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Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grant

Front Cover Blurb: In this war, there are only two outcomes: victory or madness

A young man sits in a room in a mental hospital, occasionally he will utter a few words, including the word berserk, over and over again.  His brother, Noah, can’t believe what has happened to him – and so quickly.

A young lady, Sadie, looks at her watch in a stadium as she wonders when the longest date ever will end.  In one of the most jaw dropping action scenes I have read in a while, Sadie sits while an airplane crashes onto the field and kills almost everyone in attendance.  Sadie survives, but this is the catalyst that changes her life forever.

They both are about to go berserk.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6xIPGOUJGU]

Noah and Sadie are drawn into an unseen war that is happening everyday right around us.  That man you see sitting on the park bench staring into space – he may be a part of it.  Those teenagers you think are playing video games – they may be a part of it it.  There are two sides to this war.  One side is fighting for your freedom; for the right for mankind to think and feel and for each person to make their own decisions.  Yes, those rights are messy and we seem to keep screwing everything up by making the wrong decisions – but would you want that right taken away from you? The other side now has the technology to rewire your brain and create a hive mind to create a peaceful society.  This war is being fought right in front of you, on the nano level, and the stakes are high.

BZRK by Michael Grant is science fiction at its best; it looks at emerging technologies and makes us think about the implications they may present.  We may have the means to create peace, but does the end justify the means? Is freedom something worth fighting for, even when that means that people will continue to make wrong choices?

In this war, there are two competing types of technology: nanobots and biots.  Biots are an advance in nanotechnology in that some dna material from the controlling individual are used to grow the biots. The biots then become an extension of the self.  When something happens to the biots, its “parent” can slip into madness.  Once you sign up for this war, there is no turning back.  There is no out.  The nano technology presents some good discussion of science as the reader “sees” into parts of the human body on a level that we haven’t before.  Humans, it turns out, are their own unique ecosystems teeming with various forms of life that we host.  I found this part of the discussion incredibly fascinating.

There are a wide variety of characters in this war, including older teens Noah (who takes the codename Keats) and Sadie (who takes the codename Plath).  They both have lost loved ones to the war and are looking for answers – and revenge. In addition to a wide variety of other characters, BZRK has one of the most amazingly fantastic (and creepy) bad guys. Ever. I am not even going to spoil that one for you.

Overall this was an excellent and interesting sci fi thriller that pleases. It is challenging at first to learn some of the lingo unique to this verse (there is a handy guide in the back of the book) and to keep the various characters straight, especially since some of them adopt codenames.  Also, since this work contains such a wide variety of characters – some of whom are adults – it shifts in tone and that shift can sometimes take you out of the story for a moment.  That shift also makes it harder for the reader to build relationships with any of the characters, but this is not a character driven work.  Librarians will also want to be aware that there is some adult content.  This read is definitely for older teens as it is a sophisticated and challenging read, but ultimately satisfying.

BZRK has some of the most amazing action scenes and as a thriller it does indeed thrill. It does, however, pose some serious questions along the way that will provide thought for some good discussions regarding science and ethics, free will, etc. One of the underlying conflict themes is that the ends justify the means.  BZRK takes some of the same questions that we ask in today’s popular dystopian novels and makes them more real by putting them in the here and the now.  It becomes less speculative and more urgent: what if we could use nanotechnology and create a Utopian society, should we?  At what cost? And who gets to decide?

BZRK is also an excellent example of the emerging transmedia trend.  You don’t just read the book, you can experience it online.  There is even an app.  You’ll want to explore gobzrk.

Michael Grant is the author of the popular Gone series and fans will not be disappointed. You will also want to recommend this to fans of Michael Crichton and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or readers looking for some good old fashioned science fiction and technological thrillers.  This will also be a good readalike for those interested in books about video gaming.  And, although it is not dystopian, dystopian fans should like it because it is similar in theme (but lacks some of the character development).  Highly recommended.

For a look at my thoughts while reading the book, check out this earlier post.
For more information on transmedia, check out the Digital Shift, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly.
Michael Grant discusses BZRK in Wired

Read The Mr.’s Second Opinion

ALA Midwinter Highlights, The ARCs (March 2012)

Although ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) are not the main point of ALA (there is so much to see and learn there, see my previous post), it is interesting to get a look firsthand at some of the books being released in the upcoming year for teens.  Many of us are operating on limited budgets (I know I am) and need to make every dollar spent count.  We are looking for popular but well written titles that will get teens reading and keep them coming back for more. We are also looking to develop a balanced collection that meets the very wide variety of needs and interests out there.  Here is a look at some of the books set for March 2012 release dates that I learned about at ALA. This does not, in any way, cover all the titles coming to you in March, and I will be reviewing some of the titles more fully for you throughout the course of the year.

March 2012

Me, and Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Back cover blurb: “A Funny, Profane, Heartbreaking Debut Novel” – You, hopefully
First lines: So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks.
In just a brief overview, I can tell you that this title is witty and clever.  It includes a note from the author that says, “I have no idea how to write this stupid book.”  And that first line is indeed a grabber, and a premise that is hard to argue with. Although I only browsed through this title, it is clever and witty and is fun. The dying girl mentioned is a senior with cancer, so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception this book gets in the year of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I will definitely be reading this one.

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

Cover blurb: “A discovery, a rare bird, a Book You Want to Tell Everyone About. Everyone: Read Wonder Show and pass it on.” – Laini Taylor
First lines: Wayward can mean a lot of things. It can mean lost, misled, unfortunate, left behind. That is the way the girls at The Home thought of themselves, despite their best efforts to live some other way.
Portia joins at traveling freakshow to escape Mister, who said he would always find Portia.  I love the back cover description of this book:
Oh, it’s not for the faint-of-heart folks. If you’re prone to nightmares or you’ve a weak ticker, you’d best move on. Within these pages lies a tale of abandonment, loss, misfortune for the rich, and glory for the poor (and a little murder doesn’t hurt). It’s a story for the ages, but be warned: once you enter the Wonder Show, you will never be the same.

