Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Inspire Me!

I seem to be in a book slump. I think it's because I'm reading a lot of historical fiction right now, as part of the book I'm writing. Because of that, I can't seem to find anything that's "good enough" to tear me away from the historical fiction.

So, I'm asking all of you: what recently-published teen book do you think I should read next? Fiction or nonfiction is fine--in fact, I've been trying to read more nonfiction lately.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: The Chosen One

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams
2009; St. Martins Griffin; 978-0-312-55511-5 (hardcover)
ARC provided by publisher

Summary: Kyra is a member of the Chosen. Within her isolated religious community, each man has multiple wives, reading is restricted to the Bible, and breaking the rules has deadly consequences. Kyra can't help breaking the rules in secret, though: she sneaks off to the Mobile Library on Wheels to get books and she's deeply in love with a boy her age named Joshua. But when she learns the Prophet has foretold her to be the seventh wife of a sixty-year-old man-a man who is her uncle-Kyra realizes that she must take the risk of losing everything she's known in order to escape.

Three Things to Know About The Chosen One

#1: Not all religious groups are alike.

Admidst a recent spate of religious community books, such as The Sister Wife and The Patron Saint of Butterflies (see my review), it becomes clear that each community is quite different. In The Chosen One, there is a slowly-revealed malevolance within the Chosen. When Kyra first attempts to escape, in a high-speed chase riding in the Mobile Library on Wheels, the sequence is truly a nail-biter. It is at this moment that the full evil within the leaders of the Chosen becomes clear. Since the local sheriff is a member of the Chosen, the Prophet and the Apostles are able to exact their terrible revenge upon misbehaving members.

#2: The power of creativity never fails.

Kyra has wide-ranging taste in books--particularly for a girl in her situation. She's read Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Katherine Paterson: all authors that have been challenged by religious groups. But Kyra doesn't know this--she just knows that these authors have swept her away. Another way that Kyra escapes is with music; she's a gifted piano player. She longs to play a grand piano, like the kind that are in the houses of the Prophet and the Apostles. Yet even the old upright that she plays transport her into another world.

#3: Does religion and equality mix?

Over the course of the novel, Kyra begins to question the social relations within her community. Slowly, she realizes that the men with wives are older--almost none of the younger men have a wife, let alone more than one. Meanwhile, most women are married at fourteen, fifteen or sixteen. In the religion preached by the Prophet, women are meant to serve men. But Kyra, with her reading and her love for Joshua, isn't content with this state of affairs. When the Prophet refuses to reconsider and allow her to marry Joshua, Kyra turns her back on this state of affairs.

Carol Lynch Williams has crafted a stirring look at a closed religious community, one that permits polygamy, incest and murder. Yet in spite of all this, many people are kind, caring people: like her three mothers, her brothers and sisters, and her father. Yet none of these people can save Kyra when the Prophet decrees that she'll marry her uncle--that's up to Kyra. The book ends on a hopeful note, with Kyra able to escape and poised at the beginning of her new life. An ode to freedom-both physical and mental-and its importance, The Chosen One will appeal to any reader seeking to explore a chilling world of restrictions and rules.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess of the Midnight Ball
Jessica Day George
2009; Bloomsbury; 978-1-59990-322-4 (hardcover)

Summary: Every night, Princess Rose and her eleven sisters have a ball to attend. Yet it's not a normal ball: they go because they are cursed, forced to attend by the King Under Stone. And as part of the curse, they can't tell anyone about dancing all night. When their father grows tired of his daughters wearing out their dancing slippers every three days, and the princesses can't tell him why, he starts a contest. Any prince who can solve the mystery will get to marry the princess he chooses and be named the heir to the throne. Yet it appears that it won't be a prince who saves Rose and her sisters . . . but a gardener.

An enjoyable retelling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses, Princess of the Midnight Ball creatively reimagines Europe, heightening the fantasy elements. Yet the descriptions aren't overdone, allowing the reader to see the action in their minds while still allowing for their own perspective. Many of the characters are well-drawn, particularly Galen. The use of both Galen and Rose as protagonists helps the reader explore the story from two different sides. Not too scary and not too romantic, Princess of the Midnight Ball is a great choice for middle schoolers in search of a fairy-tale retelling.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Review: Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer
James L. Swanson
2009; Scholastic; 978-0-439-90354-7 (hardcover)

Summary: Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. After John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, he escaped Washington, D.C. and hid in houses, woods and barns. For twelve days, Booth managed to elude the manhunters after him, all the while eagerly anticipating the press coverage he would receive for shooting the president. He thought the recently-defeated Confederacy rise up and press the advantage of the confusion, to start refighting the Civil War. But it was not to be; John Wilkes Booth was branded an evil criminal, not hailed as a dramatic hero. As the net tightened around Booth, not just his accomplices were drawn into this strange story. There were government officials, soldiers, widows and doctors and Vice-President Andrew Johnson. But in the end, the story was still about John Wilkes Booth.

