The ALA Youth Media Awards were just announced about an hour ago. These honors are awarded by committees of librarians who read, evaluate, and discuss approximately a femto-jillion books in a year and decide which book in a given category is THE BEST of the year and which few are THE RUNNERS UP.
I generally don't comment on these awards on this blog because, like any other award, calling any given anything THE BEST in a year is ridiculous. YOU ARE THE BEST TOMATO. WORLD'S BEST JOKE 2014 IS WHAT EDDIE IZZARD SAID ON TWITTER NOVEMBER 13th. THE AWARD FOR BEST LEFT BOOB OF 2015 GOES TO KATY PERRY'S LEFT BOOB.
I also have found these awards to be kind of stuck in the mud. Historical fiction or relationship drama tends to get recognized while funny books are disregarded. Lotta "girl books" have gotten the Newbery, while the Caldecott has gone to a disproportionate number of men. Creators of color are under-represented, as they are in all of children's publishing, except in the awards that are specifically given to African American or Latino authors and illustrators, which often go to the same squad of (very talented and totally deserving) people every year.
Put it this way - when an illustrated prose novel (The Invention of Hugo Cabret) won the Caldecott Medal one year everyone went, "WHOA!!" And when a nonfiction book (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village) won the Newbery people all gasped. This is what has passed for bold in previous years.
This year's awards are something else, though.
What the heck. Let's do this.
For some reason - it's not like I've got nothing else going on - I have been unusually aware of upcoming titles recently. I've spent a bunch of time on Edelweiss and Netgalley scanning publisher catalogs, and just yesterday attended the Book Buzz that the AAP put on at DC Public Library.
Reps from Scholastic, Penguin, Sourcebooks, Quirk, Tor, and many others gave a roomful of librarians a preview of what they've got coming down the pike.
Here are the books that I thought really stood out, plus books that weren't represented at the event that I know about and am looking forward to. These are in age order.
It's 2014, the centennial of the onset one of the bloodiest, most devastating wars in history. A war which should have taught the world the dangers of nationalism, military escalation, and imperialism. Well, we all know how that went.
On the UP side, the WWI centennial gives us (educators, parents, librarians) an excellent opportunity for engaging the kind of reader who connects with nonfiction, especially history, and especially the kind of history that involves guns. I'm not using the word "boys," but you know what I'm talking about.
My particular boys have been reading up on WWI because our family is going to Belgium for a bridge dedication. Their great-great-uncle did a heroic deed and then promptly died, making my husband's brothers and sisters the closest thing he would ever have to descendants. You can read about it here if you are so inclined. We will be touring battlefields and cemeteries and museums, and we have all been boning up just in case the plaques are all in Flemish.
Here are a few recent books for your WWI collection:
I am going to have a teenager in my house. In - wow - 11 days, I will suddenly have a teenage boy in my house.
Relax, that's root beer. And that's MY jacket. He looks better in it than I do, the swine. His feet are bigger than mine. His tan is better than mine. God, I think his hair might be better than mine! Sigh.
His taste in reading material is pretty good, though. And he reads faster than I do, so lately I've been relying on him to vet titles for me the way I used to for him (Poison by Bridget Zinn and Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre both get his seal of approval). So it felt very darn peculiar to recommend The Martian to him.
I know what you want. I see you. You come in to the library with that little-bit-panicked look in your eye: "Oh shit there's no school for like MONTHS and they're going to do nothing but play Minecraft and moan about being bored." Or pull scary crap like balance-beam on an 8-foot fence. YEESH.
I am right there with you. Milo is in the basement right this second watching those awful Sky Does Minecraft YouTube videos. Or porn. No I did not just write that. I take it back. Wait, let me just get him up here, I'll be right back.
He was practicing guitar. OF COURSE. God, I am so not ready for him to be a teen.
Anyway, you want book recommendations for your children so that they do not forget how to read / become glassy-eyed screen zombies over the summer. You want books that are IRRESISTABLE, books that they will plough through and then ask for the next. In short, you want series books, and you want series that have been out for long enough that there's no waiting for the next book.
It can't be easy, right? Writing a cookbook for kids? I mean, if you're writing a cookbook, that means you are a good cook. You know your asparagus from your elbow macaroni, if you know what I mean. And here you are writing instructions for people who don't know what the salt looks like when you tell them to get it out of the cupboard.
IT'S THE BLUE CYLINDRICAL CONTAINER. CYLINDER. YOU KNOW, ROUND LIKE A... oh Christ I'll get it. SEE? THIS IS SALT.
It is the damnedest thing.
In recent years, YA trends have come on about as subtly as a brick tornado. Vampires. Zombie plagues. Fairy tales. Mermaids, oh god the mermaids. Last year it was cancer. And you'd think, if I took a mermaid trend in stride, I would not be surprised by the sudden appearance of dragons in contemporary YA fiction. I'd be like, "Aw come on guys - it's all dragons nowadays!" But there I was, five pages into Talker 25, going "What the...? It's dragons?"
