Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Partying across the river

It'll be quiet around here for the next few days, because I'll be at Book Expo America. I'm attending the Library Journal Day of Dialog on Thursday, then the exhibits and the YA Editors' Buzz panel on Friday. On Saturday, I'm probably going to stay home and recover and do my homework for the Columbia Publishing Course, because this cold I have is not going away, grrr.

In the meantime, check out this article by my friend and fellow librarian Karen Brooks-Reese: Zombies Rise in Teen Lit. Because zombies are totally the new black.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I've Caught Fire

Yesterday was a day like any other until I arrived home from work. Because, you see, when I arrived home from work there was an envelope by my door with this return address:

"Oh, cool, a new book," I thought. The awesome people in publicity at Scholastic send me books on a regular basis, so I figured this was another standard mailing. Then I saw this sticker on the lower corner of the envelope:

Then my thoughts went from "Oh, cool, a new book," to "OMG OMG OMG NO WAY!" with a side of hyperventilation. I threw my mail on my living room floor, retrieved Henry, who'd gone for a stroll in the hallway outside my apartment, and opened the envelope. Inside was this letter

and it was kind of like getting your letter of acceptance from your dream college. I read the important words, squeed, and dove for the rest of the contents. I still didn't believe there could be a copy of Catching Fire in there. I mean, I've been planning my entire Book Expo experience around the time Scholastic put out the Catching Fire galleys, especially because I couldn't go to Suzanne Collins's signing. It had to be promotional materials. A CD maybe. Bookmarks. Pamphlets. Publication date is September 1. No one was getting the actual book before BEA, right?


I cancelled my exciting Laundry And Chinese Food plans for the evening, made sure the cats had food and water, and settled down to read.

If you're expecting to be as blown away by Catching Fire as you were by The Hunger Games, you're in luck. There's a catch, however: Remember how you felt watching The Empire Strikes Back? That's the feeling you get while reading Catching Fire. The pacing of this book is slower, with a focus more on character development and world building than on action. If you've come for the action, though, don't give up; there's plenty of it here.

When we last saw Katniss Everdeen, she was headed into a life of fame and luxury as one of the winners of the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games. She knew she was also headed into a life of trouble because of the way she saved her own life and the life of her competitor/boyfriend Peeta Mellark at the end of the Games. Because of what she did, she now fears for her own safety as well as the safety of her family and friends. Even worse, the time for the post-Hunger Games Victory Tour has arrived. That means Katniss will spend a lot of time traveling with Peeta. Katniss and Peeta must maintain the outward appearance of love, which saved their lives during the Hunger Games. Problem is, since the end of the Hunger Games their day-to-day relationship is lukewarm at best, with neither able to speak with the other about anything of consequence. Remember Gale, Katniss's best friend and hunting partner from District 12? He doesn't really want to talk to her, either. There's barely time to think about Gale, however, when Katniss begins to hear rumors of a Panem rebellion against the Capitol, a rebellion for which Katniss and her actions during the Hunger Games are the symbols.

Now, Katniss has a lot of decisions to make, ones that affect not just her, but the entire country of Panem. Defiance or acquiescence? Physical comfort or peace of mind? And most importantly, Peeta or Gale? Will she even survive long enough to make that decision?

In my opinion, this book does everything the second book in a trilogy should do. It solidifies the reader's vision of District 12's environment and gives us insight to the lives of people in the other eleven districts. It gives us a sadder-but-wiser Katniss who still retains that sense of "the world is all about me" that we expect from teen main characters. Peripheral characters get their own personalities. One of the things I liked best about books 4 and 5 in the Harry Potter series was the expanded, more jaded world view and the way Harry began to see that the wizarding world wasn't just divided into good people and Death Eaters. Katniss has some of the same revelations Harry did (minus the Death Eaters, of course). Catching Fire has its own storyline and some incredible revelations about Panem, its history, and its people, but it also sets us up to dive headlong into the final book. It's absolutely terrifying and thrilling, but it leaves us...let's say it leaves us not without hope.

In the course of reading this book I consumed part of a whole wheat baguette spread with goat cheese, 5 grilled jumbo shrimp, 1 grilled scallop, 2 redskin potatoes, 3 small Dove dark chocolate eggs left over from Easter, 1 coffee cake muffin, an iced latte, and 3 16-oz glasses of water. And that was only because I forgot about the grapes and toaster waffles in the freezer.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Robin Brande on food and beauty

Librarians know that the coolest thing in the world is getting to chat with authors, whether it's in person or online. Thanks to the miracles of technology (read: Google, Technorati, Twitter, email), I got to interview Robin Brande, author of the upcoming Fat Cat, which I loved and you will too. Robin, who is hilarious and much better about answering her email than I am, graciously took the time to answer some of my burning questions on, among other things, what makes a person "hot" and what I should have for dinner. Read on!

