Wednesday, December 17, 2008

space cadet margaret...

Okay, I just had to make a front page post about this:

I only JUST NOW realized that the lovely Kristin, with whom I have been e-exchanging opinions about books for almost a year now, is freaking KRISTIN CASHORE author of GRACELING which I read ( or, really, devoured) just about two months ago. AH! I have been forcing that book on everyone I know! And they all love it! It's so SMART AND AWESOME AND OH JEEZ I CAN'T BELIEVE I HAVE BEEN BLOGGING WITH YOU FOR A YEAR WITHOUT KNOWING IT! I recommended this book so strongly that my friend who's teaching in Japan for the year bought it off of Amazon despite the presumably exorbitant shipping cost of buying a hardcover book. AND I ALMOST KNOW THE AUTHOR AND DIDN"T EVEN KNOW IT!

Okay. Fangirlish response done. I don't know how I didn't figure this out before, it's not like it's been in the least secret. It's RIGHT THERE in the very first post, under "Introductions." God, now I just want to go home and read Graceling again. Right now.

Did I mention I really, really, REALLY liked it?

Monday, December 15, 2008


On Read Roger, he links to an interview, on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, with Cathie Mercier, who many of us had as a teacher at Simmons. Check it out!

the first book of 2009

oh, quiet little blog, what are all of the misfits up to?

all comments about the john green book seemed to have died out, so maybe it's time to pick a new book to read in january. once the ALA awards are announced in late january, we should have some good ideas for what to read in february. anyone have any ideas? i recently read (and LOVED) jellicoe road, by melina marchetta, and would love to talk about that with more people. my currently library line up is chains, by laurie halse anderson and bog child, by siobhan dowd. are there any books coming out soon that anyone is particularly excited about?

(and seriously, what are all of the misfits up to? what are you writing/working on/thinking about/etc?)

recapping 2008

2008 is almost over, so it seems like a good time to reflect on what we read. What did you like? What did you not like? Or, just what did you read, in general (whether published in 2008 or not)? Picture books, middle grade, nonfiction, YA, share it all with us! Next month we'll have to be making our lists for our best guesses for the ALA awards, so maybe these lists will be a good jumping off point.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Misfit news

Yay for Kristin, whose book Graceling is nominated for ALA's inaugural William C. Morris Award, which honors a book written by a first-time author for young adults. Graceling is nominated along with: A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce; Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne; Madapple by Christina Meldrum; and Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NYT Notable Books

Hi people!

The NYT named 8 notable children's books for the year this past weekend -- see the list here. It makes me really happy that The Disreputable History of Frankie Laundau-Banks is getting so much recognition. I was SO IMPRESSED with that book. And 10 Little Finger and ABC3D -- yay! I gave up on Little Brother; I got uninterested and impatient; but plenty of other trustworthy folk thought it was fabulous, so... The Hunger Games is on my floor waiting to be read, and I'm thinking of getting the audio book for the 2nd installation of Octavian Nothing. La la la. Just wanted to post the list, because it made me happy :o)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paper Towns


Last night, I read John Green's Paper Towns all in one sitting. I am a huge fan of Green's books and had no doubt I'd love this new one. And I did. I don't really have much to say right now about this (still processing, and wanting to reread parts that I raced through because I am not a patient person), but wanted to start a discussion. I love Green's writing. It is always an excellent mix of truly funny and really poignant. And his characters really stand out to me and stick with me. They feel so unique (though, among his own books, they are becoming sort of stock characters, but I am happy to overlook that) and I love how witty, nerdy, and cerebral they are. I admit to getting frustrated at times with the clues and all the dead ends. And, I'm not sure what to think about Margo saying she didn't intend for Q to actually find her, that she only left the clue in his door jamb to lead him to the abandoned strip mall so he could use it as a place to escape to like she did. And, man, why was she such a total bitch when her friends found her? That was jarring to me. But maybe that's the point--just like Q really didn't know the real Margo (whoever that is), the reader can't really, either, so why should any behavior feel out of character? Anyway. I'm curious to know what everyone else thought. I think I'm biased to begin with, because I love Green's other books and watched every single second of the Brotherhood 2.0 project. I know this is the first book by Green that some here have read, so I'm looking forward to hearing reactions from different viewpoints. I'll probably have something more to say after I reread/think further on the book.

Also, p.s, I SO loved Radar! At first I kept thinking, well, he's no Hassan (Katherines), but came to adore him in his own right, as yet another quirky, hilarious sidekick.

(And finally, I read reviews today of Paper Towns, having avoided them until I got to read the book myself, and keep seeing it compared to a book called As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway. Has anyone read that one?)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

happy banned books week

“[I]t's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.” — Judy Blume

Spied on Bookshelves of Doom: A Quiz on Banned Books

I got 10 out of 13, which I thought was pretty good, but the computer scoring system didn't seem wildly impressed with me.

What's your score? And what's your favorite frequently banned or challenged book/author? I'm always a big fan of Robert Cormier and Judy Blume (she sure is showing up everywhere these days).

Also, are you keeping up with YA for Obama? Lots of interesting posts on there.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I see that both John Green's book (Paper Towns) and Donna Jo Napoli's (Smile) come out on October 16. It looks like many of us are interested in those books or are going to be reading them regardless of if they're chosen for book club, so let's go with those. Maybe between now and then, we can talk about some picture books (Rebecca suggested some in a previous post) and other random stuff. Sound good?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wordless PBs

I heard a lot of buzz about Suzy Lee's new picture book WAVE, so I took it out from the library. In fact, I've taken it out twice now. It's about a girl playing on the beach, interacting with the ocean and the waves that come on shore. Lee contrasts black & white parts of the illustrations  with blue parts (one shade of blue, one value).

It's a spirited book, but I can't bond with it.

My instinct is to say that I can't bond with it because of the details of the blue. It's a particularly medium shade of blue, one that I do not associate iconically with ocean; it's a slightly darker version of the blue often used symbolically for sky. Also, the fact that this book's blue is ONE hue only -- no bits of green, no navy, no gray -- and ONE value only (no shift of darkness/lightness) -- makes it hard for me to see the ocean in it. 

But it does change intensity (denseness; picture the same color with water added or water sucked out. Another word for intensity is saturation). And the compositions and figure are full of spirit.

Confession: I fear I have a problem with wordless picture books. I have a really hard time connecting with then. I haven't figured out why, but I think it's to do with pacing. I find myself skimming and flipping, going way too fast to do any page justice. I don't know why. With picture books that have only a few words per page, I do just fine: I take the pace any way I want to, any way the text and pictures tell me to, and it's all good. But when a picture book is wordless, my eyes and brain slip and slide over the surface. Can't find purchase.

Do you like wordless picture books? Why or why not? Do you read them with different pacing than picture books with words? Got any ideas for how I can appreciate them better?

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Summer flew by with not a whole lot of activity on the blog. But now it's fall, with that back-to-school feeling in the air (even if it's been a good number of years now since many of us have been in school), so it seems like a good time to start some new discussion.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a novel for a September/October read? I confess to never having cracked open Twilight. Book reviews and books I'd rather read took priority, but I hope to still read it some day.

I'm still interested in reading a few picture books, too, if anyone else is down for that. Ideas?

Also, fall always brings new books. What upcoming titles are you looking forward to? I'm excited for John Green's Paper Towns to be out. I'm also looking forward to Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta; Love and Lies, by Ellen Wittlinger; and The Runaway Dolls, by Ann M. Martin. And, of course, fall means that you can now swing into your favorite bookstore and pick up Kristin Cashore's Graceling!