This title has an eye-catching cover and the back cover is sure to draw readers in. And who can argue with Laini Taylor?

Traitor’s Son (The Raven Duet, book 2) by Hilari Bell
Cover blurb: When Jason catches the small bag that a girl throws to him at the Canadian/Alaska bordering during a gun fight. all he can this is the bag must contain drugs. But if the small, brown powder is some sort of illegal substance, it’s certainly nothing he’s ever seen.
First lines: Raven felt the change in the catalyst the moment the pouch left the girl’s hand, so sharply that he feared she’d died.
It’s hard to imagine going wrong with Hilari Bell, and if you already have book 1 and it circulates for you then you will definitely want book 2.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
Back cover blurb: Wahoo Cray’s life is a zoo – literally.
First lines: Mickey Cray has been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head.
Honestly, how can you go wrong with Carl Hiaasen? I feel like that is all I need to say here. But I will give you more . . . Chomp is the tale of Wahoo, the son of Mickey Cray, professional animal wrangle.  The two of them set off to the Everglades to film a show called Expedition Survival where they are joined by  Tuna, a girl who is sporting a shiner courtesy of her dad.  Will any of them survive this Everglade adventure?  Hiaasen can always be counted on for warm and witty with lots of animal adventures thrown in and you’ll probably by this title based on name recognition alone.

One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson
Cover blurb: All Hal had ever wanted was a dog . . .
First lines: All Hal had ever wanted was a dog.
This book is really for the tween market; the main character is Hal, who is ten years old.  There is not a lot of information on the back cover (the cover blurb is it), but the first few pages were a nice easy read and will probably fit the bill for kids loving for animal stories. Eva Ibbotson is a New York Times bestselling author.

The Paradise Trap by Catherine Jinks
Back cover blurb: Open a door . . . into the paradise trap!
First lines: Marcus didn’t want to spend his summer vacation at the beach. He wasn’t a beach person.
Catherine Jinks is the author of Evil Genius, which is a good read, and The Reformed Vampire Support Group.  Here she weaves another tale that is dark and twisted.  When his parents buy a trailer, Marcus knows it will be a horrible vacation.  But when Marcus opens a door in the basement, he finds a door to a land that may be his most amazing dream, or his worst nightmare. If you are familiar with Catherine Jinks work you know that she does dark and edgy with a sarcastic twist with excellence.  If you are not familiar with Catherine Jink – well, why not? But seriously, this has a good premise and should be a fun, adventurous read. The cover picture skews younger ya.

The Fairy Ring: or Elsi and Frances Fool the World (a true story) by Mary Losure

Back cover blurb: This is a true story about Frances, age nine, who saw fairies by the waterfall behind her house.
First lines: For as long as she could remember, Frances’s parents had told her stories about England. But when she got there, the real England wasn’t like the stories at all.

In 1917, two young girls took pictures claiming to have seen fairies. These photographs, known as the Cottingly fairies, are considered one of the world’s greatest hoaxes.  These photographs captured the attention of the world, including the famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Here, Mary Losure looks at a variety of real world sources, including some primary sources, to tell the tale from the two young girls point of view.  This is delightful nonfiction; easy to read, tells a story that will interest a variety of reader’s from a variety of angles, and definitely is a currently popular topic – fairies are everywhere.  There are some photos scanned into the book, including the very fairy photos themselves.  This book should be popular and fly off the shelves.

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner
Back cover blurb: In this fast-paced dystopian adventure, kids must find a way to stop killer tornadoes.
First lines: There are no words to describe this sound.
This is a unique twist on the dystopian novels that adds killer storms into the mix; there is a definite interest in storms and natural disasters among tweens and young teens in some of the popular fiction being released lately – think the Storm Runners series for example.  In this future, the world is being torn apart by storms and Jaden Meggs is sent to live with her father for the summer.  His research is part of the plan to help protect the future, but Jaden learns a terrible secret about his research.  As a huge tornado approaches their safe haven, Jaden must decide what she is going to do with the knowledge that she has and whether or not she can stand up to her father.  There is a definite emphasis on science and Jaden is presented as a young girl with a strong passion and mind for science, that always makes a book a plus.

Dead is a Battlefield by Marlene Perez
Back cover blurb: A favorite series is back – with a brand new heroine who can kick butt.
First lines: I took a deep breath before I pushed open the door of Slim’s Diner.
Jessica Walsh just wants to have a normal high school experience, but if you know about Nightshade you know that is probably not going to happen. For starters, the new guy at school doesn’t just make girls swoon, he seems to turn them into zombies. She also is sporting a wicked new tattoo – that suddenly appeared without her consent – that alerts her to trouble.  Is Jessica supposed to be Nightshade’s newest hero? This is a fun series and the newest entry shouldn’t disappoint.  They have fabulous eye-catching covers that definitely maintain a consistent brand and appeal to teen readers.

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington
Back cover blurb: It starts with a whisper. “It’s time for you to know who you are . . .”
First lines: Birthdays aren’t my thing.
Violet Eden is having a very bad 17th birthday the back cover says.  When she dreams, she wakes up with real injuries.  She has just been told that she is only half human.  The evidence seems to suggest that this book, which is the first in a new series, is about angels (currently popular in teen fiction).  BUT, before you write this book off as another angel series (think Fallen by Lauren Kate or Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick), you should know that out of all the more than 50 ARCs I brought back from ALA this was the first one my husband picked up to read.  He stayed up all night reading it (in the words of James Patteson, is was unputdownable – the Mr. said it was definitely worth staying up for) and said it was “very good” (this is high praise coming from him). When pressed, he gave it a 9 out of 10 and said that he was looking forward to reading the next book in the series (He actually said ask them to send the second book and I told him we did not do those things, it was bad form; he will learn).  He said it was “well developed” and “believable”. The cover is eye-catching, the topic is hot, and the Mr., who is an intense critic, recommends it. This is a must have. 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wckF97bQt_8]

As I mentioned, these are not full reviews but brief overviews to help you make some informed decisions with your purchasing budgets.  Full reviews for some titles will be coming.

