Friday, December 9, 2011

Welcome to Bordertown-- Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, eds

Bordertown is a place that exists between this human world and the Elvin realm. No one knows exactly how to get there, but it seems like if you want to find Bordertown hard enough, you somehow always find it.

Bordertown is the place for freaks, strays, artists, runaways, musicians, vampires, humans, fairies, elves, werewolves, and more. It’s home for the homeless and a place to fit in for those that have never fit in anywhere else. Magic and the rules of normal society are slightly off kilter there and just about anything is possible.

This book is a collection of stories and poems that take place in Bordertown. Each story is independent but they all have a common setting. Teens who enjoy short stories, urban fantasy, or who are looking for nontwilight supernatural creature stories might like this book. Also, this book contains stories of some of the most popular and awarded YA authors, so even if they’re not super into Urban Fantasy, it could still be fun to read new stories by some of their favorite authors.

A Monster Calls-- Patrick Ness

I read this book around Halloween-time, and the absolutely breathtaking drawings (Jim Kay) made me feel extra creepy good. The story behind this book is as enticing as the story itself, and was what drew me to it initially. Siobhan Dowd, YA author of books like A Swift Pure Cry, Bog Child, and more, came up with the idea for this story, the characters, and the concept. However, before she could write it herself, she passed away. Patrick Ness was asked to take her notes and write the story for her. And that is what we have in this slim tome; the efforts of three people all mixed up into one rather emotional story.

A Monster Calls is a story of loss, day/nightmares, and monsters. It's Connor's story, and judging simply by the illustrations and the initial chapter, one might expect this to be a scary story. It's not. Actually, I found myself tearing up (ok I cried) at some points and being moved by Connor's struggles to fit in, and moreover, deal with the terminal illness of his mother. We experience Connor's life and emotions right along with him. We are brought in and out of dreams and don't really know which truth to believe.

For me, this book would be nothing spectacular without the magnificent illustrations. This is one of these books that tells some important bits of story through the pictures. I'll be interested if it garners any attention from the actual Printz committee because of it's unique (to YA) format. I would recommend this book to younger teens who won't be afraid of the pictures, anyone who is looking for a story about dealing with grief, teens who like sad or gloomy tales, or to people who enjoy fairy tales.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mock Printz 2012

For those of you who have been reading this blog for several years, you know that I collaborate with a local teacher-librarian to provide a Mock Printz workshop to local teens, library staff, and teachers. The Mock Printz Workshop is an event where we come together to discuss the ten preselected titles and decide which deserve to win the Michael L. Printz award. The 2012 Mock Printz reading list is ready, and I hope you'll read these books and share what you think about them.

Everybody Sees the Ants-- A.S. King
A Monster Calls-- Patrick Ness
Divergent-- Victoria Roth
Jasper Jones-- Craig Silvey
Anya’s Ghost-- Vera Brosgol
Okay For Now-- Gary D. Schmidt
Chime-- Franny Billingsly
Blink and Caution-- Tim Wynne- Jones
Karma-- Cathy Ostlere
Welcome to Bordertown-- Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, eds

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Anya's Ghost-- Vera Brosgol

So, on the cover of this book there's a quote from Neil Gaiman calling the book "A masterpiece!" Um, who are we to argue with Neil Gaiman, amirirght?

Anya attends a stuffy high school full of annoyingly perfect classmates and a few who are just plain annoying. Her best friend Soibhan kind of sucks, her mom insists that she spends time with Dima, the extra nerdy FOTB (fresh off the boat) guy from Russia, and the love of her life spends his time making out with someone who is distinctly not Anya.

One day, when brooding and traipsing through the woods after school, Anya falls into a dried up well. While down there, she discovers a skeleton (freaky!) and the ghost of Emily, a teenage girl who claims to have been murdered around the time of the first World War. When Anya gets rescued from the bottom of the well, Emily comes with her. At first, Anya and Emily enjoy their ghost-y hi-jinks... but over time Anya learns a little more about her ghost Emily and all of the chaos that comes with her.

I'm happy to include this GN on our Mock Printz reading list this year. It's both well-written and illustrated, and some of the plot subtleties made it feel more fleshed out than some graphic novels have the space to be. I look forward to hearing teens' reactions to this book, and look forward to reading more by this author.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Flip-- Martyn Bedford

So my ARC of Flip has the cheesiest tagline on the cover: "Ever wake up in someone else's body?"

Um, no. You?

I tossed the book aside in favor of other books that might be a little more Mock Printz-worthy, but after scouring reviews of YA books I realized I was going to have to read this book... I mean, even Kirkus gave it a starred review.

Flip is Alex's story... and one day he literally does wake up in someone else's body, the body of a jock named Flip. Alex embodies all the stereotypes of the "sensitive male." Flip, well, is just the opposite. Why did Alex's soul jump ship and why the heck did it choose Flip's body to land in? Will Alex ever unite his soul and true-born body again? And what happened to Flip's soul when Alex's landed in it's place?

Would *I* give this book a starred review? Probably not. However, I am learning that at this point I have read so much YA fiction that it takes a lot to impress me. So, let me know if I'm being to hard on this one... what did I miss that makes this a great book to so many people?

