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I was escaping on Thursday as I made my way to the bookstore. The heat, a particular conversation, a pedigreed failure. In the summer, at bookstores, I tend to stand among those tables dedicated to middle- and high-school reading lists—looking at all that I've missed, scorning my own piecemeal education, regretting my only partially successful autodidactism. I studied the history and sociology of science at Penn. I teach memoir. I review (mostly) adult literary fiction. I have (most recently) been writing young adult fiction that is perhaps not really young adult fiction. I started out as a poet. I am currently researching the heck out of Bruce Springsteen. My triple-stacked bookshelves reflect my scattershot world. Despite the fact that I have tried, since I was a teen, to read at least three books a week (and, later in life, The New Yorker, New York Times, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and the book review sections of The Washington Post,the Chicago Tribune, and the Philadelphia Inquirer), I have a whole lot of gaps, always, to fill. I am embarrassed, often, by my own not-knowingness. I could not pass any test that might be given.
Thursday, ignoring the criminally ignored two dozen as-yet-unread books stacked on my office floor, I bought two more—A Northern Light, which Melissa Sarno recommended, and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I have read all of Capote except In Cold Blood. Don't ask why; it just happened.
Yesterday, between bouts of Springsteen research, I read A Northern Light, a young adult novel written by Jennifer Donnelly, which was a Printz Honor Book when it was released ten years ago, earned numerous additional citations, and continues to be extremely well read today. Set in 1906 and featuring Mattie, a sixteen-year-old farm-bound girl who loves words, A Northern Light is, I found, an instructive book—thoroughly researched, strategically structured, seeded with the right kind of issues for young readers of historical fiction (feminism, race relations, the value of education and literature). I loved, most of all, Donnelly's Weaver, an African American adolescent. Weaver has much to say, and Donnelly, wisely, gives him room—to be smart, to be angry, to be hopeful, to be Mattie's truest friend. Boy-girl friendships that are honest and meaningful and yet not tinged with erotic desire are so rare in books, and especially rare in young adult literature, and so I was happy to spend some time on this warm weekend making this acquaintance.
SUMMARY: The vast multi-generational epic that began with The Tea Rose and continued with The Winter Rose now reaches its dramatic conclusion in The Wild Rose.
London, 1914. World War I is looming on the horizon, women are fighting for the right to vote, and global explorers are pushing the limits of endurance at the Poles and in the deserts. Into this volatile time, Jennifer Donnelly places her vivid and memorable characters:
- Willa Alden, a passionate mountain climber who lost her leg while climbing Kilimanjaro with Seamus Finnegan, and who will never forgive him for saving her life.
- Seamus Finnegan, a polar explorer who tries to forget Willa as he marries a beautiful young woman back home in England.
- Max von Brandt, a handsome sophisticate who courts high society women, but who has a secret agenda as a German spy;
- and many others.
Review: Fans of Jennifer Donnelly’s previous works, The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose, are in for a treat with the latest book in this historical saga. THE WILD ROSE is a beautifully researched historical tale combined with an intense plot, well-developed characters and gorgeous prose. Because there are so many recurring characters from the first two books in the ROSE trilogy, I would recommend beginning with the The Tea Rose and continuing from there. However, THE WILD ROSE has enough excitement, suspense, love and tension to stand completely and successfully on its own. Donnelly also provides quite a bit of backstory within the first 50 pages of THE WILD ROSE to catch the readers up on the action. The Washington Post calls Donnelly “a master of pacing and plot” and I couldn’t agree more. What I love most is the way Donnelly provides the readers with so much detail into the time period that you can truly see the stories playing out right before your eyes.
For your reading pleasure, I present Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.
Revolution is an phenomenal story. I don’t use the word “phenomenal” often but, in this case, no other word would do. There are many things that make Revolution worthy of such praise: Andi, the protagonist; Paris, the setting; Virgil, the musician; just to name a few. However, I’m going to discuss Andi’s relationship with music.
On a technical level, I don’t know much about music having never learned to play an instrument. But, the thing is, Andi made me want to learn. She speaks of music with such immense passion and understanding that I wanted to feel and hear what she does.
