As an author, even after all these years, I never quite believe it until I have the actual book in my grubby little hands. Well, the box arrived yesterday and a few books cooperated for this photograph:
As a reminder, this book may be seen as a companion to, and extension of, the themes first presented in Bystander. If readers enjoyed that book, they could pick up this one next — though, admittedly, it’s a little tougher, a little darker. Or start with The Fall and ignore Bystander altogether. It’s your life!
Before I get to the excerpts, some review quotes:
“It was 2:55 am as I finally gave up on the notion of sleep. Having started reading THE FALL by James Preller earlier in the day, I knew sleep would not come until I had finished Sam’s story. Now, having turned the last page, it still haunts me and will for quite some time.” — Guys Lit Wire.
“Told through journal entries, Preller’s latest novel expertly captures the protagonist’s voice, complete with all of its sarcasm, indifference, and, at the same time, genuine remorse.” — School Library Journal.
“Readers will put this puzzle together, eager to see whether Sam ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death, and wanting to see the whole story of what one person could have, and should have, done for Morgan. Pair this with Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why (2007).” — Booklist.
“With its timely, important message and engaging prose style, Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” (Fiction. 10-16) — Kirkus.
“I didn’t realize the emotional impact this book had on me until the very last sentence when it brought tears to my eyes. This was a heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship, bullying, and the aftermath of all of it.” – Expresso Reads.
Now for the actual four-chapter excerpt, pages 151-158. Yes, each unnumbered chapter is super short:
FACE MEETS FIST
In retrospect, I don’t think getting punched in the face was that bad. I kind of liked it. I mean, I’m not recommending it. “Oh, yes, you simply must try the Punch-in-the-Face, it’s divine. Far superior to the Knee-to-the-Groin and half the calories!”
Fact: Fergus Tick went blam and I went boom. Hitting the ground was worse than the punch -– no disrespect to Fergus, who packs a wallop, but that concrete was hard.
To my surprise, I did not see stars. Pretty little birdies did not circle my head, chirping tunelessly. None of the typical things I expected after a lifetime’s education watching Loony Tunes cartoons. I got hit, I fell, and my coconut throbbed but didn’t crack. That was it. Fergus’s fist caught me on the right cheek below the eye -– Fergus was a lefty, who knew! Maybe a tougher kid staggers back but keeps standing. Not me. I flopped like a spineless jellyfish.
One punch and done.
Message received, loud and clear.
Surprisingly: Fergus was the one who looked frightened, and so did Athena, who stood watching. My confession in speech class shook them up. I had broken the code of silence. I said out loud what I had done to Morgan Mallen. I spoke the unspeakable. I owned the thing that nobody else wanted. And even though I didn’t point fingers at anyone else, I could see that it scared Athena to the core.
She didn’t look so pretty from my viewpoint on the ground. She looked like she’d just swallowed a poisoned apple. There was something evil in her soul and she was rotting from the inside out.
The fallout after Morgan’s suicide had not been a good experience for Athena Luikin. I watched her closely those days and weeks after Morgan’s death. I followed her movements, where she sat, what she did, and I saw that she had become damaged goods. If Morgan was the dead girl, Athena was the one we blamed. At first, Athena put on a brave face, the tough girl who didn’t give a hoot. Over time, cracks appeared. Everyone knew Athena was the one most responsible for harassing Morgan. In a way, she fell victim to her own game. Athena was tagged, too. Her tag read: BULLY. One by one, Athena’s friends faded into the background until she stood virtually alone, if not for the unwavering loyalty of Fergus Tick.
Rumors went around that Athena was transferring to a private school in another town. “Good,” we said. One morning, a FOR SALE sign appeared on her front lawn. There was talk of a lawsuit, damages and courtrooms. The reign of the Queen was over.
So there I sat on the ground, head going boom-ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom, fuzzzzzz.
“Get up,” Fergus demanded.
(So you can punch me again? I don’t think so.)
“Leave him,” Athena said. “Come let’s go, Fergus.”
And go they did.
