Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

New Adult: A Broken Promise, Now a Rose by Any Other Name (by Chrisite G)

I have been following with waxing and waning interest for the last few months the chatter about the “New Adult” trend that publishers have been introducing.  You can trace it back to St. Martin Press back in 2009, when they wanted to market books as coming-of-age stories with characters in their twenties.  You can actually trace it further back to an online contest, sponsored by #YALitChat, and they had a really decent turnout for it.  The winners got the first 50 pages of their manuscripts looked over by St. Martin, and a lot of them were really idealistic.  Blogger and author Kristan Hoffman, who won the contest, stated that she felt that New Adult could really take off, Especially since New Adult could offer a variety of “flavors.” Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, historical, thriller, literary … Just like the Young Adult umbrella, New Adult can (and probably will) cover all these genres and more.”

In spite of this early optimism, even the reps for St. Martin admitted back then what I keep thinking now:  that New Adult isn’t needed, and that it’s just a marketing ploy. It was a way for ADULT FICTION to expand out of its box.  Which is good- we all like things expanding outside of their boxes, and it’s nice that publishers want to reach out to a section of readers that they think need special marketing.  I think it would have been wonderful if it had taken off that way.  Books like the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty  or Prep often live in the Young Adult section but need to find an older audience, as they might need a college aged crowd who won’t go back to a teen section once they graduate.  (Note to readers- mine continue to haunt the teen area even after they’ve graduated high school, are constantly asking me for more teen and adult books, and are actually laughing at the thought of me calling them “new adults”)

New Adult is not coming out of its box, though. Instead, publishing is wrapping things up in bright, shiny pink polka dot paper with froufrous and lace, and that’s not acceptable. If anything, it’s basically the new shiny name for chick lit and backhanded acceptance that it’s OK for a FEMALE to read.  And that makes me incensed.

If you look at some of the definitions, now New Adult is considered anything coming of age for readers 14-35.  That’s a bit of a gap developmentally- what’s appropriate for a freshman in high school is not going to be appropriate for a freshman in college or a graduate student, and a far cry from the original intent of 18-26 year olds. How, realistically, am I as librarian supposed to put together a New Adult collection with a straight face?  “Oh, here, teenager, read the bodice ripper your MOM likes.  Oh, here, adult patron, please don’t mind that we have the scantily clad covers right next to the rapidly diminishing young adult section, because it’s the NEW ADULT area.”  If you search Goodreads for New Adult titles, you get at least 300 titles:  everything from Julie Cross’ Tempest (rated YA- 14 to 18 yrs by the publisher on BN.com)  to 50 Shades of Grey.  We’ve gone far afield from college experiences, moving out, and finding our way in the real world. 

Five young adult titles that are being called New Adult on Goodreads- where would you put them?

And take a CLOSE look at titles that are being considered new adult.  Notice a pattern?  How about the fact that the vast majority of them are romantic intrigue?  So, who exactly is the New Adult category for?  Random House just announced this morning a new digital imprint for their New Adult titles- called FLIRT.  Sci-fi is called Hydra while Mysteries is called Alibi.  So, if New Adult were actually FOR people 18-26 or 18-36, why would you call it something that is going to appeal primarily to young women while alienating the vast majority of readers?  Unless you WANT it to be aimed for that segment?

Shiny imprint of New Adult called Flirt.  Plus vast majority of books being published and categorical under New Adult are romantic intrigue genre.  Therefore, New Adult = romantic intrigue books that have younger protagonists for women ages 18-26.  What happened to the coming-of-age topics?  What happened to the other flavors, the sci-fi, fantasy, historical, thriller, literary?  Between the imprint name and the marketing, what are publishers demonstrating about their opinion of the target audience?  Do they not trust young women to seek out and read quality literature?  Instead of simply encouraging them to read the good books that they want to, why do the publishers think the books have to be decked out in such a way for the target audience to choose to read them?  Why is there a stigma of guilt associated with either the content or the act of reading, such that publishers think it has to be disguised as something with stylish appearance?  

Why do we have to turn something that could have been good into basically permission-giving for people to read one particular sub-genre without guilt?

Of course, there are other arguments, both for and against New Adult.  For more on the discussion, check out:

Karen’s 2 Cents: How in the world could something categorized as ages 14 -17 be considered NEW ADULT? 14 year olds are not adults.

Take 5: Vampire Books with Bite

There are no shortage of YA Vampire books, many of them extremely popular.  So here are 5 that are not wildly popular that I think should be – and as an added bonus, there are no sparkling vampires.

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld
This book rocks! In this universe, vampirism is a disease.  And every other chapter is a look at a real parasite in the world of biology.  So you read a great vampire story AND you learn some freaky facts about science.  I wouldn’t eat while you are reading it, but I would read it.

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey
You know that wicked hot guy that you keep staring down at the bus stop? He’s a vampire.  And – more importantly – you were sworn to be his bride way back when you were a wee little tot.  Surprise!

“Lucius paused, turning on his heel to face me. “I grow weary of your ignorance.” He moved closer to me, leaning down and peering into my eyes. “Because your parents refuse to inform you, I will deliver the news myself,and I shall make this simple for you.” He pointed to his chest and announced, as though talking to a child, “I am a vampire.” He pointed to my chest. “You are a vampire. And we are to be married, the moment you come of age. This has been decreed since our births.”

Chronicles of Vladimir Tod by Heather Brewer
Eighth Grade Bites, Ninth Grade Slays, Tenth Grade Bleeds, Eleventh Grade Burns, Twelfth Grade Kills
Half vampire, Vlad struggles with his blood lust urges – and the daily tribulations of life in middle school and high school.  I have a group of kids that come into the library that think this series is the best thing since sliced bread.  Eighth Grade Bites was a 2008 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.  There is a companion series called The Slayer Chronicles.

