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Get Your Generations On! (Older characters in YA lit – and my grandma)

It seems a truism in YA lit that adults often seem far and few between.  Even when they are there, they don’t often play a significant role. And older adults? Forget about it.  I have really been thinking about this since our discussion earlier this week about siblings in YA lit: Siblings? We don’t need no stinkin’ siblings.  I guess I have been thinking about family dynamics and multi-generational characters in the lives of teens.

My favorite memories are of those moments spent at my grandparents house. My grandma knew all my favorite foods and would make them every time I cam to visit.  As a young child, I would go to the grocery store with her and she would buy me and 8 pack of crayons and a coloring books.  Even when I visited during college, she would take me to the grocery store and buy me and 8 pack of crayons and a coloring book, for memory sake.  When I had children of my own, she began taking them and buying them an 8 pack of crayons and – yep – a coloring book.

Two of my favorite people

In the last few months of my grandfather’s life he developed dementia.  Sometimes, while we were sitting at the dinner table, his mind would slip back into the past and he would talk about things as if he was in another time and place.  I got a glimpse of life in the past, and to be honest, it wasn’t always pretty.  In those moments I learned that my grandfather was not always the man I thought he was, but I also learned that over the space of a lifetime people grow and change.

In high school, we had an assignment where we had to interview a World War II survivor to learn first hand what the world was like then.  I will never forget sitting knee to knee with this older gentleman and learning about the hunger that sat constantly in the pit of his belly, the long lines at the gas stations as you waited to get just the few gallons of gas your ration coupons would buy, the feeling of knowing that a loved one was never coming home.

My experiences with my own grandparents always makes me think, it is too bad we don’t show more multi-generational relationships in ya lit.  So today, I want to spotlight a few titles that I think show the wisdom that comes from being in relationship with the generations before us.

The Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer
Truth be told, Bauer does this really well in a lot of her titles.  But Rules of the Road is my favorite.  It’s kind of like Driving Miss Daisy, but with a teen doing the driving.

Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt
When Mallory finds a list from her grandmother’s high school years, she sets out to complete it.  She swears off all modern life and dives in head first, thinking her grandma’s life was so much simpler than her angsty life today.  Along the way she learns that the teenage years are always the same, the various tools are simply different.  Mallory’s grandma shows tremendous compassion and wisdom while being a genuine person, warts and all.

The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski

Sheridan is known as “Cake Girl” in the town that she has lived all of her life, where she can just walk a hop, skip and a jump away to see her grandmother.  When her father gets offered a chance to have his own cooking show in New York, her life may change forever.

Wake (Dream Catcher #!) by Lisa McCann
Janie gets sucked into other people’s dreams, and some of them put her in terrifying risk.  Miss Stubin is also a dream catcher, and she helps Janie understand her gift.  Wake is a suspenseful read.

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

While not technically YA, this is one of those classic books that everyone can – and should – read.  Told in a series of story vignette, Long Way chronicles the summers spent by siblings Joey and Mary Alice at their grandmas house which is, as you might guess, a long way from Chicago.   Funny, heart felt, this is a book families can sit around and read out loud together.

Please share your favorite titles that show teens interacting in positive ways with older generations.
(PS – I cried typing up this post.  I miss you grandma.)

These are a few of my favorite reads: the 2012 Karen edition

Raindrops on roses and zombies eating kittens,
Bright copper boys and warm fuzzy kisses,
Page after page, turning with need
These are a few of my favorite reads . . .

MG Reads, approved by my tween
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Wonder by R J Palacio
The Cavendish Home for Boys &Girls by Claire Legrand
Whatever After: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski
(the complete top 10 post is here)

Heartwarming Reads
Guitar Notes by Mary Amato
The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Wonder by R J Palacio

The Books That Make You Go Hmmm (aka Thoughtful Reads)
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown
The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez
The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna
Speechless by Hannah Harrington

Mindbending Reads (aka What the Heck is Happening Here?)
The Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby
Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross
Every Day by David Levithan
BZRK by Michael Grant
Through to You by Emily Hainsworth

Sci Fi Awesomeness
The Future We Left Behind by Mike A. Lancaster
BZRK by Michael Grant
Crewel by Gennifer Albin
Insignia by S J Kincaid
Across the Universe/A Million Suns by Beth Revis

