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.