Carlie: Which came first: The idea for FAT CAT or an interest in natural foods/eating vegetarian?

Robin: It’s interesting, Carlie. Whenever the topic of food and weight and my own history come up, I tend to be either secretive and cagey, or to totally spill my guts although tomorrow I may send you a frantic e-mail: “NO! DELETE! DELETE!” But here goes::

I have alternated in my life among being average, fat, and very fat. The last time I was skinny was in fourth grade. Then my boobs came in in fifth, and it was all over. (See, that’s one of the parts you’re going to have to delete.)

For most of my life, food and weight have been constantly on my mind. I love to bake, love to eat, love to read books about baking and eating—but then there’s this other side of me that is secretly a nutrition and health freak, and so you can imagine the war going on in my brain.

When I was in junior high and high school I was a big fan of all the diets I’d see in Cosmo or Glamour or wherever. The week-long beets diet was especially spectacular, what with the way it turned my pee and poop bright red. Thrilling.

Then once I hit college—when I was superfat—I’d alternate between months of gorging on things like sweet and sour pork and a pint of Baskin Robbins (that was my Wednesday night treat—something to look forward to every week), and then weeks (or days) of “getting serious” and trying some new diet I’d make up. My favorite was the “trail mix diet,” where I decided since I love M&Ms, peanuts, and raisins so much, I’d just eat those—and only those—for a whole week. Gained five pounds. Excellent.

In my adult years I finally found a love for exercise, and that keeps most of the major pudge off, but I still love tortilla chips and chocolate chip cookies and other snacks way too much to get back to my fourth grade form. Which, let’s admit, is impossible anyway, since back then I had no notion of hips.

So the idea for FAT CAT, as you can see, came from my own life. The difference between Cat and me is that she’s smart and scientific, whereas I think eating M&Ms might solve the problem.

So when I embarked on writing the book, I decided to make myself my own science experiment, just like Cat did. In the process I read tons and tons of books on food and nutrition, I made all sorts of changes to my diet, and I finally actually figured out a healthy way of eating and living. Yes, I still need the tortilla chips and cookies every now and then—who doesn’t?—but I’m trying to keep it all under reasonable control, in part because now I have this book coming out and I’d better fairly represent it, don’t you think?

(Alternate answer: I don’t really care about food or eating, Carlie. I’m just one of those lucky people. I basically just made the whole book up.)

CW: Since an interest in science plays a big part in your books, can you talk about your background in science (if you have one)?

RB: Again with the confession: I have absolutely zero background in science. I used to hate it more than I can say. Then somewhere in these past few years a little switch got dislodged in my brain, and now I watch all these science shows like Nova and Nature, I read the science section of the New York Times, I watch science documentaries—what happened to me? I used to only read People and watch Top Chef. (Okay, still do that.)

In short, can’t explain it. I just think science is totally fascinating and cool, and I really admire kids who get the bug early.

CW: The back of FAT CAT reads: Cat After: Smart. Funny. Hot. The idea of what makes a "hot" girl is often an extreme; you have to be tanned, fake hair, fake nails, a size 2, etc. What do you envision the "After" Cat as looking like? What does it mean to you for a girl to be "hot?"

RB: Ugh, hate the things you just described. Personally, I think hotness comes from within, and is a much more natural process than going to the tanning salon and getting the fake hotness sprayed on.

This morning when I was out walking the dogs on the nearby university campus, I saw this college girl walking toward the sports facilities. And she had the most incredible, muscular arms. I had to stop her and say something. “Oh, my gosh, your arms! They’re fabulous! Are you a swimmer?” She smiled and confirmed she was. Now that kind of look is HOT. Healthy, strong, natural.

CW: Reading FAT CAT made me hungry. What should I make for dinner (with recipe, please)?

RB: Mmm, so many yummy possibilities. My current favorite thing is to cut up a bunch of little potatoes and roast them in the oven with just a layer of water in the bottom of the pan—you don’t need oil. Put some salt and pepper on them, heap up a big plateful, dip in ketchup and fancy mustard and even horseradish if you can take it.

