The BCCLS Mock Printz committee is meeting for breakfast on Friday (mmm, Jersey diner breakfast), and I'm sorting through my list of have-reads and to-reads to take to the meeting. We use YALSA's criteria of "outstanding literary quality" to determine our top picks, which are then read by many of our system's librarians and discussed at a meeting that takes place just before Midwinter. Here's my list so far:
The books I'll fight for:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Paper Towns by John Green The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart Madapple by Christina Meldrum The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Not that I think I'll have to fight for any of these save for Madapple, because the committee is pretty much in agreement on the other five.
The books I still have to read:
Octavian Nothing...Vol. II by M.T. Anderson. Barbara of Wyckoff has my galley and said she's enjoying it so far. He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Sammy & Juliana might have been the most overlooked book of its year. I have no excuse for not getting to this book yet! None! Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers. The committee is still out on whether the literary quality is up there with the ones I listed before, so I have to read it and see for myself. The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The books that I loved but aren't Printz books:
My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. Highly recommended for purchasing, though. It was such fun and so upbeat. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow All We Know of Heaven by Jacquelyn Mitchard
The dark horses, books I don't think will win but I think are worthy of note:
You Know Where to Find Me by Rachel Cohn North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (review of this one coming!) The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer
Opinions are mine only, not the Printz committee's, not YALSA's, etc.
In today's NYTimes there's an article, the first in a series, called Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? The awesome Linda Braun will talk about just this topic (and more) at the YALSA YA Lit Symposium, so if you haven't registered yet, do so! There are many, many good questions raised by this article: What is reading? Is it better, worse, or the same to read online as it is to read a book? Are today's teens doomed because many of them would rather spend time online than reading books? The point in the article I want to talk about, though, is fanfiction.
Liz B. and I will present on this topic at the YA Lit Symposium. We have an hour and a half to present and let me tell you, it is not enough. I bring up fanfiction because one of the teen subjects of this NYTimes article, 15-year-old Nadia Konyk, is a mostly reluctant reader who loves fanfiction.net. Now, FF.net has many, many flaws, but I will say this about it: It's relatively easy, easier than many fandom-specific archives, to use. Anyone can create an account for free. Anyone can upload stories in a huge variety of fandoms. Anyone can comment, or leave a review on a story. Of course, it's easy to see the flaws in this system. Anyone can upload badly written stories full of grammar errors, and they often do. Anyone can flame another person's story, and they often do. But what the NYTimes article doesn't address is that Nadia is expanding her literacy by reading fanfiction.
Fanfiction forces you to look at characters in new ways and think differently about their actions and motivations. When you write fanfiction, you think of characters beyond the way they appear on the page. You think of all the things a character might be capable of but isn't seen doing in the series. For example, would Ron Weasley ever use an Unforgivable Curse? What if Tally Youngblood hadn't thrown her necklace into the fire and chose instead to rat on David? With fanfic, the possibilities are endless. You can write fanfic in prose or poetry or word art. You can write about any character in just about any book or TV series or movie out there. Fanfic does not have to stick to the point of view of the series of the book, and it doesn't have to be about the main character. One of my favorite Harry Potter fanfics of all time is mostly made up of original characters and the only recognizable name from the series is Albus Dumbledore. The writing and the author's attention to detail and characterization are truly spectacular. One of the things I personally like about fanfic is that it gives writers the chance to develop one particular writing skill, such as first-person point of view or past perfect tense, without worrying about building an entire world and its characters.
The one big caveat with fanfic is that good fic is hard to find. I would say that 85% of what's on Fanfiction.net is utter dreck. Another ten percent is readable but mediocre. Four of the remaining five percent are good stories with solid writing, but nothing special, and one percent is outstanding. I don't have one set formula for finding good fic, but try these tips:
1. Do an interest search on LiveJournal. LiveJournal is a place where fanfic and fanfic communities thrive. 2. Find an author you like, and see who this author has favorited on ff.net and/or on LiveJournal. 3. Many fandoms have their own fan boards and discussion sites. Harry Potter, for example, has FictionAlley, which houses fanfics and recommendations forums. 4. If you're a romance fan, you're in luck. Fanfiction is FILLED with romance. On ff.net, you can limit the characters in the story and read about your favorite characters to your heart's content. 5. Pay attention to the story's summary. If the summary is enticing, chances are you'll like the author's work.
A lot of finding good fic is trial and error. Mostly error. I've read a lot of bad fanfic in my time and chances are, you will too. The time spent reading the bad stuff, though, is worth it when you find the good stuff.
Until... The book tells the story of his whirlwind, night-long courtship with Norah. She's a complicated girl dealing with her own painful break-up. Both have to fight through layers upon layers of insecurities to trust each other and realize that they've stumbled onto something once-in-a-lifetime.
