Sucks to be Me by Kimberly Pauley

The subtitle reads: The ALL-TRUE confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire ^maybe. And you think “not another teen vampire novel! Argh!” But then you pick it up and flip it over to read the back because you just can’t help yourself.  What you’re awarded with is a top five list of the reasons Mina thinks it sucks to be her. Starting with “bloodsucking vampire freaks” and ending with “please don’t read this book. It’s just embarrassing.” And then you think “Sure. This could be good beach reading.”

Then you’d read it and be glad you did. The American Library Association has awarded this tasty little morsel it’s “Reluctant Reader Selection” approval. I whole-heartedly agree. Pauley allowed her main character to tell her story with an honest voice. Seventeen-year-old slang doesn’t always age well, but it sure is fun to read. I had a few spit-takes during Mina’s confession and even recognized some of her angst because it’s universal: prom, friends, secrets, trying to talk to cute boys.

Mina’s parents are “accidental vampires” who’ve been raising Mina in as normal a household as possible. Until the council finds out that she exists...and that she knows about her parents. They (the way all councils seems to) decide that this isn’t acceptable and Mina either has to turn herself or suffer consequences. In this case, the consequence isn’t death, but to a seventeen year old girl it’s just as bad: never see or talk to her parents again. So she embarks on her quest for knowledge. This includes vampire classes (the council wants everyone to know what they’re getting into so they can make an informed decision) with a group of kids she’d normally not socialize with and an overly helpful (and very weird) Uncle as a mentor. The ending is a bit of a forgone conclusion, but getting there is a lot of fun.

It’s a debut novel, and we all know how I feel about stumbling onto a debut novel before more have been written. Sweet, sweet agony. Luckily, there’s a sequel in the works. I’ll be reading it.


Happy Banned Book Week!

In honor of this week I have two goals.

1: Update this blog. I have a list of at least a dozen books that I've read that haven't gotten reviewed. Luckily I also have detailed notes.

2: Read at least one Banned Book. Specifically: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. Also, Gossip Girl is one of the most challenged of 2009...but I'm all caught up on those.

What are you reading that's causing an uproar? What have you seen on the list and said "WTF? That book was AWESOME?"

BTW - Philip Pullmans' His Dark Materials Trilogy is so much better than that first movie. In so many ways. If you haven't yet, I say Dive In.


Reader Recommendation: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Matilda Cook lives in Philadelphia when it was the nation’s capital and home to an historic epidemic: Yellow Fever. In a time when basic hygiene included weekly baths and deciding if a dead mouse is worse thrown onto high street or into the back garden. Water came from wells, the outhouse was referred to as “The Necessary” and the best way to rid someone of “pestilence” was to bleed them. You read that right. BLEED THEM. Historically accurate, yes, but appalling nonetheless.

I read this book in a single day. I couldn’t put it down. I was moved to tears at points and at others found myself truly pulling for the characters whose basic personality traits made them feel already familiar from the first page.

Like any good Historical Fiction writer, Anderson did her research and imbued the novel with it. Historical figures were sprinkled in amongst the imagined characters, and the geography of Philadelphia and the surrounding towns was portrayed accurately enough that the reader can follow Mattie through town without getting lost. The facts of the fever, the panic, and the restoration are outlined in an appendix at the back of the book. The charity group of freed slaves is one of the unsung heros of this tragedy: while the rest of society turned its collective back on the infected (to the point that some who might have lived starved to death instead) The Free African Society rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

As I read, I drew parallels between the fear of Yellow Fever in the book and the fear of various modern diseases now (SARS and H1N1, most notably) and the way people react. If an epidemic were to sweep through the countries most dense cities now, would we react the way the Philadelphians did? Would we barricade ourselves in our houses and send our children to the country? Would help be available and would it come in time? So much has advanced in the past two hundred years, but so much has stayed the same.

When the first signs of Yellow Fever were popping up, life outside of it went on - Mattie helped her widowed mother, grandfather, and their servant Eliza (A freed African Woman) run the family coffeehouse. She sucked on hard candy and flirted with boys at the market. But as the tragedy got closer and closer to home (literally, as it moved inland from the river) life slowly changed. As the panic and illness spread, Mattie is forced to grow up and becomes a very good example of what a young lady can do when she puts her mind to it.

I would not be surprised to see this book turn up on curriculum lists alongside Johnny Tremain - it would do our young girls a great service to know that not just young men helped make this country what it is. That even in a time when girls needed a decent dowry and husband to be considered worth much (and even still needed to produce more boys) these same girls were also truly inspirational.
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