“Whoever had decided that school should start so early in the morning and last all day long needed to be hunted down and forced to watch hours of educational television without the aid of caffeine.”
Heather Brewer, Eighth Grade Bites

Sweetblood by Pete Hautman
Once a straight A student, Lucy now finds her life falling completely apart.  She also fears she may be turning into a vampire.  In the end, Hautman has written a very interesting look at the life of a girl with uncontrolled diabetes. Read Pete Hautman’s essay on how he came to write Sweetblood here.  For the record, this is not technically a vampire book.

Thirsty by M. T. Anderson

“People talk about the beauty of the spring, but I can’t see it. The trees are brown and bare, slimy with rain. Some are crawling with new purple hairs. And the buds are bulging like tumorous acne, and I can tell that something wet, and soft, and cold, and misshapen is about to be born.

And I am turning into a vampire.”

For a really great, comprehensive booklist of vampire titles and some discussion about the appeal of the vampire, check out They Suck, They Bite, They Eat, They Kill by Dr. Joni Richards Bodart.
Further Reading:

Book Review: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

So I am starting a new list, 10 MORE books you should read if you are a Buffy fan.  And the first book that goes on that list you ask? The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa. (You can read the original list of Buffy related reads here.)

At this point, I am only interested in vampire books if 1) there is a twist on typical vampire conventions, 2) the vampires in no way sparkles and 3) they have a female character who doesn’t play into typical female stereotypes and make me want to give 1,000 warnings of please don’t do this to my teens as I hand them the book.  Okay, obviously there are a few things I wouldn’t want my teens to do I think as I hand them this book – like become a vampire – but you know, all in all I can hand this book to my teens without that twinge in my conscience.  In fact, this is a really good book.  Let me tell you why.

“You don’t dwell on what you’ve lost, you just move on.”-Allison 
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

1.  A Different Point of View
Our main character, Allison, starts out as a Unregistered Human.  This means she has to stay below the radar because she is offered no protection and isn’t giving a regular “donation” of blood to help keep the vampires alive.  BUT, on page 78 of the book our Allie is forced to make a life saving decision that will render her kinda of alive – she becomes a vampire.  So the rest of our tale is a journey into the heart and soul of a vampire that we already know and admire as a human and watching her struggle to not become the very monsters that she hates.  Kagawa introduces us to a character we care about, changes her into the monster she despises, and then let’s us journey with her into this new, uncharted territory.

“Hunger flickered, always there, but I pushed it down. I was a vampire. Nothing would change that. But I didn’t have to be a monster.”
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

2. A Different World View
In The Immortal Rules, a plague has killed a large portion of humans and vampires rule supreme.  These vampires are not hiding out in the shadows hoping not to be discovered; they are large and in charge.  Also, humans are basically cows.  Humans are herded up to give blood “donations” to keep the vampires alive.  Mooooooo.  It’s a unique enough twist on the traditional vampire tale to give this story some real legs.  (I wish I had a really good cow tipping joke to put right here, but alas – I do not.)

“Growing up on the fringe, you came to accept hard truths. Nothing was fair. the world was cold, unforgiving, and people died. it was just the way things were.”
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

3.  The Bad Guys are Bad to the Bone with a Capital B
Make no mistake about it, these vampires do not sparkle all pretty like when they step in the sun.  You will not fall in love with them; no, you will tremble in fear.  At one point in our story Allie’s friends are taken hostage to old Chicago and brutal things happen.

“Sometime in your life, Alison Sekemoto, you will kill a human being. Accidentally or as a conscious, deliberate act. It is unavoidable. The question is not if it will happen, but when.”
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

4. There is Backstory
Allie is saved and turned by a vampire named Kanin, who then spends some time teaching Allie everything she needs to know about being a vampire.  But Kanin has secrets that come back to haunt them both.  In fact, many of the character’s she meets on the road have back stories that intersect and look to bring about some major blows (this is book 1 in a series).

5.  There is a Subtle But Messed Up Love Story
After her stay with Kanin, Allie is forced to flee for her life.  I told you, secrets.  So she finds herself travelling with a nomad group of humans searching for Eden (a city, not the holy land) AND trying to keep her secret.  Most humans aren’t okay with vampires after all.  Remember, they are Bad to the Bone with a Capital B.  In this group Allie meets Zeke, who is a strong leader dedicated to keeping his people alive.  There are sparks.  There are secrets. There is also the risk that Allie might get really hungry and eat his face off.  In all seriousness, Zeke is an honorable character and it was a nice, slowly growing attraction.  It was also engaging to see Allie struggle with her emotions, her hunger, and the need to make some hard decisions.

“I wasn’t thinking of his blood, rushing just below the skin. I wasn’t thinking of his heartbeat or his touch or the pulse at his throat. Right now, all I was thinking of was Zeke.”
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

6.  There is More Mad Science
Yesterday we talked about Mad Science in Origin by Jessica Khoury and shared some other titles where people do bad things with science.  Because of some bad science, you are just as likely to turn into a Rabid as you are a vampire if one tries to turn you.  It’s a gamble.  Rabids are – well – rabid; think rabid dogs but with vampires.

7.  Books!
The ruling vampires have taken one thing out of the dystopian playbook: books are forbidden.  Let’s face it, an uninformed populace is much easier to control.  Nope, there is absolutely no current day implications for this little nugget at all (she said with a wink and a nudge).  Reading is against the law. Libraries have been burned.  But our girl Allie, she is a reader and can’t help but think that if people learned to read and how the world used to be they would no longer be content with how the world currently is.

