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Ten Novels that Changed My Life Before I Could Drive by Sean Beaudoin (a guest post)

Karen’s Introduction

Oh look, here is Karen meeting Sean Beaudoin
Later in September, Banned Books Week happens.  Banned Books Week is basically a promotional event to remind us that the freedom to read what we decide to read for ourselves in an important and precious right; a right worthy of being defended.  Just last night I sat at a YA author panel where a mother in the audience asked: “But what about the sex?”  And even the panel moderator asked, “Since you write for teens, what is your responsibility to your audience and what do you feel you need to teach teens with your books?”  The thing is, everyone approaches a book differently and takes different things away from it.  When I read It by Stephen King (in the 6th grade by the way), I took it as a powerful reminder of the bonds that people could have and the type of friendships that I wanted to build.  When a friend recently suggested that she didn’t want her teen to read the book because of a gang bang scene, I was stunned:  “What scene are you talking about?”, I asked. I have read It 3 times since the 6th grade and the things that stand out to me are not the things that stand out to my friend.  I would have to read it again to figure out what she was objecting to.
And when we ask, “Do teens even get John Green?” or “Isn’t this book too dark/deep/depressing for teens?”, we underestimate teens and their ability to think, their ability to self select and process what they read.  Sometimes we get unexpected things from the books that we encounter – and that is a good thing.  Below is a list of 10 books that author Sean Beaudoin read in his teens and a powerful reminder that we should give teens more credit then we often do.  You never know what books will have an impact.

Ten Novels that Changed My Life Before I Could Drive
by Sean Beaudoin

1. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut — the greatest YA writer of them all, neck deep in irony and pathos.

2. The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll — So honest I could practically smell the Bronx.
3. The World According to Garp by John Irving — I mainly flipped through for the sex parts, but also remember being pleasantly confounded by The Pension Grillparzer, which is tucked neatly inside.
4. Dune by Frank Herbert — an entire empire, an economic and political system, a messiah, a dozen planets, and a single boy. The depth of this blew me away. I read it at least four times.
5. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand — I briefly fell under the thrall of the ludicrously cartoonish message this book attempted to spackle into the holes of my young ego–namely that nothing but my individual desires mattered. Also, I bought it because the Rush album “2112” is dedicated to the author. Another reason why Neil Pert should play half as many notes per measure.
6. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews — this grim cultural artifact somehow stays with me after all these years.
7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess — this brilliant meditation on violence and behavioral modification is written in its own barely-comprehensible argot. Until you begin to comprehend it. I felt like a genius as I re-read certain passages and began to unlock the poetry.
8. The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac — far more than On The Road, this slim volume made me postive that I could one day be a writer. And how unbearably cool it would be to be one.
9. Neuromancer by William Gibson — a book that foresaw the Internet a full ten years before the Internet, the mix of Asian-inflected sci fi, tech commerce, and Blade Runner-style apocalyptic doom was startlingly original and well written.
10. Great Jones Street by Don Delillo — hilarious, demented, hip, and oh-so downtown, still one of the great rock novels of all time.
About Sean Beaudoin:
Sean Beaudoin is the author of several books for Teens (and really anyone who likes to read cool books).  These are the books. 

Wise Young Fool was just released.  Here is the book trailer.  Oh look, here is my review.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X23sWj8d4dI]

He also writes cool online things that I think everyone should be reading, like this letter to graduates, these thoughts about self promotion, and this discussion of a fab art project he did with his daughter.  He writes over at The WeeklingsVisit his webpage and follow him on Twitter, but only if you want to read hip, cool, thoughtful commentary and are not opposed to the occassional moments of self promotion.

Book Review: Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin

“Every thinking person should aspire to be, at some point in their lives, the person who buys someone else their first guitar” – Dedication, Wise Young Fool

Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin is a love letter to rock music, the glories (and glorious mess) of the teenage years, and the wisdom that comes in learning that you are, indeed, a fool who knows nothing.

WYF is told in alternating timelines.  In one, Ritchie Sudden sits in juvie hall writing in a journal and reminiscing about the events that landed him there while trying not to get dead.  They have something to do with his sister who died in a car accident.  In the other, Sudden and El Hella, Elliot in real life, form a band to try and win a competition, live their lives, and do teenage boy things which involve a lot of talking smack, getting in fights and the illustrious quest to get laid.