Tomorrow: my review of BZRK by Michael Grant

Girl Meets Boy Blog Tour – and Contest!

I am very excited to introduce you to this creative and interesting work of short stories edited by Kelly Milner Halls.  Every story has two sides, right?  So what happened when Kelly Milner Halls asked 12 authors to write short stories that each told one side of parallel stories?  You get Girl Meets Boy. Learn how you can win a sopy signed by all 12 authors after the jump.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLF0Su9PNMM]

Girl Meets Boy tells 6 stories from both the boys and the girls point of view; to make it even more fun – a popular guy author writes the girls side of the story and a popular girl author writes the boys side of the story.  How they met, first kisses, and more.  It’s all there, every triumph and heartbreak that happens when Girl Meets Boy.

·         The good-looking jock who falls for a dangerous girl never learns to be loved
·         A basketball star and the artistic (and shorter) boy she never knew she wanted
·         A gay boy looking for love online and the girl who could help make it happen
Advance Praise:
 « “A superb offering” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Passionate” – Booklist
“A thoughtful collection” – Publishers Weekly

The authors in this book include: Chris Crutcher and Kelly Milner Halls (book editor), James Howe and Ellen Wittlinger, Rita William-Garcia and Terry Trueman, Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith, Terry Davis and Rebecca Fjelland Davis, and Sarah Ryan and Randy Powell.

You and your teens can enter to win a copy of this book signed by all 12 authors! All you need to do is tweet (@TLT16, #the2012project), upload to the TLT Facebook wall, or e-mail me (kjensenmls@yahoo.com) a picture of your teens holding their favorite books.  These pics will be used as part of The 2012 Project.  No names will be included to protect everyone’s privacy.  One winner will be randomly drawn.  Contest runs January 29th – February 14th.

So celebrate what happens when Girl Meets Boy, when boy meets girl, and when everyone meets book (including this fabulous read).

Here is everything you wanted to know about Girl Meets Boy, including some additional contest opportunities on Wattpad.

Girl Meets Boy discussion guide
Girl Meets Boy excerpt
Girl Meets Boy on Kelly Milner Halls website (a compilation of reviews can be found here)

Wattpad Contest
The Girl Meets Boy writing contest is now live on Wattpad!

Wattpad is featuring the guy’s side of the story, and inviting their members to write same scene from the girl’s perspective. Stories should be no more than 300 words long, and the deadline is February 8th. Winners will be announced on February 14th.
One Grand Prize winner will get:
·         A copy of Girl Meets Boy signed by all 12 contributors
·         A critique of 25 pages of writing by editor Kelly Milner Halls
·         A 30-minute Skype consultation with Kelly
·         A copy of Kelly’s favorite how-to book on writing
Four runners-up will win a copy of Girl Meets Boy signed by all 12 contributors
Next stop on the Boy Meets Girl blog tour: The Story Siren

The TLT Girl Meets Boy contest is open to teens and their favorite teen librarians. One winner will be drawn by random to win a copy of Girl Meets Boy edited by Kelly Milner Halls and signed by all 12 authors. Deadline for entries is February 14, 2012. The 2012 Project, however, will run through all of 2012.  Look for other fun contests throughout the year as we try to reach our goal of 2,012 pictures of teens reading and using their library in 2012.

TPIB: Project Fashion

True confessions: I am a fan of Project Runway and have been watching it for yours exclaiming – this would be a great teen program, except for the part about the sewing.  But I have mulled over in my head for years and kept thinking someday, maybe.  Then they produced Project Accessory, which suddenly becomes a much more realistic program goal.

The first question we ask ourselves when designing a program is what should it look like; although I certainly think you could have this as a one time program, I think it would work better as a series.  The benefit to having a program series is that you capture and keep teen interests over a period of time, keep your library programming out in the public eye, and you get time to try and build relationships with teens for the future.

In my mind, I see this as a series of 4 events with each event ending in a fashion show.  You could determine a winner at that time or broaden your audience by taking pictures and allowing online voting.

Challenge 1: Accessories
Simply provide a variety of beads and beading “stuff” (I am sure that is the technical term) and let teens be creative.  You can be as specific or as general as you want to be.  On the more general end the challenge is simply create 3 unique accessories of your choice.  On the more specific end you ask them to make accessories to complement an outfit or an event (say, prom).  Or you can name the specific types of pieces you would like them to make: a necklace, a bracelet, a hair piece, for example.  Don’t forget that you can make paper beads out of discarded magazines and manga!

Challenge 2: Shoe alterations
Through places such as Oriental Trading, you can buy make your own flip flop kits.  You can also buy them at most craft stores.  You can glue gemstones, tie pieces of cloth, etc. to create a unique flip flop look.  Or you can use white canvas shoes (think white Keds) and provide fabric markers and gemstones.  Flip flops are obviously on the less expensive end of the scale.

Make fluffy flip flops
Make your own flip flops from a yoga mat
DIY Diva Flip Flops

Challenge 3: The bag
There are a wide variety of ways that you can challenge teens to make handbags.  Some of them involve cutting old jeans (which you could cut and sew beforehand and then just provide the elements to decorate).  Or you can buy a variety of canvas tote or nylon drawstring bags at the craft store for teens to decorate and embellish.  To make blue jean purses, I recommend buying jeans at a place like Salvation Arm and doing any sewing before the event to keep costs down; this also helps with the issue of having access to enough sewing machines.

How to make a Jean purse

Challenge 4: The modified t-shirt
There are tons of ideas online and in our collections for ways to modify t-shirts, often without even involving any sewing.  The most basic would involve fabric markers, non mess tie dye with permanent markers, bedazzling and cutting and tying.