It's not, to be honest, all that inspiring. The novel was written for teens, but is racy enough that the older kids for whom it's suitable might be bored by the writing style, which is annoying in its self-conscious hipness. Moments in it are genuinely sweet, and Cohn and Levithan convey a nice sense of being young, free, and faced with a world full of possibilities. It's a quick, decently engaging read, but nothing earth-shattering.
Uh, what? I don't know where this guy's been, but the older teens for whom it's suitable were not bored by it. It was named not just to BBYA, but to Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, which weighs the popularity of a book much more than its quality. It's in a high number of BCCLS libraries and enjoys good circulation. Rachel Cohn and David Levithan regularly speak to groups of enthusiastic teenagers. Also, no, Nick and Norah was not earth-shattering, but who says it has to be? There is nothing wrong with quick, decently engaging reads. Personally, I think they make for better movies than a lot of the literary stuff out there. Not that I don't love the literary, of course, but what comes through amazingly well in words doesn't always work well on the screen.
A commenter takes issue with the "not inspiring" line, saying: inspiring?! it's a fucking young adult novel written for, um, young adults. not movie critics, literary critics, or, god forbid, adults. it is a funny, racy, energetic novel about teens. god this is what i hate about the literary world. to be a "worthy writer" you have to use long words. that's bullshit. a writer can pull a reader in, bring up emotions, teach them something, entertain them.
To which Novikov replies: All I meant was that it's not very good -- which it's not. It's a perfectly acceptable, readable teen novel. There are better ones.
Let's put aside the "Is Nick & Norah a good book?" argument. I thought it was. Novikov didn't. He read the book and gave it his honest assessment, which is fair enough for me. But what I want to know is, when he says "There are better ones," what does he mean? I looked through his articles at Cinematical and he didn't seem to have written anything else involving YA literature. Mr. Novikov, if you read this, I would love to know what other YA you read, and what you thought of it. What made these particular books better than Nick & Norah?
There are not one but 2 YA lit stories in Newsweek this week, so I'll blog about the Anne of Green Gables story first: It’s Still Not Easy Being Green. Subtitle: 'Anne of Green Gables' turns 100 this year, but she's the most modern girl in the bookstore.
You know what else isn't easy? Continually seeing so much fail when it comes to mainstream news sources covering YA literature.
I will be the first to confess that I was never a fan of Anne of Green Gables. I read the first one and then I think my mom bought me the other seven books in the series, but I couldn't get past page 40 of book 2. I don't think it was Anne so much as it was my dislike of the setting. I have never liked any book that could even remotely be described as "quaint." Despite my not being a fan of the series, I could not believe it when I read this:
That "Anne" has survived so long—and, with 50 million copies sold, so strong—is a small miracle considering the state of young-adult literature. It's rare to find a best seller with a strong heroine anymore, in large part because, although girls will read books about boys, boys won't go near a girl's book, no matter how cool she is. Even in Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, the strong, grounded Bella is willing to chuck it all for the love of her vampire boyfriend. "The literary smart girl is still showing up in literature, but she's often the sidekick," says Trinna Frever, an "Anne of Green Gables" scholar.
Trinna Frever must be an Anne of Green Gables scholar to the point of not reading any other YA literature, because her statement is patently false. First, Bella Swan is neither strong nor grounded. She is completely without a sense of self, a spineless wimp, and a Mary Sue of epic proportions. Second, the idea of boys not reading books about girls is well on its way to being outdated. BOYS READ TWILIGHT. Every year, I pick an equal number of books for Talk It Up with male and female protagonists and never once have I seen a boy shy away from a discussion just because the book had a female main character. The boys my colleague in BCCLS and I have led in discussions loved Hope Was Here, I am not Esther, Dr. Franklin's Island, Magic or Madness, Kiki Strike, No Shame, No Fear and many other books with female protagonists. It's simply not true that boys refuse to read about girls.
Third, it's not true that books with smart female protagonists don't become bestsellers. A sampling:
Fourth, if I see one more article that cites Harry Potter, Twilight, and Gossip Girl as all that there is of YA, I'm going to throw something. Are these three series insanely popular? Duh. You have to live in a cave to not know that. But I don't go around telling the media that all adult literature is John Grisham and Janet Evanovich, so media, please give the HP/GG/Twilight triumvirate a rest until you can tell me what the Printz Award is.
Generally: Are there books with smart girl sidekicks? Sure. One can't help but think of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, to start. But their existence, and the bestselling status of these particular books, does not change the fact that books led by smart girls do exist and are bestsellers. Oh, and that they're enjoyed by boys, too. So perhaps the larger question is: What is a modern girl, and why is Anne such a prime example? I'm assuming that a "modern girl" is smart. Okay, but there are book smarts and street smarts and people smarts and athletic smarts and artistic smarts and more. A modern girl stands up for herself. Well, there's certainly no shortage of those in YA lit. Does a modern girl have sex? It wasn't an issue in Anne, was it? What's a modern girl's social status like? Fact is, there is no one definition. Clearly, the author of this article has an idea, but hers is just one idea.
