The Wrong Hands by Nigel Richardson

July Judges a Book by Its Cover
The old maxim tells you to look deeper, but let's be honest. The books that do really well are both well-written AND well marketed. Good graphic design, or interesting font go a long way toward enticing teen readers. So this month, I'm picking up anything I think looks cool. It doesn't have to be beautiful, but something that catches my eye. One of those books that I keep passing and thinking, hmmm ... wonder what that one's about ... I'm throwing caution to the wind, and being superficial.

His hands are the problem. They always have been. They look funny, they sound funny, they set him apart. There's no way that anyone will ever treat Graham like a normal person ... not with freak hands. Just like all the kids at school who call him Spakky, and Kylie Blounce who accuses him of all kinds of lies just for sharing his secret ... and he does have a secret.

When he gets the chance to spend the summer in London, living with his uncle, he can't wait to get out of his hometown. His parents want him out of sight for a while, at least until everything blows over from the Kylie scandal. This is his chance at big city living! He's gotten a job at his uncle's shop, and he practically has the flat to himself, since his uncle's never there.

Things are going well until the plane crash. He's just minding his own business when all of the sudden, a plane falls from the sky! Without really thinking, he goes on auto pilot. He hears a baby crying, and just reacts. He saves this child, and draws the attention of the local media ... and one very attractive Ms. Jennifer. She tells him that she followed him that day, she saw what he did. She knows what he can do, and she can help. She thinks he needs her help, and she's so pretty, and so sweet to him - it must be true.

I mean, all those nasty news articles coming out about him, she's the only one who understands. Jennifer is the only one who can help. Plus, he thinks he might have a chance with her, she does seem really interested. He can share his secret with her, right? He tries to think about what life would be like without his secret, without having to hide who he is from everyone around him. The thought is so liberating, and he wonders why he's never done it before. Of course, it's never that easy - is it? With slanderous articles appearing in the paper, and the cops hassling him for something he didn't do, there's no telling what will happen with Graham and his magic hands.

There is a distinct Catcher in the Rye flair to the dialog that gives it a familiar feel. I'm a sucker for anything Salinger-esque, so for any other fans, I recommend this. It has his elegant teen angst dialog, along with a distinct whimsy that almost seems at odds with the characters, but somehow manage to flow effortlessly.
"I felt something give in my hands. I felt them get bigger. Even bigger. The sun was on my forehead now. I was really hot, and my heart was hammering away, and I didn't dare open my eyes. My hands felt as big as beach towels. Then something was happening that I wasn't making happen, that seemed to have nothing to do with me. My hands were shaking, trembling, very fast, so fast that my whole arms ached, but I could do nothing to stop it. I tried to close up my hands, to fold the flesh back up. To send time whizzing backwards to before this started to happen and my hands were just hands. Big and clumsy and weird-looking, but just hands. Now they were - What were they? I didn't dare open my eyes to look," (Richardson pg. 83, 2006).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Richardson, N. (2006). The wrong hands. New York: Knopf.

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

Henry is being sent to Kansas ... Henry, KS to be exact. His parents have been kidnapped on one of their many vacation/biking assignments, and he has a healthy level of dissonance about the situation. There's nothing he can do about it, right? If they are found and rescued, then good. On the other hand, he's not exactly upset about the chance to live like a normal kid (read: not wearing a helmet in weird situations, like to play catch).

When he arrives at his Aunt Doty and Uncle Frank's place, he's greeted by his three cousins: Penelope, Henrietta, and Anastasia. He can hardly believe his luck. On his first day in town, Uncle Frank buys him a baseball glove AND a pocket knife! And it gets even better; there are secrets about this house. Behind his bed in the attic, Henry notices cracked plaster ... and two knobs sticking out. What could they be? Slowly but surely, with his new pocket knife, he begins to uncover something behind the plaster in his room. All night he works, picking away at the small boxes and odd shaped holes in the wall. But they aren't holes exactly, they're more like ... cupboards!

When cousin Henrietta finds out what he's up to, she wants in on the action. They find a few of the cupboards will open! The tricky part is that they seem to open into a different place than just further into the wall. The air smells differently, the light changes, through one they even see a man walking! Then there is the black cupboard, which Henry knows instinctively is bad ... but Henrietta's curiosity overcomes her. When they finally pry it open, she wants to explore. Henry barely steps out of the room, but when he returns, she is passed out with her arm stuck inside the black cupboard! With some quick thinking, Henry manages to rescue her ... but not completely without harm.

