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.
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.
This is what's wrong with me. This is what's very very WROOONNG with me - and that was Bill Murray in Stripes in case you missed the reference ("We're ten and one!") (Not anymore, brother).
I have been neglecting the crap out of Pink Me for MONTHS because I've started reviewing for Booklist Online and those guys send me I swear 5 books a month. And not five 32-page picture books, although sometimes yeah I get picture books. No. I get five NOVELS. Five middle-grade books about burping and zombie pets. Five YA sci-fi barnburners. Shit involving fairies.
And some decent stuff, for sure.
Plus I've been neglecting Pink Me because I am churning through as much YA horror as I can stomach. Funny horror, ghostie horror, horror that turns out to not be terribly scary after all. Lotsa horror. I'm doing this because my colleague Paula and I are giving a talk, called "Something Wicked This Way Comes of Age" (Paula's title and is that good or what?!), at the YA Lit Symposium in Austin next fall.
I didn't need those boots. Nobody needs $600 boots.
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.
I have never been very good at all that best / best of / ten best BS. My little mind has trouble finding a common metric between different books. How can you say whether the silly and charming linear narrative of Sophie's Squash is "better" or "worse" than - for example - the dreamlike, lyrical Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue?
Which illustrations are better? DOES NOT COMPUTE.
I try, though - as previously mentioned, I'm a first-round Cybils judge and I will help pick a shortlist of the best picture books of the year, but oh I am so glad I'm not in the group that has to narrow it down to one.
Instead, I thought I'd run down the reading experiences that made the deepest impressions on me this year. GOOD and BAD. GET READY.
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.
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.
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 are two books. Two books written for adults but featuring teenage protagonists. This happens quite a lot, and more so lately, and I suppose it is for the simple reason that teenagers lead more interesting lives than adults do. They get out more. Sometimes adult books featuring teen main characters are absolute must-reads for teens - but sometimes they are what they are: emphatically adult literature featuring young people in starring roles.
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.
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.
I lead a pretty prosaic life. The biggest, hairiest, most mysterious creature in my life (no cracks about library customers, please, esteemed co-workers!) is our big orange cat, Babe. Named for Babe the Blue Ox, not Babe Didrickson Zaharias or Babe the Gallant Pig. But as mystifying as Babe's behavior sometimes is, he is depressingly accessible. He's no cryptid, in other words.
And sometimes you just need a little mystery. Ergo, Bigfoot...
So Ashley Spires put out this absolutely cute picture book a couple months ago, Larf, that is all about being alone - and that's ok - and reaching out to someone - which is also ok - but being nervous about it - understandable, and also ok - but then meeting someone nice anyway. Which is way ok.
Love Larf. Love Ashley Spires! Ashley Spires, in case you didn't realize, which I didn't, is the person responsible for that farting dreamer of a housecat, Binky (Binky the Space Cat). Every one of those books is a charmer, as is Larf. Larf is, contrary to what I think are most people's expectations about Sasquatches, rather a neat person. He folds his laundry and washes his dishes after he uses them. He wears a neat red scarf. He lives alone but he's not lonely. Not super lonely anyway.
The mountain range of books on our coffee table is a constantly shifting pile of bait for my boys. I bring books home from the library every day that I work - sometimes they place requests, but more often I just snag books that I think they'll like or that I am interested in looking at for this blog. The "leave it out casually and they will pick it up" strategy has been praised by many parents, and even endorsed by Judy Blume, and I can vouch for it as well.
Not so say there haven't been some hiccups, as when I found ten-year-old Milo reading Railsea by China Miéville, which I had pretty much brought home for myself. He is also a big David Macinnis Gill fan now, thanks to this practice.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Slipping into the boy-friendly spot between Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a new young adult novel by Rick Detorie, creator of One Big Happy, a strip you may have seen on your newspaper's comics page.
Not a graphic novel but in fact a liberally illustrated prose novel (with extremely short paragraphs), The accidental genius of Weasel High is about a 14-year-old boy named Larkin navigating his freshman year of high school. Larkin's not too bad off - he has a couple of good friends and nobody picks on him much. He has a dreadful sister who manages to throw things into sharp relief, when she's not actually throwing things, and parents who are basically ok even if they are generally clueless and embarrassing.
I love my friends, and when I think of the friends I have, I realize what a fortunate person I am.