I've talked before about boy books and girl books so I won't rehash too much of that here, but I find it frightening and disheartening that an Anne of Green Gables scholar knows so very little about the larger world of YA, and so very little about the reading habits of teens. Just once, I wish Slate or Time or Newsweek would interview a YA librarian, or a literary agent, or a bookseller, or anyone else who knows about what's really out there in the YA world. Of course, I also wish Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki would come strolling through the front door of the BCCLS office and take me to lunch in the Metallicar. Any bets on which will happen first?
I ran across a pretty cool YA blog today, a team blog by a bunch of authors. In one of the author's bios, it says: Age: Too old to be a YA, not too old to write it.
This makes me wonder: How old is too old to write YA?
Take these examples: Walter Dean Myers is 71. Joan Bauer is 57. Pete Hautman is 56. E.L. Konigsburg is 78. Zilpha Keatley Snyder is 81. All of them are still writing relevant, popular, high-quality YA fiction. They all get fan mail. They're loved by librarians and teens alike. I've heard several of them speak and they are all wise, intelligent, funny, and deeply passionate about the work they do. But in this author's estimation, are they all too old to write YA? Frankly, my dears, I don't think teens give a damn about an author's age. I think they're much more concerned with the voice of the main character, with the setting, with the plot, etc. I think it's not about your age, it's about your attitude. It doesn't matter if you're 25 or 75, you can still write good YA. Good YA is in the voice and the plot and the emotion, not necessarily in the hip language and slang.
I bring this point up specifically because teen librarians get a lot of ageist, um, crud. I've been told that I must be a good YA librarian because I'm young and energetic and can relate to the kids. No, I'm energetic because I work out 5 days a week and like caffeine. I'm not as young as many people think I am because I stay out of the sun and I'm genetically blessed in the aging department. I can relate to the kids because I am on a constant mission to find myself (I'm still lost), I am a good listener, I care about serving them to the best of my ability, and because I haven't forgotten how to giggle. I don't think I'm still a teen, and I don't want to be my patrons' friends. They have friends. I consider it a Very Good Thing that I have lived long enough to gain perspective on my teen years and I think of myself as an adviser to them in the area of literature and reference services. Someday I will not be young, but I will still care about quality YA literature and library services. Some of the best YA librarians I've known are well into their 50's and 60's. They're great librarians because of their knowledge and skill, and because teens know that as tough as their love may be, there is love, and a lot of it. Perfect (fictional) example of this: Professor McGonagall. She was a strict disciplinarian who took no bull from anyone, but it was clear to her students and the reader that she would always stand up for what was right and protect the best interests of her students.
So how old is too old to write YA? About the same as too old to be a YA librarian. That is, no age at all, if your heart is in the right place.
I first heard about Madapple by Christina Meldrum at a Random House preview, and I was totally taken by the pitch. It sounded weird, but in that way that expands the genre and makes it richer. And the pitch was totally right.
The plot: Oh, what a tangled web. As we move back and forth in the book, we learn that Aslaug Hellig, who knows her own name only as Aslaug Datter, has been raised in near-isolation in the woods in Maine by her mother. By day, Aslaug and her mother gather local plants for food and medicine, and even though I'm not into botany I found all the plant descriptions fascinating. Maren has taught everything about religion to Aslaug, but nothing of spirituality. Needless to say, Aslaug grows up with some very definite but not mainstream ideas of what life is, ideas that are challenged when her mother dies. All her life, she's believed she was born of a virgin and does not understand how it couldn't be possible, especially when she finds herself pregnant but is sure that the only sex she's had...with her cousin, nonetheless...was in a dream. As the book progresses, Aslaug can never be entirely sure what's fairytale and what's religion, what's real and what's a haze induced by schnapps and jimsonweed.
Interspersed with Aslaug's story of her mother, and how she found a new home after her mother's death, are transcripts from a trial. Aslaug is on trial for murder, among other charges, and while those of us who live in the world of cars and grocery stores can see where the prosecution is coming from, Aslaug has a much different take on events.
Why you'll love it: Despite the odd voice and the nonlinear storytelling, I think this is a book with strangely wide appeal. It's realistic fiction, but Aslaug's voice reads like fantasy. There's a murder mystery, but it's also a family story. There's a teen pregnancy, but it's not a "problem novel." I know some readers on the BCCLS Mock Printz committee had issues with the timeline that alternated between the present day and the past, I think the book would not have worked as well without it. Moving from Aslaug's voice to the third-person view in the courtroom brings into sharp relief the fact that Aslaug has not had anywhere near a normal life, is surrounded by many strange ideas on religion, and is struggling to find her place in the world. The writing is absolutely stellar, literary, lyrical where it needs to be and stark in places where it doesn't. One is never certain what's real and what's not in Aslaug's world, but there IS resolution at the end. It's definitely in my favorites of the year so far.
