Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5: L is for Liar – the Unreliable Narrator

I’ve heard people discuss the ‘unreliable narrator’ for years, but I never really understood the joy or appreciation of this narrative mode – until I read Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy. (Which fabulously just won the Guardian children’s fiction prize.)

Maybe it’s because Georges is really hiding from circumstances he can’t handle, maybe it’s because of how he’s being treated at school, but you sympathize with him. And, if you reach the end of the book not knowing his status, it’s not THAT big of a surprise. Not like the other liar in the book. In fact, when you get to the end you realize that Georges has really been the spy all along.

There are many other books where the unreliable narrator is a less sympathetic character, usually for good reason. One such book would be Justine Larbalestier’s brilliant Liar. Hmm…I’m beginning to see a title trend.

The narrator, Micah, is a compulsive liar, who initially, mischeviously, fools her whole school into believing she is a boy. The lies get progressively darker from there.

There are many out there to try – here are some notable options:

I know, it’s more than 5. I lied.

More Unreliable Narrators on Library Thing

Take 5: Vampire Books with Bite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirsty by M. T. Anderson

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

And I am turning into a vampire.”

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

Tuesday Top 10: Time Travel

Since we are talking about Mr. Was and time travel, I thought we should put today’s Top 10 list together: Time Travel books! So I’ll share my list of Top 10 Time Travel books for teens, then you share yours in the comments. And if you are really brave, share a day you would go back in time to change or fix or just relive because it was pure awesome.

Read what Pete Hautman has to say about writing Mr. Was.

“No matter what your reality looks like, you’re the girl I’m in love with today, and the same girl I’ll be in love with tomorrow and all the days after that. Not just because of who you are, but because of who you were. It’s all part of your story, Em. And I want to be a part of your story, too.”

And don’t forget the sequel, Timepiece
“Life’s all about the revolution, isn’t it? The one inside, I mean. You can’t change history. You can’t change the world. All you can ever change is yourself.” Jennifer Donnelly
“People think they own time. They have watches and clocks and digital pulses. But they are wrong. Time owns them. Caroline B. Cooney
“We all have such stories. It is a brutal arithmetic. But I I am alive. You are alive. As long as we breathe, we can see and hear. As long as we can remember, all those gone before are alive inside us.” Jane Yolen
“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract“. Madeleine L’Engle

First in the Time Quartet by Madeleine L’Engle

“I still think about the letter you asked me to write. It nags at me, even though you’re gone and there’s no one to give it to anymore. Sometimes I work on it in my head, trying to map out the story you asked me to tell, about everything that happened this past fall and winter. It’s all still there, like a movie I can watch when I want to. Which is never.” Rebecca Stead
“There is only one page left to write on. I will fill it with words of only one syllable. I love. I have loved. I will love.” Audrey Niffenegger

“You are one of the missing.” Margaret Peterson Haddix

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the first book in The Missing series

“You are so . . . 11:59” Scott Westerfeld

The Midnighters series is not really about time travel, but it is about bending time and I love it so I am including it.

As for travelling back in time . . . I would love to go back in time and just hold my babies again as little babies. Or the day I cracked open the first Harry Potter book, that was a fun ride.

Pete Hautman is the Mr. that Was (Why YA? Mr. Was as discussed by Pete Hautman)

When you read a lot, you can lose track of some of the books that you read.  And then, there are those titles that stay with you in one way or another.  Mr. Was by Pete Hautman is one of those titles; I read it years ago and it has really stayed with me.  It has a great concept and deals with an issue that too many teens have to deal with – domestic violence.  Well, that and time travel.  Not that too many teens are having to deal with time travel.  So I approached Pete Hautman and asked him to write a Why YA? post and was very surprised when he said yes.  And I was even more surprised when he wrote about Mr. Was.  I had just mentioned it earlier in my book review of Hourglass.  So it is with great honor and pleasure that I bring  you this Why YA? post by Mr. Pete Hautman.
Seventeen years ago I had made a good, solid start in my career as a novelist.  I had published two successful crime novels for adults, with three more under contract. I was about as interested in writing for teens as I was in learning to play the accordion. I was a grown-up guy with grown-up concerns. I had written a few dozen nonfiction kid’s books because I needed the money, but I certainly didn’t read such things.
But people change.
For some years I had been playing around with an idea for a book based on a recurring dream that had haunted me for years: I discover a small door at the back of a large, cluttered closet in my grandparents’ home. The door leads to forgotten rooms and spaces where I would encounter old friends, lost toys, or dead pets come to life.  Most often the dreams were pleasant, but sometimes I would wake up with my heart hammering.
I wanted to tell the story of a man who passes through the door and finds himself transported—a serious adult sci-fi/fantasy epic. But for some reason, the story wasn’t working.  I expanded it, I cut it back, I rewrote, I added and deleted characters, but the tale would not ring true. I kept going back to the dream, trying to recapture some of its magic. Finally, it hit me that the magic I was seeking was magic seen through adolescent eyes. I changed my protagonist, Jack Lund, from a 30-year old man into a teenager, wished him the best of luck, and sent him through the doorway.

