Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Author Spotlight: Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is one of those rare authors who never lets me down. She has written eight books for teens and each one has resonated with me in some way. Her books all have a common theme: they have a female protagonist who has some type of issue or limitation to overcome, which usually happens, but not always in a predictable way. What makes her books especially powerful for me is the way she writes relationships. Friendship is a strong theme in Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, The Truth about Forever, and Just Listen. Familial relationships, especially with siblings, are particularly strong in That Summer and Lock and Key. And don't forget about romantic relationships, which are present in all of her books, but especially in Dreamland and This Lullaby.

It is hard to summarize what it is about Sarah Dessen that makes her writing so powerful. Maybe it is because she writes romantic fiction that is literary, a-typical, and not heavy-handed. Or, possibly it is how well the reader gets to know the characters in each book; you feel you have bonded with the characters by the time the book is over. But really, I think the reason Sarah Dessen never lets me down is the honest, yearning, painful, elated, and realistic way she writes about teens relating to each other.

Here are Sarah Dessen's books in order of preference... my preference of course!

The Truth about Forever
Someone Like You
Keeping the Moon
This Lullaby
Lock and Key
That Summer
Just Listen

I would recommend Sarah Dessen to teen girls who like Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries), Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), Jodi Lynn Anderson (Peaches), or E. Lockhart (The Boyfriend List).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Looking for Alaska- John Green

Without going into too much detail, I will say that recently a group of librarians gathered to discuss Looking for Alaska in terms of its appropriateness for teens, particularly those who participate in library sponsored Book Discussion Groups. (In case you are wondering, we unanimously agreed that it was not only appropriate, but quite a good choice for book discussion). This happens from time to time, and usually patron comment is the catalyst.

I first read Looking for Alaska in 2005 and loved it. Something about John Green's writing style really appeals to me. I reread Looking for Alaska for the book review committee and appreciated it just as much as I did in prior readings (full disclosure: I have read this book four times. I'm a dork, I know). In Looking for Alaska, we meet a group of quirky-intelligent teens who attend boarding school in the south. We follow Alaska, Pudge, the Colonel, and Takumi as they prank, party, learn, live, and basically discover who they are through their relationships with each other. Alaska is an emotionally challenged, chronically flawed, and impossibly charismatic girl who holds the rest of them in the palm of her hand. Although she does not narrate the novel, it is really her story told from the perspective of Pudge (who is predictably in love with her). When a tragically bad decision is made, and life still has to continue, Pudge and the rest of the crew discover that life is a beautiful damaged, but precious gift.

Recently, this book has been challenged in a few school districts in the south and east coast. Apparently some people don't like the cursing, drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, and frankly realistic conversations. According to a very entertaining website called Safe Libraries (which would be more appropriately named Conservatives for Censorship IMHO), there were 281 curse words (although they count pee as a curse word) and state there are 1.3 bad words on every page in this book. Also, they weren't crazy about the famous toothpaste scene when Alaska teaches the boys about... well... maybe you should just read it ;-) Anyway, John Green keeps a HILARIOUS weblog and posted a response to the Alaska book challenges:


Because of the reading level, I would recommend this book for older teens who like to read about intelligent teenagers, boarding school, coming of age, and realistic fiction. Some people have called this book this decade's Catcher in the Rye... so why don't you read it and see if you agree?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gakuen Alice-- Tachibana Higuchi

I should start out this post with a small disclaimer... I have tried really, really hard to get into manga, but I just don't love it. I really enjoy regular graphic novels, howver manga has been a struggle. I do like the series After School Nightmare and FLCL. Maybe I am just super picky when it comes to manga? For what it's worth, I did moderately enjoy Gauken Alice, but will probably not read more in the series.

Gauken Alice features a ditzy girl named Mikan and her rather mean best friend Hotaru. Some people are born with magical powers, which are called Alices, and when their powers are discovered they are sent to a special school in Tokyo to develop those abilities. When Hotaru is sent away to the Alice Acadamy, Mikan decides she cannot live without her. Mikan travels to the Alice Acadamy, is assaulted by a few boys, but is rescued by Professor Narumi. The professor believes Mikan possesses a secret Alice too, and sends her on a mission to discover what it is.

This is defiantly shojo manga (written with a female audience in mind). Teens who like shojo manga, magical powers, fantasy, and cute little spirits and animals will enjoy this book.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Little Brother- Cory Doctorow

Little Brother has been getting all kinds of buzzzzz on those YA blogs and listserves I read... and when an ARC showed up for the Juvie kids, I thought I'd better read it before I passed it on. I am not a big techie-scifi kinda girl, but I do love a good revolution and I always cheer for the underdog. Little Brother would be good for fans of books like Tashjian's The Gospel According to Larry (for the taking-down-the-man portions), Anderson's Feed and Westerfeld's Ugies (for the techno-revolution stuff).

