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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sister Slam and the Poetic Motormouth Road Trip, written by Linda Oatman High. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2004. $9.00 ages 12 and up

"I stuttered,
words spreading like butter,
heart fluttering,
muttering something
about how maniacally
sorry I was
to have blurted
impulsive stuff
to such a hunk."

I continue to build a list of novels in verse, and am delighted to add this wonderful book to that growing list. It is fun to read, and filled with Sister Slam's (aka Laura Crapper) take on life and love. She is keen to reinvent herself on a summer trip to New York, where she and her friend Twig will compete in a poetry slam.

Sister Slam and Twig are fully realized characters in this book of lively, heartfelt verse. She deals with the issues that many teens encounter...weight, love, loss, anger, independence. She and Twig like to write poetry and they are eager to share their writing within the encouraging 'slam' community. Off they go in her Mom's old car with youth and confidence on their side.

What happens on the way to the slam teaches them much about themselves, about each other and about things that they might want to avoid the next time. For Laura, the best moment of the trip happens when they have a fender bender with a Mustang, belonging to Jake:

"The guy's eyes
were kind of like
green lime, except sweet.
Avocado-hotto green,
the shade of Kool-Aid
with sugar."

The relationship between Jake and Laura begins with a bump...of the car and of the heart. She describes it this way:

"I was smitten, bitten
by a love bug
or something.
I didn't
even care
that I'd
just been hit.

I was in deep smit."

Jake is concerned for their welfare, considerate, gorgeous, wealthy, and quite taken with Laura from the moment they meet. Winning the slam is not what happens, but they do get much recognition for their writing and begin performing around New York. Jake is their biggest fan, cheering them on and encouraging their dreams. His parents play a role in helping the girls find more exposure and also in welcoming them to their home, while honoring who they are.

Jake is a musician, and he loves Laura. Life is good, until an emergency calls her home. She does what is right for her in the now, finding a summer job and living with her Dad. She and Jake stay in close touch, until Christmas looms and he suddenly stops communicating. She is filled with uncertainty, thinking that he has finally come to his senses and dropped her.

This book has everything to attract middle grade readers. The poetry is awesome, the characters are real and vulnerable, the story has drive and intensity, and the mood is mostly upbeat. There are so many poems I would love to share but I will end with this one that I sent to my kids:
"All that's left here
is your empty chair.
You're in the air,
and I'm a millionaire
for loving you."

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