Here are some examples of no-sew t-shirt modification
Generation T is a blog dedicated to t-shirt design ideas (and there are great books to go along with the site that I hope you have in your library collection)
Wren’s T-shirts also has some good examples
T-shirt surgery

You can include some unique variations like: Make Steampunk jewelry, Make a futuristic (science fiction) look, Summer fun fashions (flip flops, hats, beach bags, and sunglasses), and my personal favorite – zombie fashions (deconstruct clothing to make it look like you are a zombie and do zombie make-up). Guys can do it to: they can make studded collars and cuffs and flip flops, for example.  You could also make cell phone bling, zipper pulls and pet fashions.

Shredded ends, strategically placed cuts and tears and some red paint make a t-shirt look like a zombie shirt

Sellers Library did a Project Runway event using trash bags and duct tape – genius!

Getting Prepared for the Program:
You’ll want to spend some time outlining what specific projects you will want to do before you get your publicity together.  You’ll want to do registration, either single or in teams, to make sure you have enough supplies on hand.  The specific challenges you choose will greatly influence your cost, so I would mix and match to keep cost at a reasonable level.

Running the Event:
I would recommend having each specific session run for an hour and a half.  During the first hour teens can make their fashions and then during the last half hour you can have the runway show.  I would make the runway show open to other teens and provide refreshments.  And as I mentioned, I would also take pictures of the runway show to allow for online voting.  Then, the next week, you could announce who was eliminated (if you choose to go the elimination route) and announce the next challenge.  I don’t know that you have to eliminate each week, you could just have a weekly “winner” and then choose an overall winner if you so chose.

If you have some great craft ideas that would be fun for a project fashion event, please share it with us in the comments. Also, please share if you have done this type of an event: how did you set it up? What activities did you do? And do share pictures please!

The 2012 Printz Award Winners

Sometime this week I think they announced the Oscar nominees, but what is even more important is that Monday at ALA Midwinter they announced the Michael L. Printz Award winners.  The Printz Award is awarded yearly for excellence in young adult literature.  These are the best of the best as chosen by a committee of young adult librarians who spend the year reading everything.  This year there was one main award winner and four honor books chosen.  You can get complete information about the titles at the ALA Youth Media Awards website.

This year’s winner is Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.  This is his first novel and he is also the winner of the William C. Morris award which honors the work of an author previously unpublished.

Please feel free to use the following graphic on your websites or in your teen area to help get the word out to your teens about the 2012 Printz Award Winners.

ALA Midwinter Highlights: The ARCs (January and February)

On Monday I shared with you things I loved and learned at the ALA Midwinter exhibits. Today, I share with you the best part of ALA – the ARCs (Advanced Reader’s Copy).  So this is not the world’s longest blog post ever, today we will cover titles set to be released in January or February of 2012.  Other attendees got different arcs (Pandemonium *cough cough*) because it depends on what time of day you visit and other factors so I recommend that you visit other blogs throughout the year to get reviews of upcoming titles.  The February 2012 edition of VOYA has a list of recommended blogs so that is a good place to start.  Some that you will definitely want to keep an eye on include Girls in the Stacks and the YA Bookshelf.  Stay tuned here, too, because I will be reviewing my ARCs in order of release date (and bringing you updates about teen issues, programming, marketing and more.)  These next few posts will just be an overview of the ARCs I received for your enjoyment.

January 2012

Pure Love, Pure Life: Exploring God’s Heart on Purity by Elsa Kok Colopy (Zondervan)
Since this is published by Zondervan, you know right off the bat that it has a Christian message, which in this case is sexual purity. This is aimed at older teens so it is filled with a lot of information, stories and discussion questions.  There are no pretty pictures or sidebars to catch one’s eye; it’s focus is on really digging into the meet of the issue and making you think. At the end of each chapter there are a list of discussion/journal questions.

The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister) by Kami Kinard (Scholastic)
Cover blurb: “I, Katie McAllister, will change my image before the end of the school year. By ‘change my image’ I mean ‘get a boyfriend.’ And I know exactly how I’m going to do it . . . “
First line: I am starting this experiment because I have no choice.
With an appealing cover and some fun internal elements (such as note cards, quizzes, notes, etc.), this title should appeal to readers.  I haven’t read the entire work so I can’t give you a definitive go for it, but the first few chapters have a catchy tone to them, an authentic voice in the narrator and just enough spunk that this should be a success.  It definitely capitalizes on the inclusion of visual elements we see in titles like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and fans of that will probably like this title as well.

In Darkness by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)
Cover blurb: A stunning tour-de-force set in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake
Opening line: “I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.”
The earthquake in question takes place in Haiti.  There is a note to the reader from the author at the beginning that discusses his response to the Haitian earthquake and claims that little in the book is made up.  A brief browse through the book makes it clear that this is a look at light versus darkness, hope versus despair and how in the midst of darkness one can in fact find hope.  At the end of the author’s note he writes: But we’ve all been in darkness, so we all know the other side of it – that sometimes, afterwards, there is light.  There are not a lot of titles on the topic of Haiti so on that basis alone it seems like it would be a good multicultural addition.  It will be interesting to read.

Fracture by Megan Miranda (Walker & Company)
Back cover description: A lot can happen in eleven minutes.  Decker can run two miles easily in eleven minutes.  I once wrote an English essay in ten. No lie. And God knows Carson Levine can talk a girl out of her clothes in half that time.  Eleven minutes might as well be eternity under water.  It only takes three minutes without air for loss of consciousness. Permanent brain damage begins at four minutes. And then, when the oxygen runs out, full cardiac arrest occurs. Death is possible at five minutes. Probably at seven. Definite at ten. Decker pulled me out at eleven.
First line: The first time I died, I didn’t see God.
To be honest, I can’t wait to read this one.

