Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Throwdown: Do the rules of romance apply in supernatural fiction?

Stephanie and I need you to weigh in on an ongoing debate we are having.  Simply stated our question is this: do real world rules of romance apply in the world of supernatural fiction?  But let’s back up and get some background info, shall we?

It began simply enough yesterday when I tweeted that I was upset about something I read in a teen fiction book and asked: What’s the deal with our female protagonists falling for a guy who is clearly a jerk?  People weighed in and the general consensus was that this happens in real life and they wish that they had this type of fiction when they were teens because it would clearly have saved them a lot of heart ache.

Then I asked: What type of responsibility do you think teen fiction has to make sure teens understand that the relationship being depicted is not a healthy relationship?  Of course an author should be true to the story, and not overly preachy, but the general consensus was that teens tended to get the message.  Then I brought up the whole Edward and Bella thing from Twilight.  There are numerous online articles you can read (just google it) about the fact that Edward portrays a number of traits found in abusive relationships.  I mean, he apparently falls in love with her because she smells delic and at one points he tampers with her vehicle to stop her from going someplace that he doesn’t want her to go.  In the end, Bella ends up isolated from her family and friends and literally becomes a monster in order to be with him.  None of these are the hallmarks of a healthy relationship.  As a librarian who works with teenage girls, as a mom to two little girls, I ponder these things.

Then today I posted about the book Embrace by Jessica Shirvington and how I was deeply concerned because an episode of what happens in the book can basically be construed as rape and that maybe perhaps we should be talking about that.  And this was Stephanie’s response:

You know that I find it hard to have a logical discussion about any certain issue when it occurs in a paranormal novel. I haven’t read Embrace but like we discussed about Twilight, I wouldn’t say that Bella and Edward have an unhealthy relationship because it is a relationship between a vampire and a teen girl. What is normal?

I think that the paranormal aspect allows the reader to suspend belief of the world around them and the same things that would be considered violations of morality in the real world, don’t necessarily equate in the supernatural.

Now I also see the problem brewing of if that makes it okay if it’s supernatural. I think that it all depends on how you look at it. I could pull many instances out of supernatural type books that could be considered rape, abuse, and even sorcery (such as using a potion to make someone fall in love with you…also against their will). When you pull them out of context, of course it will look back.

But I think, that as a reader, you just see it as a fantasy world and the same rules that apply in our world need not apply in theirs.

But I maintain, part of the value of genre reading is that it helps us to view real world problems through a slightly refracted lens and gain perspective.  For me, part of the value of Science Fiction is that we can discuss things like racism and environmentalism in the abstract and then apply it to the real world.  And I would maintain that certain truths are just universal truths: like the fact that people deserve to be treated in certain ways and that there are hallmarks of good, healthy relationships.  Just because you can manipulate my mind doesn’t make it okay for you to do so.

So, please, weigh in . . . do real world rules of romance apply to supernatural fiction?  Discuss now in the comments. Go.

Join us Wednesday, May 16th as we have our first ever TLT Trend Chat and expand our discussion of Romance in Teen Fiction.  Love triangles, insta love and more.  We’re talking trends.  (TLT Trend Chat: Romance in Teen Fiction May 16th at 3:00 PM Eastern, on Twitter #tltchat)

Please know, I love Stephanie as a friend, respect her as a librarian and value her as a blog partner.  I think we all can learn from each other and there is great value in healthy debate and discussion.

Top 10 Tuesday: Steph’s Take

So, I don’t make cool pictures like Karen.  But one thing that I LOVE is music.  I love all kinds of music from rap to country, classical to indie rock, and I really dig German/Swedish rave music…I’m so weird.  So, since I don’t make cool pics, I decided to make my first ‘Top 10 List’ all about my ‘Top 10 Music Themed Books”, so in no certain order other than being my favorite 10, here we go…

Supergirl Mixtapes 
Want to learn more about the books mentioned above?  
Just click on the picture and it will take you to a Goodreads page so you can find out more!  
Check in to TLT for new book reviews, library information, Why YA? posts and more.  
You can read all of our 2012 book reviews here and find more books we love and think you should read ASAP. And if you have any other fav music books, leave them in comments below!
Note: Karen once did a post about book playlists and you should check it out.  It will rock your world! See what I did there?