That being said, I would happily give this book to reluctant readers, teen guys and girls of any age. It's nice to have a book like that in your librarian toolkit that you can give to just about anyone.

*Sidenote: So, when searching for images to put with this book, I have found several different versions of the cover, most of which ditched the cheesy tagline in favor of one that's slightly less cheddar. Yay.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All These Things I've Done-- Gabrielle Zevin

It's 2083. There's a chocolate prohibition, and NYC is a very changed place. Art museums are now dance clubs, books are musty relics of the past, water is strictly rationed, and the mafiya ruled black market consists of chocolate and caffeine. After both her mother and father are murdered, and her older brother Leo suffers from brain damage, Anya becomes the default heir to the Balanchine chocolate empire... even though her shady uncles and cousins are currently running the family business into the ground. Anya is a strict Catholic girl, and though that seems to conflict with her mafiya roots, she has a strong moral code that dictates most of her actions.

Although she had a tumultuous past, Anya, Leo, and their little sister Nattie manage to continue life as normal (or as normal as life gets when your family is in the business of the black market). Then one day Anya meets Win, the son of the new hotshot District Attorney who is dead set on cleaning up the city. Although she knows it would be risky for the family, and especially since she was threatened by the DA himself, Anya can't help but to fall for Win. And when someone linked to Anya is poisoned by a contaminated batch of chocolate, the blame and spotlight falls directly on Anya... and the happy and stable life she worked so hard to put together after her parents were murdered crumbles away instantly. Now Anya must find a way to protect her family, even at the expense of her own happiness.

This book is one part romance, one part mystery, and one (small) part post-apocalyptic. I found the love story and mystery to be the highlights, and I appreciated the strength of character Anya had throughout the book. However, someone looking for a strong futuristic setting, or a post-apocalyptic novel would not be satisfied. I feel like the author didn't delve deeply enough into the setting, and a big part of me had a hard time believing there could really be a chocolate prohibition. Still, there will definitely be fans of this book (likely girls), and though it alludes to a variety of topics, it's a pretty "clean" read.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Divergent-- Veronica Roth

So in just two week, I had SIX PEOPLE ask me if I'd yet read Divergent. I had the ARC sitting on my shelf gathering dust for months, and I decided that last weekend was the time to read that book. Um, ya. I started it at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and didn't put it down until I finished it. The last book I read cover to cover like that was Graceling, and you all know how much I loved that book...

Anyway, back to Divergent.

In distopian, futuristic Chicago, there are five factions that govern the city... think Hogwarts houses but more, well, dystopian and YA. Each faction is completely dedicated to a particular virtue, and the people who live within that faction focus on nothing else. Tris, who was born in the selfless Abnegation faction has to work every day to be as completely selfless as the faction demands. When youth turn 16 they get a one-time opportunity to choose whether to stay in their faction or switch to a new one. They undergo a grueling test that lets them know which faction they are naturally inclined toward. Tris is special... she is divergent. This means that there are several factions she would fit within, but she must keep her divergence a secret... but no one will tell her why.

When Tris chooses to leave Abnegation and join Dauntless, the faction that honors bravery over all other virtues, she has to master a huge amount of physical skills (think Katniss/Hunger Games). Although she's invigorated by her choice, when it becomes clear that the factions aren't functioning in the sociologically perfect way they were designed, action must be taken. And it doesn't matter that she's the tiny "Stiff" from Abnegation... Tris is Dauntless now, and she feels the weight of her realm and people's survival-- both Dauntless and Abnegation-- heavily on her shoulders.

This is the first in a trilogy. I'd recommend it to youth who enjoyed Hunger Games, Matched, and The Maze Runner.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Imaginary Girls-- Nova Ren Suma

In rural New York there is a town that surrounds a massive reservoir. Ruby, Chloe's big sister, is the queen of this town. Not in the literal, monarch type of way, but somehow everyone bends to Ruby's every whim. Literally. Once, in the middle of the night, Ruby decided she wanted cheesecake from a bakery in Manhattan, and people were fighting over who got to be the one to fetch it for her. Ruby is idolized by all the girls in the town and lusted after by all the boys. The hold she has over all the people in the town is hypnotizing... but nobody loves her more than her little sister Chloe.

Ruby is fiercely protective of Chloe. She always warned her to never, never swim alone in the reservoir because the people of Olive would want to snatch her away. Olive was the town that once existed before it was flooded by what is now the reservoir. Ruby has a theory that the people of Olive didn't die when their town was flooded; they simply transformed and can now breath underwater.

But one day, when a seemingly innocent dare drives Chloe to take a dip in the reservoir, she comes upon the corpse of her classmate, London. And when London somehow is brought back to life months later, Chloe is the only one who remembers that she was once dead. Knowing that Ruby is somehow connected only confuses Chloe more. But as time goes on, and Ruby's mystical hold over the town falters, Chloe has to learn to be her own true self for the first time in her life... and figure out how to exist in a world where Ruby isn't the perfect and loving sister Chloe once thought she was.

