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What I Learned About “Representation Matters” While Reading BENEATH WANDERING STARS by Ashlee Cowles

beneath wandering starsBy the time I graduated high school, I had attended 9 separate schools in three different states. Every time I would start a new school the first question everyone asks, after what’s your name, is “where are you from?” I have no good answer to this question. I am from nowhere and everywhere.

I am what they call a “military brat”.

My father was in the Air Force and long after they divorced and he retired, my mom continued to work for AAFES. I understand if you don’t know what that means. While other kids bought their school supplies at KMart or wherever, I bought mine at the BX (base exchange). And we bought our groceries at the commissary. Although I only ever briefly lived on a base, usually for transitional housing, my life was often radically different then the kids I went to school with. We spoke in my house in terms and abbreviations that my friends never fully understood.

And you always entered into each new school year with the realization that you were a stranger in a land full of people who had spent their lives building bonds that you could never hope to have. When I graduated high school I had only been at that school for 2 years. For the few brief years of my Freshman and Sophmore year I had a glimpse into the epic lifestyle known as best friends. But one of my trio died in a car crash our junior year, shortly after I moved again, and the second part of that trio died on January 1st of this year. That was the closest I ever came to traditions and rituals and stories to share about high school besties because there was always another move.

Which brings me to Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles.

Gabriela Santiago is a military brat/kid. When we first meet her, she is stationed with her family on a base in Germany (my parents were stationed in Germany as well). Her brother has recently enlisted and is now serving in Afghanistan. They soon learn that Lucas has been seriously injured and he has requested that she and her father go on a hiking journey in his honor and conquer the Camino de Santiago. What follows is a moving tale of self discovery and forgiveness and relationship in the great tradition of quest novels. This book would actually be a great companion piece with The Way Back from Broken by Amber Keyser in the way that it combines rugged outdoor activity and peril with healing journeys. I recommend both.

When I began reading this book, I was immediately struck by Gabi’s story of life in the military. It wasn’t a vague reference to military life, Gabi actually mentions going to the BX, AAFES, and more. She talks very openly about the frequent moves and the emotional impact. She talks about the expectations of military kids. And she does so in ways that were moving and felt incredibly accurate to me. This is only the second time I have really read a book that addressed the life of being a military kid in such authentic ways. The first was If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth.

Reading this book and seeing my struggles as a military kid – I can not begin to tell you how much it meant to me. I’m not going to say that I cried, but I’m not going to say that I didn’t. I have always struggled with a lot of the emotions that Gabi expresses. Today as an adult I continue to struggle with the lack of what most people call ties or a sense of home. When I go visit either of my parents, there are no rooms full of childhood memories because they are not the rooms that I slept in.

The way that I related to this book and the way that it spoke to my soul really got me thinking about representation. As a white woman, I have never really lacked to see myself in a book. I am not underrepresented in YA literature. There are 1,000s of Hermiones and Bellas and whoever else you can think of. I can pick up almost any book in my YA collection and read about girls that look like me.

But Gabi is different. She spoke to a part of me that always seemed so different and misunderstood – being a military kid. This is not surprising as the author bio states that Cowles herself was an Army “brat”. She gets it. She was able to tap into her experience in a way that speaks of authenticity to military life, which is another affirmation and helped me gain a better understanding of the importance of “own voices”. In this case were not talking about ethnicity or disability, but about unique life experiences. And trust me, military life is a unique life experience that is under represented in YA literature and media as a whole. As we talk about “supporting our troops”, we fail to fully grasp not only what we are asking our military to do, but the unique burdens that we put on their families as well.

It’s interesting to note that Gabi is not white, she is Latinx, but as a white reader I still had no problems relating to her. Her Latin culture is very important to her story and it was something that I enjoyed learning about, but her story of what it is like to be a military kid spoke the universal about military life. This book was, for me, both a mirror and a window. I can not tell you how powerful that was to me to read things about how military life haunted me in the story of Gabi, further reminding me of the importance of representation for all of our teens.