Beaudoin is a stylized writer, there is a beat and a swagger to his prose and it is both charming and fun while being raw and often over the top.  I imagine he is the John Hughes of teen lit if Hughes were more self aware, employed a bit more cussing and crassness, and added some kick ass stylization ala Nick Hornby.

Like Reality Boy by A. S. King (which I highly recommend, coming this fall), Beaudoin also does a fantastic job of capturing the heart and spirit of the angry teenage boy and shining some light on the darkness in their hearts.  Sudden comes from a broken family, is mourning a dead sister, and is surrounded by a group of other teenagers that, much like himself, really can’t figure things out.  At the same time his life in prison is both eye opening and life threatening, thanks in no small part to the fact that yet another alpha male has declared himself king (with a symbolic throne and all) and a fighting ring that goes largely ignored by the adults in charge.  Speaking of adults, Beaudoin includes a nice and realistic mix of adults who care, adults who don’t, those who try and fail and the occasional one who gets it right.

WYF joins the ranks of books I have read recently that use 80s and 90s references and, in this case, a bunch of old school music references, to add wit, humor, and make their points.  I often wonder when reading these titles if teen readers will get them, and if they don’t how it will affect their reading.  True music aficionados will have no issues, but for some there are going to be moments that leave them perplexed.  As a side note, this trend makes me wonder who ya authors are writing for sometimes because I am not sure that contemporary teen audiences will make the necessary connections.  Adult readers, of course, are amused and often delighted.  Kirkus made the same note (I looked): “littered with jokes and references, some clever, some oddly dated (“there’s the Bridge, which, yeah, is a bridge, but with no water underneath, troubled or otherwise” (Kirkus, 7/01/2013).  But Beaudoin is hardly the only author falling into this trend at the moment, so I give him a pass – especially since the book itself rocks (both literally and metaphorically).

Beaudoin is clever and captures the heart of what it is both to be a teenager and a boy, probably because he has some experience in both.  His writing is raucously delightful (but make no mistake, some will take great offense at the language and sex) and has a fast pace.  At the same time, Beaudoin sheds light on the great themes of literature: the discovery of self, coming of age, grief, coping mechanisms (flawed and fruitful), relationships of all sorts, and the great challenge of not only trying to exist, but to live life and to live it well.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X23sWj8d4dI]

Bonus Points for:

  • Successfully using a non-linear narrative (some people don’t, Beaudoin does)
  • Having Sudden use a condom
  • Characters with both depth and shallowness all at once
  • A great guy friendship
  • Clever and witty dialogue, it’s like he is writing the guy version of Gilmore Girls (in my world, that’s a compliment)
  • The intro and wrap-up that make it seem like a sort of Behind the Music/Where Are They Now look at the teenage life of Ritchie Sudden.  Fun.

Wise Young Fool is a great pairing with Winger by Andrew Smith, Me, Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, Reality Boy by A. S. King and a Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand.  Also great for teens on the verge of ending high school who are wondering “what’s next”.  And for those of you making book lists, this title includes journal writing, boarding school and being sent to a juvenile detention center as well as grief, divorce, and GLBTQ themes (Sudden’s mom enters into a happy, healthy relationship with another woman after her divorce from Dad Sudden).

3.5 out of 5 stars.  There is a moment of triumph and inspiration in Wise Young Fool that will remind older readers of the scene in Dead Poets Society when all the students stood on their desk, just to use a dated reference.  No dystopias, no teenage assassins, just the moving and entertaining story of a punk ass kid who is hurting that learns that maybe he doesn’t need to be such a wise young fool, or a fool at all. Definitely recommended.  Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin comes out today, August 6th, 2013.  ISBN: 9780316203791.

If you don’t already, follow Beaudoin online because he also writes excellent stuff on his blog there.  There are not many authors that I follow online, but he is one.  

We came, We saw, We stalked: Karen’s ALA Highlights

Last week Heather, Christie and I went to ALA in Chicago. It was epic!