Dystopian Worlds I Wouldn’t Want to Live In, But Love to Read About
Delirium/Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Starters by Lissa Price
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Unwind/Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Grrr, Arrr . . . Brains . . . Nom, Nom (Zombie Reads)
Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry
This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Ashes/Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick
Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

Reality Bites, But These Books Rock
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Skinny by Donna Cooner

Literary Masterpieces
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Riddle Me This, Batman (Mysteries)
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

Fantastic Fantasies
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

These Girls Kick Ass
Ashes/Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick
Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa
Stormdancer (The Lots War Book One) by Jay Kristoff

These Guys Do Too
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer/Necromancing the Stone by Lish McBride
Quarantine, book 1: The Loners by Lex Thomas
Tap Out by Eric Devine
Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Books That Can Make Even Me Like History
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Diviners by Libba Bray

Pop Spewing Reads (aka Dude, I think I just peed myself aka Book That are Side Splitting Funny)
Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand
The Necromancer series by Lish McBride
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Best Road Trips of the Year
In Honor by Jessi Kirby
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Just Pure Aweseomeness (My top 5 of the Year – today)
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Diviners by Libba Bray
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Ask the Passengers by A. S. King
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

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.

Best or Favorite? A look at the NPR “Best” Young Adult Novels list

I watch So You Think You Can Dance every week without fail.  Here is a show where you can call in and vote for your “favorite” dancer.  This favorite part is important, every year they make a point of making this distinction: it is not the best dancer, but your favorite.  Because that’s how voting works usually, it’s subjective.

Best implies perhaps the highest quality while favorite implies the most popular.  And, truthfully, if you are asking the people to vote you are going to end up with the most popular.  So when NPR puts out it’s list of the Best 100 Young Adult Novels that have been voted on by the public, what you are really getting is some combination of both the best and everyone’s favorites.

NPRs Best Young Adult Novels
Did your favorites make the list?

One look at the list and you see the truth of this statement.  The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers appears at number 27.  Had the vote been taken just a few years earlier, before it became fashionable to hate Twilight, I am sure it would have appeared in the top 10.  But still, in terms of quality of writing and storytelling, even 27 seems incredibly high when you compare it to some of the other books that made the list farther down – and some of those that didn’t make the list at all.  My favorite comment on Reddit: “List totally invalidated by the presence of Twilight.”

If you are on the Yalsa-bk listserv, then last week you saw a really informative post by author David Lubar.  He took a quick moment to do a Google search and found that many authors and fans actively campaigned for others to vote for their favorite books.  As someone who spends a lot of time on the Internet, this is not surprising to me at all.  But it does remind us all that the Internet voting is not a perfect mechanism for developing lists, unless of course your goal is popularity.  So perhaps if they had just changed what they called the list, not the “best” but “favorite”, it would have been an accurate statement.

I’ll be honest, I did not vote.  Not because I don’t care, I obviously care very much about teen literature, but because as soon as I realized the mechanism they were employing to create the list I realized that it would be a deeply flawed list.  Compare the idea of the NPR Best Young Adult Books list to the Teens Top 10s put together each year by Yalsa – and voted on by the public.  The Teens Top 10 list explicitly states that it is a “teens choice” list where teens nominate and then vote on their favorite books from the previous year.  You see the distinction there?  They aren’t saying they are the best, but that the teens declare these their favorites.  Semantics are important.

If you have looked at the NPR list you probably will have noticed what Debbie Reese, Laurie Halse Anderson and others have noticed: the list is incredibly white.  I mean super white.  There are only a couple of titles that have a main character that it a person of color. I won’t talk a lot about that because the previously mentioned people have covered it so well, but it is disappointing.  And not at all reflective of the literature that I see on my shelves.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there needs to be a lot more diversity on our library shelves, but this list totally neglects longstanding popular authors like Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper and Jacqueline Woodson.  In fact Monster by Walter Dean Myers is a groundbreaking – and award winning – book and definitely deserves to be on this list.

