Thursday, January 28, 2010

Contest: Win Some ARCs!

I got some extra ARCs at ALA, so I thought I'd offer them up. There are three sets of ARCs: one middle-grade and two YA.

ARC Pack #1 (Middle-Grade)
Yours Truly, Lucy B. Parker: Girl Vs. Superstar
Robin Palmer
Publication Date: May 2010
When Lucy B. Parker was friend-dumped right before school starts, she figures things can't get much worse. But then her mom announces that she's dating Laurel Moses's dad. THE Laurel Moses--the TV-movie-music star whose face is on the cover of every magazine. Suddenly, Lucy's life is turned sideways! Up until now, her main goal has been to just get through the day without totally embarrassing herself. And now she's going to be the less-pretty, less-talented stepsister of the most famous girl in the world!

Palace Beautiful
Sarah deFord Williams
Publication Date: April 2010
Everyone dreams of finding a secret room in their house that they can escape to, and Sadie is thrilled when she finds one in her new house. It has a sign that says "Palace Beautiful," and she finds a journal written over sixty years ago by a girl her age. But Sadie never imagined her own life could get almost as dramatic as the one she reads about in the journal!

ARC Pack #2 (YA)
This World We Live In
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publication Date: April 2010
It's been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastrophically altering the earth's climate. For Miranda Evans, life as she knew it no longer exists. The struggle to survive intensifies when Miranda's father and stepmother arrive with a baby and three strangers in tow. One of the newcomers is Alex Morales, and as Miranda's complicated feelings for him turn to love, his plans for his future thwart their relationship. Then a devastating tornado hits the town of Howell, and Miranda makes a decision that will change their lives forever.

The Eternal Ones
Kirsten Miller
Publication Date: August 2010
Everyone has experienced deja vu. And love at first sight? Most of us believe it's possible. Maybe it's happened to you already--or maybe it's about to. The Eternal Ones is a novel about discovering that someone you are meant to be with, and knowing in an instant--even if everything else seems set against you. It's a novel that will make you experience for yourself the chilling, tantalizing sensation of having lived many times, of knowing that more awaits you than just this life. That you are a part of something bigger. That you are part of forever.

ARC Pack #3 (YA)
Catherine Fisher
Publication Date: February 2010
Incarceron is a prison unlike any other: its inmates live not only in cells, but also in metal forests, dilapidated cities, and unbounded wilderness. The prison has been sealed for centuries, and only one man, legend says, has ever escaped. Finn believes he came from Outside Incarceron. He's going to escape, because he's found a crystal key and through it, a girl named Claudia. Claudia claims to live outside--her father is the Warden of Incarceron and she's doomed to an arranged marriage. But they don't realize that escape will take their greatest courage and cost far more than they know. Because Incarceron is alive.

The Sky is Everywhere
Jandy Nelson
Publication Date: March 2010
When her fiery older sister Bailey dies abruptly, seventeen-year-old Lennie, bookworm and band geek, is catapulted to center stage of her own life--and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey's boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie's own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they're the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can't collide without the whole wide world exploding.

Rules for Entry
Please leave a comment with your name, your contact info, and if you have a preference on which ARC pack you'd like to win. You have until Friday, February 5 at noon EST to leave a comment. Spread the news about this contest and share some great books!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Quick Thoughts About Midwinter

The 2010 ALA Midwinter Conference was, as always, full of activity. The YALSA Board voted on the BBYA proposal, AASL adopted the term "school librarian" for their profession, and of course, Random House jumped the gun in announcing the Newbery winner.

Midwinter isn't just about the controversial or the unusual. There's networking, watching committees in action, and advance reader's copies of forthcoming titles. Here are my short takes on 2010 titles I've read so far.

Heist Society
Ally Carter
Publication Date: February 2010

An all-out fun book, evoking the world of Oceans Eleven but with teenagers. Carter shifts from her Gallagher Girls series to bring us Kat Bishop, from a family of high-class thieves. She tries to get out of the family business only to be pulled back in when her father is threatened. Carter has a real knack for creating lively, interesting characters, and that skill is showcased in Heist Society. With a plot that moves smoothly and a dash of romance, there's also just enough complexity to create some tension. There's always a question of how Kat and her teenage crew will pull this off, but the answer isn't taxing reality. For a fun, fast-paced read, Heist Society is a great choice.

This World We Live In
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Publication Date: April 2010

The third book in the Last Survivors series brings together the characters from the two previous books: Miranda and her family from Life As We Knew It with Alex and Julie Morales from The Dead and the Gone. Pfeffer continues to be unafraid to pose hard challenges for her characters to face, ranging from a tornado to running out of food and personal care products, not to mention normal teenage concerns like meeting a cute guy and thinking he doesn't like you. It's unfortunate that the characterization in this volume seems clumsy; Miranda, in particular, does not seem to have any of the maturity she gained over the course of the first eight months since the initial disaster. Aside from this problem, Pfeffer shows her talent at constructing plots and increasing the jeopardy for her characters.