Andi gives music dimension, history and life. Her passion for it is so great, that you, the reader, find yourself as captivated by it as she is. Beethoven and Radiohead are no longer simply names of famous musicians but geniuses of their craft.
Few novels can accomplish such a feat, and Revolution is one of them.
This is an abbreviated version of a list of books put together by Lauren Donovan from Random House Children’s Books.
TILLIE THE TERRIBLE SWEDE: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History
By Sue Stauffacher; illustrated by Sarah McMenemy
When Tillie Anderson came to America, all she had was a needle. So she got herself a job in a tailor shop and waited for a dream to find her. One day, a man sped by on a bicycle. She was told “bicycles aren’t for ladies,” but from then on, Tillie dreamed of riding—not graceful figure eights, but speedy, scorching, racy riding! And she knew that couldn’t be done in a fancy lady’s dress. . . . With arduous training and her (shocking!) new clothes, Tillie became the women’s bicycle-riding champion of the world. Sue Stauffacher’s lively text and Sarah McMenemy’s charming illustrations capture the energy of America’s bicycle craze and tell the story of one woman who wouldn’t let society’s expectations stop her from achieving her dream.
Alfred A. Knopf | January 25, 2011 | Ages 5-8 | 40 pgs
AMELIA LOST: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
By Candace Fleming
In this stunning new biography, Candace Fleming, the acclaimed author of The Great and Only Barnum and The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look and Abraham and Mary, peels back the layers of myth surrounding the world’s most famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart and presents an honest portrait of a multi-faceted, inspirational woman. With photos, maps, and hand-written notes from Amelia herself—plus informative sidebars tackling everything from the history of flight to what Amelia liked to eat while flying (tomato soup), this unique biography is tailor-made for middle graders.
Filled with memorable moments and a winning cast of characters, Fusco’s story, set during the Great Depression, is sure to tug at the heartstrings of all who read it. Bringing topics such as the Depression and segr
For some reason when everyone was raving about this book my main thought was "probably not for me." Something about the way it was described made me believe that it was probably awesome, but... just not for me.
I can't remember what finally made me pick it up. Just so I could say I had read it? Possibly.
I loved it. I really did.
Basic plot-- Andi's family falls apart after the death of her little brother. Andi blames herself and has fallen into a very self-destructive pattern. Her father wasn't around that much before Truman died, but he's officially left town and is now with his lab assistant. Andi's mother has gone crazy.
When her father finally learns that Andi's about the fail out of school and won't graduate, he comes back to Brooklyn to drag her to Paris so she can write her senior thesis outline-- her one chance at graduation. He also checks her mother into a mental hospital.
Andi's father is in Paris to do genetic testing on a heart that may or may not belong to Louis-Charles, the youngest son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Andi's researches her thesis on the music of Amade Malherbeau and his influence on later musicians to the modern day. While Paris is the best place to research Malherbeau's life (it's where he lived and composed) it doesn't get Andi's mind off things. Louis-Charles has Truman's eyes.
And then Andi finds a diary of Alex, a street performer who was Louis-Charles's companion and caught up in the horrors of the Revolution...
I like that, even though it's two stories in one, the focus stays on Andi. I was also wondering how the two were going to come together. How they did was... unexpected, but I liked it.*
Andi is so unpleasant, but the portrait of someone torn about by grief and guilt is so well done. I loved the solace she found in music and the advice of her guitar teacher.
Also... finding solace in classical guitar? Nice choice.
OH! And I looooooooooooooooooooooooved how human Marie Antoinette was. I haven't read a lot of fictional accounts of the French Revolution, so I don't have a huge basis for comparison, BUT, in popular culture she's portrayed as such a monster. I loved seeing a portrait of her as a mother and person.
I didn't find Alex's story as gripping, but I loved how taken Andi was with it and I think that if we hadn't been able to read what Andi was reading, we would have really lost what Andi was feeling and how important Alex became to her.
