Thursday, May 29, 2008

It's Impossible not to love this book

I do not consider myself a gifted writer, but I do enjoy writing my blog entries, reviews and the occasional work for publication in professional journals. When I was a tween and into my early teens, I thought I wanted to be a writer. My mother still thinks I want to be a writer (perhaps because she's not repaying my library school loans each month) and my husband is somehow convinced I'm going to write the Great American Novel one day.

But as I've told Lara Zeises, there is no point in me becoming a writer because I could never in a million years even come close to writing half as well as Nancy Werlin. This woman can write anything and write it brilliantly. Her stories tunnel deep into your psyche and they stay there.

The plot: I have to laugh, because the plot sounds horrendous when I break it down. Lucy, beloved foster child and avid runner, is raped on her prom night and gets pregnant. She decides to keep the baby and learns of a curse that has plagued generations of her family's women and makes them go crazy after they all give birth at eighteen. There's a ballad and a diary and Lucy falls in love and gets married to Zach, a boy she's known all her life. But it's more than that. Lucy knows that her mother, Miranda, is insane, but what she doesn't know is that Miranda only went insane after giving birth to Lucy. Through Zach, Lucy comes into possession of Miranda's diary and learns that she too is doomed to go insane. Before Lucy gives birth, she must complete three tasks set forth by the Elfin King, who fell in love with one of her ancestors and cursed their lineage via a ballad, a version of "Scarborough Fair" known to very few. All of these tasks seem impossible at first glance, but using a little ingenuity and human smarts Lucy, Zach, Soledad and Leo come up with a plan to break the curse.

Why you'll love it: This is a "No, trust me!" novel, just like The Book Thief. The plot of The Book Thief sounds horrendous when broken down, too: This book is about a girl growing up in WWII Germany and she steals books and it's narrated by Death. When booktalking both The Book Thief and Impossible, you have to say, "No, trust me!" to the person listening to the talk, because if they do they're in for something wonderful. Lucy is pragmatic, intelligent, and literal-minded. Soledad and Leo and Zach are more artistic and emotional, and together all of them make a great team. Alone, none of them could have even attempted to break the Scarborough family curse. Together, they show the power love has over something that seems insurmountable.

I know some people are going to read this book and complain about how good and perfect Zach is, so I wanted to address that. You're reading the blog of what seems like the only librarian...or maybe the only the world who finds the "bad boy" completely unappealing. This is my personal preference, and it taints what I read. I have never been attracted to bad boys, either in literature or in real life. I have no sense of danger. I like rules and order and good behavior. I would never want to date Sirius Black and Edward Cullen positively turns my stomach. Because of this, I adored Zach. I loved that there was a "good boy" in this book, and that he was so pure of heart and character. I loved Zach's dedication to Lucy. We should all be so lucky to have someone in our lives who loves us so much.

Read Nancy's thoughts on writing Impossible.

Every year, I read hundreds of books. I tend to not think much of about half of them, enjoy another thirty percent or so, love another eighteen percent, and then, rarely, there are those few books that cling to my heart and soul. Impossible is one of the clingers-on. I can't wait until more people have read this because I am dying to discuss it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The curious incident of the algorithm in the morning

Borders, my favorite chain bookstore, finally has their website up and running. It doesn't just redirect to Amazon anymore. I figured I'd play with it this morning and see how I liked it. While doing so, I noticed something strange yet interesting.

There are two ways to browse teen books on Your first option is to do so from the "Books" tab on the front page. Click it, and then click "Teen" from the yellow menu at the left. When you do this, you get pretty much what one would expect from browsing teen books at Borders: Sarah Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson, Gossip Girl, Ellen Hopkins, Scott Westerfeld, you get the picture. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The second way to browse teen books is to click the "Kids" tab from the front page and then click "Teens" under the "Age" heading on the yellow menu on the left. Contrary to what you might believe, or even what logic might dictate, this search does not bring up the same list of books you get by visiting the "Teens" link under "Books." The list of teen books you can browse via the "Kids" tab skews much younger and is heavy on fantasy and award winners. Right now, I'm looking at books like Hatchet, Princess Academy, Peter and the Starcatchers and The City of Ember.