Top LtoR: Karen & Christie, author Sharon Biggs Waller, Vordak, author Jonathan Maberry
2nd Row LtoR: author Cory Doctorow, author S. J. Adams and Christie, Free Comic Book Day Panel, Heather Booth reading Rose Under Fire
3rd Row LtoR: author Mindy McGinnis, Free Comic Book Day Panel, author Simone Elkeles
Bottom LtoR: author Tim Federle, author Sean Beaudoin, author Jennifer McGowan, Heather, Karen and Christie

See the complete ALA 2013 TLT Photo Album here

TLT Meet Up!

First, this is the first time that Christie and I have actually met Heather in person.  She feels like part of the family.  In fact, Heather and I just wrote an entire book together – The Whole Teen Library Handbook – but this is the first time we have met, in person, face to face.  In fact, I stayed at her house and it was totally fun.  So here we be, three of the TLT team.

Cory Doctorow Talks, We Should All Listen

At one point, I went and listened to Cory Doctorow talk about intellectual freedom, patent craziness, and more.  He made an interesting statement about how our outdoors playgrouds are often empty because parents are afraid to let their children play because we live in such a dangerous world, and yet we let our children play freely on the most dangerous playground of all – the Internet.  He made a great case for how we must do better in helping others understand this information rich world we live in while protecting their privacy and learning to evaluate the information we see.

New Adult? Or is it “New Adult”?

I also attended a session on New Adult Literature which made me very happy because I was glad to hear others saying what I thought about the issue.  1) The genre has always existed.  2) The name is troublesome because when I hear new adult, I think “oh look, here is some NEW Adult Fiction.” What do we call new titles in this genre, New New Adult?  If it were a perfect world, which it is not, we would call it Young Adult (because that’s what they are, young adults in the 19-24 age group) and call Young Adult fiction Teen Fiction, especially since the teens refer to themselves as teens.  In fact, walk into a Barnes and Noble store and they even have it labelled Teen Fiction.  3)  Yes, teens are and will read New Adult (just as they do Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark and more) but it should be in the Adult area, not YA (or Teen Area as I like to call it). 4) New Adult has a lot of the same diversity issues as Young Adult.  You can find an overview of the session here and a link to their NA RA blog.

Karen Geeks Out Over the 3D Printer

To have a totally geeky moment: I FINALLY SAW A 3D PRINTER.  I have been truly fascinated by the 3d printer concept in part because I couldn’t figure out how it worked and what the final product looked like.  There was one in the Exhibits Hall as well as some finished products, including a model of a bridge and a working whistle.  I really want one.

Meeting the Authors – and You!

From Left to Right: Christa Desir author of Faultline, Sharon Biggs Waller author of A Mad, Wicked Folly and Mindy McGinnis author of Not a Drop to Drink

Another great part of ALA is seeing people you know and love, meeting new people, and meeting some of the authors that write the books you love.  I spent a lot of time with fellow TLTers, my mentor and adopted mom, and met some amazing authors, publishers, and Erinn Batkyefer from The Library is Incubator Project for the first time.  Even though we have been working together for 2 years now on the It Came from a Book project, this is the first time we have met in person.  She stood in line with me while I waited to get a signed copy of Fire and Ash by Jonathan Maberry.  Speaking of Maberry, I got the very first signed ARC of Fire and Ash, the final book in the Rot & Ruin series.  I also was willing to stand in line to meet Sean Beaudoin, because I like not only his books, but a lot of his online writing.

I had dinner with debut author Mindy McGinniss and an author you may have heard of, Veronica Roth.  I had the most fascinating conversation with Roth about Divergent and a scene in it, which she said if she was writing it now she might leave out.  I also got to talk to Michael Grant about the BZRK series, which is a great series and should probably be marketed as awesome Sci Fi instead of awesome YA, because I think it has just as much adult appeal (and adult voice) as the works of Michael Crichton and Phillip K. Dick.  Having now met author Mindy McGinnis in person, it looks like we may be presenting together in April at TLA (I’ll tell you more when I can make an official announcement).

