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My re-read of The Chocolate War continues!
Previous installments are here and here.
Chapter Twelve: In which Jerry has his last perfect moment in a long, long time.
- Jerry's at football practice, and his frustration about—and this is my interpretation, as he hasn't actually articulated the feeling—being rudderless and acted UPON rather than being the ACTOR in his own life, as well as being dismissed as insignificant and a nonentity by all of the forces who use him continues: What infuriated Jerry was that Carter toppled him gently, lowering him to the ground almost tenderly as if to prove his superiority. I don't have to murder you, kid, it's easy enough this way, Carter seemed to be saying. Long-windedness cut short: FORESHADOWING.
- Then the next pay is successful, and Jerry has a moment of "absolute bliss"... but then he goes inside to change, he finds a letter from the Vigils taped to his locker.
Chapter Thirteen: The first day of the chocolate sale.
- The Room Nineteen prank isn't sitting well with The Goober. At first, he felt like a folk hero and he enjoyed the butt-patting popularity, but there are rumors that Brother Leon is carrying on an investigation and that Brother Eugene has had a nervous breakdown. Also, there's this: The room would never be the same again, of course. The furniture creaked weirdly, as if it would collapse again without warning. The various teachers who used the room were uneasy—you could tell they were apprehensive. Once in a while, some guy would drop a book just to see the teacher flinch or leap in panic. So. Things that are broken—like, completely, utterly destroyed—and then mended... are never quite the same again. UNSETTLING THOUGHT, INDEED. By which I mean: FORESHADOWING.
- And then Brother Leon does role call, and asks each boy if he will participate in the chocolate sale, and every boy in the room says yes... except Jerry. And, as you might expect, even though this sale is supposedly entirely voluntary, refusing does not go over well: "You may pick up your chocolates in the gym, gentlemen," Brother Leon said, his eyes bright—wet bright. "Those of you who are true sons of Trinity, that is. I pity anyone who is not." That terrible smile remained on his face. "Class dismissed," Leon called although the bell had not sounded.
Chapter Fourteen: Time passes. Boys sell chocolates.
- I love the structure of this chapter: Cormier shows the passage of time with brief vignettes of random students selling chocolates interspersed with scenes of the daily battle of wills between Brother Leon and Jerry in homeroom. His ability to create three-dimensional, believable characters with just a few paragraphs is lovely, as is his trust in his audience to be able to keep up with the rapid pace of the scene changes.
- Using The Goober as our window to those homeroom scenes is another great choice on Cormier's part: he's already been shown to be more sensitive to and aware of tension and conflict than many of the other students, so his view of the situation is especially perceptive.
- Meanwhile, the kid who was appointed Candy Treasurer is pretty sure that Brother Leon is cooking the books...
Chapter Fifteen: In which we find out what Archie is holding over Janza's head.
- And, in a word, is is nothing: he's just PRETENDING to have a photo of Janza masturbating in a school bathroom. I don't even. (If it'd been a different character, this situation never would have worked, but as Janza is, as Willow Rosenberg would say, ID BOY, it makes complete sense to me that he would wander into a bathroom and think, "Hmmm, broken lock, no real privacy, well, now's as good a time as any.")
- The Archie/Janza scenes are always interesting; Janza acts like he thinks he's Archie's equal, but clearly knows that he isn't—he craves acceptance, but would never ever admit it; Archie very definitely looks down on Janza, but respects the fact that his unpredictability and inherent brutality makes him dangerous.
- I just noticed, too, that Archie and Jerry are the only two characters who are regularly referred to by their first names. Oh, wait, Obie, too.
Chapter Sixteen: In which a random student has a devastating flash of insight.
- Brother Leon holds a bad grade over David Caroni's head to find out what the deal is with Jerry Renault: Were teachers like everyone else, then? Were teachers as corrupt as the villains you read about in books or saw in movies and television? He'd always worshipped his teachers, had though of becoming a teacher himself if he could overcome his shyness.
- Which, of course, makes me think of River Phoenix's monologue in Stand By Me about stealing the milk money. Like I said, devastating.
- Anyway, now Brother Leon knows that Jerry's Vigil assignment ends tomorrow, and that he will say 'yes', start selling chocolates, and all will be right with the world.
Chapter Seventeen: In which Jerry does the unthinkable.
Kelly: Guest Post: Why The Chocolate War Matters by Angie Manfredi
Liz: The Chocolate War Read A Long Part Three
Spoilers about Belles are a necessity!
After long-lost cousins Isabelle Scott (from the Wrong Side of the Tracks, basically the North Carolina version of Chino) and Mirabelle Monroe (from Emerald Cove, basically the North Carolina version of the O.C.) found out that they were ACTUALLY SISTERS, life for both of them changed YET AGAIN.
Only actually not that much. Yes, they have to do a bunch of press stuff so as to save their father's political career, but mostly it's just more of the same: dealing with mean girls at school and trying to save Izzy's beloved community center and misunderstandings and boy troubles and so on.
