Monday, December 28, 2009

Morris Shortlist: Flash Burnout

Flash Burnout
L.K. Madigan
2009; Houghton Mifflin; ISBN 978-0-547-19489-9

Summary: Who knew what a simple picture could lead to? For a photo assignment, Blake takes a picture of a passed-out woman. When his friend Marissa sees the photo, she recognized the woman as her missing mother, a meth addict. Blake wants to help Marissa, but that doesn't sit well with his girlfriend, the beautiful Shannon. As the aspiring comic Blake starts to get serious, he finds that what looks clear through a camera gets blurry in real life.

My Humble Thoughts on Why This Book Shouldn't Have Been Shortlisted for the Morris Award

#1: A storyline that never fully comes together.

Good novels balance plot and character to create a compelling story. Even the most character-driven books have to have some kind of action or forward momentum, to capture a reader. Flash Burnout unfortunately has a plot that features too many contrivances and coincidences, making the reader go far beyond the normal suspension of disbelief. What are the chances that Blake's picture of a drug addict would happen to be his friend's mother? How likely is it that Shannon's grandmother would die on the same day that Blake sleeps with Marissa?

Beyond this, the novel seems to just come to a stop, rather than to a natural ending. Marissa's disappearance and the breakup of Shannon and Blake seem to be two separate events that occur at the end of the book, rather than a story drawing itself to a close. While some novels with an open-ended narrative have this structure, Flash Burnout does not seem to be focused on leaving things unresolved, so this lack of resolution is frustrating.

Also troubling are some of the unanswered questions. Marissa has a black eye and bruises during the novel; she blames them on participating in Hurtle, a high-speed bike ride, but they could equally have been signs of abuse. Yet this question is never even hinted at. Blake's parents are so worried about him acting responsibly when it comes to sex with Shannon that they don't seem to spend any time asking him about the relationship itself. And finally, what mother is going to take off her top due to a hot flash in front of her teenage son?

#2: Characters that are well-rounded but still two-dimensional.

L.K. Madigan has, on the surface, created a slate of three-dimensional characters. Blake cracks jokes but takes gritty photographs. Garrett, Blake's older brother, is a football player and a jock. Shannon is not the hottest girl in school, but Blake thinks she's beautiful. Yet if you go deeper, most of these characters are quickly reduced to stereotypes, never acting like anything more than a cardboard cutout. Shannon becomes the jealous girlfriend, Blake becomes the immature, overreacting boy, Marissa becomes a victim who needs rescuing. Being able to see these stereotypes this easily reduces the reader's sympathy for what happens to these characters. Blake himself veers from worrying about Marissa to losing his temper because Shannon's mother didn't give him enough help picking out a gift for Shannon. While we expect some volatility in teen characters, Blake seems designed to run through a gamut of teenage experiences without learning anything or even acting believably. This lack of control, of anything that appears like normal teenage behavior for a boy who's described as such, makes the characterization seem shallow. Adding in useless characters like Cappie and you see a novel that does not have a good grasp on how people act.

"Too bad about the flash burnout on this one."
I look over at the shot she's indicating. "The what?"
"The flash burnout. You got too close to the subject. So the flash overexposed her. Well,
me, I mean."
It's the last shot I took at Marissa's house. It's the only one I took of Marissa and her mom together. I was in such a hurry to leave that I didn't take enough time to frame them. I was too close and the flash overexposed Marissa's face, turning it bright and blurry.

"Yeah, it would have been a good shot otherwise," I agree. (page 213-214)
While Blake's voice does have some appeal as a coming-of-age story, Flash Burnout reads like a first novel, without enough successes to make up for its misfires. The frustration of reading Flash Burnout is like looking at a bad photo of an interesting subject, one that has been framed poorly. The struggle between your girlfriend and your girl friend isn't one that's been explored much in YA fiction, and this novel could have filled that niche. There are good points to this novel, like the way Garrett acts towards his younger brother. But with poor plotting and lackluster characterization, it seems like Flash Burnout won't appeal to many teens.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Crosspost: Nonfiction Award Interview

For the YALSA blog, I'm interviewing some of the authors who have been shortlisted for the Nonfiction Award. First up is Sally Walker, the author of Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. Find out what it was like visiting archeological digs, the five words Sally would use to describe her book, and what she thought about being shortlisted for this new award!

Read my earlier review of Written in Bone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nonfiction Shortlist: The Great and Only Barnum

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum
Candace Fleming
2009; Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House); ISBN 978-0-375-84197-2 (hardcover)

Summary: P.T. Barnum didn't say "There's a sucker born every minute," but there's no denying that never was born anyone like him. As a boy, he would rather think of ways to make money than work for the money. Inheriting a love of practical jokes from his grandfather and Yankee values from his parents, Barnum set out to entertain the world and give them a good value for their money. Through his museums, circus and writings, Barnum became known as the greatest showman on Earth. But there was more to Barnum, as you will see . . .

Balancing fact with entertainment, Candace Fleming creates a readable, rollicking biography of the larger-than-life P.T. Barnum. From his beginnings in a small Connecticut town to his travels through America and Europe, the details of his life will delight readers. For teens used to tabloid journalism and Photoshop fakes, stories about original humbugs like the Feejee Mermaid will open their eyes to simple, entertaining hoaxes. Perhaps in this age where it's easier than ever to be fooled--and to grow angry over being tricked--the story of Barnum will remind us of the art and fun of having the wool drawn over our eyes. The life of Barnum is told with flair and skill by Fleming, enriched with original pen-and-ink illustrations as well as photos and engravings. By reading The Great and Only Barnum, readers can see just how much of today's celebrity culture began with Barnum.

Discover just what Barnum's American Museum was like, thanks to The Lost Museum.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nonfiction Shortlist: Almost Astronauts

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
Tanya Lee Stone
2009; Candlewick Press; ISBN 978-0-7636-3611-1 (hardcover)

Summary: A desire to explore, go fast, and have an adventure isn't just a male one. Women too wanted to fly higher and faster--not just on Earth but into space. But in the 1960s, mainstream American society did not accept the idea that any woman would want to be an astronaut. After all, everyone knew that women are weaker then men: mentally, physically, emotionally. Everyone might have known that, but there was no scientific proof of those facts. But what if there was evidence? How would that change the mindset of NASA and Americans? Thirteen women were recruited to undergo tests to gauge woman's ability to handle the pressure of spaceflight. This is the story of those women.

Almost Astronauts brings to life a different time in America, when women were related, even expected, to stay in the home. For today's teens, this mindset is so alien thanks in part to the existence of the Mercury 13--the women who underwent medical and psychological testing that demonstrated their fitness for space exploration. Tanya Lee Stone patiently and meticulously explains just how different a woman's life was just fifty years ago, in order to give the full context to the courage fo the female pilots who wanted more. And their story can still inspire girls and women who are, even now, facing prejudice and barriers to their achievement. By taking a historical event and explaining it, but also showing its continuing importance, Stone has crafted an inspiring story of women who dared.