I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere, but the list also doesn’t seem to include many LGBTQ titles at all.  Where is Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan? How about Annie on My Mind?  A brief look at the list shows that it includes The Perks of Being a Wallflower (without a doubt an amazing read), Will Grayson Will Gryason and the Dangerous Angels series.  Is the lack of LGBTQ and POC titles representative of who votes, what we read, or what gets published?  Whatever the issue, it is clear that we need to work harder on reaching diversity goals.  (Side note: I actually think that the problem novel, one of the classic mainstays of young adult literature, is under represented on this list as well.  I know right now that fantasy and dystopian is super popular, but where are the problem novels?  Thankfully Speak made the list.)

My other question regarding this list would be around the voting mechanism, which I can’t actually speak about because as I mentioned, I didn’t vote.  But I would have loved for them to have kept track of the age of voters and created separate lists.  What does the list look like if only teens vote?  What does the list like if only librarians and educators vote?  What does the list look like if all adults – including educators and librarians – but no teen votes are counted?  It would be interesting to compare the various lists, and I suspect there would be some major differences.

And finally, I am interested in some of the titles that they classify as young adult.  To Kill a Mockingbird is without a doubt one of my favorite books and I would say one of the best books written, but is it young adult?  I would ask the same of The Lord of the Rings series?  Something can be popular with young adults but not be actually a young adult book.  We can all look back at what we read as a teen, and look at what our teens often read now, and recognize that a lot of teens like to read adult authors, which is cool.  Just because something is popular with young adults doesn’t mean that it is in fact a young adult novel.  Of course what, exactly, constitutes a young adult novel is probably the guts of an entirely different post and is further complicated by the introduction of the New Adult genre.

Overall, I think the list is a great starting place for new readers of young adult books to begin reading; it definitely is a good look at what is popular with my teens over the last few years.  As much as I love John Green, I would knock a couple of his books off the list – leaving The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska – and add some multicultural authors.  I was ecstatic to see the Delirium series and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on the list.  I kind of felt that Miss Peregrine didn’t get the love that it deserved when it came out.  There is some good stuff on the list.  There is some fun stuff on the list (I LOVE the Gallagher girls series).  But is this list representative of THE BEST? I guess it depends on how we are defining the best.

So here’s my question to you: If we made the list again in 10 years, what titles from 2012 do you think will stand the test of time and make an appearance?  And what diversity titles do you think should have made the cut this year?
Also, what is the most surprising title on the list for you?  For me it is The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.

Why YA? Joel Stein says don’t read this. I say think for yourself.

I am an adult.  Well, I at least play one on tv (or in real life).  Mostly.  I also read YA fiction.  Joel Stein recently said in a New York Times article that I should not.  Sure, I could stand at a dinner party after you asked me what I read and make a defense for myself and declare I have to read YA for my job, I am a teen services librarian after all.  But the truth is, I also like it.  No, I love it.  I find that I often close the back cover of my book and rejoice that once again I have read such great fiction.  That didn’t happen when I read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  To be honest, I didn’t even finsh that one.  And in my personal universe it is almost a sin not to finish a book.

In the past few years I have read 1,000s (and no, that is not an exaggeration) of teen (or ya) books.  And I have read a couple hundred adult ones.  And I have liked a great deal of both to be honest.  Yet, I find ya fiction to be well written, engaging, soul stirring, sometimes life changing, thoughtful, and yes – entertaining.  I read it all, zombies, angels, mermaids, demons.  I also read the quiet, thoughtful contemporaries.  Edgy stuff.  Fluff.  It all has value.  And to be fair, adult fiction has all the same different types as well. 

There is a Message in What You Value

My concern with Stein’s statement is this:  teens today already feel that they are outcasts in society.  They feel that the world is hostile to them; that adults perceive them as “other” and a “nuisance”.  They need, and deserve, literature that speaks to them – who they are in this moment.  They also need, and deserve, adults who are willing to spend time in their world.  Adults who are willing to spend time in their world trying to understand them, engage them and send the message – we value you, we need you, we love you and because we do, we are going to sit here in this place with you.  We need to have adults who can talk, intelligently and passionately, with teens about the things that they care about.  Parents, teachers, lawmakers, doctors, lawyers – everyone who is in a position to influence the life of a teen should spend some time in the world of teen.  You can not serve and meet the needs of people you do not know and understand.  And when we say we don’t value the world of teens – be it literature, tv or music – we also are saying that we do not value teens.  Spend some time reflecting on the 40 Developmental Assets.  If we want our teens to make good life decisions, we need to create a culture which sends one very important message: we value the teens in our communities.  It’s such a simple thing to do for our teens with big rewards for us as a culture.

