Thursday, January 27, 2011

Speak up now

In Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Melinda starts her freshman year of high school completely ostracized by her school, even her closest friends from 8th grade because she called the cops on an End-of-Summer party. Her only friend, Hannah a recent transfer, tries desperately to fit in, but Melinda just retreats farther and farther into herself. It's a shame too, because Melinda has something she needs to say to the world. No one should have to face IT again.

(Image from:

This book is classic YA realistic fiction. There's angst. There's the kind art teacher. There's the parents you don't talk to. There's cliques. There's the cutey smart kid who sees there's more to you than meets the eye. And Melinda's narration is pure dry wit, snark to the max. Ugh. I just want to give her a hug. There's a slow reveal of THE BIG DRAMA which I'll save for those who don't like spoilers, but it's done rather masterfully. It's not a book for the faint-hearted*, but watching Melinda grow is worth it.

Realistic fiction is not my favorite kind of YA, but Speak was good. I'd read it to find out if there's anything worthwhile in YA literature. Melinda's story is definitely worth hearing.

*Seriously the climax, I pushed the book away and didn't want to find out what happened, but then I had to pick it up again because I couldn't leave Melinda hanging.

*Well unless it involves Manhattan's Upper East Side or fabulous exotic locales, and some would argue that's NOT realistic. I like glam in my realistic fiction.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Absolutely True Review

When it comes to YA, my preferences are nearly set in stone--girly book with quirk or dystopian fantasy, sometimes sci-fi depending on the hook. I generally don't do boy books, though I will if they are highly recommended, or anything too gritty. (Chaos Walking--though dystopian was nearly too gritty, so was Octavian Nothing.)

However, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is both a boy book and gritty and I loved it. Arnold is absolutely charming, a smart kid with a quirky sense of humor who is actually pretty aware of himself (though there is growing to do--he's only a freshman) and can express it. While most of the story is written, Arnold best expresses himself through comic panels a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They're great, some of them are beautiful, and he displays real honesty.

Despite all this happiness, Arnold is growing up on a reservation. Abuse, alcoholism, and hopelessness are rampant. You cheer for Arnold as he strives to hope for more, even if that means turning his back on his heritage and taking the subsequent flack for it. Arnold has to reconcile his status as a "part-time Indian" and like any high schooler (or anyone in general) he messes up, but he learns and grows and tries to do his best.

All in all, I heartily recommend this book. Arnold is adorable and frank and funny. You'll love him.But not everyone agrees. It was banned in Stockton, MO last fall for "adolescent boy sexuality". (It's a euphemism. Google the story; you'll find out.) It didn't bother me, but you might be different.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is one of the 10 books assigned for my YA literature class.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

YA Reading Preview

My library science class this semester is all about Young Adult literature and reading interests. It has a ton of projects to get one into the YA librarian mindset starting with a topical bibliography and ending with a defense of a YA book that often gets banned. In the middle, we'll be reading 25 YA novels. 10 are assigned; the other 15 are reader's choice within certain perimeters:
  • 2 Realistic Fiction
  • 2 Multicultural Fiction
  • 2 Historical Fiction
  • 1 Dystopian Fiction
  • 2 Fantasy
  • 2 Science Fiction
  • 1 Memoirs
  • 1 Retold Fairy Tales
  • 2 Non-fiction
These will be read to match discussion groups thorough out the semester. However within those 15, there are more requirements:
  • Authors Chris Crutcher, Walter Dean Myers, Ellen Hopkins, Sharon Draper, Jacqueline Woodson must be included.
  • 2 of the 25 must be the audio version
  • 2 of the 25 must be graphic novels
  • 2 of the 15 must be Printz or Morris Award winners or honor books (one must be from 2011)
  • 5 of the 15 must be from 2009 or later
So with that in mind, here are the previews for my next 10 YA novels.
So I think with that I've met all the requirements (and picked out two books that just seem awesome). I still need another fantasy, another sci-fi, a memoir, and two non-fiction. Any suggestions???