Accuracy or Agenda? Take a look at this post on School Library Journal's Heavy Medal blog for discussion about the position taken by Stone in this book.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Morris Shortlist: hold still

hold still
Nina LaCour
2009; Dutton (Penguin); ISBN 978-0-525-42155-9 (hardcover)

: The suicide of her best friend has sent Caitlin into an abyss. Three months after Ingrid's death, Caitlin is starting her junior year and trying to carry on. But without Ingrid, Caitlin has to find new ways to define herself. Things she loved, like photography, have no allure; her former favorite teacher barely notices her. Oh-so-slowly, Caitlin begins to create a new life. It will take a year of reading Ingrid's journal, making new friends, and building a tree house, before Caitlin will be ready to let Ingrid go.

My Humble Thoughts on Why This Book Was Shortlisted for the Morris Award

#1: A journey that's an emotional punch in the gut.
"I have her journal. I have her photographs. But still. There is so much missing. I crawl under my blankets and curl my body as tight as I can. I shiver and rub my feet together. Try os hard to get the cold out." (page 186)
Caitlin and Ingrid had a close friendship. Caitlin knew that sometimes Ingrid seemed a bit out of it, but she had no idea her friend was on medication and seeting a therapist. So Ingrid's suicide is a great shock to her. Losing her best friend much too soon sends Caitlin on a journey to deal with this loss. But how? Should she see a therapist? Bury herself in photography? Find a replacement for Ingrid? None of those options works for Caitlin. She has to find her own way, through starts and stops. It's not an easy process; Caitlin makes mistakes, pushes people away, takes unnecessary risks. But everything she does feels like the right choice in each dilemma. And each choice makes you feel the same things Caitlin is feeling: joy, sorrow, regret.

#2: A universal teen concern.

Death may be an awfully big adventure, in the words of Peter Pan, but is is a subject that holds a certain lure to teens. It's one of the contradictions of being a teenager: you think you're going to live forever, but you know that you could die any day. Death and dying is such a common topic in teen literature that there was a 2009 Popular Paperbacks list on the subject. Nina LaCour, who in her author's note credits the suicide of a high school classmate as an inspiration, focuses on the repercussions of a suicide. Teen readers are fully exposed to one girl's recovery from her friend's death, getting the chance to safely explore a scary, dangerous subject. But LaCour doesn't patronize or sugar-coat matters. With a true, honest voice, LaCour brings the reader along on Caitlin's journey.

hold still is an accomplished, moving debut. Nina LaCour has written a novel of great power, exploring the nature of friendship and grief. Caitlin is a complex, fully-realized character; it's to LaCour's credit that supporting characters as diverse as Ingrid, Dylan and Taylor are just as well-rounded. With a rich sense of language and a character-driven story, hold still is a great novel, one that will find readers who have read 13 Reasons Why and other similar novels. But Nina LaCour's first novel is able to stand on its own, gracefully meeting the criteria of the Morris Award.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

YALSA Nonfiction Award

The first awarding of YALSA's new Nonfiction Award will occur in 2010. Like the Morris Award, the Nonfiction Award will be selected from a shortlist. The following titles have made that shortlist.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice by Phillip Hoose (my review)

The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous and Stupendous Life of the Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming

Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally Walker (my review)

Hopefully, I'll get some of the remaining books reviewed before Midwinter. I think this is a great shortlist: congrats to the nominated authors! And a big round of applause to the committee who created the inaugural shortlist.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Morris Award 2010

The shortlist for the 2010 William C. Morris YA Debut Award has been announced!

Ash by Malinda Lo (my review)

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

The Everafter by Amy Huntley

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

hold still by Nina LaCour

Congratulations to the authors, and many thanks to the hard-working Morris committee!

I will hopefully be writing blog posts on all the shortlisted titles in the coming weeks; the only monkey wrench is my feverish work on the reader's advisory guide that I'm writing. My deadline is December 31, so I might not get all my Morris posts done until right before Midwinter. But here's hoping!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Review: Ash

Malinda Lo
2009; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-04009-9 (hardcover)

Summary: The death of her mother totally changes the life of Aisling, also known as Ash. They're the best of friends, and the loss of her mother's love leaves Ash bereft. But Ash at least has the fairies to comfort her--as much as fairies can. As her father remarries then dies, leaving her in the care of her stepmother, Ash seeks someone to belong to. She thinks she's found that someone in Sidhean, a remote fairy. Ash hopes that he will carry her away. But then she meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, and Ash finds herself questioning what she wanted.

Two Things to Know about Ash

#1: Fairy tales are timeless.

Thanks to their roots in oral traditions, fairy tales, myths and legends seem to adapt to any time. You can retell, reinterpret, or reimagine them, and the original message still has power. After all, fairy tales are about rewarding the good and punishing the wicked. That message will always have appeal. In Ash, the fairy tale of Cinderella is adapted in two ways, by heightening and expanding the links between humans and dairies, and by having the love story be between girl and huntress, not girl and prince. These changes, though, still allow Ash's goodness and heart to shine through, while giving her character depth.

#2: A love triangle is partly about the person in the middle.

Ash finds herself torn between two very different people. On the one hand, there is the coldly beautiful Sidhean, the fairy who can give her fantastic jewels, beautiful dresses, and fine horses. As Ash deals with her grief over the loss of her parents, and adapts slowly to serving her stepmother and stepsisters, it's no wonder Sidhean is very attractive. But when Ash meets Kaisa, the wise, warm woman who leads hunts for the King, Ash begins to change. Kaisa teaches her about nature, about the woods and the animals. This knowledge sparks something in Ash, making her see the world with new eyes. The perfect life that Sidhean could give her suddenly begins to pale for Ash. Her choice at the end of the novel reflects how Kaisa has changed Ash, while Sidhean has not sparked such a reaction.

Lyrically told, Ash does not shy away from darkness. Yet this version of Cinderella grounds the story, removing the cliched, cutesy elements and choosing a more grown-up take. Beautiful language and a slowly unfolding plot let us see Ash's world, making us understand her dilemma. Malinda Lo gives us a modern story with old roots, and does it with great talent. Ash will be popular with those readers who enjoy fairy tale retellings, from Beauty by Robin McKinley to Beastly by Alex Flinn.

Friday, November 20, 2009

National Book Awards

The National Book Awards were announced on Wednesday night. Many congratulations to the winners and finalists! Find out more at the awards' website.

The winner in the Young People's Literature category was Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice, written by Phillip Hoose. I reviewed this earlier in the year, and I'm so pleased that it won!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: Hate List

Hate List
Jennifer Brown
2009; Little Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-04144-7 (hardcover)

: May 2nd was the day that ended Valerie's life as she knew it. That was the day her boyfriend Nick went on a shooting spree in the school cafeteria. That was the day he accidentally shot her. And that was the day he killed himself. Three months later, Valerie prepares to return to school and build a new life for herself. She might not have shot anyone--but plenty of people blame her. Because the people that Nick shot . . . they were people on the Hate List.

Three Things to Know About Hate List

#1: Grieving and recovery is a process unique to each person.