“Words define us,’ Mom continued, as I struggled to make my clumsy marks look like her elegant script. ‘We must protect our knowledge and pass it on whenever we can. If we are ever to become a society again, we must teach others how to remain human.”
Julie Kagawa, The Immortal Rules

In the end, The Immortal Rules has everything you would want: 8) Thrills and Chills, 9) Big Questions about humanity, government, etc. and 10) Heart.  Yes, a vampire story can have heart. 

This is not your typical vampire story; well written, unique and fully developed – The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa gets 4 out of 5 stars.  One of my few gripes with the story was the convenient way all the characters backstory intertwine themselves to bring our various groups to what will surely be major blows, but a story definitely has to have conflict and outside of the convenience of the relationships, this is certainly an interesting one. Highly recommended.

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden, book 1) by Julie Kagawa. Published in 2012 by HarlequinTeen.  ISBN: 978-0-373-21051-0

A Night of Firsts

Last night I was invited by Dr. Joni Bodart to speak to her MLS students.  Since she teaches on the West Coast (I miss you place where I grew up), I had to drop in via my computer.  It was a night of firsts for me.

The first thing you should know is that it was such an honor to be asked by Dr. Bodart.  She is a giant in the field, and has always been a huge inspiration.  I did my final MLS project on Booktalking.  As you know, she has written a variety of booktalking books – which I referred to in my research.  So, being asked by her, yeah pretty cool.

Outside of a few conference speaking engagements, it was the first time I had ever talked to MLS students.  It turns out, I have a lot to say.  I spoke about the need for advocacy at all levels.  If you work with teens, you know that often you have to advocate for teen services right there in your own building.  You’re fighting for funds, staffing, space.  That’s not always true of course, thankfully many libraries have understood and embraced the need for teen services.  But even those that do, they often weren’t originally set up for it in terms of space and teens need a space – a space for ya books, to get together in the library.  So yeah, I did talk about advocacy.  Some of my favorite pieces that I have ever written is about advocating in the library and the way that you can put the building blocks into place to get staff interacting with teens in positive ways.  Here are a couple of those pieces:

What does customer services to teens look like?
Marketing teen services to non teen services staff (advocacy)
The “Be”-Attitudes of communicating with staff (advocacy)
This is my favorite advocacy piece: Libraries are the beating heart (of our communities)

It was also a technology first for me.  As you know, a few weeks ago we had a Google Hangout session with the fabulous author A. S. King and our contest winner Bryson McCrone (more on this next week actually).  One of the things I mentioned in my discussion last night was the need for teen librarians to stay up to date on technology, so it was fitting that I learned a new tech tool while doing it – Blackboard Collaborate.  I get bonus points for two new types of tech in one month, right?  Blackboard Collaborate was really kind of awesome, but simple to use.  Because tech can be tricky – and quite fickle – this was the part I was most worried about.  Thankfully, all the tech cooperated and, once I figured out how to use it, it went pretty smoothly.  When using Blackboard Collaborate there is a chat window on the lower left hand screen that makes the experience interactive.  I am not going to lie, I found that little chat window both awesome and distracting; I liked the way it made the experience interactive, but since I appear to be easily distracted it pulled me away from my thoughts a few times.  I am sure it is easier to incorporate with more experience.

After I spoke I was invited to stay and listen as Teen Librarian JoAnn Rees from Sunnyvale Public Library presented a talk on graphic novels and manga.  You’ve heard me say it before, but gns/manga are my Achilles heel as a teen services librarian.  I did what any smart person would do – I stayed.  JoAnn gave an amazing talk on graphic novels and it was interesting to hear how passionate and knowledgeable she was about the format.  I’ll have to e-mail her and ask her if it is okay to share the Top 10 lists that she shared with the class with you.

So this is the part of the post where I pretend that you asked me, “So what did you talk about Karen?” Well, I’m glad you asked, even if it was only in my head.  Joni asked me to talk about why I was a librarian, things I thought you needed to work with teens, and some of the things they don’t teach you are library school.

Why am I a YA Librarian? Because I think it is meaningful work that I am called to do.

What do you need to be a successful YA Librarian?

We had a really good discussion about boundaries and protecting yourself from what I called “Elmo accusations”.  Some librarians have a different point of view, but as much as I love my teens (and I genuinely do), I don’t friend them with my personal FB account, I don’t text them via my personal phone, and I don’t email them via my personal email address.  When we communicate I do so via library channels.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have meaningful conversations, because we often do.  But you hear in the news way to often of boundaries being crossed and accusations being made with adults and teens and I want to protect myself – and the integrity of my library and all the hard work I have done – by making sure that there are appropriate boundaries in place.

But what about those things they don’t teach you in library school?  If you read here often you know that is an ongoing discussions Christie, Heather, Stephanie and I have.  There are some things you can teach, like creativity.  But I think you can develop creativity.  Other things I think we need to spend more time talking about is the day to day situations that we are facing: dealing with staff (many of whom may not share your passion for libraries or teens), dealing with the real life situations of your teens, and working with community leaders (and members of your community) where you have to speak in a language that is different than library speak.  Nonlibrarians don’t really speak in library speak.  I’ll get back to this point in a minute.

