...which is my way of saying oh my life - and my reading - has been HELTER-SKELTER for the past couple of months. Here's why - allow me to solicit your interest in some excellent upcoming events and ongoing projects:
2). I'm a facilitator at Enoch Pratt Free Library's biannual teen reading fest Books for the Beast (join us!). It's an all-day event (free lunch!) October 19th with super speakers and small group discussions. This year, we will be joined by RAINA TELGEMEIER! SHARON FLAKE! and ROBIN WASSERMAN!!
I want to read The Waking Dark so badly, but I have so much required reading right now, it's silly. You however should read that book, and then come to Books for the Beast and tell Robin Wasserman what you thought of it! It's supposed to be scaaaary!
3). I'm moderating the Sassy Girls panel at the Baltimore Book Festival September 29 (and this one you better get to, if you are my friend at all). My sassy authors (I wonder if any of them are old enough to remember Sassy? Did you know that some marvelous hipster angel is scanning all of her old Sassys and putting them online? Damn, I still dress like that half the time) anyway my sassy authors are:
- Elisabeth Dahl (Genie Wishes)
- Erica Perl (When Life Gives You O.J. and many others)
- Shawn Stout (the Not So Ordinary Girl and Penelope Crumb books)
- Elissa Brent Weissberg (The Short Seller)
- Tracey West (about a million adaptation and series novels, also co-author of the very sweet Cupcake Diaries books)
4). Just announced! I'm a first-round judge for the Picture Books category of the Cybils Awards! Bring it on picture books YEAAAAHHH! Nominations are open to the public, and the online form will be up October 1!
5). I'm covering the Américas Award, given this year to Sonia Manzano for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, for School Library Journal's online newsletter. Sonia Manzano is also Maria from Sesame Street and that fact just fills me with love every time I remember it.
Also recognized this year by CLASP (the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs) are Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert by Gary D. Schmidt, the hyper-award-winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Drummer Boy of John John, and In Darkness, which has been on my to-read list ever since I saw that weird cover. Any novel that features Toussaint L'Ouverture as a guest character vaults right up my list. Blame Madison Smartt Bell.
All this extracurricular activity has led to periods of binge reading during the last few months: graphic novels, funny realistic YA fiction, heartbreaking YA fiction, and rock'em sock'em middle grade/YA speculative fiction. Plus picture books, I'm always reading the picture books, but those I manage to run down in gang posts on Pink Me fairly regularly.
So now I'm going to try to binge-review. GO:
OH MY GOD I'm reading Art Girls Are Easy
It is... not what I expected. Julie Klausner is the comedy writer (Upright Citizens Brigade! Best Week Ever!) who gave us the seminal - SEMINAL - memoir-slash-manifesto I Don't Care About Your Band. That book's been blurbed as "the girl's version of High Fidelity," and I buy that.
Ergo, upon reading the opening chapters of Art Girls Are Easy, during which the protagonist, teenage Indy, daydreams about sex with her art instructor, I was thinking that this book would be the girl's version of all those funny guy books in which the boy thinks about sex all the time. Youth in Revolt, let's say.
Later, when Indy sits in the sun with her best friend and smokes a joint, I was kind of perversely pleased. Girls don't generally get to do casual drug or alcohol use in YA books without getting raped or kidnapped or at the very least in trouble with their best friend for kissing the wrong boy under the influence. That offense is known as a KWBUI, and we've all gotten one - hell, I think my entire first marriage was a KWBUI - but let's face it, it is also possible to get intoxicated and not kiss anyone untoward. Boys get wasted and keep their lips to themselves all the time in books.
(Maybe I don't read enough girl books, but the last time I saw a girl smoke a joint with impunity it was Cher Horowitz, and she was wearing Azzedine Alaia to a Valley party. (In all fairness, I watched that movie last week.))
UNFORTUNATELY, Art Girls Are Easy is all arch and no bend. It reads like the author thought you just throw a bunch of cultural and commercial references into a luxurious setting with a batch of bitchy girls et voilà! you have a YA bestseller. "If Cecily von Ziegesar can do it..." you can almost hear her thinking... But I have actually read a Gossip Girl novel and frankly? There was a lot more wit in that supposedly lowbrow novel than in this one, written by a famous wit.
What Gossip Girl and Art Girls do share, however, is a lack of heart - that is, the characters in both books are not motivated by love or loyalty. Gossip Girl replaces these motivations with ambition, revenge, and lust, while Art Girls replaces them with...? Indy's crush on her art teacher is pretty much the only thing that gets her out of bed. Which is the opposite of yes.
The protagonist of Melissa Kantor's lovely new book Maybe One Day offers another variation on the KWBUI - the victimless offense. Poor Zoe is wrung to a rag worrying about and caring for her best friend Olivia, who has been diagnosed with leukemia. When Zoe's friends manage to pry her out of the house to go to a party, she hits the cherry vodka way too hard and ends up making out with the guy Olivia has a crush on.
So there you go. Her best friend may be dying, everything is totally unfair, and Zoe has just added romantic betrayal to the list of crummy things done to Olivia. So she doesn't tell her about it, and when Olivia finds out she gets mad, but what is awesome about this is that Olivia isn't so much angry about the boy - she's upset that Zoe didn't tell her about her first kiss.