And never fear, O.C. fans, this installment continues to channel the show: WINTER WHITE IS (in part) ABOUT COTILLION.
The only thing missing is Tate Donovan getting punched in the face.
Be ready for some clunky exposition—Cotillion! How could Mira have forgotten about her favorite tradition in Emerald Cove? Making her formal debut into society was something she had dreamed about since she was in pre-K. She'd spent the last three years preparing for the sophomore girl tradition—taking etiquette classes, going to Saturday morning dance lessons, and doing approved Junior League charity work—and somehow she had let all this drama with her dad make her completely forget the most important event of the year!—but wait, there's more!—Cotillion pledging. Rush. Debutante initiation. Whatever you wanted to call it, Mira had forgotten about this secret tradition, too.—and then the narrator goes on to explain it all in detail, but I'm sure you get the point, so I'll spare you.
And I was disappointed that Calonita [SPOILER] apparently fed the same exact criteria into the Random Villain Generator, because JEEZ LOUISE, AN UP-AND-COMING POLITICAL FAMILY JUST CAN'T GET RELIABLE HELP THESE DAYS. [/SPOILER]
Perfect? No. Literary pyrotechnics? Double no.
But I love how Izzy and Mira have become a team—much like Seth Cohen and Ryan Atwood, of course—and if you go in for this sort of thing (as I do), as long as you're prepared to overlook some rough spots, it's fun stuff. I'll be reading book three soon-ish.
Book source: ILLed through my library.
I just found out that there's a third book in Maggie Stiefvater's Books of Faerie series due out later this year.
Pardon me WHILE I HYPERVENTILATE!
Continuing my chapter-by-chapter recap of Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War! If you need to catch up, the first installment is here.
Chapter Six: In which Brother Leon practically BEGS for someone to sue the school.
- So, Brother Leon basically treats his classroom of boys as a captive audience... for psychological torment. WHEEE!!! Seriously, the guy is a sadist. He pulls a student up in front of the class, accuses him of cheating, "accidentally" slashes him in the face with his pointer—"Bailey, I'm sorry," Leon said, but his voice lacked apology. Had it been an accident? Or another of Leon's little cruelties?—gets the whole classroom to laugh at this poor boy who's done committed no crime but get good grades...
- ...and then, after one brave(ish) unidentified soul in the back of the room says, "Aw, leave the kid alone," Leon tells that the classroom of boys are no better than Nazis for not speaking up sooner.
- He claims that it's a lesson—and maybe it was, sort of—but despite his praise of Bailey at the end of the "exercise", it's clear that he enjoyed frightening and shaming Bailey, a complete innocent.
Chapter Seven: Introducing Emile Janza
- Archie's a sociopath and Brother Leon is just a twisted, hateful, bitter old bastard, but Emile Janza is a psychopath. Archie enjoys messing with people in a clinical, detached way, whereas Janza gets off on it. Literally: And if you told anybody, it would be hard to explain. Like how he sometimes felt actually horny when he roughhoused a kid or tackled a guy viciously in football and gave him an extra jab when he had him on the ground. So, yeah: he's a real peach.
Chapter Eight: The Goober completes his assignment
- I love The Goober. I love that he's described as being gawky and awkward at rest, but as a thing of beauty in motion. I love that Cormier conveys perfectly, in just a couple of pages, that while Goubert has the body of a young man, that he's still a boy: it's a good reminder of how young most of these characters really are.
- Anyway, he's in the classroom, loosening screws, and he's been there for six hours and it's dark and he's terrified that he won't ever finish... when a few masked guys show up and help him finish. Not because they feel sorry for him, but because "the assignment is more important than anything else". Three hours later, the job is done.
Chapter Nine: Jerry's home life.
- When Jerry's mother was dying, he was scared: scared of seeing her waste away, scared of his own grief. He saw his father's stoicism as strength. After she died, their respective routines—his father's job at the pharmacy and Jerry's classes and football practices—saved them...
- ...but now Jerry's starting to consider a whole life of routine, and it palls: He hated to think of his own life stretching ahead of him that way, a long succession of days and nights that were fine, fine—not good, not bad, not great, not lousy, not exciting, not anything. I'd forgotten how much more there is to this book beyond the stuff with the chocolates.
- So, that bit where Jerry sees his mother's face superimposed over his father's face? I know I SHOULD have found that emotionally moving or something, but really all it made me think of was that time on Twin Peaks where Mrs. Palmer is talking to Stupid Donna Hayward and she has a vision of Laura's face and then she does what she does best and freaks out.
Chapter Ten: The chocolate sale is officially announced.
- Now that I have Twin Peaks on the brain, this book suddenly has a Lynchian vibe. Especially this: The student body watched with glee as Leon's stooges tried to scotch-tape the posters to the wall at the rear of the stage. The posters kept slipping to the floor, resisting the tape. The walls were made of concrete blocks, and tacks couldn't be used, of course. Hoots filled the air.