Our teens are at the heart of what we do.  It is them that we are serving, mentoring and nurturing.  Yes, nurturing.  To work with teens, you really do need to 1) care about them, 2) understand them (keep reading on adolescent development, and 3) spend some time in their world (cruise teen oriented pop culture sites, watch some of the shows they watch, find out what music they are listening to).  Businesses that succeed do so because they spend a lot of time researching their target audience and meeting their needs.  Librarians must do the same.
Things I Never Learned in Library School part 1, part 2
So, back to the dangling point I made earlier about communicating with your communities.  Let’s talk the 40 Developmental Assets.
The 40 Developmental Assets are an important tool because they help us plan and evaluate what we are doing in our youth services departments.  When planning programs and services, I know that if they help a teen meet a developmental asset than it has value.  Likewise, when communicating the value of my teen services it serves the same purpose. 
Let’s examine a standard marketing practice, shall we?  The yearly director’s report.
I can put out a report that says items in my teen collection circulated 5, 142 times and this is what the members and my community think: Compared to what?  I don’t know, is that good or bad?  What does that mean?
Or, I can say: Through a variety of programs and services the Karen Jensen Public Library helped teens in the Karen Jensen Community reach 27 of the 40 developmental assets including providing them with opportunities to have leadership roles and giving teens a voice through our teen advisory board, providing teens with opportunities to serve their community through our teen volunteer program, and supporting a teen’s commitment to learning by providing quality library collections, opportunities to engage in literature based programming and discussions, and homework support materials.
By using the 40 Developmental Assets as a planning, evaluation and communication tool, you help underline the value of libraries in your community.  See also, Asset Builders Coalition support materials.
So there you have it, my first experience as a “teacher” to library school students – but with a lot less “ums”.  Maybe one day after I get those “ums” under control I can be a teacher, it was pretty cool.

Book Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

The jungle hides a girl who cannot die (front cover blurb)

The Fountain of Youth. The Holy Grail. It seems like we are always on the quest for immortality.  But what if scientists had found the answer in a simple flower found deep in the rainforest?  In Origin by Jessica Khoury, they have – but at what cost?

Origin by Jessica Khoury
Razor Bill, 2012
ISBN: 978-59514-595-6
“I am told that the day I was born, Uncle Paolo held me against his white lab coat and whispered, ‘She is perfect.’ Sixteen years later, they’re still repeating the word. Every day I hear it, from the scientists or the guards, from my mother or my Aunt Brigid. Perfect.” – First lines, Jessica Khoury

Pia is an immortal, the first of her kind.  Bred through several generations at a secret scientific facility called Little Cam, she is perfect – at least that is what she has always been told.  But her secret comes with many costs, one of which is that she has never left the secret lab that she calls home.  She has never seen the world, never played with children, never learned history.

“You are immortal, Pia, and you are perfect . . . ” (p. 1)

Like all teenagers, Pia yearns for freedom; but freedom is not something that is given willingly when people have devoted their lives, staked their scientific careers and invested billions of dollars in creating you.  So like a lot of teenagers, Pia sneaks out.  In the jungle, she meets a tribe of locals that dance wildly, believe fiercely, and live together with a connectedness she can only dream of.  Her destiny has always caused her to feel like an outsider, even in the place that she calls home, because she knows there are none like her.  Having seen this glimpse into another life, Pia becomes conflicted about her purpose.  This conflict grows as she falls in love and learns about the costs associated with her immortality.

“Freedom. It’s as intoxicating as any drug, a rush of adrenaline through my body.  Wild Pia and Tame Pia merge; fear is overwhelmed by heady exhilaration.  I am one.  I am free. I am so captivated by the emotions inside me that I don’t even see the boy until we collide.” (p. 75)
Origin is full of action, adventure, self-discovery, betrayal, redemption, and more.  But at its heart, it wrestles with one essential question: what are the ethical limitations of science?  It is often said that just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean that we should: Should we strive for immortality?  And at what cost?  Origin is a great springboard for this discussion because Pia is both a person and an investment, and although we have not yet cloned or created individuals in a lab, we are already wrestling with questions of this nature regarding DNA (Staking Claim to Your DNA in Wired magazine).  Pair this title with the nonfiction title The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot for a fascinating science and ethics discussion.
Origin by Jessica Khoury is a good, thought provoking read.  3.5 out of 5 stars and definitely recommended for teens and library collections everywhere.  This is also an interesting look at life in the Rainforest regions and a look into science (there are some good scientific discussions), and there is enough of a love story for those who like a little love with their action – and there is plenty of action.

Origin by Jessica Khoury.  Published by Razor Bill Books in 2012.  ISBN: 978-1-595-6.  A 2012 Cybils nominee in the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category.

Pair this with Endangered by Eliot Schrefer for an adventurous look at science and life outside the US.

Take 5: Weird Science

I recently received a special grant from my Friends of the Library grant to update our YA collection.  They tacked on an additional $500.00 with the challenge that they wanted me to add more math and science related books in the collection.  So the challenge was this: Can you find some YA titles that talk about science and math?  Here are my Take 5; 5 ya titles with enough science to meet the bill but action, adventure and more . . .

For nonfiction titles, I am a huge fan of the Basher Science books (found here).  They are definitely aimed at the younger end of the YA spectrum in terms of layout and design BUT you can’t beat them for their simple, straightforward presentation of the information.  They won’t give you in depth information for a report, but they will help you understand the basics and serve as a great ready reference tool for your basic questions.  I bought a collection of these for my tween at home for a really good price through the Scholastic book fair (which I love and The Mr. hates because of what it does to his wallet).

In addition, here are 5 of my favorite YA fiction titles that have just enough science in them to fit the bill and get teens thinking while providing quality thrills, chills and just a dash of romance.

Unwind and Unwholly by Neal Shusterman
This is a great dystopian read with a look at what a future where parents can decide to “unwind” their children may look like.  In Unwholly, out this year and amazing, they also dabble in creating a modern day Frankenstein.  Unwind is one of my favorite dystopians, out before dystopians were all the rage.

BZRK by Michael Grant
Nanotechnology: What can we do with it? What should we do with it?  This is a great guy read.  Mature content.  I am looking forward to the sequel, I really liked this one.  Read my full review here.