As usual, I always like to know what everyone is reading, writing, or working on. I'm glad to see Meaghan posted about her YA class and asked for suggestions. Not only will she surely get a load of ideas, but we can all update our reading lists, too!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Hello Misfits Bloggers!

I'm taking a YA lit. class this semester; in addition to the assigned novels, I have to read and review 10-15 books (fiction and non) that were written expressly for teens. They should be relatively contemporary, covering a variety of genres, and something you would be likely to find in a public library. So far, I've picked out Looking for Alaska and Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. Any suggestions?

In case you're wondering what's on the assigned list (and I know you are), here it is:
  • Forever by Judy Blume
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
  • Fast Talk on a Slow Track by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin
  • Peeps by Scott Westerfield
  • Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
  • Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman by Eleanor Updale
  • Dr. Franklin's Island by Ann Halam
  • Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
  • Any book from the Gossip Girl series
  • The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Question about Breaking Dawn

Beware, MAJOR SPOILER inside.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Squee Factor

I figured I'd jump in and start up our discussion of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight-- and where else, really, could one start such a conversation than with the book's obvious appeal: the Squee factor.

For the uninitiated, i.e. those of you who don't frequent internet message boards, "squee" is web-shorthand for the deafening cries of pure female adoration you'll hear any time any kind of teen idol (real or fictional) is seen or discussed by his rabid fans. Think of the noise the audience made at the Beatles' famous Ed Sullivan Show appearance as the ultimate personification of SQUEE. More generally, the word can be used to describe any kind of interaction/character/relationship/situation in fiction that would cause its readers to go "squee." The on again/off again, possibly forbidden romance, and all its concomitant sexual tension (see Wuthering Heights, Pam and Jim's relationship on The Office): SQUEE! The tall, dark, handsome, mysterious, slightly arrogant, seemingly distant-but-actually-secretly-in-love-with-the-heroine romantic hero (see: Mr. Darcy, Edward Rochester, Bruce Wayne, ... like every Harlequin romance novel ever)? SQUEE! The concept now defined, its relevance to Twilight must be completely apparent: it is a novel/series of books whose highest aspiration appears to be making its readers go SQUEE as often as humanly possible.

On a certain level, it's impossible to dispute its success. Just look at the books cultlike following-- Edward Cullen could easily give The Beatles a run for their money, squee-wise. I mean, just think about it-- he's this impossibly beautiful, super-humanly strong, witty, urbane, sophisticated, magically wealthy, excellently dressed, courtly, romantic, almost dangerous teenage vampire whose skin GLITTERS IN THE SUN. Capable of saving Bella from rapists, taking her out to an Italian restaurant, and having eyes only for her-- in a single night! When Bella faints, he picks her up in his arms, and all across America the post-feminist teen masses swoon. And yet, here in Boston-- or rather, down the Cape, where I actually started the book-- there was no swooning to be had. I didn't smolder, and my heart didn't throb. While I may have responded differently had I been a member of the book's core audience, i.e. a hormone-addled 15-year old who came of age in the era of the anti-Romantic naughts, the whole notion of this perfectly enthralling creature existing only to treasure Bella might have had a more profound appeal. But I don't think it would. Even at 15 I liked my romance with a healthy side of gender-bending ass kicking and sword fighting, as my adolescent obsession with Tamora Pierce indicates.

My biggest problem with the book, aside from its stomach-churningly retrograde gender politics, is that although Meyer knows how to name-check her "inspirations" (witness Bella reading both Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice for fun), she either doesn't get or is incapable or replicating the *real* key to the lasting appeal of such novels: the heroes of those books aren't simply flawless embodiments of male perfection, they are also well-matched with women of equal quality or passion. While I'm no big fan of either Heathcliff or Catherine Earnshaw, I can at least concede that they suit each other, and that the thrill of their relationship comes from the sense that they are equally matched in passion and fierceness, as well as beauty. As for Darcy and Elizabeth, while far more is said about him in this particular pop-culture moment, the book is (and has been) beloved by bright, articulate women everywhere as much for Elizabeth as for Darcy. She is neither so perfect that she is unrelatable, nor is she so devoid of spark or character that she's flat or dull. Even more critically, however, for my continued appreciation of the book, Elizabeth and Darcy both possess flaws, some which they must overcome to be together, and it is only through a process of mutual growth and change that their romance is possible.

Stephenie Meyer makes absolutely no attempt to turn Bella into Edward's equal in... anything. Bella's not particularly bright, she's not particularly pretty, she isn't spirited or funny, she has no defining interests or friends. Her only salient characteristics, as far as the book is concerned, are the intoxicating scent of her blood and her knack for falling down/getting nearly crushed by cars/attracting rapists. While the feminist in me appreciates this, a little, as the teenage girl's answer to the Unbelievably Hot Chick-Schlubby Guy pairings so popular in in movies and TV, neither trend does much for me. While it's good on some level to know that even if Seth Rogen can snag Katharine Hegel, Bella Swan can at least lock down Edward Cullen, I'd still rather see the kind of tension, spark, growth, and change engendered by the pairing of two characters of equal vigor. This kind of insipid escapist fantasy just makes me tired.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Older teens in YA books

While unable to sleep last night, I started thinking about authors I wish would put out more books. I landed on Hilary Frank. If you haven't read Better Than Running at Night and I Can't Tell You, go do so. I got to thinking about how her books are YA, but feature kids in college. Then I tried to come up with more YA novels with college-aged protagonists, but came up empty. Can anyone else think of any? I must just be drawing a blank.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


We've recently added a few folks, so I thought I'd make a new post for them to introduce themselves in the comments section. Also, if anyone else knows of people who'd like to join (be sent an invite so they can post), let me know their email addresses and I can set them up. Even though it's been a few years since any kind of "back to school" stuff, I still associate fall with school and am feeling geared up for more postings and discussions once summer is over. A wider group of people reading/posting might help with that. So link to us from your webpages/blogs, pass around the blog address to any friends who might be interested, etc.

Anyway, introduce yourselves, new friends! (Also, if you check the archives, one of the first posts is introductions, if you'd like to get caught up.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Some of us who are frequent visitors to Floor 22 (the blog of Jess and Todd) have been talking about reading Twilight (etc) for book club. Any takers? I haven't read it, though did have the ARC, started it, put the seed in Julie's brain that she needed to read it, then never followed through myself. Matthew's store, along with many others, I'm sure, is doing a big midnight release. Meyer's books and movie stuff are everywhere... but I'm learning that, even though I feel like the only person alive who hasn't read them, I'm not alone. Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

ALA Report

Hi all,

I was just at ALA, and if you're interested in my experience as a first-time author there, feel free to mosey on over to my blog post about it on my professional blog.  I ran into Sherry there accidentally, which was fun (*waves to Sherry, if she's lurking*), and then I was so relieved to find her in my arc line -- a familiar face in the midst of what, to me, felt like madness, even if it probably looked rather sedate to the casual observer.  :o)  Thank you, Sherry, for being there!!  

Sadly, my trip was so quick and so packed with things to do that I didn't get a chance to see much of ALA outside the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth, other than John Green looking way calmer than I did as he signed a gazillion books.  It was so much fun to be there, though -- what a great atmosphere, and what cool people!

A timely link

Here is an article on Emily Gravett and her book Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rambling about Emily Gravett

Holy cannoli, do I love Emily Gravett.

The books I suggested for this month are Orange Pear Apple Bear, Wolves, and Monkey and Me. They’re not a series or anything, but they do have a sort of attitude common. You know how a book can imply a particular type of reader by the way it says things? Gravett implies a reader who’s intelligent, and who’s interested in thinking, and who appreciates a wry sense of humor. These books aren’t garish or in-your-face; they’re subtle. They have layers.

