Nov 11, 2009

Love is the Higher Law

David Leviathan, Love is the Higher Law, 2009, Knopf.


Yeah, I know that September 11th was months ago. The only reason I’m talking about it now is that I picked up David Leviathan’s Love is the Higher Law on an impulse. At first I didn’t think I’d even want to read the book. It’s about teenagers living in New York City when the World Trade Center was destroyed, something which I didn’t need to relive (having been a teen myself at the time albeit in New England not NYC). But curiosity got the better of me.

Leviathan tells the story of three teens living in NYC who all have varying experiences of that day and the days and weeks afterwards. Yet the book is not so much about the events of that day as it is about how the teens are shaped by it, in the way that each generation is shaped by their own significant historical event. It is also feels like a bit of an ode to the brief period of time when we were in transition as a nation and a culture.

The book was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me. At one point a couple of the characters go to a Travis concert and the band is described thus “musically, they may be a blip on the Brit-pop radar—but in September 2001 they are big enough to sell out Radio City Music Hall” (81). It was amusing to me to read that since I remember thinking I was so indie for liking that band in high school. It also lead me to the question I now keep asking myself: whether Leviathan intended this book for those of us in our twenties who had our teenage world view interrupted by 9/11 or for those teens today who were still in elementary school when it occurred? I’m sure my reading of this work feels entirely different than someone who is a currently a teenager.

Has anyone else read this who was also in high school or college in 2001?

Happy Veteran's Day

Have no fear, although I've been silent for the past week or so, I most certainly have been continuing to read. I routinely raid both the YA sections of the library I work at and the library of the town I live in. Therefore this week will be mostly mini-reviews so I can keep track for both my own memory and your own interest.

L.M. Meyer, Rapture of the Deep: A Bloody Jack Adventure, 2009, Harcourt's Childrens Books.

Having left us with quite the cliffhanger at the end of My Bonny Light Horseman, Meyer returns delivering Jacky and her friends from a number of scrapes. Thankfully Jacky returns to the sea where she dives for sunken treasure and Jaimy is stationed on a ship only a stone's throw away. But things never do go smooth for Jacky and though we know she will come out on top in the end, Meyer doesn't fail to keep both his readers and characters on their toes.

A preposterous number of former villians and friends make cameos in this book which leads one to wonder if Meyer is planning on wrapping up the series anytime soon? I love good historical fiction, which this book is, although the author has a knack for placing Jacky in the most historically significant places with some of history's major players. As Jacky's story progresses so does the maturity level of the subject matter, placing this book squarely in the teen category as opposed to tweens.

Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire, 2009, Scholastic.

I'm going to tell you straight off the bat, I didn't like The Hunger Games. In fact, I'm known at my library for being one of the few staff members who wasn't raving about what a great book it was. Some of that had to do with the fact that I didn't realize it was the first book in a trilogy (I know, I know) and the main bit had to do with the fact that I felt there was no real climax to the story arc of the first book. Which means by now you're all wondering why I read the sequel if I didn't like the first one.

I read it because I wanted to see how Collins did on the second book. My verdict? SO much better than the first one. I honestly felt like she could have started the story here if it weren't for the fact that the first volume (of the background story) is in fact, fairly central to the plot. Since I imagine most of you have read this I'll spare you a lengthy summary. For those of you who haven't, it deals with the aftermath of the Games including Katniss' relationships with Peeta and Gale and the burgeoning rebellion against the Capitol. Some critics complained that the book was basically Katniss agonizing over which boy to choose. I don't agree. These were secondary to the larger plot of the rebellion and dare I say, symbols of the ongoing struggle in Katniss' mind of whether she should do what the Capitol wants her to do, or help the rebellion for which she has become a symbol.

Gayle Forman, If I Stay, 2009, Dutton Juvenile.

Mia is a high school senior who lives in Oregon with her parents and little brother. While she agonizes over many of the same decisions as other teens (where to go to college, who she is exactly, and what to do about her boyfriend when she graduates) it is only after a car crash takes the lives of her parents and leaves her in a coma that she finds herself having to make the decision between life and death. Mia's body is left in a coma while her spirit wanders the halls of the hospital spying on her loved ones, the nurses, the doctors, and complete strangers who inform her decision. We also see what life was like for Mia before the accident through flashbacks which give insight into her character's decision making process.