I think it's because they're just so doofy. Right? Giant lizards with wings? What is that - half dinosaur, half... fairy? How are you going to fit that into a world? Literally - how are you going to fit that creature into a world filled with humans?
Then there's the stigma that goes along with being the dragon-obsessed girl. If you're not careful, your dragon novel will make you look like the kind of girl who goes as Daenarys Targaryen for Halloween. (OR TO HER WEDDING OH GOD MY EYES)
Hee hee hee. I got a little sidetracked.
There's a lot of horror running around loose on the streets these days. It's a trend. Brainless monsters, mad government scientists, possessed townsfolk and crafty killers lurk in the alleys and infest the woods by the side of the highways. Yep, it's a stimulating time to be a teen reader.
Until fairly recently, horror had been in kind of a slump. Horror had a big day back in, hm, the late 70's, early 80's. Throughout the 80's, the Halloween movies were in theaters and Stephen King was putting out two books a year.
By the 1990's though, we were out of the funhouse, laughing at the cheesy effects and accusing each other: "You were scared!" "No I wasn't, that was stupid!" By 1990, horror had become so familiar that it had devolved into camp (Tremors), or kid stuff (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), or mere eerieness (Edward Scissorhands). By the mid-90's, Danielle Steel and John Grisham had taken over Stephen King's dominance of the best seller lists. As recently as 2007, none of the major publishing houses had horror imprints.
But, like an oily slime seeping up from the depths of a dark bayou, horror is somehow once again everywhere, a foul slick coating the surface of popular culture. Simon & Schuster just started up a horror imprint. American Horror Story and The Walking Dead are killing it on TV. Danny Torrance is back. And I have more and more kids at the library daring me to scare them. Kids that have blazed through Goosebumps, sampled the Weenies, and are looking for something as scary as Horowitz Horror - but longer.
...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:
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:
Nobody gonna take my car
I'm gonna race it to the ground
Oooh it's a killing machine
It's got everything
Like a driving power big fat tyres
I love it I need it
I bleed it yeah it's a wild hurricane
Alright hold tight
I'm a highway star!
God I love Deep Purple. Am I the only one anymore? To me, Deep Purple is the seminal sound of teenhood. It's music you listen to in stale basement rec rooms - mindless and churning, full of movement but not getting anywhere. The long-haired, cigarette-smoking boys who hung in a greasy cluster outside the bus port door at my junior high school LIVED and DIED by Ritchie Blackmore. Sigh. Those boys smelled so bad.
Summer Reading season is just about drawing to a close at the ol' public library. For the past month we've been dredging up copies of Beloved and Animal Farm. We've scurried around looking for Trash, The Book Thief, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind for po-faced youngsters who absolutely can't stand the idea of summer homework. I often try to sweeten the visit (thanks teachers for making a visit to the library a chore!) by offering the kid an additional, just-for-fun book.
Summer is the time for kids to remember that reading is an entertaining activity. With my psychic powers, I will beam that into the brain of every English department head in the country. Right now. Ow. Ok, I'll rest up and do it next spring.
So... this young Joe comes in the library last night looking for A Tale of Two Cities. I look at the calendar. "When does school start?" I ask with a wince. "Monday," he grunts. I am sympathetic, but his mom gives me this "Mmm-hmm" look that I treasure. I love being old enough to be complicit with moms. Of course, he is to have it read by the time school starts, and of course, he has been reading The Maze Runner trilogy all summer instead.
This is the perfect moment to mention Proxy.
Stay with this one. The book, I meant, but now that I've started writing this review and it went jackknifing off the rails before it even left the station, I mean the review too.
MOVING TO MONTANA SOON
I read Wise Young Fool (due out today! from Little Brown) sitting in a chilly hotel room in Cusco, Peru, during the couple days it took me and my children to adjust to the radical changes in altitude and gut flora that accompany - well, going to Peru. Which sounds like a euphemism, and in fact is now a euphemism in our family. Poor Peru. In truth, we had a wonderful three weeks there, and we will remember so many wonderful things about that trip - but I'm pretty sure it's only the vomiting that will live on in our family's linguistic microculture.
I love a good linguistic microculture. Future Swearing, school-specific slang and in-jokes, whatever's going on in Riddley Walker. It can go too far, though, and here is where we swing back around to talking about teen literature and Sean Beaudoin.
WAIT. SPOILER. WISE YOUNG FOOL IS EXCELLENT. I just have a few things to say before we get to that part.
THE GOSPEL FROM OUTER SPACE
I have been reading Sean Beaudoin's books for a while, and I find them intriguing. Beaudoin is - I guess I'll have to use the term "prose stylist," - a person who finds a groove and writes in it, somebody who adds syncopation, frill, and rumble to his writing. And this is something of a rarity in young adult fiction. What's that? You want to know why? Ok sure fine, I'll tell you why: because a lot of people don't think that teens have the sophistication to read through and past anything but the most ordinary deviations from straight prose - text messages, teen vernacular, the occasional cartoon.