This book has strong magical undertones that are wrapped up in the mysterious plot. I enjoyed the writing style of the author, and I think teen girls will like this book. It could easily be recommended to girls who request books with a slightly fantastical plot but aren't exclusively supernatural creature readers (you know, vampire-zombie-werewolf readers). Is it a book I'll remember a year from now? Naaaah. Still, I think this is better than a lot we are seeing in that genre lately.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sorta Like a Rock Star-- Matthew Quick

Amber Appleton is a girl I really wish I would have known in high school. No matter how hard her life might be she is totally dedicated to having a positive outlook and spreading happiness. Seriously, this girl even calls herself the Princess of Hope. Amber is a fierce protector of Franks Freak Force Federation (a group of boys who are her best friends), teaches English to a group of Korean women through the eternal wisdom of 60s girl groups, befriends a war vet who only communicates through haiku, and makes weekly visits to a local nursing home to cheer up the residents with her witty happyslams.

But there are some really hard things about her life too. Amber and her mother live on a school bus (her mom drives it for a living). Amber's mom is an alcoholic and frequently disappears on booze-benders. When she want to eat or shower, she has to do it at her friend Ricky's house. Amber never lets these things get her down... until one day something very tragic happens to her and the Princess of Hope disappears. The truly compelling part of this book comes from her peers... the people she used to help. They band together to help her out of her dark time and the end of the book is pretty darn magical.

So I have to admit, I did struggle with this book for the first few chapters. Amber's voice is S-T-R-O-N-G and overwhelmed me a bit. But I couldn't help it; I was totally sucked in by her quirky story and I bawled my eyes out (on an airplane, embarrassingly) through the last quarter of the book. But don't worry, the Princess of Hope would never leave you on a depressing note. I would recommend this book to girls or boys (though I think girls might like it more) who are looking for a unique story with strong characters.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Magnolia League-- Katie Crouch

When her mother dies suddenly, Alex Lee is forced to leave the California commune where she was raised and move to sultry Savannah, GA where her grandmother lives. Grandmother Lee, descended from the famous general, is the leader of the most exclusive social club in the south: The Magnolia League. Dread-headed, pudgy, fashion eschewing Alex not only experiences a strong sense of culture shock when she enters society for the first time, but she also knows that her morals and values differ from the debutantes who now surround her.

Still, the longer she spends with Hayes and Madison, the two young Magnolias Grandmother Lee arranges for Alex to learn from, the more Alex realizes what she was missing her whole life on the commune. The temptation to be thin, rich, pretty, and popular is hard to resist when you're a high school girl. Although some strange supernatural occurrences scare Alex, she is still seduced by the benefits power and privilege bring. But when Alex takes things too far, and has to choose between the two most significant people in her life, she knows it's time to stop letting the Magnolias dictate her journey and she must make her own path.

This was a nice fluffy read, something I needed after months of slogging through "good literature." I would promote this book as a read-alike for the other recently published southern-magic-romance series, Beautiful Creatures being the first. The Magnolia League isn't going to win awards, and it's not particularly compelling, but it was fun enough. I would recommend this books to teen girls who enjoyed Beautiful Creatures, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and similar series, or any of the magic book series that were popular before vampires took over the world.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The REAL Printz

On January 10th, the winners of the 2011 Michael L. Printz award were announced.

The winner is:

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

The honor books are:

Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick

Nothing by Janne Teller

My co-sponsor of our Mock Printz event and I had a hunch that Ship Breaker would take a spot... we had a hard time leaving that book off our list, and there is kindof an inside story as to why we did. Still, it's nice that most of the winners this year were on our radar. It helps us know we were using the correct resources when selecting our Mock Printz list. Overall I am pretty excited about this year's winners!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Butterfly-- Sonya Hartnett

It has been over three weeks since I've read this book... and I'm still thinking about it. It wasn't the most amazing story I've ever read, and I can't say that I particularly liked any of the characters... still, it was GOOD. And strikingly well-written.

Plum is a socially awkward 14 year old girl who idolizes her older brothers and secretly dreams that someday she will be as amazing as her ethereal next door neighbor. When the neighbor, Maureen, invites Plum over for her son's 5th birthday, a whole new world is opened to Plum. For the first time someone has taken an interest in her, purchased her a beautiful dress, and is teaching her how to be slender, beautiful, and cosmopolitan. Plum has a group of girlfriends at school who mostly just tolerate her presence. Through confidence built by Maureen, Plum decides to have the girls over for a birthday sleepover. When something disastrous occurs, Plum descends into a spiral of depression. And just when she couldn't get even lower, the people she idolizes most, her two older brothers and neighbor Maureen disappoint her in a way that opens her eyes more widely to the cruel world of being grown-up.

Who would I recommend this book to? Honestly, adults who like to read YA. That's partially why I think it could be an award winner... in the past, certain YA literature awards leaned heavily toward adult fiction disguised as teen fiction. Truly though, you could give it to teens who enjoy reading beautifully written stories. There were some lines that we just so beautiful, I had to read them twice.