In Monkey and Me, a girl and her stuffed monkey go “to see” various animals. You always have to turn over a page to see which animal comes next, but if you pay close attention, you can venture a guess before turning – because the girl and her monkey act out the next animal’s posture in advance. It may take a second read before you notice that their postures echo the real penguins, kangaroos, bats, elephants, and finally monkeys that follow.

Wolves is subtle. Wait, how can I call a book subtle when the protagonist gets eaten?! Hmm. It’s subtle because when it tips from meta-book (a book about a book) into real predator chasing prey, it never narrates that outer story. The text simply reveals facts about wolves, as chronicled in the inner book, which is checked out from the library by a rabbit. Here is the shift where the wolf escapes his book and comes hunting: on one spread, the inner book reports “They can survive almost anywhere: from the Arctic Circle…” [ellipses orig, wolves shown on a page of the library book]; the next spread continues “… to the outskirts of towns and villages.” Cheekily mimicking the word “outskirts,” the wolf is now on the exact outskirts of both books (the inner one and the one the reader is holding), leaning around an edge to peer at the rabbit reader. But the narration never says a word about this, counting on the drawings to show the truth. Visual scale tips and changes, the wolf sometimes looming far above the rabbit, so tall that it can’t fit on the page. There’s no doubt what happens to the small vulnerable rabbit after the now-mammoth wolf face zooms in to surround it. We see a tattered and scratched book cover, perhaps the site of a struggle. We see no more animals at all. The text says only that wolves have many types of prey, a listing that ends with “rabbits” but says nothing about any particular rabbit or any particular, erm, meal.

Lest that ending be too upsetting, Gravett provides an alternate ending, silly and comforting, where predator and prey share a jam sandwich. But even in that version, the wolf is now equally as real as the rabbit – not banished back inside that original library book. This seems respectful of readers, because it doesn’t imply that preferring the gentler ending makes a reader less intelligent. And in fact, in the jam sandwich ending, both characters look like they’ve been cut out of paper, subtly reminding the reader that the whole thing is a book anyway.

Orange Pear Apple Bear is a gem. Only five words total, and a quiet visual masterpiece. A bear eats fruit, and sometimes resembles it. Sure, we all knew the word “orange” was a noun and an adjective, but did we know that same thing about the word “apple”? Did we know what “apple” and “pear” would mean, as adjectives modifying a bear? Softly brilliant watercolor paintings are the soul of this book. Go look at it if you haven’t. Note the bear's facial expressions. It’s happy-making.

I have no conclusion. I’m just rambling. Gravett has wonderful respect for her readers. Her books wait for readers to come to them; they don’t scream for attention from across the room (bless them for that). Her books are full of energy, but sometimes the energy is wit.

If you’ve read them or even just one of them, please chime in! Disagree, agree, or start a whole nother Gravett thread. What do you like or dislike about Gravett? If you haven’t read any yet, hopefully you’re now inspired to. :)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sweet Valley High

I couldn't resist the allure of the newly repackaged Sweet Valley High books. I read these books (in all of their permutations--SV Twins, High, University, Super Specials, and so on) when I was younger (probably mostly around 5th grade-ish, but certainly kept picking them back up for years after that) and was always so excited for a new one. I liked that the characters were older and seemed so exotic (California!), and that I could read a book quickly (even now, I most like to read a book in one sitting).

One afternoon last week, I read Sweet Valley High #1: Double Love. I was glad to see that many of memories of the books still held true. I still think Jessica is a conniving bitch and that Elizabeth is almost unbelievably wholesome. As soon as I read the names Lila Fowler (rich snob, friend of Jessica's) and Enid Rollins (Liz's BFF, bookish and unassuming), I felt right back in the drama of SV. Sometimes I put books on my library list, only to figure out after I get them that I've actually read them (and, embarrassingly often, I will have read them not all that long ago). Yet somehow, even though it's been 20 years or so since I've truly been wrapped up in the world of SV, I remember all of the characters and lots of the major drama.

So what's new with the series now that it's aimed at an audience in 2008? Well, Liz has a blog, in addition to writing for the school's paper (and I guess The Oracle is now just a website?). There's talk of botox, cell phones, and pimped out cars. I wish I could get my hands on the original first book (I'm sure I could with little effort... maybe later this summer) to compare them more closely. Aren't you glad to see that they changed Jessica and Elizabeth to a "perfect size 4," a fact that we learn on the very first page? Heaven forbid they should be a "perfect size 6" like they were in the original series (a fact that was repeated in every single book).

Can we talk about Todd? I always thought it was so cool that this lunky basketball player (now also football player) ended up with Elizabeth. Like there was so much more to him, or something. But god! What a dope! Though intially immune to Jessica's charms, he still somehow sorta falls for her after the whole drinking/driving thing. And Elizabeth is just way too forgiving! How could anyone like Jessica? When she lies and says that Todd "practially raped" her, I think she crosses from manipulative and bitchy to just plain horrible. And yet, I always kept reading, wondering what hijinks that Jessica would get up to next!

If you're looking for blogs on the Sweet Valley books, there's plenty to choose from. Check out The Dairi Burger, where you can find other links to SV-related websites. Reading this book was kind of a kick for me, just from the nostalgia standpoint, but I wonder if modern teen audiences will like this series. I remember reading a long time ago, maybe in an interview in Bitch or Bust, that Francine Pascal was writing a book about Jessica and Elizabeth in their 20s or 30s. Now THAT I would like to see!

So, did anyone else read this new book? Or did anyone read SV when the series was first out? I miss discussions on here!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This week's WTF?: The YA Ghetto

Frank Cottrell Boyce's review of Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go has got everyone all in a kerfuffle. Read on down to the part that starts out with, "If I have one quibble...." The young adult ghetto? Really? This reminds me of the review of Jenny Downham's Before I Die, in Entertainment Weekly, last fall. The talk of "handicapping" the book and "ghettoizing" it to the YA section inspired me to write the magazine an irate letter. Boyce (whose books I really enjoy) calling YA a "disaster" and "depressing" makes me angry. What do you think about what he has to say? (For more posts about this topics, and comments including some from Boyce himself, see blogs like A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy, YA New York, Read Roger, and probably many, many others.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

is anyone still here?

Some things:

I see a few of us are interested in the idea of talking about some picture books, too. Rebecca suggested Emily Gravett (see the comments section of her post for specific titles), who I think is a great choice. I own one already, and have the other two on my library list, so I'm definitely down with that discussion.

I had suggested reading the first Sweet Valley High book, Double Love, now that the series has been repackaged. Others are interested in this, too. I bought the book last week (or rather, my kind husband, who is no longer embarrassed to buy books written for teenage girls, bought it for me) and will hopefully post on it after next week.

I'm realizing I am woefully behind on middle grade fiction, having maybe read 6 books for that age group in the past year. I just read Canned, by Alex Shearer, and it was completely enjoyable, very unique, and somewhat disgusting. If anyone else had read much middle grade lately (Leo?), I'd love some suggestions.

Since I'm sort of disconnected from the YA world (or at least less connected than I was while working in bookstores and libraries), I rely a lot on blogs. Lately I've been reading and enjoying Not Your Mother's Book Club, The YA YA YAs, and YA New York. If you have time to kill, check them out. Lots of great reviews and discussions.