I personally think those people are really, really wrong - I am not sure anyone but a teenager has the mental flexibility to read super-styley stuff like John Dies at the End, or Philip K. Dick. You know damn well Chuck Palahniuk and Tao Lin are totally just arrested teens, piling on the attitude. And there's a reason we make college students read Vonnegut and Nabokov. As we get older, we just don't have time for the divine detail.
I know it's a losing battle, keeping the place in some kind of tidy shape, and it's certainly not all the fault of my kids. The books, lord the books. But sometimes I am just in a GET IT ALL OUT OF HERE mood, and such is the mood that descended tonight.
I haven't had the time to read hardly anything lately, so as we picked up books and shelved them or put them in the Back to the Library bag, I got Milo (11) and Ezra (nearly 10) to talk about the books they've read.
Ezra: Battle Bunny is the result of a ten year old who just watched a whole lot of apocalypse movies making his mark on a cute little Birthday Bunny tale. It's terrifically funny - there's a picture on Battle Bunny's wall that shows a bunny mama leaning over a bunny baby and the ten-year-old added the words "Drink your poison."
You might think, if you know me from reading Pink Me, that I am a children's or teen librarian. I'm not - at my system we are all generalists. So while I love fixing kids up with great books, the fact is I also enjoy helping grownups. I spend most of my time drumming up copies of just the right David Baldacci, or helping readers find Amish romance novels and car repair manuals.
Which, um... Amish romance novels? Right. I'm going to need a finding aid for that.
I am sorry that Teddy Steinkellner was dumped in a trashcan in middle school. Truly I am. Nobody deserves to be humiliated like that, and I hope the boys who did it look back on that episode and feel gut-wrenching, ball-twisting shame. I hope they grow up and have children and experience the fear that some little pack of fourteen-year-old pricks is going to do something like that to one of their kids.
And I have to praise a book about middle school that gives us an episode of upside-down in a garbage can. The clarity of the prose, the observational exactness as the garbage juice trickles into the boy's hair - it is necessary to hear this. If it happened, and especially if it is likely to happen again, we need to know what it is like. It's a little like climbing Everest - if a person has been there, they owe it to the rest of us to tell us what it's like.
I just finished reading The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin. This is a damn fine book, a creep-up-on-you book. It has a devil-in-the-noonday-sun quality that many have compared to Roald Dahl. Me, I didn't see the Dahl in it so much - there's little to laugh at, for one thing - and I'd compare it more to creepy-banal British village horror. Love that stuff.
The main character in this book carries a heavy emotional burden, and the book, in addition to being a great, suspenseful fairy tale retelling, goes about hip-deep into the braided stream of villainy and its causes. There's a lot of Mayor Mills in Splendid Academy's Principal Trapp.
But look at that cover. Spunky blonde and tubby sidekick - looming, slightly comic haunted-house-looking building in the background? All that alliteration in the title? Does this cover make you expect emotional redemption as a theme?
It didn't for me anyway. I assumed, judging from the cover - and don't say don't do it, we all do it - that this was a book for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. I would have handed it to any kid who goes for the new Gothic Humor genre that we're seeing so much of. And don't get me wrong, some of those kids will like it - but it is not Gothic Humor. It's not terribly funny, and it goes very dark. It's a bit reminiscent of Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, actually.
Weirdly, this is only one of many books I have read recently (and I have read about a dozen books in the past four days) (don't ask) (influenza B) (I don't recommend it) with a cover that is more than a little bit misleading.
Crash your car miles from nowhere on Nevada's Route 375, aka Extraterrestrial Highway, after a series of strange events have led to airplane crashes and highway closures, and what do you expect? Recover from life-threatening injuries only to be handed a non-disclosure agreement and be escorted home by two agents in black suits... oh yeah, this can't be good.
What happened to debate partners Reese and David in the month following inexplicable bird attacks that shut down the nation's air traffic? How have they recuperated so quickly from their crash? And what's with the strange vertigo that Reese feels whenever she touches David, or her mom, or even total strangers? Then there's the free-spirited pink-haired girl to whom Reese is irresistibly attracted. Well, ok that part is completely understandable ;)
Malinda Lo sets up an intriguing situation for her appealing, believable characters, and does a particularly nice job communicating Reese's discomfort as the unusual things she experiences and observes after she attempts to resume her normal life in San Francisco grate against everything she knows. The book loses some steam in the last third, as other characters drop away and we are back to just Reese and David, but by then it is too late for the reader - how's it going to end?
Suspenseful, girl-powered, contemporary science fiction full of realistically diverse characters making realistic contemporary use of technology. Plus hot kissing! Hard to resist.
Adapted from a review originally published in VOYA.
Here's something I would not have expected, certainly not on a night when I have a deadline looming on another project - I opened the mail after work and found a copy of this fat book, the first print product of Tavi Gevinson, aka The Style Rookie, and I opened it up and read the first couple of pages... and then I read the whole thing straight through for like five hours.