Valerie slowly works through the process of mourning her boyfriend and overcoming her guilt about the shooting. Even though her parents didn't like him and their schoolmates teased him, Valerie loved Nick. But she had no idea he was planning to kill people off the Hate List they created together. Nick--smart, alienated Nick--had always been fascinated with death and getting even. Valerie went along with him, not realizing how serious he was and never really agreeing with his opinions. After all, she was getting good grades and planning to attend college. But after Nick's attack and death, Valerie is full of grief and subject to the blame of others. It's only thanks to the help of Dr. Hieler, her therapist, that Valerie learns to deal with her grief, her guilt, and how to create a new life.

#2: An enemy can become a friend.

Jessica Campbell is one of the queens of Garvin High School. Blonde and pretty, the Student Council president and a member of the volleyball team, she's a golden girl. And she was one of Valerie's tormentors before May 2nd. She delighted in using Valerie's nickname: Sister Death. But it wasn't just a nickname for Valerie--it was a label, a slur. She made fun of Valerie because she could. But then, on May 2nd, Valerie was able to save Jessica's life, getting between Jessica and Nick. And that changed things for Jessica. As she tells Valerie, "I lived and that made everything different." When Valerie returns to school, Jessica is about the only person who doesn't blame her, who attempts to make her feel welcome back. Valerie is put in the strange position of having a former enemy become her friend. It's not an easy friendship, but it helps get Valerie through her senior year.

#3: Parenting doesn't end with the teen years.

Valerie's parents both fail her in different ways, even before Nick's massacre. Her mom is weak and tired, worn down by years of fighting with her husband. Valerie's dad is even worse: ultra-focused on his career, with little patience for his wife or children. And both of them, particularly her dad, are not able to fully support Valerie after the shooting. They blame her for what's happened, not realizing that some of the flaws in Valerie are their doing. Valerie lacks empathy and judgment--perhaps no more than other self-centered teens, but it means that she remained with Nick even though her parents didn't like him. Yet due to the years of fighting, the lack of support and love, Valerie is searching for that kind of security, and she finds it with Nick. And even when things are starting to fall apart, as the warning signs of Nick's spiraling behavior are starting to be seen, Valerie can't see them, only worrying that he is planning to break up with her. Valerie's parents show how "staying together for the kids" can be more damaging than getting a divorce.

A riveting read that moves you to tears, Hate List does not shy away from the messy outcome of a school shooting. As Valerie slowly comes to grip with everything that happened on May 2nd, she is able to find outlets for her emotions and support from unlikely sources. But it's only once she's apologized and she's made peace with Nick's death that she's able to start moving on. She has setbacks but manages to keep making progress. By the end of the novel, she has found a measure of peace for herself. Jennifer Brown has crafted a novel that goes beyond the headlines and shows the aftermath of tragedy. Hate List is sure to resonate with readers of realistic fiction like Living Dead Girl or After.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: Devil's Kiss

Devil's Kiss
Sarwat Chadda
2009; Disney Hyperion; ISBN 978-142311999-9 (hardcover)

Summary: Once, the Knights Templar were the most powerful organization in the Christian world. But now, the Knights Templar are a shell: a handful of men, a priest, and a teenage girl. Billi SanGreal is the only female Templar, driven by her father to join the Order. Her whole life is training and duty, especially since her friend and fellow squire Kay was sent to Jerusalem. But a great change is coming. Evil forces are arriving in London, and it will be up to Billi to defeat one of the greatest threats to Earth: Death itself.

The latest in a spate of novels featuring the Knights Templar, Devil's Kiss gives the story a modern twist. Billi is tempestuous and stubborn, but she's also loyal and empathetic. Amidst a story featuring angels and demons, Billi grounds the novel in everyday teenage concerns. A shadowy, dangerous London is brought to life by Sarwat Chadda. Pass Devil's Kiss to fans of The Hunger Games or Graceling who are looking for a contemporary setting in their novels.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Let's Tour Medina Hill

Let's Tour Medina Hill: Blog Tour
Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome! Thank you for joining us from Cindy's Love of Books.
Look into the past, a time of heroes and heartbreak. As a young boy tries to regain his voice, he discovers several worlds different from his own. Will Dominic talk to anyone outside his family? Will his sister Marlo ever do more than read the recipes in her cookbook? And how will these two siblings make a difference in a small Cornish town? The answers await in Medina Hill.

In this novel, a book that captures a time and place, several stories gently mingle into a larger one. It's a difficult task to blend T.E. Lawrence, the Romany, an artist's colony and a boy's coming-of-age, yet Trilby Kent achieves just that. Dominic's worries and fears become our own; but his interests and excitements also intrigue the reader. Several of the supporting characters, like Marlo, Sancha the Roma girl, and the Reverend Cleary, are vivid and engaging. For modern middle-schoolers who don't know much about Lawrence of Arabia or Britain in the 1930s, Medina Hill will open their eyes to the heroes and lifestyles of the past.

For more information, please visit the Tundra Books website or get your own copy here: Amazon ||
Please follow the tour to: Melanie's Musings.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Cashay

Margaret McMullan
2009; Houghton Mifflin; ISBN 978-0-547-07656-0 (hardcover)

Summary: Cashay and Sashay might live in the projects, but they're not going to be like their mother, a drug addict, or like other girls who get pregnant. But when Sashay is shot and killed, Cashay's anger starts to overwhelm her. Why can't she have what she wants? How can she go on without Sashay? But thanks in part to her mentor Allison, Cashay willd iscover how she'll be able to escape the projects.

Three Things to Know about Cashay

#1: How do you adapt when your life changes?

Cashay is an insightful look at one girl dealing with taking control of her life. The death of Sashay derails Cashay's original plan, of taking care of her sister and staying together. Even though this plan held Cashay back, it allowed her to make sure both of them were safe and able to succeed. But with Sashay's death, Cashay is alone--and left to formulate a new plan. It's a difficult transition, but Cashay will slowly create a set of goals.

#2: There is a need for mentors.

Teens need parents and teachers that care and support them. Equally important is the presence of adults that don't fall into either of these two categories: adults that can help teens by serving as mentors and role models. Cashay is helped as she creates her new life by Allison. Described as a skinny white woman, Allison volunteers at an afterschool program where she is paired with Cashay. Allison opens Cashay to a whole new world, where women can act like men, staking lots of money on a reading f the stock market. Through Allison's influence, Cashay starts to create a plan for herself and herself alone.

#3: We can't always save the ones we love.

The death of Sashay doesn't just hurt Cashay. Their mother, who had been clean for three years, gets hooked again, letting her drug dealer move into their apartment. She loses her job and isn't able to help Cashay deal with her grief. And Cashay tries to help her mother, but she's not able to get through to her. Making it even worse, Cashay's mother gets pregnant and gives birth to a drug-addicted baby. If Cashay hadn't had the influence of Allison in her life, she might have put her dreams aside to help her mother. But Cashay has seen that sometimes you have to let someone save themselves. Cashay's mother gives the baby away and is sent to rehab, to start the slow process of getting clean for good. And that's a journey that Cashay can't help with, beyond giving her mother support.