Finally, I know we're forever picking books and hardly ever actually discussing them, but can we talk about an August book? We don't seem to have much enthusiasm (or time?) lately, and the blog is pretty quiet, so I think maybe we'll talk about picture books, the SVH book, and whatever else we're reading and want to mention, for the next handful of weeks. But does anyone have any thoughts on a title for August? Or other picture books they'd like to discuss? Months ago, we had been talking about maybe reading a YA classic. I still like that idea, but don't have any great thoughts on what title to suggest. Personally, I am hoping to reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this summer (which I know can now be found in the YA section often, so maybe that would count). It's hard for me to think of a YA classic that many of us wouldn't have reread while at Simmons. Somewhere (email? personal blog? here?), Jess had mentioned at one point that she wanted to reread the Anne of Green Gables series and blog about it, and I have been hoping to reread the Betsy-Tacy series and start a blog on that, too (though those don't turn YA-ish until many books in). All just my random thoughts.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Following up on the May book

Hop on over to the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for a great discussion about The Disreptuable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

proposal: picture books too??

Hi y'all,

I have an odd proposal for the Misfits. Would anyone be interested in us choosing a picture book to look at each month as well? Not instead of the chapterbook but in addition. It needn't be a picture book that relates to that month's novel, though that would be coo now and then. (Maybe occasionally, parallels would unexpectedly appear post-reading!)

I'm suggesting this both because I often don't have time to read the novel but want to discuss something here; and also because I absolutely heart picture books and discussing them.

Totally shout me down if you're not interested. :)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Summer reading

As I just typed the title of this post, I suddenly pictured summer reading programs from my childhood. Remember the fun of keeping track of everything you read, then getting to go to the library to pick out some silly little prize and get a certificate? Those were good times!

I'm hoping we can choose books for June and July soon. What are people interested in reading? More realistic stuff? Fantasy? Vampire books? Historical fiction? A classic? Total fluff? A grown up book that reads like YA? A graphic novel? Nonfiction? Is there anything new coming out that people are anticipating? Put your thinking caps on!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks


Wow!  This was a good book, and it was totally not what I was expecting!  I was expecting way more of a boyfriend-drama book, not a really cool commentary on sexism, classism, power, identity, etc.  I'm actually thinking of rereading it, but just wanted to get some thoughts out there for now.

Am I the only person who wishes Lockhart had written a meeting-- or at least a sighting-- between Frankie and Alpha in the spring after she got in trouble and before he graduated?  Something beyond the email he wrote to her that she didn't answer?  Some moment of tension or recognition between them?  Besides Frankie herself, I thought Alpha was the most fascinating character in the book, and I have to say, the tension between them was incredible, even though they were hardly ever on-screen together.  Tension of every kind, including sexual.  Alpha was the only person who (finally) recognized her for what she was-- maybe the only person in the world who ever truly saw her, and saw that he'd mislabeled her.  And even though he was despicable in so many ways-- a cocky asshole, disrespectful to women, self-destructive, dishonest, aware that he was trapped in an empty social status structure but still fighting hard to stay at the top of that structure, I found him irresistible in the same way I found Frankie irresistible.  Frankie and Alpha both SAW what was happening, they never deluded themselves.  And they saw each other's genius and each other's flaws. Is there going to be a sequel that takes place when Frankie starts her freshman year at Harvard and she and Alpha pit themselves against each other?  :o)

Okay, yes, I just crushed on Alpha, who is a total asshole, for an entire paragraph, under the guise of analyzing the book.  I admit my guilt.

Here's why I thought this was a great book: The characterizations-- what interesting and complex and well-drawn characters.  Also, the commentary on how our societies are constructed-- fascinating!  And I loved seeing a female protagonist who is insistent on being seen, being heard, being herself, not smushing herself down (even if she can't stop others from smushing her down).  I loved seeing a girl determined to grab power and figure out what power even is, what it means.

In some ways, I would like to be more like Frankie.  Less worried about being perceived as "nice"-- more willing to assume power.

I'm writing this at the end of long day of revising, so my brain is spinning a little-- hope I've made sense.  I'd love to hear what other people thought!

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Do I have your attention?


So, I'm asking for help.  (No, not sex help.  Sigh... this is already starting out calamitously....)  I am looking for passages in books, or even books in their entirety, in which a relationship is presented to the reader such that the reader can't tell for sure whether the relationship is sexual. You know the passages I mean-- the ones where you read it and you get this feeling something might be going on between the characters, you're pretty sure there's some hanky panky going on, but you can't be positive?  Because the author has does a really good job laying seeds but keeping it subtle.

I am struggling with writing a similar scene, and am desperate to see how other writers have done this...

Anyone have any suggestions of things for me to read?

Thanks in advance!  :)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

May book

We kicked around a few ideas for the May book, but didn't choose one yet. As May is nearly half over with, I thought I'd better jump in and pick one. Let's go with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. I know some of us have already read it, and it's been out long enough to hopefully be available in many libraries, so it's probably our best choice for a quick read.

That said, any ideas for June?

Of interest

Seen on The Longstockings' site: Newsweek article on the boom of YA books. I have yet to read it, but maybe it will give us something to discuss!

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Curse Dark as Gold

I wanted to get the ball rolling on a discussion about our April book, since, you know, April is now over with. Wednesday afternoon I was curled up with the book, reading the last 75 pages or so while Callum napped. Matthew came in the room to tell me something and I said (or, rather, I'm pretty sure I snapped), "Please don't talk to me now." I was so engrossed in Bunce's book that the idea of anything pulling me out of the setting and back to reality was unacceptable. I thorougly enjoyed this book. Bunce's setting and characters drew me in and I felt like I was right there in their world. Sure, the middle seemed to drag on forever, and Charlotte's secrets and stubborness sometimes drove me nuts, but that didn't matter much. Usually I find myself sort of frustrated when there are a whole bunch of characters--like I often can't keep them separate, or find them so flat that they seem unnecessary--but Biddy Tom, Uncle Wheeler, Rosie, Randall, Harte, and the rest were so well-drawn and all contributed so much to the tale. This is another one of those titles that I only can gush about and don't really have anything specific to say beyond "it was great!" I think we're just good, as a book club, at picking really interesting, different titles, because I certainly don't generally love every single book I pick up. On a final note, I just want to say I love the cover. Even though I should know better, I definitely judge a book by its cover, all the time. Though this book was on my to-read list already, choosing it for the book club ensured I read it, whereas without the incentive to read it, I may never have gotten to it. I'm interested to know what others thought, especially people who tend to read more fairy tale retellings than I do.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Library Cards and May/June Suggestions

I was just dropping by to discuss May/June suggestions. I just renewed my Minuteman Library network card* and it's like a whole new world of book lending! Like, I requested A Curse Dark As Gold from the BPL in... oh... early March? Well- *mid* March. And it *still* hasn't been full processed- although at least it has been purchased, it seems. BUT I just ordered it in Minuteman, and I will probably have it before the week is out. Such is the power of well-funded Suburban libraries.

This, of course, makes it possible for me to borrow much more recently published books at a reasonable speed. Hence, I have a couple new, delicious looking books I can get my hands on that I would love (maybe) to read with the group- if you all are interested. They are girlie as all get out- but then, that seems appropriate for May and June somehow, doesn't it?

First, although I read it in galley form a couple of months ago, I would lovelovelove to re-read Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, which was just recently officially released in bookstores. It's very fun and satisfying and has more weight and substance to it than most YA chick-litty books do- like, if Meg Cabot's oeuvre could be described as marshmallows, then Suite Scarlett would be like... a really good slice of New York Cheesecake. They're both bad for you, and you couldn't eat either all the time, but the cheesecake definitely has Character and when you finish it you feel like you cherished every bite and eaten something real, while with marshmallows you eat a whole bag without noticing and then feel ill afterwards. I can't even begin to tell you how happy I am that Scarlett is the first in a series- she and her family and their ramshackle Art Deco hotel are right up my alley. In this particular book, Scarlett's family's hotel is faltering until a wealthy and eccentric widow descends upon the hotel, books their best suite for the whole summer, hires Scarlett as her personal secretary and begins meddling in all their lives, 1/2 Auntie Mame, 1/2 Margot Channing. It's deliriously good, and a blindingly quick read. I think it might be a better pick for June than May, because it only just came out, and I don't know how many of you would be able to get it through the library.