It is the very near future, and terrorists have attacked San Francisco. Marcus and his three ARGing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternate_reality_game) and LARPing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LARP) friends are found near the source of the attack and are arrested. They are brutally beaten, tortured, and treated like the scum of the earth... they received inhumane treatment that would not be appropriate for adults, let alone minors. When Marcus is released from prison a week later, the rage and rebellion he feels is uncontainable. If Big Brother wants to spy on him, control his life and watch his movements, then he wants retribution. Marcus creates Little Brother, the online group of teenage hackers and technogeeks who use technology (and their X-Boxes) to bring democracy back to America after the Department of Homeland Security flexes its muscles in a terroristic, violent manner.

While the technology and intriguing characters are central components to the plot of this novel, the techno-rants and freedom of speech tirades Marcus sometimes spews can be a little heavy handed. However, I don't think this will discourage teens, and I think they will be able to identify with the idealism expressed in the book. Also, Marcus is not a perfect character. He is flawed, but acknowledges and learns from his mistakes, which makes him even more believable.

In Little Brother, all kinds of cool gadgets and hacks are described. Here is a website (which I believe is managed by the author) that explains how to create most of what's in the book. Wouldn't be fun to do some hacking as a library program?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Perks of Being a Wallflower-- Stephen Chbosky

Rarely, maybe even just once or twice in a lifetime, you read a book and it changes your life. This was one of those books for me. When I was in college, a dear friend, now sister-in-law, told me I needed to read this book. At this stage of my life, I was knee deep in Bronte, Whitman, and Shakespeare and had never really read any current YA literature. I began reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower just after dinner and finished the book in the wee hours of the morning... because I just couldn't put it down.

In this book you meet Charlie, a character who will never really leave you. You read his letters, though you are not quite sure to whom exactly he is writing. As the story progresses, Charlie tries to transform himself from being a transparent, vanilla, passive wallflower. He befriends older kids who are the Rocky Horror, beer drinking, Smiths loving types. He experiments. He makes mix tapes. He BECOMES. Instead of hiding from his life, he starts living it with the gusto and recklessness of youth that simultaneously breaks your heart and makes you nostalgic for those times of your own life. Music, especially one song "Asleep" by The Smiths, is central to this book. Here is a list of songs that are featured in this book (thank you wikepedia!): If you have never heard "Asleep" then you must must must listen to it. Trust me on this one.

Asleep- The Smiths
Vapour Trail- Ride
Scarborough Fair- Simon and Garfunkel
A Whiter Shade of Pale- Procol Harum
Time of No Reply- Nick Drake
Dear Prudence- The Beatles
Gypsy- Susan Vega
Nights in White Satin- The Moody Blues
Daydream- The Smashing Pumpkins
Dusk- Genesis
Blackbird- The Beatles
Landslide- Fleetwood Mac
Smells Like Teen Sprit- Nirvana
Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II- Pink Floyd
Something- The Beatles

Now, dontcha want to go and make a mix tape? Oh, and how did this book changed my life? Well, after I read this book I started reading YA books obsessively... like 10-12 books a week... like if you could go to rehab for reading-addiction, I would have been there. And now, 6 years later, I am a YA Librarian (go figure). Thanks, Ingrid.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

13 Little Blue Envelopes-- Maureen Johnson

There is something romantic about the idea of traveling through Europe by train guided only by the letters a now deceased Aunt left as a road map. However, in reality, a seventeen year old girl traveling alone with no guidebook, map, money, plan, or contact information is quite a dangerous and slightly frightening endeavor. In 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Ginny is on a path of self-discovery guided by her beloved runaway artist aunt, who recently died from brain cancer. Her Aunt Peg left her 13 envelopes and explicit instructions: open them one at a time, follow the directions on each letter, and absolutely do not contact home for any reason. Also, bring nothing but a small backpack with clothes in it and no money of your own (a small sum of Euros will be waiting at the first destination). Aunt Peg leads Ginny all over Europe with her letters, and Ginny does learn more about herself and come out of her shell a bit. It was an engaging read (I love books set in other countries), but I do have some serious problems with the book.

First, for a book that is supposed to be realistic fiction, I found it to be phenomenally unrealistic. Not allowing someone to consult guidebooks, make train or hotel reservations, contact home, or bring any money of their own is pretty risky. Many truly serendipitous events take place and without them, Ginny would have been seriously hurt, stranded, or worse. Also there is an alarming scene when Ginny goes back to a strange man's apartment... while nothing terrible happens (the man took no for an answer), in reality she probably would have been assaulted. While I absolutely trust that teens have enough wit to know the plot of this book is over-romanticized, I don't like the picture perfect way everything turned out for Ginny.