Teens Are Not Other

As a teen, I couldn’t wait to be a grown up.  Middle school and high school vexed me so.  I knew that once I threw my cap in the air and tore off my robe that I would enter into a new and glorious future where no one told me what to do, social politics didn’t matter and the world would finally embrace me and allow me to fullfill my destiny.  It turns out, real life isn’t really that different than the teenage years: social politics still reign supreme, people still tell me what to do, and I am still waiting for the world to recognize my glorious contributions.  I have been an adult and a professional long enough to know some imporant life facts: Sometimes the most qualified person doesn’t get the job but the person with the most connection does, the popular kids are still reigning supreme while those on the fringes are still often left on the fringes, and life is still not fair.  It’s not like you wake up on your 18th birthday and the world magically changes:  Behold, you are now an adult put down that YA title as it is no longer relevant to your new adult world.  The adult world is so similar to high school it can send shivers down your spine.

You see, literature is a mirror that reflects the world we live in and there is much universal truth in ya literature.  As Mia lays on her deathbed and considers whether or not she is going to stay in this world or cross over into the next, she wrestles with universal questions that affect us all: the meaning of life, love, what it means to be alive (If I Stay by Gayle Forman).  The character may be a teenager, but the writing is beautiful and the story is universal. When Hazel contemplates what type of space she will leave in Augustus’ life when she dies – well I believe that every person faced with a terminal illness wrestles with these same questions (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green).  Adults struggle with relationships in many of the same ways that the characters in the works of Sarah Dessen struggle with relationships.  Adults still wrestle with bullies and relationships and what it means to be a member of a family, a community.  Teens are not other, they are simply a different version of us.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As a Christian, I know that the Bible says that we should be like a child, to humble ourselves like one (Matthew 18:4).  Sadly, too many of us lose our wonder at the world.  We close our inner childhood eyes and we forget what it means to marvel at the sunset, to delight in the rain, to rejoice in a hug.  And we forget those glorious feeling of first love: that moment when a young man grabs your hands for the first time and your fingers interlace and your heart – oh your heart soars and sings and fireworks burst!  We forget what it was like to be a teen and all those glorious firsts that come with being a teen.  Your first love, your first kiss, your first time behind the wheel of a car.  We forget what it is like to discover and rediscover self.  We put up blinders and close ourselves off and “grow up”.  We also close our minds to new information, holding steady in our beliefs because they are somehow now TRUTH and there can be no new truth that might make us have to change our mind.  But if we could all keep even one tiny little toe in that world and just kind of peek out a sliver of an opening of one eye, maybe we could all open ourselves up a little bit more to continue to change and grow as adults.  Teen literature reminds us that the world is vast, that there are ample opportunities before us, that we – and the world we live in – is ever changing and we must be open to change ourselves.  Teen fiction reminds us that the world we live in is not set in stone and to live in it fully we ourselves must not be either.

Quality Control

Joel Stein also seems to suggest that YA fiction is simply not well written and to be honest, as a fan of many teen writers I sputter in protest.  There are many a ya title that made my heart soar, made tears flow from my eyes, and left me contemplating for days, weeks and months what it means to be a member of the human race.  YA literature speaks to the heart of us all.  It speaks universal truths.  It questions, challenges, incites . . . The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins makes us really think about the role that the media, and violence, plays in our world.  Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver challenges us to think about what it means to love and be free.  Many teen titles ask us to think about what it means to be in a community, to live with honor, or to die with integrity.  It has been over 10 years since I have read the book If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson and I still think of it often.  Quotes from that book stay on my fridge and help me remember to love, to truly love, the people in my life because our moments may be few.  I tell every person I meet to read Pandemonium, that book touched the core of me.  It is relevant to our times, it captures the spirit of who we are and questions who we may become.  The ya authors I read write beautiful sentences, speak deep truths, and know how to entertain.  And yes, there is value in simply being entertained.

So adults, please – plase go out and read some ya fiction.  Do it to send a an important message: we value the teens in our community.  Do it to remember.  Do it to open yourself up once again to the possibilities of this world.  Do it because it really is well written.  Do it because Joel Stein told you not to and you can still be the type of individual who questions what others say and thinks for yourself.  Here are just a few of my favorites that I recommend . . .