I waited for my head to clear. It wasn’t so awful, it felt like waking up any school morning, that torturous distance between head-on-the-pillow and feet-on-the-floor.
I needed a hot shower. Or maybe a long hot bath. Morgan once said, “Baths make everything better.” It was time to find out if she was right.
Despite all that, deep down, I felt fantastic. Like a million bucks. Terrific, awesome, happy.
(How weird was that?)
I wasn’t on the wrong side of life anymore. I was now an enemy of the bad guys -– and it felt great. I tasted something sweet in my mouth, a new flavor, but I couldn’t figure out what it was until I spat.
I decided to do it. I had to.
I stood at her front door yesterday.
I breathed in and out, in and out.
Steady as a willow in a hurricane.
And I knocked.
Bark, BARK, barkbarkBARKbark!
I’d forgotten about Larry. The lunatic mop.
I suddenly, fiercely, insanely wished I had a mint. I breathed into my open palm. Yuck, gross. How was my hair? What was I doing here?
And the door creaked open.
The mother was standing there, wheezing slightly, sizing me up. The expression on her face said, What now, dear Lord, what now?
THINGS I LIKE
This is a list of random things I like.
I like baseball games that last extra innings. “Free baseball,” we call it. I like weekends without homework, watching my little sister sleep with her puffy lips and how the saliva dribbles out of the corner of her mouth. I like my bed made with the blankets folded down nice and perfect, just right. I like the cold, numb feeling of a package of frozen peas on my swollen face. I like the last bell of the school day and the sound in the hallways of a hundred lockers slamming joyously shut and the big hum of let’s get outta here, let’s go. I like funny videos with absurd cats (I realize it’s a big joke to some people, but I do). I like memories of old vacations, camping trips and card games and nickel antes. I like the stars in the sky when the night is warm and silent. I like the sound of a swing and a miss on the baseball diamond, the absence of sound followed by a fastball popping into the catcher’s leather glove, the whoosh-and-pop combo. I like that just-beginning feeling when you see a girl and think, wow, that’s all, just WOW, and you know you have to find a way to stand next to that girl somewhere, somehow. I like a brand new box of my favorite cereal, when I know it was bought just for me. I like turning on the radio and a great song comes on that same instant. I like laughter, and promises kept, and friendly waves across open fields. I even like Morgan’s lunatic dog that barkbarkbARKed with the soul of wolf.
I like being alive, and today I am, right now, saying yes to life. Yes, yes, and yes.
Larry pounced on my shoes, barkbarkbARKing!
“You remember me, don’t you, Larry?” I said.
“And you are?” the mother asked.
I didn’t have a good answer. And in fact, I never expected to see the mom. That wasn’t my plan. Yet here she was, a fairly gigantic woman in a huge floral housedress. She might have weighed three hundred pounds. She smelled of butterscotch and a scent that reminded me of Morgan, the faint whisper of booze.
She eyed me suspiciously, the door only half-open, ready to slam shut.
(I am Sam, Sam I am.)
All I had to do was open my mouth. It’s all anybody ever wanted me to do, my parents, Mr. Laneway, Morgan. “Just talk,” they said. “It’s easy. Try it. Say one word. Start with your name . . .”
What good would that do? My name is . . .
YES, I LOVE TO DO SCHOOL VISITS — EVEN SCARY MIDDLE SCHOOLS!
Over at Guys Lit Wire, the group book review site for teens I co-founded several years ago, we are again hosting the annual Book Fair for Ballou High School in Washington DC. Every year I build wishlist with Melissa Jackson, Ballou’s librarian, and we put it up online (at Amazon this year) and spend a couple of weeks blitzing the internet and asking for folks to buy a book for Ballou. This year we started with just under 400 books on the list and we hope that over the next 2 weeks 100 books will be bought.
This used to be a lot easier. When we first organized a book fair for Ballou in 2011, over 800 books were bought for the school. Since then, it has steadily become more difficult to generate excitement, to get folks to make their own blog posts or mention it on tumblr or facebook. The tweets have slowed down, the RTs are harder to come by. This book fair, like everything else, is just lost in all the clamor that lives in social media these days.