I needed this book when I was in high school and dealing with yet another two moves. I didn’t know I needed it until I read it, but what a difference this would have made for teenage Karen. I needed to hear someone else say AAFES and talk about shopping at the BX and eating at the food court with some really unique and weird food places that didn’t seem to exist off base.

And our teens . . . they need to see themselves in the books that they read. They need to have a voice. They need to know that there are people like them who experience and think about the same things that they do. This book further solidified for me a deeper understanding of the call for more diversity and inclusion in YA literature.

Representation matters.

Publisher’s Book Description

After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, “Beneath Wandering Stars” takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds. (August 2016 from Merit Press)

Book Giveaway

Leave a comment by Friday, September 2nd for your chance to win a hardback copy of this book. Open to US only please. Be sure and leave some type of trackback, like a Twitter handle or email, so I can get in touch with you. I’ll put the names into a hat and do a random drawing.

YA Book Club Discussion: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

IMG_6587On December 12, the teen book club I run at the library talked about Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends, a story about a school shooting. Sourcebooks was nice enough to send us a box of books, some chalkboards, and chalk as part of a pre-publication event. Six very talkative teens took part in the main discussion (some other teens took the book back in November when I handed it out, but didn’t make it to this meeting, and a few other kids filtered in toward the end of our discussion). We took pictures of ourselves holding the chalkboards after we wrote our brief reaction to the book on them. For privacy’s sake, we covered up our faces and I am only using the teens’ first initial (and seriously, yes, like half my book club has names that start with A).


As an aside, can I just say that I LOVE when we feature actual teen voices on TLT? I spend so much of my time hearing what other adults think about YA, and while that’s great, I am always desperate to hear more from actual teenagers when it comes to discussions on YA. Having worked in a high school library and now a public library, and running a teen book club, I’ve gotten spoiled by how many conversations I get to have about YA with real teens. I often think their voices get lost in all of our chatter. I so value their input (on everything, book-related or not) and am lucky that I get to interact with teens all the time.


For more about Marieke Nijkamp and her new book, check out my School Library Journal interview with her! 



Me, age 19 (twice over)

The publisher’s overview of the book:

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told from four perspectives over the span of 54 harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.



E, age 17


The discussion (which includes some spoilers):

Conversation flew fast and furious (and my notes are quite fragmented—hard to catch all of the side conversations that cropped up). I’m mostly just going to relay what they talked about and not editorialize or argue points where I may disagree with them. What follows are highlights from our discussion:


The teens all felt that the various reactions and way things unfolded in the auditorium were extremely realistic. We saw a wide range of reactions to the shooting from the students in the book. Some of our discussion veered into wondering if certain characters reacted in realistic ways, or wondering why it took them so long to do specific things. We kept coming back to, well, who knows how any of us would react in this horrific situation.



R, age 16


We spent a fair amount of time wondering how realistic the set-up was, with an entire school all in one place in the auditorium and the shooter having enough time to secure the building and get certain people out of the way. My group of book club teens includes traditionally schooled teenagers as well as home schooled and unschooled kids. Many of the teens attend the high school I used to work at. We all agreed that if a situation like this were to unfold there, there would still be faculty and staff present in other areas of the building, so it was hard for many of us to picture a school event that put everyone conveniently in one place.
There was also a large discussion about how realistic the response time seemed. Again, we were only hypothesizing, and know the school was in a remote area, but many wondered if it would actually take the police so long to get to the school. Everyone understood the police had to be kept away, for narrative purposes, but wondered about the believability of it.



A, age 19


Responses to characters were all over the place. Many didn’t like Autumn, the shooter’s sister, or feel connected to her. Others did like her. One girl wondered if she was depressed. Everyone did, however, agree that including a family member in this situation was important and a nice touch. We talked about how none of these acts of violence occur in a vacuum, and that all shooters have families, are someone’s kid, etc. This led to talking later about readers wanting to know what happened after the event, how Tyler’s dad and sister coped and moved on.


Another element that generated discussion was the use of flashbacks to fill in backstories. For many, it distracted from the suspense to keep getting pulled away from the story to go back and learn details. They wondered if there was a different way to give us this information without breaking up the tension.