Virals and Seizures by Kathy Reichs
A group of teens live on a secluded island where their parents are all scientists.  Like those meddling kids from Scooby Doo, these teens just can’t keep their nose out of things and in the process of trying to solve an old missing persons case they find their lives forever changed – literally.  This series is popular with my teens.  I read book 1 and it was a decent read.

What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
In this vision of the future, each body is born with two souls with the expectation that only one of them will remain.  The recessive soul is expected to “settle.”  But what happens when they don’t?  Is there a scientific cure?  I just finished this book and will be reviewing it in a few days.  In the end, it is definitely recommended.

 Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Can we alter teenagers, cut the part out of them that makes them able to love?  In Lauren Oliver’s brilliant dystopian, the future has declared love a disease and all teens undergo a surgery that renders them cured from its curse.  Moving, brilliant, and thought provoking.  This is a must read.

And of course, Origin by Jessica Khoury.

What’s on your list of ya lit with a hint of science?  Share it with us in the comments.

Book Review: Gravity by Melissa West

“President Cartier is the smallest of the five, so petite she looks almost like a child in an adult’s chair. Her brown hair curls in perfect waves, just like Lawrence’s. Her olive skin shows her age, creasing in fine lines across her face, the heaviest lines around her eyes. To her right sits Alaster Krane, the European president, known for his stunning height and overpowering attitude. His skin and eyes and hair are as black as the night sky. Down the table to President Cartier’s left are the African and Asian presidents. The African president is the only other female, and her skin is as fair as mine, but while I have nearly black hair, hers is fiery red. The Asian leader sits quietly. He’s always quiet, as though he prefers to think more than speak, a quality I wish some of the other leaders would possess. His looks are perfectly symmetrical, and I imagine he was very beautiful when he was young.

Then my eyes drift to Zeus, my breath catching. He stares into the screen, ominous and powerful, like he knows so much more than any of the others. I’ve never met him, and I pray I never will. I study him as though I’m seeing him for the first time. Long white hair that must reach the center of his back. Eyes like a predator. He looks human, like Jackson and the other Latent Ancients, but now that I’m looking at him closely I realize that nothing about him is warm. From his expression, to his face, to his posture. Everything about Zeus oozes danger. I clear my throat to push back my fear.
They begin with the regular stuff—the laws of the treaty, discussion of amendments (there never are any), and a reminder of our responsibilities as humans. I almost scream for them to get to the attack. Law looks as tense as I feel.

Finally, President Cartier focuses on the main camera, her face solemn. “Today, there were four attacks across the world, one in each of the four governing territories. We believe the actions were that of a vigilante Ancient group. They have all been apprehended, returning our world to safe order.” She turns to Zeus. “Mr. Castello, to your knowledge, can you guarantee there are no other threatening groups, and furthermore, do you agree to maintain our peaceful separation until coexistence can safely commence?”
“Vigilante Ancients?” Law asks, but I’m too shocked to respond. Because Zeus Castello has just walked off the stage.

The leaders jump up. One yells after him.

The screen cuts to black.”

Evidently we as humans do not learn our lessons from history very well, because in Melissa West’s Gravity human-kind nearly destroys itself with nuclear war.  Enter The Ancients, an alien race who steps during the aftermath  and offers to restore our shattered planet, for a price- that once a human turn ten, they participate in The Taking, when The Ancients come at night through the trees and take antibodies from their human hosts so that they can become acclimated to Earth and survive.  

In 2140, seventeen year old Ari is daughter of the Engineer Commander of the Americas, and has her life laid out before her.  She has been studying to become an OPS agent, training for the day when she will take over for her father.  Her future as wife to the future President of the Americas has been secured for her by their parents.  Yet her life changes on the night when she discovers that the Ancient assigned to her isn’t some strange being after all- it’s one of the most popular boys in her school.  Jackson and her accelerated training soon make her question everything she’s ever known- that the Ancients are a plague, that they are intent to destroy mankind, and that humans must defend at all costs.  And as a single choice changes Ari forever, can she choose human or Ancient, or will she have to?

I really enjoyed Gravity, and it was a quick read.  Ari is more of a humanist (if that can be the word when you’re talking about humans and aliens) than you are lead to believe in the beginning, and a lot of readers will compare and contrast her to dystopian heroines Katniss from The Hunger Games series and Tris from Divergent series, and it’s a fair comparison, as Ari has both good and bad points.  Gravity ends on a whale of a cliffhanger, leaving readers definitely wanting more.  Secondary characters Lawrence and Gretchen add to the mix, and I really want to see what happens with them as well.  I did see some of the twists coming, but readers will be engrossed.  And for those who like their science fiction with romance, there is plenty to go around; absolutely a hit with readers who like love twists with their sci-fi, but might be a turn-off to readers who want more straight out action.  

Definitely good for libraries, and a good pairing for The Host by Stephanie Meyer, Starters by Lissa Price, or Across the Universe by Beth Reevis if you want to delve into the replacement/alien factor.  Recent and hot dystopias would be The Hunger Games and Divergent while older readers could be edged  into Wells’ War of the Worlds (oh, what an awesome book/movie night, even if you did the most recent one with HIM ), and David Weber’s Out of the Dark.

Gravity gives you no room to breathe AT ALL, and I really like that in a book sometimes.  Ari is really a complete character when you think about it.  You’re lead to believe that she’s a hard military operative in her father’s domain, but secretly, I think she would be more at home in her mother’s world of chemistry and advancement.  The fact that she looses her patch, discovered that her Ancient is the most popular boy in school, and everything she’s been taught may be a lie and she is still going is a huge plus.  She’s not reacting the way that you would expect with the build-up of her training, which keeps a reader guessing- there’s the love interest (which I really hope is explained the way I imagined it works in the series), the shock of what’s really going on in the Engineering and Chemist facilities with the Latent Ancients that have been discovered (think the movie District 9), and then her seemingly foreshadowing dreams.

