book review

Title: My Ultimate Sister Disaster
Author: Jane Mendle
ISBN: 9780312369040
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

If there were a way to pick your family, fourteen-year-old Franny might not pick her own. Her father is a hipster boutique owner who's constantly 'friending' her on Facebook; her mother is off in Kenya jump-starting her stalled anthropology career; and her sister, Zooey, eleven months older and eight inches taller, is a precocious prima ballerina. Lately, Zooey's so absorbed with her burgeoning ballet career that she barely seems to notice Franny. And since Zooey attends a top ballet conservatory, Franny's on her own navigating the brutal halls of her Manhattan prep school, a first-year trying to get noticed at the school paper (and by its soulful, long-lashed editor in chief).

But everything changes when Zooey breaks her leg and her dancing comes to a grinding halt. Her ballet dreams shattered, she begins to hone in on Franny's 'normal' life and friends. Franny feels terrible for Zooey, but when her encroachment starts to extend to Franny's longtime crush, Franny begins to wonder if her sister might just be her worst competition.

So, if you don’t know this already about me, know it now: I’m a connoisseur of good, light reading. There is an art to good, light reading. Trust me. Trust me because I have a doctorate in literature which means I have read a lot of good, heavy reading. Trust me because I’m the sort of person who goes to the library and cheerfully judges books by their covers and comes home with piles of tomes, from the kinds with pink perky covers to the dark Scandinavian crime novels the Eugene Public Library seems to have a endless supply of. This means I have read, or started to read, a lot of BAD light reading.

In my world, a good young adult (hmmm maybe we can call My Ultimate Sister Disaster a “tween”) book is like a candy bar. Sweet, enjoyable, the over 30-set might felt embarrassed if seen consuming it, but it makes for a good evening sprawled on the couch.

Jane Mendle, (full disclosure, I met her at a party once) who lives Eugene and is a psych prof at the UO (e.g. she has a Ph.D. too, but actually does something with it, like write articles entitled, “Detrimental psychological outcomes associated with early pubertal timing in adolescent girls,” on top of her YA novels), neatly captures the way a teenager can be stupid and thoughtless enough to buy expensive clothes on Dad’s credit card because she’s pissed at him, but simultaneously bright and snarky enough to check the price tag and reflect “Peasants have rioted for less” (77). She can be self reflective one minute and the next scream "I hate you!" at her dad.

My Ultimate Sister Disaster is the latest from Mendle who is known most for her book, aimed at the same age group, Better Off Famous?, which was an American Library Association pick for “Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults.” The book gets at the rivalry between sisters, the struggle to fit in at school and throws a little sweet young love in for good measure. And of course the fact that main character Franny is a budding journalist was nice for me.

I’m guessing some (adult) readers could nitpick on Franny’s family being a bit unusual — Dad has a hip boutique in New York, Mom’s off in Africa doing anthropological research and sister Zooey is a ballerina — but that’s part of what makes the book fun; teen readers like a little bit of escapism as much as the next person, and absent parents, unfair fellow students and bad hair can happen to anyone.

If you're all about a couple hours worth of sassy teenage fun (actual live teenager not included), I say pick up My Ultimate Sister Disaster

This review will appear in the 12/17 Eugene Weekly print issue and on our regular website.

Arcs of Evil and Justice
Segregation, shoplifting and the university of evil in young adult books

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, nonfiction by Phillip Hoose. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009. $19.95.

The Blonde of the Joke, fiction by Bennett Madison. HarperTeen, 2009. $16.99.

Evil Genius, Harcourt, 2005, $7.95; and Genius Squad, Harcourt, 2008, $17, fiction by Catherine Jinks.

The week after we finish Winter Reading means a rebound in reading joy — there’s no pressure, nothing we have to finish, plus we find the books hidden at the backs of bookshelves and address our stacks of library books with glee … and, in this case, tears.

Read more after the jump!

Last week, I reviewed former EW editor and local(ish) author Debra Gwartney's Live Through This in the paper. (I linked to Powell's there, but I'm PRETTY sure the book's available at the UO Bookstore, Smith Family or J. Michael's too.)

On an old blog post, "C. Nelson" disagreed with my review (and accused me of not reading the book).

I did read the book, C. Nelson and others, but I'd be happy for you to share your own reviews* in the comment section!

*Thoughtful reviews of the book welcome, spam or obvious PR deleted, and abuse of other commenters, the author or the reviewer also probably deleted unless it's so brilliantly written that I can't resist leaving it up.

Thor Hanson will read from his book The Impenetrable Forest and give a multimedia presentation at 7 pm Thursday, Nov. 20, 182 Lillis Hall, UO.

Hanson has tales from humorous anecdotes of machete-stealing gorillas to sad stories of the tragedy of HIV/AIDs in Uganda

You can read the review in tomorrow's EW but I wanted to post this in advance, since the talk is the same night the paper comes out.

Gorilla aficionados, Peace Corps wanna-bes, conservationists, eco-tourists and the Africa interested this is the talk for you.

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