Many of the teens felt sad for Tyler, the shooter, and felt empathy for him. They felt sorry for him. They saw he was at the end of his rope and that this shooting was his revenge, with him punctuating his point. Nothing was going to stop him. They talked about how he didn’t just snap, that he had planned this, and that he knew how it would all end. They said the book ended in a way that it had to—there was no other outcome for Tyler than what happened.



Q, age 14

Regarding the violence, the teens felt it was realistic without being overly graphic, and that it was hard to read, but you can’t censor the violence in a story about a school shooting.


One boy repeatedly noted how good Nijkamp is at striking terror into her readers. We all could feel the horror of what was happening in that auditorium.


We talked a little about the social media aspects included in the novel—tweets and messages interspersed between chapters. The teens said it helped show reactions on the outside and the immediacy of reactions. They were grossed out by the people trying to get interviews and remarks from kids busy being worried they were about to be shot. A few felt the tweets etc weren’t necessary and distracted from the tension.


I was surprised that the teenagers ALL agreed that they felt the body count would be higher (than the incredibly high number it was). Given how long the shooter held most of the school captive, they thought far more students would have died. Eek.



S, age 16


We discussed the epilogue to the book, too. The teenagers felt the epilogue softened the otherwise extremely dark and upsetting book. One girl noted that it gave readers a bit of hope to cling to. A few wanted the book to end with the chapter prior to the epilogue, to let it end on a more brutal and hopeless note. One girl noted that she simply didn’t read epilogues if she thought the penultimate chapter provided a satisfying ending.


Overall, the teenagers saw a lot to pick apart (and believe me, they ALWAYS do)—the believability of the situation, the response time, the reactions—but all agreed that the novel hit close to home with how common mass shootings are and are curious to see what Nijkamp will do next.




A, age 13

The teenagers wrote up brief responses to the novel: 


THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time. The way that the characters’ stories intertwined so effortlessly really amazed me, and the way that all the characters had something to do with Tyler really gave them all a purpose and made them all essential. However, in my opinion, at the middle/latter part of the book, the flashbacks were, I thought, a bit unnecessary. I was almost tempted to stop reading because of the lack of suspense, at the part where I thought there should have been more. But other than that, one of the better books I have read in a long time.

A, age 13


Okay, so this book was not something I would actively seek out, but it was something that really resonated me. It was a well-written book but could have been better without the fillers. It really made me think about how many people in my school could be capable of doing this. All and all this was an okay novel.

E, age 17


I really like Tyler’s planning, but it doesn’t seem very practical. It seems odd how far away the school is from town. Autumn is a drama queen. Tomas is a great character. I really wanted more aftermath. The background characters give a lot of life to the story.

Q, age 14


What a heartwrenching read! The characters have such great development, only to have them disappear at a moment’s notice. The relevency of the concept is sure to make this a interesting read for teens. A very thought- provoking and tragic story.

S, age 16


So I liked the book overall. It had lots of great things like how it seemed very real in the auditorium and you could picture what it would be like to be in a school shooting which is very common but not really talked about. It has some good characters who you could empathize with. Also I found the idea of everything happening so fast cool. But I think all the backstory, though necessary, was too distracting from trying to make everything happen in less than an hour. I forgot I was scared till it flashed back into current time and it was a little difficult to stay focused, but when it did go back you wanted to keep reading to find out what happens next during the shooting.


I thought Tomas’s character was pretty well done and we wanted him to save the day and we are sad for him. Also most kids have been bullied/outcast from some group so we could relate to what it’d be like to be a school shooter in a very very less aggressive way. I thought it was very smart to add a family member in the auditorium because I have an older brother who has autism so he’s been bullied and most people assume school shooters to be autistic, sadly, so I could relate somewhat to her character. She had barely any depth to her character and I understand why she’d be so depressed—she barely had friends or interests. I liked her relationship with Sylvia because it was subtle and semi realistic in the fact a lot of couples aren’t public and especially gay or lesbian couples don’t want to tell their parents so keeping it hidden seems like a good depiction of that kind of relationship that isn’t portrayed in a lot of things.


