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From KQED Radio:
Ethnic diversity is on the rise in the U.S. So why are children's books still so white? Only about 6 percent of kids' books published in 2013 feature characters that are African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American. We take up the discussion with authors, illustrators and librarians. Does the ethnicity of characters in children's books matter to you?
Panelists include Christopher Myers, Mitali Perkins, and others!
...since Spring is officially here (even though we're supposed to get snow on Wednesday, SIGHHHHH), I talked about some books about gardens and gardeners and gardening!
I wanted to like The Savages so much more than I did.
And also Jason Chan cover art!
At dinner one night, fifteen-year-old Sasha Savage drops a bombshell on her parents: her new not-quite-a-boyfriend-but-more-than-a-friend-friend, Jack, is a vegetarian. Which, considering their family history—during the siege of Leningrad, Titus Savage's parents saved themselves from starving to death by preying on their neighbors—is a Very Big Deal. Food is life to the Savages: eating together, sharing their secret together, keeps the family together.
So, to Titus, Sasha's first boyfriend represents not just the loss of his little girl, but the possible destruction of THEIR ENTIRE WAY OF LIFE.
- As I said above, CANNIBALISM. In spite of the many YA IS SO DARK WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN-ers, there aren't all that many YA books that are joyfully, unrepentantly macabre. And this book very definitely falls into that category.
- There are moments of hilarity, mostly involving Jack, who is a supremely self-absorbed, narcissistic jackass.
- Whyman gets in some good digs at the militant ends of the animal rights debate while also providing a more reasonable perspective. (And by reasonable, I mean that some of the characters give voice to the crazy idea that one's diet is one's own personal business. Within reason, obvs.)
- It's repetitive. Titus' bald head is described as a 'dome' twice in the first fifteen pages, and then again a couple of other times, and Angelica's—I don't know if her name was a nod to Anjelica Huston, though it seems likely, no?—issues with money are not only mentioned, but fully explained over and over and over again.
- Lots of telling, not much showing: "appeared disappointed", "shrugged as if to suggest that she was none the wiser", etc.
- All of the characters speak in the same voice: stilted, and semi-formal—if it had just been the Savages, I'd have given it a pass because they're such an insular unit, but the secondary characters and other outsiders do, too.
- That mostly-consistent formality ("Grandpa, is Katya supposed to be in your care?") makes the occasional slang ("Now, Jack certainly isn't perfect, but he does manage to resist an urge to murder for the lols!") sound forced and dissonant.
- This ties into the tell/show issue, but it's a large enough issue that it deserves its own bullet point: Sasha is so profoundly aware of her own psychological make-up that it's pretty hard to believe. For example, this is the bit where she explains to her friends why she hasn't had the sex with Jack: 'Had I just given in and gone for it,' she said, 'then right now I wouldn't be feeling good about myself. Jack is my chance to prove that when it comes to my life I call all the shots. My dad has already marked him down as someone who could lead me astray. The last thing I want to do is make things difficult by acting like a sheep.' Actually, that's a great example of the ongoing formality, too.
Overall: Overall, it's very much style over substance, but the high interest storyline isn't enough to counteract the weak character development and the mediocre prose. Not a good fit for me, though fans will be happy to here that there's an upcoming sequel. Others might want to re-read The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs instead.
Book source: Purchased.
...have been announced.
Gold Award longlist (Australian titles):
Zac & Mia, by A.J. Betts
All This Could End, by Steph Bowe
Steal My Sunshine, by Emily Gale
The Whole of My World, by Nicole Hayes
These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
The First Third, by Will Kostakis
Every Breath, by Ellie Marney
Fairytales for Wilde Girls, by Allyse Near
Run, by Tim Sinclair
The Sky So Heavy, by Claire Zorn
Silver Award longlist (Imports):
All the Truth That’s in Me, by Julie Berry
Where the Stars Still Shine, by Trish Doller
Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
When We Wake, by Karen Healey
Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
ACID, by Emma Pass
Man Made Boy, by Jon Skovron
Winger, by Andrew Smith
Wild Awake, by Hilary T Smith
Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud
More info here!
From Barry Lyga's blog:
In YA, we are so proud of ourselves for treating our young readers with respect and assuming a level of intelligence and maturity in them that I guess some people forget that — at the end of the day — those intelligent, mature readers are still kids. And we aren’t.