I've seen some books that do a variation on the GG theme, where they run shining reviews from 3 or so publications and then one bad one (usually from Kirkus). I stopped watching Gossip Girl because I thought it was boring and slow-moving and the costumes were horrific, but I do have to give them a thumbs-up for embracing the, erm, gossip.
Today's (er, tomorrow's) New York Times Book Review includes a seriously great article by Margo Rabb, who wrote one of my favorite books of 2007, Cures for Heartbreak: I'm Y.A., and I'm O.K. It's Rabb's account of how she sold Cures for Heartbreak to Random House Children's Books, and the stigma attached to YA literature, not just by readers and the general adult reading public, but by the publishing industry. It's a fascinating look not at what makes a book YA or adult (that's an entire three-volume set in itself), but how a book that sits on the blurry line between YA and adult is marketed. Much of it is left up to publishing houses which...well, I can't blame them. It's their product and therefore their job to decide how to market it best. Publishing houses' decisions aside, it's fascinating and a little revolting to read how not just Rabb but other writers of YA are thought of as lesser beings. Their YA books are not mentioned if they write adult books after YA. Someday this Pain will be Useful to You will be marketed as adult when it comes out in paperback, because Peter Cameron wished it so. Rabb chronicles the stories of other writers whose books they thought were adult but were marketed as YA. Some have embraced this. Others, less so.
That this rift exists in the publishing world is no surprise to me. Writers of literary fiction look down on YA. Many adults who don't know anything about YA look down on YA, too. That's old news. What seems new to me is YA authors looking down on each other. The line about Peter Cameron sparked it, but it made me think of an event I went to a while ago at which James Lecesne spoke on a panel with Eve Ensler and Michael Cunningham, where the three talked about their books and plays. In a very small nutshell, James Lecesne made sure to distinguish himself from the "other" writers of YA, the ones who wrote the dreadlit, the romances, and most especially, Gossip Girl. It was very clear to me as Lecense talked that he had little if any familiarity with the offerings of the YA genre, and although his YA book was great, and so was Sherman Alexie's, maybe, it was important that the audience (who looked to be mostly college-age, maybe a little older) not look down on him for writing YA. He wasn't one of those writers. I thought this was rather tacky of Lecesne to do. Toni Morrison can't ask to be shelved in a different part of a bookstore than Danielle Steel, so James Lecesne doesn't get to ask to be shelved in a different part of a bookstore than the Clique series.
Authors of the world, please. Embrace YA. I know YA lit gets smaller print runs, is less profitable, is appealing to a smaller audience. And I can sympathize with this. After all, I've got bills to pay, too. But writing YA doesn't make you lesser. YA is a place where books that could not thrive in the adult world can become bestsellers. YA is the place to experiment with genre and structure. We welcome all kinds of neat books in YA that probably wouldn't make it too far published as adult. I've found that teens, and adult readers who love teen books, are often open-minded and willing to try experimental books and genre fiction. Best of all? They don't care what other people think. To the open-minded reader, a good story is a good story regardless of who it's written for. What makes for a good story? That's another post altogether.
More and more adults are picking up YA books. This is something Ilene Lefkowitz and I addressed in our "Crash Course in YA Lit for Adult Services Librarians" program we gave in May at NJLA. It's up to us librarians to match the right book to the right reader regardless of age range, but it's up to the writers to embrace the genre and learn to love the YA label. I for one am insanely happy about all these books that were intended for adults getting a YA label. It means more offerings for older teens. It's new perspectives. It's books that maybe, just maybe, parents and teens can agree on. We can have endless debates on what makes a book YA or adult. I have my own theories, which fit most books marketed as YA but not all. Regardless of what my theories do or don't fit, one cannot deny that the quality of YA is only going up, and while acceptance of the genre is an uphill battle for librarians and booksellers who love YA to fight, I think it's one well worth fighting.
I'm not the target audience of Babble, a parenting site, because I don't have children. Despite my lack of children I do have an interest in children's books (obviously), so I was intrigued and extremely dismayed to read this blog entry, Where, Oh Where is Superfudge? by Rachel Shukert who, as I see from her bio, is a writer. I guess she's a writer that doesn't read children's or young adult literature, or one that has any familiarity with the reading habits of young people, because those who are familiar with the ever-widening offerings in the children's and YA lit world can see right through this entry.
Shuket's overall argument is that children's and YA books these days are too, well, shiny, too focused on the exploits of rich kids. She can't find any books about poorer, urban, nonwhite, etc. children and seems to believe that they don't exist in children's literature anymore. She encourages readers of her entry to "rescue all those Carter-era stories of latchkey kids and public school and Native American girls abandoned on islands off the coast of California as well."
Believe me, my head is still spinning, and not just because Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of the most boring books I was ever forced to read as a child.