- HOOTS, EVEN.
- Now I'm thinking that, since the movie is pretty much universally reviled—at least in terms of being NOT REMOTELY TRUE TO THE BOOK—that David Lynch should remake it. Holy cow, it would be brutal.
- Anyway, back to the actual book: Archie muses on about how he'll pick a few guys to sell his chocolates for him—AS IF he'd lower himself to sell any—and pats himself on the back for being such a Good Guy.
Chapter Eleven: Room Nineteen
- It takes thirty-seven seconds for everything in the room to collapse—including the chalkboard—and Cormier's description of the pandemonium is AMAZING. (Have I convinced you to read this book yet, or what? Because, MAN. I do love it.)
- The perfection of the moment—well, from Archie's perspective, as poor Brother Eugene's view of things is entirely different—is ruined by Brother Leon, who rips into him in front of everyone and accuses him of orchestrating the chaos. Which, of course, he did. OBVIOUSLY. But that doesn't stop him from being completely furious: He turned and saw some guys staring at Leon and him. Staring at him! Archie Costello humiliated by this snivelling bastard of a teacher. His sweet moment of triumph spoiled by this nut and his ridiculous chocolate sale!
- So, what do you think? Archie Costello's fatal flaw... could it possibly be related to HIS EGO?
Kelly: The Chocolate War: A Cover Retrospective, English Editions.
Liz: The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 2.
...have been announced, and I'm sure it comes as no surprise to ANYONE that the Teen Book of the Year prize went to The Fault in our Stars, by John Green.
See the rest of the finalists here and the rest of the winners here.
Today's deal: What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know, the sequel to What My Mother Doesn't Know, is a mere 99¢!
It's been ages since I've picked either of them up, and NOW I'M ALL TEMPTED.
Damn your eyes, Amazon.
WHY DO YOU WANT ME TO BE SO POOR??
As you've probably already learned from Kelly and Liz, the three of us are giving Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War a close look this week. If you've read it, I'm guessing that even if you're hazy on the details of the plotting and the characters and the structure, you can still tap into your emotional reaction to it. It's been well over ten years since I read it last, and I know I can.
It blew my mind when I read it as a teenager, it blew my mind when I read it in my 20s, and I fully expect it to blow my mind again now. It's a brutal story—emotionally, philosophically, physically—and Cormier doesn't pull any punches or offer any platitudes. Life isn't fair, bad things happen to those who don't deserve it, justice isn't always served, and people can be broken.
And yet, despite where the story leaves him, there's something inspiring in Jerry Renault's attempt to matter, to find meaning, to disturb the universe. If you're interested in YA, and you haven't read it, you really ought to—Cormier is a cornerstone, and without him, we wouldn't have authors like Chris Crutcher or Chris Lynch—and if you have read it, but it was years and years ago, I'd say that this would be the perfect time to pick it up again.
So, without further ado, here I go, back into The Chocolate War.
- First line: "They murdered him." In this scene, it's in the context of football, but of course, it's also some HEAVY DUTY MEGAZORD FORESHADOWING. Um, spoiler, I guess? Oh, wait, it originally came out in 1974. A twenty-year statute of limitations on spoilers is more than fair, I think. Jerry's response to getting nailed again and again in practice—to get up and keep going, almost despite himself, like his force of will is stronger than his logic—is, of course, also HEAVY DUTY MEGAZORD FORESHADOWING.
- Cormier's description is killer: "A telephone rang in his ears. Hello, hello, I'm still here. When he moved his lips, he tasted the acid of dirt and grass and gravel. He was aware of the other players around him, helmeted and grotesque, creatures from an unknown world. He had never felt so lonely in his life, abandoned, defenseless."
- In less than four pages, we get a strong impression of Jerry's personality and state of mind, a bit about his mother's recent death and a bit about what he's searching for without really being aware that he's searching. And Cormier does it all without overt exposition.
- Also, there's the first of many references to masturbation—because, HELLO, high school freshman—which is one of the various reasons that this book still gets challenged again and again.
- And now we shift to Obie, the mixed-feelings-having right-hand man of the school's resident sociopath, Archie. Archie is smart and charismatic and controlling and devious, and while sometimes I wholeheartedly appreciate characters like that, he's one who makes my skin crawl.
- Archie's coming up with assignments for The Vigils, and while they aren't overtly explained—the assignments or The Vigils, another example of Cormier's avoidance of the infodump—it's pretty clear that The Vigils is some sort of underground student gang, and that whoever the assignees are, well, they've probably got some ugly days ahead of them.
- Jerry Renault is the last boy that Archie puts on his list—along with the word chocolates—and he includes him in good part because of his mother's recent death. Which kind of says it all about Archie.
- What else? Ah. The setting: a Catholic school is called Trinity.
- Challenge fodder: Lord's name in vain, etc., etc.