Why YA? The remix

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post defending the notion that adults not only could, but that they should read YA fiction.  You can read the post here, but the basic premise is this: we work with teens, we live in a world with teens, we were once teens so, of course, we should read teen fiction.  Then we started a meme and invited teens and adults to share their favorite YA experiences.  And then – bam – yesterday on the YALSA blog there was a post questioning what it means for ya collection development to have adults reading (and liking) ya literature.  The underlying question seems to be this: are we building collections for adults or for teens?  As a teen services librarian, I build the collection for teens, but I am happy whenever any reader finds a book that speaks to them and walks out of the library a satisfied customer.  That’s just good business.

Collection development is both a science and an art.  There is some guess work involved, some prognosticating if you will.  Over time as you are part of a community and you experience its ebbs and flows, you begin to learn what moves off the shelves and what will sit and collect dust.  There are actually a lot of truths for teen collection development that are universal truths for adult collection development, too: Often the best reviewed fiction will sit on the shelf while the books that critics scorn move like they are doing the salsa with a fiery Latin lover; that one book you cut from the order because of middling reviews and budget constraints is going to be the next best seller (I put that in there just for you Debra); and yes you will have to buy the newest (insert author here) book even though chances are good they really didn’t write it – or they have been dead for years.  To be honest, I checked the other day and the Mary Kate and Ashley books are still circulating in my J Fic collection so, you know, what are you going to do.

The reality is that librarians everywhere – and in all age groups – have been building collections for patrons with tastes different than theirs for the history of librarianship. In order to have a well rounded collection that meets the various needs and tastes of our entire community, we buy stuff we don’t read and we skip buying stuff that we like sometimes.  This is especially true in smaller libraries where there is one person in charge of say the entire adult fiction collection.  They may personally be mystery fans but they buy to represent an entire population, including horror, romance and science fiction fans.  If they do their jobs well they spend time looking at circulation statistics, reading reviews, and – gasp – talking to their public.

Funny story, that’s what I do with my teens.  Just Monday night I sat in a room with my teen volunteers and picked their brains asking them what they were reading – and liking – and why.  When I see a teen browsing my teen collection I don’t hesitate to engage in conversation with them.  I ask them what they are looking for, throw some books at them (not literally) and say hey, when you’re done, come back and tell me what you thought.  Since my goal is to get teens reading and get teens using the library, my goal is to build a kick butt collection that won’t sit on my shelf gathering dust.  It’s not the Karen collection, it’s the TEEN COLLECTION.

To be honest, it seems the fact that I read – and enjoy – ya literature makes me better at my job.  You see, when I approach that teen and ask them what they are looking for, I can then offer up some choices that fit their needs because I – gasp – have knowledge of my collection.  And to be honest, “oh my gosh you have to read this book it is so amazing” is a much better talking point then “this book will theoretically fill your RA requests given that it has 4 starred reviews which indicate it is on the topic you are interested in.”  Although my favorite selling point it is: “the other day a teen told me this was the best series ever.”

Some of the comments in reply to the YALSA post seemed to indicate that because they were grown ups that had left childish things behind and could no longer engage in teen fiction.  This expressed such a diconcerting disdain for our audience that I don’t even know how to respond.  You see, I feel like you have to genuinely care about teens to be a successful teen librarian.  I think you have to spend some time in their world; to, as one commenter said, be able to “step meaningfully into their world.”  Teens want to be valued and respected and know that the adults in their lives, their communities, care.  When we read ya lit, we are better equipped to do this.  And like any fiction, it helps us to walk in their shoes and reminds us what it is like to be a teen; those harried emotions, living with one foot in the world of child and one foot in the world of adult, that aching need to belong . . . it is easy to spend so much time in the grown up world that we forget and, in forgetting, lose are ability to empathize with our teens.  I am a better teen services librarian because I can remember all too viscerally the utter despair that comes when the boy you love loves someone else or what it is like to be the last one chose every single time in gym class.  Not that those things ever happened to me.  Having that ability to remember and empathize doesn’t make me less of a grown up, it just makes me a better teen services librarian. 