I was utterly engrossed in the story, and even though it's pretty lengthy (472 pages) I couldn't put it down and read it quickly (not that it's a quick read, just that when you read it CONSTANTLY...)
I'm not sure how I feel about the epilogue... I think I needed something more immediate and less nice, BUT overall, yes, this is a wonderful book and I'll add my voice to everyone else's.
*Slight spoiler-- I totally thought that Alex would end up being Malherbeau and that Malherbeau's big mystery was that he was really a she. Glad that I was wro
Thanksgiving is a time for pie. Pie makes me think of Harold and his purple crayon. Remember that picnic on the sandy beach? “There was nothing but pie. But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best.” My daughter and I love to imagine what all the different fillings could be. Who doesn’t love freshly baked pie, the most amazingly delectable dessert that fills the home with its tantalizing aroma? It’s such a perfect vehicle for a scoop or dollop of some cool creamy topping. Kids love to help bake, especially mixing, licking their sweet, sticky fingers and rolling out pie dough.
Here follows a list of picture books—all about pie—to share with your little ones. Some simply get your mouth watering, but most are laced with a secret ingredient. There is a reminder about abundance, a lesson on humility, and a tale of perseverance. You will also find a trip around the world, a juicy alphabet primer and a cautionary tale for the literal-minded—from Amelia Bedelia, of course. A few even include a recipe so good that you won’t need to invite a very hungry moose and deserving porcupine to help you finish.
Publisher’s synopsis:In this merry, multi-species story cooked up with folksy warmth and humor, everybody gets a piece of the pie — and then some.
Grandma Cat makes a delicious apple pie, and there’s plenty for everyone — and even a piece left over. Grandma Mouse finds a piece of apple pie, and there’s plenty for everyone — and even crumbs left over. Grandma Ant spies some crumbs of apple pie, and there’s plenty for everyone. But what’s left over after cats, mice, and ants have had their fill? Little readers will eat up this scrumptious, gently math-related story that’s as sweet and satisfying as a fresh-baked dessert.
So I mentioned that Jennifer Donnelly’s THE TEA ROSE was nearly the only YA book I brought on my vacation (it’s true! I’ve been reading adult fiction up the wazoo!), and iloveamandabynes, AKA my long lost camp roommate, said in comments that she’s been reading it and hadn’t even realized it was YA. Which made me remember that Donnelly also writes for adults, and just because the book looks like YA — the cover and, especially, the page and font size — don’t make it so. In fact, a cursory look at the quotes on the cover would’ve made it obvious that this is clearly not being sold as YA.
…As would’ve simply flipping open to the first sentence: “Polly Nichols, a Whitechapel whore, was profoundly grateful to gin.” Um, yeah. I know YA’s gone through some dark phases, but no.*
The thing, though? I’m still in the first five pages, but this is so written like YA. Check out this paragraph:
Not come to the river? she thought, admiring the silvery Thames as it shimmered in the August sunshine. Who could resist it? Lively waves slapped impatiently at the bottom of the Old Stairs, spraying her. She watched them inching toward her and fancied that the river wanted to touch her toes, swirl up over her ankles, draw her into its beckoning waters, and carry her along with it. Oh, if only she could go.
Seriously, adults read this stuff? …I mean, adults who don’t primarily read books for teenagers. Which, apparently, qualification needs making. **
* By the way, has anyone ever seen an authorial narrator — as opposed to a character — ever refer to anyone, in any YA book, as a “whore”? I’d be stunned but now I’m curious.
** By the way ^2, I would love to hear y’all’s thoughts on whether it’s true that more adults read YA now (it certainly feels true, but given that I’m an adult YA blogger, I kind of think my anecdotal evidence may be selective…) and if lack of plot in adult literary fiction is why. Grossman’s response to critics is here.
“It’s never been alright. Not since the day I walked up these stairs and walked away from you. I ‘urt you that day, I know I did, but all you lost was me. I ‘urt myself a million times worse because I lost you.”
From MY SO-CALLED LIFE’s should’ve-been-penultimate episode (damn you, “Weekend”), “The Betrayal”:
Angela: Look, I don’t care anymore, okay? So just go away.