I like how it ended because if he didn’t die we would have been very mad at him and probably wished he had died and in most stories you hear of school shooters or any shooting they kill themselves because they have no reason to live and go to jail. I would recommend this book for a quick read on a new perspective of school shootings but needs work in areas like, where was the rest of the staff and students because in normal lockdowns they are in their rooms but was everyone in the auditorium? Usually that doesn’t happen in real life because kids go to the bathroom, teachers don’t have to be at assemblies that don’t affect them, etc.

R, age 16




A, age 18

Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing us with the books! This Is Where It Ends comes out today, January 5th. For another look at teens’ reactions to this book, see Karen’s post.

TAB Book Discussion: THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp

tiwie9 I have a secret: I have never been able to succeffully host a teen book discussion group at any of the libraries I have worked at. At most I ever got 3 people to attend, so I eventually gave it up and moved on to more successful programming. But I was contacted by Sourcebooks and given the opportunity to host a book discussion of the upcoming January release THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp and I jumped at the chance. The main difference this time? I was going to be hosting it in my house with the TLT Teen Advisory Board.

So on Thursday, November 12th 4 TLT TAB members and a couple of their friends met at my house to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS. We had 6 teens all together and they had all read and loved the book. Discussion kits were sent to me a few weeks earlier by Sourcebooks to help us prepare for our discussion. At the end I asked each teen to share a short review of the book and we asked each teen to share visually their overall impression of the book. That information follows the Publisher’s Book Description.

Here are our TLT TAB members getting ready to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

Here are our TLT TAB members getting ready to discuss THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS

Publisher’s Book Description

thisiswhereitends10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won’t open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.



The Teens’ Reactions


Melanie, 12th grade


“In the debut novel by Marieke Nijkemp, it displays an ever growing situation that is being an everyday problem. The author utilizes literary devices to portray an event told by different perspectives. It moved readers and changed the way we viewed things.”

Lexi, 12th grade


“This book swept the rug out from underneath my feet. I felt every death, felt every pain these deaths caused, felt the devastation these twins faced. This book ripped me apart and only when I lost all hope did it stitch me back together.”

Kris, 11th grade


“This book kept me wondering and always on the edge of my seat. I always [wanted] to know more and was always changing how I felt about characters. It was constantly having my emotions played with. Great read had me hooked from the first few pages.”

The Teen, 7th grade


“This book captured the pure horror of an event and beautifully told the story of many people. It also created the image of people who change and how they turn into what they are. Just perfect.”

Cat, 7th grade


“Unexpected and captures the true terror of the people inside the school and outside. Tells of people’s life and how each of them contribute to Tyler’s story. beautifully written, it’s a story of a school shooting. I understand how people react to the shooting and how your life is at risk. Also, if my loved one’s died I would die inside.”

The Bestie, 7th grade


“Unexpected and suspenseful in so many ways. No changes are needed to make this one of the best book’s ever. I’m in love with the mind-blowing ending and the twists and turns of a crazy high school experience.”

The Discussion

This is a really powerful book for a book discussion. There were a lot of characters to discuss, a lot of events, and of course the teens had a lot to say about the topic of school violence and even gun control. The three older teens all go to a magnet school and it was interesting to note that they all felt safe there. They said there was almost no bullying and they thought it may be in part because each student there chose to go to that school. In comparison, the three younger teens all talked about the bullying and fighting in their school. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago there was an incident where someone in the local high school had made threats and had been arrested.

Although the teens were overwhelmingly positive about the reading experience, there was some heated discussion about characters, motivation and, as I mentioned, gun control. One of the teens felt that the book was perhaps propaganda for gun control because they didn’t really present another viewpoint. Although in the end she was still really enjoyed the book and her reading experience. I’m not sure that I agree with her about the gun control issue because it doesn’t really come up one way or the other in the book; because it is a book about a school shooting it of course must show someone using a gun for a negative purpose. Towards the end there are multiple police present so it could be argued that both sides are shown. But like I said, it was an interesting and at times intense discussion.

