Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hiatus

Due to the last-minute push to ALA Midwinter, I'll be taking a hiatus for the next two weeks.  I'll be back after the conference to talk about serving on the Printz Committee, what my plans are in 2011, and of course, reviews!

I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, and that 2011 is full of great things.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: Mostly Good Girls

Mostly Good Girls
Leila Sales
2010; Simon Pulse; ISBN 978-1-4424-0679-7 (hardcover)

Summary:  Violet's junior year should be just like she planned.  There's tasks like lots of studying in order to keep up at her private school and editing the literary magazine.  Then there's spending time with her best friend Katie, and maybe even finding a way to talk to her crush, Scott Walsh.  But things don't go according to plan.  Violet loses her position on the lit mag and discovers a secret about Scott.  Worst of all, Katie suddenly becomes a different person, making choices that Violet doesn't understand or like.  Will Violet be able to hold on to Katie, or will her junior year be completely ruined?

The tangles of friendship are explored in this contemporary novel.  Violet and Katie's long-standing friendship is authentically presented, full of inside jokes and mutual concern.  The world of a rigorous prep school is well-captured, showing the pressures to which teens are subjected.  As the story reaches its conclusion, the reader finds that Violet and Katie's friendship, although changed, is still strong.  Mostly Good Girls would pair nicely with Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
Lish McBride
2010; Henry Holt; ISBN 978-0-8050-9098-7 (hardcover)

Summary:  Sam seems like a normal guy: high school drop-out with a job in fast food, friends for life with Ramon and admirer of his coworker Brooke.  But then Sam discovers he's not so normal--he's a necromancer.  Capable of raising the dead, such power is dangerous, especially for a newbie like Sam.  There's already a necromancer in Seattle, and he's not happy about an unregistered necromancer on his turf.  Sam is in deep trouble, and he's only got a week to get out of it.  It'll be up to his new guide, a Harbinger named Ashley, and Brid, the hot half-werewolf, to give Sam that help.

Mix sarcastic humor with supernatural creatures and you get Hold Me Closer, Necromancer.  One of the 2011 Morris Award finalists, this novel cleverly creates an engaging hero in Sam, who faces an unusual hero's journey.  As Sam discovers his heritage, he slowly finds the path that works for him.  The leisurely pacing allows plenty of time not just for Sam but for characters like Douglas, the evil necromancer and Brid, heiress to her werewolf clan.  A great read for older teens, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, and Holly Black.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Review: The Ring of Solomon

The Ring of Solomon
Jonathan Stroud
2010; Hyperion; ISBN 978-1-4231-2372-9 (hardcover)

Summary:  In 950 BCE, the great king Solomon relies on his seventeen magicians to help him rule Israel.  The ambitious magicians and the spirits they control all fear Solomon, due to the powerful ring he wears.  Even the mischievious, incorrigible djinni Bartimaeus steers clear of Solomon.  That is, until he's summoned by Asmira, a young woman with little magical skill.  She has been sent by the Queen of Sheba to defeat Solomon and take his ring.  Can Bartimaeus defeat this powerful king and fulfill Asmira's mission?  If he ever wants to leave Earth and return to the Other Place for rest and rejuvenation, Bartimaeus will have to find a way.

A prequel to the popular Bartimaeus trilogy, The Ring of Solomon is a welcome addition.  Bartimaeus's wisecracks and intelligence are showcased in this installment.  Other characters like Asmira, Solomon, and the cruel magician Khaba are equally memorable.  More than just a humorous fantasy romp, The Ring of Solomon poses interesting questions about morals and ethics.  Best of all, all the elements readers loved in the original trilogy are on display in this prequel.  Let's hope this isn't the last book featuring Bartimaeus.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

2011 William C. Morris Award Finalists

The 2011 Morris shortlist has been announced!  The finalists are:

Hush by Eishes Chayil
Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Crossing the Tracks by Barbara Stuber (read my review)
The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston

This might be one of the most balanced shortlists I've ever seen.  There's a little something for anyone: historical fiction, contemporary, fantasy/paranormal, humor.  There's some talked-about books and some relative unknowns.  Big publishers and small. 

I want to congratulate the Morris committee: they did a great job!  I can't wait to find out who the winner is. 

Due to my responsibilities on the Printz committee, it's unlikely I'll be able to do a Morris Award review roundup as I have done in the past--at least not in the depth as I have done.  It's possible that reviews of some of these titles will appear this month.  I definitely encourage everyone to give these a read and form your own opinions!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Review: Black Hole Sun

Black Hole Sun
David Macinnis Gill
2010; HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06-167304-7 (hardcover)

Summary: Durango is many things.  He's a Regulator, one of the soliders/protectors who are fiercely loyal.  He's also a dalit, a Regulator without a master.  Like the samurai on Earth, Durango and his rag-tag crew of other dalit Regulators criss-cross Mars, trying to earn enough money to fill their bellies.  A job protecting the miners of Fishers Four will barely do that.  What's worse, Durango and the other Regulators will be facing the Draeu, legendary cannibals that scare almost everyone on Mars.  As he tries to protect the miners and his crew, Durango is forced to confront many hard truths about his life and about survival. 

A gripping science fiction adventure, David Macinnis Gill has combined several elements in his second novel.  Taking the idea of Japanese samurai and mixing it with the red planet creates an unusual world, one that is slowly explained to the reader.  To keep those readers turning the pages, Gill fills the story with action setpieces and a dash of romance between Durango and his second-in-command, Vienne.  Reluctant readers are likely to enjoy this sci-fi flick in book form. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Historical Fiction Month Wrap-Up

During the month of November, I hope that you have gained a new appreciation for historical fiction.  It's a genre of fiction that is flexible, dynamic, and dare I say it, popular. 

Neil Gaiman once described graphic novels not as a format, but as a genre, a container for whatever you want to put into it.  Historical fiction is the same: you can add another genre like fantasy, ideas like feminism, or techniques like flashbacks in order to create the novel.  For readers, this is a blessing and a curse.  In the hands of a good author, historical fiction can be transformed into a thrilling page-turner.  But done badly, historical fiction is bland and boring. 

This month, many great works of historical fiction have been featured on librarian by day.  Whether you've become a new fan of the genre or have remembered why you love historical fiction, I thank you for reading this month. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Guest Post: How An Author Researches

Enjoy today's guest post from author Kimberly Griffiths Little, about what draws her to historical fiction and how she researches and writes her books.  --Melissa

Historical Fiction Is A-Changing!

Many folks hear the genre, “historical fiction” and smother a yawn. They want fantasy, dragons, action, danger, excitement, incantations, magical wands and lightning bolt scars on their main character, but STOP. WAIT.

The saying, “Kids don’t really like historical fiction” is a long-held mantra, and it’s true that many editors don’t buy much historical fiction. Publishers are leery of being able to sell only a few thousand copies of “historical fiction”.