Then mix up a huge salad full of all sorts of fun and interesting things—plain salads are so boring and will never make you crave them. Lately I’ve been taking three or four handfuls of pre-washed baby greens, then adding artichoke hearts, asparagus I’ve either steamed or roasted in the oven (again, just in water and with salt and pepper), beets (yes, I’ve forgiven beets), sunflower seeds, raisins—really, anything that captures my fancy. Then I toss it with about a tablespoon of Annie’s Naturals Goddess Dressing (a real endorsement—no kickbacks), made with tahini and apple cider vinegar—I’m telling you, it’s as decadent as all those big heavy meals I used to eat pre-FAT CAT, and yet eating this way makes me feel SO much better. I am a changed woman because of writing that book. Another reason why I love my job!

CW: What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you in the future?

RB: I’m working on another science book—surprise! But as usual, it’s science balanced with comedy and romance, because we all need some c & r. Can’t say anything more about it yet. And besides, I’ve spilled my guts quite enough for one interview, don’t you think?

Carlie's note: It should be said here that of all household duties, I loathe cooking the most (although I love to eat). I know lots of people find it relaxing and creative, but I find it frustrating drudgery. Even with my supreme hatred of cooking, Fat Cat made me want to not only enter my kitchen, but to cook in it! That, my friends, is a powerful book.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

If we start it, who will continue it?

This post at the YALSA blog has my alarm bells ringing: Start Something New With YALSA. Quoting the post:

Recently, members of the YALSA Board discussed how the Division defines “young adult.” Specifically the Board wondered if more attention should be paid to the older or younger age edges of the group that makes up what we call young adult. In that discussion, the group realized that it could be useful if YALSA looked at ways to support librarians that serve older teens (including those in college and the work force) and those in their early 20s.

I don't like even the remote possibility of YALSA encouraging the idea of expanding the YA age definition, and I'll tell you why:

I think YA librarians taking on the 18-25ers is a great way for YA librarians to do more work for the same amount of pay and to devalue the work we're already doing. Speaking for myself, in my YA positions I have always had my hands full with the 12-18-year-olds. Doing collection development and library services just for those ages is full time and then some. Being a good YA librarian, to me, means keeping up on pop culture trends, reading a ton of books, maintaining a collection, having interesting, relevant programs, knowing about college and career advisory sources for high schoolers, visiting schools, you get the picture. If we take on the duties of great service to 18-25-year-olds, something for the 12-18-year-olds is going to have to go because we're now making more bricks with less straw. If YA services takes on older young adults, that means less money for books for middle and high school students (and how much crossover will there be between YA and adult collections?). It means less time for the YA librarian to visit schools, never mind attending workshops and conferences.

By saying, "Yes, I already work with the 12-18 group but now I want to expand it to 12-25," YA librarians are sending the message that we don't already have enough to do with our time. We're devaluing the services we already give by saying that it's super easy to get all our work done in the time allotted to us and we're totally willing to do even more work for the same amount of pay. How many YA librarians are also children's librarians or adult librarians? How many YA librarians are doing jobs that should be done by two people? Offering to expand the YA librarian's job to include up to age 25 sends the message to our directors that we're willing to take on more work than we can realistically do well. Aside from this, by adding 18-25 to the YA definition, we're saying that the reference, recreational, and reader's advisory needs of that age group are closer to the reference needs of middle schoolers than they are to those of adults.

I acknowledge that the idea of 25 being the new 18 exists, though I find it silly. At 18, you're an adult for all legal and educational intents and purposes. I know because I watch TV and read YA lit that college is the new high school. I know that the 18-34 demographic is a big moneymaker for television advertisers and Apple computers. None of this, however, means that I am willing to take on more work for the same amount of money. If the 18-to-25 age group is a concern for YA librarians either individually or as an organization, then this is something to be addressed by both YA and adult services librarians. I know that many of my colleagues are making an effort to reach this age group, and that's great; it's an age group long overlooked in public library services. I do not, however, think that the idea of services being offered as part of YA and handled exclusively by YA librarians is a good one. Time should equal money. If we're not going to get more of either of those when we take on a new demographic in YA services, then how can we be expected to perform those services well?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The skinny on two books about fat

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Review: The September Sisters

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Candor, candidly

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the first-ever librarian and reviewer preview for Egmont USA (which is pronounced EGG-mahnt, in case you were wondering). Though Egmont is new in town, they've already got the popular kids clamoring to sit at their table. Their fall list has a really nice mix of genres and formats for all ages, picture books through YA. I had a difficult time deciding which of their books I want to read first, but because I like dystopias, I went for Candor by Pam Bachorz, coming in September, 2009.