I'm not sure why the two results are so different. Teens are teens regardless of how you get to the browsing lists, correct? I think what they're trying to do is show the books that might be the next step up after the 9-12 books in the link above the "Teens" link on the "Kids" page, but then why does it have the same label as the more mature teen books? If they want older and younger teen designations for their search results, why not just label the results that way? I'm opposed to labeling YA collections in libraries "older teen" and "younger teen," but this is something different.

Also, their front page currently shows a "Hawt series for teens" feature. Call me old and boring and geeky, but I can't help but snicker at those over the age of 14 who use "hawt" without a sense of irony.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Shift (your mind, your views, your opinions)

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury is a classic mystery, not so much in the "whodunit" vein, but in the "howdunit." When the book opens, we meet Christopher, a college freshman in Atlanta. He's approached by an FBI agent and asked about the cross-country bike trip he took from West Virginia to Washington over the summer with his best friend, Win. Win is both Chris's best friend and his worst enemy. Just before the end of their bike trip Chris and Win parted ways. Chris hasn't heard from Win since. Neither has anyone else.

Win's rich, powerful, domineering father is convinced that Win is dead and Chris is somehow responsible. He's hired investigators to tail Chris and even goes so far as to threaten Chris's family in nonviolent but definitely hurtful ways. Chris gets a clue that leads him to believe that Win is alive, but he wants to verify it for himself before telling Win's dad or anyone else. To find the truth, he'll have to lie, run away (albeit temporarily) and retrace moments of the bike trip that seemed insignificant at the time but now are heavy with meaning.

Why you'll love it: Ah, the great tradition of the YA road trip novel. PPYA is even doing an entire road trip list this year. I love a good sinister twist to my literature and Shift definitely has it. Chris is smart but not wise beyond his years, making him a great protagonist. His dedication is not just to Win but to his family, himself and the mystery of where Win disappeared to. He is perceptive and honest...and perceptive enough to know when to be dishonest. The story moves back and forth in time but is easy to follow, so there's never any confusion as to what's happening when. Suspense comes not just from the constant wondering of whether Chris will find Win, but if he'll find Win, dead or alive, in time to save himself and his family from the wrath of Win's dad. There are lots of literary and Biblical (my favorite) allusions, too. This is one of those perfect summer reading books; it's heavy enough to engage your brain but not heavy enough to fry it.

Many thanks go to the children's publicity department at Simon & Schuster for sending me this book.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The readers like me! They really, really like me!

Earlier this week I had the great luck and pleasure of attending the Fall '08 preview at HarperCollins. Thanks, Mimi! Reviews of the books will have to wait, but I did want to blog about a conversation I had with an editor. We were discussing my vast love of Jacquelyn Mitchard's All We Know of Heaven and got to talking about Mitchard's first YA novel, Now You See Her, which I thought was creepy and wonderful. I said that one of the things I liked about Now You See Her was that it reminds me of Chris Lynch's Inexcusable, the way the main character is totally unreliable. In both books, the reader is supposed to believe that the main character is always telling us the honest truth, when it's exactly the opposite that turns out to be the case. (Invisible by Pete Hautman is another great example of this.) The editor I was talking to...and I wish I'd picked up her card because I am a social clod and forgot her name...said that she had been worried that kids wouldn't go for Now You See Her because of how unlikeable the main character is. I thought it was much more important that Mitchard told a compelling, freaky story, and then I thought of something else I'd learned earlier in the week.

At a regional book evaluation, the school librarian who was assigned to read and review Freak Show by James St. James said that her students didn't like the book at all because 1) the main character's voice was annoying and 2) the main character was gay and therefore female readers couldn't fall in love with him, which leads to 3) neither male nor female readers liked Billy and thought he was too ridiculous for words. I loved Freak Show and would argue that ridiculousness is the point of the book, but that's for another post.

The two thoughts about likable main characters and romances collided in my head and I said, "I think if you're dealing with a romance, then yes, the main character needs to be likable, but Hope's unlikability works in Now You See Her because the story is not a romance."