And yet.



Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Forge

Forge
Laurie Halse Anderson
2010; Atheneum (Simon & Schuster); ISBN 978-1-4169-6144-4 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: American Revolution

Summary:  Curzon spent a year in a colonial militia, promised his freedom by his master, James Bellingham.  When Bellingham doesn't emancipate Curzon, he escapes, scratching along with fellow escaped slave Isabel.  But then Isabel leaves to find her sister, leaving Curzon determined to go on without her.  He soon finds himself enlisted again, trying to survive the desolate winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge.  It's there that Curzon will cross paths with two people, only one of whom he ever wanted to see again.

A follow-up to Chains, the National Book Awards finalist, Forge beautifully continues the story.  Curzon's growth is clearly portrayed, taking him from a boy who is only concerned with his own safety to a man who protects those he cares fore.  Readers also get to observe Colonial racial attitudes, as a free black man can be treated with respect by some.    A lengthy author's note from Laurie Halse Anderson details the facts and fictions in her story.  Those who enjoyed Chains are bound to snatch up Forge, as well as fans of Johnny Tremain and April Morning.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving and Native Americans

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Jennie A. Brownscombe (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This image represents how Thanksgiving began.  At least, that's the legend.  The Pilgrims, in celebration of their survival through their first long winter in the New World, held a ceremony of thanksgiving like the harvest festivals they had participated in back in Europe.  Joined by the local Indians who had helped them during that winter, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for bringing them through. 

Since that first Thanksgiving in 1621, much of what this painting represents has been called into question.  Were relations between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans so friendly?  Was this even the first Thanksgiving?  And does this matter when Thanksgiving in the United States is now seen as being about food and football, not to mention the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. 

November is often a time to discuss Indians, due to their role in the first Thanksgiving.  While acknowledging that books about Native Americans have come a long way, author Cynthia Leitich Smith notes:
However, stereotyped depictions persist. Contemporary settings are in short supply (and almost exclusively targeted at picture book readers). Certain well-known Nations like the Navajo (Diné) and Cherokee are highlighted while others don't appear to exist. Groups like Urban Indians are almost ignored. Few biographies focus on Native people known for their service to their own communities.
 How can you find high-quality portrayals of Native Americans, to share with teens in your schools and libraries?  Look to resources like the following
--Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature
--Resources from Cynthia Leitich Smith on Native American themes
--The National Museum of the American Indian, particularly in the Education section

Have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: Crossing the Tracks

Crossing the Tracks
Barbara Stuber
2010; McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster); ISBN 978-1-4169-9703-0 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: 1920s America

Summary: When her mother dies when she is six, Iris is left with her emotionally distant father.  Now sixteen, Iris wonders if she'll ever find someplace that she belongs.  Her isolation feels even more extreme when her father hires her out as a companion to the mother of a country doctor.  Iris is surprised to be warmly welcomed by Dr. and Mrs. Nesbitt and treated like part of the family.  She slowly gains confidence in herself, even trying to help the local mean girl.  But when her father dies, Iris will have to see if she's gotten strong enough to make her own home.

The 1920s were a complex period to grow up, even if you didn't live in a big city.  Social and technological advances made life a bit easier, although it doesn't make coming of age any simpler.  Iris gains freedom through inventions like the telephone and the car, but she still feels unsure when it comes to her father and her future.  Far from jazz and bright lights, one girl learns how to be strong and independent.  Pair Crossing the Tracks with a book like Ten Cents a Dance to give an urban take on the same struggle. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Countdown

Countdown
Deborah Wiles
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-10605-4 (hardcover)

 Historical Period/Events: 1960s America; Cuban Missile Crisis; Cold War

Summary: Franny feels invisible: her little brother Drew is perfect and her older sister Jo Ellen is a college girl with a secret.  Her best friend Margie treats Franny badly and she doesn't know why.  Worst of all, her uncle Otts has gone crazy it seems.  In the midst of this drama, Franny's life is changed, like every other American's, by the announcement that missiles have been located in Cuba.  Gripped by the Cuban missile crisis, Franny tries to make sense of a world turned upside-down.  Can one eleven-year-old find strength and hope in such a world?

A coming-of-age novel based on Deborah Wiles's life, Countdown is an emotional look at the Cuban missile crisis.  The tension and uncertainty of the period is part of the narrative, giving readers a look at this piece of Cold War history.  The story is interspersed with a scrapbook-like collection of photos, newspaper articles and quotes, giving a documentary feel to this novel.  But Franny's relationships with her family are at the heart of this novel, and we see Franny's family as flawed and sympathetic characters.  More a children's novel than a YA book, Countdown can still be enjoyed by middle schoolers interested in the Cold War.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Review: Dangerous Neighbors

Dangerous Neighbors
Beth Kephart
2010; Egmont; ISBN 978-1-60684-080-1 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: 19th-Century Philadelphia; American Centennial Exhibition

Summary:  All her life, Katherine has taken care of her twin sisters, Anna.  But when Anna dies by falling through the ice on the Schuykill River, Katherine feels like she has failed--and she doesn't want to go on living.  For months, she's in a daze, even as Philadelphia prepares for and presents the Centennial Fair of 1876.  Katherine wants to join Anna in death, yet something keeps holding her back.  How can Katherine go on without her sister? 

1876 Philadelphia comes alive in this dreamy, introspective novel.  The bustle of a city playing host to thousands of tourists is contrasted wtih Katehrine's narrow focus on her grief.  As she starts to go beyond her own heartbreak, Katherine's eyes take in the beauty of existence, letting her suicididal impulses drift away.  This character-driven novel transports the reader not just to nineteenth-century Philadelphia, but into the head of a grieving young woman as she gains the strength to stand alone.  Dangerous Neighbors will appeal to readers of novels like Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Post: My Sister The Moon and the Ivory Carver Trilogy

Today's guest post comes from Julie, who can be found at http://himissjulie.com or on Twitter at @himissjulie.  Enjoy!  Melissa

My Sister The Moon and the Ivory Carver Trilogy

Mother Earth Father Sky, My Sister The Moon, and Brother Wind, by Sue Harrison http://sueharrison.com/the-ivory-carver-trilogy

When I was around thirteen or fourteen I was at a loss about what to read. I’d read all of the assigned reading for school (finishing weeks early, of course) and I wasn’t in the mood to re-read any of my mom’s Stephen King books or any of my dad’s issues of Analog. I’d just finished all of Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children* books and was hungry for more, but, sadly, Jean Auel’s glacier’s pace of writing and publishing was determined to thwart me. So imagine my delight when one day at the bookstore I saw a cover that trumpeted “Sue Harrison outdoes Jean Auel!”