With a lot to say, Cashay is an eye-opening novel about coming of age. With an authentic voice that doesn't fall into cliches, Cashay's hopes and fears come through vividly. In stop sand starts, Cashay is able to lay the groundwork for her future. That happens with the help of Allison as well as Cashay's aunt and teacher. Plus, the inner-city setting shows that there's more than hopelessness in the projects--there's also community and dreams. Cashay will appeal to readers who have enjoyed Coe Booth or Walter Dean Myers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: It's Not You, It's Me

It's Not You, It's Me
Kerry Cohen Hoffman
2009; Delacorte (Random House); ISBN 978-0-385-73696-1

Summary: When her boyfriend Henry breaks up with her, Zoe is devastated. She had organized her whole life around him and now he doesn't want her? She just can't handle not having Henry in her life--she has to get him back. Over the next thirty days, Zoe's going to try a lot of things to get Henry to come back to her. And during that month, Zoe will maybe discover that it's not Henry that will make her whole.

Kerry Cohen Hoffman explores the ending of a first relationship, showing what happens when a girl hears "It's not you, it's me." Zoe's pain, the heartbreak that makes her temporarily crazy, is vividly presented. Her impulsive, goal-oriented personality makes her throw herself into this new project of getting Henry to come back to her. While her friends, her parents, and a teacher all try to help her by encouraging her to move on, Zoe doesn't listen--she can't until she's gone way too far. Only then is she able to start putting her life back together and learns that you can't be true to anyone if you're not true to yourself first. A fast read with a positive message, It's Not You, It's Me will be picked up by anyone who likes books about relationships.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review: Going Bovine

Going Bovine
Libba Bray
2009; Delacorte (Random House); ISBN 978-0-385-73397-7 (hardcover)

Summary: Cameron doesn't want or expect much out of his life. He drifts through school and gets high with his stoner friends. He goes to work and to the local music shop. His family isn't close and he has a crush on a popular girl. But then, Cameron is told he's going to die, because he has the human form of mad cow disease. Now, he is full of questions: how can he die when he hasn't really lived? Is all the wisdom of the world to be found in the movie Star Fighter? And just what is real? Cameron sets off on a journey to discover the answers to these questions--and maybe find a cure for what's killing him.

Two Things to Know about Going Bovine

#1: We are all oddballs.

During his journey, Cameron meets a variety of people. There's Dulcie, the punk angel who starts Cameron on his quest. There's Gonzo, the hypochondriac dwarf who breaks out of the hospital with Cameron. There's teens who value happiness over anything else, physicists attempting to travel to alternative universes, and a blind jazz trumpeter. And there's also Balder, a yard gnome who's immortal. These unusual characters reflect that all of us have a part of ourselves that's a bit out of step with others. Cameron himself is a huge fan of a Portuguese ukulele player known as the Great Tremolo. It's not something he can share with just anyone, because it's a risk--but when Cameron does take that risk, he learns something about not just the other person, but himself as well.

#2: Reality is what you make of it.

Cameron's road trip is slowly unraveled as being in his head, a hallucination caused by the disease destroying his mind. Yet this doesn't mean it's not real. The experiences that Camera has are those that we all strive to gain: times with friends, falling in love, exploring new places. Without the time to do these things, Cameron's mind creates a way for him to do all these things and more, all the while his brain and body is weakening. In such a situation as Cameron's, would anyone deny the reality that he creates for himself?

A novel that is more than it appears to be, Going Bovine shows that life is full of adventures that must be lived. As the situations Cameron finds himself in grow increasingly absurd, the story is grounded by Cameron's honest attempt to fulfill his quest. Libba Bray knows when to add more humor or to pull back and create a tender or moving moment. Worlds different from Bray's previous works, pass this novel to road trip fans who have read An Abundance of Katherines. Or pair Going Bovine with I Am the Cheese for an insightful book discussion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Prophecy of the Sisters

Prophecy of the Sisters
Michelle Zink
2009; Little Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-02742-7 (hardcover)

Summary: The death of her father creates a change in Lia. A strange raised design begins appearing on her wrist, and her dreams are now even more full of flying to strange worlds. As Lia begins to understand what is happening to her, she discovers that she's not in this alone: her twin sister Alice is part of the prophecy that is affecting Lia. But to her shock, Lia will not play the role in the prophecy that she expected. Will it be possible for Lia to overcome her destiny?

A blending of fantasy and suspense with a dash of historical fiction, Prophecy of the Sisters is an engaging novel. As Lia slowly learns about the prophecy, the reader is drawn into the mystery. The struggle that Lia faces, complicated by Alice's actions, creates the tension in the story. Lia must find a solution to this struggle, as she worries about her younger brother and tries to preserve her romance with a local young man. But as Alice shows her hand, Lia must make a choice--one that seems to promise a sequel. With Gothic touches but a modern sensibility, Prophecy of the Sisters would be a hit with readers of the Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Review: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Phillip Hoose
2009; Farrar Straus Giroux; ISBN 978-0-374-31322-7 (hardover)

Summary: Rosa Parks wasn't the first African-American to resist the bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. In fact, before Rosa there was Claudette: a smart teenager, a junior in high school who didn't feel ashamed of her race. She chose not to give up her seat to a white woman. And even after she was arrested and called names, pointed out and shunned, Claudette was determined to see segregation end. She was so determined that she'd try again to stand up for all African-Americans, by testifying in court against segregation.

Highlighting a little-known figure in the struggle for civil rights, Phillip Hoose's book draws upon interviews with Claudette Colvin to bring her story to life. In clear prose, readers learn about the background of Claudette and about the segregated buses, the events of March 2, 1955 and everything that followed from Claudette's defiance. Peppered with photos, newspapers and memorabilia, all the risks of opposing segregation are vividly portrayed, along with the courage it took to face those risks. A compelling read for students who might think they know it all about this period of history.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Review: Pure

Terra Elan McVoy
2009; Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster); 978-1-4169-7872-5 (hardcover)

Summary: They're very special, the rings that Tabitha, her best friend Morgan, and their three friends wear. The ring represents the promise made by each girl to herself, to her friends, and to God. Because true love waits. Bu when Cara decides not to wait, it splits the friends apart. Cara's best friend Naeomi turns her back on Cara, while Morgan shuns Cara. Priah follows Morgan's lead, and Tabitha is stuck in the middle. Tabitha doesn't know what to think. Should she ignore Cara for breaking her promise? Or is Morgan being too harsh in ostracizing their friend? Tabitha will have to find the right answer for herself, because with a new boyfriend, friend drama, and problems with her parents, she's got a lot of opinions on just what purity means. And as she figures out what that word means to her, Tabitha will discover more about her faith and herself.

Two Things to Know About Pure

#1: No two teens live the same life.

With all the press about racy young adult literature, it was refreshing to read a novel that had a kind of normalcy about it. Even if it's not a life lived by many teens, the more mainstream lifestyle of Pure does exist. Every teen does not comes from a broken home and lack a support system. By exploring a world with school, after-school activities, church, family time, and talking with friends, the reader gets to see what happens when this structured, black and white world is exposed to shades of gray. Some characters would rather stay in the black and white world; Tabitha, on the other hand, can't help seeing the gray. Writing about this dichotomy, Terra Elan McVoy not only creates a compelling story but provides a bit of balance to the world of YA literature.

#2: Teens question many things.