In a similar vein, but arguably with even more depth**, I'd love to read any of the following: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (which just came out, and I haven't read), Dramarama (which has been out for awhile but I haven't read) or The Boyfriend List (which I just read and adored) by E. Lockhart. The Boyfriend List and its sequel The Boy Book were both fun, smart reads that, nicely, don't tie things up too neatly or easily. They were, together, a messy and psychologically relatable portrait of a smart but emotionally confused 15 year old girl dealing with the fall out of her first serious relationship ending while the rest of her world comes apart around her ears-- on a normal 15 year old scale. By which I mean, she loses all her best friends and starts being the object of nasty rumors at school, not her mom dies and she develops a coke addiction and also is raped. These are white-upper-middle-class-girls-from-good-families "problems", not Problem Novel problems- which I think is refreshing, actually. It's nice to find a book that deals with issues I myself have dealt with, and doesn't either over-simplify them or make them unduly depressing.

Anyways, there are a couple suggestions- posted on the main page because;

a) I am hopelessly verbose
b) I wanted to give Amanda some main page company.

*which had been dormant so long they'd erased my fines! Yay!!
** but don't worry, I won't try for another tied-in desert simile here.


any ideas for a may book to read? or a june book, for that matter?

has anyone read a curse dark as gold yet? i'm about 3/4 of the way through it, so hopefully i'll be able to post something soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

National Day of Silence

Today is The National Day of Silence. In its 12th year now, this day is meant to bring attention to the name-calling, bullying, and harassment of LGBT(etc) high school students. This year's day is in honor of the memory of Lawrence King, the CA 15-year-old killed by a classmate who found out Lawrence had a crush on him.

Next up in my library pile are two books about gay characters, both by Alex Sanchez. What books with LGBT characters do you like? Are there any that you feel are overlooked? Since I mostly stick to realistic stuff, what about in fantasy--are there LGBT characters there? Any good blogs you read on LGBT books/issues? For blogs, I like I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the hell do I read? I also like Worth the Trip. Books I love include anything by David Levithan, Julie Anne Peters, and Ellen Wittlinger. There are so many great books out now with LGBT characters, which I think is fantastic and so important. Your turn now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the film version of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. The novel, written by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, was fantastic (I think it was one that, after having moved from MA to MN, I begged Terri, the owner of The Children's Book Shop, to send me the galley because I just could not possibly wait). This got me thinking: what other books have made good movies (knowing that, of course, the book is generally better)? Or what YA books would you like to see made into a movie (and what stars would play your favorite characters)?

Monday, April 14, 2008

funny YA books

i've decided i need to read something funny soon (funny ha-ha, not funny strange). it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud when i'm reading a book. some adult authors who routinely deliver the funny, to me, are laurie notaro and david sedaris. but when it comes to YA books that really make me laugh, not much comes to mind. i can always rely on sue townsend, author of the adrian mole series for YAs and some adult books, to give me a good laugh (often in that cringing way). the first few louise rennison books usually guaranteed a good laugh (i still enjoy them, but they're getting ooooold). i guess i'm thinking about this because i just read elizabeth scott's perfect you. it was a fantastic read. kate, the main character, is acerbic and smart, and the dialogue is excellent. i laughed a few times while reading it, but wanted it to be more funny, less serious at times. so, can you think of anything you've read that was truly funny to you? i need a break from the seriousness!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

another plug

as we all know, our dear fellow misfit, kristin, has a novel coming out soon. she also know has a new blog, This is My Secret. pop on over and check it out!

anyone else with new websites to promote?:)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Hi, all.

Forgive the obtuse nature of this entry, but I thought this would be THE place to promote the new store blog, .
There have only been a few posts, so far, and since we've yet to build an established/repeat audience, the entries sans comments seem a little more "newsletter"y than immediate, as a blog should be.
If you've read, want to read or refuse to read any of the books mentioned, please consider being one of the first to comment.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


it's not often i get to read a whole book in one sitting these days, but i just finished sara zarr's sweethearts. once i started it, i couldn't possibly set it aside to do anything else. i think it's one that will stay with me for a while.

waiting for me at the library, i have guyaholic by carolyn mackler and the disreputable history of frankie landau-banks by e. lockhart. i can't wait to read those!

do you have any great recommendations?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

April's book

For those interested, the April pick is A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dance on my Grave

Skip this post if you haven't finished the March pick yet....

I spent yesterday afternoon reading Dance on my Grave. I thought it was fantastic. It was funny, sad, honest, and awkward. I sometimes found Hal and Barry's banter so obtuse (the unknown to me Britishisms didn't help) that I would lose the thread of what they were even talking about, but that didn't detract from my interest in them. I feel like Chambers really captured that initial whirlwind-like feeling of dating (especially as a young adult) so well. This book feels so distinctive to me, so unlike almost anything I've ever read before.

Beyond really just loving the book and the unique characters, I don't have much to say. What I did find myself looking at as I read were little details about being a gay teen in a YA novel written in 1982. We all know that most gay teens ended up dead (or suffering some other awful fate) in YA written many years ago. For a great article summing up GLBTQ books for young adults, see Michael Cart's piece "What a Wonderful World: Notes on the Evolution of GLBTQ Literature for Young Adults." Some things that stood out to me: Barry has a slight lisp; Barry's mother tells Hal that he killed him--that she knows about his crimes against her son; Hal is stereotypically "arty"--his guidance counselor talks about him avoiding sports at school, writing "twitty" stuff for the literary magazine, etc. I'm sure there were other little details that made me nearly raise an eyebrow. If this book were written in 2008 and included little details like that (and, you know, one of the main characters had to die because he was gay), I wouldn't be having it. But, as it is, especially for a book published more than 25 years ago, I think Chambers created a very complex, honest relationship that didn't judge, moralize, or preach. It almost felt like the fact that Hal and Barry were gay was incidental. They were two boys caught up in a crazy, adventurous relationship, just happy to have found a kindred soul.

Now, my few questions. Do you think this book would appeal at all to modern teens? Did you, like me, feel there was something particularly unique about the book (tone, characters, setting, humor, etc)? What do you make of Barry (his larger than life mother, the fact that he slept with Kari, and so on)? I think there is probably a lot more to talk about, but I just wanted to post my initial reaction and get the ball rolling.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dance on My Grave -- partway through

So, I'm not done reading yet, but I've got to ask, why couldn't this have won the Printz Award? I mean, besides the fact that it was published in 1982 and written by a Brit?

Loving this hysterical and sad book....

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

April pick

Here we are again, needing to choose a book for next month before we've even talked about this month's book (it's now at the top of my library pile, so there's hope I'll get to it soon). I keep hearing about A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce. It's a Rumpelstiltskin retelling. It's also nearly 400 pages long. Too long? It sounds interesting, and I know people wanted to read more than just realistic fiction. Any other suggestions? Anything else going on, YA-wise, that you want to post about, discuss, rant about?

Friday, March 14, 2008

A marketing question

Here's a question for y'all, which (1) kind of involves me hijacking the blog for personal reasons and (2) won't surprise those of you familiar with my personal psychoses. I apologize in advance for (1) and (2).

Does anyone have an opinion about how much the tendency to appear at events / signings / etc. affects a YA writer's career?

As a debut YA writer I am approaching the scary "marketing months" and trying to figure out the best way for a painfully shy person to respond to her publisher's requests for attending events without losing the plot (no pun intended)...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

i don't wanna have to shout it out

Who said this?