And the twists aren’t just with Ari- there are twists between Lawrence and Gretchen, Lawrence and Jackson, the different viewpoints of the history of the Ancients and the Humans, on and on and on.  It’s definitely a fast and gripping read.  The only drawback would be that there is definitely more love stuff than some of my readers would like, so it will be a hard sell to some of them.  Others will eat it up.  And the fact that there is someone (at least at the beginning of the series) who is willing to learn first and shoot later is something to be excited about in a dystopia.

Gravity by Mellisa West. Published November 20, 2012 by Entangled Teen. ISBN: 9781620610916

Random Dystopia Generator; a journey through genre fatigue and what happens when the market becomes oversaturated (a not a book review)

Without a doubt, Dystopian is a hot genre right now.  I have read a ton – I have bought a ton – and my teens are definitely asking for them.  But after a while, they are all starting to blend together.  Recently I began reading The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse (awesome cover), and I began to realize what my problem as a reader has become.  Let me take you on a trendy reading journey. (Please note, this is not a review.)

In the beginning of our book, Alenna sits at home with her family when the government comes to arrest her parents for being rebels.  As I read this opening sequence, it immediately brought the beginning of Crewel by Gennifer Albin to mind.  Crewel came out earlier, but I had already read it.

Then Alenna is taken to a facility to watch a live feed of lost souls that are sent to a place called The Wheel.  The purpose of this feed is to demonstrate how you don’t want to be a lost soul; it’s all about reinforcing government control.  This brings about almost every dystopian to mind, but particularly ones like Delirium by Lauren Oliver and Matched by Allie Conde.

Then Alenna is taken to a place where she has some testing done to determine whether or not she will stay in her community or be sent to The Wheel; to determine whether or not she is a Lost Soul.  Again, it has the familiar ring to it.  Whether they are testing you to see what your skill is or whether or not you are “Divergent“, it seems the government is very much in to testing.  Beware government testing.

Then we get to The Wheel.  Think Katniss being placed in The Arena or kids coming up the elevator in The Maze Runner by James Dashner, or even the outer areas in Unwind by Neal Shusterman.  The Wheel has a Lord of the Flies survival feel to it.  If you learn one thing from reading dystopian fiction, learn this: the end of the world brings out the basest, most survivalist tendencies of mankind.  It ain’t pretty.

Of course, when the teens arrive at The Wheel they divide up into factions who compete for power.  Think Variant by Robison Wells or Quarantine by Lex Thomas.  Although some of the groups are truly bad guys, even the good guys have to resort to questionable tactics to survive – see my point above.

Don’t get me wrong, this post is not meant to dismiss The Forsaken, which may or may not be a good book (I’m still in the process of reading it).  What it is is a statement about the flooding of a genre market and how all the pieces start to bleed over into one another.  As a reader, you begin to compare each element to all the others that have come before.  Every dystopian hero gets compared in your mind’s eye to Katniss.  Every renegade society on the outskirts of civilization gets compared to the districts, or the maze, or the area outside the fence in Delirium.  At times, it almost seems like there is a formula and a writer steps up to a row of jars and pulls an element out of them:

Jar 1 – plucky heroine (sometimes hero)
Jar 2 – intrusive government agency
Jar 3 – test for social acceptedness
Jar 4 – unique location to be banished
Jar 5 – quirky gangs fighting for power, etc. 

Viola’! There’s your random dystopian generator.

Thankfully, there are always those twisty element that separates it from all the other dystopian novels and  keeps us coming back for more.

Don’t get me wrong, many of the dystopians that I have read have truly been great.  I am a huge fan of The Hunger Games, Delirium, and Crewel, to name just a few.  I loved Unwind and the sequel Unwholly.  And I freely admit that The Forsaken may be a good book (I am not in a position to write a review as I have not finished reading it).  I understand the value of reading in our comfort zone: I went through a phase where I was reading every single Star Trek the Next Generation book because they were exactly what I needed at that time in my life and they made me happy.  But there is also value in revelation, in being challenged, being stretched, and thinking.  To be fair, The Forsaken may end up being that revelation for some readers, it may even end up being that for me after I finish it. But I am setting it aside for the moment to read some fantasy and science fiction that are not dystopians.  In the immortal words of Ross Gellar, dystopian and I are “on a break.”

I will say this about The Forsaken, the back cover has this as its blurb: “What if you were imprisoned for a crime that hasn’t even happened yet?”  Although this is certainly not a new concept, see Minority Report, it certainly is turning out to be a timely one in light of the Aurora, Colorado shootings.  If you read any of the news on the topic, there has been a lot of discussion around the concept of trying to keep guns out of individuals who have mental illness and may be likely to snap, which definitely fits into the concept of pre-crime.  That will make The Forsaken an interesting discussion.  And, of course, like all dystopian novels, there is good discussion to be had around the concepts of government control and what role every day citizens play in trying to curb excessive government regimes.

So there you have it, our journey through the random dystopian generator.  What are your favorite dystopian conventions (and favorite dystopian titles)? And what dystopian conventions are you ready to retire?  Do you think Dystopians are finally reaching their saturation point?  What do you think will be the big trends in 2013?

Random note: The word dystopian was used 12 times in this post.

TPIB: My first love (and break up): Crush, Dumped, Kiss and The DateBook (with two bonus creative display ideas)

Ah, teenage love.  The agony. The ecstasy.  That first kiss. That first heartbreak.  This is one of the glorious hallmarks of the teenage years. 