Tavi - don't you know who Tavi is? Tavi is this wonder-child. Only 16 years old now, she started blogging about style and fashion when she was like eleven and quickly became a fashion world darling. She wore her hair in a faded blue-gray bob, sometimes with a giant bow. She was, by all accounts, enthusiastic and questioning, eager to learn, a total fashion fan, but always with a point of view. I never read The Style Rookie, though. Really, I spend so much time keeping up with children's lit, all I have time for is Go Fug Yourself and sometimes Lainey.
I swear these Origami Yoda books just keep getting better. The current crisis at Ralph McQuarrie Middle School is... how will everyone get by without the guidance of Origami Yoda, now that Dwight has transferred to fancy Tippett Academy? And by the way, what is going ON with Dwight? Reports are filtering in that he is no longer digging holes and sitting in them, speaks in complete sentences, and, strangest of all, has stopped bringing Origami Yoda to school!
While The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was about accepting and appreciating Dwight and his weirdness, and Darth Paper Strikes Back was about accepting - while not exactly appreciating - Harvey's oblivious jerkiness, each book also has seen the kids gradually gaining consciousness of how their actions affect other people. In other words, Tommy, Sara, Kellen, and their friends are developing - naturally, spasmodically, at different paces (the girls are quicker) - the emotional intelligence of teens. And listen, if you think teens have no emotional intelligence, try spending time with a bunch of 5th graders. Secret of the Fortune Wookie continues this progress, in a way that I can't reveal without spoiling the Fortune Wookiee's actual Secret.
All this emotional growth is delivered in a way that is subtle as hell, though, and conveyed with so much humor that no child will put down this book feeling like he has been Shown How To Be A Better Person.
BONUS: Han Foldo
THING THAT MADE ME SNORT: Mr. Good Clean Fun's puppet sidekick Soapy the Monkey
SEQUEL I CAN'T WAIT FOR: At the end of Fortune Wookiee, we get some big news about big changes afoot at McQuarrie Middle, and I am going to LOVE seeing Tommy, Kellen, Sara, Rhondella, Harvey, Quavondo, Cassie, Remi, Amy, Tater Tot, Lance, Dwight, and even stuck-up Brianna band together to take down the Evil Teaching To the Test Curriculum. I also can't wait to see the Star Wars puns Tom Angleberger will come up with for standardized testing.
Do you know what a lich is? If someone taunts you with, "Answer the question, Claire," who are you being compared to? (Extra points: what's the question?) What will an oscillation overthruster allow you to do? And have you ever found yourself in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike?
A stray facetious comment worked its way into a discussion about the popularity of teen fiction among adult readers a while ago. "What about YA novels that are written just for adults?" I'm paraphrasing, I don't remember the exact wording. Just an offhand jokey comment, right?
But then I read Ready Player One. Ready Player One is a virtual reality adventure with a teen protagonist, a love interest, and a wing man. Our isolated, socially awkward hero must work his way through riddles and duels to win keys, open gates, and sort of save the world; and along the way he will develop leadership skills, learn to work with others, and listen to his instincts. Classic YA plotline.
But this book is not for teens.
I am violating my own rule here. My rule is I don't review books by people I know well enough to hug.
I know Mary Hahn well enough to hug, and to kiss on the cheek. Both of which things I did last time I saw her, the day after I finished reading this book. I think you would, too.
Mary's an old friend of my parents - I think her first husband and my dad went to college together? Maybe mom was a bridesmaid? She and my mother were pregnant with their first children at the same time, and compared notes. Some time after those girls (one of them me) were born, she and my parents more or less lost touch.
Mary started working as a school librarian, and in the mid-1970's started writing novels for children. Mysteries. Ghost stories. And though most of these stories stay well within the range of "comfortably spooky" - excellent choices for middle-grade readers who crave just enough chill to keep them turning pages, but not enough to keep them up at night - that's still thirty-some years' worth of haunted houses and restless spirits, guilt, revenge, and loss.
And now we know why.
Do you know what I get tired of? I'll tell you what I get tired of. I get tired of these over-30 (or over-40, or even over-50) actresses calling me up on the phone, complaining about the parts they're being offered. "They keep sending me MOOOMS!!" Nicole will whine. "When it's so OBVIOUS I am still Sexy Secret Agent material!" Or it'll be Kristen Wiig: "Do I look like a MOMM to you?! Why don't they get Catherine O'Hara?"
Sigh. Catherine O'Hara is 57 years old. The poor woman's been carrying the "funny mom" baton since the late '80s - time for her to move on to "funny mother-in-law." Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen can't be expected to handle all those roles by themselves.
Although - it's kind of a fact, besides the gay moms and Kevin's poor mother, mom movie roles have been a bit lame lately. Movie moms generally are participating in some kind of horror story in which they have to protect their child/get back their possessed child/never had a child to begin with; or they are present only as comic obstructions to the teenager or adult male saving the world in some way. Julie White, the mom in the Transformers movies? Totally underutilized.
Grace is feeling kind of out of place at her new high school in San Francisco. Newly arrived from a small town, she is hoping to find a friend.