As for building collections – to be honest, that is just what every collection development librarian does.  We step aside from the personal and look at the bigger picture.  And to be fair, it IS okay that adults step into the teen area and check out teen books.  After all, teens have been stepping into the adult collections since the beginning of time.  It only seems fair that it should go both ways. And at the end of the day, a good book is a good book and it doesn’t matter what collection we shelve it in and it doesn’t matter who is reading it; what matters is that it is being read and changing hearts and minds.

This is what Stephanie Wilkes had to say in her comment on the YALSA blog post:
So many different things I want to say here but I do want to address your statement, Ken. I have grown up. I am a mother. I am a wife. I love adult things. And I read YA books for many different reasons…1) Because they’re just damn good books, 2) Because that is my JOB, and 3) Because when I put my faith and heart into a book that I recommend to a teen, I want to do so from experience.
Developing my teen collection, reading teen books…I do all of this because I DO LOVE my teens.
I feel as if we are trying to create a problem to explain how and why to deal with the problem of slashed budgets for teen collections. The answer is not to purchase some teen books with adult money and then put them in the adult collection. And let me just say that I think the application of a ‘type’ of book, be it adult, ya/teen, juvenile fiction, does not exhibit a person’s lifestyle, intelligence, or any said factor. People read what they want to read because they enjoy it. Plain and simple.
The problem we need to address is how to keep our teens reading. That’s our job. To provide the BOOK for PATRONS, regardless of who they are.

This is what I said: I am a grown up and a professional. I have spent the past 19 years devoted to the cause of connecting teens with libraries and literature. That has involved spending the time to study adolescent development, collection developement, marketing, the 40 developmental assets, advocacy, program development, project management – to name just a few. I have served on committees, professional boards, and more. Part of what makes me good at my job is that I do read and love YA. And that I spend time having meaningful conversations with my teens about it. We are capable of looking at a sheet of statistics and making collection development decisions from them. I find the idea that I and other librarians can’t separate the personal from the professional actaully offensive. We all spend time cultivating the tools that we need to serve our teens in our communities effectively because we believe in what we do. I also believe, very strongly, that it is important for those working with and serving teens to be able to remember what it is like to be a teenager; to be able to talk meaningfully with teens about the world that they live in – including the books, movies, and music that they like as well as their experiences. I believe that when we can’t, we fail. Just yesterday I sat in a meeting with my teen volunteers discussing what they were reading and loving, what types of programming they wanted, what types of SRC prizes they were interested in. And teen librarians around the globe are engaging in these same professional pursuits. Because I live in a community with teenagers – and because we all always will – it behoves us to respect them, to be engaged with them, and to – wait for it – read teen lit (also true of children’s and adult lit). And if we are reading it, it is okay that we love it too. That doesn’t mean that I’m not intelligent or thoughtful or mature or doing grown up things. It also doesn’t mean that I am building collections to suit my personal tastes. It means simply this: I am both a grown up professional who works hard to be successful at my job as a teen services librarian because I believe it has value AND I am someone who likes to read teen fiction. Call me crazy, but people are just complicated that way and not easily put into boxes.

Now it’s your turn . . .

TLA Baby!

Tuesday night I left work and drove 4 1/2 hours to make my pilgrimage to TLA.  TLA baby, here I came! It was a truly amazing day where I met a ton of amazing teen authors, talked to publishers and yes, I received some ARCs (which will get their own post).