I plucked the book from the shelf and turned it over to see if it would satisfy my deep craving for prehistoric facts, survival, and romance:


"An abused and unwanted daughter of the the First Men tribe, young Kiin know the harsh realities of life in a frozen land at the top of the world. In an age of ice nine millennia past, her destiny is tied to the brave sons of the orphaned Chagak and her chieftain mate Kayugh--one to whom Kiin is promised, the other for whom Kiin yearns."

It was love at first blurb, and as I dove into the story, it reminded me in many ways of several of my favorite books, including Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, and, of course, the Clan of the Cave Bear books that it was being compared to.

In retrospect I realize that Harrison’s novels are much more well-written than Auel’s. She made quite an effort to have the tone and style of her writing match what, from her research, indicated the spoken cadence of the Aleut people. She wove details about day to day life into the narrative seamlessly, and made each character’s voice distinct and engaging.

The main character of the second two books in the trilogy is Kiin, a young girl who is abused and unwanted by her father. Refused a name--and thereby a soul--until she finally reached menarche, Kiin spent the first part of her life enduring beatings and dreaming of being wife to Samiq, one of the chieftain’s two sons. She knows that she is promised to one of Kayugh’s sons, and hopes it will be Samiq, for he is the one who is always kind to her and tends her wounds after her father has beaten her. The other son, Amgigh, sometimes taunts her along with her younger brother, Quakan, who has been taught that all of his failings are the fault of his greedy older sister, who should have died, and instead took his birthright from him.

When Kiin begins to menstruate, proving she has a soul, she must be named, but her father continues to insult her and his tribe’s chief by giving her a name that means “Who?” Kiin, however, doesn’t care, and is simply glad to have a name and soul, which brings her that much closer to becoming wife to Samiq.

Like in many young girls’ lives, menstruation is the beginning of many sweeping changes in Kiin’s life. With her name and new status and the potential for a new family, Kiin begins to assert herself in small ways. She carves a piece of ivory into a shell so she can keep it from her father, who fancies himself a carver but in reality only mutilates the materials he carves. This small but powerful secret adds to Kiin’s growing self-confidence, and in the other books her carving--and singing--are the talents that keep her alive during harrowing times.

The books alternate the point of view character quite a bit, so boys could be talked into reading these titles as well. Samiq is a character that I can see many boys identifying with and admiring, and we get several chapters from his perspective, so keep that in mind when hand-selling the books.

My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind are the volumes that explore and resolve the love triangle (quadrangle at times) in Kiin’s life, and take her from an uncertain, unwanted girl to a brave and competent young woman. The journey is full of rich details regarding the food, clothing, and traditions of the various peoples, and there is a great balance of action, romance, and lyrical writing that will keep most teens engaged. There is a touch of supernatural to the stories as well, including two otherworldly sisters who speak in prophecies and several spirit animals and objects who speak to various characters at different times.

The first book of the trilogy, Mother Earth Father Sky, focuses on Chagak, and ends with the birth of Kiin. Chagak is a teen during much of that book, so it also has some teen appeal, but I don’t think nearly as much as My Sister The Moon; however, teens that read Kiin’s story will probably want to read that book as well.

These books might possibly be a tricky sell to teens, but I think readers who enjoy survival books, romances, books with strong female characters, stories about abuse (including sexual abuse and incest), and historical fiction could be talked into giving these a try.

*I could--and might--write a whole ‘nother post on these books. Man, they were mind-blowing to re-read as an adult!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Review: The Healer's Apprentice

The Healer's Apprentice
Melanie Dickerson
2010; Zondervan; ISBN 978-0-310-72143-7 (paperback)

Historical Period/Events: Germany in the Middle Ages

Summary:  Rose knows that she is lucky to have the position of healer's apprentice.  The local healer, Frau Geruscha, has taught Rose to read and write along with showing her much encouragement.  But Rose grows faint at the sight of blood.  More troubling, though, are her feelings for Lord Hamlin, the son of the local duke.  Lord Hamlin is attractive, strong and responsible.  He is also betrothed to the daughter of a duke, a young woman who has been kept in hiding for years to protect her from an evil conjurer.  Amidst broken hearts, secrets, and demons, Rose must rely on her faith to sustain her.

An unusual blending of two genres--historical fiction with Christian fiction--succeeds thanks to an interesting storyline.  The historical details are well-drawn, capturing life in a German village in the 1300s at a time when faith was a large part of everyday life.  Rose and Lord Hamlin are the heroes of the story not simply for their faith but for their strong, moral natures.  Interesting questions about ethics and choices are sprinkled among the sweeping romance.  With an appealing cover and a hook-filled storyline, The Healer's Apprentice will attract readers who don't normally read either historical or Christian fiction.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Excerpt: Historical Fiction Mash-ups

In the fall issue of YALS, I have an article talking about historical fiction mash-ups: examples of historical fiction blended with another genre.  If you're a YALSA member, you automatically receive this journal.  For those non-YALSA folks, though, here's an excerpt from my article for your enjoyment!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: Annexed

Annexed
Sharon Dogar
2010; Houghton Mifflin; ISBN 978-0-547-50195-6 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: 1940s Europe, Holocaust

Summary: In The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank described the years spent in hiding due to her Jewish faith.  Yet what was it like for the teenage boy in hiding?  Peter van Pels struggles with the loss of privacy and opportunity.  He misses his girlfriend Liese, misses fresh air, misses freedom.  Cooped up in the small rooms, distracted by the fights between different members of the Secret Annex, Peter doesn't realize that the end is coming.  And when the inhabitants are discovered and taken away, Peter will realize how captivity can also be freedom. 

Annexed gives readers a different perspective on one of the classic works about the Holocaust.  Peter's story is told in two parts: his life in the concentration camp, struggling to survive, and the time in the Secret Annex. The daily boredom of hiding is contrasted with the deadly grind of imprisonment with heartbreaking effect.  Not just a retelling of The Diary of a Young Girl, Sharon Dogar's novel expands Anne Frank's world in an intriguing way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: The Twin's Daughter

The Twin's Daughter
Lauren Baratz-Logsted
2010; Bloomsbury; ISBN 978-1-599990-513-6 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: Victorian England

Summary:  The first of many strange days for Lucy occurs when she answers her front door and sees her mother's face on another woman.  While Lucy's mother Aliese lived in comfort and luxury, Lucy's aunt Helen lived in the workhouse, unknown to Aliese.  Brought into the household, Helen learns to adapt, becoming a lady like Aliese.  Lucy is happy to see her mother and her aunt reunited.  But when tragedy befalls these identical twin sisters, leaving one alive and the other dead, Lucy is left with a wealth of questions.  First and foremost is whether a child really knows her mother.

