the death of the parent she felt closest to, isn’t sure what she thinks of Mandy’s situation, but she’s sure she doesn’t like the idea of her mother starting over again with a newborn baby daughter.
Saving June is edgier than How to Save a Life, and the grief is more immediate. Just after her sister’s funeral, when the book begins, sixteen-year-old Harper Scott’s shock and sadness over her sister’s suicide is raw and new. No one knows why Harper’s seemingly perfect older sister June committed suicide right before graduating from high school. There were no warning signs, even in retrospect. Her mother wouldn’t allow her to go to college in California – a longtime dream of June’s – and there was boyfriend trouble, but June had still seemed to be okay.
The only clue to June’s state of mind that Harper finds is a mysterious mix tape filled with an earlier generation’s music that Harper never knew her sister listened to. When Harper, a prickly girl with Goth leanings (like Jill in How to Save a Life, by the way) hears at the funeral that her divorced parents plan to divide June’s ashes between them, she knows what she has to do.
After running into a brooding guy outside her house after the funeral who’s not the sort of person June would normally hang out with (i.e. not a prom king type), Hannah discovers a connection between June and this musically opinionated, annoying, but somehow sexy guy, Jake Tolan. She swallows her pride and asks him to drive her and her best friend Laney and the stolen urn of June’s ashes to California.
It’s a strange premise for a road trip novel, maybe a little unrealistic, but the book has definite teen appeal, with sparks of both sorts flying between Harper and Jake, the best-friend issues of Harper and Laney, passionate arguments over music, politics, and religion, and the partying that fills the trip. When they come to the end, they’re all a little more ready to face the void that June has left.

How to Save a Life                                           Saving June
Zarr, Sara                                                         Harrington, Hannah
Little, Brown, 2011                                            Harlequin Teen, 2011
978-0-316-036061, h.c.                                    978-037321-024-4, soft.
$17.99 U.S.                                                      $9.99 U.S.

DIsclosure: I received electronic advanced reader’s copies of How to Save a Life from the publisher Little, Brown (Hachette Book Group) and Saving June from the publisher Harlequin Teen through NetGalley.

Other opinions about How to Save a Life (all good):
The Compulsive Reader
The Readventurer
Rhapsody in Books

Other opinions about Saving June (all good):
Adventures of 2.0
My Books. My Life
Popcorn Reads

The Things We Do for Love: Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Audio)

Audiobook Review — In Delirium by Lauren Oliver, love isn’t a drug; it’s a disease. In this near-future novel in the New England-y setting of Portland, Maine, love and all other strong emotions become a thing of the past once you turn 18. That’s when you undergo the operation known as “the procedure” that modifies your brain and cures you of all passion or any real memory of passions you once felt, allowing you to sail calmly from high school into an arranged marriage and career or, possibly, for the young women, motherhood.
As the soon-to-turn-18 narrator, Lena Haloway, has been told throughout her education, this is for the good of society — the new normal for all the pockets of civilization remaining in the world that was overrun by war, poverty, and the disease. The procedure makes it possible for government authorities to maintain the safety and structure of the enclosed society, to protect the isolated Portland citizens from the fugitives who rebelled against the procedure and escaped — the “Invalids” — who are out there in the Wilds beyond the electric fence and the armed guards, Lena suspects, but are not acknowledged by the authorities.
Just before the fateful summer after graduation when Lena gradually comes to understand that everything she’s been taught may not be true, she meets Alex, a mysterious, slightly older boy who is cured, and therefore, safe, but still seems to affect Lena in a strange and unfamiliar way. Modest, unassuming Lena realizes far later than the reader that Alex likes her (not her beautiful, rich friend Hana) but, by then, she has almost completely succumbed to the disease.
Underneath the dystopian overlay, this is a teen love story. Girl meets boy and the whole world turns upside down. The danger of Lena and Alex’s forbidden summer romance is real, however, with the punishment a lot worse than being grounded for a month, so after a slow dip in the middle, the tension in the story builds nicely as the date for Lena’s procedure gets closer. The ending leaves plenty of questions unanswered for the sequel, Pandemonium, coming out in March 2012.
Listening to Delirium, you’re never going to forget that you’re reading a young adult book aimed squarely at young female readers (and their moms), but if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s a good audiobook choice. Narrator Sarah Drew does a great job with the voices of the teens Lena (unsure but brave), Hana (carelessly confident), and Alex (husky/drawling/ironic) and with the adult voices. Some listeners may find Lena’s voice a bit gushy or overemotional, but over all, Sarah Drew’s narration conveys the joy and grief that Lena naturally feels but tries to repress, having been told by teachers and parents for so long that it’s not good to feel them. The adult voices, in contrast, are unemotional, suitable to a society where family ties are formed of duty rather than love.
Delirium may be available as a free audio download through Overdrive at your public library. Listen to an audio sample here.
Other opinions on the audio edition of Delirium (all mostly good):
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust
Good Books and Good Wine
Hooked to Books
Super Librarian