God, this book was absolutely heart-wrenching to read. By the end I was teared up if not on the verge of straight out crying. It is a difficult book to read, more so than 13 Reasons Why was a difficult book to read. Possibly because despite the beautiful writing the book is a downer. Yet I would say that this is probably one of the best books published this year. The characters felt true-to-life, even Mia's hipster parents rang true without seeming phony. Just be warned, you shouldn't read this book if you're already feeling low because it definitely isn't the kind of book that although depressing leaves you uplifted at the end.

Oct 26, 2009

The Halloween Tree

Today's post is inspired by the ladies over at The Hollow Tree, which is a great blog dealing with all things young adult fantasy. If you haven't been there already I highly suggest you check it out. This morning they were talking about the movie Hocus Pocus from 1993 which is one of my all-time-favorite Halloween movies. Which should come as no surprise since I clearly am kind of a wuss when it comes to horror (see my comments on Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist). Their post got me thinking about other great Halloween movies which are kid-friendly but also evoke the spirit of the holiday, and although generally most teens I know have moved on to the horror fright fests as their movie of choice for Halloween, I was never one of those. So in honor of those teens out there like me, I give you.

Bradbury, Ray. The Halloween Tree. (1993)

This is the cartoon movie version of Ray Bradbury's short-story of the same name. Directed by Mario Piluso who helped bring many of the best comics of the 1980s it tells the story of four friends who race through time to save their friend Pip's soul on Halloween night. The movie doesn't stray very far from Bradbury's original short story, so if you've read it there won't be very many surprises. What the movie does well is evoke the spookiness and sense of anything-is-possible that comes from the night when children roam the streets trick or treating and the spirits of the dead might just be out there alongside them.

The best parts of the movie are Ray Bradbury's narration and the fact that Leonard Nimoy does the voice of Moundshround. Unfortunately this movie is not available to buy on DVD and hard to find on VHS. You can, however, watch it on YouTube.

Of course, you could always just read the short-story. :)

Oct 23, 2009

Scary Reads

By the end of the day my box at work had two lovely books waiting for me to read this weekend. This more than made up for my having to physically restrain myself (almost) from reading the latest Bloody Jack Rapture of the Deep which just came in from B&T.

I have to admit to you that I did sneak a peek just to see if Jamie and Jackie would be thwarted or actually allowed to married . . . but no spoilers here.

Therefore this weekend I will be reading The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Warrior Girl in between forcing myself to finish The Monstrumologist which although I am only a couple chapters in has already made me consider putting it on my list of the scariest ya book I've read this year. That or the goriest.

What have you read (or are currently reading) that goes under your scary list?

Oct 22, 2009

Young Adult Reading Rooms!

Can I just talk about how much I love well-designed teen rooms?

Today I went to a workshop at a small public library in the south-western part of my state. Like many libraries in New England it was in a brick building that had been added on to in order to enlarge the library. They had a sizeable children's room which was comfortable, spacious, and bright but it was the teen room which I couldn't get over.

Granted it was a small space which probably wouldn't fit more than 15 teens at a time (and a tight squeeze at that) but the way it was designed and decorated made this aspiring teen librarian's day. Mainly because I'm a sucker for libraries that give teens their own seperate space--no matter what size.

So, like I said the space was on the small size but it was well-lit by a combination of overhead lights and a window. The bookshelves were on three of the walls with one long bookshelf sticking out to divide the space up. There were brightly patterned but not childish rugs on the floor along with comfortable cushions with backs for seating in addition to a sort of bar table for kids to sit at and do their homework. Mini-displays highlighting Teen Read Week and New YA Fiction along with movie posters on the wall finished off the room. And the room had full sight-lines from the reference desk.

It really made me happy to see because it was a creative use of a space that could have been turned into a storage area. But it also got me thinking about what is absolutely vital to a successful teen room?

Personally I think having a seperate area, whether it is open or enclosed is one of the most important if not the most important features of a teen room. Then I would say that having the young adult collection in the room, decorating with posters of popular culture (music, movies, or even anime), as well as having comfortable and attractive seating are the next most important factors to a successful teen room.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get pictures since I forgot my camera, but I'll bring it with me next week and post some up for you to see.

Oct 21, 2009

The Treasure Map of Boys

I made a library run yesterday and came out with 3 of the books on my 'to-read' list. Namely, The Treasure Map of Boys, The Monstrumologist and The Waters, The Wild. Since I've got a workshop tomorrow I thought I'd sneak in a review.

E. Lockhart, The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch, Gideon--and me, Ruby Oliver, 2009, Delacorte Press.