Although the exhibit halls were amazing, and I’ll get back to them, the fun truly began at the Texas Teen Author Tea.  Here we were invited to speed date with a wide variety of amazing teen authors.  There were 60 authors in total present, but I didn’t get to date them all.  The even was introduced by Andrea White, author of the fabulous Surviving Antarctica, which I have loved for a long time and being a new Texas transplant I had no idea she was a Texas author.  Ms. White, it was announced, gave some money to YART, the Young Adult Round Table, and they were starting some cool online resources including something called SPOT, the Spirit of Texas Reading Program.  My favorite was when she said that our goal – authors, librarians – was to help teens learn that “books are relationships”, a book is more than just two covers with pages in between.  Well said.

Then the speed dating began!

First I dated Morgan Matson, author of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour and the upcoming Second Chance Summer, and Jessi Kirby, author of Moonglass and the upcoming In Honor.  Both of these ladies were incredibly nice and I was lucky to later get signed copies of books by both.  Second Chance Summer and In Honor are both contemporary titles and I am so excited to read them.  As much as I love paranormal and dystopian – and you know I do! – it is always great to have those contemporary titles that help teens see the real world they live in just a little different, to open their hearts and minds and just be.

I had just tweeted that I hoped I got to meet David Lubar and bam – he sat down right next to me.  David is funny, not surpringly.  I also got the opportunity to tell him how much I appreciated authors like him who participated in the Yalsa-bk listserv discussions (Alex Flinn and Jonathan Maberry post frequently as well).  And then he mentioned the possibility of Zombie Weenies! I know he would also want me to mention the Weenies Topical and Literary Index, where he painstakingly indexed his weenies stories.  With David Lubar I met Christina Mandelski, the author of The Sweetest Thing.  My favorite part was when she told us that she took cake decorating classes to help her write this book and admitted to being obsessed with The Food Network.

I then got to meet Mary Lindsey, whose book Shattered Souls may have the most fabulous book cover ever.  She did a great job of selling her book and talked about the book cover process and it was very cool.  I ran into her again later and we chatted some more.  She shared that she was in the process of writing a very cool sounding Poe inspired book that I honestly can not wait to read.  With Mary came Greg Leitich Smith, author of Chronal Engine and yes, husband to Cynthia Lietich Smith.  He came bearing dinosaur tattoos and as far as I am concerned, there can no be enough dinosaur books.

I also met (cue squeeing) Megan Miranda, author of the breathtaking Fracture and learned that she has a background in science that helped influence the book.  Stasia Kehoe talked about her book, Audition, and how it really delves into the question of identity and talent and passion.  Also, audition has ballet and dance is really popular right now.  Here is my true confessions moment: I always wanted to be a ballerina, I own a copy of Center Stage and watch it often, and I watch Dance Academy on Teen Nick – purely for professional reasons, of course).  Then P. J. Hoover talks about her undying love of mythology and how it plays into her book series which begins with book 1, The Emerald Tablet.  Fans of the Percy Jackson series will love these.

After being sad for a few moment about the authors I didn’t get to speed date, which for me included Orson Scott Card, I returned to the exhibit halls where I had to buy a new copy of Shiver so I could have it signed by Maggie Steifvater.  Being a huge Shiver fan, this was quite the moment for me and Maggie was incredibly nice and gracious to everyone who stood in that line.

Then – bam – the moment truly had a moment of synergy as just that moment John Corey Whaley had written his Why YA? post about Love is the Higher Law and who should I meet?  Why yes, David Levithan himself.  He is, of course, one half of the brilliant writing partnership behind the truly marvelous Will Grayson, Will Grayson.  And it turns out, he is a book editor.  He is, in fact, the editor of The List by Shiobhan Vivian.  I have been dying to read this book so yes, yes I did buy it and get it signed.  I also got a picture of the wonder team.

Then, the most amazing thing happened! I met Barry Lyga.  That’s right folks, THAT Barry Lyga.  Author of the fabulous, and fabulously creepy, I Hunt Killers.  He himself is not creepy, just the book.  But fabulously so.  Barry himself was very personable.

I also met and talked to a look author named Beth Fehlbaum.  Her book, Hope in Patience, is a 2011 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.  Hope in Patience is about one young girls journey of recovery from abuse.  Fans of the Dave Pelzer books will want to read these.