In a blood-spattered account of the search for John Wilkes Booth, based on his adult book Manhunt, James L. Swanson creates a gripping story about a tumultous twelve days. Although prone to somewhat-forgivable editorializing, there is also rather too many shifts in the action from one story thread to another. Yet it can't be denied that this is a very readable book, one that pulls the reader in and makes history come alive. In addition, it's a handsomely-designed work, full of sepia-tinged photographs and engravings. A book that reads like a historical action movie, Chasing Lincoln's Killer is bound to be popular with middle-schoolers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: The Teashop Girls

The Teashop Girls
Laura Schaefer
2008; Simon & Schuster; 978-1-4169-6793-4 (hardcover)

Summary: As the end of eighth grade approaches and high school looms, Annie can't help feeling threatened by all the changes in her life. And while her best friends--serious tennis player Zoe and fun boy-crazy Genna--seem like adults, she feels like a kid. Her sanctuary is the Steeping Leaf, her grandmother Louisa's teashop and the place that Annie likes best in the world. But when the Leaf is threatened, will the Teashop Girls be able to pull together and save the shop?

A truly heartwarming read--even for someone who doesn't like tea--The Teashop Girls brings a gentle charm to its story of growing up and facing change. Annie is a very believable thirteen-year-old, with her crush on an older boy and her friendship dramas. Louisa is a grandmother that many of us would love to have. Recipes and tea facts, sprinkled through the book, add an extra dimension to the story. For the middle school girls who read Ann Brashares' 3 Willows and want more friendship stories, The Teashop Girls is a perfect choice.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Review: All The Broken Pieces

All the Broken Pieces
Ann E. Burg
2009; Scholastic; 978-0-545-08092-7 (hardcover)

Summary: It's been two years since Matt Pin left Vietnam behind, but in some ways, he hasn't left it at all. He's still haunted by leaving his mother, by the accident that crippled his little brother. And being in America, adopted by a loving family, has only partly relieved his fears. What if his family decides to give him up? Is there any way for Matt to heal the broken pieces inside of him?

A moving novel in verse, All the Broken Pieces blends historical fiction, family concerns, and baseball into a compelling story. Through imagery and rhythm, Burg brings to life Matt's nightmares and hopes, allowing readers to catch a hint of the terror of war-torn Vietnam and the beginning of Matt's healing. A great choice for middle school readers, especially for boys, All the Broken Pieces shows how there are many steps as you repair a shattered life.

If you'd like to learn more, view this booktalk I created, featuring readings from the book.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Review: If I Stay

If I Stay
Gayle Forman
2009; Dutton; 978-0-525-42103-0 (hardcover)

Summary: The last thing Mia remembers is Beethoven's Cello Concerto no. 3. On a rare snow day in Oregon, Mia's family decides to take a drive and visit some friends and family. But then they get into an accident. When Mia wakes up, she can still hear the classical music on the car radio--even though the car is a crumpled mass of metal. And her parents are dead. Before she can find out if her brother has survived, Mia sees herself. She's actually outside of her body, and now she's faced with a choice. Should she follow her family to what comes after life . . . or should she stay?

Two Things to Know about If I Stay

#1: Perhaps there is something between life and death.

Detailing the twenty-four hours from the accident to Mia's decision, If I Stay seeks to explore what happens when we're caught between alive and not. In a coma, Mia finds herself wandering the hospital, seeing how her boyfriend and best friend try to get in to see her, how the accident is affecting her extended family, and how it's up to her to choose her fate. While a character in this kind of limbo is a common literary device, Forman uses it to fully explore all aspects of Mia's character. As Mia slowly contemplates how to go forward, we flash back to all the different events and memories that have made Mia into who she is. We see why there are many reasons for Mia to stay . . . and just as many reasons for her to go.

#2: Important choices aren't just about life and death.

Before the accident, Mia was trying to figure out her future. She had applied to Julliard, and she was pretty sure she would be accepted. But her parents, her friends, and her boyfriend were all in Oregon. The biggest challenge was leaving behind her boyfriend Adam. Adam's band was starting to gain some success, but it was a local success. They certainly weren't going to be able to pull up stakes and move to New York. And while Mia knew that if she got accepted, she would attend Julliard, that didn't make the thought of leaving Adam any easier. Facing such a choice doesn't really prepare Mia for the bigger choice she has to make. However, it does remind us that the decisions that matter most can have just as much weight as the one that Mia makes by the end of the novel.

A haunting novel, If I Stay beautifully explores a major turning point in the life of a talented, brave girl. Facing a horrible choice, Mia is able to take the strength of her family and her friends and use it to find the right decision for her. Fans of Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere and other novels of characters in the afterlife might also enjoy exploring the question of what comes before death, as posed in If I Stay.

Friday, May 01, 2009

YALSA Elections

First, I will get the shameless self-promotion out of the way: I got elected to the Printz Committee!

I am so excited and pleased and honored to have been elected. I appreciate everyone who voted for me, and I hope that I'll be able to contribute a lot to the process of picking the 2011 Printz winner.

Congratulations to everyone who stood for election, and to those that were elected.