Another problem, is that so many school libraries need help these days. On Monday I was in a discussion on twitter where I heard about one parent whose daughter goes to school in a district where four elementary schools are depending on fundraisers to get books. Another teacher told me that his high school has not had a librarian for two years and the local public library is struggling to get new books as well. In the midst of this conversation it was easy to understand how yet another school library in need could get lost in the shuffle.
For me, Ballou is special. Melissa and I have talked and exchanged many emails over the years and I am continuously impressed by her enthusiasm for her job and dedication to her students. And when her students send a list of books they want, all I want to go is get them all. I want them to walk into a library every day that has thousands of books they want to read. I want to give them something magical because I know that books themselves are the biggest magic in the world.
So, I spread the word on the book fair and I beg everyone else to spread the word. About 30 books have been bought so far and so the odds of us making it to 100 in the next 2 weeks are pretty good. Of course I wish it was like the first year and we would sell out, but I get that times have changed (even on the internet). The books are still magic, no matter how many we get headed their way.
[Post pic of the kids from Ballou on Monday holding up signs thanking us for starting the book fair.]
This is one of those books filled with so much fascinating yet disgusting information that you can’t help but read parts out loud to other people so they can be grossed out right along with you.
Or maybe that’s just me. Because I started reading this book at work one day and just had to read some sections aloud to my co-workers. Like when Rebecca L. Johnson explains how a certain fungus grows inside the corpse of a type of carpenter ant, until “a long, skinny stalk erupts through the dead ant’s head.” Or the description of a wasp laying an egg on a cockroach, then the egg becoming a larva that slowly eats the roach’s internal organs while the roach is still alive. (And then I absolutely had to show my co-workers the accompanying pictures, as well. I mean, just look at page 24.)
Maybe you think zombies aren’t real, but zombification of sorts actually exists in nature. In Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead, Johnson explains how parasites like hairworms and the jewel wasp, among others, reproduce by infecting their host and making them act in weird, practically zombie-like ways. Vacant stares and stilted movements? Check. Unresponsive to pain, injury, even loss of body parts? Check.
Johnson (whose Journey Into the Deep I reviewed several years ago) focuses on just a few parasites in this short but, uh, engrossing book. Her writing is vivid, the design and photo selection effectively complements the text, and a lot of information is packed into this short book. Besides describing how the parasite infects its host and reproduces, Johnson also briefly discusses the scientific observations and experiments that informed our knowledge of the parasites. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. Whether you’re interested in science or just want to read a good gross-out book, or both, I highly recommend Zombie Makers.
Middle Grade nonfiction
Published in 2012
Cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.
Filed under: Non-Fiction
I’ve neglected to cross-post my last few reviews for Guys Lit Wire (Bomb by Sheinkin and Sumo by Pham, if you’re interested), but Spillover. Oh my god, this book was awesome and I loved it. If I’d read it when it came out last year, it would have easily topped my list of favorite books of 2012. But since I didn’t actually have a chance to read it until this past March, I’ll have to settle for putting it on my 2013 list.
Pick an infectious disease.
Influenza. Ebola. Bubonic plague. SARS. AIDS. I could go on.
Whatever disease you chose, there’s a good chance the pathogen that causes it originated in an animal and then jumped to humans. “This form of interspecies leap is common, not rare; about 60 percent of all human infectious diseases currently known either cross routinely or have recently crossed between other animals and us,” writes David Quammen. Such pathogens are known as zoonoses, and the moment when a pathogen jumps from one species to another is called spillover.
In Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, Quammen investigates a handful of zoonoses and how they spilled over, traveling all over the world and going into the field to speak to doctors, scientists, and survivors. He joins a biologist in Gabon who is conducting a biological survey of Central African forests, visits the “wet markets” of Guangdong, China, and helps trap monkeys and bats in Bangladesh. Along the way, he talks to men who were in the village of Mayibout 2 when Ebola struck in 1996, the doctors in Singapore who treated patients suffering from what was later identified as SARS but at first seemed merely a severe case of pneumonia, scientists who identified previously unknown diseases and tracked them to their original hosts, and many others.