For the past few days I haven't been able to decide if I'm a genius or a complete idiot for saying that. On the one hand, it seems like a logical conclusion. If you want to see a romance succeed, you should like the people in the book enough to wish them happiness. But I also know of popular romances, or stories that involve a romantic line even if it's not the center of the plot, in which one or more of the people involved in the relationship isn't likable at all. Did Freak Show not work for those particular readers because they didn't like Billy and therefore couldn't get behind his romance? If that's the case I can certainly understand it, but then is that separate from the fact that Billy, for all intents and purposes, is gay?

I have to wonder: What, exactly, makes a YA romance work, if it's more than the simple likability of the characters? And as a side note, I'm still thinking about the girls who didn't like Billy Bloom because he was gay. Do they then not read any GLBTQ? I know more girls who read in that genre than guys, but I know there's no one reason for who reads what genre and who doesn't.

Today's interview: Mary Pearson

Originally posted at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy:

Ask me what my three favorite books of 2008 are so far, and I'll tell you, in no particular order, they are Paper Towns by John Green, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, and The Adoration of Jenna Fox by today's SBBT interviewee, the awesome Mary Pearson.

Carlie: Your latest book, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, is a big departure from your previous work, A ROOM ON LORELEI STREET. What inspired you to create Jenna
and her futuristic world?

Mary: I think all of my books are a departure from the previous ones, but this one did actually make a time jump to about fifty years in the future so I guess that does make it a bit unique from all the others. A couple of questions were the motivating sparks for this story: How far will medicine advance fifty years from now, and also, how far would a parent go to save their child?

I asked myself both of these questions several years ago when my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer. After I got over the initial shock of her diagnosis, I quickly became grateful that there was such good treatment available for the type of cancer she had because just fifty years earlier she probably would have died from it. And that led me to wonder what treatments might be available in another fifty years. And then while she underwent treatment at the hospital I saw a lot of children who were going through even more intense and longer treatments, and not just what these kids were going through but what their parents were going through too. Again, it made me wonder how much a parent would be willing to put their child through in order to save their life. How far would I be willing to go?

These were just wonderings--not ideas for a book--but I think the questions that niggle at our hearts have a way of surfacing in our work. And a few years later exploring these questions through another family and a different situation gave me the safe distance that I needed. Of course, Jenna's family and situation were unique and the story took on a life of its own with new
questions and themes emerging as the story unfolded. I think many of these questions are timeless ones that we all revisit throughout our lives. What makes us human? What makes me, me? How am I different? Do I fit in? Am I enough? The particulars of this story also gave me a lot of opportunity to explore the gray areas of science and ethics, spirituality, morality, and choices. I think we all imagine what choices we would make in an impossible situation,
but until we are actually facing it, I am not sure we can ever really be sure of the paths we will take.

Carlie: Wow, that was incredibly informative! Thank you for sharing that with us. What are your plans for future books?

Mary: I have a finished manuscript that I recently sent off to my editor that I will probably begin revisions on in June for publication in Fall '09. It's a larger than life type of story about four teens who take off on an unauthorized road trip. It's fun and outrageous, and again, a departure from my other books. After the intensity of my last two I think I needed something like that.

Carlie: Now for some fun: Finish this sentence: People might be surprised if they knew I was good at...

Mary: Roof repairs. Actually, I'm the handy person around the house. I grew up with a dad who could fix anything and never met a tool he didn't like, so taking my dad's lead I will attempt almost anything. I remember when a tree branch fell through our roof and when I went to Home Depot for supplies the sales guy took one look at me and said, "you'll never be able to fix it." Ha!
That was the wrong thing to say to me. After that I think I would have fixed it myself if I had to cut each shingle with my teeth.

Thank you for your wonderful answers, Mary! We'll all be looking forward to your next book.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Today's interview: Barry Lyga

Originally posted at A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy:

When Liz asked me who I wanted to interview for Tea Cozy for the Summer Blog Blast Tour, I had two immediate answers: Barry Lyga, author of Boy Toy, which was my favorite book of 2007 and Mary Pearson, author of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, one of my favorite books of 2008. You'll see Mary's interview here later this week. For today, Barry kindly answered our questions, even though he is in the throes of revision.