I learned at the Harper Collins booth that Robison Wells was going to be at TLA today, a truly devastating realization for me as I left last night.  Thursday, in fact, is teen day and they are having a ton of great authors, groups of teens, lots of great ARCs and a huge Divergent/Insurgent moment.  I ran into a bunch of great librarians, authors and book bloggers and I am sure there will be lots of great posts in the next few days about it all.  I love conferences because they are this moment when all of us – authors, publishers, librarians – come together and rejuvenate.  We are all working towards the same goal: to get books into the hands of teens.  It’s nice to get together in person and share our stories of success, those moments when we learn how a book made the difference in someone’s life.

The Real Fauxtographer: YA Lit + Art = Awesome (Guest post by Margot Wood)

A couple of years ago, I was googling “The Perks of Being a Wallflower quotes” when I stumbled across a beautiful photograph with a quote from the book on it.  This is when I learned that all over the Internet people were making beautiful art from their favorite YA books.  Since then, I have become fascinated with the mingling of visual art and ya lit.  I was thrilled (and awed and amazed and stunned) to stumble upon the amazing Margot Wood.  She is a photographer and YA reader who creates photographs of some of her favorite YA books.  How does she do it? What inspires her? I am honored to introduce her to you today.

Hi everyone! I am so thrilled and honored to guest blogging here at TLT. As an avid teen book reader and library go-er, I love knowing that passion for books and support for libraries is still alive and kicking in today’s digital age.

So anyways, I guess I should introduce myself and tell you all about this fun project I’m working on. My name is Margot Wood and I am a digital designer by day and photographer by night. Two of my biggest hobbies are reading YA books and taking photos and this winter I was trying to come up with a spring project to work on (something I like to do every year) and this year I decided to combine my two loves into one amazing project: a series of photos inspired by my favorite young adult books!

Why young adult books? Well, I  have received so much from them. I mean I get to go on an adventure with each book and I wanted to honor these amazing stories and since I can’t draw, paint, sculpt or writer music I’m using my camera to pay tribute to the authors and the genre that has brought me so much happiness.

In addition to just having a blast trying to do these photos, I have found that this project has really kick started the creative side of my brain. This project has given me something to think about, plan for, work towards and have fun with. 