Oh, Maybe One Day is a tearjerker all right, but Zoe and Olivia are such real, funny, flawed girls that I kept turning pages and smiling even through the sniffles. The supporting cast of friends and family are appealing and realistic too - a ditzy cheerleader with energy and compassion to spare, a hunky guy, a shattered mother, and a stern administrator are standouts.
Give this to girls who love Sarah Dessen and Jay Asher for sure - but try it on girls who usually turn up their noses at "drama" too. Like me. I can't stand "drama," but I loved this.
So, while we're talking about love and lust under the influence, let's move on to Pride of Baghdad. Wow, I just cracked myself up. Boy am I pathetic.
Some people love Brian K. Vaughn's story about the four lions who, abandoned by their keepers during the bombing of Baghdad, escaped into the city. Other people find it shockingly violent and full of gratuitous sex.
To that I say, "But they're lions."
Lion sex is part of lion life, including establishing dominance, as in the "rape" of a lioness attempting to protect her kill from the leader of a rival pride. What I guess I'm not crazy about is the depiction of the young lioness Noor as all turned-on when the lions first taste freedom from the zoo - I just doubt that arousal in lions has a psychological component. The talking-animal thing is a thing I do not go for in general, and this is a prime example of why.
The story, though, of wild beasts roaming the streets of a city under fire, stirs the heart. The art in Pride of Baghdad gives us the eerie city, by turns too quiet and way, way too loud. I like this book best paired with Saving the Baghdad Zoo, a nonfiction photo-illustrated version of the same story.
SPEAKING OF HOT ANIMALISTIC SEX...
But there are hot animalistic people in it, including a verrrry appealing tiger-man. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Kat Falls, author of the beloved Dark Life and its sequel Rip Tide, writes well, builds cool worlds, paints terrific settings, and is REALLY interested in humans who develop nonhuman animal characteristics. So much so that we should probably be glad she's a writer and not a scientist. In Dark Life, her ocean-floor pioneers developed deep-sea adaptations such as incandescence or webbed toes due to their environment and diet - in Inhuman, it's a virus! That wipes out the eastern half of the United States! So there's a wall!
Lane has grown up on the safe side of the wall - will she stay there? Not for long, I think! Will she find out that the supposedly uninhabitable regions east of the wall are truly uninhabited? Hmm, I am guessing NO! Is it a problem that the initial plot is a little predictable? No it isn't, and in fact I am also not going to ding Inhuman for its heavy reliance on coincidence. Fairy tales get spotted a few more coincidences than other stories, and Inhuman has a distinct dark fairytale flavor. There is a humble village beset by a monster, there is an appealing rogue of dubious moral fiber, there is an evil queen. She even wears a fur cape.
I am very mad at whoever slapped this book with a cover that looks JUST like Divergent - it makes the book look like a cash-in, and it deserves better. Even though its elements (strong female main character, post-cataclysmic world, two hot guys) do line up with current YA trends, I think that is more because Kat Falls is into that stuff, and not the other way around.
BACKLIST FRENZY: Flash reviews!
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King. I have no excuse for not having read this when it came out, except that my friend Eerily Similar Paula read it and loved it and I just pretended like we share a brain and I've been recommending it to young people as if I had read it myself.
Cheating! I know. But it's a Books for the Beast book this year, and nominated for Popular Paperbacks, so now was the time. Here is your contemporary YA story arc - humiliation and recovery - with a few twists. Odd characters with unusual flaws added spice to a book which might otherwise slide onto the depressing end of the scale.
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. Mmmmm. Literature. Reminiscent of Stephen King's "The Body" - kids discover a dead body in the woods outside their small town; the body is then the catalyst for friendship and self-examination. Charlie's relationship to his family and to the town changes as his vision contracts and expands during the course of the novel.
Silvey has a lovely style, and doesn't shy away from a little alliteration, some fine imagery, and bouncy wordplay, especially between Charlie and his best friend, the diminutive cricket prodigy Jeffrey Lu. Puts me in mind of Blythe Woolston's underrated The Freak Observer - this is YA I will recommend for grownup readers too.
Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe. How does this happen? I hear you asking. This is out-and-out teen chick lit - pink cover, glitter, animal print, everything! WELL. One of our themes for Popular Paperbacks is Humor, and dagnabbit I had read Teen Angst? Naaah . . . (funny slice-of-life essays for smart high school boys) and Destroy All Cars (similar, except fiction), like, back to back, and I needed a shot of nail polish and estrogen.
Not really. That would kill you. Nail polish and estrogen, god, that's like the poison of choice in MaryJanice Davidson novels.
ANYWAY. It was very cute! It had a little of that Cher Horowitz luxury-namedropping-shortcut stuff going on, but by now we're so used to that, it is in itself a shortcut. If the opening setting is poolside at The Venetian in Las Vegas, we immediately know to expect a fluffy romp. Fluffy romp it is, with a dribble or two of fun DIY forensic science (oh, it's a mystery!). Although the less said about the sidebars where the characters discuss the action, like kids texting each other at a party, the better. I hope in her later books Michele Jaffe developed enough confidence to ditch that distracting stuff.
Whew! My to-read stack is still immense, but I am whittling it down. Come see me make an idiot of myself in the Children's Bookstore Tent at the Baltimore Book Festival Sept 28-29, and let me see lots of nominations for Popular Paperbacks (do it right now!) and the Cybils (starting Oct 1).