First: A few years ago, I got to chatting with a brilliant, funny author at the annual KidLitCon - Laurel Snyder. It turned out that in addition to sharing certain opinions, vices, and an inappropriate sense of humor, we share weird geographic coincidences: she grew up a couple blocks from where I live now, and in high school she moved to the neighborhood where I grew up. Her friends were the younger siblings of my friends. When she lived in freakin' Iowa, her downstairs neighbor was a woman I've been friends with since birth. We might actually be the same person.
So I can't review her book.
Next: Also a few years ago, we got a new librarian at work. Yes I know that's a weird construction, but that's how we say it. We got a new librarian. She had the same name as me! Then we found out that we both have a kid the same age, a kid who loved to read and went to a Baltimore City charter school; and we also discovered that we both read a lot of teen fiction, and have almost the same taste! In books, accessories, food, you name it. We might actually be the same person. On Pink Me, I call her Eerily Similar Paula, and she's helped me out before.
Today, she and her Eerily Similar Kid, Thespian Girl, have contributed a mother-daughter review of Laurel's new book, Bigger than a Bread Box.
ESP: How did you get your hands on an advance copy of Bigger Than a Bread Box, Thespian Girl?
Okay, so me and Daddy were walking around at the ALA conference, and the lady at Random House said “Oh honey, I have a few books that you might like!” and I picked one up and started reading the back of it. Meanwhile, Daddy poked me in the ribcage and said “You have to get this book. Look at the dedication. It’s for Baltimore.” I said okay and I took it even though I didn’t really like the cover. I thought it might be a murder mystery or something about wizards.
ESP: What made you read it anyway?
Well, it was on my shelf and you told me I needed to read the next day and not watch any “stupid TV shows”. I read the first page and I was like “huh.” Then I read the next page, and the next page and the next page….”
ESP: I remember you read a part out loud to me. You said “this author really is from Baltimore. I can tell because of the detail when she describes Rebecca’s row house.”
There weren’t doors or walls between the downstairs rooms of our row house. The flooring just changed colors every ten feet or so. You knew you were out of the kitchen/dining room when the fake brick linoleum stopped and the pale blue carpet started. Then you were out of the living room and into the front room when the blue carpet changed to brown. That was like a lot of row houses were in Baltimore, like tunnels.
ESP: Kind of like our house?
ESP: So that made you keep reading? What’s it really about?
Yes. And the book got better and better as it went on. I read it mostly in one day while you were at work. It’s about a twelve year-old girl named Rebecca. She lives in Baltimore with her mom and dad and her toddler brother Lew. Her mom and dad have been arguing a lot, and then her mom decides it’s time to “take a break.” She drives Rebecca and Lew all the way to Atlanta, Georgia to stay with their grandmother. She doesn’t bother to tell Rebecca that they’ll be staying for a long time and that she’ll have to go to school there too. During the first night her and her mom get into an argument. Rebecca misses her dad. She gets mad and runs upstairs to the attic, where she discovers a collection of bread boxes. She only knows that’s what they are because they say “bread” on them. While she’s poking around up there, she says she wishes she had a book. She starts opening the bread boxes. They’re all empty except for the last one, which, coincidentally, has an Agatha Christie book in it. She brings the box down to her room.
ESP: Does she know right away that it’s magic?
No. She figures it out that night when she’s feeling homesick. She’s crying about all the things she misses about Baltimore. She says “I wish there were gulls” into her pillow, and then she hears a skreeeee noise coming from the breadbox. There are two seagulls inside!
ESP: So what does she wish for next? Is it a unicorn?
No, and I don’t want to ruin the story. She can only get things that are real. And that fit inside the bread box.
ESP: So it’s a book about a magic bread box? Is that how you would describe it?
Not just about a magic bread box. It’s about school drama, family, and how unfair it is when adults make decisions for you that you don’t like.
ESP: How did the book make you feel when you were reading it?
I was excited and on edge! I couldn’t guess what was going to happen at all. She (Laurel Snyder) did a great job with the entire story. There wasn’t too much of anything or too little of anything. It was a perfect book. The ending is a good set up for a sequel, hint-hint!
Paula is a good friend and I want to thank her and Thespian Girl thoroughly for this thoughtful take on a terrific book. My only regret is that when either of them starts writing books herself, I won't be able to review them. Maybe I'll get Laurel to do it!
Here's some more help, from 12-year-old kid named Lily, who made this beautiful book trailer for Bigger than a Bread Box:
I swear, tween girls should be running this country. They are so smart!
"You're listening to Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station, good morning! I'm your host, Tom Hall... oh wait a minute, I can't be your host, Tom Hall - I'm only eight!"