The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis (Amulet Books)
Back cover blurb: A good girl. A bad boy. A fairy tale that’s true. A truth that is no fairy tale.
First line: Blood. There is blood everywhere.
This is the story of a boy named Abel, who is raising his 6-year-old sister by himself. Anna is drawn to him and the tale he tells about an orphan queen with a diamond heart.  As Abel weaves people into his story, they begin to turn up dead.  Fairy tale themes are popular right now.

Winterling by Sarah Prineas (Harper Collins Childrens)
Cover blurb: “Simmering magic and enchanting adventure. A mischievous delight” Ingrid Law, author of Savvy and Scumble
First line: The dog fled. He raced down a shadowy forest trail lit by the full moon.
This is a fantasy tale where a young woman named Fer discovers an “enchanting, dangerous land” through her reflecting pool.

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff (G. Putnam’s Sons)
Cover blurb: What if God were a teenage boy?
First line: Oh glorious, most glorious glorious! And yet again glorious!
Meg Rosoff is the Printz Award winner from her previous work, How I Live Now.  This is the tale of Bob, a teenage boy who also happens to be the creator of heaven and earth.  It is also the story of Lucy, who works at the zoo and has a sunny disposition.  One day Bob sees Lucy walking in complete joy and he knows that he must have her. Bob’s assistant, Mr. G., thinks this is a horrible idea because when Bob falls in love, people die.  When his heart breaks and he sheds tears, cities tend to flood.
I read a portion of this book and it is well written and interesting, but I am not sure how people who believe in a God, any God, will react to the premise.  It will be interesting to see how it all wraps up.  It is definitely for more mature, sophisticated teen readers because of the storytelling mechanism and the frank sexual discussion.

The Catastrophic History of You & Me by Jess Rothenberg (Dial Books)
Cover blurb: Brie’s life ends at sixteen: Her boyfriend tells her he doesn’t love her, and the news breaks her heart – literally.
First line: There’s always that one guy who a hold on you.
Based on the description, it seems that this book employs the narrative devise used in If I Stay by Gayle Forman or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold where the narrator, Brie, is looking down from heaven after her death. The book begins by a quote from a song by Ani DiFranco and every chapter title is a song lyric. The cover is stunning and this is on the top of my “to read” pile.

Irises by Francisco X. Stork (Arthur A. Levine Books)
Cover blurb is an excerpt from the story itself
First line: Kate had finally agreed to pose under the willow tree.
Irises is the story of two sisters, Mary and Kate, who are bound together by a mother who lays in a permanent vegetative state.  The two struggle to find ways to survive and their lives are influenced by 3 separate men. From the description this looks to be a tale about growing up and making important life decisions with some discussion of quality of life.

February 2012

BZRK by Michael Grant (Edgmont)
Cover blurb: Warning: Possession of this material could put you in grave danger.  It contains revelations about a secret high-stakes game – some might call it a war – for control of your brain.
First line: A girl sat just three chairs down from Noah talking to her hand.

BZRK by Michael Grant is a transmedia experience; you can read the book, but there is tons of online content that you will want to check out that enhances the story.  There is even an app you can buy (I have not done so yet so I can’t comment).  I am 160 pages into this book and have some mixed feelings about it: On the one hand, it is great to be reading a more traditional science fiction story. No dystopian future, just advances in modern day technology (in this case nanotechnology) and what it means for contemporary society.  On the other hand, this book has a wide variety of main characters, some of whom are teens and some of whom are adults, and at times it reads like a book written for teens and at other times it reads more like an adult novel. The change can sometimes be disconcerting.  Given some of the adult content, this is definitely for older teens (and adults will also love it).  Grant just jumps right into the story so it takes a while to figure out what some of the terminology means, but it is a compelling read so you want to know and keep reading.  At the heart of BZRK there are two competing factions using various forms of nanotechnology (nanos and biots) to fight for their cause.  One side wants to create a type of insect like hive mind that will result in peace among humans, the other side values the concept of free will (in all of its messy glory).  There are some profound discussions to be had in the pages of this book about science, ethics, free will and more. This book also has one of the most disturbing bad guys I have ever encountered and I appreciated a lot of the creepy elements they brought to the story. Also, this has some of the best opening chapters that I have read in a while; I may not have fully understood yet what was happening, but I was hanging on the edge of my seat to find out more.  This truly is a great example of the emerging transmedia trend in books so you will want to look into for that reason alone.  Full review coming soon, but Michael Grant is a great author (he is the author of the Gone series) and he is not disappointing so far.  Put this book into the hands of Michael Crichton and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card fans.

More about BZRK
Weekly articlePublisher’s
A Q&A at Eleusinian Mysteries
A Youtube Sneak Peek
An you definitely need to check out the official GoBZRK site.  There is an app you can buy that goes along with the book.

Read more about transmedia in School Library Journal

And yes, yes I did only get one arc for the month of February. Next: March (there are so many it has to be its own post) and the Girl Meets Boy giveaway (begins January 29th).

Teen Issues: Having a Child with a Chronic Health Issue

In the February 2012 edition of VOYA, I write an article about food allergies and teens. In it I share that my passion for this topic began because I am the mother of a toddler with severe food allergies that cause her chronic health issues.  One of her symptoms is chronic, silent reflux.  Silent reflux is GERD disease, she basically has heartburn so severe that she can’t sleep through the night.  Sometimes she can’t even run down the street.  There is another side to this for me when I think of teens: it’s not just about teens that have food allergies, but what about teen parents who suddenly find themselves parents to a baby, infant or toddler who has some type of severe or chronic health issue.  Not just a food issue, but any health issue.