I am not going to lie, I had the best time ever at ALA.  I feel like I learned a lot, met a lot of great fellow librarians and authors, and really just felt invigorated and full of new ideas that I wanted to take back and try.  And yes, I discovered a lot of new books that I want to investigate further.  In fact, I used my phone to take pictures of the covers.  I will write about the books in a separate post.

Did you go to ALA? Share your highlights with us in the comments.

Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)

Because this is one of the best posts ever about aliteracy, and by an amazing friend of mine, we are re-running it today for Reluctant Readers week
This post originally appeared on TLT on December 20, 2012

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” –From Wonder by RJ Palacio

I spent Friday, December 14, 2012, with all 757 students of my school in our first annual Polar Express day in the library. This is what I posted as my Facebook status after hearing the gut-wrenching news of the Connecticutshootings:

In light of the horrific events in CT today, I am reluctant to share this post. But I want you all to know that in an elementary school in Mesquite, TX, there was JOY today. We had 38 classes listen to The Polar Express and served 807 cups of hot chocolate. Smiles, joy, and gratitude swirled around my heart today, and I don’t feel guilty for these blessings. My fellow educators & parents, we must continue to teach and love our children with passion & joy & energy. When we live in fear, evil wins. Don’t let evil win.

One of my best days as an educator is juxtaposed with one of the worst days in our nation’s recent history. That incongruity does not go unnoticed.  

As an elementary school librarian, I cannot wrap my brain around this inexplicable tragedy. As a mother, I cannot fathom the grief and loss of these parents. Like so many of us, I feel powerless. I just want to DO something for our hurting world. In the face of horrific tragedies, I try not to ask “why?”  I don’t think we are capable of truly understanding such an evil act. Instead, I try to ask “HOW?” How can I be a better person in my little corner of the universe? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? How can I be a light in the darkness?

Amianne Bailey is a School Librarian
This is her Red Reading Chair

While countless people take to Twitter and fire off on Facebook, admonishing our country’s gun laws, mental health system, and absence of God in our public schools as reasons for the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I cringe. I cringe at our knee-jerk quickness to cast blame. I shudder at our self-righteous reaction to always look for a reason. Why can’t we mourn the loss of so many innocent lives and reach out to one another with love? Why can’t we step into the shoes of these grieving, hurting families and understand that they do not need reasons right now; they need our prayers; they need our compassion; they need our support.

The events of 2012 made me keenly aware of our society’s lack of compassion. From the Chic-Fil-A debacle to the embittered election, it seems that everyone wants to scream their opinion without giving much thought to how it will fall on the hearts of others. And it hasn’t even been ONE WEEK since the horrific killings in Connecticut, and people are already blasting theories and accusations via social media. The great irony is that in a world more connected than ever through the power of technology, we are truly disconnected from the hearts of humanity.

As a librarian, I can’t help but wonder–if we were a nation of readers, would our actions and our reactions be a bit kinder—a bit gentler?  Rather than condemn would we comfort? Rather than hurl opinions would we try to heal the hurt? Rather than spew hatred would we extend a hand in hope?

Honestly, my book-loving mind can’t help but connect our society’s lack of empathy to the fact that we are an alliterate nation. So many people can read, but they simply choose not to. Before you blow me off as some smug librarian, let me state my case. Like any librarian worth her weight in books, I have evidence to support my opinion.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Not Illiteracy, but Aliteracy
I recently read several articles that cite studies to support that “reading fiction improves understanding of others,” (The Guardian). An article in Forbes also points to a study that shows “reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence: their accurate awareness of themselves and others, and their ability to create positive relationships with others based on managing their own reactions” (Forbes). In “The Importance of Reading for All of Us”, Anna Leahy states, “When we read about fictional characters, we become better at understanding real people and real situations” (HuffPost). So reading not only benefits our brains, it is also good for our hearts.
aliteracy – when a person has the skills necessary for reading, but chooses not to

Over the years, I have read the works of JimTrelease, Kelly Gallagher, and Stephen Layne concerning the problem of aliteracy in our nation, and I can’t help but wonder if our lack of empathy is tied to our lack of a reading habit?