If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (and anything else he wrote)
Delirium and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Shiver by Maggie Steifvater
The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Anything by Chris Crutcher (especially Whale Talk, Deadline or Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes) or Sarah Dessen (especially Dreamland and Just Listen)
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry

Honestly, there are so many.  I could go on.  Stop by your public library and talk to the teen librarian there, ask them what they recommend.  Spend some time browsing online, there are lots of great blogs out there with reviews and recommendations.  Read the TLT reviews here.  Whatever you do, don’t listen to Joel Stein because you will be closing yourself off to a great amount of amazing story.  You may be missing out on the one story that changes your life.

What other teen titles do you recommend?  Tell us in the comments.  And please leave your blog url so others know where else they can go looking for reviews and recs.

ALA Midwinter Highlights, The ARCs (March 2012)

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

March 2012

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

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: my review of BZRK by Michael Grant

The 2012 Printz Award Winners

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

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

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

ALA Midwinter Highlights: The ARCs (January and February)

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

January 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2012

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

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

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

Read more about transmedia in School Library Journal

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

Book Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Soundtrack of Your Books: When Music and Books Collide

I recently finished reading Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (which I loved and totally recommend).  The title is a play on the famous (and awesome) song Tiny Dancer by Elton John.  In fact, every chapter title in the book is a musical reference.  This book has a built in playlist, and it is not the only one.

Music is often a huge influence on literature.  When music and teen fiction intersect, and when they do it well, it is an enriching experience.  I’m not just talking about books where the protagonist is trying to be a singer or sings in the shower, but books in which the author has thought about the music and builds the work around a playlist in their minds.  As you read the book, a soundtrack unfolds much like a movie soundtrack.

The soundtrack can be real songs, or those created by the author.  In Where She Went by Gayle Forman, each chapter begins with a reference to lyrics from the album Collateral Damage which is not a real album, but one created for the purposes of propelling the narrative forward.  The lyrics highlight the hurt and anger and healing journey that Adam and Mia take one night in New York.  If You Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman are also excellent, moving reads that I highly recommend you read.

For an excellent example of a book playlist look no further then Just Listen by Sarah Dessen and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chybosky.

Just Listen is the story of Annabelle Greene.  Annabelle was raped and has lost everything, including her best friend Sophie.  When she meets brutally honest Owen, his love of music leads her on a healing journey.  The playlist plays an important part in helping to create the mood of Dessen’s novel and help to tell the story.  At her blog, Sarah Dessen talks about her playlist and why she choose the songs that she choose.  It’s a fascinating look into the mind of an author as she invites you in to this part of her writing process.
In The Perks of Being a Wallflower (coming soon to a theater near you), “Charlie” is a melancholy soul haunted by pain and secrets. Perks is a highly controversial book because of some of its content and subject matter, and it is one of the most frequently stolen book at my old library, but it is a moving story and it speaks to teens.  If you google it, you will find tons of fan art inspired by the book.  And like Just Listen, Perks has a built in playlist which teens discuss and share online.  The playlist helps bring the reader into the story and provides a platform for continuing the discussion.  You can find the playlist for download at playlist.com.

Playlist is a place for teens, any music lover actually, to build an online playlist and share it with others.  It is the Internet version of the mix tape.  Although the methodology has changed, the message is still the same: music is a powerful force and we like to share what moves us with others.  When authors create a playlist in their books, they are building a soundtrack to their story.  Some readers go beyond the page and actually put the soundtrack together and continue the story.

For another example of an amazing intersection of music and books, look no further then Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

A book doesn’t have to have a built in playlist for a reader to create a playlist.  Some songs may remind you of a story or the mood of a piece or personality of a character and you can create your own playlist.  I have always thought that this would be a fun activity for teens to challenge them to create a playlist of their favorite books and invite them to share them online.

More about book playlists and books and music
There is a list of books with playlists at YALSA
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga playlist can be found here
And just for fun, here is a list of songs inspired by books.  It can go both ways
The Hold Me Closer, Necromancer playlist with videos at Just Your Typical Book Blog
Music related teen fiction booklist from Newport Beach
Reading Rants: Deadheads and moshpits – books about being in a band