A joyful teen drama told with soul and style.

READ REVIEW

Guitar Hero

In this coming-of-age story, 16-year-old David Chang finds that striking a balance between his dreams and his heritage is harder than striking the right chord on a guitar.

Lee (The Fragrant Garden, 2005) writes her first teen novel from the perspective of a Montreal boy who wants nothing more than to become a rock ’n’ roll legend like John Lennon or Carlos Santana. He imagines them cheering on his guitar practices from their posters on his bedroom wall. But his real-life circumstances aren’t so encouraging. His dad, a second-generation Chinese immigrant who now works at a grocery store after losing a high-paying job, has plunged the family into debt by gambling. David’s relationship with his band, Pumping Iron, is strained after he makes a mistake that takes them out of a major competition. To make matters worse, his parents don’t want him to be a musician; expecting him to become a “professional”—i.e., a lawyer or doctor—they stop paying for his guitar lessons to save money. David resents his dad for losing the family’s money and for getting in the way of his dream. But as he struggles to keep playing in spite of all the obstacles, he finds that he and his father have more in common than he thought. Throughout the story, a lively narration brings Montreal and its Chinese subculture to life through the young protagonist’s eyes. The Chang family is made up of well-rounded, believable characters who really love each other but often let mistakes and lack of communication disrupt their relationships. David’s problems with friends, girls, and his parents’ expectations will also ring true for many teen readers. There are a few times when the story does stretch the bounds of belief: David’s grandmother, for example, always speaks Chinese, so Lee’s decision to translate her dialogue into broken English makes little sense, and some of the secrets the characters keep from each other seem to exist only to create conflict. Yet the book’s main themes of family and love drown out all the off notes.

A joyful teen drama told with soul and style.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4823-5824-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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WOODSONG

A three-time Newbery Honor winner tells—in a memoir that is even more immediate and compelling than his novels—about his intimate relationship with Minnesota's north woods and the dog team he trained for Alaska's Iditarod.

Beginning with a violent natural incident (a doe killed by wolves) that spurred his own conversion from hunter and trapper to observing habitant of the forest, Paulsen draws a vivid picture of his wilderness life—where bears routinely help themselves to his dog's food and where his fiercely protective bantam adopts a nestful of quail chicks and then terrorizes the household for an entire summer. The incidents he recounts are marvelous. Built of concrete detail, often with a subtext of irony or mystery, they unite in a modest but telling self-portrait of a man who has learned by opening himself to nature—not to idyllic, sentimental nature, but to the harsh, bloody, life-giving real thing. Like nature, the dogs are uncontrollable: independent, wildly individual, yet loyal and dedicated to their task. It takes extraordinary flexibility, courage, and generosity to accept their difficult strengths and make them a team: Paulsen sees humor in their mischief and has learned (almost at the cost of his life) that rigid discipline is irrelevant, even dangerous. This wonderful book concludes with a mesmerizing, day-by-day account of Paulsen's first Iditarod—a thrilling, dangerous journey he was so reluctant to end that he almost turned back within sight of his goal. lt's almost as hard to come to the end of his journal.

This may be Paulsen's best book yet: it should delight and enthrall almost any reader.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0-02-770221-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Bradbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1990

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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