We'll try the Kirkus style of reviewing for this batch, read over Memorial Day weekend.
Pieces of Georgia by Jennifer Bryant (Knopf, 2006, 176 pages).
A decent, if unremarkable, middle-grade novel.
Georgia McCoy is an artist. Her mother, recently deceased, was also an artist, so to spare her father's feelings, Georgia keeps her talents hidden. When an anonymous donor sends Georgia a gift membership to the Brandywine museum for her birthday, Georgia is flabbergasted -- and delighted. She sneaks away to the nearby museum after school and finds inspiration in the works of the Wyeth family.
Georgia's a likable character, and this novel-in-verse is perfectly fine. It's nothing spectacular, though, and I felt in many places that I was reading something I'd read many times before. I'd give it to an artsy girl looking for something quick.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 2006, 288 pages).
You know, it's Anne Tyler. So of course it's good.
Digging to America is the story of two familes, each of whom adopts a baby girl from Korea. Bitsy and Brad Dickinson-Donaldson are the quintessential overachieving Americans, with a big house in the Baltimore suburbs and definite ideas (Bitsy has, anyway) about childrearing and maintaining cultural traditions. Ziba and Sami Yazdan, an Iranian-born couple, are more reserved, less secure (Ziba, anyway), and more sympathetic at the outset. But because this is a Tyler novel, the characterizations are never as easy as one might think. Bitsy is overbearing and rather ridiculous in many ways (her insistence on commemorating Arrival Day for the girls is both endearing and pathetic), but even she has a depth and substance that a lesser novelist would miss. Ultimately, though, this is Maryam's story: Ziba's mother-in-law provides both the moral conscience and the driving force for the novel, as her seeming implacability and judgmental tendencies are challenged by her not-exactly-romance with Bitsy's widowed father.
A quibble, however: who proofread this book? Too many small, noticeable errors for a writer of Tyler's stature. For shame.
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2006, 384 pages).
Another satisfying pick for bookish teenage girls.
Sarah Dessen is the high priestess of pensive, thought-provoking YA: the kind of writer whose books you give your favorite moody cousin or that smart, quiet girl in your humanities class. Annabel Greene is a model - not a high-class, New York model, but a fairly normal, pretty girl whose face regularly appears in print and TV ads for local stores. This might be glamorous, were it not for three things: 1) Annabel's total social ostracization at the hands of her former best friend, after an incident at a party over the summer involving said friend's skeevy boyfriend; 2) Annabel's sister Whitney, whose own modeling career derailed after she developed a severe eating disorder; and 3) Annabel's own disenchantment with modeling, which she can't bring herself to tell her mother.
Enter Owen, a misfit with a bad reputation whose brutal honesty and apostolic devotion to underground music help crack Annabel's too-nice exterior and force her to confront the issues and people she's been trying to leave behind. Annabel avoids conflict at all costs, including the cost of honesty with herself; it's only after another girl confronts the same situation, with a bravery that Annabel lacks, that Annabel finds the strength to put herself first. Compulsively readable, with only a few bumps.