- Three days later, Jerry gets accosted by a jerk of a hippie—They really say man, Jerry thought. He didn't think anyone said man anymore except as a joke. But this guy wasn't joking.—and even though he's fully aware that the hippie is a jerk, what the hippie says—that Jerry is sleepwalking through life, just going through the motions rather than actually living—resonates.
- This bit really got me, just because it's such a perfect encapsulation of where Jerry's at:
Why? someone had scrawled in a blank space no advertiser had rented.
Why not? someone else had slashed in answer.
Jerry closed his eyes, exhausted suddenly, and it seemed like too much of an effort even to think.
- Back to Archie, who has just had a major realization: "Archie became absolutely still, afraid that the rapid beating of his heart might betray his sudden knowledge, the proof of what he'd always suspected, not only of Brother Leon but most grownups, most adults: they were vulnerable, running scared, open to invasion."
- While I'm on the subject of Brother Leon: what a bastard. On the surface, he's just as horrible as Archie, but I think he's even worse because A) he's an adult, and B) while Archie does what he does because it's in his nature, Brother Leon does what he does because he's nasty and grasping and hateful and mean. I have such incredibly strong negative feelings about him that Archie almost looks good by comparison. ALMOST.
- Long story short: while the Head is in the hospital, Brother Leon will be the interim head of Trinity. The annual chocolate sale is coming up, and he bought a ton of cut-rate boxes—twenty thousand of them instead of the usual ten—in the hopes of making double the money twice over. Brother Leon wants the Vigils to ensure that the sale is successful, but he can't come out and say anything about them, because obviously the school can't acknowledge their existence. Some cat-and-mousing goes on—the balance of power tips back-and-forth a couple of times—and it's a wonderfully tense scene.
- Enter the Goober: Despite his height, he was easily six-one, he reminded Archie of a child, someone who didn't belong here, as if he'd been caught sneaking into an Adults Only movie. He was too skinny, of course. And he had the look of a loser. Vigil bait.
- As the Assigner, Archie isn't technically the head of the Vigils—the President is Carter, a bruiser of a football player—but everyone (including Carter) knows that the Assigner is the true leader and the President is merely an enforcer.
- Goober gets his assignment: he has to go to Brother Eugene's homeroom and loosen every single screw in the room. Every desk, every chair, the blackboard, everything. On the surface, that doesn't sound so bad—it'll take a long time, and it'll be a lot of work, but beyond that it seems tame—but as I know where the story goes, reading this chapter made me feel ill.
- LOVE THIS. The Vigils have a fail-safe to keep the Assigner from going too bananas with his assignments: every time he gives one, there is a 1 in 6 chance that he'll have to carry it out, rather than his intended victim.
Kelly: First Impressions
Liz: The Chocolate War: Read A Long Part 1
Today is my sister's birthday as well, actually, but as I've never covered Beezus and Ramona* here, instead, I'll simply point you back to my post about John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale:
A lot of the SF I've read has felt like it held me at arm's length. Distance like that prevents me from ever fully connecting with a story or the characters in it. This one felt so real and so close that it was almost like Zoe was in the room with me. She made me cry. Like, three times. She also made me laugh out loud while I was crying.
And now I am reminded that I really need to read more of his books, as I enjoyed that one so very much.
Relatedly, I am now suddenly tempted to go up to the attic and dig through my boxes of books to find my Beverly Cleary.
*She is SO VERY, VERY Ramona, and I am SO VERY, VERY Beezus.
“Ansel is whip-smart and uber-charismatic and everything I dreamed for Augustus Waters,” John Green tells EW in an exclusive statement. “I am by nature a cautious pessimist, but I’ll just say it: Now that we have Shailene and Ansel, I am completely, unreservedly psyched about this movie.”
I used to post about older books a lot more. Somewhere along the way, though, in an effort to keep up with the never-ending supply of review copies and new books at the library (and new books that I buy), that except for the rare special series, I've gotten away from that.
So, for the foreseeable future, I'm going to start covering older titles on Fridays.
I've been a huge fan of this series from day one, and it recently occurred to me that I've never actually posted about the very first book, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: SO HERE I AM, POSTING ABOUT MY LURRRVE FOR IT*. Just so you know, there will be lots of quotage in this post, as A) I find it impossible to pick this book up without sharing** and B) it's Georgia's voice that makes it so wonderfully funny.
Fourteen-year-old Georgia Nicolson has a whole list of problems:
(1) I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.
(2) It is on my nose.
(3) I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.
(4) In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberführer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic "teachers."
(5) I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.
(6) I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.
And that's all BEFORE she meets Robbie, AKA the Sex God.