Fancy Nancy is acknowledged, but not Trixie and her beloved Knuffle Bunny in all their Brooklyn landscape glory. Shukert shows a fundamental lack of knowledge about the difference between children's and YA literature, stating in an opening paragraph: There was a time when the shelves of the Young Adult section at the bookstore (or even the library, as the more ancient among you may remember) were filled with stories of smart, urban, and overwhelmingly middle class children doing very normal and often humorous things. She then goes on to talk about Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, which is not now, has never been, and never will be classified as YA. Beyond this, those shelves are still filled with stories of smart, middle-class children doing normal and humorous things. She just doesn't seem to be willing to look for them, choosing instead to focus on Gossip Girl and the other Poppy series. Shukert goes on at length about Serena van der Woodsen but never once mentions Jacqueline Woodson. She's quick to complain about the lack of normal kids in YA literature but I have a signed galley of Paper Towns that says she's never heard of John Green, or Laurie Halse Anderson, or Walter Dean Myers, or Joan Bauer, or Sarah Dessen, or any other author that does exactly what she complains about authors not doing, that is, writing great books about middle-class and/or urban teens who don't have superpowers.
Lest it seem that I am too hasty to blame Shuket for her complete lack of knowledge of MG and YA literature, please know that one thing I can't stop thinking is, "Why does she know so little?" Any children's and/or YA librarian would be happy to load her up with books by the authors I mentioned. Why did she not talk to any of them before writing off the last three decades' worth of children's and YA books? Why are librarians still so invisible to those who love to complain about how great children's and YA books were back in the good ol' days? In the good ol' days, where gay characters almost always died, and teens who had sex were punished for it by pregnancy or disease, or... Sorry. But seriously, children's and YA lit has come so far in 30 years and I can't help but wonder why there are more books now but less knowledge about them. It's become almost as important to reach adults, especially parents, with YA lit as it is to reach teens. Hmm. Another underserved population, perhaps?
It's Talk It Up! and Speak Out! season, so I'm making the rounds of some of our libraries to see how their groups are going. The staff of the Rutherford Public Library was kind enough to invite me to Speak Out! last night, where they were reading A Little Friendly Advice and had author Siobhan Vivian as their guest.
Heads up, librarians: Author events are never a bad thing. Never. There were 14 teens and 4 librarians crammed into a room, all having a fabulous time talking about Siobhan's book and hearing about her writing career. I got one teen to check out Boy Toy and talked with others about their lives and YA lit as they waited for Siobhan to sign their books and take pictures. All the participants were enthusiastic, smart, and generally a credit to teens everywhere. The Rutherford Public Library is lucky to have such a great group.
If this is not the cutest, most wonderful picture in the entire world, I don't know what is:
Picture a whole evening like that! It rocked so hard.
Darn. I was going to blog about this exact topic, and ShelfTalker beat me to it. It's a brilliant blog entry, really, so I will just add a few comments of my own. ShelfTalker says:
The best summer reading lists, I believe, should include a solid mix of books published for young adult readers and books published for adults, with an emphasis on ENJOYING reading. I think lists should include books that will appeal to reluctant readers AND books that will catch the eye of those kids who genuinely seek a challenge (or who just want to impress college admissions counselors). A list NEEDS to include newer books and (really, truly) the lists need to include a brief summary and/or review.
This is one hundred percent true, and if I may, I'd like to add a few summer reading list requests of my own. A great summer reading list, imho, should also have:
1. Books about people of all different colors, social backgrounds, and nationalities, preferably ones published after 2000. Not that I don't love Things Fall Apart, but can we get Chanda's Secrets on there, too?
2. A book 150 pages or shorter, and a book 500 pages or longer.
3. An equal balance of male and female main characters, and those characters should be treated as equals. One of the most egregious insults I ever saw on a summer reading list was a list that had books covering health topics. In these books, all of the boys were heroes who were "coping with" a family member's mental illness, and all the girls were mentally ill. I don't even know if the person putting the list together noticed this. Noting that the NIH says that men are more likely to suffer from mental illness than women, I suggested that the school add Under the Wolf, Under the Dog and A Beautiful Mind to start. I don't think they ever did, though.
4. Books that have the word "fuck" in them. No, I'm serious, and this is where my lack of ever being a school librarian shows. I think there's a lot to be learned from the structure of Fight Club, the way Palahniuk plays with the narrator's identity and the graying lines between order and chaos. But it's got a lot of grit and swearing, so one is unlikely to see it on a summer reading list. But come on. What reluctant reader sixteen-year-old boy, if he had to read something during the summer, wouldn't want to read Fight Club? Strong language is a way of life, and it can be a way of great writing.