Tough Gretchen has no need or desire for friends.
And snooty rich girl Greer doesn't have friends so much as she has acolytes, minions, and social rivals.
What do these three have in common? Besides first names that start with G? Well, they were all adopted, for one thing... and since this is a teen novel, you might as well guess: they're long-lost triplets. Not just any triplets, either. Descendants of a mythological monster slayer, they have a duty and abilities and there's a prophecy and all of a sudden Grace's GPA is in danger and Greer's Stella McCartney top is going to get mussed.
Part Percy Jackson, part Beverly Hills 90210 - with an acknowledged debt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Grace has moved to San Francisco from a small town called Orangevale, where she attended a two-story school with stucco-covered walls), this is good fun, marred somewhat by writing that hammers home every expressive nuance ("'What are you doing here?' she demands, clearly unhappy to see me.")
Boy characters are amusingly decorative - entering the action with portentious fanfare, all eyelashes and biceps, only to disappear for long stretches with nary a ripple, reappearing - or not - several chapters later. Although they may have some role in later books, in Sweet Venom they appear to be nothing more than gratuitous romantic interest. A not-too-serious paranormal action novel along the lines of the Maggie Quinn, Girl vs. Evil books.
Adapted from a review originally published in VOYA.
You have got to hand it to Michael Grant - the guy has CHOPS.
I started reading his stuff with the first GONE novel. "Terrific premise," I thought. "Great staging of the classic civilization-reboot-in-the-hands-of-the-children plot." And then, "Jeez that's some STRONG horror. This guy pulls no punches."
Then I read The Call, the first entry in his middle-grade series, The Magnificent 12. I described that book as "Michael Grant popping the top off his can of funny." It's like entry-level Douglas Adams: I hand The Call and The Trap to any kid who answers 'yes' to the questions, "adventure?" and "funny?"
Now for BZRK. This is sci-fi set in the real world: non-dystopian secret-agent-type sci-fi, gritty, dark, and extra-violent. Teenagers are recruited to fight battles so surreptitious that they are invisible to the naked eye.
It's the fortunate teenager who will come across this beautifully produced art book and its subject, self-taught folk artist Nicholas Herrera. Not only does Herrera describe his process, inspirations, and technique, but he speaks frankly about his wild youth, bad behavior, and the consequences thereof.
Ah, spring! My neighborhood is foaming over with dogwood and azalea, sketched pink scribbles of redbud branches and nodding lilac. Driving the kids to school is like a trip through some wretched YA fairy forest. Except it's also roadkill season, so the smashed rats and opossums on the side of the road give it a little gory, edgy aspect. Again, much like a lot of recent YA. Sigh.
I am totally, happily mired in reading for the YALSA committee I'm on, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults (go nominate your favorite! do it now! I'll wait!), and I can't in all conscience post reviews of books we're considering for the list - but I can take a break from teenage immigrants and rock stars from time to time in order to cleanse my palate with a new book.
Here are some I have waiting in the wings for me:
Finley is the only white kid on his basketball team. He's not the tallest, or the most talented, but he is the hardest-working player, and that has earned him his position as starting point guard. That hard work might just one day propel him out of his crime-infested ruin of a hometown.
So is Boy21 a sports novel? Not exactly.
Finley has played and trained - obsessively, single-mindedly - since he was ten years old, when something bad happened to his family and he found that shooting 500 free throws in a row allowed him to not think about it.
Is Boy21 a coming-to-grips-with-crisis novel? Not exactly that either.
Finley has time for only one thing in his life besides ball, and that's his girlfriend, best friend, and only friend, Erin. She is beautiful and the star of the girls' team and has a lot of patience. She gets along with Finley's drunk grandfather, his sorrowful father, and she loves Finley, even though he speaks rarely and breaks up with her every basketball season.
So it's a young love novel? Ok I know I'm getting annoying with this - I'll stop.
FIFTY ARTISTS FIFTY! It's like a Ziegfeld chorus line up in this fine large-format comic anthology, except hairier. And less able to walk and sing at the same time. Probably really bad at doing anything in unison.
Fifty of your favorite comics artists have taken on 50 old-fashioned nursery rhymes, resulting in an anthology that is funny, strange, sweet, and surprising. Some of the artists, like Nick Bruel (Bad Kitty) and Marc Rosenthal (Phooey!), are familiar names in children’s publishing; others, like the talented Mo Oh (Lily Renee, Escape Artist, which is not a good example of her sweet and funny style) and Jen Wang (Koko Be Good), are relative newcomers.
The Rowan Tree Inn has sat placidly under its thatched roof at the center of a picturesque forest village for centuries. "Has sat." That hits me wrong. I don't think there's anything incorrect about it, but... I know I don't like it. "Has satten" sounds better, but "satten" is not even a word. All right, I'm going to leave it. This book's not worth fussing over.
When fourteen-year-old Maya moves into the Inn with her parents and older brother, she experiences that same kind of unease. Disturbing visions, eviscerated foxes, and sinister townspeople seem to conspire with scary nighttime noises to keep her thoroughly freaked out. Is she psychic? Is she imagining things?