A couple of times a week there is a teen mom, 14 years old, who brings her 5 week old baby into my library.  She has a lot of support from her family and is a very lovely young lady.  Her baby is always asleep on one of our library chairs and is just adorable.  I can’t help but wonder what it would be like for her or any teen parent out there trying to balance school, being a teen, and not only being a mom – but being a teen mom to a child with some type of health issue.  One time when taking my child to Children’s Hospital I did run into a teen who was the mom of a child with Downs Syndrome and they were there having his heart checked.  Suddenly, their need  for information expands outside of typical teen parameters.  They need to know how to research and find not only important information, but how to advocate for their child.  Now they don’t need you to help them find what the next vampire book they want to read might be, they need you to help them find safe foods, treatment options, etc.  They are thrust into a very overwhelming adult world.

If you have never been the parent to a child with any type of special needs, it can be difficult to understand how isolating and stressful and heartbreaking it can be.  Every component of parenthood is taken to the next extreme: there is more planning, more preparation, and always, it seems, just more.  I would also be interested in reading more about teen parents who find themselves the parent of a child on the Autism spectrum.

It is important to remember sometimes that we do and will serve teens with experiences outside of the norm, including teen parents (though these may be more inside the norm then we would wish for our teens.)  Below I share with you an essay I wrote while in the throes of my child’s illness and trying to get a diagnosis and a handle on it.  I hope by sharing that we will all take a moment to think about our teen parents that we serve and reflect upon the fact that for some of them, their challenge is harder then we can imagine because right now their babies are being diagnosed with something that no parent is prepared to handle, let alone a teen parent.

It was only because I spent a TON of time at my library researching, researching, and researching some more that we were able to bring our child to the point that she is at now.  We researched treatments, which included sleeping positions and diet restrictions; we researched doctors; we found online support communities; and most importantly, we found the right questions to ask.  Teen parents won’t have these skills and will need your help to develop them.

A couple of things to remind teens:

  • First, when dealing with a health or medical issue, remind teens they should always work with their doctor and not try anything they run across in their own research without the assistance of a doctor.
  • When dealing with something that has a name, there is often an established foundation – direct teens here first.  Rule number 1 still applies, but this information will often have more credibility then other sources.
  • For support, there are often various forums or yahoo types of groups that teens can join to share their experience with those having similar experiences.  The emphasis should be that these are for support primarily and any medical advice they may receive should be discussed with their doctor.
  • This is a good opportunity to introduce teens to your journal databases and guide them away from general Internet searches.
  • Remember that as library professionals we know all of the above, but teens often don’t and there is a sort of fear and desperation that can cloud rational thinking in the midst of these times.  Be kind and patient (as I know you will be).
  • If you know of any local support groups, this is a good direction to point teen parents.

 A look at a parent in the midst of the chronic illness of a child . . .

Trying to Slay the Reflux Demon

Most moms like to go in and sneak a peek and watch their baby sleep. Me, I couldn’t stand it. It was our first sign that something was seriously wrong with our baby. She looked like she was possessed by demons while she slept. She would flail. Arch her back. Make that startled movement you make like you are dreaming that you are falling off of a cliff. She would scream. And most horrifyingly – she would stop breathing for a few seconds.

My husband and I would take turns holding her throughout the night to make sure she lived. He worked until 4 a.m. and then he would come in and take over. I would get about 2 hours of sleep and then get up and go to work. When it happened, when you realized it had been a few seconds since you felt that rhythmic in and out of her chest – you would jostle her a little until it resumed. Whenever we mentioned it to the doctor he would say, “as long as she doesn’t turn blue – it is okay.”

And then that moment happened. My 6 year old and I sat there playing on the computer while the 6 week old slept in her swing. My husband was out looking for the new car he was sure we needed with a new baby. Suddenly I looked over and threw the laptop across the room as I screamed, “holy sh&t she’s blue.” We grabbed the baby, called the husband and raced to the ER. The simple act of grabbing her out of the swing scared her into breathing. At Children’s Hospital they made us take Infant CPR classes and monitored her for the day and night. Then they sent us home with an apnea monitor.

This was already our second trip to Children’s. The first occurred at 5 weeks when we thought she was having seizures. They pulled us right out of line when they saw it happen and rushed us in to see a doctor. She was being treated for infant reflux and after a few tests and observation the doctor’s assured us that she wasn’t having seizures but that it too was caused by her infant reflux.

They used to call it colic. Now they call it infant reflux. Me, I don’t care what they call it – I call it the reflux demon. I just know that it sucks – for the entire family. The first 7 months of her life she screamed 24/7. I wore her in every type of babywear gear you could fathom. We held her all night long as she slept. We bought specials beds. We tried various diets. And we gave her medication.

But nothing has ever really stopped the pain for her. She still sleeps like she is possessed by demons. Flailing, flinging, arching and making a variety of noises to try and get the pain out of her chest. She often coughs and is rubbing her nose because it bothers her all the way up to her nose. And often she cries – when she wants to eat and can’t because of the pain, when she wants to sleep but can’t because of the pain . . . it always comes back to the pain.

There are fewer things in life I think that will ever piss you off than seeing your baby be in pain and having absolutely nothing you can do about it. I mean seriously full out seething below the surface anger that makes you want to cuss out the universe that dares to hurt your baby. If another human being hurt my child I could have some type of recourse. We often say to ourselves, if anyone hurt my child I would kill them. I wouldn’t think twice about it. And yet, here my child is hurting and there is no one I can kill. No one I can lash out at. No one I can make pay. No one I can make stop. The universe is kinda too big for me to beat up I think.

So instead I continue to try to find the foods that she doesn’t digest well – that she is intolerant to – that make the reflux worse. I spend all my time researching and trying and visiting doctors. Not to mention all my money. I pray every night before we go to bed that somehow this night will please please please somehow be different and the demons will leave her alone and let her sleep in peace. In 20 months, she has only had 4 nights where she wasn’t visited by the reflux demon. I’m still trying to find my reflux exorcist. And tonight when I go to sleep again, I’ll pray that my prayers won’t be in vain. I can not slay the universe, but damn it – I want to slay the reflux demon.