Like a Gothic twist on The Parent Trap, this mystery keeps the reader guessing.  The identity of the woman left behind seems obvious to both Lucy and the reader, but there is a stunning turn of events as the novel reaches its conclusion.  Lucy is a stubborn yet thoughtful young woman, lucky enough to have the support of her friend turned love interest, Kit.  Lauren Baratz-Logsted crafts a memorable mystery, giving a historical setting to a thriller.  The Twin's Daughter is likely to be enjoyed by those who liked the contemporary mystery Dead Girls Don't Write Letters.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Guest Post: Getting Teens Interested in Historical Fiction

Today's guest post comes from Jessica, who you can find on Twitter as @jessyabookobssd, or at her blog, I Read to Relax.  Enjoy!  --Melissa

Getting Teens Interested in Historical Fiction
As a Teen Librarian it is always a challenge to introduce new books to reluctant readers.  One genre that I always love to recommend is historical fiction.  Many teens, though, seem to want nothing to do with the ominous H.F…until they pick up that one special book, that is! But, how to get them there?  That is the real challenge.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The War to End All Wars

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


I first heard this poem in, of all places, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?  As the Peanuts gang drove around Normandy, they visited sites important to World Wars I and II.  Their trip culminates in Linus reciting the first two verses of this poem while near the battlefields of Ypres.  See it for yourself (skip ahead to the five minute mark). 

On November 11, 1919, at 11:11 am, the armistice agreement that ceased hostilities in World War I went into effect.  World War I was a devastating conflict, inflicting casualties far beyond anything seen previously.  Millions went to war, and millions never returned.  Understanding World War I is critical to understanding World War II, yet many Americans know very little about this conflict.  Today is Veterans' Day: take a moment to remember those who serve, and those who have fallen.  And take a moment to remember World War I, the war to end all wars.

For more information, try one of these books.

Fiction
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick
Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Nonfiction
Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War I by Ann Bausum 

The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman (read my review)
Truce by Jim Murphy

Images taken from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: Picture the Dead

Picture the Dead
Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown
2010; Sourcebooks; ISBN 978-1-4022-3712-6 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events:  Nineteenth-Century America; the Civil War

Summary: Death seems to surround Jennie.  The Civil War has taken her father, her twin brother, and her cousin/fiance.  Jennie knows she should move on and deal with the problems she faces: no money of her own, a lack of status in her small Massachusetts town, and the cruel treatment of her aunt.  Yet Jennie can't help thinking of her lost love Will.  It seems like he is trying to reach out to her from beyond the grave with some kind of message.  But just what is that message?  Jennie will have to find new reserves of courage when Will's warnings reveal the truth to her.

Evoking a very different time, Picture the Dead captures Civil War-era Massachusetts.  It was a time when people believed spirits could be seen in photographs, that ghosts brushed against our lives.  In moody, atmospheric prose, Adele Griffin showcases a ghostly story of lost love.  The scrapbook format, created by Lisa Brown's illustrations, enhances the story and provides clues to the mystery Jennie is untangling.  Pair Picture the Dead with Dianne Salerni's We Hear the Dead for an eye-opening look at the Spiritualist movement.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Review: Warriors in the Crossfire

Warriors in the Crossfire
Nancy Bo Flood
2010; Boyds Mill Press; ISBN 978-1-59078-661-1 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events:  1940s Saipan; World War II

Summary:  As a native on the island of Saipan, Joseph is disdained by the occupying Japanese.  He dreams of going to a university like his cousin, the half-Japanese Kento who wants to be an engineer.  But Joseph would return to the island and open a school.  But such dreams must wait, for the Japanese Empire is fighting the Americans, and the native population is caught in the middle.  When the Americans attack the Japanese, Joseph and his family hide in a cave.  But with the Japanese facing defeat, they enforce a horrible policy, in an even that Joseph will witness.

Exploring a horrific event, this novel is also a look at the native population of the small Pacific island of Saipan.  The tension that existed between the natives and the Japanese is vividly portrayed.  There is also the beliefs of Joseph's people: their dances, their code of conduct, and more.  With simple words precisely selected like a haiku, Warriors in the Crossfire is a novel that honors the people of Saipan.  Use this novel in World War II displays or booktalks, as a complement to titles on the Holocaust.

Monday, November 08, 2010

YA Literature Symposium 2010

(Apologies for the blank post that went out earlier!)

The 2010 Young Adult Literature Symposium was held this past weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was a great event, allowing librarians to concentrate on literature--the reason many of us are librarians, I suspect. 

The theme was Diversity, Literature and Teens: Beyond Good Intentions.  Programs that I attended included Connecting Religious Teens with Literature and The New Gay Teen: Moving Beyond the "Issue" Novel.  It was great seeing authors at the Authors' Happy Hour, and listening to Lauren Myracle and Ellen Hopkins at the closing session.  Best of all was having time to talk books with my fellow librarians. 

I was busy at the Symposium because I was a presenter too!  Doomed to Repeat It: Diversity in YA Historical Fiction gave me a chance to talk about some diversity themes in YA literature and share books with the audience.  Also part of the program were authors Christina Gonzalez and Ruta Sepetys, who were both fantastic.  If you're interested, further resources and the presentation slides are available at http://bit.ly/doomedtorepeat

If you want to read about what happened at the Symposium, check out the YALSA Blog's YA Lit Symposium tag, or access tweets sent during programs at #yalsalit10

The next Symposium will be held November 2-4, 2012 in St. Louis.  Will you be there?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Guest Post: Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Today's guest post comes from Dana W. Fisher, who discusses Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and provides some curriculum connections.  Enjoy!  --Melissa

Uprising
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2007)
ISBN: 978-1-4169-1171-5

Published in 2007, this little gem of a book was almost immediately overshadowed by the publication of the first book in Haddix’s new series.  I think it deserves your consideration and a second look.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Review: Revolution

Revolution
Jennifer Donnelly
2010; Delacorte Press; ISBN 978-0-385-73763-0 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: French Revolution; Music in the 18th Century

Summary: Two years after the death of her little brother Truman--a death she feels responsible for--Andi Alpers is in freefall.  She's on various substances (some legal, some not) in order to get through the day, she takes care of her mother who has gone crazy in the aftermath of Truman's death, and she's about to get kicked out of her exclusive Brooklyn private school.  The only good thing in her life is music: playing her guitar and having music lessons with her teacher.  To try and get her back on track, her absent father forces her to accompany him to Paris, where Andi is expected to complete the outline for her senior thesis on the eighteenth-century composer Malherbeau.  In Paris, Andi gets drawn into the historical world of the French Revolution, thanks to several reasons--but most of all to the diary she finds, of a girl named Alexandrine who becomes devoted to Louis-Charles, the last French dauphin and the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  These threads--Alex, Louis-Charles, Malherbeau, Truman, and Andi--will get drawn together in unusual ways, leading Andi to learn that while the cruel, horrible world may go on, she does not. 