Which would make for compelling reading on its own. Yet what really pushes this past compelling to outstanding is Quammen’s prose, sometimes wry (as when he notes “If you’ve followed all that, at a quick reading, you have a future in biology” after a paragraph-long description of the life stages of the Anopheles mosquito, and later “Mathematics to me is like a language I don’t speak though I admire its literature in translation.”), always sharply observant and erudite.
But for all the in-depth sections explaining scientific, medical, or epidemiological terminology, this is not a dry, detached scientific discourse. In a way, Spillover is about the human experience of infectious zoonotic disease–both those who are stricken and those who investigate it. And I could not put this book down. It’s timely and relevant, endlessly fascinating, and eloquently written.
Spillover happens to be one of three shortlisted titles for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, along with Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan and The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore. The winner will be announced at the ALA annual conference on June 30.
Book source: personal (purchased) copy.
* If, like me, you are into books about pandemics, David Dobbs put together a reading list at Slate. I haven’t yet read everything he recommends (must work on that!), but I also want to plug one article he didn’t mention, “Death at the Corners” by Denise Grady from Discover magazine. It’s not about a pandemic, but it is about a zoonotic disease outbreak, and probably THE article sparked my reading interest in infectious diseases.
Filed under: Non-Fiction
, Not YA
Oceans cover about 70% of the earth’s surface, yet only about 5% of the ocean has been seen by humans. In fact, we actually know less about the ocean than we do about some parts of our solar system.
In 2000, Census of Marine Life launched. Over the course of ten years, 2,700 scientists from around the world participated in 540 different expeditions that surveyed many different areas of the ocean. The goal of the Census was to “assess the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life.” Although the exploration phase of the Census is complete, it will take many more years to sort through and study everything that was collected.
Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson introduces readers to the Census and some of the creatures the Census discovered. The book is divided into sections based on the area of the ocean being studied, beginning with shallowest regions surveyed to the deepest.
Johnson joined scientists on a range of expeditions and effectively conveys the experience of, for example, sampling the ocean’s shallow edges or sorting through mud gathered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, picking out the animals. She describes each oceanic environment and some of the methods scientists used to survey the area by writing in the second person, putting readers in the scientists’ shoes, as in this paragraph after a submersible carrying scientists descended to the ocean’s deep slopes:
Farther down the continental slope, bubbles start fizzing past the porthole. For one terrifying moment, you’re sure the submersible is leaking air. The scientist calmly explains that you’ve arrived at a cold seep, a place where gases are bubbling up from the seabed. The gases are methane and hydrogen sulfide. If you could smell the water outside the submersible, it would stink like rotten eggs. (p. 24)
As engaging as Johnson’s writing, however, the book’s real draw are the numerous photographs of remarkable creatures on every page. There’s the brightly colored squat lobster (p. 11); the barreleye fish (Macropinna microstoma, p. 18), which has a transparent head (I need to repeat this—it has a transparent head!); the hairy-legged yeti crab (Kiwa hirsuta, p. 50; and a sea cucumber (Enypniastes eximia, p. 55) that sheds it skin when attacked, to name just a few.
There are some nice design touches, as well. Sidebars, which I usually dislike, are used effectively here, in large part because of the page layout. Paragraphs are never split on to two pages, but contained in their entirety on a single page. Also, each of the sections for the eight different oceanic environments Johnson observes begins with an inset depicting both the depth of the ocean and where, geographically, the expedition took place.
Backmatter includes a glossary, source notes, a selected bibliography, index, and a “Learn More” section that includes books, websites, and DVDs. Journey into the Deep is a great resource for middle schoolers, but readers of all ages will be drawn to photographs.
Including the new creatures discovered as part of the Census, only about 250,000 marine species have been identified. Since there could be more than 10 million ocean species we haven’t found yet, there’s still a lot more exploration to be done.
Book source: public library.
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