If you step back and look at her critically, Georgia is pretty terrible. She's self-absorbed and vain; selfish, petty, and a mostly-awful friend. BUT. She's also a totally believable depiction of an extremely confused ("See you later?" What does that mean?), boy-crazy girl who's in that My Parents Are So Old And Uncool And Impossibly Dumb stage. This is her diary, where she can be as awful as she wants with no repercussions, and she's cheerfully raunchy and laugh-out-loud hilarious, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. She's also got a real gift for describing everyday embarrassments (being late to school, getting all red and sweaty running there, running into a hot boy) and making them seem EPIC and HORRIFIC and channelling her embarrassment so that you feel it, too. (Even as you're laughing.)
Also, despite her utter disinterest in school, she's a clever, witty girl! Her invented slang is a complete joy and totally contagious (I still use it on a daily basis), she's a reader (lots of Cosmo, yes, but she also mentions reading books on a regular basis), and she's prone to making terrible jokes along these lines:
The Peter started nuzzling my neck and I thought, Oh, we haven't done necks before, he's branching out a bit, and then I nearly choked to death trying not to laugh (up against a tree . . . branching out, do you get it?) . . . but I stopped myself. You have to keep reminding yourself about boys not liking a laugh.
As much as she tries to act with dignitosity and maturinosity, her exuberance and humor are both irrepressible, and as beastly as she can be to her parents, it's ALWAYS clear that she adores her (smelly) younger sister. While some of the cultural references are a bit dated—Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Sharon Stone, payphones—fourteen years later, the emotional aspects of Georgia's trials and tribulations still ring true.
*Apologies for being so caps-happy lately, btdubs. I think spring is making me EVEN MORE textually enthusiastic than usual.
**Think I'm exaggerating? Just ask Josh. If given a test on these books, he'd totally ace it despite never actually reading one.
Book source: Borrowed from my library.
...have been announced.
The YA list is:
Man, that cat has appeared on the cover of every one of the Hex Hall books, despite there distinct lack of cat in the series. IT DRIVES ME BANANAS.
Yes, I realize I should get out more.
Anyway, Spell Bound. SPOILERS ABOUT THE FIRST TWO ARE A NECESSITY.
At the end of Demonglass, Sophie had finally come to terms with demonic heritage... only to be magically prevented from accessing her own powers. As if that being powerless and being-hunted by the same jerks who bound her powers isn't enough, she gets captured by the Brannicks—specifically the youngest one, which just adds insult to injury—a family whose monster-hunting legacy goes back for decades.
But get this: it turns out that Sophie's mother is a Brannick.
Which means that so is Sophie. So she's got demons on one side, and demon hunters on the other... which, if she makes it through all of this alive, will make for some HELLISH (<--ho ho ho) family reunions.
Oh, ALSO, she's not sure if any of her friends are even still alive. And IF THEY ARE, she still doesn't know how she's going to deal with that whole in-love-with-dreamy-Archer-the-triple-agent-but-betrothed-to-hottiepants-Cal-the-healer thing.
Like Hex Hall and Demonglass, Spell Bound is energetic, fast-paced, and funny. Sophie continues to by likable and entertaining, and her habit of making terrible, terrible jokes whenever she's nervous never gets old. Neither this installment nor Demonglass ever quite reaches the heights of Hex Hall, but the whole series is still immensely fun, and I LOVE that it's a smart, witty, mostly-boppy paranormal romance peopled with characters that I care about, rather than being ANGSTY and OVER-DRAMATIC and RIFE WITH TRAGEDY and FILLED WITH CHARACTERS I WANT TO SLAP.
La la la la la la la.
SPOILER: I didn't particularly like how the love triangle was resolved—killing off Cal seemed more cop-out than resolution—but that's a pretty small issue, especially since now Elodie can pursue his ghostly hotness for all eternity, and as she's one of the best characters in the whole series, I'm glad that Hawkins gave her a happy ending.
NOW, ON TO SCHOOL SPIRITS, WHICH I'VE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO FOR AGES.
Previously: Hex Hall, Demonglass.
Book source: ILLed through my library.
BECAUSE HOLY COW, IT IS AN AWESOME STORY.
From an interview at KidsEBookBestsellers:
I guess Traditional is probably the right word, but it was highly unconventional. I sent two of my short stories to Diana Wynne Jones. Not only was she gracious enough to read them, she recommended I send them to her American editor Susan Hirschman who agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Instead of Three Wishes.
That's as rad as Lyle Lovett crediting Guy Clark for kickstarting his career by talking up his demo tape way back when. MY SHRIVELED LITTLE HEART, IT JUST GREW THREE SIZES.
...from eighth-grade classrooms in Glen Ellyn, Illinois:
On Monday, those who spoke on this topic during public comment disagreed with the board's decision. Students said they didn't want their ability to read certain books to be determined by other parents in the district and board members, rather than their own parents. Many also said certain objectionable passages in the book were focused on rather than its overall message.
"This book gave me hope," said Carly Basler, Hadley eighth-grader. "This book inspired me. This book showed me my differences are my strengths."