There is more than meets the eye to this whole situation. Finding Grandpa's journal, they discover that these cupboards are links to other worlds! Some of them may be better than others ... but there's no telling what could happen next!
"Henry had continued chipping plaster and uncovering doors until he could count thirty-five in all, and he had no doubt there were more. Most of them were wood, but of all different sizes, grains, and colors. The shapes varied as well as the designs. Some were plain, and some had surfaces so intricately carved that getting the plaster out of all the curves and crannies had been impossible. Some had knobs, some small handles, some slides or things Henry had never seen. There was one with nothing at all. He had pushed and pulled and lightly thumped on every single one, but without effect," (Wilson pg. 47, 2007).

If you liked this, check out:
Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson 100 Cupboards, Book 2

Wilson, N. D. (2007). 100 cupboards. New York: Random House.

Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Steward and Chris Riddell (The Edge Chronicles, Book 1)

Twig is a bit of a failure as a woodtroll ... he doesn't fit in with any of the other trolls his age, he's not very coordinated, or very big. He doesn't have any friends, and most of the other trolls his age pick on him. When his mother tells him of the true story of how he came to live with them, he almost feels relieved. It's as if a part of him knew he wasn't a wood troll all along. He's less relieved when she tells him he must leave the safety of the only home he's ever known to escape the Sky Pirates. All he has to do is follow the path, like any good wood troll would. And beware the Gloamglozer!

But he isn't really a woodtroll, is he? His first experience straying from the path leads him to come to the aid of a Slaughterer (not nearly as violent as he sounds). The boy's family is so greatful, they gift him with what becomes a truly treasured possession, his hammelhorn waistcoat. His next adventure includes witnessing the birth of a Caterbird. His travels are far from over. He encounters a wicked Blood Oak which tries to consume him, then he must escape a pack of Gyle Goblins and their Grossmother. It seems the Deepwoods are destined to create nothing but hardship for Twig, until he meets the Banderbear, who becomes his true companion after Twig saves him from a toothache.

His adventure isn't done yet, however, as he is taken as a pet by a termagant trog girl-in-training. Barely escaping with his life, Twig meets a wanderer who shows him his destiny (although he doesn't understand it at the time). It isn't until the great storm, and the crash of a sky ship that Twig realizes his dream to join the Sky Pirates. Or does he? The dangers of the deepwoods seem on a crash course to find Twig.

The first in a prolific series, it is a quintessential Tolkein-esque adventure fantasy. Recommended for 3-6 graders, and anyone interested in this type of book.
"‘That’s right,’ said Spelda, laughing. ‘Out you came with it, just like that. Twig! The first word you ever spoke. And then Taghair said, ‘You must look after him well, for the boy is special.’ Not different, but special! It was the one fact that had kept him going when the other woodtroll children had picked on him so mercilessly," (Stewart and Riddell pg. 24, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Stormchaser by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell Edge Chronicles, Book 2
The Fairy Tale Detectives by Michael Buckley Sisters Grimm, Book 1
The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1

Stewart and Riddell. (2008). Beyond the Deepwoods. Oxford, UK: David Fickling Books.

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Jack screwed up. He knows it. He shouldn't have left the party like that, he was drunk and confused. When someone stopped to offer him a ride, he should have said no - it's your own fault, Jack. He never expected Freddie Horvath to do what he did, never expected things to go so wrong. Freddie did something to his brain. But Jack escapes, and everything is going to be fine. But it isn't fine, and his best friend Connor knows it. He insists that Jack take his revenge. If he won't tell the police, then at least he needs to face up to this guy. Then they'll go away to England for the summer like they planned, and get away from all the drama. But everything goes wrong ...

Jack goes to England first, with Connor set to follow a few days later. On his arrival, he first meets Henry - the one with the glasses. There is something strange in the lenses. Did he see? No, it couldn't be. It's just Jack's messed up brain. Freddie did something. When Henry makes a gift of the glasses, he says something strange. He tells Jack that he knows him. Looking through the lenses, Jack takes his first trip to Marbury.