Jekel Loves Hyde
Beth Fantaskey
Publication Date: May 2010

The sophomore effort from Fantaskey once again combines a paranormal story with romance. In this book, she's mined less-popular ground, by using the jumping-off point of Stevenson's novella The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Plain, studious Jill Jekel can't help being drawn to enigmatic, gorgeous Tristan Hyde--and not just for the normal reason. No, they are drawn to each other because Stevenson's story was based on their actual ancestors. And Tristan needs Jill's help to conquer the beast within him. Full of sweeping romance, Jekel Loves Hyde is a compelling read. The character of Tristan is perhaps not successful as a teenage boy, but he's got the Byronic romantic hero part down pat. But it's a minor quibble for readers who are looking to be carried away by romance.

Any opinions on books published in 2010 are my own and do not represent the opinions of the 2011 Printz Committee.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Compilation of Youth Media Awards posts

I'll be sending some texts here to capture the feel of being at the youth media awards. Stay tuned!

Visit for all the award winners!

Jim Murphy is the winner of the Margaret Edwards award. Big cheer for a nonfiction author.

The Morris Award goes to Flash Burnout.

The first Nonfiction Award goes to Charles & Emma. Now perhaps my library will get it!

And the Printz goes to . . . Going Bovine!!! So excited! Had hoped for that & so glad.

In a switch from previous years, this year I've only read the Printz winner. Now I know what I'll be reading before I start working on my own Printz reading!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Morris Shortlist: Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures
Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
2009; Little, Brown; ISBN 978-0-316-04267-3

Summary: For weeks, Ethan Wate has dreamed about a girl, falling from his grip. It's somethin else to think about, something to distract him from grieiving his mother, worrying about his father, and wishing he could leave Gatlin, South Carolina. And then Lena Duchannes comes to town, to live with her uncle Macon Ravenwood, the town's Boo Radley. Ethan realizes that Lena is the girl in his dreams. Even more, Lena is part of a prophecy, part of a battle between Dark and Light. On her sixteenth birthday, five months in the future, she will be Claimed for one side, and her life as she knows it will be over. But Ethan will not let her face this alone. Because together, the two of them are strong enough to face anything.

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

#1: The best of two worlds can create a new one.

Beautiful Creatures is both a paranormal romance and a Southern Gothic novel. Lena and Ethan's developing relationship is affected not just by her growing supernatural powers, but also by a small-minded Southern town that has the DAR and voodoo as its influences. There are the features of paranormal romance, like strange powers, a whole other world concealed from non-magical people, and a love that cuts across the lines between these two worlds. On the Southern Gothic side, there are standards of behavior, a certain mindset, and an understanding that the past still has power in the present. Ethan and Lena are drawn together thanks in part to a curse that affected their ancestors. And the climactic battle between Dark and Light will happen the night that the Civil War-era Battle of Honey Hill is recreated. The combination of these two styles works because both are focused on pacing and tone. The plot slowly unfolds, the love story contrasted with life in a small South Carolina town. The Southern details--dialect, manners, and attitudes--are interwoven, creating a sense of place as well as heightening the romantic aspects. The love between Ethan and Lena is intense yet pure. Ethan feels sparks when he touches Lena--and not just because he's attracted to her. Working in tandem, the romantic and Southern elements combine into a compelling look at a darkly mysterious world.

#2: Small town life is more challenging in the South.

Ethan is not really a typical Southerner. His parents forced him to speak without a Southern accent, and they were all viewed as being perhaps too liberal, especially Ethan's mother. But Ethan's father and his family had lived in Gatlin for over a century, and so they were one of "us". In a small Southern town, it's about when your family arrived, not what you've done since then. There's plenty of gossip, of course, but when everyone knows every family's secrets, it can feel like you know everything. Ethan is accepted, even when he starts dating Lena, because he's part of Gatlin. This attitude is one that Ethan wants to get away from, but it also gives him a place even when he turns his back on the DAR ladies during their crusade against Lena. For the Ravenwood family, always suspect and fodder for gossip, becomes a true threat in the town's eyes with Lena's arrival. Moving to a small town is bound to be an adjustment for anyone; moving to Gatlin, though, is a trial by fire. Mean girls, sweetly insulting women, and weak-willed men turn Gatlin into a crucible for Lena. And Ethan, who has grown up there and never cared for such tatics, fully sees his hometown as the hypocritical, narrow-minded place that it unfortunately is.

#3: Love is what binds people together.