Last week, some Hadley students demonstrated their support for the book by placing sticky notes with drawings of flowers and quotes from the book on walls in the school, Hadley teachers said. They also started their own petition, which was sent to board members, teachers said.
...have been announced.
The YA list is:
Gold: The Immortal Von B. by M. Scott Carter (The RoadRunner Press)
Silver (tie): Bi-Normal, by M.G. Higgins (Saddleback Publishing) and Untraceable: The Nature of Grace series, Book 1, by S.R. Johannes (Coleman & Stott)
Bronze: The Elephant of Surprise, by Brent Hartinger (Buddha Kitty Books)
Click on through for the other categories.
The first book in Rick Yancey's Monstrumologist series is $1.99 today, so if you don't have it, I'd TOTALLY suggest snagging it.
If you haven't read it, DO. After all, like Arrested Development, it has such devoted and vocal fans (not to mention stellar reviews) that the series survived cancellation. (More on that here and here.)
Oh, and Artemis Fowl is $2.99 today. I almost didn't bother mentioning it, because A) I'm not a particular fan and B) it's not like the series needs a push from me, but C) I figured that since I was writing this post anyway, I may as well throw it in here, too. So there you go.
[ETA: Huh. Variant, by Robison Wells, is also $1.99. Worth a purchase? The description makes it sound like Lord of the Flies in boarding school.]
...have been announced.
The YA gold medal winner is:
Morgan Matson, for Second Chance Summer.
The YA silver medal winner is:
Marissa Moss, for A Soldier’s Secret: The Incredible True Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero.
The other YA fiction finalists are:
Carrie Arcos, for Out of Reach.
Robin LaFevers, for Grave Mercy.
Lemony Snicket, for Who Could That Be at This Hour? All the Wrong Questions, Book One.
Click on through for the rest of the winners and finalists!
As I'm sure you've already heard, E.L. Konigsburg died this weekend.
Which is a huge loss.
She's one of the very few authors on my personal Doesn't Know How To Write A Bad Book list, and even though I haven't picked up one of her books in a few years—I'm planning on digging them out this evening—the news of her death was a punch in the gut.
Here are a few links to obituaries and remembrances from around the kitlitosphere and beyond:
At Educating Alice:
I was fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Konigsburg a few times. My favorite memory of these was at a late evening drinks reception where I sat with her and a handful of others on bar stools around a small high table, quite starry-eyed to be included. She was definitely one of the classiest and smartest people I have ever read or met and I hope that her books will continue to provide the same intellectual and aesthetic pleasure for others that they have for me
From the AP:
In 2004, she told The Dallas Morning News that she built her characters and plots by imagining situations what-if situations with her children, grandchildren and students.
"I think most of us are outsiders," she said. "And I think that's good because it makes you question things. I think it makes you see things outside yourself."
At the Dallas News:
She also found it funny that for many years, the Metropolitan Museum of Art refused to sell From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler because, she speculated, they feared the book would encourage kids to do what her characters did and and sleep on an exhibit bed and bathe in the water fountain when the museum was closed.
Eventually the museum not only relented, but they allowed a movie adaptation of the book to be filmed on its premises.
At the BBC:
Her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, was given a special Newbery honour the same year she won her first Newbery medal, making her the only author to win two Newbery prizes in the same year.
At Cynsations (lots of other links here, too):
In my new purchased copy of Mixed-up Files (not the only one I own), she wrote: "Thank you for loving this book so much for so many years."
I'm the one who's grateful. I can only imagine how many times she scribbled that sentiment, or one very much like it, for readers who were starstruck, too.
For years, The View from Saturday was read, re-read and re-read yet again until it fell apart, then I’d run out and find a new one. She touched my life and my heart with her books and she lives on in them. My granddaughter now reads and re-reads From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler much as I did The View from Saturday. I am positive, because her books are so enduring that my granddaughter’s grandchildren will one day be lying in a window seat with a well-loved, almost falling apart book by Ms. Konisburg in their hands.
At the Children's Literature Network:
Reading A View from Saturday touched my heart. I had grown up with kids like this. The notion of an Academic Bowl was so appealing that I wanted to slip back to my childhood, go to that school, and be on the team. Elaine Lobl Konigsburg told stories about real children, kids that many of us could side with, laugh with, cry with, and not feel alone.
From Mindy Klasky:
Along with books by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Ruth M. Arthur, the stories of E.L. Konigsburg were some of the very first that sparked my imagination, that taught me about secret worlds where I could explore very far away from the suburban streets of North Dallas. (And I’m a bit astonished to realize that virtually all of Konigsburg’s books are set in the real world — historic world sometimes, but not in made-up secondary venues. I’m surprised because those books carried a sense of wonder, a vision of different-ness, that flavors my speculative fiction today.)
From Diana Peterfreund:
It’s about independence and New York and art and Michelangelo, and I was more than a little like Claudia at that age, and I used to try to figure out how long I’d last in that place and what I’d spend money on (I tell you, I’d not be as obsessed with baths as she was) and to this day, whenever I’m in a restroom at a museum, I think about the whole “standing on the toilet seat and ducking” trick.