Rayanne: You’re not the only one who got hurt. Angela: Well, forgive me if I can’t feel sorry for you, Rayanne. Rayanne: You lost nothing, Angela. You lost a lousy, selfish friend, a guy you never really had… you lost nothing! …. I lost a really good friend! I lost everything.
And then comes the part where I cry and cry. It’s better on the show than in the book.
Posted in Donnelly, Jennifer, Shades of My So-Called Life
I finished one book and read two more this week. I enjoyed them all for different reasons and will be sharing them with my 7h graders once school starts. I especially love how these three really meet the needs of three different kinds of readers.
First up is REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, due out in October from Delacorte. I had high expectations for this novel because I loved Donnelly's A NORTHERN LIGHT so much. I wasn't disappointed with REVOLUTION, and in fact, I think I might have liked it even better.
The book starts in Brooklyn, where gifted but troubled Andi is supposed to be writing her class project on the music of fictional French composer Amade Mahlerbeau and its influences on modern musicians. What she's doing instead is barely hanging on. The death of her younger brother has sent her mother into depression, and Andi herself is getting through the days on her guitar music and some pretty heavy medication. Her parents are divorced, but when her DNA-scientist father discovers what's going on, he takes Andi with him on a research trip to Paris, where he's doing work to determine whether an old, shriveled-up heart actually belongs to a persecuted young prince from the Revolution era.
While she's in Paris, Andi discovers the diary of a teen girl living during the time of the French Revolution, a girl who has a strong connection to the young prince Andi's father is studying. As the days go by, Andi is drawn deeper and deeper into the diary and into the life of the composer Mahlerbeau until one night, she finds herself transported from the modern-day Catacombs to the Paris underground of the late 18th century.
This book combines so many amazing themes: grief and healing, the transformative power of music, and the things we do for love. And of course, there's also the theme of revolution -- that which exists in the bigger world and that which happens in our own souls. This was a great, compelling read, and it's a title I'll be thinking about for a long, long time. I'll be handing it to some of my more advanced readers -- including a few of last year's 7th graders who loved Donnelly's A NORTHERN LIGHT.
I'd be willing to bet that a lot of my new 7th grade girls in September are going to love this book...
THE HARD KIND OF PROMISE (Clarion - June 2010) is actually a title that I think fans of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. will appreciate quite a bit. It's similar in that it tackles the everyday struggles of middle school life, and I love the way author Gina Willner-Pardo does this -- with characters who are real and flawed and discovering themselves and with dialogue that's so wonderfully authentic it made me laugh out loud in places. At its heart, this is a book about friendship -- about the friend that Sarah had grown up with and finds herself drifting away from as middle school presents new interests and challenges. It's a sweet, funny, heartfelt book -- one that's perfect to hand to students who are tired of big flashy vampire books and just want to read something about regular kids like themselves.
And here's one that I know my reluctant readers -- boys and girls alike -- are going to love.
YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY (Lee & Low-July 2010) is a graphic novel written by G. Neri with illustrations by Randy DuBurke. It's a quick read that packs a punch because its title character, Robert "Yummy" Sandifer was a real-life Chicago gang member who killed and
I had the great privilege of hearing Jennifer Donnelly speak this Wednesday. She is on the second week of her book tour for REVOLUTION--a story which bridges the centuries with the lives of two teenage girls.
Ms. Donnelly titled her presentaion, "The Past Is Present: Writing REVOLUTION." The story involves the French Revolution, but it also deals with the revolution inside each of us. The author said, "All the books I've written have taken me on a journey. This book's journey has been the most rewarding."
The idea for the story started with a news article in the New York Times about the heart of the last dauphin, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The dauphin died at the age of 10 while still imprisoned. His demise was one of the many tragic deaths during the Revolution's upheaval.
In REVOLUTION, Ms. Donnelly wanted to explore the cruelty of a world where the deaths of innocent children were almost overlooked. The dauphin's heart is still kept on display at the Basillica of St. Denis in Paris--a sad testimony to a tumultuous time.