"Whatever whoever chooses to read is their business, of course, but adults whose taste in recreational reading ends with the YA novel need to grow up."

Would you believe this came from Roger Sutton's blog? I like that he often writes sort of off-the-cuff things that create lots of discussion on his blog. This sentiment, however, raised my hackles. Yes, I do read adult literature, but for the most part, my recreational reading absolutely stops at the YA novel. And I have no intention of outgrowing that/growing up/etc. From the looks of many of the comments to his post, there were many other people who took issue with this statement. What do you think? Are you surprised to hear this sentence from the mouth (well, from the hands-typing-on-the-keyboard) of the Horn Book's editor?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


As some of you know, my mother teaches junior high English classes. She is looking to add a new book to her syllabus, one for 8th graders that would appeal to both boys and girls. She is considering the Alexie book, and I recommended The Trap by John Smelcer (another Native American title). She wants something that would hold the kids' interest and have a wide appeal. Does anyone have any great suggestions?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Voice in YA

After reading The White Darkness, I started thinking a bit about narrator voice in young adult literature. I think Sym had a pretty distinctive voice...and I think the world of YA is full of distinctive, unique voices. Some are funny, some are angry, or depressed, or completely unreliable. I remembered Elvin in Slot Machine, Harriet in Harriet the Spy (not quite YA, but definitely distinctive), all the way back to Holden in The Catcher in the Rye. Just for fun, what are some of your favorite YA narrators (or "voices")? Which ones don't you like? I'd have to think some more before I could decide my favorite and least favorite, but I'm interested in what you all love (and maybe hate)!

Friday, February 29, 2008


It looks like the March pick will be Dance on my Grave, by Aidan Chambers. Thirteen Reasons Why just showed up at the library for me, so I plan to chime in on that discussion sometime next week. The blog is sort of quiet lately. Anyone reading anything great/terrible, or know any interesting YA news? If so, please share with us! Do you have websites that you frequent to keep up to speed on YA? Also, it's not too early to think about April's pick. Some of us tossed around the idea of reading a classic in conjunction with more modern equivalents. Let us know if you have any ideas on that, or would like to suggest anything else (especially you folks who had wanted to read something other than just realistic stuff).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Two months on

So, look who's chiming in two months on. Sorry for the delay, but now that I'm caught up, I'll just comment on a couple of things that have long since been addressed.

Part Time Indian
The most striking thing to me about Part Time Indian, what kept running through my mind as I knew I was reading it by the suggestion of this group specifically, was the role that sports played in this book. Remember the discovery and discussion we had years ago on the artistic outlet of all YA protagonists? Was it device or coincidence or both?
Well, I've always taken issue with the villification of sports in YA books, (which is one reason that I was so pleased with Tangerine, as a matter of fact.) I was particularly encouraged then to see it used more symbolically/realistically/therapeutically in Part Time Indian. Then to see Alexie make reference to Tangerine later in the book - well, it was refreshing.

Was I reading YA books when I was YA?
My response to this mirrors Leo's almost exactly - the hating to read things for school at that age and choosing to read Stephen King and such, instead. (I think it was my form of rebellion, so in some weird way I was motivated to read, if only to show that I was "too grown up" for what they were feeding us in high school.) The books to which I was introduced in junior high school were GREAT, but then the high school list came, and I definitely thought I was ready for more.
I'm sure that this was a reflection of the era, as well. Being a teenager in the 80's, the YA books were few and far between and, (as the person who mentioned the mud room placement of her local YA books,) physically marginalized, as well, in the libraries and bookstores where I lived.

I definitely think that the recent and current boom in YA publishing, though, is totally market-driven. There is certainly more readership, now, as well as the tactic to cross-publish/cross-market, creating and maintaining awareness and insistence on the genre. I also think that the content itself is more accessible and familiar than what was out 15 or twenty years ago.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Jump down a few posts to see suggestions, and leave suggestions, for our March book. February is flying by!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The White Darkness

If you haven't read The White Darkness yet, and don't want to know what happens, skip this post.

Okay? Okay.

I honestly don't have much to say about it beyond saying it was gripping, terrifying, but not really believable. With each step of Victor's plan, I kept thinking, really? He's really pulling all of this off? But once I let go of that factor, I gave in to the awful breakneck speed of the events and could hardly read fast enough, not so much to find out what happened, but to get it over with. The vastness of all of that endless snow and ice in Antarctica managed to feel totally wide open and endless, yet completely claustrophobic. I found myself not caring who died, or what they found or didn't find, but only caring that the book would end and I could get out of all that awful snow. So, good on McCaughrean for creating such a vivid and frightening setting.

At first, having not read the flap copy or even any reviews of the book, I had no idea what would really happen. I was certain there was something unseemly about Victor, but I really thought he was maybe molesting Sym or something. He came off as creepy right from the start, to me. With Victor taking Sym away from her mother to a hotel clearly set up for just the two of them, with Sym's need to clutch so tightly to Captain Oates when she needs to "get away", and with her poem on pages 90 and 91 where she says, "secrets hidden are all/forbidden," I just thought that was where it was going. When it quickly became obvious that Victor was totally insane, cruel, awful, etc, I found myself getting so frustrated with Symone. She never seemed as "slow" or "dumb" (for lack of a much better word) as she sometimes claimed to be, or was made out to be. So for her to repeatedly get swept up in Victor's plans, to continue to think of Victor as brave and herself as gutless and spineless, was so frustrating. Victor turned out to be such a monster; I was really gunning for Symone to brain him with that ice pick!

That's just lots of random rambling. I don't have anything especially critical to say about the book. I'm not even sure I could say that I liked it. It was certainly compelling and unusual. I'm interested to know what others thought.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Looking ahead

Though we haven't talked much yet about this month's picks, does anyone want to start throwing out titles for next month's book? If we come up with a few books to choose from, we can vote on them as we did last month.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

13 Reasons Why...

...I hated this book. Spoiler alert, as well, for those of you still reading it... I'm not sure I can muster the energy to come up with 13 reasons, so I'll go with the biggest ones:

  • Narrator who overreacts at every turn. (I ditched the book in the library's book drop the other day, so I will be creating some of the dialog from memory.) "Hm, I just got a box of tapes from a dead girl. I listened to 5 minutes of them. OH MY GOD WHY DID I EVER GET THESE TAPES???? WHAT CAN IT MEAN??? WHY AM I CURSED??? HANNAH, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME???"
  • Bad writing. Don't even have any examples of this. Didn't want to keep it in my house.
  • Horribly manipulative main character - I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this: she's teased, she's groped...and she kills herself? I don't have a daughter (yet) or a son, for that matter, but what am I supposed to do with this? What kind of message is this sending - the subtext implies that the only path for Hannah is a permanent exit. Sure, a few teachers don't listen to her, which would be awful, but then she kills herself? Because the some of her classmates are sexist and bullies (although one does sound like a bona fide sex offender)? I'm not sure it hangs together logically (perhaps I've blocked Hannah's main motivation for suicide - I was just pissed at her more than anything for hiding in the closet during the rape scene) and if it does, it's a really disturbing message.
Ranting is fun. Although it does make me wonder if it's clouded my mind for any redeeming messages from the book. If you read it, what do you think?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Update on Looking for Alaska

Click here for an article updating you on the situation with John Green's novel, Looking for Alaska, and the challenge it's facing in New York.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Notes from the Horn Book

I got an email today announcing that The Horn Book will be starting a free monthly e-newsletter that will debut in March. It looks like it's going to have recommendations, news, and interviews. You can subscribe by going here: Notes from the Horn Book.

"Shut up and stop condescending to teenagers!"