ALA Exhibits Highlights, part 1

This past Saturday I got to spend the day in the librarian version of heaven – the ALA Midwinter exhibits hall.  Here I mingled with my fellow geeks and ran into people I have known for years online, learned about some new products and services and picked up a ton of ARCs (which will be subject of my next post).  AND – I got to touch an ARC for Pandemonium, the sequel to Delirium by Lauren Oliver (sadly, they did not understand our need to possess it and they were not giving them out so I had to make do with just touching it).  So here are some of the highlights from Saturday . . .

1.  VOYA
I have been very honored since 2001 to be a reviewer for VOYA and in the past 6 months they have made my dreams come true by publishing two articles written by me (look for Karen Jensen in the October 2011 and February 2012 issues of VOYA) – BUT, I have never met a single person from VOYA in person.  Ever.  We always just talk via e-mail (usually to ask really Karen, are you going to turn in that review anytime soon). That all changed on Saturday when I met Edward Kurdyla and RoseMary Honnold. They were incredibly nice and we talked about things like the erosion of the English language and library budgets. RoseMary has been such a presence in the Young Adult/Teen Librarian world (I have even used some of her programs over the years) and it is always nice to meet peers who share your passion and understand your geekiness.  Part of the reason I began the TLT blog, FB and Twitter account was because I think there is tremendous value and inspiration and support in being involved in a community of teen librarians and you definitely get that with VOYA.  I have said it before and I will say it again, VOYA and School Library Journal should be your #1 tool in your toolbox. Also, please be sure to participate in YALSA and the various YALSA listservs.

2.  Figment
On Saturday I met and talked at lengths with two young ladies promoting a new social networking site called Figment; it has been active now for a little over a year. Figment.com is a free online community for teens and young adults to “create, discover, and share new reading and writing.”  They are in the business of encouraging teens to write, share and edit one another’s works.  They also have some great tools for teen librarians across the platform, but especially for schools that include discussion groups and daily writing prompts.  A lot of amazing teen authors are involved sharing their writing stories and giving tips to help teens become better writers.  You can learn more about their services for educators at www.figment.com/educators.

Some of the upcoming programs and contests they will have include:
Figment daily themes
Digital Learning Day: Now through February 1st
Girls with Grit Contest: Now through February 29th
Meg Rosoff will be making an appearance beginning January 24th and running through February 10th
Shannon Hale contest: January 24th – February 6th

The site is well designed, colorful and appealing, and easy to navigate.  You will definitely want to check it out and share it with all of your teens.

Without a doubt Fantasy and Science Fiction is dominating teen publishing these days (although I suspect there will be a renaissance of contemporary fiction fueled in part by the success of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and some of our other favorites) – but what I keep noticing is that there are not enough mysteries for teens (although do check out the Sherlock Holmes series by Maureen Johnson, The Name of the Star was just nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery for young adults).  This year the Texas Teen Summer Reading Challenge is mystery focused so I am looking hard.  SOHO TEEN will be launching in January of 2013 with an emphasis on publishing mysteries for teens (so yay!!!!).  You can read a sampler of some of their titles online.

4. Guildcraft
Like many of you, I get my craft supplies primarily through Oriental Trading or by hitting my local craft store.  However, Guildcraft is adding more tween and teen crafts to their catalog so you may want to add it as a place to look for craft ideas and supplies.  They did have a craft kit to make bottle cap necklaces which I have done with my teens before and I highly recommend.  Also, I bought my daughter a necklace that tied a washer onto a string as the main component of the necklace.  Then, they made various bottle cap charms and put a small but strong magnet on the back of each so that the necklace can easily be changed.  Better explanation can be found here.

5. Discussion Guides
Throughout the day I was able to pick up discussion guides for a variety of titles including Girls Meets Boy edited by Kelly Milner Halls, The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and more.  If you have a book you are looking at using in the classroom or in your public library programming, be sure to check the publishers websites to see if they have discussion guides available. Many publishers are aware that we are looking for them and creating some good guides to help us use their titles in our libraries.

Some sites to check:

6. Zest Books
I am always looking for eye catching nonfiction for teens and, without a doubt, Zest Books has some.  They have a Teen Advisory Board that helps them in their title development and marketing which may help explain why their titles seem to be on point.  I have purchased a few titles before and they are smaller and if I am remembering correctly paperback.  Some of the titles I am looking forward to in 2012 include The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions from Pop Culture That You should Know About . . . before it’s too late and Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends).  In November they will be releasing a title called Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves which has the potential to be powerful and amazing so keep your eyes open for it.

7. Egalleys
Many publishers are jumping on board with both feet into using egalleys to help promote their titles.  To see galleys be sure to sign up with NetGalley.com.  I use Net Galley and it is free and easy to use; you simply register and then select galleys that you would like to preview.  The only catch is that you must be approved by the publisher.  Some publishers, for example, are not currently accepting blogger requests. Random House, Disney Hyperion and the Lerner Publishing Group were just some of the publishers that were actively promoting egalleys at ALA Midwinter.

8. The End of Paper Catalogs
Many publishers mentioned that they were phasing out the physical, hard copies of their catalogs and would be going strictly to online catalogs.  Scholastic, for example, was encouraging librarians to go online as opposed to taking the catalogs and mentioned that soon there would be no option.  Without a doubt this is better for the environment and cuts down on marketing costs, but I imagine some will have a hard time making the transition. Although I am sure that many are already using the online versions to cut down on the amount of catalogs they get in the mail and have to try and find a place to store.

9.  Meeting Lauren Myracle

There were lots of debut authors at ALA Midwinter (I will introduce you to one at #10), but I was excited to meet popular teen author Lauren Myracle.  She was funny and humble and gracious and it was so cool to meet her.  She signed a copy of Shine for me and a ton of other fans.  I can’t tell you why Lauren Myracle called me a “naughty girl” in my signed book, but let me assure you that this girl is a ton of fun.  If you ever get the chance to meet her, jump at it. Throughout the day there were a variety of author signings and it was definitely a highlight of the exhibits.  Authors are our rock stars after all.