That's right. I took my kids with me to the radio station yesterday when I taped a segment on you crazy, stunted adults who read Young Adult fiction. What's wrong with me? Didn't I know they would act like crazed monkeys and pull out all the wires and make fart noises into the microphones? (They were very well behaved, although there were fart noises, I admit.)
More to the point, what's wrong with you? Seriously, you're a full-on adult with a car payment and a job, and when you pick up a book, you're all looking for violence and mayhem, and allegory, and characters you can fall in love with, and dialogue peppered with witty insults and wordplay - what's that about? Why can't you just read your age-appropriate Literature or Fluff like you're supposed to? (This is also me being FACETIOUS.)
As I tried to organize my thoughts about what it is that adults see in YA literature - and it's a huge trend, believe me, you're not the only one - I remembered a recent conversation with a young woman looking for something to read. I asked what she'd enjoyed lately, and she said she'd really liked The Road (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature) and the The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (winner of the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original and inspiration for Snoop Dogg's Oh, Sookie).
Now, these two items have more in common than you might initially think, but still, it would be a biiig Venn diagram that managed to include them both. Trying to imagine the sweet spot between Cormac McCarthy and Sookie Stackhouse, my gaze naturally drifted to the Young Adult section.
I am still on a brief break from the teen novels about serial killers and grave robbers and cannibals and cannibalistic grave-robbing serial killers. And Direct Instruction.
I swear, it's true. Along with all the war-torn future Earths and vicious madmen I've been reading about this summer was one novel the villain of which was nominally an unknown sneaky-Pete serial killer but structurally and actually? the villain was the (admittedly rather joyless) teaching model known as Direct Instruction. Specifically, the Slavin variant of DI, developed at Johns Hopkins University right here in the beautiful burg of Baltimore.
I read that and I was like, "Hey!" Slavin's approach, called Success For All, is a wholly scripted 90-minute intensive daily session of phonics instruction, and was designed for use in failing schools in this city. And believe you me, I spent some time in Baltimore City District Court this week, and this town could use a lot more reading instruction.
But it was just kind of weird. You've got a serial killer, perhaps two, running around town murdering cats, clearly working his or her way up to killing a human, and yet a huge amount of authorial energy was expended on describing and excoriating Direct Instruction. I'm not here to defend DI, but it was like having a character attend a Waldorf school and then spending half the book describing how oppressive and creepy it is to spend one's days in a classroom with no corners.
(These are terrible sentences I'm writing. Maybe I could use a little Slavin-style finger-snapping rote learning myself.)
Anyway. That book was called Deviant, and I think I'd like to read more by Adrian McKinty (go read his blog and I think you'll fall in love), but I'm not going to actually review this one - just note its weird little obsession with educational theory and then mentally catalog it as something to recommend to those kids slouching around the teen section who roll their eyes at paranormal horror because they Just. Want. Murderers! I should not forget to also tell those kids to read Seita Parkkola's evil school novel The School of Possibilities. And then Janne Teller's Nothing. Dan Wells's I Am Not A Serial Killer and its sequelae.
Aggh! I can't quit! BUT. I am reviewing a board book here - I need to get my head out of that trunk full of disarticulated body parts and get on with it.
Speaking of Baltimore. This bright, fun little board book counts as a Direct Instruction tool - our friends One through Ten appear on successive pages, printed in big Arabic numerals, along with objects to be counted that demonstrate the meaning of the numerals. None of your exploratory, inquiry-based learning going on here: this is an ordinal-number practicum.
I jest, of course. 123 Baltimore is blissfully free of dogma, but full of love. Every Baltimorean will recognize the colors used on page four, on which four footballs bounce around the page's edges; visitors will smile at page nine, which features Baltimore's unofficial city symbol, the pink flamingo; but it may take a true city nerd (me!) to identify the seven funky robots on page seven as the World's First Robot Family by DeVon Smith on permanent display at the American Visionary Art Museum.
I also believe quite firmly that the six row houses on page six are not, as noted in the key at the end, the "Painted Ladies" of Charles Village, but rather the two-storey bowfront rowhouses on Keswick Rd. My friend and colleague (and fellow city nerd) Mrs. McSweeney fingers the porch rowhouses on Abell Avenue as the illustration source. I bet when I get home Mr. Librarian (the ultimate city nerd!) will be able to cite what exact block of which street they are.
It's a souvenir of our gritty city, a reminder of our kitsch credentials, a fun way to learn to count to ten, and does not contain even one gouged-out eyeball.
I have been staring at this book for a while.
Thanks to Charlie Higson's The Enemy, I rescinded my No Zombies proclamation last year, and so, thinking Rotters was about zombies and emboldened by the Scott Westerfeld cover blurb, I brought it home.