Our primary discussion revolved around the characters. It was interesting to note that all 6 of the teens had a different favorite character. It was also interesting to note how sympathetic they felt towards various characters and why. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS presents a diverse cast of characters, which I appreciated

As you can probably tell, this was a great book. I think intense is a really good word for it. Be sure to check out Amanda’s recent Take 5 on some newer titles dealing with school violence.

THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS by Marieke Nijkamp will be published in January of 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire. ISBN: 978-1-4926-2246-8

TPIB: The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke (a guest post)

Come explore “beneath the surface” of the waves with The Neptune Project, my new undersea adventure story about a group of geneticallyaltered teens fighting to survive in the sea. Voya claims the book “revels in the beauty of the underwater world and the creatures that inhabit it.”

I’m thrilled with that description because I did want to share my love of the ocean with young readers. Growing up in land-locked Colorado, I was always fascinated by the sea even though I rarely got to see it. Eventually I became a scuba diver, and I finally had a chance to explore that amazing world firsthand. Now I take my dive gear along with me on school visits because students are so intrigued by it. I’m not sure most parents realize that children as young as 11 or 12 can get certified to dive and start exploring the sea themselves (with proper supervision)!

I loved doing research for The Neptune Project. Before I started to write this story, I read dozens of books on oceanography and dolphins. I also talked with marine biologists, dolphin trainers and dive masters. But my favorite research, by far, was swimming with dolphins. My family and I swam with domesticated dolphins in Florida, and I went snorkeling with wild spinner dolphins in Hawaii. I’ll never forget seeing and listening to dozens of spinners swimming beneath me, squeaking and whistling happily to each other as they flowed through the bright blue sea.

In my story, dolphins become characters in their own right as they protect my heroine and her companions on their dangerous journey north to a new undersea colony. The book is full of non-stop action because the Neptune kids have to fight sharks, giant squid and divers from a repressive government determined to catch them.

The Neptune Project is the story of Nere Hanson, a shy, unconfident girl who inadvertently becomes a leader. I had hoped the book would appeal to girls, but I’m also finding out that boys love it, too. Because the book contains so much action and excitement, it’s also a strong selection for reluctant readers.


“Almost every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, forcing the reader to flip the page for more. In addition, the book revels in the beauty of the underwater world and the creatures that inhabit it. The relationship between the teenagers and the dolphins—who actually become characters themselves—is especially well crafted. There is even a touch of romance when Nere becomes the object of a romantic rivalry between two boys—quiet, reliable Tobin and sarcastic, daring Dai. With both romance and adventure, The Neptune Project will attract male and female readers.”—Cheryl Clark for Voya

“This suspenseful undersea dystopia should keep middle schoolers hooked.” Kirkus Reviews


Below are some discussion questions and a Scavenger Hunt put together by The Neptune Project author Polly Holyoke for a ready made program you can use.

Discussion Questions for The Neptune Project

1. What if someone said that you HAD to start living in the sea tomorrow? What aspects of living in the ocean would you enjoy? What aspects would you hate?

2. What is life on land like for Nere and her classmates before she goes into the sea? What events or factors, do you suppose, may have led to the wars and climate disasters that have clearly taken place since our time?

3. Reviewers claim that The Neptune Projectvividly depicts the world under the waves. Is there anything that surprised you about that world?

4. Some of the dolphins in the story can actually communicate with Nere in human words, but only because Mariah was smart enough to pick up human speech when she was young. Do you think some animals do communicate with each other? Do you believe some animals are capable of thinking?

5. Nere, to her surprise, becomes a leader in the course of the story. Do you think she was the right choice? What qualities do you think a good leader should possess?

6. Over 70% percent of our earth’s surface is covered by our oceans and only 95% of those have been fully explored. Would you like to explore them some day?

The Neptune Project Scavenger Hunt

I challenge you to dive in to some ocean explorations of your own. In the course of doing research for The Neptune Project, I came across all sorts of wonderful sites on the Internet where kids can find out more about the sea.

