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Book: The Theory of Everything
Author: J.J. Johnson
Source: Review copy from the publisher specifically for the Cybils
Ever since her best friend Jamie died in a freak accident, Sarah's been on a downward skid. Her grades have slipped, her snark quotient has gotten cranked up to 11. All her other friends have drifted away, and even her ever-patient boyfriend, Stenn, is starting to get fed up. And her parents, well, they've waved the end of their rope bye-bye a long time ago.
Sarah knows she's got to get a handle on her life and her relationships before she ruins all of them, but every time she gets close to feeling good, she feels as if she's betraying Jamie's memory. She knows Jamie wouldn't have wanted her to be sad forever, but how can she possibly be happy without her best friend?
I openly admit, I hadn't heard of this book before it got a finalist slot in the Cybils. I read the author's first book (This Girl is Different
) and liked it, but oh, god, a girl grieving the death of her best friend? Pass the Kleenex, we're in for a long night. I prepared myself for Bad Behavior, Meaningful Conversations and/or Blinding Revelations, Deep Connections with others who've Been There, and possibly a New Love.
Then I started reading, and I realized that I was in more capable hands than that.
What I liked best was how Sarah took responsibility for her own recovery. She makes an effort not to be so snarky, she tries to reach out to other people instead of pushing them away, and she really works at being a better person. She even takes a job at a Christmas-tree farm to make amends, and she defies her parents to do so. She does this not because she has a Blinding Revelation or a Meaningful Conversation, but because she's been aware of her downward trend ever since it started. When she makes the reasoned decision, (quite early in the book, too!) that she needs to start dragging herself out of the pit, she works
at it. She isn't great at it, especially at first, but she tries and sometimes succeeds, and it's from that place that her life starts to get good again.
There is a Wise Old Mentor character, Sarah's boss. He's a little stock. But he's also one of the first adults in awhile that trusts Sarah to do things that are hard for her, and in a way, that's the theme of the whole book. Pulling herself out of the darkness and back into life again is the hardest thing Sarah has ever done. It may be the hardest thing she will ever have to do. But ultimately, she is the one who has to do it.
Author: Sherri L Smith
Published: March 7, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
After being socked with a series of devastating hurricanes and overtaken by a virulent illness called the Fever, the inhabitants of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been abandoned by the rest of the United States. Divided into tribes of blood types, Orleans (the “new” was dropped) has fallen into barbarism and savagery, where the people fight tooth and nail to survive just one more day.
Fen is one of those people. But she has a newborn baby, the child of her dead friend Lydia, on her hands and she swears that this baby will have a better life if she has to break every law of the Outer States and the Delta to do it.
Daniel is from the Outer States, a military scientist trying to cure the Fever, who has snuck into Orleans to gather data for his quest. They run into each other in a blood-hunter’s camp (which is exactly the kind of place it sounds like) and strike a deal--she’ll take him where he needs to go, and when he leaves, he’ll take the baby with him.
When I saw this book on Netgalley, I waffled over whether to request it or not. Another dystopia? Sigh. But I loved Smith’s first book, Flygirl, and finally I decided to give a whirl. I’m so glad I did.
Was it Fen? This tough and uncompromising girl’s quest to get Baby Girl to the Wall and a better life is certainly memorable. Was it Daniel? Though he has a doctorate, he has a lot to learn about life on the other side of the wall, and surprisingly rises to the challenge. Was it the end? I . . . I can’t say anything more about the end, except that while it was devastating, it was perfect.
These are all elements that I loved, but what jumped out at me was the setting, Orleans itself. Many times in dystopias, the physical and cultural surroundings are scary and dark things, utterly wtihout redemptive factors. But Orleans is the kind of place you fall in love with, as much as for its flaws as for its beauties.Yes, it’s scary and dark. Yes, it’s not exactly a place where you’d want to live. But like the real city, it teems with life, energy, and beauty.
One of the most touching moments in the book takes place on All Saint’s Night. Fen and Daniel, hiding out, see a Mardi-Gras-like parade of people from many tribes, tacitly truced for the night. They dance and sing, “Nous sommes ici!” We are here. No matter how far Orleans has fallen, the place and the people are still there.
Book: Also Known As
Author: Robin Benway
Published: February 26, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
The daughter of two spies and a gifted safecracker herself, Maggie has had a strange childhood, to say the least. She’s been all over the world but never attended school. She’s hobnobbed with the best spies in the world, but never had a best friend her own age.
Now Maggie’s facing her first solo assignment. She’s sure she can carry it off. She’s only been in training since she was three years old. Then she discovers that pretending to be someone you’re not is easy, until you meet the people that you really want to like you for yourself.
I thoroughly enjoyed Benway’s first two books, so I picked this one up and wasn’t disappointed. Was it believable? No. Was it cotton-candy fun on a silver platter? Oh, my, yes.
Watching Maggie try to apply her spy skills to fitting in at high school (even a posh New York City high school) is the kind of fish-out-of-water stuff I really enjoy. And it was no surprise to anyone but Maggie when Jesse, the boy she's assigned to crack like one of her safes, turned out to be sweet and cute and probably the best fictional boyfriend a girl could ask for.
Her other big find was Roux, a former mean girl, long toppled from her throne and now friendless until Maggie turns up. Roux was hi-larious. I had a little trouble believing that she could have been the mean girl, because she was so delightful. Then I realized that the things that made her delightful - loads of snark, well-hidden vulnerability, and a certain high-handedness - would have actually made her a really good Bitch Queen.
If you’re jonesing for more Gallagher Girls, this should help with that. Breezy, funny, and sweet, this confection of a novel is just right to put a smile on your face.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 9
Teen: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
This sweet love story had more to do with growing up than it did the swoonypants. Make no mistake, I swooned, but the focus was on two realistically imperfect teens growing into themselves and each other.
Tween: The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
A Chinese-American kid tries to figure out where she falls in between the two labels. I really liked the realism of how both sides sometimes made Lucy feel as if she weren't American or Chinese enough.
Children: Season of Secrets by Sally Nichols
I put in my notes, "Sad but not sobby." Sally Nichols seems able to walk that line easily. A girl struggling with her mother's recent death and the subsequent upheavals in her life meets the Oak King of Celtic mythology, and begins to understand that all life is cyclical.
Because I Want To Awards
Most Thought-Provoking: Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian
This story of a small Maine town dealing with a sudden influx of Somali refugees caught my attention because I work with refugees every day. Review coming at some point soon.
Yum Yum!: A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
With recipes included in every chapter and baking throughout, this book made me hungry for something sweet.
Just Goofy Good Fun: The Butler Gets a Break by Kristin Clark Venuti
The second Bellweather book is as kooky and funny as the first. It'll bring a smile to your face, especially the end. We all need a Benway.
I don't really have much to talk about in this post, only that it is my 1000th! Yes! I have officially blathered on for 1000 of these suckers.
Now to be strictly fair, the first posts were about my life as an overseas student in London, mumblemumble years ago. (Ever wondered about my URL? This used to be called Diary of a Bloody Yank.) Even then, I used to talk about books. I let it lapse after coming back to the States, but in grad school, I started feeling the yen to talk about the children's and YA books I was reading. And I've been doing that ever since.
I'm not the most prolific blogger on the planet, but hey, slow and steady wins. Not the race. This isn't a race and I'm not about to stop after crossing this particular finish line. Just, you know, wins.
Thanks for reading. I write this blog for me, but I also write it for you.
Book: Mind Games
Author: Kiersten White
Published: February 19, 2013
Source: ARC acquired at KidLitCon 12
It’s Fia’s job to take care of her sister Annie. Although she’s the younger of the two, Annie is blind, and Fia has always known that she is responsible for her. Even after their parents’ death, even after they were taken away to a secretive school for young psychics run by the malevolent Keane family, Fia has taken care of Annie.
Now, she’s become a teenaged errand girl, sent on all the nasty missions that Keane needs done. She’ll steal, she’ll maim, she’ll even kill, because if she doesn’t, Annie will suffer. Fia can feel her soul eroding, but she’d let it go entirely if it means Annie is safe.
But what she doesn’t realize is how far Annie is prepared to go for Fia’s safety.
Guys, you have no idea how afraid I was that this would be a love story about the damaged girl and the boy who saves her soul with the Powah of Lurve. The book opens with Fia deciding not to kill the boy that is her mark, and I went, “Oh, crap.”
Rest assured, it’s not. While Fia’s decision sets the plot in motion, the boy she spares is never more than incidental. White keeps the focus on the two sisters, and their determination to protect each other. Unlike many books where it’s all about the Boy and the Lurve and the Destiny, Adam and his foil, James Keane, serve as backdrop to a story that unfolds in two timelines and two points of view. One story focuses on Annie’s slow realization over some years that the school is not the benevolent institution she thought it was. The other showcases Fia, trapped in her hitwoman role, finally breaking out.
So apparently, this is the first of a series. I'm not sure what I think about that. On the one hand, the book works nicely as a standalone. Though it came around very abruptly (I feel as if I missed a chapter showing how and why Fia made her decision), the end is satisfying enough. On the other, many things (the eeeeevil Mr. Keane and his shady plans, to be precise) are sketched in so lightly that I really wanted more expansion on them. Also, the girls are left at new beginnings, and I kinda want to see where those take them. So I'll read the sequel next year and report back on whether it holds up.
Book: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Author: Jesse Andrews
Source: Review copy from publisher specifically for the Cybils
Chubby, pasty, and socially awkward, Greg Gaines has spent most of his high school career trying not to make waves, and finding a fair amount of success. He prides himself on being accepted by every group without ever really being part of one. He stays off the radar and out of firing range in the war that is high school. Nobody knows about his secret hobby of filmmaking except for his (for lack of a better word) best friend and co-director, the undersized and perpetually furious Earl.
Then Greg's mother tells him that Rachel Kushner has leukemia, and she wants him to spend some time with her.
Who is Rachel Kushner? Nobody, really. A girl he once sort-of-maybe-but-not-really had a thing with, in eighth grade. Their parting was drawn out, awkward, and gratefully forgotten until now. Greg bows to the unstoppable force that is his mom's nagging and revives their friendship. He's just trying to make her laugh, but he finds himself opening up to her. And whether he likes it or not, Greg Gaines is about to make tsunami-size waves.
The book really isn't about Rachel, in spite of her presence in the title. As a character, she's actually rather thin (delete tasteless Greg-style joke about thinness and chemo patients). She doesn't do much. There's not even any hint of romance. But her illness forces Greg to be a friend for the first time in his life. He has to do things that are uncomfortable to him. He has to expose his own flaws, not only to her but to others. Near the end of the book, he gets suckered into making a film about Rachel. In the past, he and Earl have made one attempt at each film and went on to the next one. They were stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless. This time he makes . . .
A stupid, derivative, tasteless, and pretty much senseless film. Or rather, five of them. He keeps going. He keeps trying. And while the result is astonishingly bad (I cringed just reading the bits that we get), he still worked at it, for perhaps the first time in his life.
Like most guys, Earl and Greg show their feelings by talking around them, joking about them, and downright pretending they don't exist. You have to watch carefully to see the change in Greg from someone trying to stay invisible and unhurt to someone who is reluctantly, tremulously, openly vulnerable.
I feel like this book got overlooked a lot because of its overt similarity to the much more high-profile The Fault in Our Stars. (And trust me, there will be a review of that coming. Sometime. Soon. Ish.) But they're really not the same at all. Sure, they both talk about death in teens, and how it affects other teens, but in tone and approach they couldn't be more different. This is the death/cancer book for kids who will moan and roll their eyes all the way through The Fault in Our Stars. Myself, I loved them both.
Hop on over to the Cybils blog to discover the winners for this year. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, and many, many thanks to all the judges and organizers. This is a big job and it's all volunteer-driven.
I had a great time with my fellow judges for the YA fiction panel, and I feel awfully proud of our choice. Hope you like it as much as we did.
Also, there's some holiday about love or something. Yeah. I don't see it catching on.
Author: Megan Miranda
Published: February 5, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Things have been a little weird for Mallory ever since she killed her boyfriend, Brian, with a kitchen knife one summer night. She's ostracized by most of her friends, virtually ignored at home, and forced to take out a restraining order against Brian's grief stricken mother. It was self-defense . . . well, she's pretty sure it was self-defense. But however it happened, she's still suffering.
When her parents enroll her in boarding school, Mallory goes along with it, desperate to escape the constant reminders of what she did. But her guilt follows her to school, where bitchy classmates spread the tale of her past far and wide, and she constantly sees a green car whenever she leaves campus. Even worse, Brian himself seems to be haunting her. She keeps waking up with a painful red handprint on her shoulder, and the dreams just won't stop.
What really did happen that hot summer night? And when Mallory finally knows, what is she going to do about it?
So I'm calling it. The stealth trend of the last few years is Gothic. Some are the traditional Gothics (The Dark Unwinding, a Gothic with a steampunk cover), some are updated (Unspoken) and some go by the name "psychological thriller." But this is totally Gothic.
Girl in danger? Check. Possibly-paranormal-source-of-danger? Check. Girl being told that there is nothing wrong and it's all in her head? CHECK.
How did it work for me? Pretty well, when I was reading it. I got caught up in Mallory's gritty tale, especially since there were times when she wobbled at the edge of sanity. Few things are quite so neat as an unreliable narrator. While Mallory never got to that point, she definitely leaned in that direction. I also liked Reid, the childhood friend who turned out very cute and very sweet. And Colleen, her best friend from home, was ten pounds of awesome in a five pound bag.
After I put it down, I started thinking. Really, parents? Really?? This girl was traumatized, and there was no therapy. No counseling, court-ordered or otherwise. You just packed her off to boarding school and expected that to go well. There wasn't even a nod from school administration that their newest student might have some issues that needed tending to, although they clearly knew since the head of the jackass clique was the dean's son and the one who saw to it that the story got around. Reid was a little bit Ideal Boy for me, though it was good that he was there to balance out the total disdain from everyone else.
Maybe that's what made it most Gothic for me. Mallory has been abandoned by everyone (she's even cut off from Colleen for a short time) and she has to face down all her enemies, including her own mind, by herself.
Final verdict? I liked it, but decided not to think about it very hard.
Author: Liz Fichera
Published: January 29, 2013
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
Fred has been picked for the golf team. Nothing new there, right? But you need a few details. Fred is really Fredrika, and this is the men’s golf team. And she’s a Native girl from an Arizona rez, plopped in the midst of spoiled rich white boys from Phoenix.
One of those is Ryan, who was the best player on the team before Fred came along, and whose best friend was bumped to make room for her. He has no reason to like her, but he just can't stop thinking about her or wanting to spend time with her.
There are so many reasons that being together would be problematic. But the only thing worse is being apart.
Guys, I'm awfully torn about this book.
The Good: I got hooked (hur-hur, see what I did there?) by Fred and Ryan. I really wanted them to be together, even when they made dumb decisions and then angsted about them. They genuinely liked and respected each other once they scratched the surface even the tiniest bit, so I was well able to believe that this was more than hornypants. They had a shot at a good thing, if they were able to take it.
I also loved the sense of place. This was very clearly an Arizona book, and it brought out the majesty and desolation of the desert that I love. It also touched on the racial tensions that, unfortunately, my state is known for. (Yay us. Sarcasm flag.) I even got a happy thrill when Tucson or the U of A were mentioned. What can I say? My state just doesn't get that much literary recognition.
And . . . the Bad: See above, about the bad decisions. There were times I wanted to yell at the book: "Fred! Stop messing around with the old friend who wants to be more. You know that never ends well. Ryan! Jettison the clingy bitchy girlfriend and the jerkwad best friend. You know that never ends well. Are you two listening to me?"
Second is a SPOILER. Jump down to the last paragraph if you don't want to be SPOILED.
Good now? Okay. So, what bugged me, more and more deeply the more I think about it, is that Fred never resolved her conflict with Seth, the boy who was bumped from the team to make room for her. From the beginning, she feels out of place. Seth goes out of his way to reinforce that feeling, in hopes of bullying her right off the team so that things are the way they’re supposed to be. Is it because she’s a girl? Because she’s an Indian? Both of those things, but mostly because she replaced him.
I was waiting for the moment where she said to him, “Yknow what? Put on your big boy Underoos and deal. I deserve to be here. I deserve to play. I’m good, and you got cut because you weren’t.” But she never did. She apologized for having stepped on his toes, in fact, right up to, and throughout, the climactic scene. I felt cheated by that. It’s her conflict, and she didn’t resolve it. Instead, Ryan beat Seth to a pulp. Which, well done, because Ryan was a bit of a milquetoast about that situation for most of the book, but that shouldn’t have been the climax to her story, especially since Ryan had already made his allegiance clear in an earlier scene. In the three conflicts that this encompasses - Native vs. white, girl vs. boy, athlete vs athlete - this was unsatisfying for all three of them. And that made me unhappy because it started out so promising.
Still, I have a hard time resisting good swoon. Even with my doubts, I’ll recommend it to fans of the Perfect Chemistry series, and I'll read the next book in the series, about Ryan’s sister and Fred’s friend. But I want a more satisfying climax to both journeys.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 10
Teen (non-Cybils; can't tell you about my Cybils standout yet): Bitter End by Jennifer Brown
This was a compelling portrait of how easy it is to slide into a manipulative, abusive relationship, and how hard it is to get out again. Even though I knew Cole was a bleepity bleepity bleep from the start, I got a little sucked in myself.
Tween: Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
My favorite part of this entry into the overfull "OMG my parents are going to embarrass me to DEATH" genre was how abnormal the main character already is. She plays bass, she makes her own clothes, and she's blissfully unaware of her own weirdness until she learns to be okay with her parents' oddities.
Children: Around the World in 100 Days by Gary Blackwood
This sequel to the Jules Verne classic sees Phileas Fogg's son Harry on his own madcap quest in that newfangled contraption, the motorcar. The only thing this adventure was missing was maps. I really, really wanted maps. Guys, it's a trip around the world!
Because I Want To Awards
Good Clean Fun!: Also Known As by Robin Benway
This was a rompy, unlikely, fast-paced New York City spy story that ended rather better than I thought it would, which is just another reason I closed it with a big smile.
Best Characters: Nightspell by Leah Cypess
Every single character in this book had a slightly different motivation, and slightly different goals, and even the people who were supposed allies didn't always agree. Very nicely done.
Fluff/Serious Stuff Sandwich: Marco Impossible by Hannah Moskowitz
With a cotton-candy premise (boy is bent on publicly confessing his devotion to the love of his life, and drags his best friend into the hijinx), this book really winds up being about a complex friendship and two complicated boys. Also, the love of Marco's life is another boy, but that still manages to be part of the fluffiness. Mostly.
I'm Really Glad I Read This: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
I work in an area where many of my patrons come from exactly the kind of life that this slim little book lays out - civil war, refugee camps, and hardship. Having read it, I feel as if I understand them a little better.
So what did I think of the 2013 winners?
Overall, a pretty decent year. No huge surprises, unless you count Wonder's total lack of appearance. I know a lot of people have been loving on that book, but I've been avoiding it. Now that it hasn't won anything, I don't have to read it.
The actual Newbery winner, Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, is a book I've been hearing good things about, so I'm happy to read that.
Huzzah for Bomb getting three mentions: a Newbery Honor, a Sibert medal for nonfiction for children, and a YALSA medal for nonfiction for teens. In fact, a lot of books ended up on the same two nonfiction lists. Tasha over at Waking Brain Cells pointed out on Twitter that so much of the really good nonfic out there is for grades 6-8, which also happens to be an overlap period for the two age ranges. Hmm. Interesting to think about.
I had never heard of the Printz winner, Nick Lake's Into Darkness. That's not unusual for the Printz - in fact, this is kind of a banner year in that I've read two of the honor books (Dodger, Code Name Verity) and heard of one more (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe), leaving only one honor and the winner as unknowns.
The other big winner, besides Bomb, was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, which carried off a Printz honor, the Pura Belpre author award, and the Stonewall award. Someone pointed out that this is the first year a book with Latino characters has won the Stonewall. Initially, I went, "The award is, what, three years old? How is that significant?" And then I researched, and I learned that while it's only been included in the ALA announcements for about three years, it's actually been around since 1971. I am humbled. And yeah, that's big. Congrats, Ben Saenz!
Finally, my personal, "EEEEE!!!" moment? Seraphina winning the Morris Award. You can see how much I loved that book.
(But Bibliovore, what about the books for younger kids?)
(I'm not ignoring those! Go over to Kid Tested, Librarian Approved for the scoop on that.)
John Newbery Medal
for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
(H) Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
(H) Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
(H) Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Randolph Caldecott Medal
for the most distinguished American picture book for children
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
(H) Creepy Carrots illustrated by Peter Brown, written by Aaron Reynolds
(H) Extra Yarn, illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
(H) Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
(H) One Cool Friend illustrated by David Small, written by Toni Buzzeo
(H) Sleep Like a Tiger illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Mary Logue
Michael L. Printz Award
for excellence in literature written for young adults
In Darkness by Nick Lake
(H) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
(H) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
(H) Dodger by Terry Pratchett
(H) The White Bicycle by Beverly A Brenna
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
for the most distinguished beginning reader book
Up! Tall! and High by Ethan Long
(H) Let's Go for a Drive by Mo Willems
(H) Pete the Cat and HIs 4 Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean
(H) Rabbit and Robot: the Sleepover by Cece Bell
Coretta Scott King Awards
for the best book about the African-American experience
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney
(H) Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
(H) No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
I, Too, Am America illustrated by Bryan Collier, written by Langston Hughes
(H) H.O.R.S.E.: a game of basketball and imagination by Christopher Myers
(H) Ellen's Broom illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons
(H) I Have a Dream illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Martin Luther King Jr.
Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime Achievement
Demetria Tucker - Roanoke Public Library system
Schneider Family Book Award
for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience
Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander
Middle Grade Novel
A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
Young Adult Novel
Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis
for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences
Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
Juvenile In Justice by Richard Ross
Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
My Friend Dahmer by Derf
One Shot at Forever: a small town, an unlikely coach, and a magical baseball season by Chris Ballard
Pure by Juliana Baggott
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Andrew Carnegie Medal
for excellence in children's video
Anna, Emma, and the Condors by Green Planet Films
Margaret A. Edwards Award
for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
Tamora Pierce (specifically for the Song of the Lioness series and the Protector of the Small Quartet)
May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award
recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site
Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
for substantial and lasting contributions to literature for children
Mildred L. Batchelder Award
for an outstanding children's book translated from a language other than English and subsequently published in the United States
My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve, translated by Tammi Reichel
(H) A Game for Swallows: to die, to leave, to return by Zeina Abirached, translated by Edward Gauvin
(H) Son of a Gun by Anne de Graaf
best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults
The Fault in Our Stars written by John Green, read by Kate Rudd
Pura Belpre Awards
For the best books about the Latino cultural experience
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
(H) The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano by Sonia Manzano
Martin de Porres: the rose in the desert illustrated by David Diaz, written by Gary D. Schmidt
Robert F. Sibert Medal
for most distinguished informational book for children
Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
(H) Electric Ben: the amazing life and times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd
(H) Moonbird: a year on the wind with the great survivor B95 by Philip M Hoose
(H) Titanic: voices from the disaster by Deborah Hopkinson
Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award
Books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
(H) Drama by Raina Telgemeier
(H) Gone Gone Gone by Hannah Moskowitz
(H) October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepherd by Leslea Newman
(H) Sparks: the epic, completely true blue, (almost) holy quest of Debbie by SJ Adams
William C. Morris Award
for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
(F) Wonder Show by Hannah Rodgers Barnaby
(F) Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
(F) After the Snow by S.D. Crockett
(F) The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth
YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults during a November 1 – October 31 publishing year.
Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
(F) Steve Jobs: the man who thought different by Karen Blumenthal
(F) Moonbird: a year on the wind with the great survivor B95 by Philip M Hoose
(F) Titanic: voices from the disaster by Deborah Hopkinson
(F) We've Got a Job: the 1963 Birmingham children's march by Cynthia Levinson
Book: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Source: ARC from colleague
Katharine, a poor relation, is used to doing her aunt’s dirty work for her. Sent off to the country in order to prove her uncle mad so that her aunt (not his wife; his sister-in-law) can gain control of all his lovely money for her spoilt son, she accepts it as another dirty job she has to do in order to keep a roof over her head.
But in the country, she discovers a ramshackle country house, a fascinating and childlike uncle who makes mechanical works of genius, and maybe a home. Something strange is happening to her, however. She’s sleepwalking, hearing things, and nobody will believe her that she isn’t doing any of it on purpose.
Is she going mad?
Book: The Twin’s Daughter
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Source: purchased from BetterWorldBooks.com
The day she answered the door, Lucy’s life took a sharp right turn. For the person at the door looked exactly like her mother--and yet, was not. It was her mother’s twin sister, Helen. Separated at birth and raised in very different circumstances, Helen wants nothing more than to meet her sister. Lucy's mother, for her part, greets her unexpected sister with apparently open arms. Helen gets adopted into the family, educated, dressed, and presented to society.
As her aunt begins to more and more closely resemble Lucy’s mother, it becomes harder and harder for Lucy to tell them apart. Then tragedy strikes. One of the twins dies, the apparent victim of a murderous housebreaker, and one lives. The living one is Lucy’s mother . . . or is she?
I ran across both these books in a span of about two weeks, and their Gothic nature was a surprise to me. I was expecting The Dark Unwinding to be a steampunk, mostly on the basis of the cover, and The Twin’s Daughter to be a historical mystery.
They both had elements of the genres I first assigned them to. What, then, made them particularly Gothic? I have a little better awareness of this genre and all its tropes after reading Sarah Rees Brennan’s blog, which had a strong focus on Gothic novels leading up the publication of Unspoken, her own updated Gothic. There were all sorts of things, but what it came down to was girls facing down peril alone. She had a very neat post talking about how this reflected girls’ and women’s real positions before they had the right to vote, control their own money, or own property. They really were in peril much of the time, and around the world, many women still are.
Simply to be in peril does not make you a Gothic heroine. You have to be the only one that recognizes or acknowledges it, your concerns are derided or ignored, and you have to fight it on your own. You can have a few allies, but it's really all you, and that's what makes it so compelling.
Both these books drew their power from this girl-against-the-forces-of-evil tension. They weren't perfect novels by any means, but they kept me flipping pages. That is also the great fun of Gothic novels, and why they've been in and out of fashion in popular literature for at least two hundred years.
Book: Five Flavors of Dumb
Author: John Antony
Source: Local Library
Teen rock band Dumb has a new manager. She doesn’t know anything about music. She barely knows anything about the band members, narcissistic Josh, passive Will, and hardcore Tash. But she is ferociously good at chess, and she’s promised Dumb’s front-man Josh that she can wheel-deal Dumb’s way to stardom, or at least to paying gigs. Oh, and she’s deaf.
As Piper dives deeper into the world of hard rock and struggles to juggle the five (she adds two new members) personalities that make up Dumb, she gains self-confidence and a better understanding of both music and how families, her own in particular, function . . . or don’t.
This won the Schneider Book award a couple of years ago, and I generally add award-winners to my list. It’s so much more than a book about being deaf, though. Sure, it delves into that. Piper, the only deaf member of a hearing family and a hearing school, feels out of place and ignored. She never pities herself for that, however. She gets frustrated, sometimes angry, but never self-pitying or martyrish. She feels that her parents think of her as the “flawed” child, and come to find out, she’s somewhat right.
But it’s also about music, and about people, and families, born or assembled. It's about business and standing behind the promises you make and functioning in an adult world. Piper trips and falls down over things that have nothing to do with her deafness, and then picks herself up again.
There was one thing that did not set right. In the beginning of the book, we’re told that Piper’s parents raided her college fund to pay for her baby sister’s cochlear implant (something Piper is too old for). The money was left specifically to Piper by her deaf grandparents, and she has it earmarked for a specific university that serves the deaf and hearing-impaired, someplace where she will finally stop feeling out of place. This money is never replaced, and no real apology is ever given. Sure, it’s symptomatic of the fractures in the family that ultimately get repaired, and yes, medical procedure for a baby, but I’m still not happy that it was dropped with a “well, you can get financial aid!”
That’s a nitpick I had to get off my chest. Overall, I'd recommend this to music-lovers, contemporary readers, and anybody who wants a great heroine.
Book: Hokey Pokey
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Published: January 8, 2013
Source: Review copy via NetGalley
Hokey Pokey is a wild and wonderful desert place, where kids run wild and there’s not an adult to be found. The king of them all is Jack, who has the fastest bike, the kindest heart, and the direst nemesis.
Then one day, Jack wakes up to find that his beloved bike, Scramjet, has been taken. Surely the evil girl Jubilee is the culprit, isn’t she? But as the day progresses, Jack begins to understand that his bike disappeared for a different reason. More, he comes to realize that it’s almost time for him to leave Hokey Pokey. But where will he go from there?
This is a weird little book. Fables often are. Spinelli also uses the surroundings, a Wild West brand of Never-Neverland, and various oddball constructions and word combinations to reinforce the outlandish feel of the book, and the notion that the world of childhood is set apart from the rest of the world, and maybe from the rest of your life.
Overly idealized? You could make a case for that. But we can argue about adult concepts of kids' understanding of the world some other time. That's not what the book is really about. It’s about the moment when you start to leave childhood behind, but instead of rushing forward to what’s next, this book dwells on what’s being left behind, and the gentle melancholy that comes when you realize that you've outgrown your skin when you weren't looking. The wars, the friendships, the simple pleasures and fears of childhood are all falling away.
It also examines the reactions of those around Jack as they see him change and grow beyond them. His two best friends, the little kids who idolize him, even Jubilee, whose nemesis status fades over the course of the day, realize that he's drifting away and react in their own ways that ring true.
It won’t be a slam dunk for every kid. In fact, I kind of want to try this out on a real kid before I make any conclusions on its likely appeal. (And side note: that cover? No. It looks like a pretentious adult literary novel, maybe about a kidnapped child or something. Just . . . no.) But I have the feeling that the right kid will read this book with a growing sense of recognition, either for what he is going through at the moment, or for what she passed through a long time ago and is only now realizing that it was a major shift in her life.
Mind, you haven't missed it, because there are people living in caves in the Marianas Trench who've blogged about some of this stuff. But if I don't write about this, they'll take away my kidlit blogger card.
- Cybils! On the the 1st, the Cybils finalists were announced. And because they're awesome, the Cybils team already has a printable PDF for teachers, parents, and librarians of the finalists. I'm a second-round judge for the YA category. Did you see the list that my fabulous fellow judges and I get to choose from? It has Code Name Verity AND I Hunt Killers. Seriously, guys, this is gonna be hard.
- Comment Challenge! It starts today, y'all. MotherReader and Lee Wind are running their famous Comment Challenge once again, because they're awesome like that. Never done it before? It works like this: Sign up. Pledge to comment at least 5 comments a day for 21 days, from 1/11 to 1/31. (That is so 21 days. Shup.) Watch as other people visit your blog and comment too. Sound good? Hop over to Lee's blog to sign up.
- ALA Youth Media awards! Otherwise known as the Newbery, the Caldecott, and an increasing boatload of others. They're still a little over two weeks away, (January 28th), which means the kidlit community is progressing through the frothing-at-the-mouth stage of speculation on the winners and headed full tilt toward the uncontrollable twitches and vague death threats. (Probable actual quote: "If Wonder doesn't win something, I will BURN THINGS.") Me? I have no opinions. No, honestly. I'm still reading stuff from 2011, guys. I have no idea. I haven't even read Wonder. I just get up for the webcast at ridiculous hours of the morning for the Twitter party.
Okay, that's enough. Over and out, folks. Over and out.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 102
Standouts (titles link to my reviews)
Teen: Selected in June: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
"This book tore out my heart, stomped on it, then sat down next to me and offered me a cigarette and a very strong drink."
Tween: Selected in July: Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
"How do you follow up a Newbery winner? With another book that seems simple on the surface, but bubbles with secrets underneath."
Children: Selected in March: Keeper by Kathi Appelt
"It's not an action-packed heart-thumper of a book, although there are certainly tense moments. It meanders, it daydreams, it wanders. It has that magical-realism-type acceptance of the marvelous and fantastical next to the everyday. You have to assemble the real stories from the crumbs dropped by the author."
Book: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Author: Morgan Matson
Source: Local Library
It was supposed to be a simple road trip. A cross-country trek for the purpose of getting the family car from California to Connecticut, carefully charted out by Amy's mother for maximum speed. Still numb from her father's recent death and the sudden changes in her life, Amy doesn't make a peep of protest, even when she's saddled with an unwelcome co-pilot in the person of her mom's friend's college-age son. Fine. Whatever. Someone else to do the driving.
Then Roger suggests a detour. Which turns into a bigger detour. Then they're off the map entirely, and journeying through all the dark places in their own hearts, with nothing to hold on to but each other.
So, this book was not what I was expecting. (I say that a lot in this blog. I like the books that surprise me.) I thought it would be a cute road-trip romp, with hijinks, and maybe wildlife, and definitely smooching. I didn't expect this quiet, reflective book, shimmering with pain, which gets worse before it gets better. (Okay, fine, there was smooching, too, and more. Just in case you were wondering.)
The road-trip-as-emotional-journey metaphor is a classic for a reason. You get out of your rut, you see new things, and of course, you change yourself, so that by the time you get back to your regular life you're able to see it more clearly. While the title references both Amy and Roger, this is really Amy's book. Roger has his own arc--a relationship that ended badly, some closure sorely needed--but Amy is front and center. We see her almost catatonic at the beginning, unable to muster up the energy to care about anything. As they trek on, encountering places and things that were special to her dad, we're treated to flashbacks that slowly assemble themselves into a picture of how Amy's dad died and why she's laboring under so much guilt. We also see her come back to life, learning to enjoy it again and also to accept what happened.
I couldn't decide whether I was disappointed or not by the source of Amy's guilt. On the one hand, she wasn't directly responsible for his death. A car ran a red light and slammed into the car she was driving, with her dad in the passenger seat. In some ways, it felt as if she was blowing it up far too big. On the other, that's precisely what she needed to realize. It was one of those horrible, awful things that happen sometimes. Living, really living, isn't a betrayal of the person you loved--it's a tribute.
I really, really wanted to go on a road trip after reading this book, and also download pretty much the entire soundtrack (chapters are punctuated by mixes assembled by the characters).
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 4
Teen: Unwholly by Neal Schusterman
Confess it; aren't you a little wary of something suddenly becoming a trilogy when previously it was a stand-alone? This one worked. Schusterman takes everything and everybody from the first book, adds some new twists and characters, and hits blend with gusto. Be warned; there are scenes of slaughter. Not graphic, but it's quite clear that the majority don't just make it out with a couple of owies.
Tween: The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie
A good old-fashioned school adventure story, with kooky touches (school mascot: Hilda the Chicken!) I thoroughly enjoyed this. Review soon.
Children: The Memory Bank by Carolyn Coman
This hybrid (half text, half story-told-in-pictures) book was lovely and imaginative and unique and if I can wrap my head around it, there may be an actual review soon.
Because I Want To Awards
Scary Teens: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
Is two enough to call it a trend? Whatevs; I will. Like Unwholly, this book was all about the adult fear of teenage power. In this case, it's genuinely scary-ass psychic powers. Awesome premise, somewhat uneven execution, but overall, I'll read the next book.
Food for Thought: The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
I had a grand total of two Barbies in my lifetime, but this book was an interesting look at a loved and hated American icon. I enjoyed the history of Mattel, and the evolution of Barbie over the years.
Book Review: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Source: Local library
In the future, a New Victorian society has arisen, hearkening back to the old Victorian ways of manners, social strata, and rigid morality. In the middle of this is Nora Dearly, a girl of middling-high social rank, who still isn't quite over her father's death a year ago. As if that weren't bad enough, she's abruptly kidnapped and taken away to a military base infested with the undead.
The soldiers of Z Company are not, however, the mindless beasts of song and story. As she gets to know them, especially the handsome young captain, Bram Griswold, Nora begins to realize that undead people are still people. They walk, they talk, they laugh and eat and dance and enjoy taking the piss out of their friends, and they can still, she learns, fall in love.
Then she gets another bombshell. Her father is still alive. After a fashion. But he's missing, and the work he's been doing on a zombie vaccine is missing with him. Meanwhile, back in New London, there's a mysterious plague that nobody wants to admit is even happening. And Z Company's living leader, Captain Wolfe, has a secret agenda of his own.
It's going to take strong stuff to avert the zombie apocalypse and rescue her father. Nora may be a New Victorian girl, but she's not that prim, she's decidedly improper, and she's up for the challenge.
When zombies started to be "the next big thing," I decided that it was going to be a hard job to get me to fall for a zombie romance. They're not exactly objects of lust. I mean, things fall off. Possibly important things. Just sayin'.
Well, I'm eating my words. Nora and Bram's romance was convincing and sweet, mostly because both Nora and Bram were strong and active characters in their own right. Nora has a dear friend back in New Victoria that she's trying to reach. Bram leads a company of soldiers and is devoted to Dr. Dearly. There's stuff going on in their lives, and more than that, there's no insta-love. Initial attraction, yes, but it was Bram's treatment of Nora as a rational human being who deserved to be told what was going on that really won her, and myself, over
Okay, so that's the good stuff. Now for the things I didn't love so much. For a zombie/steampunk adventure, the pacing dragged a lot harder than it had any right to do, and this is directly related to my other point: the whole thing is written in first person, even though there had multiple POV characters and plotlines. This means that there were five first-person narrators. This was . . . a lot. I got used to it, but I still found myself floundering when the POV switched, especially when it was between two characters in the same scene.
Overall, I enjoyed this wickedly fun, wickedly funny take on zombie/steampunk adventure. As long as the pacing problem and the POV problem get fixed, I'm ready to pick up the next one.
Author: Eishes Chayil
Source: Local Library
Gittel is seventeen, approaching high school graduation and hoping to be married soon after, like all the other girls in her small Hassidic sect. But as adulthood looms, she starts dreaming of her best friend, Devory, who killed herself at the age of nine.
Gittel knew something terrible was happening to Devory, something she could only escape through suicide, but she wasn’t able to understand or confront it, until now. Now, she knows that Devory was being sexually abused by a family member. But this abuse isn’t the only reason she killed herself. Because what happened to Devory is not nearly so bad as what happened when she tried to tell.
Okay, I’m a latecomer to this book. A couple of years ago, it was all anybody was talking about. I dutifully added it to my list and went about my business. When it turned up as my next read, I picked it up and was absolutely floored by the power and sadness in this story.
Like the adults and teens reading, Gittel is looking at a defenseless child, being victimized and then being told that she is a terrible person for trying to speak out about it. Those kinds of things don’t happen here, people say to Devory, and then later to Gittel. Those are things the goyim (non-Jews) do. You are making it up. You are trying to cause trouble for a good person.
Written by a Hassidic Jewish woman and based on something that happened in her real life, the book doesn’t attempt to demonise or defend Gittel's world. It simply is. She is surrounded by a loving community, but one blind to its own faults. Chayil portrays both the love and the faults honestly, and that makes the story more powerful. It’s one thing to be a repressive cult that systematically abuses certain members. This gets portrayed quite a lot in fiction. It’s quite another to be a group of honest, faithful, imperfect human beings who are too afraid to look at the darkness in their protected bubble, who strap on their blinders and say, “This doesn’t happen here, so that means it didn’t happen.”
It’s not an easy process for Gittel to speak out. It almost destroys her own fledgling marriage. Yet all her life, she has been held to the standard of an Eishes Chayil, a Woman of Valor, who is devout and strong. Now, she knows that to be a true Eishes Chayil, she must rise and speak.
P.S. And then, right after I finished writing this review, this came out in the paper.
Book: The Memory Bank
Author: Carolyn Coman
Illustrator: Rob Shepperton
Source: Local Library
Hope has always known that her parents were pretty much gigantic failures in the loving and nurturing department. But even she is taken aback when they dump her little sister, Honey, on the side of the road for laughing too much during a long car ride. They tear off, leaving a small child in a cloud of dust, and order Hope to forget her.
Hope retreats into hours and hours of sleep so she can dream of her sister, and leaves real life behind. Then she gets repossessed by the Memory Bank, because she’s been spending so much time asleep that she hasn’t made any new memories.
For the first time in her life, Hope finds love and approval. But still, Honey is out there somewhere, and Hope knows she needs to find her. She has a feeling that the Memory Bank holds the key.
Often with these books, you try to think of other books to compare them to. I knew before I was a quarter of the way through that The Memory Bank was utterly unique. It’s sort of Dahl/Grimm-esque, with the awful parents, but with more gentleness than those. Honey’s story after her abandonment is told almost exclusively in pictures, while Hope’s is told in text. This makes it a very, very quick read. I think I tore through it in about an hour. It's a quirky little book, maybe not perfect for every kid, but the ones who love magnificent flights of fancy with a powerful human underpinning will eat it up.
Book: Mostly Good Girls
Author: Leila Sales
Source: Local Library
Violet is the most conscientious scholar at the exclusive Westfield school, the hardest worker, the long-suffering editor of the world’s most ludicrous lit magazine. Her life revolves around getting into a good college, with all the attendent studying and standardized-test-taking stress that entails.
What saves her sanity is her best friend Katie. They pass snarky notes in class, mock their classmates ferociously, and take on silly projects together. Violet can’t imagine life without her. But things are changing. Katie’s changing, and if Violet wants to keep her best friend, she’s going to have to learn to let go.
The format of this book is an interesting one. Each chapter is almost like a short story or a vignette in itself. They rarely build on the chapter immediately preceding, and they seem to be in the order they are largely due to chronology. But through the course of these cobbled-together bits, you see the slow change in Violet and Katie’s relationship. Which of course is how these things happen, right? The change happens, the crisis or the break or even the separation, and you go, “Where did that come from?!” Then you look back over the last few months or years and go, “Oh. Yeah. There. And there. And I think there too.”
Okay, so this all sounds very Literary and Important and Somber and Meaningful. But I would be doing you a disservice if I let you think that was the book I read, because the book I read was hilarious. Katie and Violet are best friends because they are both whip-smart and utterly irreverent (mostly inside her head in Violet’s case). Their phone conversations alone are masterful in their kookiness.
Poignant and funny, this book has ensured that Leila Sales makes it onto my auto-read list.
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By the Numbers
Review Copies: 6
Teen: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
So the premise is what you'd get if a Lifetime movie did unspeakable things with a Lurlene McDaniel book. But the execution is really that good. The story doesn't so much tug your heartstrings as use your own funnybone to rip them out.
Tween: Agent Q, or the Smell of Danger! by M.T. Anderson
I read this book after a bunch of lackluster experiences, and it was just what I needed. Irreverent, hilarious, and fast-paced, it's like Bond met "Airplane!" and they mainlined a bunch of Pixy Stix.
Children: The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham
Yeeeep! This is a creepy, creepy book. Twelve-year-old Teddy moves to a new town and discovers that every ten years, a twelve-year-old boy goes missing around the giant sycamore tree next door. And the last disappearance? Ten years ago exactly. Brrrr.
Because I Want To Awards
Robots in Love!: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Okay, one robot, and that's really an android. I love a fairytale retelling, but sometimes they can twist themselves into so many knots trying to be faithful to the original that it just becames sort of bland. Not so this book.
I Hate You With Every Fiber of My Being, Author: Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
But not, y'know, in the bad way. Step into a New Orleans that's been knocked back to the Stone Age by hurricane after hurricane, and take the ride with tough Fen and sheltered Daniel. Root for them as they brave the dangers of man and nature to try to get a newborn baby over the Wall and to a better life. Fuller review coming soon, when I've recovered from the end. Sob.
I Wish This was Made Up: Trash by Andy Mulligan
Three trash pickers discover a treasure, and a mystery that could change everything in their corrupt Third-World country. This slim novel hit harder because it's made inescapably clear that, while the country and politicians are made up, the same corruption, poverty, and despair exists all over the world.
Who Says History Can't Be Awesome?: Bomb: the race to build--and steal--the world's most dangerous weapon by Steve Sheinkin
Science! Espionage! Betrayal! It's all here, and all true.