The events that create a wedge between Tabitha's friends opens her to a greater exploration of her faith. Tabitha is already unique, as her parents are not religious. While they first encouraged her to explore religion, they have become uninterested and even a bit disdainful of religion. While Tabitha has maintained and grown her faith, this doesn't mean she's able to know whether Cara's actions are wrong or right. It's confusing for Tabitha as she realizes that there are no clear answers. Her spiritual search isn't just about her friends, either. As she starts dating Jake, Tabitha discovers the power of chemistry and hormones, and all the temptations there are when you love someone. But through it all, Tabitha wants to live up to all the ideals of her faith--to be both compassionate and pure.

A novel that grounds questions about teen sexuality in religious beliefs could easily have become preachy or didactic. It is a great compliment to McVoy that Pure is neither of these things. Instead, it is a thought-provoking novel with a mix of personalities, each character espousing a different interpretation of the beliefs of what appears to be evangelical Christianity. It would have been easy to show Tabitha losing her faith over the course of the novel; instead, we see how strong faith can be, and the amount of comfort that Tabitha draws from it. Finding a novel that is both spiritual and well-written is a difficult task; happily this novel helps to fill that niche. For teens who are looking for novels about abstinence and want something more serious than Kristen Tracy's Lost It, recommend Pure.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Lost

Jacqueline Davies
2009; Marshall Cavendish; ISBN 978-0-7614-5535-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Looking up from her sewing machine in the waist factory, Essie sees Harriett and knows immediately she's lost. A rich girl working in a factory? There's a story there, and Essie can't help wondering at the details. Yet as Essie learns about Harriett, she starts to learn about herself, too. Is she just Essie Rosenfeld, who lives on Orchard Street and worries over her siblings and argues with her mother? Or could Essie be lost, too?

Three Things to Know About Lost

#1: Facts can be the jumping-off point for fiction.

Jacqueline Davies draws upon two real-life events to create this work of fiction: the disappearance of socialite Dorothy Arnold and the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. These two divergent storylines are skillfully woven together, proving that if you don't have all the facts, just a few pieces of information is enough to create a story. This is a lesson that we all know, but we are reminded of its power when we read a well-crafted historical fiction. But the story isn't constrained by the facts, either. No one knows what happened to Dorothy Arnold--why not picture her working at a factory? And just what would that mean both to Dorothy and to a girl who became her friend? Those are the questions answered in Lost.

#2: You can hide in different ways.

Essie and Harriett are both trying to push away their pasts. While Harriett is running from the boredom of her prison-like existence as Dorothy Arnold, Essie has run from reality. Her mind has blocked the fact that her little sister is dead. Essie lavished affection on Zelda, kissing her hurts and indulging her every whim. She saw her mother as cruel for trying to restrain Zelda. But Essie doesn't realize-until it's much too late-that her mother's rules for Zelda were about love and protection. Essie doesn't learn this until after she is recovering after the Triangle fire. Lost in her mind, drugged to minimize the pain of her injuries, Essie is able to make peace with Zelda within her own mind, and thus find herself. Harriett is not so lucky. A victim of the fire, she is cheated of the possibilities that she might have had: to become a better writer, to be a good mother. Yet Harriett has still made peace with herself and with her choices, and is no longer lost.

#3: Place is tied to personality.

Essie is a product of where she grew up. In the crowded Lower East Side, everyone knows everyone's business. And what's more, the street you live on is part of your identity, for yourself and for those you meet. It's not just about class: it's about establishing your place in the universe. This extends beyond Essie's world; Dorothy/Harriett is a reflection of where she lived. However, she had lived in upper-class surroundings, one of spacious homes and visits to all the fashionable watering-holes. But all these advantages felt like bars to her, keeping her away from freedom. Harriett finds room to breathe within the cramped confines of lower Manhattan, in Mott and Delancey and Houston streets. Yet she's still cultured, refined Dorothy. While you can take the girl out of the drawing room, you can't take the drawing room out of the girl. That's what makes Essie curious about Harriett when she arrives at the Triangle factory.

A haunting exploration of a time and place, Davies brings 1911 New York to life, down to its sounds and smells. What's more, the characters are just as vivid as the setting. Street-smart and wounded Essie and romantic and kind Harriett: these two characters propel the story forward. Even the most minor of supporting characters, such as Essie's neighbors and the girls in the factory, are well-drawn. Utilizing a plot studded with flashbacks, Lost is a complex look at how we can recover from grief and become stronger. One of the best books I've read in 2009, pass this along to any reader looking for how to overcome the disasters we face in life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: See No Evil

See No Evil
Jamila Gavin
2009; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 978-0-374-36333-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Nettie's life is not that different from a fairy-tale princess's. She lives in a giant house in London, her every whim satisfied. There's servants and country houses and flowers flown in from all over the world. Yet all Nettie cares about is what happened to Miss Kovachev, her tutor that mysteriously disappeared. To find out what happened, Nettie will have to learn not only about her great-aunt and the boy who haunts the house . . . she'll have to learn the truth about her father.

An atmospheric, intelligent novel, See No Evil combines the suspense of a Gothic thriller with modern-day current events. Nettie is slow to realize the true nature of her life and opportunities, but the reader receives hints from sources such as Miss Kovachev's diary and Benny, a servant's son who is the "ghost" of the house. As the novel progresses, Nettie becomes more mature, better equiped to face the eventual aftermath of her father's business collapse. Sustained by her love of dance, her family, and her friends, Nettie will be able to stand on her own two feet. Recommend this novel along with the Shadow Children series and the Kiki Strike novels.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

National Book Festival

Want to rub elbows with authors like Judy Blume, Patrick Carman, Shannon Hale, Rick Riordan, Jacqueline Woodson and more? Then take in the National Book Festival this weekend!

You don't have to live near to Washington, D.C. to enjoy the ninth annual festival. You can download author interview podcasts. You can keep up-to-date via Twitter or Facebook. There's even a toolkit for young readers, helping them enjoy the event virtually.

Enjoy your favorite authors during the National Book Festival, even if like me, you won't be able to make the festival's events.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Review: Breathless

Jessica Warman
2009; Walker Books for Young Readers; 978-0-80279-849-7 (hardcover)

Summary: Katie has always looked up to her older brother Will. He's the impulsive, dynamic one to Katie's more cautious personality. Yet as Will slowly slips into the madness of schizophrenia, the whole family crumbles. Sent to a second-rate boarding school after Will attempts suicide, Katie tries to put her past behind her. So it's easy to say that her brother is dead. For three years, Katie goes to classes and hangs out with her friends and leads the swim team. But when the truth about her brother is finally revealed, Katie has to stop treading water and learn how to cut through the water.

In an insightful coming-of-age novel, the subject of mental illness is addressed. We see the impact of Will's instability on Katie as well as the rest of her family. When the truth comes out about Will, Katie finds herself isolated except for her roommate Mazzie. As much about friends as family, Breathless is a measured, probing look at one teen's attempts to form friendships without the foundation of family relationships. Pass this novel to fans of authors like K.L. Going and Sara Zarr.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crosspost: New to Me: I Am the Cheese

In retrospect, this is a really creepy cover. But it's suitable for a really creepy book.