This weighty novel, focused foremost on the grieving process, shows us an intriguing modern-day teenager.  While Alexandrine remains a character on the page, Andi lives and breathes, drawing the reader into her story.  Andi's struggle to deal with Truman's death is the thematic foundation of Revolution, and it is a slow, hesitant journey for Andi from hell to paradise.  The world-weary Andi slowly sees that just because the world is cruel and unfair, she cannot give in to the cruelty.  With leisurely pacing, Jennifer Donnelly lets Andi's story unfold, peppering the story with well-rounded characters and secondary themes of art vs. science, family dynamics, and young romance.  This novel is bound to find an audience among intelligent teens.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Review: The Red Umbrella

The Red Umbrella
Christina Diaz Gonzalez
2010; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-86190-1 (hardcover)

Historical Period/Events: 1960s Cuba and America; Operation Pedro Pan

Summary:  Life for Lucia is good.  She has her best friend Ivette, she's close to her parents and her little brother Frankie, and Cuba is a good place to live.  There have been troubles since the revolution, though, but Lucia doesn't really understand why her parents are so worried.  Then her family is branded as anti-revolutionaries, open to mistreatment and theft.  Fearing for their safety, Lucia's parents send Lucia and Frankie to America.  Living in Nebraska with the Baxters, a kind older couple, exposes Lucia to many new things, most of which she likes.  But she worries about whether she'll ever see her parents again.

Based on stories from Christina Diaz Gonzalez's family, The Red Umbrella looks at how families tried to protect each other after the Cuban Revolution.  Life in Cuba and Nebraska is vividly portrayed and contrasted, from the warm tropical beauty of Lucia's first home to the apple-pie Americana of her second home.  Peppered with Spanish phrases, The Red Umbrella is an eye-opening look at a new immigrant's adjustment to a new country.  This historical novel will be enjoyed by readers who have read Margarita Engle's novels in verse about Cuban history and are eager for a more modern story.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What is Historical Fiction?

It may seem like a silly question to ask, but defining just what is historical fiction illustrates the complexity of this genre.  On the surface, it's any novel set in the past.  But dig a little deeper, and you start seeing different questions.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Historical Fiction Month Kick-off

Welcome to Historical Fiction Month at librarian by day!  Every weekday in November, there will be discussion of young adult historical fiction.  Whether it's a book review, an essay from a guest contributor, or a post from me, readers will learn new things about historical fiction.  At least, that's the plan!

If you're attending the 2010 Young Adult Literature Symposium later this week, I hope you'll attend my presentation, "Doomed to Repeat It: Diversity in Young Adult Historical Fiction."  If you can't make it to the symposium, I'll be sharing info from the symposium next week.  In addition, if you are looking for a genre guide to YA historical fiction, perhaps you'll consider purchasing my book for your library or media center. 

I hope you enjoy the posts that appear this month at librarian by day.  I greatly appreciate the comments I've received since I started this blog, and I think that this month is the beginning of something new.  If you like the themed months idea, let me know.  And if there's any improvements you'd like to suggest, hit up the comment link.

In the meanwhile, get comfortable, enjoy the beverage of your choice, and happy reading!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: Dark Water

Dark Water
Laura McNeal
2010; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-84973-2 (hardcover)

Summary: Life in the southern California town of Fallbrook should be like living in a paradise.  But for Pearl, it's not so great.  Her parents have recently divorced, and Pearl and her mother live in the ramshackle guest house on her uncle's avocado ranch.  She's growing distant from her best friend, while her friend and cousin Robby is distancing himself from her.  Then she meets Amiel, a migrant worker who doesn't talk but juggles and mimes to express himself.  He captures Pearl's attention, making her chase him even as he tries to keep her at arms' length.  When a wildfire sweeps through Fallbrook, Pearl will choose Amiel over safety--with devastating consequences. 

This National Book Award finalist showcases the development of one young woman.  Pearl is confused and uncertain due to the changes in her life.  Falling for Amiel leads Pearl to bad decisions, as she does anything to attract his attention.  Laura McNeal presents in a sympathetic manner a young woman grappling with her life and making choices that others wouldn't make.  Other characters like Pearl's mother, her uncle, and Amiel are equally well-drawn in this thoughtful novel.  With its sense of foreboding, Dark Water keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares
Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
2010; Knopf; ISBN 978-0-375-86659-3 (hardcover)

Summary: It all starts with a red notebook.  Lily leaves it at the Strand, the famous New York bookstore.  Dash finds it by the Salinger novels and follows its instructions.  Over the holiday period from just before Christmas to just after New Year's, Dash and Lily will have a friendship built on their notes to each other in the notebook.  As they exchange it back and forth, they will have a series of adventures.  Whether it's creating a Muppet, visiting Madame Tussaud's, or getting locked in at the Strand, Dash and Lily will discover new things about themselves as well as each other.

If a novel could be hot chocolate, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares is hot chocolate.  It's a sweet treat that you enjoy, thanks to the talents of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  Quirky, affectionate Lily and intelligent, reserved Dash are memorable main characters, each having their opportunities to tell the story.  Other characters, like Dash's puppy of a friend Boomer and Lily's Great-Aunt Ida, known as Mrs. Basil E., add extra fun to the story.  Readers who are not ready for the mature themes in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Cohn and Levithan's first novel together, will embrace Dash & Lily's Book of Dares.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: Yummy

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty
G. Neri; illustrations by Randy DuBurke
2010; Lee & Low Books; ISBN 978-1-58430-267-4 (paperback)

Summary:  Victim, villain, or both?  That's the question in 1994 as an eleven-year-old killer draws attention to Chicago's gang problem.  Nicknamed Yummy due to his love for candy, Robert Sandifer accidentally shoots a teenager in his Southside neighborhood.  The shooting exposes to the world at large many problems: gang warfare, broken homes and neglect, and children killing children.  In hiding after the shooting, Yummy just wants to go home to his grandmother.  But as the gang tires of protecting him, they know they can't let him go home.  Instead, they kill him.  Through the eyes of Roger, a classmate of Yummy's, a senseless story is told. 

With authentic language and stark black and white illustrations, the early 1990s are dramatically captured in Yummy.  The Roseland neighborhood, where stores close at 4pm to allow owners to get home before dark, is a tough, dangerous one.  The gangs and crime turn neighbors into strangers, removing a resource for when the government safety net fails.  Yummy is bounced in the system, never receiving from social workers or his grandmother what he gets from being a member of the Black Disciples.  The questions asked in Yummy are difficult to answer, giving readers an opportunity to consider ethics, morals and choices.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Virgin Territory

Virgin Territory
James Lecesne
2010; Egmont; ISBN 978-1-60684-081-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Dylan is an unhappy transplant to Jupiter, Florida.  Never mind that it happened almost ten years ago: he's still upset that his father moved them away from New York City.  It was supposed to be a fresh start after the death of Dylan's mother.  Instead, Dylan is drifting, working at a golf course and isolated from others.  Then, a sighting of the Virgin Mary at the golf course changes Dylan's life.  He meets a girl named Angela, he makes new friends, and he reconnects with his father.  Is it because of the Virgin Mary, God, or another powerful being?  Or maybe it's just Dylan figuring things out . . .