This week in censorship news:

The above video is taken from the Nerdfighters site. In it, John Green talks about his book, Looking For Alaska, being labeled "pornagraphic" and facing challenges in the Depew High School system. He urges emails of support to be sent to his email address,, and he will then forward them to the school board. Check it out.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The YA market in 2008

A few posts down, I had asked if any of us read YA books as actual teenagers. There are lots of interesting comments to that, so be sure to check them out or add your thoughts if you haven’t already done so. In her comment, responding to the fact that many of us in our early 30s didn’t really even know contemporary YA existed as teens, Kristin says, “This is weird! I wonder if it's different for teenagers now? Are kids more tuned in to what's currently being published, and if so, why? Or were we the anomalies? Should we have known about contemporary YA?”

Can we talk about this? Is it that YA is such a bigger deal than it was in the late 80s/early 90s? Is it marketed better? What has changed, or has anything changed? I really can’t imagine that we were the anomalies. We were all big readers, we went on to have lasting interests in children’s literature, and I suspect, had I really known that there were a whole bunch of great YA books just waiting for me, I would have read everything I could get my hands on. It’s hard for me to step back and view YA literature from anything other than my perspective—having gone to Simmons, having worked for years selling children’s books, and reading almost solely YA books now—to see if “the rest of the world” is familiar with/aware of YA books. We are all big readers of YA, and know about the new books/trends/hot titles, but what about actual teenagers? Since many of us work/worked in bookstores, or teach teenagers, or are librarians, or write for teens, or edit books aimed at teens (need I go on?), I'm sure a lot of people have an opinion on this. I'm interested to know what you think about this subject.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Random Question of the Week: What are you reading?

What are you currently reading, or what is stacked up in your house, waiting to be read? I'm always looking to add titles to my library holds. Have you read anything especially awesome lately? How about anything particularly terrible lately?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

For February

The poll has closed and it looks like the majority of us would like to disucss The White Darkness. However, a fair number are also interested in Thirteen Reasons Why. I suggest we put both of these books on the schedule and read whichever one grabs us/both of them, and start discussing them in February.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Random question of the week: Did you read YA as a YA?

Lately I've been reading more "grown-up" books, but like many others here, I am usually on a steady diet of YA novels. But did you read actual YA books when you were a YA yourself? For some people, like Margaret, I know that only means a few years ago, but for others of us, it is a good chunk of years ago. So, when were you a teenager and what did you read? Did you read YA, or jump straight into adult books? How did you find your books (on your own, neighborhood librarian, through friends, etc)? I'm curious to know if you remember any YA books that really stood out, or that were talked about/controversial, or if the concept of YA even registered on your radar. I'll have to answer this question later myself, but I just wanted to throw it out there for now.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Margaret, the Cowardly (future) Librarian

In the comments on Kristin's first post on The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Amanda asked a question (or rather questioned a discussion question) that I wanted to answer here, in a full post. Going through a recommended discussion questions for the book online, Amanda found a prompt that stated that Alexie's book "showed a different side of American Indian life than many other books do." Amanda was puzzled by this assertion because, as she correctly pointed out, the story revolves around many things that are common touchstones throughout American Indian literature- or at least, I assume they are... which brings us to the title of my post, and the meat of my response to Amanda's question:

I have never read much American Indian literature- or really any at all, unless you count Walk Two Moons which I don't, even a little bit.* I haven't read it because I am, as the title of this entry states, a cowardly future librarian. I am scared of reading Serious Books about the Problems of America where there is No Hope In Sight for the protagonist and I have generally assumed that much of American Indian literature could be encompassed by that description. When I do read such literature, for whatever reason, I can often enjoy it- like Make Lemonade by Virgina Euwer Wolf, which I adore- but I basically never seek out such titles for myself. This is a serious reading limitation, and one I am definitely interested in moving past (see: my dedication to actually finishing The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing), but it's also a quality that gives me a special perspective on how this book might be different from the majority of American Indian lit: for all that it addresses the traditional hardships of American Indian life today, the book itself feels hopeful- Junior's life seems hopefully.

It's odd to say that a book which inflicts three major deaths on its protagonist over the course of maybe 40 pages and three weeks pulls its punches, and yet, I think that this book does, just a little bit. White characters that ooze menance to begin with, and are racist and cruel, like Roger and Penelope, quickly become kind, friendly characters without much effort on Junior's part. His parents might be alcoholics or recovering alcoholics, but they love and support Junior in very real ways, as he makes an effort to point out again and again. As much as getting to and from school is difficult for Junior, the work he needs to do to do well there appears to pose little or no challenge to him. When he is attacked by his old friends from the reservation, or mean-spirited teachers at his school. his new, all-white schoolmates band behind him in support- so on and so forth. There are more examples I could name, but I think you see my point. I think this backdrop of not so badness is a definite artistic choice on Alexie's part and, I'd imagine, it's probably something of a departure in tone from his other novels and possibly a different angle from which to examine American Indian life.

Personally, as both a cowardly future librarian and a current children's bookseller, it's also an artistic decision I can get behind. There are bits of it that chafe me a bit- like, for example, the fact that Junior and Penelope ostensibly get together because he finds out about her bulimia, but that her illness is never mentioned again- but on the whole, I think it's good because it keeps the book from being so unrelentingly grim that a cowardly reader (me) or a young one (the book's intended audience) would get turned off, or tune out.

Rather than having every part of Junior's environment be painful, this brightening of reality makes the moments where punches aren't pulled- Rowdy's reaction to Junior's decision to leave the Rez, Junior's sister's death, Eugene's death- so much more painful, because the rest of the narrative hadn't forced me to distance myself from Junior's life. I wasn't made to feel that Junior's life was easy, not by a long shot, but at the same time I wasn't made to feel that his life was so painful or so difficult I could not even hope to relate to it-- even though I am white, privileged, and the child of a staunchly middle-class family chock full of college graduates, Alexie didn't make me feel like The Enemy, he made me feel like a friend Junior could trust, and opened me up in a way Abject Misery, Perfectly Described could not have. And I think that's important, because cowards like me need to read more books like this.

* ...unless you count the time sophomore year of high school I lied and told my appalling English teacher** that Sharon Creech was Native American so I could use Walk Two Moons as my outside reading book during the term we dedicated to Native American lit.

** The English teacher in question, for Sherry's benefit, was Ms. Johnson. I don't know if you were lucky enough to miss her reign of terror at BLS, but I thought I'd specify, just in case you weren't.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Orson Scott Card and Intellectual Freedom

Apologies for this being off topic, BUT:

I was just reading Roger Sutton's blog and I came across the SLJ article he'd linked to discussing the- apparent- controversy over Orson Scott Card being awarded the Margaret A. Edwards award. According to the article (which can be read in full here), some people feel like Card was an inappropriate choice for the award because he's expressed, in a number of different arenas, openly anti-gay sentiments. The award committee was unaware of this dimension of their decision, but they are standing by it nonetheless, saying that it's Card's books and writing for teens that they're awarding, and that his personal opinions should not be a consideration. Or, as the wonderful Roger quips in the article: "“The award is not for being an idiot in real life; it's for writing books that have made a positive difference in the reading lives of young people.”

On the other side of the controversy, David Levithan says:

“I would like to believe that the Edwards committee would not have honored someone who had written essays that were as racist or as anti-Semitic as Card’s are anti-gay. The charter of the Edwards award says that it “recognizes an author’s work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world”—I think Card’s writings on homosexuality do the exact opposite of that.”