Falling in love with each other creates a connection between Ethan and Lena. From the moment they met, they were drawn to each other in ways that hadn't been anticipated by Lena's family. What's more, their love gives them unexpected powers, like telepathy. And it's thanks to Ethan's love that Lena is able to stand strong during the greatest struggle of her life. It's not just Ethan who protects Lena, though: there's her family, in particular her uncle Macon. A creature of darkness, Macon has chosen to work on the side of Light, vowing to protect Lena with all his powers and even his life. Ethan is not without help, either. He has Amma, a grandmother figure who is famed for her gifts as a reader and a seer. She creates charms that guard Ethan from harm, and dispatches wisdom and love amidst her crossword-puzzle complaints about Ethan's behavior. Macon and Amma could not be more different, but they are both motivated by the same thing: love. They show that when you care about someone, you will take great risks and go beyond misgivings to follow their loved ones down their path.
Sixteen moons, sixteen years
Sixteen of your deepest fears
Sixteen times you dreamed my tears
Falling, falling through the years . . .
(page 4)

Sixteenth Moon, Sixteenth Year,
Now has come the day you fear,
Claim or be Claimed,
Shed blood, shed tear,
Moon or Sun--destroy, revere.
(page 473)
Like a slow, mournful ballad, Beautiful Creatures has a story to tell. The debut work of two novelists, this novel creates a unique take on paranormal romance by marrying it to Southern Gothic, not unlike the Southern vampire stories of Charlaine Harris. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl reinterprets these influences, shaping a story that could be cliched into something new. For some, the pacing is too slow, and some of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional. Yet thanks to Garcia and Stohl, these characters are still fun to read about, as they tell their story at their own speed. A welcome addition to the YA paranormal romance field, Beautiful Creatures is bound to cast a spell over many readers.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nonfiction Award Interviews

I was lucky enough to interview a few of the authors who are on the shortlist for the first-ever YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. Head over to the YALSA blog to read the interviews!

Sally M. Walker, author of Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
My review

Tanya Lee Stone, author of Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
My review

Phillip Hoose, author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
My review

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Morris Shortlist: The Everafter

The Everafter
Amy Huntley
2009; Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins); ISBN 978-0-06-177679-3

Summary: Maddy comes to in a dark, limitless place. It's not anywhere . . . it just Is. Surrounding her, though, are things that she's lost. Since she was always losing stuff, there's a lot of items: keys, a bracelet, a purse, some orchids . . . But the strangest thing about all this is that when Maddy touches an object, she's sent back to when she lost it. Sometimes, Maddy can alter things, finding what was lost. Maybe Maddy can connect all this to the biggest thing she's lost: the memory of how she died.

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

#1: A believable take on teenage relationships.

Friendships and romantic relationships are complicated for anyone. For teens, these connections are even more fraught. Maddy, who is emotional and sensitive, has difficulties with several people in her life. She's insecure about her boyfriend Gabe, worrying that he'll break up with Maddy and start dating the ex-girlfriend who still wants him. She gets annoyed with her best friend Sandra, who will drop everything to do whatever her mother asks. Maddy's feelings, although self-centered and even paranoid, are honest. All of us have felt such unflattering emotions, even about those we're closest to. It's part of becoming an adult that you learn to deal with these kinds of feelings. Maddy won't get that opportunity--but in her death she gets a similar chance at learning that lesson.

#2: An intriguing look at what happens after death.

The afterlife continues to exert a pull on writers and readers. In The Everafter, Amy Huntley creates a new take on death. By touching a lost object and reliving the memory of losing it, Maddy can even change the outcome. It's not an afterlife of observation alone; Maddy can make an impact on her life. But there are limits: if she changes the event, she loses the memory of how the event first occurred. And if Maddy finds the lost item in her memories, she cannot return tot he memory. All these aspects give a richness to this imagined purgatory. By exploring what could happen after we die, Huntley lets Maddy--and the reader--gain a greater respect for what happens before that event.

#3: A clear approach to an intertwined storyline.

As the reader dips in and out of Maddy's life, it would be easy to lose track of story points or become confused. Yet Huntley preventst hat from happening with how she structures the flashbacks. You don't have to start at hte beginning to tell a story; in the same sense, you dont' have to go to Maddy's first memory to begin seeing her past. Huntley picks certain moments, one that have meaning not just for the story but for Maddy and other characters. It's a great example of how a stylistic device can be both elegant and practical. Many of Maddy's flashbacks are set in her recnet past, but others are older, one even from her infancy. This sort of whimsy lightens the story, as well as providing a character beat. Throughout the novel, the flashbacks are contrasted with Maddy's current state, showing the differences between the land of the living and the world of the dead. And it's done in a tone that's straightforward and natural.

Over the last few years, no doubt inspired by the popularity of The Lovely Bones, ther have been several YA novels exploring death. From The Book Thief to Elsewhere to If I Stay, there are as many version of the afterlife as there are stars in the sky. Amy Huntley's perspective seems to be of a world that allows contact with the past, even correction of its events. Yet it's not without a cost, and such questioning and manipulation doesn't change destiny. You can't prevent your death, and you can't stay in limbo forever. Eventually, you have to move on to the Everafter. That's what Maddy realizes, and it's a powerful message. The epilogue feels tacked-on, muting the power of Maddy's last moments, and the subject matter is perhaps too common. Yet these flaws do not greatly detract from an intriguing debut novel.