Carlie: Congratulations on winning the Cybil Award for YA fiction! Tell us how it feels to win.

Barry: Obviously, I'm honored and touched that someone thinks highly enough of my work to give it an award. It's a great feeling!

At the same time, I've always worried about becoming so invested in awards that I lose sight of what's important -- the work itself. So when I won the award, it also had the odd side effect of making me more self-critical than ever, very much on alert that I don't let the writing suffer.

But, hey -- now I can put "award-winning" in front of my name, and God knows I love gerunds. :)

Carlie: Can you talk a little about your upcoming book, HERO-TYPE?

Barry: Sure. It's sort of complicated to boil down because there are a lot of thematic threads, more so than in either of my first two books. It's about heroism and patriotism and -- more importantly -- PERCEPTIONS of those ideas. I guess the best way to describe is that it's about a kid who's in the right place at the right time, and the world calls him a hero. Then he's in the wrong place at the wrong time, and suddenly he's a villain. And the book is really his struggle to figure out which one is real and why it matters.

Carlie: Here's my favorite question to ask authors: What's one book, written by someone else, that you wish you had written?

Barry: Oh, no question about it: Godless, by Pete Hautman. I am just endlessly impressed by that book. It's funny and it's serious. It's scary and it's heartfelt. It tackles a huge issue -- religion -- but it does so on a comprehensible, human scale. And it's SHORT! You can read it an afternoon, but in that afternoon, you'll laugh out loud, get choked up, and find yourself with a new understanding of organized religion. That's pretty damn impressive, especially in two hundred pages.

Thank you, Barry! (And I confess, Pete Hautman is probably my favorite YA author ever.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

The five people you meet in Stealing Heaven

Elizabeth Scott's first book, Bloom, was nominated to PPYA last year, and after I read it I just HAD to snag the one galley of her second novel, Perfect You, that was available at one of the Simon & Schuster previews I attended. Elizabeth was very kind and sent me a copy of her third novel, Stealing Heaven, for review.

The plot: Danielle, seventeen, has never attended high school, had a room or even a home she could really call her own, or made a true friend. In fact, she doesn't even introduce herself as Danielle to the people she meets. In every town she has a different identity. She's not in witness protection; she's a thief. Her parents, professional thieves, have raised her to know everything there is to know about security systems and hiding her real identity. With her dad now out of the picture, Danielle and her mom have taken to stealing silver from the homes of rich people. Why silver? It's valuable enough to make them some serious cash when sold, but it's not the first thing people look for when (or if) they figure out they've been robbed. Danielle and her mother move to Heaven, a shore town which I thought was on the East Coast until I read a line about the sun setting over the ocean, which it only does on the West Coast. Either way, there's a beach and it's a small town. There's also a very rich family with a very nice daughter who wants to be friends with Danielle. There's also a friendly cop with a crush on Danielle. Danielle figures that Heaven should be just like all the other towns she and her mom have lived in, until two things happen. First, Danielle finds herself forming relationships with the people of Heaven, something she's never done before. Second, her mother develops a terrible cough that won't seem to go away.

Why you'll love it: More than anything, the detailed writing makes this farfetched plot work really well. She does it all by creating interesting characters who always have something going on beneath the surface. Danielle is conflicted about her life of crime; she knows it's not right but it's the only life she's ever known. Her mother is nontraditional, to say in the least, and with her father in prison she hasn't got much of any kind of adult role model in her life. Danielle likes to think that she has built a barrier between herself and other people, but that barrier is broken by understanding and truly good people. Near the end of the book, Danielle has to stand up for herself, a feat not so easily accomplished when you've led the life she has. There's romance, intrigue and humor that grow from a cast of quirky characters. Danielle's personal fight against change and her developing her first meaningful relationships are a joy to watch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Here's a little friendly advice: You should read this book

Siobhan Vivian is cool if for one reason only: She's got two first names. I'm always envious of people who have a first name for a last name (such as Michael Thomas or Jennifer Taylor) because I have a last name for a first name (Carlisle Webber). Besides that, she's from Rutherford, and their library is a member of BCCLS. I want to thank Siobhan for having her publicist at Scholastic send me a copy of her book A Little Friendly Advice, because I enjoyed it.