A very wise friend once told me that in any relationship between a child and an adult, the adult bears all of the responsibility. The context of our conversation was about intra-family relationships, specifically with regard to grown relatives just having to deal with the fact that their minor relatives can sometimes be assholes. You’re the grown-up; deal with it.
But it’s true no matter the nature of the relationship. And I feel like such an idiot even writing this because it’s so goddamn obvious, but — like I said above — apparently it isn’t. Apparently some people need a refresher course.
For you, what is the difference between a YA novel and a novel for adults?
There seems to be real immediacy in some of the YA books I've read. I suppose I tend to be a bit more language-focused in my adult novels; I will allow myself to linger in a passage, playing with it and letting it twirl around awhile in a way that I wouldn't have felt was instinctively right for Belzhar, particularly because it's in first-person, and in this case the narrator really wants and needs to get her experiences told now, and understood. Of course, language matters in both types of books (and I know there's a lot of overlap in terms of who reads what). For me, a satisfying novel, whether it's intended for teenagers or adults, or both, usually has a clear imperative, and is populated by characters we come to know very well. (Case in point, I just re-read Carson McCullers's brilliant The Member of the Wedding, which is so deep and powerful about a young person trying to find out where she belongs.) And at the end of any satisfying novel, the reader probably feels: oh, I really know the way this writer thinks and describes things; I know this world.
The book is about Sylvia Plath, among other things.
And now I'm thinking I should do a round-up of Sylvia Plath-related YA books. Because I think there are a good number of them.
...has been released, as has the shortlist for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
The Carnegie contenders are:
All the Truth That's in Me, by Julie Berry
The Bunker Diary, by Kevin Brooks
The Child's Elephant, by Rachel Campbell-Johnston
Ghost Hawk, by Susan Cooper
Blood Family, by Anne Fine
Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell
Liar & Spy, by Rebecca Stead
The Wall, by William Sutcliffe
Click on through for more info, as well as for the Greenaway list.
...have been announced, and the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature went to Kari Luna, for The Theory of Everything.
Click on through for the other categories!
...I wrote about Jennifer L. Armentrout's Don't Look Back:
About halfway through Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Don’t Look Back, I’d identified the villain, and while it took me a good while longer to identify the motivation, I pegged that long before the reveal as well. But, you know? It didn’t really matter. While I was entirely satisfied with myself at the reveal (always a nice feeling), this book wasn’t so much about the suspense as it was about the journey.
From the Independent:
Happily, as the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, there is something that I can do about this. So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.
Well, then. I certainly understand not wanting to use up their limited amount of book coverage space on those For Girls/For Boys books, which so often seem to turn out to be quickly cobbled together anthologies of public domain literature and artwork. However, the derision geared towards the "glittery pink" covers was unnecessary, and smacks of the annoying People Who Like Glittery Pink Things Are Lesser People Than Those Who Do Not mentality.
Also, if they skip over all of those, they could miss out on the next Angus, which would make for much sadness.
...have been announced.
The Children's/YA list is:
Vampire Baby, by Kelly Bennett
The Year of the Turnip, by Glenda Carlile
The Dark Between, by Sonia Gensler
Nugget & Fang, by Tammi Sauer
MOJO, by Tim Tharp
How I Became a Ghost, by Tim Tingle
Click on through for the other categories!
From John Green's Tumblr:
Earlier today I received an email from a high school English teacher in Strasburg, Colorado who plans to teach an elective Young Adult literature course. A group of parents created a petition to “cleanse” the book list, claiming that the majority of the books on the curriculum, “are profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, vile, and will result in the irreparable erosion of my students’ moral character.”
Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska have been targeted in particular, and the press attended the most recent school board meeting. The motion has been tabled for the next meeting at 7:00 pm on April 16th at Strasburg High School: 56729 e. Colorado Ave, Strasburg, CO 80136.
Click through for more info, as well as a full list of books on the proposed syllubus.
- I shared this one on Twitter earlier, but it's a fun one, so I'm including it here, too: Why is the 'mor' in 'Voldemort' so evil-sounding?
- Today's Kindle Daily Deal: Rick Yancey's Alfred Kropp.