Art and history intertwine in the story of Claribel and Etta Cone, two sisters from Baltimore whose intellectual openness and love of art–not to mention tidy personal fortunes–brought them into contact with many pioneering minds of the early 20th century. More than mere art patrons, the sisters forged decades-long friendships with Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo, Pablo Picasso, and especially Henri Matisse.
The collection of art that they amassed, which includes many masterpieces of Postimpressionism as well as works from Asia and Africa (now at the Baltimore Museum of Art), liberally illustrates the gracefully designed pages of this book. So too do the author’s colorful Matisse-inspired illustrations, most of which are based on archival photographs. The book is a pleasure not only to behold but to hold, too - prestige paper and meticulous attention to color honor the author, her subjects, and the art.
Painting by Susan Fillion based on a famous photo from 1903.
An art educator in Baltimore, Susan Fillion has obviously spent untold hours with the Cone Collection and with the voluminous correspondence and other papers of the sisters. She frequently describes a scene or situation from Claribel’s or Etta’s perspective, an effective and engaging device. In the hands of a writer less intimate with the sisters, this might feel false or presumptive, but Fillion keeps it simple and convincing. A beautiful and accessible gateway to a study of Postimpressionism, and a moving portrait of two extraordinary women.
Adapted from a review that originally appeared in School Library Journal.
Today's Nonfiction Monday Round-up is at Emu's Debuts.
The Ramayana is the ancient epic story of the exiled prince Rama and his beautiful wife, Sita. When Sita is kidnapped by a love-struck demon king, her husband’s efforts to rescue her result in a war that eventually involves not only demons and mortals, but also gods, monsters, and even animals. This story has been told and retold, painted, performed and translated in every medium imaginable.
Clem was born premature, when his pregnant mother was startled by a heartbroken Nazi pilot shooting her chimney to pieces at the end of World War II in rural Norfolk, England.
Using this birth as a pivot point, Mal Peet tells us the story of Clem's family from the time his grandmother was a girl to nearly the present day. We see the twentieth century work its changes on this family, as wars take men away and bring them back, social movements carry Clem's family out of their indentured hovel and into estate housing and allow Clem to attend an exclusive school, and romantic love finds a foothold.
Providing reader advisory services to movie and TV stars may sound like it's all glamor and glitz - private screenings at Matt Damon's place, long walks with Taylor Kitsch, tequila shots with Cameron Diaz - but in reality, it's hard work. It's a year-round, always-on-call job that requires constant monitoring of tons of information sources. You should see my office - a dozen laptops and giant flatscreens feeding me 24-hour updates from Cynopsis Kids, Early Word, Rama's Screen, and the Hollywood Reporter.
But that's what it takes. What would happen if, out of the blue, Hailee Steinfeld chased you down in a hallway at NBC panting, "I have to read a science fiction novel for English but I hate science fiction!" It wouldn't do to flail around until you lamely suggest she reads Virus on Orbis 1. Nooo. That kid, she needs more action. Not so much character development. Black Hole Sun is the book for her. She'd be perfect as the voice of the AI that is the main character's advisor, conscience and best friend. Or she could be the kick-ass love interest Vienne.
Tune in to my wave as I provide book advice to the attendees of the 84th Annual Academy Awards from my perch by the bar at the Governor's Ball...
We are well shut of the twentieth century, I think. That was the first thing that crossed my mind as I closed Between Shades of Gray at about 1:30 in the morning last night. Good god. This is historical fiction that grabs you by the throat.
Where are we? We are in Lithuania in June of 1941. Stalin has annexed the country and part of his strategy for integrating it seamlessly into the Soviet Union is to round up anyone who might object and send them to Siberia.
Who are we? Fifteen-year-old Lina, upper middle class, a gifted artist, with a ten-year-old brother and a beautiful mother. Papa, a university administrator, has already disappeared when soldiers pound on the door and throw Lina's family into a truck.
What is happening to 17-year-old Briony Larkin and the miserable fenside village of Swampsea? Briony is beautiful and intelligent, neglected by her father after the death of her beloved stepmother. Possessed of a supernatural gift that allows her to see and converse with the nature spirits that surround her village, before she died, her stepmother commanded Briony to avoid the swamp where these spirits live lest something terrible happen.
To make an already joyless life considerably worse, Briony is responsible for her difficult twin sister Rose, who, due to a blow to the head when the girls were seven, exhibits symptoms and behaviors similar to those associated with autism spectrum disorder.
Then a handsome boy comes to the village, and with him progress: the swamp is to be drained and Swampsea to become the terminus of a London rail line. As Swampsea struggles to - belately - join the twentieth century, Briony struggles with new roles that she both fears and desires. I'm always looking for neat coming-of-age metaphors, and the advent of the modern age is a good one. Will Briony allow herself to fall in love? Will she learn to control her power? Will she figure out the deceptions that have been perpetrated upon her, leaving her full of frustrated, self-abasing rage?
