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?