Lastly, here are the links to the personal obituary (as opposed to industry and press ones) and the online guestbook.
I'm sure there are lots of others—if you've run across any especially nice pieces, let me know in the comments. Or, if you feel like it, tell me which of her books is your favorite. (Mine continues to be Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.)
Have you ever seen the original Ocean's Eleven? The one from 1960, I mean, with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra? You'd think, what with it being a Rat Pack movie, and with that cool cast and cool premise and all that good stuff, that it would be a FABULOUSLY ENTERTAINING movie.
Well, it isn't. I suspect that the guys had a great time MAKING the movie, but WATCHING it is another story. It's one of the rare cases in which the remake is a huge improvement on the original.
Anyway, my experience in reading Who Done It? was kind of like my experience with Ocean's Eleven: I appreciated the idea of the project more than the actual result. Who Done It? is a compilation of pieces by, like, 3/4a of the Who's-Who of the kidlit and YA world, edited by Jon Scieszka, and benefiting 826NYC. Which SOUNDS awesome: great people writing, awesome guy editing, super-deserving beneficiary.
But, like Ocean's Eleven, I suspect that reading the finished product might be more fun for the parties involved in Who Done It?'s creation than it is for the general reading public. The basic premise—a much-despised editor is murdered at a party and all of the authors in attendance have to provide their alibis—sounds fun, but for the most part, the contributions read like A) jokes that the majority of the book's readership aren't likely to be in on (lots of them are about the publishing industry, and some are in-jokes between authors), or B) in a few cases, just plain phoned in.
That isn't to say that there aren't some gems—I especially liked the pieces by Mac Barnett, Gayle Forman, Adam Gidwitz, Adele Griffin & Lisa Brown, Lev Grossman, David Levithan, Sarah Mlynowski & Courtney Sheinmel, Lauren Myracle, Joy Preble, Margo Rabb, Jennifer E. Smith, and Adrienne Maria Vrettos—but as there are 70ish pieces, that's a lot to wade through for a few pages of fun.
Anyway, like I said, the proceeds go to a great cause. So I feel like kind of a jerk for not being more excited about the book. But... eh.
Book source: ILLed through my library.
Pretty Little Liars,
the first book in Sara Shepard's totally addictive* series, is $2.99 today. I've already read it, so I'm not going to buy that one, but I'm considering buying Andrew Fukuda's The Hunt, which is also $2.99 today.
*I read the first five in one weekend because I just. couldn't. stop. They don't have much staying power—I burned out on them after that weekend—but if you're looking for a cotton candy read**, it's a good bet.
**Cotton candy as in there's no real substance, not cotton candy as in it's sweet. Vinegar-flavored cotton candy? No, that's too strong in the other direction. Bacon? No, bacon has too much depth. BAC-OS. BAC-OS-FLAVORED COTTON CANDY. Phew! I'm glad I figured that out.
I have such a soft spot for the Bloodlines books. Unless I'm spacing on something, I think that it is—at the moment—the only vampire series that has me CONSTANTLY YEARNING for the next installment. (I really should go back and read the Vampire Academy books: Bloodlines is a spin-off series.)
Anyway, so if you haven't read Bloodlines and The Golden Lily, this is the basic set-up going into The Indigo Spell:
Most people know Sydney Sage as a quiet, somewhat socially-awkward, khaki-clad, extremely studious student at Amberwood Prep in Palm Springs, California. A select few know her secret: she is ACTUALLY an Alchemist, a member of a secret organization that works to keep the fact that vampires exist a secret from humans who aren't In The Know. Like all Alchemists, Sydney grew up believing that all vampires are bad news—even the non-murderous "good" ones—but her work (and her friendship-slash-ongoing-case-of-red-bottomosity with Adrian Ivashkov, a snarky, smoldering, artistic vampire royal) with vampires in the field has led her to distrust those long-held beliefs... but only secretly, since Questioning Protocol doesn't go over well in the Alchemist camp.
In this installment, she works on tracking down the mysterious Marcus Finch, a possibly-mythical Alchemist who A) is rumored to have quit the fold without getting forced into getting Re-educated, and B) supposedly Knows Things about the Alchemists that they Don't Want Known. She also goes to a vampire wedding; gets involved in a covert search for a powerful witch who's been draining young magic users of their life essence; and actively uses her magic... in the last place that she'd ever have expected herself to use it. Oh! There's also a DRAGON. A PIE-EATING DRAGON.
Here's what I love about this series:
- Sydney. Although she has strong emotional ties to the Alchemist way of life, her intelligence, her logic, and her critical-thinking skills have led her to start to question what she's been taught... but it's always clear that she's got understandably mixed feelings about it all; in the first two books, she was teetering on the brink of an eating disorder, and her struggles with and thoughts about that have been realistic, believable, and relatable. She's reserved and careful about who she trusts; she can be oblivious to the feelings of others; she's difficult and sometimes bossy; really type-A, and not always in a particularly attractive way; basically, she's wonderfully imperfect and I definitely see what Adrian sees in her.
