Saturday, June 17, 2006

Book Seven: Here Lies the Librarian

147 pages, read from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Between the title and the opening set in a graveyard, I was expecting this to be a humorous ghost story. But the fact that the narrator, garage mechanic Peewee, turns out to be a girl is only one of the surprises in store in this book. Set during the early days of motor cars, it's a story about four refined and highly educated young lady librarians who come to replace the previous one, who had... expired. ("After years of service, Tried and True, Heven stamped her--OVERDUE.") Their attempts to bring the virtues of reading and civilation to the town rudely yet accurately known as Rubesburg will change the life of Peewee's handsome older brother--and teach Peewee how to find a life of her own. Too rambling and uneven, this story will still appeal to those who enjoy Peck's flair for creating rural eccentricity, and booklovers will enjoy the fun he pokes at those who believe "The libery only needs 2 books: 1. The Old Testiment 2. The New Testiment."

Book Six: Absolutely, Positively Not by David Larochelle

219 pages, read from 7 p.m. to 8:20, minus 5 minutes for reading A Magic Schoolbus book aloud

"Why are we so clueless?
Why are we so slow?
When it comes to coming out,
why are we the last ones to know?"

--Romanovsky and Phillips

Sixteen-year-old Steven has an ugly secret: he likes to square dance. But when a very cute new teacher named Mr. Bowman arrives at his school, Steven begins to wonder is being a closet square dancer might not be his only ugly secret. And so he begins a ridiculous journey of self-denial, as he attempts to convince himself he is absolutely, positively not gay.

Following the advice of a pathetically outdated library book, Steven first tries hanging out with the most macho clique in the cafeteria, but all it gets him is the nickname "Upchuck." Next comes aversion therapy with a rubber band, which only makes him realize how astonishingly often he thinks about things he shouldn't be thinking about: "Did other guys think about women as much as I thought about men?" Finally he tries dating, discovering that girls love the way he helps them clean their basements, shovels their walks, and listens to their problems... but attempting to make out with one winds up being something he absolutely, positively can't do.

Finally, in one of the funniest scenes of the book, Steven breaks down and comes out to his best friend Rachel--and just as Romanovsky and Phillips once wrote, she and everyone else in her family are utterly unsurprised. "To complete the family picture, Rachel's ten-year-old sister, Tracy, pushed her way through the door. 'DON'T SAY IT!' I cried. 'Don't you dare tell her anything!'... At last Rachel's little sister spoke. 'Did Steven finally tell Rachel he was gay?'"

Although generally screamingly over the top, there are moments of real feeling in this story, as when Steven discovers that though the teacher he idolized is probably gay too, he cowardly laughs at faggot jokes. And Steven's desperate longing just to find someone he can talk to about being gay is far from funny. But all ends reasonably happily, after much, much laughter. (14 & up)

Book Five: Store-Bought Baby by Sandra Belton

read Saturday 5:20 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

(Another tear-jerker. Who knew being a mom would make it harder to be a children's book reviewer? I don't like reading about boys who died, I really don't.)

For Leah, the most awful part of a truly awful day--her brother's wake--is hearing a neighbor speculate that maybe it wasn't so hard for her parents to lose their son--not as hard as it would have been to lose Leah. Because she is their "natural" child, and he was only their legal one. Leah wants to choke the stupid woman: "Nobody in this house ever made a deal about Luce being adopted. Especially not Mama or Dad. Luce's realparents." Still, as Leah struggles to cope with her loss, she finds herself becoming obsessed with the idea of finding Luce's birth parents, for reasons she can't even begin to understand or explain.

This is a sad, yet warm story, with some fresh insights about the role adoption can play in the formation of a family. Perhaps its greatest success is how clearly Luce, present only in loving memory, comes to life. It's also an interesting example of "color-blind" writing; although Leah and her family are clearly black, race is never mentioned. (10-14)