Saturday, March 15, 2008

BIG SLICK, by Eric Luper

BIG SLICK, by Eric Luper (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux 2007). Sixteen year old Andrew Lang has skimmed some $600 from the cash register at his family's dry cleaning business to feed his poker habit and bankroll his entry into local tournaments.

Unfortunately, Andrew is not as good as he thinks. He loses the $600, and is cut off by the local poker impresario/drug dealer. But he still has to put the cash back in the register before his father finds out.

After several disastrous attempts to come up with the funds, Andrew, his friend Scott, and his (hot) goth co-worker Jasmine steal Andrew's father's prized muscle car and take a road trip to a nearby Indian casino. There, they hope Andrew's skill at the poker table will allow him to make good the losses and, ultimately, square things with his father.

In BIG SLICK, first-time novelist Eric Luper presents an engaging, suspenseful, and refreshing story of teen sensibility, growth, friendship, and Texas Hold 'em. Luper's use of poker details rings true, provides realistic atmosphere, and adds to the dramatic tension. A winner.

UPDATE: Cynthia has an interview with Eric Luper here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

We are greatly vexed...

Cynthia and I were scheduled to speak March 14 at the Illinois Reading Council's 2008 Conference, titled "Unleash the Power," held in Springfield, Illinois. We were to have spoken at three sessions: For two of them, about "Humor in Youth Literature;" for the third, on "Stories behind the stories."

Unfortunately, however, when we arrived at the airport in late afternoon on the 13th, we were told our flight to our connecting city had been canceled, but that we had been re-booked for the next day(!) which, of course, was when we were scheduled to speak. We tried to make alternate arrangements, none of which were acceptable. So, we had to cancel our speaking gig. Apologies to the IRC and anyone who went wanting to hear us speak.

The airline declined several opportunities to explain why they canceled the flight. Since they're usually more than willing to blame the weather or mechanical problems, one can only conclude they canceled it because they didn't get enough passengers (which has happened to us on other airlines). In other words, they simply didn't feel like flying. Helluva way to run a business.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

WriteFest books

It's been a couple years since Cyn and I hosted WriteFest, an invitation-only writers' workshop. Still, I'm very pleased that we are continuing to see manuscripts that were workshopped being published.

The first was Laura Ruby's Good Girls. Then, last year was Brian Yansky's Wonders of the World.

Forthcoming novels include Katie Davis's The Curse of Addy McMahon; Kathi Appelt's The Underneath, and Libba Bray's Going Bovine.

Great work, y'all!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

SHIFT, by Jennifer Bradbury

SHIFT, by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, May 2008). In SHIFT, first-time novelist Jennifer Bradbury presents a textured and moving portrait of a friendship and lives in transition.

The summer before they head off to college, Chris Collins and his best friend Win Coggans are on the adventure of a lifetime: a cross-country bicycle trip from their home in West Virginia to Seattle. But after two months in the saddle during which their friendship (and sometime rivalry) is tested to the breaking point, they separate. Chris ultimately makes it to the coast without Win and hops a bus back home.

Win, however, isn't there. And he still isn't back when Chris leaves for Georgia Tech.

Win's well-connected father suspects Chris has something to do with Win's disappearance...and then the FBI show up at Chris's dorm.

Making skillful use of flashbacks to tell the story, Bradbury does a terrific job of balancing details of the bicycle trek with development of the relationship between the friends (and their parents), and Chris's attempts to uncover/accept what really happened. Part road trip, part mystery, SHIFT is at all times compelling and thought-provoking.

Monday, March 03, 2008

THAW, by Monica M. Roe

THAW, by Monica M. Roe (Front Street, April 2008): In this finely-wrought first novel, Monica Roe presents the story of eighteen-year old Dane Rafferty: handsome, brilliant, and a gifted athlete, Dane is intolerant of failure and more than a little arrogant. In the midst of his senior year of high school, he's afflicted with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare and debilitating disease which causes almost complete paralysis. In response, Dane's emotionally distant parents send him away from his home in upstate New York to a rehabilitation clinic in Florida. There, Dane encounters an oddball set of patients and therapists who alternately cajole, irritate, and profoundly affect him. Although seventy-five percent of patients with GBS make a full recovery, there are twenty-five percent who don't and Dane comes to realize he might just be in the latter category...

Told in a compelling first person voice (with flashbacks to his life prior to the illness), THAW artfully traces Dane's progression from self-centered and exquisitely arrogant to being aware of what his aloofness might be costing him (and others around him).

Best of all, throughout the novel -- even when he's at his worst -- Dane is portrayed as three-dimensional and real. In short, Roe engages the reader into Dane's character, situation, and growth in a resonant and affecting manner.
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