10.  Debut YA Author Jenny Torres Sanchez
Not too long ago we were talking on the YALSA-BK listserv about books about boys with weight issues – well, here one is.  The Downside of Being Charlie is the debut work of Jenny Torres Sanchez.  Charlie is an ex-fat kid who is having a hard time adjusting to the new him.  As a coping strategy for his complicated life Charlie turns to photography. I always love a book that encourages teens to be involved in art and self-expression and I see a natural promotional tie-in here with The 2012 Project. The Downside of Being Charlies has a June 2012 publication date.  Jenny was incredibly approachable and if she is going to be out doing author tours, or if you can get her to visit your school or library, I recommend you check her out.

And the most exciting thing, I ran into two local teens who had paid their own way into the exhibits because they loved books and reading THAT MUCH! They were excited to see a Clockwork Prince t-shirt and were big fans of Cassandra Clare.  I met them while looking at the Pandemonium arc and they too were bummed they couldn’t have it.  It was so great to see teens with passion and initiative.  And they agreed to have their picture taken for The 2012 Project.

Without a doubt, ALA Midwinter was an exciting, inspiring, and amazing learning opportunity.  It was also great exercise.  Later this week I will talk about some of the ARCs I picked up and some great upcoming releases in teen fiction.  Also coming this week, information about a great contest opportunity for you or one of your teens to win a copy of Girl Meets Boy edited by Kelly Milner Halls and signed by all 12 popular teen authors that contributed stories.

The 2012 Project: Update January 20th 2012

First, I have to give a huge thank you to VOYA Magazine, School Library Journal and Capstone Press.  They each have done a great job of supporting the project and helping me get the word out.  And special thanks also go to Harlequin Teen and others that have retweeted the message out.  You can follow the project on Facebook or @TLT16, #the2012project on Twitter.  Lots of teen librarians have been sharing pics and they are so amazing to see.  Libraries everywhere are doing creative, innovative programming for teens and yes – teens still do read!

You can see the project photo album on the TLT Facebook page.

I used some of the images submitted to create a new promotional poster for the project, because I have been getting some really fun, innovative and just creative pics.  Please feel free to download and share the poster electronically or via your various online resources.

I also have used some of the submitted pics to create some general library promotional posters, which you should also feel free to use.  I think they make the statement we are going for: teens still love (and use) their libraries and they still are reading.

Check back here next week to learn how you can be a part of a creative Valentine’s day themed The 2012 Project picture drive AND win a copy of Boy Meets Girl edited by Kelly Milner Halls and signed by all 12 authors that contributed short stories. More information coming soon, contest will begin January 29th.  Until then enjoy the book trailer, this is a book all your teens will want to read!

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

As far as first lines go, there is no denying that the first line of The Scorpio Races draws you in – and it never lets go.

I am a huge fan of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, but was not necessarily incredibly interested in reading this book because, well, horses have never been my thing.  But I kept hearing so many raves about this books and it IS written by Maggie Stiefvater, so I put it at the top of my to read pile.  It turns out, I am so glad that I did.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tojCn2Y41ig]

The Scorpio Races takes place on an isolated island where every November there is an annual horse race; but it is not your typical horse race because once a year water horses (capall uisce) come from the sea.  These horses are stronger, faster, and fiercer – and full of a blood lust for the other horses and their riders.  Every year someone truly does die.

Told in alternating points of view, the Scorpio Races is primarily about 2 orphans who need desperately to win this year’s race in order to keep their home (in the case of young female Puck) or to buy their freedom and favorite horse (in the case of Sean). Failure is not an option for either.

Puck is fierce, determined, and head strong.  She lives with her two brothers and they are about to lose everything.  For her, the only option is to be the first female to enter the race – and win!  Puck is drawn to the island and the way the island is written, it becomes a character of its own.  As far as literature heroines go, Puck is amazing, and a strong role model.  As I read I look for these, I call it the anti-Bella effect. Puck is real, honest, flawed – and yet she has characteristics that you hope readers will see and think, I want to be more Puckish in my life.

The character of Sean is fiercely determined; he is a young man who has set for himself a goal and is working hard to meet it.  And yet, as he works towards that goal, he meets young Puck and he is able to let her into his life and work out a plan that will benefit them both. Of course the best laid plans and all that.

The Scorpio Races is also a moody, atmospheric love story which reminds me of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights for teens.  In one scene Puck and Sean go riding on a cappall uisce together and never has horse riding been presented as such a sensual experience.  As the capall uisce come running out of the sea and the sea foams with blood, the reader is transported to the beach itself in all its heavy weight.  Without a doubt, Stiefvater can turn a phrase.

There are a wide variety of interesting and well-developed characters that round out this novel.  Characters who provide wisdom and guidance, or serve as an archnemesis (you just don’t get to use the word archnemesis enough in life it seems.)

In the end, The Scorpio Races is not a traditional horse story.  No, it is a complex, moving, well written fantasy and love story that tells the tale of two young orphans trying to survive in a harsh world.  It is, in fact, amazingly well written.  In informal polls many have tossed this title around as their choice to win the 2012 Printz Award. It gets my vote, too.

“The Scorpio drums pound a ragged heartbeat as I wind my way through the crowds that fill the streets of Skarmouth.  The cold air smarts as I breath it in; the wind carries all sorts of foreign scents.  Food that’s only made during the race season.  Perfume only women from the mainland wear.  Hot pitch, burning rubbish, beer spilled on the stones.  This Skarmouth is raw and hungry, striving and unknowable.  everything the races make me feel on the inside is bleeding up through the seams in the street tonight.” (The Scorpio Races, p 178)

Here you can find a recipe for November cakes which are mentioned in The Scorpio Races.