Zest books has 4 great titles that cover this topic for you:
Crush: a girl’s guide to being crazy in love
Dumped: a girl’s guide to happiness after heartbreak
Kiss: a girl’s guide to puckering up by Erin Elisabeth Conley
The Date Book: a girl’s guide to going out with someone new by Erika Stalder

Debbie Thomas fails to win the ice skating gold at the same time that Karen fails to win the girlfriend gold
The night that Debbie Thomas was trying to win a gold medal in Olympic figure skating, my ex-boyfriend stood outside my door with a dozen red roses begging me to take him back.  Here’s the thing: I really, really wanted to – but I was too filled with pride to let him know that and I regreted it every day for years afterwards.  Let’s rewind.  I was “dating” a guy named Mike.  We had met my Sophomore year at a theater production after party when I bumped into him, literally.  We started talking and then we started dating.  The thing is, I was what they call a “late bloomer” and this was my first boyfriend and I was petrified.  And not so good at the smooching.  So one day Mike called and broke up with me.  The actual conversation went like this:
Mike: I want to break up with you
Me: Okay
Mike: Aren’t you going to like cry or something?
Me: No, why, is that what you want me to do?
Mike: Yes, because then I would know that you like me
Me: That’s so immature. How come my telling you I like you doesn’t answer that question?
Mike: (silence as he realizes his stupid ways)
So later that evening, Debbie Thomas laces up her skates, Karen pulled up a chair in front of the TV, and Mike showed up with flowers.  The truth is, breaking up with me to see how I would react was a real insert expletive here move.  As was my not just saying okay, I forgive you let’s not do this again.  The moral of my first romance story: pride can be a real heartbreaker. – Karen

That’s right ladies and gentleman, I was dumped.  I think most of us are at one point or another.  And sometimes, we have the horrible task of having to be the dumper (arguably better than being the dumpee).  Sadly, this was not the last time I was dumped, read on . . .

Me and The Mr. – love at first sight?

Was it Love at First Sight?
I dated the same boy for 18 months in High School and thought he was THE ONE. Until he broke up with me.  So I flew to visit my dad in Cali for a week knowing that when I returned, he would realize the error of his ways.  While visiting I went out with my BFF and this guy named Tim, we played pool.  I sat in the parking lot and showed Tim my prom pictures while I cried.  Yes, Tim is in fact The Mr.  But I left that night, returned home and waited for Kenny to take me back.  Kenny had a new girlfriend.  A couple of months later I moved back to Cali and eventually began dating Tim.  We have now been married for 17 years.  My favorite thing to do is ask Tim if it was love at first sight for him.  He assures me it was not because, you know, I sat in the parking lot crying and showing him my prom pictures.  Sometimes being dumped is the best thing that can ever happen to you, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Karen

A word about the books:
All 4 of these titles are short but fun looks at the topics.  They cover pretty much what girls want them to cover but in fun ways; there are lists, anecdotes and more.  Crush and Dumped both contain real life quotes from teens.  Three of the titles, Crush, Kiss, and Dumped, are slightly smallish for library shelves but I still ordered them and they didn’t pose a problem so don’t let that hold you back.  I love the pre-date flow chart in The Date Book, which also has a brief discussion about setting your personal physical boundaries.  The bottom lines: these books will circulate and meet the need well and often playfully, which is a good approach to these sometimes delicate topics.  The caveat: Crushed, Dumpes and Kiss are all those smaller sizes books that can easily pushed back and lost on the library shelves.  Don’t let that deter you, just be aware of it.  BONUS CREATIVE DISPLAY IDEA ALERT: I had seating tables in my teen area and I would pull out mini collections of books on a certain topic and put four or five books on the table top using 2 book shelf ends.  These books would certainly work well for that. 

My very favorite thing about these books is that they all have lists and items inside which can help spur some creative ideas for displays, contests and yes – programs!!!  You’re talking playlists of break-up songs, a theasurus of other words you can use instead of dumped, how to say I Love You in various languages, and more.  And in the midst of it all is useful information like things to look out for, what it all means, and keeping yourself safe and healthy.  The Date Book in particular is a useful resource for young teens just thinking about dipping their toes into the romance pool or looking for some dating ideas.

Using the books in your programming:

Host an anti-Valentines day party in February
Have your teens decorate broken heart cookies, do a contest where you match popular dumpers  with their dumpees, make Valentines for your BFF or your puppy, create a sling arrows at cupid game (think pin the tail on the donkey), and as the ultimate catharsis write your heartbreak letters and then shred them.  Have teens create their own heartbreak playlists and dance the night away, or may I suggest Karoake.

Dating Violence Awareness
Check around locally to see if there is someone who can come in and do a teen dating violence awareness program. They should be able to discuss signs of dating violence, what constitutes a healthy relationship and more.  The local hospital may have an education person who does this, mine did.  You can use these books as door prizes.

Movie Festival
Host either a romance or break-up movie festival.  Might I suggest looking to the 80s for some great ones. Think John Hughes. Kiss has a list of movies that contain a first kiss (p. 44).

I Heart Crafts
Don’t forget the very large variety of “love” or “heart” related crafts that you can put together.  This is a case where Pinterest is your friend.

Make a Dumped Survival Kit
Decorate Chinese food take-out boxes (you can order them through Oriental Trading or buy that at most craft suppliers) and throw in a small packet of tissues, include some chocolate of course, and make your own fortune cookies (recipe here) with your own affirming messages.  Actually, making your own fortune cookies is a great at home activity, so include the recipe and write your fortunes if you are doing it at the library.  Bonus Fun: act out your favorite dumping scenes as a little reader’s theater/role play.  Don’t forget the ultimate break-up song: Kiss Him Goodbye (the Na Na Na song).