5. Science fiction and fantasy...wait for it...written by women. If I'm lucky, I'll sometimes see The Mists of Avalon on a summer reading list, and that's it for speculative fiction written by women. Everything else seems to be Asimov, Clarke, Card, etc. Those books aren't bad, but a list that doesn't include fantasy and SF written by women doesn't send a great message. Please, if you're reading this and one of your jobs is to assign summer reading titles, consider books by Octavia Butler, Mercedes Lackey, Robin McKinley, J.K. Rowling, Nancy Farmer, Holly Black and Annette Curtis Klause, to name a few.
6. Books with gay characters. You know where this is a problem? Middle school reading lists. Fact is, it's 2008 and kids are becoming sexually aware earlier and earlier, even knowing they're gay or lesbian in middle school. Please, middle schools of the world, would you consider adding Alex Sanchez's So Hard to Say to your reading lists?
7. Non-linear structures and non-narrative language. Books written in IMs. Books written in diaries, letters, and emails. Books that alternate narrators. This is a multitasking generation. Shake things up a little!
8. Popular fiction. Oh yes, I went there. Maybe I'm not cut out to put summer reading lists together, but I believe all reading is good reading. As I've told some reluctant readers, finding the right book is like finding the right pair of jeans. Sometimes you have to try on 5 or 6 before you find one that's the perfect fit for you. And we all know teens are heavily influenced by their friends, so why not add the books their friends are reading, whether it's Scott Westerfeld or Janet Evanovich?
I'm a little worried by the ShelfTalker commenter who thought Lurlene McDaniel's Prey was "a surprisingly good, realistic, and non-exploitive(!!) look at a predatory female teacher," because I found Prey to be the exact opposite of all of those things (and not just because Boy Toy was my favorite book of '07), but other than that the comments on that entry are fantastic.
I didn't blog yesterday because I was tired from being in line for my new iPhone since 5 a.m., so I think the next entry will have to be How Do I Love My iPhone 3G, Let Me Count the Ways.
Editing to add: Somehow I missed noting what book this review is for! It's for Identical by Ellen Hopkins.
(Hey, I'm blonde. These things happen.)
The plot: Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical twins who, like Elizabeth and Jessica, are as different on the inside as they are on the outside. Their contempt for one another is as strong as their love. Raeanne tells the reader that her sister's personality is more like her mother's, hard and cold, shutting people out emotionally, and it may be these traits that draw their father to Kaeleigh. Raeanne is jealous of the attention Kaeleigh gets from their father, even though she knows full well that her father sexually abuses Kaeleigh. Even though she's the braver of the two twins, she's not brave enough to take a stand against their father. She forgets her sorrows with pot and promiscuity and the occasional Oxycontin stolen from her father's medicine cabinet. Their mother, a politician, is away for most of the time campaigning. Of course, no situation so volatile can last forever. Kaeleigh and Raeanne hit rock bottom, a moment that reveals many family secrets that, while painful, ultimately do them some good.
My thoughts: For me, there's way too much in this book. It's got bulimia, cutting, pot smoking, drinking, sexual abuse, prescription drug abuse, estranged family members, inappropriate relations with teachers, questionably consensual sexual violence (I don't call it BDSM, because the whole point of BDSM is that it is supposed to occur between consenting adults who have safety parameters in place), and one very sneaky, very evil plot twist. I was absolutely exhausted 250 pages into this 565-page book. I also felt like I'd read better from Ellen Hopkins. To me, this book didn't stand out from her other works. I've said before on YALSA-BK that Hopkins, writing wise, reminds me of Britney Spears. Britney Spears is a terrible singer who sings pretty good songs. Hopkins is the mirror image of that, a good writer who writes books I don't really enjoy. There is no one singular plotline to follow here; it's more a series of connected events. Like all of Hopkins's previous works, it's in verse, making it visually appealing.
But don't write it off just yet: Even though this book is not among my favorites of the year, I will say this: Ellen Hopkins knows her audience. She really has a handle on so many teen feelings and she knows what teens want to and have to read about. After hearing her speak at a dinner at ALA, I know she is also a compassionate person with a need to tell these stories, to let teens in rough situations that they are not alone and someone out there does care about them. I know that in junior high, this is exactly the kind of book I'd have gone for. If I were a teen today, all emotions being equal, I'd probably be emailing Hopkins to tell her how much I love her books. Is Identical going to win the Printz? Probably not. But it is an important book, one that a lot of teen readers will really like and one that many libraries should purchase. Perhaps it will even give one or more teens in difficult situations, family or otherwise, the strength to reach out and get help.
I've been thinking a lot, probably more than I ought to, about this entry in the YALSA blog: President's program: The teen third space. It's been bothering me a lot, probably more than it ought to, mostly this line: The best point, for me, that Bernier made was actually a very simple one. Libraries should move away from privileging the collection to privileging the social experience that libraries can support. Collections should be used to support social interaction.
Reading this makes me think I'm due for a career change, because I disagree with this on the most fundamental level.