Ruby Oliver is doing well dealing with the events of the past year and a half which left her with a stolen boyfriend, a group of former best friends, and the not-so-pleasant experience of panic attacks. With her two friends Megan and Nora at her side Ruby is living her life the best way she knows how while making the normal mistakes of a heterosexual teenage girl. But things never go smoothly for Ruby and a slew of events leave her questioning what makes a good friend, what kind of boy is worth the trouble, and how to count her treasures.

Despite the prominence of her visits to her therapist, Ruby is not a neurotic character and if it were not for her panic attacks I would have questioned why she needed these visits in the first place. Instead they help serve to move Ruby forward as a character, pointing out her flaws in an objective and safe manner (as opposed to the way her peers deal with her). As for her focus on boys, it is a healthy amount that doesn't turn the book into a romance nor does it make her character come across as boy-crazy. Ruby's relationships with her two girl friends feel real even with their topical slang.

I hadn't read the previous two books about Ruby Oliver, so I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to pick this third one up. Instead of making new readers feel that they had to go back to read the first two in order to figure out what happened, E. Lockhart included enough information for new readers to have sufficient background without making those familiar with the story have to sit through a rehashing of the first two books. That was a relief as formulaic first chapters were a hallmark of the series I read as a tween--most notably The Babysitters Club. Young adult fiction is better without them despite the comfort of knowing what will probably happen.

Oct 19, 2009

Days of Little Texas

R.A. Nelson, Days of Little Texas, 2009, Knopf.

Ronald Earl is a 16-year old boy who has been a preacher on the tent-revival circuit since he was a child. Known as Little Texas, Ronald has a gift for preaching and faith-healing. After a nearly-dead girl in a blue dress named Lucy is brought to him at a revival Ronald begins to see her everywhere the Church of the Hand stops. The trouble is Lucy shows up in places and at times when she couldn't possibly be there. So what is Lucy, exactly?

Meanwhile Ronald isn't entirely sure he wants to continue preaching, despite his gift for it. He longs to live a life more ordinary with school on the weekdays and church on Sundays. Not to mention he doesn't know how to deal with girls his own age, let alone women. This, combined with the mystery of Lucy come to a head when his guardian Miss Wanda Joy decides that it is time for him to begin his adult ministry by preaching on an island where legend has it the devil swept away the last man to dare hold a revival there.

It took me a while to get into this book, not because I found it to be slow-paced or badly written but rather because I can be a tiny bit neurotic about evangelical Christianity. Once I got over that I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book which tells an evangelical Christian ghost story (despite the oxymoron in that statement as aparently evangelical Christians don't believe in ghosts). The main character Ronald is not a stereotype of a devout Christian: while the book is heavy on biblical references, proverbs, psalms, and quotations Ronald is a teenage boy who is tackling some of the same more earthly challenges of growing up. The supporting characters are well-drawn out and memorable; they too are neither sinners nor saints but humans who are faithful though flawed.

I'm not sure how teens will receive this book. If they are like me in their neurosis re: christianity than they may be slightly too prejudiced to continue on and realize how much religion is central to the book and yet the book itself is not meant to be an evangelical tool. While I keep hammering home that a central motif of this book is religion, I think it is more truthful to say that it examines the difference between religion and faith. And I have to ask myself, if the book had been a ghost story of another religious tradition or Christian sect would I have been so bothered by the bible tie-ins?

Oct 13, 2009

What I Saw and How I Lied

Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied, 2008, Scholastic.

At last, a book that might just deserve its award.


Queens, NY.

Evie, who has never known her biological father and grew up in the shadow of her mother longs for the day when she can be considered a 'grown-up' (which means being able to wear lipstick and smoke cigarettes). At the same time she is adjusting to life in post-World War II America where rations are a distant memory and her stepfather Joe Spooner is a living breathing prescence instead of words on a page.

When Joe whisks Evie and her mother off to Florida even though the school year has just begun, Evie doesn't see anything suspicious about this. Nor does she see anything fishy about the arrival at the hotel of Peter Coleridge, a handsome ex-GI who served in the same postwar company as Joe. Evie, of course falls in love with Peter and pursues him to her mother's displeasure. At the same time there is an undercurrent of tension and mystery despite the friendship of the Spooners, Coleridge, and the Graysons' (a couple her parents become friends with at the hotel). Instead the stage is being set for lust, murder, and betrayal, all of which leave Evie having to confront what really happened and who she needs to protect.