My latest post at the YALSA blog is up: a discussion of I Am the Cheese.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Thoughts on Training: This Ain't Your Mama's Library

When you're doing your normal day-to-day activities, it's easy to lose sight of theories and ideals. So even if you're an experienced teen librarian, attending a training that focuses on the basics can provide benefits. Here are two things that I realized after attending a day-long training with Michele Gorman, the teen coordinator of ImaginOn at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenberg County.

#1: Remember the guiding principles.

This workshop was designed to present the fundamentals of working with teens. Ranging from adolescent brain growth and the developmental needs of teens to programming and collection development, it was teen librarianship in a nutshell. Yet it was a nutshell that reacquaints you with the basics. By taking some time to think about something like the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets, you can find new insights, sending your mind off in different directions. Plus, it's always possible that you'll learn about a theory that you weren't exposed to in library school or be brought up-to-date on the latest research.

#2: Sharing ideas leads to growth.

As part of the programming discussion, the participants were split into small groups to develop a program idea. For me, it's so easy to get into a rut when it comes to programming; just considering a different kind of program creates sparks. In addition, while it's about coming up with different programs, it's also invaluable to hear about new takes on standard programs. Learning doesn't just come from listening to an expert--it also comes from working with people who have a variety of backgrounds and approaches.

I recommend attending a training with Michele Gorman if you get the chance. But even more, if you work with teens, you should attempt to attend occasional training on teen services. Get back in touch with the basics or learn something new, either from your instructor or the person sitting next to you. You might be surprised by all you gain out of training on what you already know.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Review: After

Amy Efaw
2009; Viking; 978-0-670-01183-4 (hardcover)

Summary: Devon seems to be a perfect teen. Straight-A student, excellent soccer player, responsible and dedicated: that's who she is. Devon is not the kind of girl to throw her baby in a dumpster. But that's just what this fifteen-year-old is accused of. Why did she do it? What lead to this action? How could anyone do that? Everyone's asking these questions and more--including Devon. As she slowly learns the answers, Devon must also move through the criminal justice system, hoping that her case won't be moved from to an adult courtroom from the juvenile system.

Three Things to Know About After

#1: Learn for yourself.

It takes Devon several days to unravel the tangle of her actions and memories. As she slowly works out just what happened to her, the reader is taken on the same journey. Devon's initial confusion and disconnect from reality is so profound that you can't help feeling frustrated on her behalf. Why don't people see that clearly this is a psychological root to Devon's actions? But as Devon enters Remann Hall, a juvenile detention facility, she does begin to receive some help. More importantly, she learns how to figure out this problem, rather than someone solving it for her. Such a skill is crucial for a teenager to learn; Devon learns this lesson the hard way.

#2: The mind is very powerful.

Devon works through the fog of her memories over the last nine months, as it is slowly revealed that she was in denial over her condition. Determined not to be like her impulsive, uneducated mother, Devon worked hard in order to succeed. When she impulsively sleeps with a boy she's just met--the kind of action her mother has taken in the past--she is desperate to forget it happened. Devon ignores the boy, ignores the unprotected sex they had, and then ignores the physical symptoms that indicate pregnancy. After all, if Devon denies to herself that she had sex, she couldn't possibly be pregnant. It shows how the mind can allow you to ignore anything you don't want to see, anything you can't handle.

#3: Fiction is colored by your own experiences.

In the author's note, Amy Efaw refers to some famous examples of the dumpster baby phenomenon. I came to this book with my own viewpoint on this societal problem: I attended the University of Delaware at the same time as Amy Grossberg. Someone on my floor was in a class with her; she lived in a dorm that was only a minute away from my own. When the news broke, our campus was gripped by this tragic story. At the time, I didn't have much sympathy for Amy or belief in her statements. I said that with a branch of Planned Parenthood only three blocks from her dorm, there was little excuse for killing your baby. But now, after reading this novel, I think I have a better understanding of Amy Grossberg, Melissa Drexler, and all those other teenage mothers. In the stress and emotion of the aftermath of delivery, these young women made a horribly wrong decision. Coming to this realization was surprising, and a testament to the quality of the writing in this novel.

A haunting look at one teen's journey towards redemption, After is precisely constructed. You feel like every single word has been carefully chosen. From the sharp, no-nonsense individuals like Dom and Henrietta, to the flighty, self-motivated ones like Karma and Devon's mother, each character is fully-realized and very believable. And in the middle is Devon, who begins as a confused, lost girl and slowly becomes stronger and healthier as the book progresses. Recommend this strong novel to readers who enjoyed Christina Meldrum's Madapple.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thoughts: Why Training is Important

I plan a more in-depth post next week, but I just wanted to say really quickly why I think training is so important for any professional, especially for those librarians who serve teens.

We all go through periods where we feel uninspired or unsure. As I was preparing my goals for next year, I knew I wanted to shake things up, try some new things while taking what I've learned in the last two years in my position. Yet I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do, or whether I was on the right track.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to attend a training with Michele Gorman, teen librarian extraordinaire and a colleague from past YALSA committees. And it was just what I needed: the opportunity to reconnect with theory, yet also get many practical ideas. It really jazzed me up for not only my goal-setting, but for program planning and working on the collection at my library.

In short, training has helped me figure out what I wasn't sure of, and gave me a dose of positive energy. And we can all use some of that, I think! So if you have the chance to attend a training or a conference, please do so. You might be surprised by what you get out of it, even if you've been in the field for years and have seen it all. And if you're new to teen librarianship, you will come away amazed by everything you didn't realize was possible.

Look for a longer post next week, highlighting the ideas that Michele talked about and providing some of my reactions.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts: My TBR Pile

Every librarian has one. Most people, in fact, do, in some way, shape or form. I'm talking about the TBR pile: the stack--or stacks--of books that are waiting to be read. When life intervenes on your reading, like it's doing for me this week, I look over my TBR stack and almost long to read. Instead, I'll just have to content myself with waiting until I can pick up a book again.

If you're curious, this is what's on my pile at the moment.

Betsy and the Great World and Betsy's Wedding--the last two books in the Betsy-Tacy series. I had never read this series, and I started after I read Meg Cabot's comments about these books set in a small Minnesota town in the early twentieth century. As so many people have discovered, these are delightful, charming books. I'm both looking forward and dreading reading these last two, because that means I'll be all done, and I won't have any new Betsy-Tacy books to read.

Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic--this is partly for me and partly for my book. I've been working away on a reader's advisory guide to YA historical fiction. The deadline for the manuscript is December 31, and I really have to make that deadline. Otherwise, I'll be working on the book at the same time as the Printz, and I don't see that ending with me retaining my sanity. And this book looks particularly good: a mashup of spiritualism and family relationships, set amidst the drama of the Titanic's sinking.

The A-List: Sunset Boulevard--out of all the readalike series that came after Gossip Girl, this series has remained my favorite. I honestly think it's better-written than most, and I've enjoyed the character relationships. Now that the series has been rebooted, it's taking me a little time to get interested in the new characters, but I think this second book will do the trick. I had the same experience with the Gossip Girl: The Carlyles series, and now I really enjoy that series. So here's hoping for more lifestyles of the rich and famous!