The plot: Ruby is NOT having a great week. Sure, it's her sixteenth birthday and she gets to spend it with her closest friends and her mom gives her an amazing present (a Polaroid camera), but in the middle of her party her long-absent dad shows up. Ruby's not interested in hearing what her dad has to say. After all, he's the reason she and her mom had to move and her life's not been the same since. The one person Ruby is sure she can confide in is her best friend Beth...until she finds Beth's been hiding a letter Ruby's dad wrote to her, telling her he'll be in town for the week. How could Beth betray Ruby like that? Does Ruby even want to see her dad? To further complicate things, Ruby's falling for the very cool Charlie, an aspiring photographer who's a recent transplant to Akron, Ohio, from Pittsburgh. This has either got to be the best time for Ruby to get a boyfriend...or the worst. As the week goes on, Ruby does a 180 on her friendship with Beth and the way she feels about her father.

Why you'll love it: Regardless of how you feel about Stephen King's books, you have to love his part-memoir, part-instruction book On Writing. In it, he talks about plot vs. character, nothing that our lives are largely shaped by people rather than events. What Vivian has done is shaped an event around people, bringing us a great cast of characters with a lot of heart. She's really captured the way that time seems to pass so slowly when you're a teen, and how much can happen in a week of school, friends, and parties. Ruby and her friends could be found at any high school in America. They love each other, they fight, they make up, they include, they exclude, everything. As an added bonus, the book takes place in the Midwest, and we all know how I feel about that. This is a great next read for fans of what I like to call smart-chickbooks: Sarah Zarr, Justina Chen Headley, Laurie Halse Anderson, etc.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I do not think that award means what you think it means

Via one of my listservs, I found this entry from The Reading Zone. It's an entry I pretty much agree with, talking about the effect the No Child Left Behind act has on reading for pleasure. What I find odd are the comments from "safelibraries," who seems to have a very skewed idea of what the Printz award is given for.

The Reading Zone suggests that books like Printz winner Looking for Alaska and honor book Speak be read and discussed in classrooms, not instead of but along with the classics most high school students are assigned. SafeLibraries says, in one of his/her comments:

Regarding parents needing to be aware of things, you are correct. But right now ALA-awarded books are considered ideal without the need for parents to question the ALA. The parents are aware the books are award winning books and that’s enough to know. Parents are not yet aware that the ALA now awards books that parents would not want their children to read if they knew the true contents. That’s the rub.

Nowhere in the Printz criteria does it say that a winner or honor book is ideal for any one reader or even any one audience. The Printz is given for literary merit, meaning (to me) that it's not always what you say, but how you say it. I could have written a novel with the same ideas as Looking for Alaska, for example, but because John Green is a much better writer than I, he was able to give it a literary bent that I could not. Green's use of language is what made that book stand out. When the Printz committee awarded Alaska, it was because of the way Green conveyed his ideas and made his characters come to life. The Printz committee does not care what content is in a book. It's not their job to care, frankly. American Born Chinese has no sex in it at all, but Repossessed does (sort of). When the Printz committee grants the award, they are in no way saying that the winner is a book appropriate for all children 12-18. That would be ridiculous. No such book exists, regardless of content. Teens are too diverse for any one group of people to determine what is good for all. I would also say the same for the Newbery. The book that wins the Newbery is not going to be enjoyed by all children, and their parents might not deem it appropriate.

SafeLibraries continues:

Parents are supposed to judge books for their own children, while at the same time parents are misled as to the contents of those books.

