Author: Susan Cain
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Did you know that somewhere between one-third and one-half of the people in this world are introverts? Sure doesn’t seem like it most times. In fact, a lot of the time, it seems like if you’re not talking all the time and involved in all sorts of social activities, there’s something wrong with you. But what if there’s more to the quiet people than meets the eye? If there are things hidden inside that the extroverts of the world would do well to take the time to listen to?
I’m usually not really into non-fiction very much, but I really enjoyed reading Quiet. As someone who is constantly being told to speak up, to be more aggressive, to be more involved, I feel the messages of this book very personally. It does a great job of affirming introverts without excusing them from the real world–because let’s face it, it’s probably impossible to just hide away somewhere for the rest of your life. At the same time, this book provides a powerful message for extroverts, showing a bit of what’s going on inside quiet people, the different things they need, and the unexpected insights that introverts can have. The author does a good job of compiling lots of different research and drawing logical conclusions from both that and her own experience, while at the same time presenting the material in a very readable, approachable manner. One of the things I most appreciated was the practical recommendations Cain gave for handling life as an introvert–nothing groundbreaking perhaps, but very practical things that you might not think of normally. I would recommend Quiet especially for introverts who need encouragement and (perhaps even more so) for extroverts.
Created by Sakura River Interactive
My rating: 3 of 5
Sorayama high-school student Justin has always had a knack for computers, and in a country that’s struggling to recover from technological disaster after the Y2K bug hit, that skill is quite an asset. After winning some prize money for a video game he built, Justin decides to make a business of it, designing video games and selling them at conventions around the country. He even ends up hiring some cute classmates, Cleo (an artist) and Aki (a musician as well as a friend who’s always on his case) to help him with the work. Who knows, if he does well enough, Justin might even go into the business full-time after graduation.
So, basically Infinite Game Works Episode 0 is a simulation/visual novel game that follows Justin in his last year or so of high school as he designs video games and interacts with his friends. It’s by the same creators as Fading Hearts, and is set in the same fictional country at the same time. (Actually, Justin even ends up chatting with Ryu online a few times during Infinite Game Works.) The premise of the game was interesting, and the art and music were nice. I think where IG fails a bit is that it’s an early product for the creators and it’s just kind of clunky at times. The story is relatively linear, without many choices (and it’s sometimes hard to tell if the choices even matter). The simulation of game creation was quite functional in its mechanics, but I felt the level was too easy for the amount of time allowed between games. And I kept having this weird malfunction where then screen would black out–although I found that if I minimized the window then opened it again it would auto-correct, so no big. I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re bored and can get the game inexpensively, it might be a fun way to pass the time, but for most people, I wouldn’t recommend putting a lot of time or money into the game. Still, I actually did enjoy playing Infinite Game Works Episode 0. And I’m excited that Sakura River Interactive is finalizing an Episode 1 that’s a sequel (and is supposed to have fixed a lot of the mechanical bugs); that will be fun to try.
Note: This game is available from Steam and also directly from Sakura River Interactive–I played the version from Steam.
Author: Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Antsy Bonano can’t remember the first time he met Calvin Schwa, known to one and all as “The Schwa”. But then most folks can’t; the Schwa’s just like that. You can be right next to him and forget he’s even there . . . sort of like he chameleon’s into the surroundings. And he’s hard to even think about for long, your thoughts just sort of wander off to other things. The Schwa has been aware of this circumstance–something Antsy refers to as being “functionally invisible” or “The Schwa Effect”–for most of his life, but it’s only when Antsy notices him enough to actually pay attention that someone finds a way to capitalize on this phenomenon. The two quickly become partners, raking in money from jobs and dares. But even in the midst of his newfound popularity, the Schwa still worries what will happen if his deepest fears come true and he’s forgotten altogether . . . a fear that seems less unlikely the longer Antsy knows him.
Neal Shusterman’s novels are always exceptional and original, and The Schwa Was Here is no exception. This is a delightful middle grade/high school contemporary novel that slips comfortably into the realm of the tall tale, similar to how Louis Sachar and Daniel Pinkwater’s stories tend to. The characters are robust and interesting, and as long as you accept the premise of “The Schwa Effect” the story is absolutely fascinating. It makes you take a slightly different look at daily life and the people around you. Plus there’s that element of mystery scattered throughout. The story ranges from enigmatic to funny, commonplace to philosophical in an instant, examining a variety of situations and relationships and surprising the reader in wonderful ways. Plus, the whole tale is told in Antsy’s delightful Brooklyn tone–his voice is really fun to read. And I love the way he sometimes wanders off topic, clearly illustrating his point about how forgettable the Schwa really is. I would highly recommend The Schwa Was Here to basically anyone, but especially to those who enjoy a fresh, fun look at middle grade stories.
Note: The Schwa Was Here is connected to Shusterman’s Antsy Does Time—technically it precedes Antsy Does Time–but it’s totally ok to read them in either order. No major spoilers or plot problems either way.
Author: Judith Viorst
Illustrator: Lane Smith
Following her adventures with the Brontosaurus (see Lulu and the Brontosaurus), Lulu is, well, a less obnoxious child, at least. But she still wants what she wants when she wants it, so when her parents tell her absolutely no, they can’t afford what she wants and she’ll have to work to get it herself, Lulu finds herself in a bit of a quandary. Still, she’s nothing if not stubborn and determined. A little advertising and asking around gets her a job walking three of the neighbors dogs. Now if only she had the slightest idea how to manage dogs. And if only the one person willing to teach her weren’t the neighborhood’s worst do-gooder ever!
I found Lulu Walks the Dogs to be quite entertaining. It’s really more of an easy reader/early- to mid-elementary level, but it’s a fun story for any age. I can relate to Lulu in her distaste for Fleischman the goody-two-shoes who only wants to help–I’m the sort who can never get through Little Lord Fauntleroy because I want to puke! But in spite of having a bratty main character, Viorst brings out ideas like working together and being polite even when you don’t feel like it–or even like the person you’re trying to be polite to. It also brings up the idea of entrepreneurship, which you don’t see much of at this reading level–I have mixed feelings about this, as I think commercialism and mercenary ideas are too prevalent in society anyhow, but I do think it’s important for kids to learn to work for things they want. It’s a good discussion book in that regard. Plus it’s just plain fun, between the author’s tongue-in-cheek style and Lulu’s distresses with the dogs. The art’s fun and fitting too–Lane Smith is fantastic! Lulu Walks the Dogs is an entertaining and unusual story that’s definitely on my recommended list.