So, how did this idea first come to me? Well, I was reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan and thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be a really cool photo if Mary was standing in the woods and zombie hands were grabbing her?” So then I decided to quit waiting for someone else to do that photo and just do it myself. And here’s the finished product:
You can read the full story behind this photo (and all the others) on my blog, therealfauxtographer.com but I was so happy with the way that photo came out that I thought “Hmm, maybe I should do more of these!” The next thing I did was make a list of all the YA books I’ve read and narrow down that list to my favorite ones, then narrow that list down to the ones that would make for really cool photos. Since the Forest of Hands and Teeth photo I have produced approximately one photo per week, one for each book and I have six photos in total so far. Here are a few of my favorites:
Based on ASHFALL by Mike Mullin
Based on DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor
Based on ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis
I am having so much fun with this project, and I’d like to invite you all to join me! Grab your cameras and take a photo inspired by your favorite book!
But before you head out, here’s some advice:
-Go into your photo with an open mind. It’s easier to get a successful photo if you already have an idea of how you want it to look or the style or theme of the photo, but be flexible with the results. If what you originally wanted to do isn’t happening, make adjustments as you go along with whatever is available to you at the time.
-Have a problem? Get creative with your solution! For that Across the Universe photo I needed some way of making it look like Amy was being cryogenically frozen. So how the heck was I going to do that? Well, after doing a little research on Flickr for “frozen portraits” I found a few pics that inspired me. Frozen glass! But how do I get my hands on frozen glass? Well, I used the glass from a picture frame, wiped it down with Listerine (to get that blue color) and stuck it in the freezer! Problem solved!  
-Pick a book that inspires you. It’s important to choose wisely with your books, only go with one that really speaks to you or left you with an impression. Don’t have one in mind yet? Head to your library and tell your librarian about the project and ask for a recommendation for a book that would be fun to do for the project. Since I’ve started this project most of my photo ideas have come from books that people on Twitter have recommended to me!
-Interpret at will.The nice thing about my project is that I can do whatever I want with my interpretations. That means it can be a literal interpretation of a scene, character or title or you can do something that gets the mood or feeling of the book, or it can just be anything that reminds YOU of the book. This is art, it doesn’t have to be accurate. You make it what you want to make it.
Now that you have some advice, get out there and start taking some photos! I can’t wait to see what you come up with and stay tuned for more photos from my series. Happy reading and photogging!
This is a great way to get your teens creating and expressing themselves; to engage them in literature.  After meeting Margot and following her project I realized that I had been doing a form of this on my own with the pictures that I post here on my blog, though without the high level of skill and talent.  My homage to the Real Fauxtographer can be found here.  And throughout the Teen Programs in a Box you can find ways to get your teens creating ya inspired art whether it be through the Book Quotation Celebration, creating haunting photos inspired by Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, or creating a Angel fiction inspired 3-d book cover starring your teens.  You can find those programs and more in the Teen Programs in a Box Table of Contents.
You can follow Margot on Twitter (@margotwood), on Facebook and at her blog.  Stay tuned in here in the coming weeks as authors Beth Revis and Mike Mullin discuss their reaction to their photographs and share their amazing books with us.  Beth Revis is the author of Across the Universe, a great science fiction race against time to save the lives of those on board a spaceship built of secrets and murder.  Mike Mullin is the author of Ashfall, a spine chilling dystopian tale of what happens when volcanoes erupt and the world is covered in ash.
Please be sure to leave Margot a comment in the comments letting her know how awesome she is, what book you think she should do next, or share art projects you have done with your teens based on ya lit.

Support Teen Lit Day

Today is Support Teen Lit Day! If you support Teen Lit, there are a lot of ways you can participate.

1.  Rock the Drop

Your goal: to leave teen lit around town for people to find, pick up and read.  This event is being sponsored by readergirlz and Figment.  To participate simply follow the link and instructions.  People all over will be leaving books for the joy of discovery today.  Some authors have indicated that they will be tweeting clues as to where they are leaving them.  Some of them will be signed.  Follow #rockthedrop on Twitter to join in on all the fun.

2.  The 2012 Project

Our mission this year is to collect 2,012 pictures of teens reading and using their libraries.  Pics are coming in every day that SHOW teens still use (and love) their libraries.  That they still read.  Follow
#the2012project on Twitter and visit the TLT Facebook wall to see pics.

Join the discussion and share your favorite YA titles!  Read the post that started it all and then share yours.  Want to read my Why YA? moment – read my letter to Lauren Oliver.  Or read how the Hunger Games changed the way Sara Ansted viewed the world we live in.  Teens and adults everywhere are invited to share their Why YA? titles.
4.  Put it out there so they can see it
Let’s face it, we all just a book by its cover and it is one of the ways that we choose what we read.  Make sure you have ways to show teens book covers and catch their eye.  Weed your collections so every shelf is only 2/3s full and face out a title at the end of each of the middle 3 shelves.  If you have end caps or table tops use them.  Put up signs, shelf talkers, and booklists (make sure you put book covers on your booklists).  You can find already made signs and posters at the TLT Facebook page.  Make it easy for teens to come into libraries, find what they want and walk out satisfied.  They may have to be put on the waiting list for The Hunger Games, but you know that they may also like x, y and z.
5.  Talk to staff about teen lit
Every week I send out a message that highlights upcoming teen programs, news stories and teen titles.  I give a book review of a title that we have in our collection and then suggest 2 to 5 other titles that readers may like if they like the book I reviewed.  Then, when a teen patron walks up to the desk and I am not there, a moment may click for my staff and they know just where to go find the information to help teens walk out satisfied patrons.  And right now, 2 of my co-workers are now reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  So when a teen walks up to check out that book they can say, “ooh, I really liked that book, you’ll have to tell me what you think when you are finished reading it.”  And voila – a connection has been made and we move one step closer from THE library to MY library.
Don’t forget to let teens see you read.  One of my co-workers is also a classroom teacher and when they have reading time in class, she reads YA lit.  Her students often ask her about what she is reading check out what they see her reading.  Modeling should not be underestimated when it comes to reading.  I created a hand out on ways to help your child be a better reader because parents kept asking and my #1 tip: let your children (in this case teens) see YOU read.
Have a great Support Teen Lit Day everyone.  I know you are out there doing it every day and I am so honored to consider you my peers.