I really don't get how giving a book an award would mislead any parent as to the content. The award is given for the way the book is written, not what topics it's written about. A parent picking up a book with an award medal on the cover will probably figure that the book is good because it is. A group of people who did nothing but read YA books for a year deemed that particular book the most outstanding contribution to the genre in that given year. But an award sticker cannot tell a parent how appropriate, or not, the book is for their child. Everyone's values are different.

SafeLibraries cites an article in which former YALSA president Pam Spencer Holley was quoted talking about the Gossip Girl books:

So I’m going to provide evidence that, to me, is clear and convincing.

Consider the following:

“The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), the fastest growing division of the American Library Association (ALA), has announced a list of books to recommend to teens, both avid and reluctant readers, who are looking for books like Cecily von Ziegesar’s ‘Gossip Girl’ series.

“‘The books on this list are perfect for when your readers have finished with every “Gossip Girl” title in your library and are clamoring for another book like the Gossip Girl,’ said YALSA President Pam Spencer Holley.”
The press release goes on to say, “For nearly 50 years YALSA has been the world leader in selecting books, videos, and audiobooks for teens.” Fine. But why not also reveal that at a certain point along that timeline YALSA started recommending sexually inappropriate books for children, accompanied by glowing reviews that intentionally hide such inappropriate material? You buy these books in a bookstore and the store signs advise of inappropriate content. The ALA has no such advisories. This is another example why the ALA should no longer be considered authoritative when it comes to the recommendation of children’s books.

I have never seen signs in a bookstore advising that some content of YA books is explicit. Has anyone else? If so, where did you see them and what did they say?

Also, what is "sexually inappropriate?" And if the Gossip Girl series is just that, reader's advisory logic would dictate that those who love Gossip Girl would love other books that address the teen view of sex. "The ALA has no such advisories," but doesn't that speak to a belief that says that ultimately the teen (and the parent, if so desired) has to be the last word on what book is appropriate for him/her? There's a wide range of maturity in teens, and even in adults, and since librarians cannot address every single teen, the best we can do is recommend readalikes and let the reader decide.

In the meantime, here is YALSA's Printz Award page.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I just wanna bang on the drum all day

So the hot thing in libraries is gaming, right? Sure, cool. Only, since I am the uncoolest librarian ever to walk the planet I do not game. I have never owned a gaming system. In high school I played Doom II on the family PC and enjoyed the occasional game of Quake in college, but it never became something I found wholly fascinating. I support those who want to game in libraries, and gaming collection development, but don't ask me to build your game collection for you. I'm much better with books.

My husband had a birthday this week and received a nice sum of money from his parents and a Best Buy gift card from mine, so he bought himself a Playstation 3. While he was shopping, I wandered the DVD aisles (so. much. temptation!) and then the gaming equipment. I saw two guys playing Rock Band with a set of 4 drum pads.

"Hey," I thought to myself, "I played drums for 12 years. I should be pretty good at this game!" So after the guys were done playing, I picked up the sticks. I set the level to Easy (first mistake) and picked a song I knew (second mistake) and started.

Logic would dictate that in order to do well in the game, you should approximate the drum patterns as close as possible. Maybe it was because I picked Easy level, but that is NOT how it works. More than once as I played through I heard my husband say, "Carlie, you're not playing what's on the screen, you're playing with the music." Well of COURSE I'm playing with the music! Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?

Apparently not. What you're supposed to play is more a simplified version of the actual percussion part. Problem: I picked a song to which I knew the percussion part very well, complications and all, and I had a hard time resisting the urge to play the complicated part. I also had a hard time resisting the urge to hit the drum pads in front of me and not the cymbals that I knew should exist. It was fun, but kind of frustrating. That, and a couple of teenage boys were watching me. They were very sweet and helpful, though, and I'm sure they got the laugh of their lives watching me attempt to play.

I might go back sometime and set the music to the Medium or Hard level, just to see if that makes the music any easier to play. But in the meantime, I'm haranguing my husband to buy me Guitar Hero. At least I won't have any habits to unlearn.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Parting is all she knows of Hell (review of All we Know of Heaven)

Jacquelyn Mitchard is a quiet gift to the genre. Her YA books don't get huge splashy marketing campaigns or movies or fan clubs, but THEY OUGHT TO. Her first YA offering, 2007's Now You See Her, continues to haunt me nearly a year after I read it. Her second YA book, All We Know of Heaven, is out this month, and it is worth a read.

The plot: Best friends Maureen and Bridget have been inseparable since kindergarten. Now in high school, they are nearly identical in appearance, with their short but strong stature and similar green eyes. Driving through snow just before Christmas, Maureen's crappy white Toyota crosses the center line of a highway and hits a truck head on. The truck driver is unharmed but both Maureen and Bridget are rushed to the hospital with a myriad of injuries. One of the girls dies and the other is in a coma for six weeks; the doctors are unsure that she'll ever be anything more than a vegetable.

The text message goes out the evening of the accident: M IS DOA.

Maureen's family holds a funeral and burial and are just starting to move on with their lives when the girl everyone believes must be Bridget comes out of her coma. For a while she's in and out of reality, but she is sure of a few things: She is not in heaven, she is not dead, and she is not Bridget.

When Maureen is finally able to communicate her true identity, her small Minnesota town isn't sure whether to ostracize her or embrace her. She's got a long road to go towards recovery, a road filled with physical therapy, romance, fighting and communication breakdowns. Maureen has to rebuild not only her body's abilities but her life, which in many ways both physical and emotional can never be the same. Bridget's family hates her for surviving and half the town doesn't know what to make of her. The one person who stays loyal to Maureen is Danny, who used to be Bridget's boyfriend, but the one person Maureen wants more than anything is Bridget. For the first time in her life, Maureen has the opportunity to stand on her own talents, out from under popular (if domineering) Bridget's shadow. Unfortunately, the accident has left her with communication problems.

Why you'll love it: If you're thinking, "I saw that episode of House!" did. This book is based on that same true story used for the plotline of an ep of House. But what the episode of House doesn't go into is what happens to friends and families affected by the accident long after most of the pieces have been picked up. All we Know of Heaven is all about the pieces Maureen has to pick up after the accident, and how grieving affects those close to both her and Bridget. While her family stands by her, she has to learn a new place socially, take on new pursuits and adapt to the idea of not being able to do the things she once loved to do. Using a third-person narrative (YES! What is with all the first-person books lately?), Mitchard is able to step back from the characters and allow the reader to see how the accident and loss of Bridget deeply affects a wide cast of flawed characters. It's funny; most authors who tell instead of show end up writing really awful books, but Mitchard doesn't. She does a LOT of telling rather than showing, but somehow it works, perhaps because her narrative voice has a wisdom to it you can only get with the omniscient viewpoint. In any event, Mitchard uses a "telling" narration to her advantage.

Like Now You See Her, this is a haunting book, one that should generate discussion.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

This most excellent book: A novel of love, friendship and the complications of relationships

Danielle of the Cliffside Park library has been raving about My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park, so I pushed it a few slots forward on my to-read list.

The plot: This is the chronicle of 2003, an important year in the lives of high school freshman Augie Hwong, Alejandra (aka Ale) Perez and Anthony Conigliaro (aka Tony, Tony C, T.C. or Tick, depending on who you are). In letters to a First Lady, a dead mother and various theater divas, the three teens share hilarious, heartwarming stories of falling in love with everything from boys to girls to theater. T.C., a baseball fanatic, gets batting instructions from six-year-old Hucky, who quickly becomes a friend. He also spearheads a political campaign involving baseball at Manzanar to catch the eye of politically aware Alejandra. Alejandra, raised by diplomats, is destined for career in either politics, which her father heartily approves of, or theater, which he most definitely does not. Augie, T.C.'s brother in all but blood, is gay and out to everyone but himself. He falls for jock Andy, but is Andy ready to take their relationship public? Interspersed with Ale, T.C. and Augie's letters to their idols are hilarious communications between parents, school counselors, congresspeople and celebrities. In the end, there's a madcap romp worthy of any Broadway comedy involving Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins, a train to New York City and Vanessa Redgrave (briefly).

Why you'll love it: Let's start with a downer, because really, there are many uppers: This is not a perfect book. It drags through the middle and the storyline about Hucky, especially in the end, is pretty contrived. But I was willing to overlook a lot of that (and you should, too) because Augie, Alejandra, and T.C. are warm, caring and delightfully over the top. Tired of patrons who complain that all teen books are depressing? Give them this book and prove them wrong. T.C. and Augie's friendship is unwavering; they overlook the petty things in favor of their loyalty to each other. Although T.C.'s mother is dead and this is a source of angst for him, he always thinks fondly of her and wants his single dad to be happy. Alejandra uses her diplomatic skills to stand up for herself and show her parents that she's taken control of her own life. Augie's parents have known forever that he's gay, and they support him no matter what. Most importantly, this book is a terrific study in what it means to love someone and the many facets love has. (And woe to English for only having one word for "love!") Love comes in many forms in this story, from crushes to missing a family member to a deep bonding of souls to helping someone less fortunate than you. In the end, everyone loves and is loved, and that leaves the reader with a happy feeling. Which I think is something we could all use more of.

The best con ever: Cruise to Mars

As part of the research I'm doing for the fandom presentation Liz B. and I are giving at the YALSA YA Lit Symposium, I'm collecting a list of cool fandom activities librarians can use with their patrons. I have to say, however, that all speeches, fanfic writing and costuming contests pale in comparison to the Cruise to Mars. Somehow, I don't think BCCLS would be willing to pay the $800 I'd need to go on the cruise. But how cool does it sound? Speed friending! A scavenger hunt! Celebrity stories!

Now, a VM-themed murder mystery evening, that's something libraries could do.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Recap: New Jersey Library Association conference 2008

I was out of the office most of last week at the New Jersey Library Association conference, and here are some highlights:

Tuesday, I went to a preconference on podcasting given by David Free of ACRL. Despite the constant joy of projectors not working, I found his presentation to be very informative and perfect for the audience's level of podcasting/vlogging experience. His blog is here.

Unfortunately, I had to be home at night all three days of the conference, so I missed the gaming session. Boo to that.

On Wednesday I got to spend a little time with Catherine Balkin of Balkin Buddies, which I highly recommend if you're looking to book an author for a library visit. Catherine was instrumental in getting the authors together for a panel I'm moderating at ALA in June; she really knows her stuff. I also attended a fascinating program given by Esther Nevarez, who is Community Relations Coordinator for the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety Division on Civil Rights. It was really more aimed at directors but I like to keep up on concerns directors have. Ms Nevarez broke down discrimination laws like, "What is the difference between race, creed, color, national origin?" and more. She talked a lot about how employers must treat employees differently from patrons, what constitutes a work event, what you are and aren't responsible for off library grounds, all very interesting things. I then went to a joint lunch for bloggers of Pop Goes the Library and Library Garden. In the afternoon, I attended the wonderful "Graphic Novels for Adults" program and spent some time at the exhibits, the NJLA YA section table, and the NJ Summer Reading program. Then I listened to Bachman-Turner Overdrive on the way home.

On Thursday, Ilene Lefkowitz of the Denville Free Public Library and I presented "I Didn't Know the new James Patterson was a YA Novel!: A crash course in Young Adult literature for adult services librarians." (That's our presentation via Google Docs; you'll need to log in to your Google account to see it). You can also download the handout and the PowerPoint version of the presentation from the NJLA Conference Wiki. (Scroll down to "Readers' Advisory Roundtable handouts.) We had a fantastic time presenting and we could not believe that we had over 50 people at the presentation! I hope that everyone who was there learned a lot.

Thursday was also the Garden State Book Awards luncheon and the speaker was Michael Buckley, the very funny author of the Sisters Grimm series. I didn't know he had worked on my favorite episode ever of Beavis & Butt-head: The Great Cornholio. That alone was worth going to the luncheon for. (That and the salad and dessert.) The music on my way home was Metallica.

So now I'm back at the office, working on reading, an article, a review, looking through the new issue of YALS... A librarian's work is never done.