With its cast of likable characters, Virgin Territory looks at the intersection of faith and life.  Mary followers, who travel all over the country to sighting locations, arrive in Jupiter and create upheaval in the small town.  Thanks to his new friends, Dylan slowly begins to recover from his mother's death, which occurred the day before the 9/11 attacks.  This recovery also allows Dylan to start repairing his relationship with his father.  Pair Virgin Territory with The Patron Saint of Butterflies for two examinations of spirituality in modern life. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Dark Song

Dark Song
Gail Giles
2010; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-06886-4 (hardcover)

Summary: Ames has a great life.  Her dad is rich and gives her anything she wants.  She has an adorable little sister and a great best friend.  The only fly in the ointment is her rocky relationship with her mom.  That's what keeps Ames' life from being some disgustingly sweet story.  But then, Ames' near-fairy tale life becomes a horror story.  Her father is fired, losing all their money.  Before she knows it, Ames is with her family in Texas, cleaning an old drug house to live in.  She's angry and resentful, and the only person who seems to understand is Marc.  Dark, obsessive Marc, who offers to kill her parents so it can be just the two of them.  Ames faces a choice: what will she decide?

Inspired by media coverage about girls helping their boyfriends murder her parents, this new novel from Gail Giles is a timely one.  As high-flyers come back to Earth thanks to the recession, teens who have been given everything have to learn to adjust.  In Ames's family, the good times hid the fact that none of them--except perhaps Ames's little sister--have the coping skills to face hardship without being destructive towards those they love.  As Ames slowly learns those skills to deal with this new life, she becomes isolated from her friends and family by Marc.  It's only when he suggest killing her parents that Ames receives the wake-up call she needs.  Giles's fans will cheer for Dark Song.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Review: Bruiser

Bruiser
Neal Shusterman
2010; HarperTeen; ISBN 978-0-06-113408-1 (hardcover)

Summary:  Tennyson doesn't like it when his twin sister Bronte starts dating Brewster Rawlins.  Better known as the Bruiser, Brewster is a large, hulking boy who keeps to himself.  But Bronte senses something special in Brew, who likes poetry and looks out for his litle brother, Cody.  As Tennyson gets to know Brewster, he starts to understand him.  But as Bronte and Tennyson learn about Brew's strange gift, it not only changes them--it changes Brew.

This accomplished novel adds a dash of the paranormal to a tale of friendship.  Not just a novel in multiple voices, with Tennyson, Bronte, Brewster and Cody each sharing narration duties, but there are shifts in style as well.  Brewster's sections are in poetry, while Cody's captures a young boy's thoughts and feelings.  Tennyson and Bronte are equally well-drawn.  Shusterman shows his talent not just for the unusual, but for the everyday aspects of life.  Bruiser urges readers to look beneath the surface and consider their actions in a compelling story of friends and family.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review: A Small Free Kiss in the Dark

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark
Glenda Millard
2010; Holiday House; ISBN 978-0-8234-2264-7 (hardcover)

Summary:  Twelve-year-old Skip escapes from years of abuse in his foster homes and takes to the streets.  Billy, a homeless man that Skip is friends with, becomes his unofficial father figure, and the two of them watch out for each other.  Their cozy yet uncertain life is thrown into turmoil when a war begins, with bombings in the city they live in.  They struggle to survive, taking in a young boy named Max that they find in the local library.  Eventually, they find a home in an abandoned amusement park, trying to stay away from soldiers who are nearby.  Their family is increased by Tia, a teenage ballerina with a baby they name Sixpence.  But as soldiers approach them, Skip must gather his family together to escape to safety.

An insightful novel with beautiful language, this import from Australia views the destruction of war through a young teen's eyes.  Skip, with his eye for details, notices the light and shadow, color and texture of everything he sees.  In his attempts to find beauty, though, he sees much ugliness, whether it's the bombed-out buildings, the callous actions of survivors, or the cruelty of the soldiers.  He may not understand what he sees, but he attempts to figure them out without losing hold of his new-found family or the hope of art.  In his simple, straightforward manner, Skip draws comparisons to characters like Jonas from The Giver.   A quiet, thoughtful novel, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark offers a hopeful take on surviving disaster.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Review: The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June

The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June
Robin Benway
2010; Razorbill (Penguin); ISBN 978-1-59514-286-3

Summary:  The worst things for sisters April, May and June to deal with are their names and their parents' recent divorce.  Then they each discover that they have superpowers.  April can see the future, May can become invisible, and June can read minds.  It's hard enough dealing with normal teenage life, like crushes, friends, and family--now the sisters have to figure out their new abilities.  At first, these talents bring out the worst in each girl.  But when April sees a horrible vision, May wants to run away, and June gets into big trouble, the sisters will find out that their powers, like their lives, work best when they work together.

Creating a delightful novel in three voices, Robin Benway has penned an intriguing followup to Audrey, Wait!  Each sister's personality is distinct and clear, from April's bossy good-girl attitude, May's sarcastic and guarded wisecracks, and June's bubbly little-sister voice.  The story hums along, with the sisters learning not just how to use their newfound talents but also adjusting to their parents' divorce.  Most interesting of all is the feel that April, May and June are learning how to be friends and sisters, moving beyond their childhood squabbles and becoming adults.  The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June is an inspiring look at sisterhood and its magic.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: You

You
Charles Benoit
2010; HarperTeen; ISBN 978-0-06-194704-9

Summary:  Kyle Chase has made some bad choices, and now those choices have lead to disaster.  If he could go back, he wouldn't have blown off his smart friends, blown off his homework, blown off his parents.  But most of all, Kyle wouldn't have become friends with Zach.  Maybe if he hadn't, he would have gotten his act together.  He could have turned things around in school.  He might have even asked out Ashley, the girl of his dreams.  But none of that stuff happened, and now, it's too late for Kyle.