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Gone Wild — Swim the Fly by Don Calame (AUDIO)

Swim the Fly by Don Calame is a laugh-out-loud funny audiobook. Really! Listening in my car, I literally laughed out loud many times. (Luckily, my commute is mostly highways, so if other drivers noticed me laughing by myself in the car, I didn’t care.)
Narrated by Nick Podehl for Brilliance Audio, Swim the Fly is the hilarious equivalent of Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (narrated by Stina Nielsen for Recorded Books) for boys, or else a definitely PG-13 version of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Teachers, this is NOT one for reading aloud to the class. There is way too much raunchy humor, far too many creative names for male/female body parts, and more than one total gross-out scene — not to mention the bullying, sexting, and other inappropriate teen behaviors the author shamelessly mines for humor.
“Swimming the fly” refers to the 100-yard butterfly race — the hardest event in the swim team championship meet — which Matt finds his scrawny, out-of-shape self raising his hand to volunteer for at the beginning of the summer season, in order to impress the new girl on the team, Kelly. His best friends, Sean and Coop, knowing that Matt can’t even swim one lap of the butterfly without grabbing the side of the pool and gasping for air, derive endless amusement from his predicament, but are more focused on achieving the goal that Coop set for the three of them: to see a live, naked girl before summer’s end. Matt is so focused on Kelly, that his character development over his coming-of-age summer (giving the book its redeeeming social value) happens without his even realizing it.
Swim the Fly
won an AudioFile Earphones Award for excellence in audiobook presentation, and was selected as an 2011 Amazing Audiobook for Young Adults by the American Library Association.
The Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory blog has a recent interview with Don Calame.

Other reviews (all good):

The Book Zone (for Boys)

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

The Overflowing Library

Beastly by Alex Flinn

Teens can shamelessly continue to read new takes on fairy tales after outgrowing the Gail Carson Levine and Vivian Vande Velde stories they enjoyed when they were younger with Beastly by Alex Flinn. With Beastly, edgy YA author Alex Flinn turns the tale of Beauty and the Beast into an urban teen fantasy — the story of Kyle Kingsbury, a stuck-up, selfish Manhattan teen who turns into a hideous beast and tells how, from his point of view. His inner transformation from snarky to smoochable is long in coming, but we all know the story has a happy ending.
As Kyle, narrator Chris Patton does a great job with the humorous and dramatic twists in his spell-breaking quest to find a girl who will love him despite his outer beastliness. (Listen to a audio sample on Chris Patton’s Web site.)
Beastly has itself been transformed into a movie, in which, in typical Hollywood fashion  — judging from the trailer –everyone is beautiful, even Linda, the girl who is supposed to be so average-looking Kyle doesn’t even know her name at the beginning of the book. Even Kyle after he turns into a beast.
In the book, Kyle actually turns into a real-life, great big, ugly, hairy beast. In the movie (coming March 4th) he’s a bare-chested, tattooed, and shaved-bald, but still ripped version of Alex Pettyfer, a former teen model. I guess Hollywood couldn’t trust girls to flock to a movie where he spent most of his screen time in a gorilla suit.

%d bloggers like this: