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I took a job far from home. Two thousand miles, to be exact. It wasn't exactly what I wanted. But then, suddenly, somehow, fate smiled. I'm a Librarian. The best, absolute best part of my job? Giving teens books.
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Once upon a time (aka June, 2012) Kelly Jensen
and I presented on passive programming at ALA Annual in Anaheim. It was a delightfully nerve-wracking experience. Afterward, we were asked to write an article on the subject of our talk. Today, many moons later, that article has posted with Programming Librarian
, and can be read here
Feedback and your experiences with the subject are welcome!
One thing that Kelly and I were very committed to including were specific examples of how you can implement our recommendations (some culled from personal experience, some are well-known adaptations, and some are blatantly stolen from here and there). Nothing frustrates me more when reading professional material than eight paragraphs of how awesome this thing that librarian did was, followed up with zero practical info about how to reproduce it. It wastes everyone's time, and frankly, it's tacky self-promo in a space that should be more about professional enrichment, advice, and inspiration (I has a beef*). That was exactly the opposite what Kelly and I were going for. Not that we want to be all touchy-feely objects of inspiration. That would be gross. Our goal was more of the line of thinking about reaching different segments of your teen population. Which is pretty much what we said in our last paragraph:"Passive programming gives teens another avenue and level in which to interact and connect with the library. It will hopefully lead to larger, more obvious engagement, but even if it doesnâ€™t, even if a teen never once actually participates in a passive program, those teens will still have seen the effort. Whether or not they embrace the activities, it communicates to them that they are wanted and valued; that the teen area is truly their space. Thatâ€™s the long game. We want patrons, no matter their age, to understand that they own the library."
ANYWAY. We did a thing, and even though the whole package, including the presentation** has been something Kelly & I have been thinking about and experimenting with for well (well
) over a year now, I, apparently, still feel strongly about the subject. So, give it a read
. See if you can apply any of it to your library or life. Let us know how it turns out.*It's really hard for me to find time to read professional journals. I get cranky when you don't give me the tools for reproduction. Don't bother writing if you're going to be all selfish about it. /meanieness**speech notes can be found here, and the Prezi here.
I'm working my way through weeding the 600s in teen non-fiction. The first step, for me, is to get rid of some of the stuff that hasn't circulated in at least a year. What this also catches are books that have disappeared. Walked off. Maybe hiding under the ficus.
Teen 613.83 Harmon
Hallucinogens: The Dangers of Distorted Reality
Daniel E. Harmon
Teen 613.9071 Kemp
Teen 613.951 Shaw
This Book is About Sex
Teen 614.17 Denega
Skulls and Skeletons
Teen 618.9285 Attenti
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
Teen 637.7 Garza
Stuff on My Mutt
Teen 646.3083 Warrick
Style Trix for Cool Chix
Teen 646.7008 Shaw
I don't think that there are really any conclusions to be made, but it's probably a decent look at what type of stuff is popular in the Dewy century. I should compare this to the teen titles that do actually have the highest recorded circulation, although I have no doubt that, with maybe the exception of the ADHD title, these are all the type of browsable nf that teens will look at in the library and not check out. Or, you know, steal.
I stole The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze from my fake boss at her birthday party last night. I read it in one sitting, so there is obviously a lot going right in the novel. But that's less interesting than talking about the niggling issues I have about it that sully the fact that it was obviously a unique approach to the post-apocalyptic trend and very well paced.
Catastrophic events led to every natural disaster you can think of battering the Earth. After the Seventeen Days, the British Royalty emerged from their bomb shelter beneath Buckingham Palace. All communication was down, so they sent a ship to contact someone, anyone, outside of England. That ship never returned. For all any of the English know, they are the last people in alive in the world. With the environment ravaged, and the sun dropping flaming bits of itself for further destruction, most of the country is starving. Badly enough that in some quarters cannibals roam what remains of forrests. There is civil unrest, and it's going to kill the king and queen -Eliza's parents.
I would say that my biggest issue starts with the fact that it is made very clear on page 13 that Eliza isn't supposed to be a helpless girl:
"After the Seventeen Days, without phones or computers or television, Mary [elder sister] and I amused ourselves play-fighting with the Royal Swords. The Master of Arms gave us lessons, teaching us to slash, stab, and parry. Mary and I would fence against each other, betting on the little luxuries that were still left over from before: a square of Cadbury chocolate, a piece of spearmint gum. Later, when the government food rations were gone, we would take spears and throwing knives to the woods around Balmoral, hunting the snakes and pigeons and few other creatures that remained. I was surprised to find that I had quite good aim, unlike Mary, who never could get the hang of throwing a knife."
Despite her obvious natural skills that were trained over the course of several years with, presumably, one of the best teachers one would find in England, Eliza, at practically every turn, gets saved by the boy. This is not to say that she doesn't fight, or even have modest success at hand-to-hand combat, but that 9 out of 10 times, when she's in dire straights, the love interest, Wesley, suddenly appears to get her out of the situation.
My second issue gets spoilery. So, massive civil unrest leads to a coup. Eliza barely escapes alive, her parents are dead, her brother and sister have been captured but are inexplicably being kept alive. For months. The leader of the insurection has made no secret of his intention to crown himself king. Why keep two heirs around to threaten your legitimacy? Futhermore, and more importantly, as we near the end, the populace, needing only an inspirational heroine they obviously find in Eliza, rise up against the over-the-top evil of the insurection. They conquer Newcastle by surprise and suffer little to no loss despite their inferior numbers, training, and weaponry. Getting to this fighting back stage happens all to quickly and cleanly, and unlike real war, no one close to Eliza is ever seriously wounded, let alone killed. Except her poor expendable parents whose deaths more or less start everything off.
Also, horses seem to travel preternaturally fast in this book. I can't say for certain as time passage was vague, but as Eliza flees London on her stolen warhorse she sees a sign saying "Scotland 380 miles" (p 189). Two short chapters, a nap, and a couple of dispatched cannibals later, she's made it to Balmoral Castle, which, according to Google Maps is 510 miles away from the Tower of Lond
I really, really didn't think much about yesterday's post about the blatant sexism in Scholastic's Survive Anything books. I opened my committee box from Scholastic, and there they were. I couldn't not look at them, and I couldn't help but notice how it played into gender stereotypes in a shockingly obvious and stupidly offensive way. So I dusted off this blog and wrote a fairly minimalist entry, trusting that in typing out the table of contents the books would speak for themselves. They did.
I didn't expect it to spread through Twitter like WILDFIRE. I figured a few of my friends would find it as obnoxious as I, but I didn't expect the great Ryan North (incidentally, my husband's IDOL, no joke) to pick it up (with a fat cut & paste no less) and run with it all over the place. I spent the day talking to 700 middle school students about books, reading, and the library, so what happened next is really all your story. You spread the issue thousands upon thousands of times on Twitter. You linked to it on Facebook, on Tumblr, and Reddit. It was picked up by BuzzFeed and Jezebel (Jezebel, in a failed example of journalism, didn't credit me, but whatevs).
And Scholastic? They heard you. In a terse post, they announced that no further copies will be made available." Whatever that means. No additional printings would be my guess.
Which puts me in sort of a strange mind. On one hand, VICTORY! We have stood up for our children and refused gender boxes! On the other, there wasn't really anything wrong with most (definitely not all - some of the girl language was downright patronizing) of the content, just that it assigned specific gender roles in a nonsensical out-dated, way. Objections would not have been had if Boys Only! and Girls Only! hadn't appeared on the cover. Make them gender neutral, and it's possible I would have talked these up to the couple thousand students I see this time of year. So, now that these books are no more, my little librarian mind is confused: Did I just instigate some sort of progressive-minded censorship? Regardless, let's hope that Scholastic will keep this in mind the next time they think creating gendered books is spiffy keen.
For some lols, check out the apology North wanted to get from Scholastic.
At BEA Children's Book and Author Breakfast:
"There's a lot of talk about enhanced e-books," Green said. "What we do best does not need or benefit from what we call enhancement. We are good at giving people rich and immersive experiences. I believe story trumps everything." After a round of applause, he continued, "To be fair, it's like being in a room full of elephants, talking to elephants about how great elephants are." -via Shelf Awareness
And that's what happens when you speak in a vacuum. You say things that have a pesky tendency to be impossible absolutes. Story does trump everything. It trumps mediocre writing, and it's why Stephanie Meyer and Rick Riordan are wealthy. But words are not the only way to tell a story.
I have to confess here that I have a somewhat vested interest in this topic. Not financial or anything, but I'm going to be speaking at YALSA's 2012 YA Literature Symposium about transmedia,* an element of which lately, is often manifesting as "enhanced e-books." I've been thinking about them for a long time. Green might exist in a world full of really good, eager readers, who don't desire anything more than the world they create in their mind. However, to say that story can not benefit from additional media shortchanges the potential of an art form. You might not care for watercolor, but it doesn't make it intrinsically of less value artistically than oil paint. Nor does it make that painting as a whole of less value, or the story that it tells less rich. It's just a different media. Stories don't need a printing press.
John Green may not feel that his novels will benefit from any "enhancements." I feel that Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt and the Leviathan series by Westerfeld benefited from illustrations. I feel that the audio version of The Invention of Hugo Cabret benefited from sound effects. I feel that Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral benefited from the embedded youtube clips in the e-book version, rather than just the link text in the print format. I believe that John Green should spend some time with Patrick Carmen.
Imagine reading an ebook where the author triggers specifically chosen or created music based on the page you're on. Imagine if Don Calame's Call the Shots (out in Sept) included video clips of the horror movie the characters are making. What if Erebos let you join in on one of the MMORP quests? If Ready Player One showed clips of the movie references, or played the songs, or let you play one of the video games? Is it needed? Nah. But I won't claim that it wouldn't benefit.
Nor would I claim that the integration of such enhancements doesn't appeal to those who look at a page full of text and walk away. Based on his books, I doubt that Green has much contact with truly reluctant readers, so maybe he doesn't see how transmedia (telling a story across formats) might appeal to those readers. It can break up text. It can help bridge comprehension barriers. It can provide an online forum full of resources for additional engagement (something Green knows a bit about).
Green's "what we do best" refers to writing, and writing alone. Enhanced ebooks won't succeed if the story isn't good enough. But neither will theater. Or art. Or music. Or video games. Or anything else that creates a "rich and immersive experience." Saying, believing, otherwise just tells me you aren't as creative as you maybe think you are.
But then, writing the same characters in four unrelated books maybe already told me that.**
What many authors do best certainly is writing, and that's why illustrators are hired. That's why collaboration exists - to create outside of a vacuum. Enhanced e-books and transmedia simply mean that collaboration can now include more people committed to that story. What authors are really good at is having a vision; making up a world where possibilities are endless. Why, John Green, limit yours
Boys Only: How to Survive Anything!Table of Contents:
- How to Survive a shark attack
- How to Survive in a Forest
- How to Survive Frostbite
- How to Survive a Plane Crash
- How to Survive in the Desert
- How to Survive a Polar Bear Attack
- How to Survive a Flash Flood
- How to Survive a Broken Leg
- How to Survive an Earthquake
- How to Survive a Forest Fire
- How to Survive in a Whiteout
- How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
- How to Survive a Snakebite
- How to Survive if Your Parachute Fails
- How to Survive a Croc Attack
- How to Survive a Lightning Strike
- How to Survive a T-Rex
- How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
- How to Survive a Sinking Ship
- How to Survive a Vampire Attack
- How to Survive an Avalanche
- How to Survive a Tornado
- How to Survive Quicksand
- How to Survive a Fall
- How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
- How to Survive in Space
It's full of practical information in comic format. Don't try to cut a snakebite and suck out the venom, even though you see it on TV. Use warm, not hot, water for frostbite. Here's how to make a solar still to gather water in the desert. Surrounded by forrest fire? Dig a ditch and curl up in it facedown. Cover yourself with a wet blanket. Etc. Girls Only: How to Survive Anything!
Table of Contents:
- How to survive a BFF Fight
- How to Survive Soccer Tryouts
- How to Survive a Breakout
- How to Show You're Sorry (and chapter 3 is where we no longer care about "survival")
- How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
- How to Take the Perfect School Photo
- How to Survive Brothers
- Scary Survival Dos and Don'ts ("don't throw things or yell at your ghost. it may react badly.")
- How to Handle Becoming Rich
- How to Keep Stuff Secret
- How to Survive Tests
- How to Survive Shyness
- How to Handle Sudden Stardom
- More Stardom Survival Tips
- How to Survive a Camping Trip ("fresh air is excellent for the skin")
- How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
- How to Teach Your Cat to Sit (are you #$&^%*@ kidding me?)
- How to Turn a No Into a Yes
- Top Tips for Speechmaking
- How to Survive Embarrassment
- How to Be a Mind Reader
- How to Survive a Crush
- Seaside Survival (don't wear heels. tie your hair back. sunglasses add glamour.)
- How to Soothe Sunburn
- How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
- Surviving a Zombie Attack
- How to Spot a Frenemy
- Brilliant Boredom Busters
- How to Survive Truth or Dare
- How to Beat Bullies
- How to be an Amazing Babysitter
If any of you are planning to go back in time, note that this girl would have preferred (and still does) the boy version of survival. I just don't think "How to Handle Sudden Stardom" quite counts.
Rotters. Oh Rotters. You were disgusting. Just as I thought it was as gross as it could get, there'd be something else more appalling, repulsive, and desecrating.
Joey Crouch's mom is dead. He's in nowhere Iowa where people hate him just because of his strange and very smelly dad, who locals refer to as The Garbage Man. What his dad actually does is far more disgusting than waste management - he's a grave robber and the scent of rotting corpses clings to him. Soon, the grime and stink of his father's illegal trade will cling to Joey, too. This will bring him more difficulties than adjusting to a new town and getting over his mother's death. It will bring with it a familiarity of death and decay and danger.
The opening is magnificent. Joey catalogues all the ways his mother could die, but doesn't, ending with her actual death. The rest of the novel is propelled from that point, both in how his life changes, and how the past brought about his mother's death, and his future.
However, after that there's almost 200 pages of set-up. It's not unnecessary, and it's vital to Joey's character development, but between the gorgeous prologue and page 195, (where we're treated to a rousing and detailed explanation on how to escape being buried alive - and yes, I've committed this to memory, Lord save me. One must be prepared for anything), there is little to truly advance the plot, and is, therefore, the weakest portion of the story. Daniel Kraus' language is strong, but the school bullies, especially Woody and Celeste, are generic, lack depth, and could be transplanted to any book where bullies are required and fit right in. The first 200 pages is primarily devoted to making Joey miserable enough that he's able to descend low enough for the rest of the book to happen.
Science teacher Gottschalk was extreme, but not overboard, until the reproduction lesson on pages 142-3. Here he crosses over into sexual harassment of Joey, which seemed too much, given the character was cruel, but didn't seem stupid, and there's no real way to know that someone wouldn't rat him out to someone else who would make a stir. Gottschalk by action and even previous speech clearly felt he was a law upon himself in that school, and based on the behavior of the principal and vice-principal, I can see why - but those two did respond to incidents that could result in bad press, and this was surly one of those. Although it did not.
Continuing with first half character issues, is Boris and his family. They were so close to Joey that they shared his grief, and took him in until his father could be found, but Boris more of less immediately drops him? His parents never inquire after him? Make any overtures? When my reading of the situation was that had his father not been reached, it was likely that he'd just stay with them permanently? I know that this was done to further isolate Joey, but why even have the family in the story? Why not just throw him in temporary foster care after his mom dies? It'd be much easier for me to believe that some sketch foster family didn't care about him after he left, than Boris' family. But then, without friends, Joey had less to lose.
The grief and alienation of the first half of the book, leads to a desperation so strong that once Joey is brought into the "digger" clan, and is bestowed a nickname, "Son", he muses, "I felt an unexpected rush: If I were given one of these names, I would be part of a club. I would no longer be alone" p225. It's all he has, it's his only option, and, as he did with his academics, he throws himself all in. Into grave robbing.
Enter Boggs, who is a f
I think I'm going to skip the live stream of the announcement this year. Largely because it's not on MLK day, which means I'll have to work, and getting up at 5:30 am on a workday doesn't sound as good as being able to go back to bed after the announcement. But we'll see.
The Watch that Ends the Night by Allan Wolf
Honest truth? I was bored out of my mind for the most part - and still flummoxed that anything about the Titanic could ever be boring, but this one managed it. HOWEVER, I can acknowledge that it is very literary. The biggest hurdle Watch will need to overcome is whether or not the committee thinks the enormous cast of characters is hindered by its sheer size. The fact that the reader spends so little time with each voice may result in less passionate arguments - and arguments that some characters are superfluous or under developed (not all, some were palpably wonderful, but they were buried in the avalanche of voices and struggle to be heard through the melee). The appendix is excellent and massively interesting, though, highlighting that the research was thorough. Watch will get bonus points for that.
Life, An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
So I'm a little unsure this is really a book for teens, despite it's publishing status. However, Peet has yet to be recognized by this award, and Life might be the book to do it. The fact that only a very small portion of the narrative is devoted to teen characters may hurt it's chances.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
I think the librarians who buzz about these things will be shocked if this doesn't get recognized. Shocked. I think that if there was gambling on the Printz outcome, this is likely the safe money. It transcends ilk in language, structure, world-building, and originality. It's ultimately a paranormal romance with angels, which you'd think would be kryptonite to adult readers of YA by now, but there's always an epic quality to Taylor's writing, and never moreso than here.
Rotters by Daniel Kraus
This is probably a bit of a dark horse, but I absolutely wouldn't be surprised to see this horror story get a nod. It all comes down to the composition of the committee, and whether they can stomach it (not that they aren't objective, they are, but... Rotters is gross. More on that later [as in I have a post-worth to say about it].).
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Buzz for this seems to have dropped off some, but including it, especially with the Wolf and Peet might be thought to balance out the list, and would represent only the second time a graphic novel has been recognized by the Printz. Anya's art is supurb, and the illustrations speak just as loudly as the words, which is exactly why this is wo
image by Tanita Davis
A while back a group of us were kicking around a collaborative endeavor, and well, we're all pretty busy, so it turned into a celebration of cities. Any city, in any representation, anywhere in the world. An especially great companion to this post, among the many participating, is Sarah Stevenson's Alternate London
, over at Finding Wonderland
. Check out the entire (growing) tour over at Chasing Ray
I don't know what it is about London. I don't tend to specifically get into much of the contemporary realistic fiction set there, but historical? I can't really get quite enough. Between Reformation and Restoration and the hell London went through during WWII, I'm fascinated. I intended to give you a list of some of my favorite titles set in historical London, but this post got hijacked - by the latent passion I discovered that I feel toward one of the books:FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper
I have unbridled love for this second book of the Montmaray Journals. The enormous love I thought I felt for A Brief History of Montmaray
pales in comparison for this longer, quieter, less axe-laden sequel. Our fictional royalty has moved off their island nation because of Nazi bombing, and now find themselves in London in the late 1930's as WWII is reving, fascism is creating divisions among and within the classes, and the city has no real understanding of what is in store for them just over the horizon.
Sophie, whose journal we're reading, Veronica, and the rest of the Montmaray Royalty... wait. Let me explain this first. That sounds all posh. It's not...
So, the first book, A Brief History of Montmaray, finds Sophie, her younger sister Henry and her cousin Veronica holding up the crumbling remains of their castle as her uncle the King gets progressively more insane, and her brother comes home more infrequently. They get by on selling the treasures of their formerly wealthy kingdom. They don't have much left and are the very picture of impoverished royalty. Then the Nazi's arrive. The Nazi's have their eye on their small but strategically located island nation for a couple of reasons. The impact of this results in lots of drama, some lethal axe-wielding, and some things that aren't going to be shared with the high society the group finds themselves plunged into at the start of FitzOsbornes in Exile. They've lost control of their beloved and historic nation, and they want it back. Now in the titular exile, and having fled to London and the estate of their long-expat, and very wealthy, Aunt Charlotte, the girls find themselves torn between Charlotte's expectations (they must be presented to society as proper royals of the highest order, and find very wealthy husbands) and their own concern for Montmaray. The girls, however, are far past the pr
I'm going to say that I loved the first chapter of this. Loved. Even now, as I read it for the fourth time, I believe that first chapter and a few that follow it are beautifully written, tonally perfect, and bleak as hell. Bleak in a deliciously appropriate way. It is, after all, set during the Dust Bowl. All the Earth Thrown to the Sky by Joe Lansdale begs to be read aloud, and I was happy to oblige with Kyle as my quickly engrossed victim. June 4, 1937. Goodwell, Oklahoma (picture by Mrs. Emma Love)
"The wind could blow down a full-grown man, but it was the dust that was the worst. If the dust was red, I could figure it was out of Oklahoma, where we were. But if it was white, it was part of Texas come to fall on us, and if it was darker, it was probably peppering down from Kansas or Nebraska.
Mama always claimed you could see the face of the devil in them sandstorms, you looked hard enough. I don't know about that, it being the devil and all, but I can tell you for sure there were times when the sand seemed to have shape, and I thought maybe I could see a face in it, and it was a mean face, and it was a face that had come to puff up and blow us away" p 1.
There's nothing left in Oklahoma for Jack Catcher. His parents are dead; his mom from the dirty pneumonia of the dust storms, his dad, suicide. There's nothing left for Jane and Tony Lewis either. Their dad got run over by his tractor as he fruitlessly tried to plant in dead ground, and their mom disappeared as easily as the good farming soil that used to provide a living for both families. It's the Great Depression, and there's nothing left for anyone, so the three of them might as well set out and just hope for something better than the nothing they've got. There's nothing to lose but their sorry lives - which might be exactly what the wind takes next as they spin from one adventure to the next, stealing cars, hopping trains, running into murderous bank robbers and criminal farmers and traveling circuses.
To my disappointment, while the writing is always beautiful, as the madcap - well, madcap isn't quite the correct word as it implies a levity that the book lacks, but we'll go with it - as the madcap plot revs up it never quite matches the tone of the writing. Does the writing match the barren setting? Yes. The hopeless era? Definitely. What you essentially have in this novel is an old-fashioned adventure plot that has potential for serious consequences. But despite the horror of the first chapters, and even of the repeated danger of the subsequent events, there is a distancing that takes away the visceral impact the first chapter had, and therefore removes the feeling of true danger the events warrant. Now, of course, that's my interpretation, so perhaps others felt differently while reading. However, when you never really believe the worst will actually happen to the characters, dire situations become less threatening and that bleak, hopeless writing doesn't have anywhere to go.
This is what I believ
Which is totally true, by the way. Lots of steroids, and all the ways that drug can destroy things in high school.
The three football captains are the king of the school, and no one, no matter how talented in any other sport is excused from their bullying. Especially not the gymnastics team. Danny has a real chance at eventually qualifying for the Olympics in gymnastics and Kurt is a stuttering hulk whoâ€™s new to the school and the football team. Neither of them like the bullying, and they forge an unlikely friendship that is in jeopardy after they both witness a graphic attack that has tragic consequences. Leverage has some of the most awesome sports writing Iâ€™ve ever read, but this is also the most intense and possibly disturbing book I have ever read, so I recommend it to more mature readers.
Kurt is damaged going into the story. He's a foster kid, and in his last placement he experienced treatment that will scar him for his entire life. This is told in flashback in slow and desperate reveals, and the memories send him into a red rage. Danny and his teammates have been trying to hold their ground, retain their dignity, and fight the football team for access to the weight room, something they all know they need to be able to truly compete on the level they aspire to. But every which way they turn, they keep running into the immovable bulk of the impossibly large football team.
Characters are flawed, even broken. Some come into the tale that way, others will fall apart right before your eyes. You will hold your breath and read faster to get through the dark, drastic, brutal parts, most likely wiping tears of fury or sadness away as you turn the pages. They make huge mistakes out of fear and shame and pain. They suffer consequences that will haunt them.
I wish I could say that these kids experience abuse and bullying so brutal that it is unbelievable, but sadly, we all know that isn't true. And that's one reason I think that this book is important. Maybe it will help some kid out there find his voice and stop the cycle. Get help. It's a solidly upper high school read, unless you know, or have an inkling, that it's something an 8th or 9th grader may have had some experience with. Or the kid's just a fan of A Child Called It (I jest, don't give it to those 5/6th graders).
The horrible thing is that it is all so frighteningly believable. Until you get to the Hollywood ending, where you witness a shift from bleak to a resolution that doesn't match the tone of the rest of the book. Which, while satisfying, doesn't ring true, because despite the honesty in which the rest of the novel was handled, this was just a little too neat. A little too grand. A little too unrealistic. That's not how these stories ever end in real life. Fine, usually, for most novels. But not when nary a punch was withheld during the previous 270-ish pages.
I will admit that I booktalked this (along with around 30 other titles) this past June for 7-10 graders. I did so ONLY with a strong emphasis on the graphic nature of the story, and encouraged the teens to self-censor if they didn't think they were ready for it, but that I thought that it was an important story because this level of abuse and bullying does happen. I had warned the school librarians and teachers of the title before I talked it, and after hearing about it, I had specific requests from a few teachers to be sure to share it with some classes, which I found very interesting. Of the 875 holds I placed for students after my June visits, there were 25 for this title.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
"'Nothing could be worse than Stalin," said one of the men at the dining room table. 'He is the epitome of evil.'
'There is no better or worse,' said Papa, his voice low. I leaned farther around the corner to listen.
'But Hitler won't uproot us,' said the man....
'My point is that we're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell'" p168.
Here's a post of non-content for you. I want to read:
All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe R. Lansdale. Because that is a beautiful title, and the writing continued to be beautiful when I started. Unfortunately the Cybils nominations began, and I really can't read or finish anything that isn't on that list for the next three months. I read the first chapter aloud to my insanely critical husband, and even he was impressed.
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake. Because I haven't read a good ghost story since Beating Heart by AM Jenkins. Or Whitcomb's A Certain Slant of Light. Whichever came out later. I shouldn't be able to count good ghost stories published for teens on one hand.
Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith. Because I truly loved The Way He Lived, and I very much want to see more from her. It's been out since April, so the only excuse I have is that I've never once seen it on the shelves here at my library.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Because everyone seems to be falling over themselves for this, and because I've been waiting for my hold to come in FOREVER. Which is really unusual for a first-time novelist. Although, Amanda did say "It's no Book Thief." But, really, what is?
Big Crunch by Pete Hautman. Again, this one's been out for ages. I think for the first 6 months I wasn't able to even understand that this brightly colored cover actually had Pete Hautman's name on it.
I don't know why I picked up The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I was aware of its existence when I took it, but knew nothing whatsoever about it. By just the cover, it looked like yet another entry in the revolving door of paranormal teen fiction. But the title itself, specifically the word "Unbecoming..." that was interesting to me.
Mara was in a coma for three days. Upon awakening, she is told that her life-long best friend, her boyfriend, and another girl, died in the accident that plunged Mara into unconsciousness. Understandably haunted by the events, the loss of her memories surrounding the accident, and the loss of her friends, Mara is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her entire world is a reminder of what she's lost, and she manages to convince her family to move away and start new lives in Florida, where she continues to struggle with reality, but with the eventual addition of a couple new confidants.
Mara's family is awesome. The characters are excellent. Their interactions are immensely believable. You love the family and the love interest even as they walk up and smile at that line that would make them a little too perfect. Even the villains are enjoyable, albeit less dimensional. Sadly, the character of Jamie, who plays the role of first new friend, and openly refers to himself as the token black Jewish bi-sexual, entirely disappears two thirds of the way in. There's an explanation for it, but it's weak.
For 300 pages, this was a compelling psychological exploration of a fragile, damaged, teen mind coping with tragedy and change. And then, suddenly, all of that subtlety was thrown out on page 309. Look. It's a heck of a lot harder to get a reader to buy into an unreliable narrator working with a sliding scale of reality than it is to simply throw in super powers - it's a heck of a bigger feat as a writer, too. Hodkin did it. I was totally on board with this damaged girl. It was brilliant. And then it all gets cheapened with paranormal solutions. I don't believe that the story needed paranormal elements. I'm ranting about this, but I feel that it's almost like this beautiful, straight psychological novel got marred by a sudden infusion of deus ex machina. There was a fantastic way out of the story without using the fantastical.
Now, don't let me confuse you, the ground work for the paranormal elements was set early on, they were definitely there, but those elements were far more compelling with a straight, non-paranormal, interpretation. "Is she nuts? Is she hallucinating? Is it the PTSD? A coping mechanism? A psychotic break? Is she a murderer?" Nah, she's just got super powers. It literally, up until page 309, could have gone either way, and in my inconsequential opinion, it went in the wrong direction chasing a fad that's already blotto.
I've clearly my knickers in a twist over this, and I do want to say that despite my plot issues, everything else stands up pretty well. It's quite well written and compelling. The dialog is lively with well-executed and clever banter. The romance has chemistry, even if it was a tad contrived (the hottest guy in school that every girl wants, with an English accent. But he's only got eyes for her, and that makes ALL the popular girls conveniently hate her.). Whatev. I can imagine a bond between them being shared through traumatic pasts (non-paranormal explanation) or through magic (paranormal explanation), which means it works.
It ends in a blatant cliffhanger.
Recommend as an interesting match to Liar by Larbalesti
Did you know that many of the youth awards accept field nominations? I've never nominated anything. Until now. I actually field nominated Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley for the Morris Award. It turns out that you don't find out what happens after you nominate something, but I'm happy just to force a committee to read something that I believe in.
Yes, I do enjoy being evil.
Before Gabrielle disappeared, Cullen Witter held onto the hope that he wouldn't end up trapped in tiny Lily, Arkansas. He bides his time by coming up with book titles and imagining the zombie apocalypse (especially zombies attacking people who annoy him). Without Gabrielle, Cullen does his best to maintain normal amid pain and absurdity when the town forgets one of their own has gone missing and instead becomes obsessed with the reappearance of a supposedly extinct woodpecker. But if a bird can reappear after 60 years of assumed extinction, surely a little brother can come back, too. This is a coming of age tale of hope, redemption, grief, and wonder.
I stumbled upon this book by sheer luck. I peruse all new teen titles that come into the library, and often set several aside to share with my teen advisory board, or book group. This was one of the random newbies that came in several months ago, and I was so captivated by the quirky jacket flap that I had to read it. But let's face it, it was probably the promise of zombies. You know me.
I'm not going to pretend that this is anything other than an odd book. It's weird. There's a B plot going on there that seems rather inconsequential for a long time. It isn't, of course. Adding to the quirk factor is the fact that Cullen occassionally slips from first person into third as he distances himself from pain, embarrassment, or boredom, and starts narrating his life as though it were just a chapter in a book that he could close when things get to be too much. Cullen wants to be a writer, and maintains a growing list of book titles inspired by the happenings around him.
What Whaley has created is an unusual story that never fails to captivate despite its oddities. It's also wryly humorous (the book titles), and so well-structured that it calls for an immediate re-read. It feels fresh even while covering the well-trod small-town and missing child plots, and reminds me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or John Green before he got tediously repetitive. For newer titles, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel, and Okay For Now by would probably be good matches. I will definitely be watching to see what's next for this first-time novelist. Regardless of whether the Morris committee agrees with me.
If you are a NPR nerd like me, you might have heard the NPR feature about the real return of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. The story was framed by a Sufjan Stevens song The Lord God Bird. I believe (but don't quote me) that this story, which stuck with me for so many years, was what inspired John Corey Whaley. So, that Lazarus burger and haircut in the book? Yeah, that really happened. In Brinkley, Arkansas.
The potshot about the cover is perhaps unfair since it is appropriate for the story, however, I can't deny its questionable appeal t
Perry Moore, whom I interviewed here back in 2007, has been found dead in his NYC apartment of, according to sources in the NY Daily News, possible prescription overdose. He was found by his partner, Hunter Hill. This is nothing but sad, so I'm reposting the interview (sans most of my commentary) from when he was hot off his YA Title, Hero, and the success of producing the first of the new Narnia movies.
November 6, 2007:
In Hero, we find a teen who wants more than anything to have a superpower, to work with the heroes he admires, and to bring his family out from under the infamous shadow his former superhero father casts. There's more though; Thom is gay. His father makes openly homophobic statements, and as Thom slowly discovers that he does have superpower, he has to hide more that just his sexuality from his dad, since heroes and power are just as forbidden as being gay.
Perry Moore enters the world of teen lit from a unique angle, his other job is as a producer on the Chronicles of Narnia movies. This of course makes me rather curious:
1. You are a first time novelist who's coming from Hollywood. Have you read much of the current fiction written for young adults? What have you especially enjoyed? As a producer, is there a teen book out there you'd love to see on the screen?
Iâ€™ve always been a rabid fan of YA literature. Thatâ€™s how I came to play such a special part in getting the Chronicles of Narnia made. Sheer passion for staying true to what makes the source material special. By the way, I donâ€™t come from Hollywood. I live in NY. Only lived in two places in my life. First Virginia, then New York. I go to Hollywood often to work, but Iâ€™ve never lived there. To be honest, I think that played a crucial difference in helping to get the rights to Narnia. Iâ€™m not very Hollywood. Itâ€™s funny because most reviews will often mention this like Iâ€™m some Hollywood producer taking luxurious baths in all my cash, but itâ€™s not like that at all. My passion is good storytelling. Always has been. I live in a modest one-bedroom in NY. I work out at the local rec center. I play tennis on public courts. I surf waves in Montauk, not Hawaii.
At any rate, I loved so many books growing up. I never knew how much of a bookworm I really was until I started working in Hollywood where few people have time to read books. My favorites, among so many others, were The Chronicles of Narnia, Lloyd Alexanderâ€™s Prydain Chronicles, S.E. Hintonâ€™s books, I went through a huge Lois Duncan period when I was a boy, too. Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™re so many more. Actually, Iâ€™d classify Stephen Kingâ€™s Carrie as a YA book, too. I just loved that one. The movie was good to, It was such a dream to co-direct a movie with Sissy Spacek as the star. I would love to make Lloyd Alexanderâ€™s Prydain Chronicles into a movie franchise like Narnia. Same for Madeleine Lâ€™Engleâ€™s books. Not to mention HERO! (Stan Lee is hard at work?)
2. Thom is mostly unaware of the extent of the power he wields - to the point that he doesn't even take credit for what he does. Not only that, but
There's always chatter among writers and publishers about the slush pile. The great mass of unsolicited manuscripts that publishers are sent every day. While I've never worked at a publishing house, I have to say that for me, the first few weeks of the Cybils is always a little like being confronted by an enormous slush pile that you have three months to get through. After five years, I've somehow come up with an odd balance of excitement and apathy that works for me. Essentially, I lower my expectations, and don't put too much thought into what the next book to read will be. I allow myself to be pleasantly surprised.
One particular quirk I have about reading is that I don't like to read to far into reviews, or the book description before I read. Invariably, too much is given away, and it sucks the fun out of the whole thing for me. Going along with that, I don't pay a whole lot of attention with the blurbs that show up on everything. But, in the Cybils slush pile that appeared on my kitchen table, I couldn't help but notice that Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick (Incidentally, I went to college with a guy with this name, so that never stops weirding me out.) was blurbed by Justina Chen and Sara Zarr. When I flipped open the back cover, there was a blurb from Dana Reinhardt. I love all three of these authors. All three. I knew what I was reading next.
There is no one like Amber Appleton. She's frank, honest, and not only willing to see the bright side of everything and everyone, she's going to make the world a better place through sheer force of will. She WILL win over even the most curmudgeonly. But her unfailing optimism isn't merely altruism. It's how she gets through the day. It's how she can bear her life. Amber Appleton doesn't have the best of mothers. When mom's last boyfriend kicked them out, they had nowhere to go, and now live on the school bus mom drives for a paycheck. It's cold on an unheated bus in Pennsylvania in the winter. It's lonely when mom's out trolling for men until late. It sorta, like, sucks. But Amber Appleton knows it will get better. Because, really, it can't get worse. Of course, it can, and it does. And even the spectacular, remarkable hope that Amber has always possessed and shared freely can't raise her above the pain she's about to endure.
I want to repeat this for emphasis: There is no one like Amber Appleton. She is both annoying and uplifting. Her voice is so unique and so powerful. One of both the strengths and weaknesses of Sorta Like a Rock Star is Amber's jargon. As someone who works with teens, I know that many have weak filters and an annoying habit of saying the same phrases and exclamations over and over. Most of that stuff is normally cut out of novels in favor of readability. That's not necessarily the case with SLARS. "True? True."
"[Mom] never again tried to make me play sports, although we ate many more hoagies on that bench and fed flocks of ducks for years to come -- and the feeding-ducks memories are something I truly treasure. Quack, quack. Ducks. Pretty killer" p 14-15.
Random meanderings like that are fairly typical for Amber, and frankly, I've known a teen or two who would say things like that. It serves to lighten up the rather serious mood of the preceding thoughts, and prevents Amber for dwelling on the horrible situation she's saddled with. But, it doesn't necessarily make it easier to read if you haven't already been completely captured by her voice in general. Which I was.
But above voice, and above a great dep
Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett is a beautifully written book. Each scene is precisely set up with succinct and tiny details, and each character is given intent and motivation. Sentences are long, but elegant and containing a penchant for listing.
These facts, as I relate them, may indicate that beside its beauty, Butterfly is a dense story. Despite it's relatively short length of 232 pages, it is not a quick read. I'm unsure of who the audience is, as I would find it surprising if the average teen readers I know will make it all the way through the text. I myself fell asleep several times while reading. In the middle of the day on a Saturday. When I didn't previously feel sleepy.
The intent of Butterfly is to show Ariella "Plum" in the throws of her last weeks of being a child, as she miraculously changes into an adolescent with real hints of becoming a woman. These few weeks are supposed to contain the actions and consequences of what will form her nascent adult self. I don't feel that it is entirely successful. Plum does change, but I'm not convinced that it is into a butterfly, but rather something a little more callous. The reader is introduced to all of the major players in her life, her two brothers, Justin and Cydar, her parents (sadly underdeveloped), her flock of girlfriends (an assortment of cruel and kind, where she and we witness mob mentality), and the neighbor woman who is having an intent affair with an apathetic Justin.
Cydar, the middle brother is easily the most interesting character in the book. Supposedly brilliant, and not without flaws, he is observant and good, and cares more about his family and especially his baby sister than anything else in the world. He is hyperaware of his compulsion toward a tarnished nobility and is a little rueful about it - knowing that he'd sacrifice for Plum's benefit even if he were to suffer as a result.
"Plum loves Justin more than she loves Cydar, people usually do and cannot be blamed, and although he'd hoped that his sister might be something other than usual, Cydar accepted the situation years ago. It's never diminished the rumble of responsibility he feels in his chest for her. But the honk of her voice, the slope to her stance, the sore look of the skin on her forehead, the unwillingness of her clothes to fit well: all of these are making Cydar, who loves Plum more than anyone does, reluctant to look at her. The desperation which singes the edges of her - this is even worse. She's not fourteen, but sitting on the bungalow step Cydar is sure he sees how her life will unfold. Be fearsome, he wants to tell her. Defy. His own life depends on her doing so. His existence will never be all it can be if Plum stands in its corner, happy for and proud of him, but misaligned and alone. She will stunt him, and he will let her" p 62.
"And in [Cydar's] tightly stoned state he has a profound realization: Everyone in his family is sad. Mums and Fa, living lives that never managed to rise above the ordinary. Plum and Justin, aware of the peril, but neither of them clever enough to avoid a similar fate. Cydar himself, who will achieve enough for all of them, but will never feel rightly made for the world" p 106.
I should also address the fact that the book is set vaguely in the 1980's. There's no discernible reason for the setting, nor is it a major character. The only hints are an acknowledgement of a previous love of ABBA from some of the girls, and a subtle lack of modern technology. It brings up t
synchronicities: 1. the quality or fact of being synchronous. 2. the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality â€”used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung.
This list of similarities and coincidences among the 2010 Cybils YA Fiction nominations is humbly submitted to you by the 2010 Cybils YA Fiction Panel. It is no way to be considered completely exhaustive, as we are certain nominated books and coincidentals will have been missed. This list was originated out of amusement as the seven panelists read their way through the 182 titles. If you know of a nominated title that should be included in one of the synchronicities below, please feel free to submit it in the comments! To get the entire list, youâ€™ll have to visit all seven of the panelistâ€™s blogs.33. Jewish Characters:
The Beautiful Between; Hush; Life, After; Queen of Secrets34. Journals of Dead People:
Hold Still; Revolution; The Secret Year35. Kidnappings:
Girl, Stolen; Stolen; The Tension of Opposites; Woods Runner36. Lunchtime Oak Tree:
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend; Hold Still (ok, treehouse!); A Little Wanting Song; Lifted (under a Pecan tree - it IS Texas!)37. Meaningless Sex to Forget the Issue at Hand or Deaden the Pain:
Amy and Rogerâ€™s Epic Detour; The Duff; Forget You; Hold Still; Saving Maddie; Nothing Like You; Not That Kind of Girl38. Mental Issues of Some Sort or Another:
Abe in Arms; A Blue So Dark; The Brothers Story; Compromised; Forget You; Revolution; The River; Tangled; The Unwritten Rule39. Michigan:
Exit Strategy; I Now Pronounce You Someone Else; Sing Me to Sleep40. Murder:
All Unquiet Things; The Dangerous Days of Hamburger Helpin; The Deadly Sister; The Less-Dead; Revolution; The River; The Space Between Trees; The Twinâ€™s Daughter, Wicked Girls; Woods Runner; When I Was Joe?41. Musicals or Theater:
A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend; Amy & Rogerâ€™s Epic Detour; Hold Still (Play); Nothing Like You (drama class); Scrawl (Play); Sorta Like a Rock Star (talent something); Will; Will Grayson, Will Grayson;
Poetry Friday has been around forever. And I've never participated. I've looked at posts over the years and though, gee, I really should join in. I like poetry! I definitely think we should promote this oft under-appreciated form. And yet, I never have.