Louise at thirteen is friendless and flat-chested. Bad luck and worse decisions have torn apart the cozy canyon life she shared with her parents, B-movie director Charlie Bat and starlet-turned-homemaker Brandy-Lynn, and now she lives in a courtyard condo down below the smog line. Instead of her tiny, hippie elementary school, she's attending a big public junior high where everything seems like a competition. And then, after one too many drunken arguments with Brandy-Lynn, her dad leaves.
Pink Smog: Becoming Weetzie Bat is the prequel to Francesca Lia Block's popular Weetzie Bat stories - this is Weetzie before she becomes fully Weetzified: not yet blonde, only partially sparkly, showing barely a hint of the wistful siren to come. With some of the glitter swept away, the emphasis is on Louise's feelings and encounters, which have always been well-written, but can be overshadowed by the feathered, flowing, Mod Podge fabric of Weetzie's later life. Heartbroken, teased, neglected, and possibly hexed, Louise begins to learn about risks that are worth taking and people who are worth cherishing. She is a peaceful child who, when faced with cruelty and loss, develops into a young woman who is pliant but not wimpy, strong but not aggressive.
A fresh gem for Weetzie's fans, Pink Smog stands comfortably alone as well. It would serve as a Gateway to Francesca Lia Block (which is an arch a lot of us are happy to have passed through - Jezebel once called Weetzie Bat ""The Book for Girls Who Ended Up Taking a Gay Dude to Prom" - I myself took my best friend's much-older brother), and although marketed to grades 9 and up, this book could be wise comfort to a reader as young as 5th grade whose family has undergone sudden change.
A version of this review appeared in VOYA a few months ago.
I feel like Tony Shalhoub's character in Galaxy Quest: "Heh heh," he chuckles, mentally adding up the squad of enemy alien soldiers guarding the [whatever], the rock monster the crew had encountered on a recent visit to a desolate planet, and the ship's transporter mechanism. "I just had this really interesting idea."
I've just done a little idle internal arithmetic myself. I read a lot, right? Mostly kids' and YA books. It's ridiculous. And it's gotten to be I kind of feel like I'm cheating when I take time out for the essentials: Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue, September Vogue, and Go Fug Yourself. Your essentials may not be my essentials. There's room for all of us here.
But my consumption of gossipy fashiony stuff means that I do kind of keep an eye on the traffic at the intersection of these two interests of mine - namely, when YA (and sometimes kids') novels are made into movies. Like... Ooh there goes Oscar nominee Viola Davis again - she's going to be in the movie they're finally going to make of Ender's Game. Hm. I wonder just exactly where Viola Davis fits into Ender's Game. Ugh here's another mouth-breathing Hemsworth: which YA heartthrob part is he going to be panting all over this time? You know. Everybody does that.
And you can't help wondering, you know, if you somehow found yourself sharing a First Class row with say Brad Pitt (I could get bumped up, it could happen!), what would you end up talking about?
Here's a rare thing: a review of a bona fide adult book on Pink Me. Suitable for teenagers? You decide. (There's a breakdown at the bottom of this review.)
I wish I could write the review this book deserves, as Nick Harkaway (not his real name) wrote the review that Neal Stephenson's Reamde deserved - the one I was in the process of writing in my head. Stephenson's book was an action novel taken to absurd lengths, a nonstop global car/boat/bike chase firefight populated by real characters, most of whom you had to fall in love with. Ergo, I think it's no coincidence that Harkaway (still not his real name) felt he had some solid ground upon which to stand while surveying the fatness of Reamde.
Angelmaker is leaner, sprawls less, but is similarly packed with spies and murderers and gangsters who run and drive and use weapons, and they're all real people. Well. Some of them are not. A few of them are... but no, I'm not going to say.
Rules are for sissies. Yes, yes they are. Especially, I would say, in Young Adult fiction. All this hoo-ha and malarkey about people debating What is Young Adult lately - with so many grownups reading adventure fiction like The Hunger Games, why is one novel with a teen protagonist (let's just say Going Bovine) marketed to teens and why is another (call it Huge) marketed to adults - and as far as I'm concerned the fastest, funniest, most wrenching, most challenging stuff is YA and all the rest is non-age-specific genre fiction.
Mad at me yet? Read more!
Just a quick YA book review today, pumpkins - I am up to my [pick a body part you don't mention in polite company] in holiday crafting and carding and cocktail recipes.
What? Cocktail recipes are not part of everyone's year-end frenzy? Huh. What do you guys do?
Rosemary Clement-Moore delivers two things that have become the normal main features of YA books for girls: cold supernatural thrills and hot boy romance. What makes her hot boys and cold thrills stand out from all the rest are the girls that navigate the spaces between them: they are aggravated and amused, intrigued and insulted, cool but occasionally klutzy. They may find themselves covered in bat crap, but they will likely leave with an awesome exit line. Their narration conveys the knowing but self-conscious tone that is native to all teenage girls.