Here's the thing: I'm all about getting the idea of third spaces out to my colleagues. I have been talking about the third space to my boss for a long time. I believe that having a welcoming teen space, no matter how small, is key in serving teens in a library successfully. (Seriously, the best teen space I've seen to date was at the Emerson Public Library...they have one half of one aisle, about 12 shelves, stuffed with up-to-date teen books and decorated by teens to the nines. It rocks.) I wholeheartedly encourage social interactions in the library, as anyone who's heard me speak about marketing Talk It Up! and Speak Out! knows. Why not, as long as everyone's behaving in a socially acceptable manner? Why not have gaming nights? Why not have non-book-related programming? Libraries are spaces for learning and exploring, and everyone has different learning styles and interests. I believe that having a space you care about shows teens that you care about serving them to the best of your ability.
But I also believe that without a well-weeded, up-to-date book collection, full of popular and quality materials, both fiction and nonfiction, everything else you do as a teen librarian is worthless.
Ask an average teen what comes to mind when asked to picture a library, and my money is on him or her describing a room full of books. Willow Rosenberg said it best: "The library... Where the books live?" Fact is, books are still important. Reading is still important. And perhaps this is a myopic view, but without teachers and librarians, where are teens going to get book advice? When was the last time you saw a reader's adviser in Barnes and Noble? Everyone who reads this blog knows that YA is the hot new thing. Even Cory Doctorow knows this. I feel lucky, even blessed, to be a YA librarian in a time when so much wonderful YA is being produced. It seems to me, however, that more and more it is becoming seriously not cool to become a YA librarian because you love YA lit and love matching teens and books. Granted, I've never been cool a day in my life so this doesn't bother me in and of itself, but what does bother me is the idea that in order to be a good teen librarian, you not only have to be knowledgeable about books and technology and have a good rapport with teens, you have to be a social worker, a gaming aficionado, a decorator, a confidante, a life coach, a social networking guru (Second Life? I don't even have time for a first life!), and many other things that I am simply not good at. I am great with helping people research and find books they'll love, but I am not a great social worker or life coach by any stretch of the imagination. If teens have troubles they want to tell me about, I am happy to listen but ultimately I am not equipped to guide them through their problems. I am, however, equipped to give them the resources they need, should they want. I think if you don't privilege your collection, no one else will, either. I think if you don't stand up for providing quality materials to teens in favor of privileging social interaction, you've got no right to complain when your materials budget is cut. Your collection, in my opinion, should lay ground for everything else you do. It should reflect your teens' reading interests, be they fiction or nonfiction.
I know this is a lot of tinhattery based on one YALSA blog entry, but that one entry has set off this chain of thoughts. I think I have fallen too far behind the times to keep up with what is expected of teen librarians nowadays. I am not a confidante. I am not a counselor. I am a librarian, and a good one, and one that today, feels really out of place in her profession.
I'm very excited to finally be blogging about YA books for the YALSA blog. The YALSA rules say that I cannot reproduce my entries for them in this blog, so I will provide you with a link to today's entry: Books to watch out for: Hero-Type by Barry Lyga.
"Books to watch out for" will be a regular feature on the YALSA blog. I have a post-it on my desk reminding me to write in at least once a week (on Tuesdays, because nothing ever happens on Tuesdays except Dean Winchester getting a desk dropped on him). Now, what to feature next...
As a longtime Harry Potter fan, I'm used to seeing books and essay collections analyzing my favorite teen books. While Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books are far from being my favorites, I was intrigued to see an essay collection about it, published by Teen Libris. A New Dawn is part of a collection of books analyzing popular teen series, including one the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books called Demigods and Monsters (which I am absolutely dying to read, as I love and adore the Percy Jackson books) and the Inheritancetrilogy cycle.
What's in A New Dawn: Thirteen essays by YA authors of varying popularity tackle themes of romance, vampires and werewolves in literary tradition, morality, the neverending question of whether Edward Cullen is the greatest boyfriend in literature or an out-and-out sociopath (my vote is firmly with sociopath!), and self-sacrifice. I think the essays are aimed at teen readers, but the formality and academic voice of each essay varies greatly. The essays all have inviting titles like "My Boyfriend Sparkles," showing that even though these are analytical essays, they're meant to be conversational as well. The strongest essay in the book is Ellen Steiber's "Tall, Dark, and... Thirsty?" which discusses the history of vampire legends and how they cross into romance, even citing other YA vampire books when talking about the vampire as loner. It also brings to the forefront the thing I have always found the most unsettling about the Twilight series, that being Bella's complete lack of a sense of self. Robin Brande's essay, "Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends," is written with her signature sense of breezy fun and although I didn't agree with a single word in it, I enjoyed reading it. Cassandra Clare and Rachel Caine use alternate formats, letters and scripts, respectively, to convey their ideas. Janette Rallison gets extra points for briefly discussing Carlisle Cullen, who I think is probably the most interesting character in the books (and not just because his name, like mine, is Carlisle).