And find out:
1. What does NOAA stand for?
2. How much of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans?

3. How much of our oceans remain unexplored?

And find out:
4. What famous movie director and ocean explorer recently made the deepest solo submarine dive in history?
5. How deep did he dive?
6. Where did he dive?

Go to: http://www.dolphins.org/marineed_anatomy.php
And find out:
7. What is the correct name for a dolphin’s head?
8. What is the correct name for its nose?

Go to: http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/info-books/bottlenose/communication.htm
And find out:
9. What four kinds of sounds do dolphins make? Make sure you listen to all four recordings. They are super cool and very surprising!

And find out:
10. What are some of the most dangerous and deadly creatures in the sea?

Go to: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/sharks.html
And find out:
11. Why are sharks so susceptible to fishing pressure (over fishing)?

Go to: http://www.pollyholyoke.com/undersea-gallery.php
Try to:
12. Guess at least five sea creatures in the photo gallery of Nere’s undersea world and then list the

CONGRATULATIONS!  You have completed my official Scavenger Hunt!
Do you have extra time on your hands this summer?
And try making one of their cool projects or doing one of their cool experiments!
Answers to Scavenger Hunt:
  1. NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  2. The seas cover approximately 70.1 percent of the earth’s surface, which means much more of our planet is covered by ocean than by land.
  3. NOAA states that 95% of the oceans still hasn’t been explored.
  4. James Cameron
  5. 35,787 ft or 10,908 meters
  6. the Mariana Trench, the deepest known place on Earth
  7. Dolphins’ heads are called “melons.”
  8. Dolphins’ noses are called “rostrums” or “beaks.”
  9. Dolphins make clicking, creaking, and squeaking sounds and buzzing clicks when they communicate and echolocate.
  10. Possible correct answers from this site: striped sturgeonfish, barracudas, yellow sea anemone, moray eel, great white shark, whitespotted sturgeonfish, oyster toadfish, Indonesian needlefish, textile cone snail, saltwater crocodile and sea anemone
  11. Shark populations are so vulnerable to over-fishing because they are long lived, take many years to mature and only have few young at a time.
  12. Possible right answers from this site include: Spanish shawl nudibranch, giant Pacific octopus, humpback whale, anemone/brittlestar, greenback sea turtle, bat ray, spiny lobster, sea otter, golden gorgonian/sea urchin, California sea lion, great white shark, red gorgonian, Pacific white-sided dolphins, angel shark, orange garibaldi, sheephead fish, wolf eel, leopard shark, elephant seal.

On the First Day of Blogmas, My TLT Gave to Me…

It’s December.  Wait – what? It’s December already?  Wow. Okay. Well, that must mean that it’s time for our second annual 12 Blogs of Christmas, where we highlight 12 of the blogs that help us do the things that we do as readers and librarians.

Today I bring you, The Nerdy Book Club.  And here to tell you about it is one of my favorite nerds: Maria Selke.

“On the first day of Christmas, my TLT gave to me…
A book blog that is Nerdy”

Member of the Nerdy Book ClubIt’s the Nerdy Book Club! http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/
I’m helping celebrate the holiday season with Teen Librarian Toolbox by sharing some of the many reasons that I read this blog every day.

1) The Nerdies:
Have you ever sighed when the annual book awards were announced? Ever wonder how Charlotte’s Web could get passed over? Ever wish you could be on your own award team, but know you don’t have time to volunteer for the Cybils? Wish no more. You can participate in the second annual Nerdie awards. The last week of November was for nominating our favorites. The top nominees will be revealed on December 2nd. Check it out, then read – read – read! Voting runs from December 16-21st, and the final awards will be posted starting December 26th.

2) Wide variety of content:
Each day has a special theme at the Nerdy Book Club.

Mondays we get insights into one another’s Reading Lives. I guest posted on this topic and shared my love for science fiction and fantasy. http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/ode-to-a-geeky-reader/

Tuesdays we have Author Visits. We’ve heard from A.S. King, learned about how Karen Cushman reacted when she learned about her Newbery win, and heard about a fun author visit by Gae Polisner. It’s always exciting to see who will stop by this week!  