Stared at it, thought the cover was bad, passed it off to my friend Chelsea to read. Chelsea is a fast reader and likes zombies just fine. When she finished it and passed it back to me, I asked her opinion. She said, "I don't know. I think you'd have to read it for yourself. It's not zombies though." Then I returned it to the library. Upon learning that I need to write a list of novels to suggest to readers who liked The Monstrumologist, I checked it back out.
And now I've read it. And I'm still staring at it.
Ok I have like, maybe, THREE things to say about this:
The novel begins as an intimate first-person narrative from Alex's point of view - she is worn down by sorrow and pain, and craves isolation. When two other campers appear on the scene, she is annoyed, but the reader is not surprised. When all of a sudden there is blood and pain, the reader is surprised. And then when she figures out...! and then meets up with...! and almost...! Like that. Every corner turned in this book was a surprise and sometimes a shock, but we never lose touch with Alex - she never turns into a superhero. The aches that sent her into the wilderness never go away, she just gets new ones.
Ilsa Bick writes her weapons and outdoor skills and scenic Michigan wilderness with authority. She has a real feel for timing, building tension to the point of crisis, then sometimes breaking off and picking up days later amid the consequences of the crisis. Her characters are convincing when they're being stubborn and whiny, convincing when they're in psychic or physical pain, convincing even when they're not convinced of their own selves at all.
In fact, I have made a folk song about this book. This doesn't happen very often, given that I hate poetry and I don't know how to play even the guitar... so you know this is going to be good. SING IT:
Here we are again,
It's the end of the world again,
I lost my gun I found my gun I lost my gun again.
Dontcha hate it when
You're just looking for a little privacy,
Just trying to scatter the ashes of your parents on the shores of Lake Superior and maybe come to terms with the inoperable brain tumor that's turned your life to shit,
I mean you're just out camping.
And whaddaya know...?
Here we are again,
It's the end of the world again,
I lost my gun I found my gun I lost my gun again.
It's a good thing I
Can stand a little physical pain
Cause I get beat up kind of a lot before I fall in love and find a truck and take care of a kid and then lose everything again and smack the crap out of a bunch of teenage cannibals,
And while the cannibals scare me
The Christians scare me worse.
(Which should come as no surprise because...)
Here we are again,
It's the end of the world again,
I lost my gun I found my gun I lost my gun again.
I lost my gun I found my gun I lost my gun I found my gun I lost - somebody give me a Winchester!
I found my gun again.
What do you think? Downright anthemic, I'd say. I can't decide whether I sing it like Woody Guthrie or Kurt Cobain or Gang of Four, though.
The dour child dressed like a vaudeville tap dancer does not belong in the muddy woods.
In her tiara and satin flapper dress, she frowns at you accusingly before a scabby-looking canvas backdrop. Just about the only consolation for this displeased moppet is that her shiny Mary Janes do not actually have to touch the scattered dead leaves and packed dirt beneath her feet.
She is, of course, merely a figure in an amateurishly faked photograph.
Or maybe she is Olive, a girl who can levitate.
Pressia's world is a scary world. Eight years after the bombs went off, food and water are in short supply. Many of the inhabitants are mutated cannibalistic beasts. Infection is prevalent, due to the fact that most people have had objects or creatures blasted into their bodies during the nuclear cataclysm. And if you make it to age sixteen, as Pressia has just done, the militia is going to come in a truck and capture you.
Partridge, who lives inside the spick-and-span Dome that was constructed in advance of such a catastrophe, has his own worries. His brother has committed suicide, his mother is missing, presumed dead, having not made it into the Dome on the day of the bombs; and his autocratic father, one of the architects of the Dome plan, seems to be coming a bit unglued. Partridge comes to believe that his mother is Out There, and resolves to leave the Dome in order to find her in the ruined outside world.
And here we go.
This is Pure by Julianna Baggott, who writes under a number of names. Readers of kidlit will know her as N.E. Bode, author of The Anybodies, a fun, imaginative trilogy for middle grade readers. Grownups who like funny books about relationships (excuse me if I borrow from Netflix's increasingly lowbrow genre labels) may know Ms. Baggott's Bridget Asher books, like The Pretend Wife and The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted
Pure is Ms. Baggott's first sci-fi novel. It is long. It is weird. Fox 2000 has already bought the film rights. This review will contain a ton of spoilers, because a) I write my reviews for grownups selecting books for children, so I don't shy away from spoilers generally and b) there is no way for me to critique this book without them. Because I have issues with this book.