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.

Book Review: BZRK by Michael Grant

Front Cover Blurb: In this war, there are only two outcomes: victory or madness

A young man sits in a room in a mental hospital, occasionally he will utter a few words, including the word berserk, over and over again.  His brother, Noah, can’t believe what has happened to him – and so quickly.

A young lady, Sadie, looks at her watch in a stadium as she wonders when the longest date ever will end.  In one of the most jaw dropping action scenes I have read in a while, Sadie sits while an airplane crashes onto the field and kills almost everyone in attendance.  Sadie survives, but this is the catalyst that changes her life forever.

They both are about to go berserk.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6xIPGOUJGU]

Noah and Sadie are drawn into an unseen war that is happening everyday right around us.  That man you see sitting on the park bench staring into space – he may be a part of it.  Those teenagers you think are playing video games – they may be a part of it it.  There are two sides to this war.  One side is fighting for your freedom; for the right for mankind to think and feel and for each person to make their own decisions.  Yes, those rights are messy and we seem to keep screwing everything up by making the wrong decisions – but would you want that right taken away from you? The other side now has the technology to rewire your brain and create a hive mind to create a peaceful society.  This war is being fought right in front of you, on the nano level, and the stakes are high.

BZRK by Michael Grant is science fiction at its best; it looks at emerging technologies and makes us think about the implications they may present.  We may have the means to create peace, but does the end justify the means? Is freedom something worth fighting for, even when that means that people will continue to make wrong choices?

In this war, there are two competing types of technology: nanobots and biots.  Biots are an advance in nanotechnology in that some dna material from the controlling individual are used to grow the biots. The biots then become an extension of the self.  When something happens to the biots, its “parent” can slip into madness.  Once you sign up for this war, there is no turning back.  There is no out.  The nano technology presents some good discussion of science as the reader “sees” into parts of the human body on a level that we haven’t before.  Humans, it turns out, are their own unique ecosystems teeming with various forms of life that we host.  I found this part of the discussion incredibly fascinating.

There are a wide variety of characters in this war, including older teens Noah (who takes the codename Keats) and Sadie (who takes the codename Plath).  They both have lost loved ones to the war and are looking for answers – and revenge. In addition to a wide variety of other characters, BZRK has one of the most amazingly fantastic (and creepy) bad guys. Ever. I am not even going to spoil that one for you.

Overall this was an excellent and interesting sci fi thriller that pleases. It is challenging at first to learn some of the lingo unique to this verse (there is a handy guide in the back of the book) and to keep the various characters straight, especially since some of them adopt codenames.  Also, since this work contains such a wide variety of characters – some of whom are adults – it shifts in tone and that shift can sometimes take you out of the story for a moment.  That shift also makes it harder for the reader to build relationships with any of the characters, but this is not a character driven work.  Librarians will also want to be aware that there is some adult content.  This read is definitely for older teens as it is a sophisticated and challenging read, but ultimately satisfying.

BZRK has some of the most amazing action scenes and as a thriller it does indeed thrill. It does, however, pose some serious questions along the way that will provide thought for some good discussions regarding science and ethics, free will, etc. One of the underlying conflict themes is that the ends justify the means.  BZRK takes some of the same questions that we ask in today’s popular dystopian novels and makes them more real by putting them in the here and the now.  It becomes less speculative and more urgent: what if we could use nanotechnology and create a Utopian society, should we?  At what cost? And who gets to decide?