*It doesn't meet any of the criteria, but I get to finish the series and that makes me happy.
**This book looks awesome! What will happen when all the oil runs out!!!
***This book won me over with its title. I've been singing for the past 3 days. And it looks awesome--snarky and quirky.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Restart: Book Reviews

I miss blogging, but it's gone on the back burner with a whole bunch of other things. So give my blog a little restart and provide me some motivation to keep up, for now we're doing book reviews. It's my favorite thing to talk about (when I'm not actively crafting or indulging in other favorite pursuits), and I'm taking a YA literature class which requires the reading of 25 YA novels over the next four months. Another hopeful bonus is that the embarrassment of blog yet another romance novel or Gossip Girl book will keep me picking good thoughtful reads.

Ready? Okay I've read 6 books already this year:

Ministering Cross-Culturally by Marvin Mayers, based on theory by Sherwood Lingenfelter. I read this book as prep for a class I'm leading in Intercultural Communications. Fun times: stories about the Yapese and a personality test (personal values test in Mayer's lingo, but I'm a sucker for any personality test). Otherwise it's a book about being more sensitive to other cultures with a religious kick. Great for a Concordia communications class, not the lightest of reading.

Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson. I love Maureen's twitter feed and blog. She's silly and entertaining. And so are her books. Girl at Sea follows Clio Ford on a 2 week voyage into underwater archaeology off the coast of Italy with her free-spirited, but often absent father. Clio tells us not to be jealous, but we still are. Still when she ends up as the ships cook and the other teenager (buxom blonde, Elsa) only has to study for her OWLs orNEWTs or whatever British teenagers ACTUALLY study when they don't go to Hogwarts,* you feel righteously indignant for her. Sometimes I wished Clio used her words more than internalizing, but all in all she was a spunky character who grew a lot through the novel. Though I could never fully understand her tattoo...

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation Vol 1 The Pox Party
by M.T. Anderson. This book tops John Green's list of "books I wish I had written". While it's totally not my genre (historical fiction, meets boy book, meets African American slave story, meets steampunk?--okay not steampunk but trendy pseudoscience that reminds me of steampunk), it's an amazing story. Set right at the cusp of the American revolution, Octavian realizes that the life he has been living is pretty much a farce, an elaborate experience in race-based "science"--at first for good, then for evil when the money source change--and has to cope with a new reality. It's weird and angsty, but I have the second volume on hold for me at the library right now. :-)

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (aka YA novel 3). Seriously my favorite book so far of 2011. Before I Fall starts off as Mean Girls and twists into Groundhog Day and leaves you in the Time Traveler's Wife (not the plot so much as the crying the plot makes you do). Samantha dies in a car crash on the way home from a party, but then wakes up to relive her day again. You follow her as she tries to change events, screws up and figures out a better way each morning. And in the process she becomes a better person. I just hope the people who remember her will realize that too. I don't normally like books that make me bawl, but this one was so worth it.

This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save us All by Marilyn Johnson. This book has been on my To Read shelf for way too long. It's a summary of the weird wild and crazy in librarianship--all the youtube videos, blogs, and other librarian-related cyberspace that I love to post and pass along to others. You might not enjoy if you aren't interested in librarianship, but if you've ever wanted to catalog your own books, you'll love it.

Fairies and the Quest for Never Land
by Gail Carson Levine. Gail Carson Levine wrote one of my favorite YA books EVER, Ella Enchanted. (Read the book; don't see the movie.) And really nothing else I've read has ever matched up. However, this Peter Pan-inspired novel (for tweens) follows Gwendolyn, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Wendy Darling, as she discovers Never Land for the first time and benefits the normally very prickly fairies (including Tinkerbell). It's cute, it's lovely, the audiobook took 4 hours. Better than Disney princesses, but Gwen is no Ella.

So there you go. My first 6 books of 2011. I'm in the middle of Anna Karenina, but The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian will probably be finished first. (Or one of my realistic fiction novels for class.) Tolstoy's a marathon; YAs are 5ks.

*Seriously, Harry Potter has messed up my zeitgeist. Yesterday, I was reading Sturm und Drang and totally read Drumstrang.