This Kiss (Lip Crafts!)
Think of all the fun lip activities you can do: make big lips to put on your straws (straw lips!), make lip shaped Valentine’s, make your own lip balm and these Lip Balm Purses, etc.  Be sure to have Faith Hill’s This Kiss and Prince’s Kiss playing in the background.  BONUS CREATIVE DISPLAY IDEA ALERT: You can even have your teens make lip shaped shelf talkers where they “kiss” their favorite books to give them the seal of approval; Simply cut out lip shapes and ask your teens to write out their recommendations and put them on the shelves (or on display) with the books.  Think “This Book is Lip Smacking Good!”

Your Kiss Party Playlist:
This Kiss by Faith Hill
This Kiss by Carly Rae Jepsen
Kiss by Prince
Kiss Me by Sixpence None the Richer
True Love’s Kiss from the movie Enchanted
Just a Kiss by Lady Antebellum
Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid

Some Awesome YA About Falling in Love:
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
(I didn’t say they were all happy stories, but they are true love stories)

And for the broken hearted . . .
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Why We Broke Up by Handler and Kalman
Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg
Getting Over Garret Delaney by Abby McDonals
Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith
And the ultimate I’ve been dumped and can’t deal book: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (as described by Christie G)

Are you bold enough to share your high school romance stories with us in the comments?  What are your favorite falling in love of being dumped ya books?

Top 10: Middle Grade Fiction, Graphically Speaking

If your job description is anything close to what I’ve seen, you get to fill in the blanks for the nebulous population known as the “tweens”- that 10-12 year old scary time where they can’t quite fit in with the teenagers because they’re “little” kids but they want to DO everything the teenagers do, from HALO tournaments to lock-ins, and are tired of the “baby” things that the little kids are doing.  Welcome to the “Tween zone” – kinda like the Twilight zone, but with tweens.

To a point, they’re right.  Their development and needs are different than younger kids, but they’re also different than teens, so what works for them won’t work for other groups.  The humor and sarcasm that works with teens won’t work with a lot of tweens, and the smoothing that you do with younger kids won’t work with them either.  Their reading habits differ as well- they need to be pushed into that world of inbetween books (whether you have it as junior high or juvenile or tween or chapter books) before they jump from picture to teen books.  This is the time where a lot of kids will loose that love of reading- often times because they struggle in making the transition from picture book to “grown up”, and don’t have the encouragement.

So what do you do?  I like pulling my hybrid books- those books that still have the graphics and illustrations throughout the book to keep their interest, but have the story and characters that build depth and encourage their thought process and critical thinking.  While they’re a relatively new genre (think Captain Underpants), they’re still mostly found under juvenile fiction, and can get lost between copies of Wonder, The Giver, and Mark of Athena.

I’ve pulled together the TOP TEN books that my “tweens” are DEVOURING that have a twist- they’re books, but are illustrated or graphic novels without delving into the world of manga.  And they can easily be turned into a book program- take leftover notebooks or journals and have them create their own illustrated journals.  Have an origami program and create characters from the books. Draw yourself in the style of the books and see who has the best character!

If you know of titles that fit but didn’t make the list, share in the comments below!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  I cannot keep these on the shelves, in English or in Spanish.  They are constantly moving, and the request list is always long.  And with the movies continuing to be popular, I don’t think my list is leaving any time soon.

Zita the Spacegirl series by Ben Hatke.  Zita is a kick-butt heroine who doesn’t blink when her best friend is abducted by aliens.  So far there are two books in the series, but I’m hopeful more are on the way.

Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renee Russell.  My tween girls are IN LOVE with these books- these are Nikki’s diaries as she goes through moving to a new school  fighting for an iPhone with her mom, and other 8th grade struggles.

The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger.  Tying into the popularity of the Star Wars franchise, Angleberger puts these characters into tweens mindsets and humorous situations, and gives instructions for how to create the origami versions both in the back of the books and on his website.

NERDS series by Michael Buckley.  The unpopular 5th graders aren’t what they seem- they’re actually running a secret spy ring within the school itself.  Transforming themselves into amazing super spy heroes, the outcomes are hilarious  and keep my tweens laughing.


Bone series by Jeff Smith.  First published in 2005, New York Times Bestseller, still extremely popular.  Just fair warning, however, that there may be “inappropriate subjects” (smoking and other issues do appear throughout the books)  

Artemis Fowl:  The Graphic Novel.  This one actually surprised me, because I hadn’t had anyone asking for the books, but they’ve really been asking for the graphic novel.  I think it’s great, and I’ve actually been able to turn some of the graphic novel readers into series readers while waiting for the read of the graphic novels to come out.  And it doesn’t help that I have the author’s page bookmarked where he does all eight books in eight minutes…

Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.  Babymouse can skew young, but my tweens can’t get enough.  The schoolhouse drama between Babymouse and her nemesis Felicia Furrypaws goes on and on and on, and the adventures seem endless!

Lunch Lady series by Jarrell J. Krosoczka.  Taking her Breakfast Brunch through a series of ongoing adventures is the brave Lunch Lady, fighting with weapons like the spatu-copter, the spork phone, GPS gum, ziti microscopes, and carrot thumb drives.  Like Babymouse, this series does skew on the younger side.

Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon.  Danny is unique, the only dragon, and is constantly getting into situations eerily similar to the ones that tweens face (having to watch a younger sibling and things go wrong, being bullied, etc.)  The humor laced throughout the books, as well as the as-is-well endings, gives this series’ off beat humor a home in tweens’ hearts.
What are your tweens reading?