It's an interesting debate, and I'd be curious to know what you guys make of it. Personally, I think I am with Roger- we're awarding the books, which are not ostensibly homophobic, not his personal opinions. Whatever they may be, he has a right to them. While David might be correct that a racist or anti-semitic writer would be treated differently, I don't think that would make depriving a racist or anti-semite the RIGHT thing to do. However, there is something to the argument that his homophobic writings are not likely to help a confused adolescent find themselves which is, in a way, what the award is celebrating. I don't think there's *enough* to it to change my opinion that Card deserves the award, but its definitely a point worth thinking about. Are YA and children's authors personal lives a more necessary consideration because they write for a more impressionable audience? Or should Orson Scott Card be allowed to have his award and be homophobic too?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

So, I thought I'd go ahead and start discussing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There are a few spoilers, so proceed at your own peril!

"All right," she said, having no idea what she was doing. "Here goes."

So, I first became acquainted with Sherman Alexie after watching the beautiful movie
Smoke Signals. The movie was based on his book of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, so I read that next-- it's magnificent, I recommend both book and movie. I mean, where does he come up with his imagery? Here are a few lines from Lone Ranger, just to show the gorgeousness of his writing for the adult market (and I assume you know that when I use that term I'm not referring to the XXX market ;):

"James's voice sounded like a beautiful glass falling off the shelf and landing safely on a thick shag carpet."

"Sometimes I still feel like half of me is lost in the city, with its foot wedged into a steam grate or something. Stuck in one of those revolving doors, going round and round while all the white people are laughing. Standing completely still on an escalator that will not move, but I didn’t have the courage to climb the stairs by myself. Stuck in an elevator between floors with a white woman who keeps wanting to touch my hair."

"Diabetes is just like a lover, hurting you from the inside. I was closer to my diabetes than to any of my family or friends. Even when I was all alone, quiet, thinking, wanting no company at all, my diabetes was there.

(No, I didn't just find those and type them out; I already had them typed out; it's this habit I've developed solely for the purposes of torturing myself.) :)

Anyway, I'm talking about the wrong book, so I'll move on to The Absolutely True Diary, which also has some zingers:

"I'd been thinking about her breasts and she'd been thinking about my whole life." (127)

"I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn't know Indians. And he didn't know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons: the fricking booze." (200)

"As the coffin settled into the dirt, it made this noise, almost like a breath, you know? / Like a sigh. / Like the coffin was settling down for a long, long nap, for a forever nap." (209)

The writing speaks for itself, don't you think? He's fresh and honest and precise and wonderful with his language. But here's the question I want to bring up-- maybe inappropriately, because I don't know if anyone else in the Misfits has read any other Alexie? Anyway, I'll state my question, with the caveat that I'm just trying to get a discussion started, and we don't need to discuss my specific issue at all if no one else is interested:

Is there anything wrong with Alexie writing a new book that is very much made up of the exact same themes and even plot points he's already written about in the past?

Here are some common themes in both books I've read: an Indian playing on a white high school basketball team and destroying the competition; a nerdy Indian kid with a tough and mean Indian friend; an Indian falling in love with a white woman; death by the combination of alcohol and fire; senseless death in general; a single Indian leaving the reservation. Reading The Absolutely True Diary, I had the feeling-- constantly-- that I'd read it or seen it before, that he was writing the same thing a different way (and personally, I liked the Lone Ranger version better!). Don't get me wrong-- I'm actually quite ambivalent about this. I'm really, really unwilling to be outrightly critical, because I think Diary is a wonderful book, and besides, part of the whole point is that the reservation life is the same thing over and over. I mean, above, I quoted the Tolstoy parody line: "
All Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons." And remember Junior's reaction to his sister's death: "OF COURSE THEY HAD A BIG PARTY! OF COURSE THEY WERE DRUNK! THEY'RE INDIANS!" (205)-- the idea being that any story about life on this reservation is going to be the same story.

But? Am I nitpicking, because I can't find anything else to say about it other than glowing praise? I think this book is beautiful and important, and maybe Alexie's just trying to tell to young adults a story he's already told to adults. It's a little like Woody Allen, I suppose-- it seems like the same movie over and over, and yet I watch every one, because it's so much yummy goodness that why would I complain when he makes more of it? Or Jane Austen, for that matter.

Thoughts? Or other things to talk about?

(And has anyone ever read Reservation Blues or Ten Little Indians? Do they tell the same story? And does it matter?)

If We Don't Decide...

to read Thirteen Reasons Why, can someone please discuss it with me anyhow? Because....well, just because.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Over on the right is a poll for what our next book should be. It cut off the choices, but they are: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher; The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (this year's Printz winner); some other Printz book (one of this year's honors); or something else entirely. Please vote! If you want to suggest a different title, please leave it in the comments section here.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Boring technical question

Here's a techie question for those of you who've used blogger before. With livejournal, you can hide all or part of posts behind a cut. Is it possible to do that with blogger? It strikes me that it would be a really good way to protect people from accidentally reading spoilers as we begin our book discussions....

I have had no luck unearthing this topic in the blogger help pages.

Another option, of course, is simply to title posts "WARNING! SPOILER!" or include warnings within posts...

Printz Award

The White Darkness / Geraldine Mccaughrean
Dreamquake / Elizabeth Knox
One Whole and Perfect Day / Judith Clarke
Repossessed / A. M. Jenkins
Your Own, Sylvia / Stephanie Hemphill

Caldecott Medal

The Invention of Hugo Cabret / Brian Selznick (there was a huge gasp when this one was announced!)
Henry's Freedom Box / Kadir Nelson
First the Egg / Laura Vaccaro Seeger
The Wall / Peter Sis
Knuffle Bunny Two / Mo Willems

Newbery Medal

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! / Laura Amy Schlitz
Elijah of Buxton / Christopher Paul Curtis
The Wednesday Wars / Gary D. Schmidt
Feathers / Jacqueline Woodson

Monday, January 7, 2008


Nope, not the Marilynne Robinson book, but just some random bits and pieces that relate to life on the blog.

1. I know we have yet to start discussing this month's book (I'm knee-deep in reviews right now, but intend to read the book this weekend), but can we start throwing out ideas for February's choice? Once we have a small selection of titles, I think I can create a poll feature on this and we can vote. So start listing books you want to see us talk about!

2. Be sure to always scroll down to see what posts you might have missed. Jess asks us what we think about Jon Scieszka being appointed the first US Ambassador for Young People's Literature. In another post, I ask that you list your predictions for the upcoming ALA awards. Come on, especially you TCBS people--we do this every year! I'm curious to know what people think/hope will win.

3. Speaking of those awards, they are announced on Monday, January 14. Last year I was signed into the live broadcast, somehow got locked out, and angrily hit the refresh button on my computer, hoping to see them posted. I got the list from Erica first. If anyone sees the list and has time to paste it onto here, please do so, then we can discuss the awards.

4. Please feel free to post anything at all you want to on here! Post about what you're reading, what you're writing, what's bothering you, what you're excited about, what you look forward to, anything! Pass this link on to other people you know who might be interested in talking about YA books in general or reading along with us.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

National Ambassador

Hello for a quick post from the very chilly state of Maine...

Today I saw that Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Stories, as well as other picture and chapter books, was named the first US National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. According to the Library of Congress website, the position "was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people." You can read about Scieszka and the position in this New York Times article (more here too). What do you think of this choice? What are some of your expectations for a National Ambassador for Young People's Literature? Scieszka is interested in reaching out to reluctant readers. What kinds of things would you do if you were National Ambassador?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

ALA Awards

I hope we can use this website to discuss all kinds of things about young adult books (and more) in addition to just talking about the book we've chosen for the month. On January 14, the Printz (etc) awards will be announced. What do you think will win? What do you want to win? Any guesses on Caldecott, Newbery, or others?