It's so unlike everything he knows. He and a few other boys are on the run from the Hunters and Harvesters (a barbarian horde, and flesh-eating beetles, respectively) in a wasteland of death and decay. Jack starts to remember things about this place, and the boys don't seem surprised to see him. He actually seems to be the leader of this motley bunch. He's responsible for Griff and Ben, he has to take care of them.

Suddenly arriving back in England, Jack gets sick. What is going on? Was that other place real? Is this just more crap that is happening because of Freddie? You brought this on yourself. The longer he stays away from Marbury, the sicker he gets. It's an addiction. He's lost time ... hours, sometimes days pass. He met a girl while he was gone, and she actually likes him. He has to get it together. Connor is meeting him soon, he won't be able to pull this crap for much longer.

Recommended for older teens due to the graphic, sometimes gory nature of the story. There is a good deal of cursing (although it feels very authentic to me, as I spend a good deal of time with actual teens), some drinking, and some sex. Very imaginative story, love the fact that his life keeps going while he's "on the other side," and it explores some ideas about male friendship that I liked.
"'It's Thursday, Jack. We just got back from St. Atticus School. Thursday.' He held the end of his tie up between two fingers. I remembered Wynn insisting we wear ties when we visited his old school. 'We were going to change out of these things and go out.'
Three days.
I didn't look up.
What the fuck happened to three days?
'Something's wrong with me, Con.'
The nausea. I stood up, ran past Connor. I dropped to my knees at the toilet and began puking my guts out.
Freddie Horvath did something to my brain.
There's nothing I can do about it.
I don't want to do anything about it.
Fuck you, Jack
," (Smith pg. 162, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you like this, check out:
Ghost Machine by Andrew Smith
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Smith, Andrew. (2010). The Marbury Lens. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.

How to Build a House by Dana Reinhardt

Harper can't wait to leave for her summer trip. She can't wait to get away from her family drama, boy confusion, sisters who aren't really sisters ... she can't wait to get to Tennessee and start helping people. Helping others will distract her from all the other stuff that is bouncing around in her head.

Tennessee is where she has chosen to go to escape from everything for a while. She's joining a group of other teenagers to build a house for a family that lost theirs in a recent tornado. Even though Harper doesn't know the first thing about house building, she is determined to lose herself in the process, and hopefully do something good with her time. From the start everyone starts to pair off, but she's not interested in all that. She is interested in the family they are helping. The Wright family has been instrumental in helping others who have suffered from the recent disaster, and everyone in town agrees that it's time they are repaid for their kindness. Living in a funky motel, the teens work together (some better than others) toward creating something out of the chaos.

Little by little Harper begins to get closer to Teddy. It's his family they are building the house for, and he has a vested interest in the outcome. Maybe that is why he takes it so seriously, but Harper sees a maturity in him that the other kids don't seem to have. It's surviving what has come before, and continuing to grow that has given him this advantage ... that, and his amazing family standing behind him. The Wrights' are nothing like her family.

As hard as she tries, she can't quite run away from her broken family. Harper is still dealing with the recent divorce of her father and her step-mother, the only mother she has ever known. Even harder is the distance that has grown between her and her step-sister Tess. Almost overnight they went from being sisters to strangers, and Harper doesn't understand why. She is mad at everyone, angry and sad and broken.

Still, Tennessee is good. Hard, hot, sweaty, confusing ... and more fun than she expected. It's possible that Teddy even has deeper feelings for her. She begins to suspect after the "Pie Night", because seriously, only an amazing guy would bringing her a pie. (Dating tip: most girls appreciate baked goods, just like you)
"What I really want to say is that nothing lasts forever, no matter how solid it seems. I know this. I've always known this. This knowledge is with me like a smooth stone in my pocket. There are days I worry my fingers over the stone's surface at every waking moment and some days I forget that the stone is there at all.
Today, the stone weighs forty pounds .... Linus closes his eyes and puts his arms out at his sides. 'Look to this day. For it is life. The very life of life .... In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence. The splendor of beauty, the bliss of growth, the glory of action. Today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.' He opens his eyes and looks at me. 'It's an ancient Sufi text.' He smiles. 'My mantra,'" (Reinhardt pg. 170, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Reinhardt, Dana. (2008). How to Build a House. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.