Who will read this book?: YA lit nerds. No, seriously. I am one of them, and I fully embrace it. Twilight fandomers will probably be drawn to this as well, but you'll note I said fandomers, which not all readers are. I just can't see the average teen Twilight fan wanting to read past the first two, maybe three essays, but it's entirely possible that I'm underestimating the average Twilight fan, especially considering that when I finished New Moon I said, "I am neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob; I am team 'Edward and Jacob should run off with each other and leave that simpering nobody Bella alone for the rest of her life.'" I do see where the book's popularity comes from, and I think that using more colloquial and less academic language, plus the draw of the names of the YA authors, will make A New Dawn appealing to the die-hard fans who want to show that their obsession with Meyer's books goes further than just "this is a really good book." The only drawback to this book is that it's written on an open canon and doesn't do much for covering what might happen in the books. Speculation was always the best part of being in the Harry Potter fandom, and reading academic works on Potter speculation always taught me much about plotting. I'd almost like to see this collection revisited once the canon is closed, just to see how much of it holds up (though I believe much of it will, because it focuses more on literary tradition than book events).
Would I buy it for my library? Yes, if I had a nest of die-hard Twilight fans, or perhaps local teachers who wanted more reasons to incorporate modern YA lit into their curricula. It's one of those books I'd give a 2P in VOYA, "for the reader with a special interest in the subject," which to be fair holds true for a lot of nonfiction.
When you're a librarian, inundated with books, it can be hard to choose what to read. My office is full of books I have to read, books I want to read, books I've heard about, books no one has talked about...you get the picture. Sometimes it takes an extra little push to get me to read a book, but when I do, I'm glad I was pushed. Such is the case with The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, to be released in October of 2008.
I haven't read Collins's Underland Chronicles because, well, I am too far grounded in reality and generally don't read speculative fiction unless it's for a selection committee. I'd heard buzz about The Hunger Games (and how could I not?) but still didn't feel really inspired to pick up the galley off the cart in the corner of my office. At ALA, I had the great honor and pleasure of attending the Scholastic Literary Brunch on Sunday, at which Collins read from The Hunger Games.
The minute she finished talking, I picked up her book and did not put it down unless forced. In fact, I had a selection committee meeting after the brunch and made myself take the book back to my hotel room so I wouldn't read it while I was supposed to be doing committee work. It's that good. It's worth ALL the hype and then some.
The plot: In the ruins of a place that used to be called North America, the country of Panem has emerged. Panem consists of a Capitol and twelve districts, each with a different economical focus. At one time, there was a thirteenth district, but it was destroyed by the Panem government when its people tried to rebel. Seventy-four years ago, the Capitol began the Hunger Games, in which one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen from each district, called tributes, are sent to the Capitol each year to compete in a fight to the death. The winner's district receives food, which is in scarce supply in many of the districts, and money and great honor.
The protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, took over the role of family provider when her father died in a mine explosion. She and her mother and younger sister, the delicate and sensitive Prim, live on the Seam, a poor area of District 12. When the book opens, it is reaping day, the day the tributes from each district are chosen. In some districts, being chosen on reaping day is an honor, but not in District 12, which has only had two Hunger Games winners in 74 years. When Prim is chosen, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.
Katniss is sure her participation in the Hunger Games is a death sentence. After all, there are tributes from other, richer districts that have been trained all their lives for these games. She's one of the smallest competitors, the least educated, the poorest, the hungriest. But she's also got a few things the other competitors don't.
Why you'll love it: Not a single word is wasted in this book. Although Collins could easily have gone on at length about the state of Panem, the outdoor arena, and Katniss's home, she doesn't. She gives us just enough to work with. The readers know the setting is dystopian, even dire, without being drowned in details of the horror. Katniss has a bitter edge to her and is always sympathetic if not always likable. There's a well-paced romance storyline as well, and everyone I know who's read this book is excited to know where it's going in book 2. (The Hunger Games is the opening of a trilogy.) Even better? The ending leads us to believe that book 2 could go anywhere. It could pick up where book 1 left off, or take place 10 years in the future, or be told from a different character's perspective. Katniss's world is so wide, but Collins uses first-person narration very, very well so we only get to see what matters in Katniss's immediate moments. The possibilities are near endless. By using just the right descriptors, Collins puts you right into the Games, complete with evil politicking and near-death experiences for Katniss. It is frightening on so many levels
I know there was buzz over at A Fuse #8 Production about this being a Newbery contender. Personally, while I am wholly with Betsy on the quality of the writing, I think it reads more Printz. Either way, it's definitely a contender for a major award. So far, this is one of my top 10 of the year. Maybe even my top 5. It's a perfect next read for those who loved Life as We Knew It and I will be positively twitching until book 2 comes out.