Hesitations aside, I would still recommend this book to a teen girl who was looking for something similar to the second Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book, or any book taking place in Europe. For whatever reason, I am being a little hard on this book (probably because it got so many rave reviews and I was expecting it to be better). It isn't terrible... it just isn't great.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Generation Dead-- Daniel Waters

Imagine you lived in a society where the dead don't stay dead. If you happens to die sometime in your adolescence, there is a good change you will return... as a zombie. Except here's the deal: don't call them zombies (unless you are a zombie yourself, of course). The prefered term is Differently Biotic, or Living Impaired. Basically these undead teens are just like any other teenager... except they no longer need to eat, sleep, breathe or do all those annoying human things that keep our bodies moving.

Phoebe is your typical goth kid... and she knows it. But just because she has long (dyed) black hair, wears Victorian inspired clothes with killer black boots, and goes through a black eyeliner pencil every week doesn't mean you can judge her by the way she looks. When the undead teens started showing up, everyone expected a girl like her to crush on one of the zombies... and she scoffed at the idea... until she discovers that she DOES like one of them after all. When some of her more closed minded classmates begin very violent attacks on some of the Differently Biotic, Phoebe finds herself in physical danger as well, and has to make some tough decisions about life and love.

Generation Dead is one of those hard to categorize books. Both boys and girls will like it because it is jointly narrated by a male and female character (and who doesn't love zombie books, hello?). However, the cover of the book will appeal more to girls. This book encompasses the horror, comedy, coming-of-age, and romance genres, mixing them all together in a fun and very entertaining way. Also, this book is a good one for sharing the message that stereotype and prejudice are not ok... even if the prejudice is against a member of the undead.

Snitch-- Allison van Diepen

After both the girls and the boys at the Juvenile Detention Center kept begging me for more books by Allison van Diepen, I figured I better read one and see what all the hype is about. I am really glad I did. It is easy to get sucked into my role as librarian and forget that teens are the target audience for all this teen fiction I read... so I should really take any book recommendation that teens give me! Anyway, on to Snitch...

Snitch is not a nickname you want... especially when you go to South Bay High School in Brooklyn. The Crips and the Bloods rule the school, and you have to be very careful and more than a little lucky to avoid the tangled webs of gangs when you live where Julia does. For most teens, high school can be a survival game, at least emotionally, but for Julia, everyday is literally a fight for her life. When she wrongfully gets pegged as a snitch, she joins the Crips for protection... and learns the hard way that the lesser of two evils is still evil.

I really appreciated that Snitch didn't have a preachy anti-violence, anti-gang message. As any teen who lives in an area dominated by gangs will tell you, it's usually not as easy as just saying no. Without the heavy-handedness that many authors have, van Diepen tells a story that has an underlying anti-gang anti-drug message, but lets her characters make mistakes and learn the hard way. If you like realistic, urban fiction, this is the book for you.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox-- Mary E. Pearson

She opened her eyes one day and everything was wrong. They said her name was Jenna Fox, and she has no reason not to believe them, but nothing looks or feels familiar. They showed her years worth of video of her former life, but none of it rings true. Supposedly, she has been an a coma for the past year. But why would her family move while she was unconscious? And why doesn't she have any friends, or memories, or really any innate feelings all of her own? And when her mother tells her to go to her room, why does she feel totally compelled to obey her?

Don't let the sci-fi tone of this book turn you away if you are not typically a science fiction reader. This subtly crafted book has a mix of narration and verse poetry, and will be appealing to teens who like Westerfeld's Uglies books. I really enjoyed this book, and look forward to hearing what teens think about it.

An introduction

Allow me to introduce myself... I am a Young Adult Librarian who just happens to be totally obsessed with YA literature. People are constantly asking me to recommend a good book to them, and my poor, overstuffed brain can never come up with the right title for the right person (until they have already left and then it is TOO LATE!). This blog is a place for me to tell you about what I am reading. Be warned: I read a lot of stuff you might not like. I love books that have vampires, werewolves, zombies, and various types of undead characters. I like a good love story. I like blood and guts. Androids, cyborgs, and the occasional robot are all acceptable. Girly books, richgirl books, granola-hippy-treehugger books, and metaphysical are all A-ok too. Books with queer kids, rejects, outsiders, losers, loners, genderbenders, partiers, artists, nerds, overachievers, geniuses, animals (even talking animals), elves, faeries, or spies will always draw me in. Just don't make me read a western. Hey, you have to draw the line somewhere, right?