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

Some of you might view this as hypocritical because I am just another voice entering the fray. I am not trying to blame our lack of reading culture for this senseless act. I am not naïve enough to suggest that reading more books would have prevented this tragedy from happening. I am not searching for a reason; I am offering an important observation–reading fiction makes us more aware and sensitive to the feelings of others. And I think we can all agree that our world needs kinder, more compassionate people in it. Even though it might sound trite, I think reading fiction can help us become a more empathetic, caring nation– to see past ourselves and into the hearts of others.

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
Joyce Carol Oates

With the new year approaching, let’s all make a pledge to turn off our computers and tvs and read more fiction. What can that hurt? I am a firm believer that there is a book out there for every person. If you dislike reading, it’s because you haven’t found the right book. And as a self-proclaimed book-pusher, I want to make a recommendation—Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s truly a book for every age and gender, and it would be PERFECT to read aloud to your children at bedtime. (The importance of the bedtime reading ritual is another post for another day.) This book can teach us all so much about what it truly means to consider things from someone else’s point of view; what it means to “be kinder than necessary.”

Yes, I am suggesting that books can change us. Why do you think Hitler burned books? Why do you think the Taliban fought to the death to prevent books from falling into the hands of the citizens of Afghanistan? It’s because books have the power to soften hearts, to open minds, to silence judgment. They have the power to increase empathy for our fellow human beings. And I think that our world could use more softened hearts and open minds and less judgment and blame.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Mortimer Jerome Adler

Here we are, a nation that enjoys the freedom to read and has access to books in every city, yet so many choose not to take advantage of this life-changing gift. That’s another irony that I can’t ignore.

As a life-long reader, I turn to books for escape. I turn to books for comfort. I turn to books to connect with the human race. If there ever was a time for Americans to turn to books, it is now.
“We read to know that we are not alone.”
Amianne suggests Wonder as a good place to start reading and working on developing empathy.  What other titles would you recommend? Leave us a note in the comments.
Read more from Amianne Bailey:
You can also read my thoughts on last week’s events and mental health:
Read YA author Sean Beaudoin’s post about Newtown at Salon.com:
Also, please read these amazong posts from YA author Robison Wells who talks about his struggles with mental health issues:
While I don’t think there is any immediate answer to the problem, and no one single cause, I like Amianne’s answer . . . let’s read more.  Let’s step into the shoes of another person through the pages of a book and learn to open our hearts.  Let’s choose kindness.

Book Review: The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

Zombrule #4
Survival is for the ruthless.
Everyone else is a hippie poet.

Stuck in a wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents, our feckless hero Nick, aka Nero, thinks that things couldn’t possibly get worse. But since you shouldn’t tempt fate, they of course do – when everyone starts eating people.  That’s right, overnight half of the juvies have become flesh eating monsters – oops.  The best part? The reason that Nero is there in the first place might have something to do with it.  But fear not for these kids, they have seen the movies so they know the rules: cardio, barricade and what not.  But knowing the rules may not help, especially when those among you turn in your midst.

Fans of Zombieland can rejoice – this is a book for you.  The Infects is a fast paced zombie novel with bite, erm literally.  And in the midst of all the zombie fun there is some biting commentary about consumerism, today’s food supply and more.  Also, sorry about all the biting puns. It’s just too easy I tell ya.

Sean Beaudoin is one of those people that seems to have a razor sharp intellect and a twisting sense of humor with a dash of sharp sarcastic bite that means he had one of two life choices: he could struggle to hold his tongue (probably unsuccessfully) while working a middle management job, or he could write sarcastic zombie novels.  Luckily for us, he is writing sarcastic zombie novels.  There is blood, there is gore, there is flesh torn from the body; but there is also some interesting commentary on things like friendship, the juvie system, and, as I mentioned, consumerism and our food industry.

Zombies are super popular right now, and this is a fun and interesting addition to your collection.  The action, premise and dialogue are all way out there, in totally fun and entertaining ways. Definitely recommended. The sharp tone and the sarcastic wit of our main character will keep teens reading, while the absurdly out there premise behind the zombie madness makes for some serious (and seriously twisted) fun. Pair this title with A Bad Day for Voodoo by Jeff Strand. 3.5 out of 5 stars.  The awesome Naomi Bates over at YA Books and More says it well, you will “chuckle while cringing.”