BZRK is also an excellent example of the emerging transmedia trend.  You don’t just read the book, you can experience it online.  There is even an app.  You’ll want to explore gobzrk.

Michael Grant is the author of the popular Gone series and fans will not be disappointed. You will also want to recommend this to fans of Michael Crichton and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or readers looking for some good old fashioned science fiction and technological thrillers.  This will also be a good readalike for those interested in books about video gaming.  And, although it is not dystopian, dystopian fans should like it because it is similar in theme (but lacks some of the character development).  Highly recommended.

For a look at my thoughts while reading the book, check out this earlier post.
For more information on transmedia, check out the Digital Shift, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly.
Michael Grant discusses BZRK in Wired

Read The Mr.’s Second Opinion

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

Girl Meets Boy Blog Tour – and Contest!

I am very excited to introduce you to this creative and interesting work of short stories edited by Kelly Milner Halls.  Every story has two sides, right?  So what happened when Kelly Milner Halls asked 12 authors to write short stories that each told one side of parallel stories?  You get Girl Meets Boy. Learn how you can win a sopy signed by all 12 authors after the jump.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLF0Su9PNMM]

Girl Meets Boy tells 6 stories from both the boys and the girls point of view; to make it even more fun – a popular guy author writes the girls side of the story and a popular girl author writes the boys side of the story.  How they met, first kisses, and more.  It’s all there, every triumph and heartbreak that happens when Girl Meets Boy.

·         The good-looking jock who falls for a dangerous girl never learns to be loved
·         A basketball star and the artistic (and shorter) boy she never knew she wanted
·         A gay boy looking for love online and the girl who could help make it happen
Advance Praise:
 « “A superb offering” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Passionate” – Booklist
“A thoughtful collection” – Publishers Weekly

The authors in this book include: Chris Crutcher and Kelly Milner Halls (book editor), James Howe and Ellen Wittlinger, Rita William-Garcia and Terry Trueman, Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith, Terry Davis and Rebecca Fjelland Davis, and Sarah Ryan and Randy Powell.

You and your teens can enter to win a copy of this book signed by all 12 authors! All you need to do is tweet (@TLT16, #the2012project), upload to the TLT Facebook wall, or e-mail me (kjensenmls@yahoo.com) a picture of your teens holding their favorite books.  These pics will be used as part of The 2012 Project.  No names will be included to protect everyone’s privacy.  One winner will be randomly drawn.  Contest runs January 29th – February 14th.

So celebrate what happens when Girl Meets Boy, when boy meets girl, and when everyone meets book (including this fabulous read).

Here is everything you wanted to know about Girl Meets Boy, including some additional contest opportunities on Wattpad.

Girl Meets Boy discussion guide
Girl Meets Boy excerpt
Girl Meets Boy on Kelly Milner Halls website (a compilation of reviews can be found here)

Wattpad Contest
The Girl Meets Boy writing contest is now live on Wattpad!

Wattpad is featuring the guy’s side of the story, and inviting their members to write same scene from the girl’s perspective. Stories should be no more than 300 words long, and the deadline is February 8th. Winners will be announced on February 14th.
One Grand Prize winner will get:
·         A copy of Girl Meets Boy signed by all 12 contributors
·         A critique of 25 pages of writing by editor Kelly Milner Halls
·         A 30-minute Skype consultation with Kelly
·         A copy of Kelly’s favorite how-to book on writing
Four runners-up will win a copy of Girl Meets Boy signed by all 12 contributors
Next stop on the Boy Meets Girl blog tour: The Story Siren

The TLT Girl Meets Boy contest is open to teens and their favorite teen librarians. One winner will be drawn by random to win a copy of Girl Meets Boy edited by Kelly Milner Halls and signed by all 12 authors. Deadline for entries is February 14, 2012. The 2012 Project, however, will run through all of 2012.  Look for other fun contests throughout the year as we try to reach our goal of 2,012 pictures of teens reading and using their library in 2012.