Jack’s story, I soon learned, was the story of a boy who is thrust into quasi-adulthood by the sudden and brutal death of his mother.  It was unlike anything I had written previously.

Several writer friends advised me that the resulting book, Mr. Was, was too complex and scary for younger readers. But I used to be a younger reader, and the way I remembered it, complexity was not an issue, and the scarier the better. I’d pick up any book that promised to take me someplace new. I knew there were plenty of kids out there who were not afraid to me challenged, confused, and frightened for the sake of a good story. 

Shortly after Mr. Waswas published, I started readingyoung adult novels. For research, I told myself. Most of them were pretty bad—just like most novels, period. But the good ones were…good. Amazingly good. Before I knew what was happening, I was hooked on YA.

The YA novel is often defined as a coming-of-age story. But most novels written for younger readers are simple adventure stories, or mysteries, or horror stories, or protracted jokes.  (This includes virtually all of the series books, because how many times can the same characters come of age?) The truly memorable stories, however—the ones that stick with you for years (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Chocolate War, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)—all tell us about a young person crossing a bridge from one set of challenges to another even more difficult set of problems. They address the greatest mystery of our adolescence: What does it mean to be an adult?

Teens read, in part, to find out what is waiting for them in the larger world. Every book has the potential to contain revelations that might change their world-view. Some of the books I read as a teen helped me become a more empathic, giving, thoughtful, and knowledgeable person. Others had a less salubrious effect—Ayn Rand led me into a philosophical morass where I wallowed for half a decade. The James Bond novels convinced me that cigarettes and martinis were essential to becoming an adult. The point is, the books we read as teens matter.

We adults have mostly settled into our lives. Our politics, religion, social status, tastes in food, fashion, music, and so forth is pretty much a done deal. We tend to read novels for validation, for escape, for relaxation. These days I don’t read as many young adult books as I used to—probably no more than a half dozen a year—not because I don’t enjoy them, but because there is only so much time to read, and YA is a very small (albeit important) part of the literary universe.

When I do read teen books, I do so because they are a reliable source of quality entertainment. As one blogger put it, “the plots move a lot faster, for the most part, and you’re not required to participate in the Thought Olympics to understand what’s going on in the book.” Reading YA is relatively easy, and it’s fun. If a teen book contains a dose of revelation (and many do), so much the better!

Time Magazine’s Joel Stein, with a few remarks that I believe were deliberately inflammatory and obtuse, managed recently to create a media bonanza for himself by dissing adult readers of teen fiction. A month ago I didn’t know who he was. Now I do, so I plan to run to my local bookstore and not buy his new book. Because when I see a fifty-something person at Starbucks reading Suzanne Collins, or John Green, or even Stephanie Meyer, I do not feel pity or disdain, as does Mr. Stein. I see someone quietly amusing themselves to the detriment of no one. After all, it’s quite likely that I am looking at my own reflection in the window.

Pete Hautman is the author of The Big Crunch, What Boys Really Want, Rash, Blank Confession, Invisible, Godless and more.  He is also the author of The Obsidian Blade, the first book in the Klaatu Diskus trilogy.  There is a teacher’s guide for Mr. Was at his website, so go check it out.  You should also go read his bio on his website because it’s funny and features a picture of him smoking and driving a car at age 3.  Seriously.

You can share a YA book you love and here’s the information how.