I have just finished two more books in the Red Maple finalist series. They are After by Hazel Hutchins and Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen. Both of these are well written but appeal in a different way to different readers.
After is a story which unravels 'after' a tragedy. Hutchins does a great job in slowly revealing the mystery. It is like the letter V; beginning at the wider parts and the two stories converging to a point by the end of the book. It is written in two styles; switching back and forth between a first person journal which 'Kate' writes in the form of letters to her best friend, and a third person narrative involving the life of Sam. We see Sam from the outside, looking in. Both Sam and Kate have lost loved ones in a connected event. I won't give away more than that for you kids who want to complete a book report without having to actually read the book. No sir, I'm too much of a teacher to give away the ending!
If I was still in Grade 7 or 8, I would appreciate the way Hutchins understands how teens think; they do feel deeply and understand more than adults give them credit for. It takes a while for the story to unfold, but it is worth the effort.
Word Nerd is a witty story about a completely geeky and peanut-allergic boy named Ambrose whose mother is so seriously over-protective she could be a bad example on Oprah. Ambrose does what kids do when faced with too many rules - he does what he wants anyway and lies about it. Ambrose is rescued from his nerdy fate by a young ex-con named Cosmo. One thing I love about Canadian books is that there are so many settings I recognize. This one takes place in Kitsilano, a part of Vancouver, and I keep recognizing streets and places because my oldest son Adrian lived there a couple of years. Even my son's rental house is similar to the one where Ambrose and his seriously whacked-out mother live in the story. Ambrose has a talent for Scrabble, which I can also relate to because I like the game. (But then I'm old, and a teacher, and have the nerd-gene deeply running through my cells...) Ambrose, in a clever way, gets Cosmo the bad-boy to play Scrabble too, which helps Cosmo get closer to a young attractive hottie named Amanda who runs the Scrabble club. Uh, right...
These days we need more books written for boys and about boys, for the simple reason that boys are reading less and taking school and academics less seriously. Susin Nielsen includes plenty of funny references to erections, male fascination with breasts, and a lack of style in dressing, but Ambrose cries too often and Cosmo, the tough guy, willingly humiliates himself as he follows Amanda around like a whipped puppy. These two characters may appeal more to female readers who think boys are actually like this.