Because, really, if I am ever to participate, it really should be with this book. This marvelous collection of haiku. And yes, I do mean marvelous. I don't even think it has anything to do with my obsessions about the zombie apocalypse. Much.
Now, admittedly, you might need to be one who appreciates the macabre, as ZOMBIE HAIKU by Ryan Mecum alternates equally between the grotesque, the disturbing, and some of the most hilarious poetry I have ever read.
The pages are a blood spattered and offal smeared account (including pictures & illustrations) of the last days of the zombie apocalypse, not from the view point of a survivor, but that of one zombie. The voice is clear and entertaining, and pacing is such that the reader has no time to think about the feasibility of a zombie being able to manage fine motor functions well enough to write. In fact, this poor guy is better as a zombie poet than he ever was as a human one.
I've been sharing passages with coworkers to general hilarity.
My favorite passages:
My instinct steers me
to my gourmet dinner feast,
a nursing home.
The side door is shut.
From the side window, they stare.
So many meals stare.
They are so lucky
that I cannot remember
how to use doorknobs.
I circle around,
and a great surprise greets me:
It is hard to tell
who is food and who isn't
in the nursing home.
I really need blood.
Moaning "brains!" is hard to do
with a dried out tongue.
Little old ladies
speed away in their wheelchairs,
frightened meals on wheels.
My shoes are slushy,
with my decomposing feet
leaking clear liquid.
Elbows bend one way,
except for this guy screaming.
His bends two ways now.
One eyeball has shrunk.
I'm glad it's tied to something
so it won't fall far.
I keep saying "brains."
I remember other words,
but I just need one.
I cannot wait to bring this on school visits.
This week's Poetry Friday is with Irene Latham at Live. Love. Explore.
So I really did try to go to bed without posting my ALA youth media award predictions, but I couldn't do it... so... here ya go. And yes, I know none of you save possibly Tanita will read this before the announcement. I had to get it off my chest before I could sleep.
Newbery: I've only read Once Crazy Summer & Mockingbird, so I'm just going off of internet chatter, reviews, and colleague love for most of these. Oh, and the fact that I actually want to read the ones I haven't gotten to yet.
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. Innocent but seeping with the flavor of a contentious time, Williams-Garcia does an excellent turn on 1969 and the Black Panther movement making it accessible for the audience. It's a little short on the reasons why Panthers were getting arrested, but since it's all from an 11-year-old's point of view, that might be forgivable. For slightly older students who are intruigued, don't forget about last year's excellent The Rock & the River by Kekla Magoon.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. The fact that this one won the National Book Award probably hurts it, but even given the fact that I'm completely over Autism/Asperger books, this one had me completely within it's charming grasp. This said, it's probably a shoo in for the Schneider.
Books getting the buzz, that I can't speak personally for:
The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Countdown by Deborah Wiles.
Keeper by Kathi Appelt.
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Printz: Theoretically, the Printz should be easier for me to predict since I'm so much more familiar with it, but gosh, I'm just stabbing in the dark here. I wouldn't be surprised to see more science fiction and fantasy on the list here. The fact that I spend the last quarter of the year willfully and painfully ignoring SFF for the Cybils hurts me a little when SFF is strong. This said, if any of my Cybils YA Fiction titles made it, I'd be through the roof.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. The world-building and the voice are what stand out miles from the crowd here. The pacing is excellent, and it would certainly be a crowd pleaser if it made it in.
They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This is exquisitely done. Bartol
I like quiet books. Books that slip under the internet buzz, books that take their time, aren't splashy, and don't make a big fuss with outrageous plots, but that take you by surprise at how well they can speak to one small part of your soul or being, or the magical wonder juice that makes us all tick individually from each other. It's why I like Jenny Valentine so much.
We haven't seen Valentine's new books here in the states, yet, so I was looking for a fix. Alyssa B. Sheinmel's The Beautiful Between was just that. Quiet. Dreamy. Believably introspective. So, obviously it's got to be the one reviewed after Zombie Haiku. I gotta keep things balanced around here.
Connelly's content in the middle. She does exactly what she has to do not to get noticed, she speaks up, but only enough so that her silence doesn't mark her as a freak. She blends in with the mediocrity. She spends her idle moments fantasizing about the similarities between high school and fairy tales, quietly casting her peers in the classic stories. So, when the school prince, Jeremy Cole, proposes a tutoring trade with her (he'll help her with physics, she helps him with vocab), it's a little surprising. What's even more surprising is the interest he takes in her life - but there is a reason for his interest and when it turns out that Jeremy knows more about Connelly's father than she does, it throws her life and her past into a spiral that risks fractured relationships and has to end with major revelations.
The Beautiful Between was elegantly written, dripping with genuine emotion, and believable as a character-driven piece. The pace is steady, and it's short enough that you never get bored with it's thoughtfulness, or Connelly's introspection. The little bit of mystery helps propel both the reader and the protagonist forward.
The writing is lyrical, the story of loss is moving, and I will definitely keep an eye out for Sheinmel's next book, The Lucky Kind, due out in May.