While it was not immediately obvious I don't think it was difficult to see where the story was going and how it would end. I loved that the plot had echoes of film-noir mystery and Old Hollywood glamour. Evie herself is a likeable protagonist whose difficult choices evoke the sympathy of readers. But what I liked the most is that the book dispells the notion that after World War II the soldiers came home, picked up their lives, moved to the suburbs, gave birth to the Baby Boomers and all was well and good. Instead the author takes the time to point out the hypocrisy that a country which helped close concentration camps would allow anti-Semitism to exist on its own soil. Fortunately this is done in a thought-provoking and subtle way without pounding you over the head but letting you draw your own opinion. The author also explores the lengths we go to protect the ones we love.

Overall, an excellent read and I understand why the book won the National Book Award for Young Adults.

Straight Science Fiction

Last week while I was sitting at the Circulation Desk a teenage girl came up to me and asked for help finding a science fiction book to read. The kicker was, her teacher absolutely refused to accept anything but straight science fiction and absolutely, positively NO crossovers into such genres as horror or fantasy. This left me scratching my head for a minute.

Which it shouldn't have.

I mean how many of you automatically thought of Douglas Adam's Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game? Because I didn't. At least not at first.

Fortunately I'm not the only one at my library who reads books from the young adult section; my co-worker S. happened to overhear the girl and suggested those, along with a couple others: practically anything Scott Westerfeld, Mary E. Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and a couple of ones from the adult section which I don't remember now.

The girl ended up checking out Westerfeld's Uglies and I was left with the realization that here was a genre amongst Young Adult Fiction which I was sorely lacking in experience. This is something which must be remedied so I'm asking whoever is out there to send your recommendations my way. It doesn't have to be 'straight science fiction' as this girls stubborn teacher was insisting (so it can have cross-over appeal) but it does have to be written for or something that appeals to a young adult audience.

I can't wait to hear your recommendations!

Oct 1, 2009

13 Reasons Why

13reasonswhy Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why, 2009, Razorbill.

Hannah Baker committed suicide. But not before she left behind 13 tapes explaining exactly what and who it was that drove her to make the decision to die. Clay, who had a crush on Hannah, is one of the so-called “Baker’s dozen” [13 people] to receive the tapes with the command to listen and pass them on, lest their sins be revealed to a much larger audience. The problem is, he doesn’t belong on this list. Or does he?

In this work Jay Asher forces us to acknowledge the difficult truth of many teen suicides: it was not the individuals alone which brought them to that point. The tapes of Hannah Baker go completely against the usual psycho-babble which we are often treated to when someone kills them self (“It was no one’s fault”). Instead his protagonist has no trouble making sure those responsible know exactly what part they played in her decision.

Books dealing with suicide can be tough ground to cover in the young adult literature world. Part of this is because the topic is often one which teens are all too familiar with; which is not to say that people (parents, educators, librarians) should work themselves into a frenzy thinking that all teens are suicidal. These books are also difficult to write because they can all too easily become preachy works which end with the requisite supplemental material where *you can find help*.

Yet Asher has succeeded with a book that leaves the reader feeling every bit as voyeuristic as you imagine the characters must feel listening to Hannah measure out blame. The message is not an upbeat one—but one could hardly expect that from a work dealing with teen suicide. What it succeeds in doing, most poignantly at the end, is in reminding us that sometimes even the smallest dramas have larger repercussions. A fact which cannot be understated when dealing with teens.

A short review to whet your YA fiction reading appetites.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah (NY: Orchard Books, 2007).

This book reminded me a LOT of Looking for Alibrandi [by Melinda Marchetta] because 1.) it's about living with a hyphenated identity as a teen; 2.) it takes place in Australia; and 3.) There is a crazy old lady who ultimately teaches the main character, Amal, a lesson about life by revealing her own big secret.

The plot centers around Amal, an eleventh grader who decides to take up the practice of wearing hijab (a head-scarf in her case) to demonstrate her faith, and the reactions of family, friends, and strangers that ensue, thereby causing her to rethink many aspects of her own life in addition to who she thinks she is.

While Amal’s exploits do not even remotely resemble those of the often, shall I say over-exposed teen in some ya fiction, her sense of ethics feels authentic. I also appreciated the frank discussion of the importance of faith in her life without it becoming too preachy nor something that teens who do not practice her religion (or any at all) cannot relate to.

Sep 30, 2009

I'm back! With my degree and only a part-time job in hand, mind you, but new reviews will be forthcoming.