- Are you going to re-read Harriet the Spy in honor of her fiftieth birthday? Liz B. is.
- Okay, Marshmallows: You'd better put on your jealous shoes before clicking through to Diana Peterfreund's post about attending the Veronica Mars movie premiere.
- Gwenda Bond on the Reading Police: "I'm actually not bugged by the Heinlein juvenile rhapsodizers not being current on modern YA--if it's not their thing, it's not their thing. What I'm bugged by is the casual dismissal of a body of work they're not familiar with, a determined averting of the eyes from it with their explicit or implicit insistence that the old classics are somehow innately better than books they haven't read."
- Shannon Hale asks: Is your default character white and male? "As a writer who is white, I definitely fall into this trap. If a character isn't white, I often describe that, but if they are white, I don't describe because it's assumed. For the first time writing this book, from the POV of a character who isn't white (she's half white, half Latina), I found myself realizing I had that habit. In Dangerous, when we first meet two important characters, Dragon and Howell, I had Maisie describe Dragon as a "black man" and Howell as a "white woman." Interestingly, the copy editor noted that and asked if the "white woman" signifier was necessary. Because "white" is default, assumed, even if you don't specify."
So, unless you're living under a rock—even I've heard about this one, and it was freaking TWO DEGREES here this morning—or you don't obsessively follow the YA news, you've heard about Divergent/Fault in Our Stars star Shailene Woodley's take on Twilight's central love story:
“Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. [The protagonist Bella] falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”
Which, really, is a pretty low-key statement. She doesn't insult fans of the franchise, she expresses an opinion about the source material. I'm less comfortable with her comment about sending the right "message", but it's a short quote, so I'm trying to avoid making the assumption that she's suggesting that YA fiction should carry specific messages. Because yuck.
Anyway, as you may expect, she's taking a decent amount of flack from Twilight fans:
To be fair, of course, she's also getting plenty of applause from the anti-Twilight faction:
I find it interesting that so many people are taking her statement so personally... because she said NOTHING about the fans, the fandom, even about the quality of Meyer's writing or even of the movies. Disagreeing with someone, not liking the same things? That is not disrespect. She didn't say that people shouldn't like the book, she didn't say that people who like it are stupid or have bad taste, she didn't trivialize it by suggesting that romance stories are somehow lesser than other kinds of stories or that franchises with a largely female fanbase are silly.
The whole brouhaha is a perfect example of a larger issue that has way more bearing on the "evolution of the world" than Twilight: a disinclination towards, difficulty in having, a flat-out refusal to engage in rational discussion. Everything is black or white, right or wrong, red or blue, and if you disgree with one opinion that a person expresses, if that person doesn't share exactly the same value system or worldview that you do, well, to hell with her and everything else that she might ever say or do.
Ag. Now I'm all depressed and want to go back to bed.
ETA: Yes, I'm still thinking about this. Which is semi-ridiculous, probably, but as I'm a semi-ridiculous person, it's fitting. Anyway, it's also easy to draw parallels between the "if you don't like what I like, you're a mean jerk" mentality and the "people who indulge in literary criticism are haters" mentality. It's all tied in there together. Blerg.
Amanda MacGregor, on her teenage years, the zine world, and Hard Love:
A world where I could turn the endless scribbling in my notebooks into things other people would read, where I’d make friends with other kids doing the same thing, where I’d feel less on the fringes and more in the middle of something–the middle of something that mattered. Where I’d feel inspired and excited, where I’d meet people I’m still in touch with today, where I’d feel less alone in my angsty alienation–like maybe we were all just angsty and alienated. I wrote like it was the only thing that was keeping me sane, like it was something I had to do, like it was keeping me alive. And some days, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when I look back at that time and think, yeah, making a zine really was what kept me going, what both led me to my self and saved me from myself.
At USA Today:
I slept horribly after Detective Grant left. I don't remember most of my nightmares, just vague images from the death visions I had of Nate's and Grace's possible ends. I think that the killer is the same person who pushes Grace into her car trunk and makes Nate choke on liquor. I have no actual proof—just a feeling. The odds of two killers in my small town seem impossible. Truthfully, even one seems impossible, but I know there is one. We all know that now. What I don't know—and need to figure out—is what it has to do with me. And why he tried to kill me.