Libyrinth: A Fabulous Adventure on a Strange World of the Future--I heard about this book somewhere, and put it on hold. When I received it and read the jacket copy, I practically cheered at the thought of a science-fiction novel concerning books and libraries. On a world far from Earth, thousands of years from now, Haly lives in the Libyrinth, a library so vast people sometimes get lost in it and never come out again. A clerk to the Libyrarian Selene, she and all the Libyrinth's residents are dedicated to protecting the books, for within them rests the sum of all human knowledge brought from Earth in the distant past.

I think you can understand why I'm so eager to get back to reading. Hope everyone's been able to keep up with their TBR pile better than me!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: And Then Everything Unraveled

And Then Everything Unraveled
Jennifer Sturman
2009; Point (Scholastic); 978-0-545-08722-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Delia's life is comfortable and unexciting, but that's what she likes. Living in Silicon Valley with her Internet millionaire mom, Delia spends time with her friends and goes surfing in secret. But that all changes when her mother is declared missing while on a trip to Antarctica. Suddenly, Delia's sent across the country to New York City, given to the care of her two aunts. Complete opposites, Aunt Charley and Aunt Patience both care about Delia in their own ways, and both want her to move on from the loss of her mother. But Delia can't move on--because she doesn't believe her mother is gone. This belief will set Delia off on a quest to discover what really happened to her mother.

Two Things to Know About And Then Everything Unraveled

#1: Mothers and daughters have a connection.

Delia and her mother are quite different. While T.K. Truesdale is practical, thorough and scientific, Delia is more emotional, relying on her instincts. Yet in spite of these differences, there is a connection between them. When Delia learns that her mother is missing, her knowledge of T.K.'s personality makes such a disappearance unlikely. T.K. does not allow unforeseen circumstances to change her plans, and even if they did, she knows survival tactics and is able to survive in the wilderness. It's more than a daughter's misguided hope that her mother is still alive: Delia is certain that T.K. is safe and alive somewhere.

#2: Romance can sneak up on you.

While Delia's jugglin a new school, her family, and the search for her mother, there's also a boy on the horizon. Quinn always seems to leave Delia tongue-tied, especially when they're at school and Quinn is maintaining his cool image. But outside of school, the real Quinn appears, who's friendly and funny and good to his younger siblings. It's no wonder that Delia finds herself falling for him. And thinking about Quinn helps Delia in the middle of all her problems.

The YA debut of Jennifer Sturman features a likable, identifiable narrator, caught up in a series of life-changing events. Helped by her friends and her new family members, Delia starts to build a new life for herself, while still hoping her old life isn't gone forever. While the central mystery is allowed to take a big step towards a solution by the end of the novel, there's still plenty of questions left for the expected sequel. Fans of the Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter or The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen will find much to enjoy in And Then Everything Unraveled.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Contest: Winners!

Congratulations to Courtney and Sarah, the winners of the ARC prize packs! I plan to continue offering these kinds of prizes in the future, so if you didn't win this time, don't lose hope. And thanks for participating.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Contest: One Day Left!

Remember, you have until noon tomorrow to enter the contest to win one of two sets of ARCs. Get more details and enter the contest at this post.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: DupliKate

Cherry Cheva
September 2009; HarperTeen; 978-0-06-128854-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Kate is your typical stressed senior. She's determined to get into Yale sot hat she and her boyfriend Paul will attend college together. But that doesn't leave much time for Kate, amidst SAT prep, favors for recommendation-writing teachers, and a personal statement that's got Kate blocked. So when she falls asleep in front of her computer which is frozen on a lame simulation game, she's shocked to wake up to a duplicate version of herself named Rina. Could this be the way for Kate to achieve her goals? Or is Rina a wake-up call for Kate?

A combination of sci-fi and chick lit yields a fast-paced and fun read. Kate is like so many teens, trying to do too much because she doesn't know her limits. This doesn't mean she's irresponsible about what she takes on; often it's Kate who's staying home to study while Rina goes out with Kate's friends, even with her boyfriend Paul. But slowly, Kate realizes that perhaps her goals are not what she really wants. This natural realization lends some extra weight to the storyline, which is otherwise peopled with stock characters and is relatively predictable. But as Kate moves through the novel, you find yourself rooting for her to figure things out, wondering how her story will turn out. This could be a gateway sci-fi book for girls that haven't discovered the variety of that genre. Try handing this book and Scott Westerfeld's Uglies to a teen and see what happens!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Review: Pretty Dead

Pretty Dead
Francesca Lia Block
2009; HarperTeen; 978-0-06-154785-0 (hardcover)

Summary: Charlotte Emerson has it all: beauty, riches . . . immortality. She's lived a hundred years, thanks to Michael who made her into a vampire. For the last few years, Charlotte has lived in LA, in a mansion up in the hills, and has even gone to high school. She was looking for a friend and found one in Emily, a wounded girl. Charlotte tried to protect Emily--but she couldn't, as Emily's suicide proves. And with Emily's death, something begins to happen within Charlotte.

Francesca Lia Block brings her unique talents to a vampire story, making it into something different from your standard supernatural creature novel. Charlotte's world-weary attitude disguises a young woman who is becoming something different. The romance with Jared, Emily's boyfriend, is but one part of Charlotte's change; it's just another cog in her evolution from William's beautiful pet to being her own person. Like so many of Block's works, Los Angeles serves as more than a setting, providing an atmosphere of age and youth that complements Charlotte. Fans of Weetzie Bat will be eager for this new work, and vampire junkies might discover for the first time the appeal of Block's brand of urban fairy tales with Pretty Dead.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Contest: Win Some ARCs!

Even though ALA Annual in Chicago didn't yield as many ARCs as past conferences, I still have some books that either I've already read or don't think I'll get to read. So I thought I'd offer them up to all of you!

There are two prizes in this contest. If you enter, you are eligible to win either set of ARCs.

Prize #1 is three ARCs: Also Known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal, The Goodbye Season by Marian Hale, and Rock 'n' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler.

Prize #2 is two ARCs, both previously reviewed here on Librarian by Day: As You Wish by Jackson Pearce and The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson.

To enter, please leave a comment with the following info:
  • your name
  • a way to contact you
  • the name of the book that you're most looking forward to reading this fall. It can be a previously published work that you've been saving, or something that's not yet published. Sky's the limit!
You have until noon on Friday, August 14 to enter this contest. Feel free to spread the word around about this contest!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Review: As You Wish

As You Wish
Jackson Pearce
2009; HarperTeen; 978-0-06-166152-5 (hardcover)

Summary: Viola's world shattered when her boyfriend Lawrence, her oldest friend, told her he was gay. Since then, Viola has been an invisible girl, wishing that she wasn't broken. And then, on day, a jinn appears with the power to make her wishes come true. it should be simple: Viola makes three wishes, the jinn grants them, and then Viola would forget about him and lives her new life while the jinn returns to his home in Caliban. But Viola just can't seem to make a wish. Maybe it's because she can't pick a wish to make. Or maybe it's because of the connection forming between her and Jinn . . .