A common story is elevated by its style.  Charles Benoit, in his first YA novel, choose to use second person narration--a choice that breaks an unwritten rule of writing.  Yet this daring gives You its appeal.  It's like the reader is directing Kyle, but towards a conclusion that the reader doesn't suspect.  As a result, the reader is drawn even deeper into Kyle's story, into his feelings and thoughts.  An interesting look at a teen boy discovering his actions have consequences, You will be enjoyed by fans of Hate List.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie

The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie: A Doll's History and Her Impact on Us
Tanya Lee Stone
2010; Penguin; ISBN 978-0-670-01187-2 (hardcover)

Summary: She's been a heroine, a role model, and perennial career-hopper.  She's also been a villian, a target, and a symbol of all that's wrong with society's treatment of females.  Funny how a 11 3/4 inch tall doll can be all that.  Yet in the fifty years since the introduction of the Barbie doll, that's what this toy has been.  For decades, little girls have wanted to play with Barbie.  But is playing with Barbies harmful?  The history and impact of the Barbie doll is full of depth and contrary opinions.

Tanya Lee Stone, author of the YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist Almost Astronauts, looks at another extraordinary female in her latest book.  Whether you think Barbie is a harmless toy or a symbol of evil, Stone takes an even-handed approach to her subject.  She lays out the criticism against Barbie while also presenting the praise for this remarkable doll.  Considering such varied topics as the creation of Barbie, ethnic Barbies, and even why we're always taking her clothes off, this book is a loving yet just examination of the Barbie doll.  Bound to provoke nostalgia and discussion, The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie would be an excellent choice for mother-daughter book clubs.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Review: The Tension of Opposites

The Tension of Opposites
Kristina McBride
2010; Egmont; ISBN 978-1-60684-085-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Ever since her best friend Noelle was kidnapped two years ago, Tessa hasn't really lived; she's been in limbo.  But when Noelle miraculously escapes her kidnapper, Tessa is so happy to have her friend back.  But the girl who returned isn't the same as Tessa's friend.  Calling herself Elle, she acts recklessly, her emotions extreme and quicksilver.  Tessa wants to help Elle, wants to protect her from being hurt.  But in protecting Elle, Tessa hurts herself: it interferes with Tessa's new relationship with Max, for one.  How can Tessa strike a balance between herself and Elle?

Part of a wave of kidnapping novels, The Tension of Opposites chooses to begin with Noelle returning home.  Thanks to this choice, readers experience the tangled aftermath along with both Noelle/Elle and Tessa.  On the one hand, Elle attempts to live life on her own terms, certain that she can never be hurt again like she was by her kidnapper.  Tessa, meanwhile, wants to protect Elle so that she won't be hurt.  This sets up an interesting dichotomy between the two girls, and adds a crackle of suspense to the novel.  Dark yet hopeful, The Tension of Opposites will appeal to readers who enjoyed page-turners like Bonechiller by Graham McNamee.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend
Emily Horner
2010; Penguin; ISBN 978-0-8037-3420-3 (hardcover)

Summary: The car accident that kills Julia has a huge impact on her best friend, Cass.  Losing Julia makes Cass take a look at her life, dealing with questions she's tried to avoid.  Is Cass a lesbian?  Did she love Julia?  Who is she now without her best friend?  Shifting back and forth between Now (the end of the summer and the beginning of school) and Then (the weeks immediately after Julia's death), Cass begins to find answers to those questions, thanks in part to the musical Julia wrote.  As Cass helps Julia's friends put on the show, she realizes that these are her friends, as well.  Who would think such self-discovery would come from a show called Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad?

From debut author Emily Horner comes a moving story about loss and life.  Cass's journey, both internal and external, rings true to the teenage experience.  Just as boys pull the hair of the girls they like, the middle school tormentor becomes Cass's girlfriend: an interesting twist on relationship dynamics.  Full of well-drawn characters and juggling shifts in storyline, this novel offers an in-depth look at one girl's coming of age.  Pair this with My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger for two feel-good reads.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review: Not That Kind of Girl

Not That Kind of Girl
Siobhan Vivian
2010; PUSH (Scholastic); ISBN 978-0-545-16815-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Natalie is a smart, in-control girl.  She's in AP classes, the president of her school's student council, and full of plans for her future.  But in her senior year, Natalie finds herself confronting a lot of questions about what it means to be a girl.  Her best friend Autumn, the victim of a no-good boy three years earlier, seems to be making the same mistakes again.  Spencer, the freshman girl that Natalie is trying to mentor, doesn't want Natalie's advice on how to act around boys.  And then there's Connor, the football player that makes Natalie feel so many new emotions.  To figure otu what kind of girl she is, Natalie will end up asking herself one important question.

A moving look at self-discovery and female dynamics, Siobhan Vivian is establishing herself as the voice of teenage girls.  In the tightly-wound Natalie, readers can see the perils of staying closed off from experiences and people.  The relationships are spot-on, a real highlight of this very readable novel.  Pair Not That Kind of Girl with Sara Zarr's Story of a Girl for a one-two punch of female empowerment.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reminder: Call for Contributors

In November, librarian by day is full of historical fiction, and I need help!  Read this post for more info about how you can contribute to this blog.  Remember, you only have until Friday, September 17 to sign up.  Thanks!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: White Cat

The Curse Workers #1: White Cat
Holly Black
2010; Simon & Schuster; ISBN 978-1-4169-6396-7 (hardcover)

Summary: In Cassel's world, some people have the ability to make things go their way.  It might be working on a person's emotions, changing their memories, or inflicting physical harm--all of these can be achieved with a simple touch.  Cassel, though, isn't a worker.  But three years ago, he killed his best friend, Lila.  This action still haunts him, especially since he can't really remember killing her.  Being vulnerable like that makes Cassel, a talented con artist, feel very unsettled, and he's determined to con others before he gets conned again.  When he realizes his older brothers are keeping something from him-something that's tied in with curse-working, Lila's death, and more-Cassel sets out to find the truth.  But he'll discover that maybe the con is better than the truth.

Holly Black creates a compelling, layered world in her new urban fantasy series.  The first book, White Cat, gracefully builds the world and establishs its rules.  What's more, the story of Cassel untangling the mystery he's part of is an action-packed one, full of fistfights and subtle plots.  Through it all, Black's gift for language shines through.  White Cat will be enjoyed by readers of Sisters Red and Beautiful Darkness.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Review: Glimpse

Glimpse
Carol Lynch Williams
2010; Simon & Schuster; ISBN 978-1-4169-9730-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Lizzie has always looked after Hope, just like Hope has always looked out for Lizzie.  They're more than sisters: they're best friends.  So when Hope walks in on Lizzie holding a shotgun, Hope's confused.  Why would Lizzie want to kill herself?  Why would she want to break up their family, take away one of the Chapman Girls--Momma, Lizzie and Hope?  As Hope navigates her memories and reaches out to Lizzie, she sees glimpses of the secrets she never knew.  And when she realizes just what secrets there are between her mother and her sister, Hope will be forced to choose between them.