Wednesdays are New Book Reviews – Want to learn about some of the newer titles? This is your day. With a variety of levels and genres, there is always something new to discover.

Thursdays we get a Retro Review. While new books are appealing, there is something to be said for the tried and true. My review of Wrinkle in Time appeared in this category, 50 years after its initial publication. http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/tessering-back-to-a-wrinkle-in-time/

Fridays we share how we Pay It Forward, with each post focusing on the many ways we try to inspire and ignite a love of reading in those around us.

Saturdays are all about Top Ten lists – every kind you can imagine. We’ve hadTop Ten Fun Math books, Top Ten Classroom Read-alouds, Top Ten Girl Power (at a variety of reading levels), and more. What kind of Top Ten list would you like to see?

Surprise Sunday You never know just what to expect on Sundays. Sunday is the day we got the link to nominate for the Nerdie awards of 2012. It is also the day we got a recap of all the Nerdy Book Clubbers at the NCTE conference.

Every once in a while we’ll get something else. Maybe a poll, asking us to contribute our thoughts. Or a contest. Whatever shows up on the blog, I know I’ll want to check it out!

3) Wide variety of writers
The Nerdy Book Club blog is written by book lovers of all ages and interests. Authors stop by to tell us about their books, their lives, or to make cool announcements. I was able to sign up for a Skype chat with graphic novel author Stephen McCranie when he posted the opportunity on the site. New teachers, veteran teachers, librarians, parents – all are welcome to share their book love at the Nerdy Book Club. No matter who you are, what you like to read, or what kinds of readers you interact with on a daily basis – you will find a great post about great books here.

4) Love books? You are already a member.
The Nerdy Book Club is always looking for people who would like to contribute to the blog. I’ve already had five posts go live this past year! Three of them were joint posts with amazing blogging buddies I never would have met without Twitter (check out the #nerdybookclub tag) and this blog. Before the blog even began, I started seeing the tag on twitter. I still remember the day I responded to @colbysharp and asked, “How can I become part of the #nerdybookclub?” His response was simple and heartwarming. “You already are.”

If you are reading this now… and you love books…. so are you.

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.

Felicia Day and her joyous geeky ways, a model of an online book club

So, I woke up super early this morning and didn’t know what to post and was feeling amazingly uninspired.  Then, suddenly, someone (I don’t remember who, sorry but thank you so much for the entertainment this morning) Tweeted about this online book group by Felicia Day called the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout.  All hail the power of the Internet.

Two things:
1) I love Felicia Day, she is a geeky gem and I love her geeky ways.  Just last night I watched her go all glitchy on the newest episode of Eureka.  Everyone should see her in the most fantabulous Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing A Long Blog.
2) I didn’t name it that, sorry to those with more delicate sensibilities.

So I spent the morning doing extensive research for you (you’re welcome), and am really impressed with the format and think to myself – self, this would be a great way to do a book discussion group with teens and create some online content.  I’m not going to lie, it would be helpful to have some good personalities involved.  You may have noticed, but I am not a particularly funny person.  But we all know and love some teens who wear snark well, get them involved.  Bonus points if you can get them to read the book, too.

So here is what they do:

1. They have an online book discussion via Google+ Hangout.
2. They record it.
3. They upload it (to YouTube)
(Note: you could also just all meet in the same room and just record it)

Here, for example, they discuss Gabriel’s Ghost
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDv72DuJHwo]

They do have an online webpage and forum for the group powered by tumblr.  They post in the Goodreads forum.  They Tweet.  Basically, they are using the power of the web in all the right ways and are talking about books.  They really do talk about the books.

This is such an excellent example of how you can get teens into tech and discussing books.

As for vaginal fantasy, it appears to be fantasy with sex.  I am not sure if they made that term up themselves or if it is a real genre that I just somehow missed.  Maybe someone can clear that up in the comments for me.