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Flashback: February 2006

And now a look back at what I reviewed in February 2006:

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff. From my review: “A retelling of the Trojan War. Some people don’t understand reading something when you know the end. I’m one of those who will always read a book about Troy, even tho I know how it ends. I like Sutcliff’s version of Homer’s Iliad because it is a classic retelling. It doesn’t introduce new characters; it doesn’t give a modern spin; it doesn’t change anything. I love that it tells the story as it is. I find it hard to appreciate versions such as Troy by Geras or The Firebrand by Bradley without knowing the original tale as it was told.

Birdwing by Rafe Martin. From my review: “In The Six Swans by the Brothers Grimm, six brothers are turned into six swans. They are eventually returned to human form; except for the youngest brother, Ardwin, who is left with a wing for an arm. Martin tells the story the life of Ardwin, who has to live with the tangible reminder of the curse. . . .  Martin stays close to the original tale, because all that happens before the book begins. Ardwin, the youngest son, has returned home to his father’s castle. As can be imagined, life with one arm and one wing is not easy, and Ardwin works hard to accomplish physical tasks. But always there is a longing — to return to the swans, to the freedom of flying, to belonging, instead of being the freak, the outsider. Ardwin learns that you can’t go home again; that the past, and childhood, is another country. “I was confused by childhood memories. Things had seemed so good, then.” But the swans are no more welcoming than humans, and now that Ardwin is unable to return to the past, and has no future — what to do? Where to go?

Raising The Griffin by Melissa Wyatt. From my review: “Alex is happy with his life in England. There’s some family stuff going on that never had much to do with him; his father was always quite clear that their grandfather’s dream of reclaiming the past was just that, a dream. But then the dream becomes a reality, much to Alex’s dismay. He’s totally unprepared for it. The dream? Turns out Alex’s family used to be the rulers of an Eastern European country. They fled with their lives over 80 years ago. And now — the family has been asked to return and resume the monarchy. Alex is now Prince Alexei.

The Thieves of Ostia, The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. From my review: “Rome for Middle School. These books are a mix of mystery, action, adventure and history. The four main characters are ages 8 to 12 and are a multicultural mix: Flavia is a middle class Roman; Nubia is African, and in Book 1 is Flavia’s slave; Jonathan, the next door neighbor, is Jewish; and finally there is the homeless boy, Lupus. Flavia frees Nubia, and the four have adventures and solve mysteries, and travel from Rome to Pompeii, meeting anyone and everyone from Pliny to assassins. The kids take action; they do things, rather than having adults do things for them. They ask questions, get in trouble, and work things out. As far as I can tell, Lawrence has done a superb job of keeping these books correct historically. The kids do act older than they seem; I keep picturing them as older than they are. It works, tho, because of historical and cultural differences. Kids back then were older than today; for example, Miriam, Jonathan’s sister, is only 14 but is engaged to an “old” man in his 30s. So it makes sense that these kids who are 8 to 12 are acting more like they are 12 to 15.

The Queen Of Cool by Cecil Castellucci. From my review: “Libby is the Queen of Cool. She is so cool that she’ll tape a pen to her shirt and by the rest of the day, everyone else has taped pens to their shirts. Except by then the cool kids aren’t doing it. As you may imagine, someone who is now taping pens to her shirt is a little bit bored. But what’s the Queen of Cool to do, when her life is perfect: she’s popular, her parents are well off, she has the right clothes, the cute boyfriend. Libby volunteers at the zoo. With geeks. When Libby starts learning some truths about herself, cool kids, and geeks, will the girl who was brave enough to walk thru the school formal in her underwear be brave enough to risk not being the Queen of Cool?

So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld. From my review: “Hunter is a “cool hunter,” always on the lookout for the Next New Thing. It’s not that he’s a victim to cool; rather, he’s someone who gets asked to focus groups to decide whether a product and its ad campaign are cool or not cool. In his “pyramid of coolness”, he’s close to the top: a Trendsetter. At the top of the pyramid? Innovators, the people who do the things first who inspire others. Hunter meets Jen, an Innovator, and finds himself falling for her — and getting pulled into a mystery when his friend Mandy disappears. Missing people, sneakers so wonderful they take your breath away, weird ad campaigns, purple hair, a chase across rooftops — Jen’s an Innovator, and about to turn Hunter’s life upside down. Hunter’s pyramid; starting at the top, Innovators; Trendsetters; Early Adopters; Consumers; Classicists; Laggards. This is anti-consumer; but with its approach to how trends are invented and sift thru the culture, it also acknowledges the importance and impact of trends in people’s lives. It’s much more than “brands are bad,” because some of what happens isn’t brand-related. It’s about those people with the “shine” of new ideas, and those who honestly think those ideas are interesting, and how that trickles down. Yes, it’s anti-consumerism; but I also think its anti-snobbery, skewering all levels of the pyramid. It laughs at both the person wearing last year’s pants and the person jonesing this year’s cell phone, but at the same time understands the want and need.

A Bad Boy Can Be Good For A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone. From my review: “Josie, Nicolette and Aviva are 3 different teenage girls who each fall for the same bad boy, TL. A book in verse. . . . Each girl struggles with the conflict between how TL makes her feel — emotionally flattered and physically turned on — and what her head is telling her. Because with each girl, there are signs that TL is indeed bad: a manipulator. A liar. A user. And each girl, for one reason or another, refuses to see the truth of the situation because of emotions and hormones. Hears the whisper, this isn’t quite right, yet ignores it. Is a bad boy good for a girl? Each girl is left a little older and wiser. Wiser about herself. And while I hate to talk about “messages” and prefer to let the story speak for itself, I hope that the teenagers reading this will be able to apply this to their own lives and recognize the bad boys before they get hurt.

a brief chapter in my impossible life by Dana Reinhardt. From my review: “Simone is a junior in high school. She thinks her life is full and complete: Mom’s an ACLU lawyer, Dad’s a political cartoonist; she has good friends, and her younger brother Jake just started high school. The family defines normal, and her problems fall under that category also: what club to join at school? what to do about her best friends new relationship, with a guy Simone doesn’t like? especially when her friend starts sleeping with him? and what about the guy Simone may like, who works at the coffee counter and may or may not have a girlfriend? Then another problem falls into her lap. Her parents announce that Rivka wants to get in contact with Simone. Rivka — Simone’s birth mother. Simone has no desire to find out anything about Rivka; she’s quite satisfied with life as she knows it. But her parents won’t let it go and now Simone is getting answers to questions she never wanted to ask.

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is