In Texas Gothic, strange doings are afoot at a big ol' cattle ranch in the west Texas Hill Country. Has an archaeological dig disturbed a centuries-old ghost? Or are nefarious humans taking advantage of local folklore to scare people away, and if so... why? Teenaged Amy Goodnight, the only intentionally "normal" member of a family of benign but powerful witches, seems to be the only one who can get to the bottom of The Mystery of the Mad Monk... but not only is she mortified at the Scooby Doo-ness of the whole "Mad Monk" thing, she is also nearly literally mortified by the ghost's overtures.
If you enjoyed Nancy Drew's The Secret of Shadow Ranch as a kid (yum, cowboys!) but are too self-aware to let yourself get caught up in silly stuff like The Ghost Whisperer, this is the book for you. Gotta love gothic.
I spent the weekend without Internet access. Yup. No service where we were staying, no bars on the phone, and a 3G indicator that winked in and out when the wind blew through the pines.
As it happens, I needed to get ahold of someone, and so I was a little infuriated by this lack of connectivity. But I was also reading The Future of Us, a sort of post-dated YA sci-fi novel set in 1996, so it was kind of apropos.
Given all the news recently about the inconceivably arrogant, morally chthonic behavior of certain people in central PA - people who make me type in all caps, people whose f-ing job it was to teach teenage athletes about discipline and integrity and in the process turn them into admirable men, and yet who somehow valued winning or the status quo or... something - I mean, I just can't fathom what possible motive there could be for keeping silent - over the safety and well-being of a legion of children...
Yes. Given that, I would like to offer up a healthy, happy novel about a healthy, normal boy, a boy fortunately unmolested by predatory old men - a boy whose only real tormentor is the tail that wags his dog.
That's right - I'm talking about Bobby's boner. Allow me to relate a conversation I had with my boys.
I have a few things to confess before we begin.
I picked up this book because I saw it on Go Fug Yourself.
I like serial killers. I mean I like BOOKS about serial killers - do not start writing me from jail, you murdering fiends. And I like clothes. So I decided to read this book because I was in the mood for some uptown Serial Mom action.
Errr... you know what I mean.
I decided to review this book in order to show that I am not all Snobby McTyraHater and I bow to no-one when it comes to a healthy appetite for escapist kitsch.
Books can be badly-written in any number of ways. The characters may be poorly defined, the plot predictable. The pace may stutter. The author may have O.D.-ed on simile, or rely too heavily on certain phrases ("His scar prickled like fire"). Or the author may assume that his or her readers are total idiots, and load the text with unnecessary clarification. ("'What are YOU doing here?!' she exclaimed, a look of surprise on her face.") A Tragic Overuse of Capitalized Nouns may strangle the reader in Unwarranted Portentousness.
Tyra Banks doesn't really do any of these things. FYI. I mention this in case you, like me, had some kind of suspicion that a person with no apparent experience writing fiction might be, I don't know... TERRIBLE at it. I'm terrible at it, and I write all the damn time.
But she's not good at it, either.
Here is the trick with magic realism: if you're going to add a little magic to your realistic story, just drop it in there and don't futz with it. Like cold butter on warm bread, if you try to even it out you will just tear holes in your plot and make yucky little crumb-butter tumbleclots. In other words, if Grandpa can fly, he can just fly, ok? Don't start rattling off a long and involved explanation about curses or fairies or mitochlorions - people will get suspicious.
If your main character can see the date of a person's death when she looks into their eyes, you should just tiptoe out on stage, hand her that little piece of business, and then back off real nonchalant-like.
Like Rachel Ward does. Oh, Rachel Ward. Nicely done.
I cannot get behind this book. I wanted to, I did - oh, and based on recommendations by other people, I have been recommending it to teens and tweens who like action for a good year now - but I think it is poor science fiction.
Thomas is a teenage boy who wakes up one morning in a windowless metal room, unable to remember much more than his name. When the room opens up, he finds himself in a community of several dozen boys, all of whom arrived in what they call the Glade just as he did, devoid of memory. The Glade is a sizeable square area surrounded by tall stone walls. Behind the walls, on all sides, is a gigantic maze. In the two years since the first boys were delivered to the Glade, they have formed an extremely functional, organized, (mostly) self-sustaining society, and have set themselves the task of solving the giant maze - looking for a way out.
"Who, exactly, is the Mysterious X?"
"They're more of a what than a who. It won't be in a form you'll recognise, and there is something other about X that defies easy explanation. It's more of a sense than a person. A shroud, if you like, that confuses their true form. It also smells of unwashed socks and peanut butter. You'll be fine."
Tiger looked at the note, then at the Quarkbeast, then at where the moose had been but suddenly wasn't, then back at me.
"This is a test, isn't it?"
Yes, little children, this is a test. Are you going to grow up to be the kind of person who not only reads all the books of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy but who also seeks out the radio recordings? Will the Discworld become a second home to you? If you cut yourself shaving, will you always claim that "it's just a flesh wound!" in a defensive tone and a British accent?
If so, The Last Dragonslayer is your brand of silly.