In a deeply-felt romance, the idea of wishes is given a new complexity. From the first, Viola doesn't act like the humans that Jinn knows: she doesn't immediately wish for love or fame or riches. Instead, Viola changes and makes choices, not just wishes. For more than anything, Viola want the real thing--and falling in love with Jinn gives her that. Meanwhile, Jinn is also changing, contrary to his nature. He comes to see that his perfect existence in Caliban is empty and broken. Will these two find a way back to each other? They will have to see if they can discover the answer to an old riddle: if a bird and a fish fall in love, where will they live? As You Wish is a thoughtful debut, and Jackson Pearce brings intriguing character development and stylish writing to what could be a simple, shallow story.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: The Thirteenth Child

The Thirteenth Child
Patricia C. Wrede
2009; Scholastic; 978-0-545-03342-8 (hardcover)

Summary: In a version of 19th century America that is infused with magic, Eff is afraid of what she's capable of. Eff, you see, is a thirteenth child. Her twin brother Lan, the seventh son of a seventh son, is destined to be a great, powerful magician. But a thirteenth child will turn evil, spreading darkness and despair: a fact that Eff's extended family won't let her forget. Rescued by a move out West with her parents and siblings, Eff grows up and tries to control her magic while finding her place.

Three Things to Know About The Thirteenth Child

#1: Self-fulfilling prophecies can be defeated in several ways.

In Eff's world, it's common knowledge that a thirteenth child turns out badly. With just a look, they can make your bunions hurt more or sour the freshest milk. Due to this stigma, Eff is made miserable during her early childhood. And these scars remain with her, even after her family's move to Mill City. She hides the fact that she's a thirteenth child and still remains distant from most people, too scared of their reactions to her birth order. It's fear that also keeps Eff from fully developing her powers, to the point that spells she tries to cast fizzle out. And in those moments when she loses her control and lets go, she frets and worries, eaten up by guilt. It's only as she learns and finds confidence in a different form of magic that Eff is able to overcome-somewhat-the stigma of being a thirteenth child.

#2: An alternate world exists thanks to its roots in our world.

An expert at creating alternate universes thanks to the Kate and Cecilia trilogy written with Patricia Stevermer, Wrede creates another engaging what-if world. In this novel, magic mingles and infuses the American frontier, transforming Minneapolis on the Mississippi into Mill City on the eastern bank of the Mammoth River. Not just the river separates the civilized, safe towns from the wide-open, dangerous West; there is also the Great Barrier Spell, holding out the steam dragons and other fearsome creatures. This spell is an example of one school of magic, the Avrupan, contrasting with the Aphrikan and Hijero-Cathayan. These varying schools add complexity to the novel and also help explore the struggles of Eff as she tries to control her magic.

#3: There is room for different theories.

It's not too strange that in a world where magic extends to shoo-fly spells, there is a group that shuns any kind of magic. Known as Rationalists, these people feel that magic is a crutch. In the eyes of the Society of Progressive Rationalists, only through hard work, with your mind and your hands, should you achieve success. It might be a strange viewpoint to the people of Eff's world, but it also reflects the American values that exist in our society. One of the most pervasive American myths is the Horatio Alger idea, that a young man can go far thanks to brains, luck, and pluck. The Rationalists represent this ideal within the novel, and their lack of reliance on magic is shown to have an unexpected benefit by the end of the story.

Both a rollicking adventure and an insightful character study, The Thirteenth Child proves that you can combine contrasting elements into one story. Whether it is style or genre, these elements can be mixed together, faithful to each aspect while becoming something new. But beyond this accomplishment, Wrede has created a wonderful story. Recommend this novel, the first in a new series, to fans of the Kate and Cecilia trilogy or Gary Blackwood's The Year of the Hangman.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review: Shiver

Maggie Stiefvater
August 2009; Scholastic; 978-0-545-12326-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Even before she was attacked by them, Grace has been mesmerized by the wolves in her backyard. In particular, it's the yellow-eyed wolf, the one who saved her from the other wolves during the attack, that Grace watches. And then one day, a boy with the same eyes as her wolf comes into her life. As she learns that the boy named Sam and the wolf are one and the same, Grace finds herself falling even more for him. And for Sam, he's loved Grace for years, just from watching her; just by talking to her makes him fall head-over-heels for her. But the cold makes Sam shift from human to wolf, and he thinks his next shift will be his last. When the cold of winter comes, he'll be a wolf forever. As winter comes closer and closer, Sam and Grace must find whether their love be enough in spite of their natures.

Two Things to Know About Shiver

#1: Paranormal romance can exist in the real world.

With the success of Twilight, the hot trend in YA literature is romances between a human and a supernatural creature. The newest choice is Shiver, which draws inspiration from The Time Traveler's Wife and harks back to Blood and Chocolate. This novel is firmly its own, though--and well-grounded in reality. There are rules that dictate how Sam shifts from human to wolf, and they're thought out and sensible. This grounding shifts the mystery and magic from the paranormal to the romance. And who doesn't think love is a mystery? It's a wonderful choice and heights the appeal of the novel.

#2: Differences can be opportunities.

Sam and Grace have very different personalities. Sam is sensitive and creative, a poetry reader who creates his own music lyrics. Meanwhile, Grace is practical and scientific, interested in the tangible. The chestnut is that opposites attract--but these personality contrasts could break up a romance. Instead, though, both characters seem inspired by their romantic interest to become more well-rounded. Grace learns to understand poetry, hearing the beauty in the words. And Sam finds himself thinking scientifically, searching for a cure to his lycanthropy. It's thanks to the evolution in both characters that their love has a chance to survive.

Dreamy and atmospheric, yet shot through with tension and mystery, Shiver ably balances character and plot, romance and action. Maggie Stiefvater has said she wanted to write a book that would prompt readers to cry as they read, swept up by the romance and the worry. Stiefvater succeeds in this goal, creating an entrancing read even for non-fantasy readers. Pair this with Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (my review) to create an "After Twilight" reading list.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: The Miles Between

The Miles Between
Mary E. Pearson
September 2009; Henry Holt Books for Young Readers; 978-0-8050-8828-1 (hardcover)

Summary: For Destiny, it's all about keeping her distance. Abandoned by her parents in favor of her younger brother, she won't let herself make friends or get comfortable at her boarding school. After all, she'll just have to move on, going to a new school at the whims of her parents and their lawyer, Mr. Gardian. When she unexpectedly gains a car, though, Destiny decides to go on a road trip, joined by three schoolmates. As they travel to her hometown, Destiny begins to see all the connections she has . . . and those that she doesn't.

Reminiscent of her earlier work The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson's new novel uses the classic road trip structure to explore friendships and family. The reader is sucked into the story, in spite of Destiny's distance and slowly-revealed unreliability as a narrator, as the truth about her past is discovered. In addition, the desire to have a fair day seems to speak to an essential teenage want; captured between childhood and adulthood, adolescents are slowly realizing that even though fairness isn't automatic, it is possible if you fight for it. Seeing the characters strive for one fair day, a day where everything is just and right, makes for an inspiring, compelling read.

As a side note, I can't help preferring the cover on the ARC I received to the final cover. The final cover seems more like a middle-grade novel to me. Take a look at the ARC cover, as seen for this audiobook version, and weigh in with your thoughts!