The ironically named town of Candor is based on Celebration, Florida, the town that Disney built. In Candor, everyone eats healthy food. The kids respect their parents. Houses are always painted and have neatly trimmed lawns and white picket fences. Everyone and everything is perfect, and the king of all the perfect kids is Oscar Banks, the son of the town's founder. In truth, Oscar is the least perfect kid, but he's perfect at keeping up appearances. Oscar knows that the reason everyone in Candor is so docile, and the kids so dedicated to school and the "right" activities, is because they're all being controlled with subliminal messages. The Messages are Oscar's way to make a profit, helping rich kids escape Candor. He's got to be careful, though, because those who are caught working against Candor are subjected to complete mind erasure.

All is status quo until Oscar meets Nia, an artist with a mind of her own. Despite the Messages that are supposed to keep Nia in line and make her forget about art, Nia continues to draw and defy. Oscar can't help himself: He falls in love. Falling for Nia might be the most dangerous thing Oscar has ever done. If it were up to the Messages, Oscar wouldn't so much as hold Nia's hand. But Oscar has been working against the Messages for years and he's not about to stop now.

Think of this as The Stepford Wives for YA. The settings are very similar, perfect towns with sinister undertones. Oscar's constant struggle between his own will and the Messages does slow the book down a little in the middle, but his devotion to Nia and his plans for the future of Candor step up the pace towards the end. Bachorz raises a lot of questions about the meaning of the word "perfection" through a narrator who can't even be wholly honest with himself, much less the reader. Candor is not an action-packed dystopian thriller like Uglies or Gone, but it's definitely thought-provoking. I can see its appeal to fans of The Compound; the two have a lot in common.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dirty books done dirt cheap

There's been a fair amount of YA lit pearl-clutching in the media this week. Amid all the "Twilight isn't good for girls" whining, I must turn your attention to the clutchiest of all clutching, from the first name in second-rate journalism, the New York Post.

In the Post, Andrea Peyser laments the publication of Jake Wizner's latest YA novel, Castration Celebration: Dirty Teen Tale is a Cut Below. As one who's actually read Castration Celebration, it is my educated guess that Ms Peyser read the first ten pages and the last ten pages, then made haste to her keyboard to lament the state of today's YA publications. Oh yes, teens have all sorts of deviant sex, she knows, but what is it doing in I want to know why YA librarians are struggling to keep their jobs, but Ms Peyser got paid to write a review of a YA novel she didn't even read all the way through. Had she bothered to do so, she'd know that CC is an over-the-top modern melodrama, part script and part romance, and the amount of actual sex in the book is, by my recall, almost nil. (There might be a sex scene near the end, but if there is, I've forgotten it.) Buried in all the silly talk of castration are teens trying to deal with hormonal insanity, family breakups and the loss of friends. These same teens who write castration plays also go above and beyond their call of duty to support a friend in need. Not that Ms Peyser would know that, of course; it happens in the middle of the book. Oh, and taking a potshot at Jake Wizner? NOT ON. Authors are not their books.

If you want the weekend edition of the Dumb Statements About YA Lit Tribune, go here: Did You Notice The Difference Between Classic Young Adult Books And New Young Adult Books? from the ill-constructed and poorly written Gossip in the City. Those darn YA books just don't have good messages anymore! I mean, really, it's simply impossible to find a book about discovering who you are through travel, or loyalty and talent. And you'll never, ever find literary books about science and religion, heck no.

Honestly, are these people visiting the same bookstores I am? Because if all you see in a teen section is The Clique (and I enjoy the Clique books!), you're either willfully blind or your bookstore needs new management.

What I write that isn't a blog entry

It's been a crazy, absent week around here because of the New Jersey Library Association conference, where I developed an authorcrush on Chris Krovatin, but I'm back and book reviews are coming! First, though, you can check out what I've been writing when I haven't been preparing for the conference (or reading, or working on my book, or...)

This week, I made my final post for ForeWord Magazine's Shelf Space blog: They're evil! They're brilliant! They're reviewers! Professional reviews are an important but often misunderstood part of collection development. I interviewed Linda Benson from VOYA and Vicky Smith from Kirkus about the people and processes behind professional reviews.

I also have an article in the May 1 issue of School Library Journal: The Original Handhelds: Magazines that teens can't resist. Don't tell anyone, but I actually had fun researching this article because I got to go to Barnes and Noble and sit in the cafe while paging through a stack of glossy magazines. Many thanks go to Laura Leonard of the Hillsdale Public Library, Sophie Brookover of Eastern Regional High School, and Kimberly Paone of the Elizabeth Public Library for their advice and anecdotes on magazines.