A heartbreaking novel in verse, Glimpse explores the destructive power of secrets.  Lizzie hides the truth from Hope, trying to protect her, but this sacrifice leaves Lizzie unable to help herself.   It's up to Hope to show Lizzie how to save herself.  Thus, this novel is also about the power of family and love.  Well-paced with moving characters, Glimpse has a tone similar to Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl, but with a more hopeful ending. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: Girl Parts

Girl Parts
John M. Cusick
2010; Candlewick; ISBN 978-0-7636-4930-2

Summary: David and Charlie might be in the same class, but that's where their similarities end. David is the son of a rich computer mogul and the most popular guy in school; Charlie's dad is a professor and Charlie's called a freak. They're drawn together by Rose, who is no ordinary girl. She's actually a Companion, a robot bought by David's parents in order to treat David's dissociative disorder. Rose is designed to teach David how to take his time and relate to a girl--because if he goes faster than Rose's Intimacy Clock permits, she gives him an electric shock. When David realizes that there's a limit to how far he can go with Rose, he dumps her. Found by Charlie, Rose struggles with her heartbreak and discovers why she's not like any other Companion. But will her uniqueness save her, or make her too valuable to the corporation that created her?

A lighthearted yet sensitive take on the girl robot concept, Girl Parts is an enjoyable page-turner. Capturing the teen boy mindset from two different extremes, Cusick also manages to let Rose be more than a Stepford girl. Instead, she's a quirky, sweet girl who just happens to be a robot. Set in the near future yet inspired by today's concerns about Internet-obsessed and emotionally disconnected teens, Girl Parts is perfect for sci-fi fans who want something lighter than Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Smile

Smile
Raina Telgemeier
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-13205-3 (hardcover)

Summary: Raina is running to her front porch when the sixth-grader falls and knocks out her two front teeth. This accident starts several years of dental drama for Raina, including braces two separate times, headgear, a retainer with two fake teeth, and more. It's a lot of pain and discomfort, made worse by the friends who tease her all the time. Raina struggles to deal with being true to herself without losing her friends. By the time she reaches high school, something's got to give. When Raina finally has normal teeth again, she decides to make a fresh start.

A touching comic book memoir, Smile goes one better of the traditional story about getting braces. With gentle humor and a fine sense of middle school society, Telgemeier tells her story. The artwork is bright and cheerful, with a cartoon-like style that still feels very real. Best of all is how we see the young Raina slowly realize that her friends are not really her friends, and how she manages to assert herself. A must-read for any middle schooler, Smile is bound to be snapped up by fans of Telgemeier's earlier work: the graphic novel adaptations of The Baby-sitters Club.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Call for Contributors!

During the month of November, librarian by day is going wall-to-wall YA historical fiction. Why? To promote the release of my book, Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide!

Reviews and discussion of historical fiction titles and trends will be posted all month long. But I'd love some help, as well as getting other perspectives! If you'd like to write a post on historical fiction for librarian by day, or post at your own blog and have your article highlighted on librarian by day, please email me at dettiot at gmail dot com to discuss your intended subject. Don't have an idea, but want to write a post? Let me know and I can give you some ideas.

Please email me by Friday, September 17 if you're interested. More information about the process will come after your initial email.

Thank you, and I hope that everyone will look forward to the wealth of posts coming in November!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Rose Sees Red

Rose Sees Red
Cecil Castellucci
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-06079-0 (hardcover)

Summary: Rose has been especially depressed since she started at the New York High School for the Performing Arts. Everyone seems to be a better dancer than she is, and she can't find it in her to apply herself. Going to Arts ended her friendship with Daisy, and she's been too miserable to make new ones. Then, one night, Rose finds a new friend: Yrena, a Russian dancer who lives in the building next door. Yrena climbs into Rose's room from the fire escape, asking Rose to help her explore American society for a night. Rose is hesitant at first, but impulsively decides to go with Yrena. Together, the two girls will stay out all night, go to a party, and find that political differences fade away in the face of friendship. And in finding a friend, Rose finds herself.

Set in the early 1980s, Rose Sees Red is an intriguing look at friendship during a time of upheaval. Rose is a complex girl who auditions for the performing arts high school, but then has trouble once she arrives due to her depression. It's only when she takes a chance on friendship--offered by Yrena and by other students at Arts--that Rose is able to start climbing out of her depression. The political tension between the US and the USSR squaring off is contrasted by the easy friendship that develops between Rose and Yrena. New York in 1982 is vividly captured by Castellucci, showing that she is equally adept at the past as she is at contemporary Los Angeles. Hand Rose Sees Red to your arty patrons or to anyone who liked The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: Accomplice

Accomplice
Eireann Corrigan
2010; Scholastic; ISBN 978-0-545-05236-8 (hardback)

Summary: Finn and Chloe have a plan, one that will help them get into elite colleges more than all the good grades and community service will. They will pretend that Chloe has vanished, creating a media frenzy around the disappearance of a pretty teenager. Then, Finn will rescue Chloe, creating a heartwarming story of friendship. But, as Chloe hides in the house belonging to Finn's absent grandmother, Finn slowly sees that what they're creating affects not just the two of them. The plan begins falling apart and Finn starts questioning what they're doing and her friendship with Chloe. Even though Chloe will return home safely, nothing will ever be the same.

A tense psychological drama, Accomplice derives much of its tension not from Chloe's disappearance, which the readers knows is all a sham. Instead, the conflict comes from Finn seeing the impact of this "victimless" crime--one that was supposed to make Chloe and Finn's lives better. Instead, their friendship will deteriorate as Finn grapples with her guilt and the reality of Chloe's true nature. Even the best friendships can have a toxic element, one that can poison the relationship unexpectedly. This tale of friendship and family will be welcomed by readers looking for a warts-and-all approach to life.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
Margi Preus
2010; Amulet Books; ISBN 978-0-8109-8981-8 (hardcover)

Summary: Manjiro and his companions are shipwrecked on a tiny, deserted island. They don't have much hope for rescue--because even if they are saved, they won't be able to return home to Japan due to their country's isolationist policies. But then, they are saved, by an American whaling ship. Fourteen-year-old Manjiro is very intrigued by these "barbarians", who have such a different approach to life than the Japanese. Slowly, he becomes part of the crew, even the adopted son of the captain. Manjiro, renamed John Mung, will be the first Japanese to visit America, will serve on other whaling vessels, and will discover many new opportunities. But will he ever be able to return to Japan and see his family?

Prejudice is a social ill that has plagued many societies. Often it's based on a fear of an unknown, like coming face-to-face with foreign devils or being the only Japanese boy in a New England town. Based on a true story, Heart of a Samurai is an engaging read for middle school readers. Manjiro's innate curiosity, which is seen as rude and unseemly by other Japanese, is seen as a positive trait by Captain Whitfield and other Americans. And it's through Manjiro's curiosity and intelligence that he's able to achieve so much. Pass this book to readers who have finished Laurence Yep's Golden Mountain Chronicles and are looking for more stories about Asians in America.