336 pages; published May 2011
Donna Parisi has been living in slow motion since her father died four years ago. Now a senior in high school, she finds herself strangely drawn to a career as a mortician. She is pulled into unexpected friendships, new challenges, and finally finds the courage to take risks and face her grief.
A lot of authors have a good idea for a story, but it is a rare talent to tell that story so skillfully that that reader becomes fully engulfed in the world of the characters. Violi has written a funny, sad, hopeful, frustrating, invigorating story. I both wanted desperately to see how it would turn out, and felt sad as I approached the final pages because I already knew I would miss them.
“Erebos” by Ursula Poznanski April 22, 2012
440 pages; January 2012
Erebos is a video game. Players must make a vow of silence about the game to earn the secret disc. Once they enter Erebos, they find a game so amazing, so realistic, and so responsive, it is instantly addictive. But as they go deeper, they find they are not only watching the game on their screen, it is also watching them.
Imagine the very best video game you’ve ever played – great graphics, big adventure, totally cool. Erebos is better. Sure, you have to promise to always play it alone. And you’re never allowed to talk about it outside the game. But it’s worth it. No game has ever seemed so real – or seemed to know so much about you. Yet you can only play once. Ever. If you die in the game, you’re out.
Nick and his classmates are desperate to stay in the game, desperate to survive – so desperate that they accept the help of the yellow-eyed Messenger who controls the game and controls their fate. He has tasks for the players to perform to earn new life when their characters are almost out. When the tasks move from the game to the real world, Nick starts to suspect there is something more to Erebos – something that may be dark and dangerous.
Skillfully translated from German, this book is beyond exciting. I read the final 150 pages in a single sitting because I was so desperate to know what was really going on. I would never have imagined what it was.
“After Ever After” by Jordan Sonnenblick April 3, 2012
272 pages; published February 2010; sequel to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie
Jeffrey is a cancer survivor who will need all his reserves to now survive what middle school is about to toss his way. Along with his best friend, also a cancer survivor, he has to figure out how to get along now that his older brother has gone off to Africa to learn drumming, what to do about the girl he like who kind of might also like him, and how to deal with the new high-stakes test that make might it impossible for him to get past 8th grade.
Middle school sucks. It sucks more when you’re a pudgy cancer survivor with a limp. And you just found out that the brother you worship basically resents you – so much that he went to Africa to get away from you. And you can’t figure out how to behave around a cute girl (who can?). And your best friend is also a cancer survivor who is surly and weird and stuck in a wheelchair. Then school administration wants to give you a really hard test that makes the difference between passing 8th grade and not passing 8th grade, and math doesn’t make sense anymore because of something that changed in your brain during chemotherapy, so you know you’ll fail the test. And now everyone is just acting weird and you don’t know what to do.
Given the premise, I wouldn’t have thought this would be a funny book, but it’s really funny. Jeffrey tells his story in first person and knows how to find macabre humor in his situation. I was completely charmed.