- Adrian. My favorite thing about him—beyond the handsome, talented, smart stuff, which is par for the course with vampire love interests—is that he has faith in Sydney's abilities. When she decides to risk her freedom (not to mention her life) by going off to St. Louis and infiltrating the Alchemist compound and stealing some vital information, he isn't particularly keen on the idea, but not only does he NOT try to talk her out of it, but he also sets his own jealousy aside and even offers up pointers on how to use her feminine wiles to further her mission. Also, he's very open and frank and non-brooding about the fact that he's in lurrrve with her, which makes for some moments that are both hilarious (for the reader) and annoying (for Sydney).
Also good: the books are smart and funny, the secondary characters are likable (well, not the villains, duh), and Mead weaves in real-life issues without being preachy or condescending or didactic. If you like paranormals and you HAVEN'T started this series, they'll make for perfect beach reads this summer.
Book source: ILLed through my library.
Ludania is ruled by a powerful, magic-wielding queen who enforces a strict language-based caste system. She's dying, though, and there isn't an heir capable of taking the throne.
Due to discontent with the severity of the system—simply failing to lower one's eyes when someone speaks a language associated with one of the higher castes is punishable by death—as well as unrest within the broader political landscape, a revolution is brewing.
Our heroine, seventeen-year-old Charlie (short for Charlaina) isn't particularly interested in being involved in a revolution. She's got enough on her plate, what with having to hide her magical ability—despite her lowly Vendor status, she can understand any language; written, visual, or verbal—and hiding the even-more powerful power of her younger sister.
Unfortunately for Charlie, her years of insuring her family's safety by keeping her head down and getting through life without attracting attention are at an end: her ability is far more significant than she could have ever imagined, and is of huge interest to both the queen and to the people who want to bring about the end of her rule.
For the first fifty or so pages, The Pledge had me. Like, REALLY, REALLY had me. Derting dropped me into Ludania and Charlie's life without much explanation or exposition, which is always a storytelling technique that I appreciate, as it makes the world and characters and dialogue more believable (none of that "Dean, we were RAISED as WARRIORS" stuff*) and suggests confidence and faith in the reader's abilities. It was refreshing that the culture was so matriarchal that there was never even a discussion about the feasibility of coronating a male heir; the idea of a caste system being based in language appealed to my language-loving self as did Charlie's non-flashy-but-extremely-cool ability; and I enjoyed that the focus shifted from character to character and from first-person to third and back again.
Where it lost me—and sadly, this isn't much of a surprise given the other recent dystopians I've read—was in the love story. Not only was it a case of instalove—Max meets Charlie and, like, five minutes later, pretty much swears fealty to her—but Max is also a hero in the Edward Cullen vein, in that he romanticizes danger (he makes Charlie feel unsafe, but her attraction to him is Not To Be Denied) and that he is so protective that he keeps making decisions for her, and so, despite the whole matriarchal society thing, her agency is lessened. Both of those issues can, of course, be chalked up to personal taste, so it's likely that The Pledge will be a good pick for Twilight fans who enjoy dystopians.
BONUS ISSUE: The book wraps up really, REALLY quickly. So quickly, given the pacing of the first 7/8s of the book, that it feels like the author threw her pen across the room with a big, Willow-esque "BORED NOW", and then had to get up, get her pen, and force herself to finish the book off with a couple of brief chapters and an epilogue.
BONUS HAPPY DANCE MATERIAL: THERE ISN'T A LOVE TRIANGLE. There's plenty of potential, but it never actual pans out. So YAY FOR THAT!
BONUS SECONDARY HAPPY DANCE MATERIAL, BUT IT INVOLVES TWO MAJOR SPOILERS: I loved that in the epilogue, Charlie mentions that she'd taken Max into her bed. No mention of marriage, that it was a thing that would last forever and ever, or that he had instigated their sexual relationship. Although it came on the very last page, that one short line did a lot to assuage my concerns about his Cullen-y nature, and it got me curious about the sequel: I want to know if Charlie's new-found confidence is truly her own, or if it is a byproduct of having melded with the Queen...
*In the first few episodes of Supernatural, the brothers Winchester spout a lot of clunky dialogue that served purely to explain their situation to new viewers. It was annoying because they A) repeated the same information every episode, information that they B) were both well-versed in, which made the dialogue unnecessary and unlikely, all of which served to C) weaken the world-building and character development and D) deal regular blows to my suspension of disbelief by constantly bringing the screenwriters to my attention.
Book source: ILLed through my library.
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...have been announced, and the YA winner is: CODE NAME VERITY!
See this post for the other finalists, and click on through to see the other winners.