Click on through to USA Today to read the rest!
Peruse it at your leisure over at the Guardian.
...I wrote about Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before:
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before features the premise of a standard romantic comedy—over the course of years, a girl writes letters to her crushes once they’ve become FORMER crushes; said letters accidentally get mailed en masse—and has scenes straight out of a farce, but it features a storyline and characters that are more surprising, more interesting and more well-rounded than the majority of entrants in either genre. It’s about family, about sisters, about responsibility and independence and bravery, and about growing out of friendships and crushes and about growing back into them.
WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ AMBER HOUSE, IT IS VERY LIKELY THAT YOU WILL FIND NEVERWAS VERY CONFUSING.
I just clicked through to GoodReads to find evidence supporting the above statement, and promptly fell into a rabbit hole of DRAMA.
Which is why I don't spend a whole lot of time at the Thunderdome we call GoodReads.
I wrote the above right before I took my break from the interwebz. I was so disheartened by the GoodReads stuff—that A) there seemed to be so much deliberate misunderstanding going on, which B) suggested that people were using an understandable misstep on the author's part to put on their Furious Righteousness Faces rather than exercising some empathy, and worst of all, C) that the whole brouhaha was not remotely an uncommon occurrence—it was the rotten cherry on the top of my Winter Malaise sundae.
Anyway. So. Neverwas.
At the end of Amber House, heroine Sarah Parsons used the magic of the house and of her family to tweak time, saving her little brother and her long-lost aunt in the process.
But clearly, somewhere along the way, something went wrong... because history is completely different: it's the present day, but segregation is still the name of the game. Make sense?
Here's the wrinkle that'll make it especially tough for new readers: since Sarah changed history, she doesn't remember the adventure in Amber House: because for THIS version of Sarah, it never happened. And so this world, there is an American Confederacy of States, and that doesn't seem strange to her.
- Some people might see this as a Con, but big, big points to the authors for having enough confidence in their readers to avoid over-explaining. Sarah works with the information that she has—which isn't always accurate—and she doesn't magically Know That Something Is Wrong. She has moments of unease and she has some dreams, both of which are exacerbated by the fact that she's finding weird messages that seem to not only be connected, but meant specifically for her. In addition to working at solving a mystery that she doesn't even know exists, she has to fight against a lifetime of memories, as well as a lifetime of social conditioning: that's a lot of balls to keep in the air.
- Points for the subtle changes in the cast of characters: they're the same people, with the same core personalities, but they've lived their entire lives in a completely different world than in the first book. So of COURSE their worldviews will be different, as will their reactions to various stimuli. This was the aspect I appreciated the most, I think, because so often in stories like this, it's only the clothes or the slang that we see change. In Neverwas, we get the whole package.
- We get more of Nanga, and so she moves away from being purely a personification of the Magical Negro trope. Which was much appreciated.
- Relatedly, the Autism Makes You Magical thread is still here, but it's laid out in a way that I felt comfortable with: A) Sammy and Maggie were connected to the house in a much more direct way than Sarah has ever been, and B) they process things differently than Sarah does, so... pass? I'm still semi-undecided, though.
- The worldbuilding was thoughtful and complex, in that we see Big Obvious Changes as well as more subtle ones, and said changes don't exist in a vacuum: the political landscape of the entire world is different.
- Atmospheric, romantic, thoughtful, surprising, complex.
- I... can't think of any. It's certainly not a book I'd recommend to Every Single Reader, but it was a really good fit for me, and I'm very much looking forward to reading Book III. The end.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.
...in SLJ's Battle of the Kids' Books and the Tournament of Books, respectively.
Click on through for the results of the match-ups!
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...I wrote about Michaela MacColl's Always Emily:
Although there are a few problematic aspects, it has plenty to recommend it, the first of which is the premise: Charlotte and Emily Brontë have run-ins with various people—a desperate, possibly mad woman; a handsome ruffian with a big dog; an attractive-but-probably-evil mill owner (I mean, come on: He has a POINTY BEARD!)—who all, it turns out, are involved in the same mysterious drama that also involves the local Freemason lodge and their brother Branwell.
Relatedly, Kirkus has revamped their Blogs area, so now each blog has its own dedicated page. So that's very cool, and should make it easier to add them to feed readers!