Wednesday, December 23, 2009

January 2010 pick

The official book club pick for January 2010 is Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. Hopefully this will generate some good discussions, as I know many of us have already read it and are looking forward to a reread. Also, it may be a very timely choice as, I think, it's definitely got a good shot at the Newbery.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How Beautiful the Ordinary

A quick plug for the wonderful book I read over the past few days, How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity, edited by Michael Cart. The contributors all tell stories of gay, lesbian, and transgender characters, all different ages and at different stages of life, using many different formats. Stand out stories for me include Jacqueline Woodson's "Trev," about a 6-year-old girl who understands from early on that she is really a boy. Trev's family cannot accept this truth, despite Trev's doctor saying, "Trev is Trev. Let him be so." His father leaves, his brother thinks Trev is a freak, and his mother sort of wearily accepts this new reality. Transgender characters also take center stage in Francesca Lia Block's "My Virtual World" (FTM) and "The Missing Person" by Jennifer Finney Boylan (MTF). The stories are often about older teens, or adults reflecting back on life or dealing with some element of their past. Other contributors include David Levithan, Gregory Maguire, Margo Lanagan, Emma Donoghue, William Sleator, Eric Shanower, Ron Koertge, Ariel Schrag, and Julie Anne Peters. I highly recommend picking this up, as most of the stories were really well done. Also, I was really surprised to see so many trans characters included in this collection. I can only think of a few YA books about transgender teens (Luna, Parrotfish.... um... yeah, really, only two? With transgender teens as main characters?). Michael Cart sure knows how to put a collection together.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jumping Off Swings

Apparently I am into reading books on pregnant teens lately, because I just finished Jumping Off Swings, by Jo Knowles (Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, 1995). Told from four points of view (the pregnant teen girl, the father of the baby, her best friend, and his best friend), the story revolves around Ellie's pregnancy, her struggle to decide what to do about it, and everyone's reactions to the news. Ellie has a reputation at school for giving it up easily, and Josh's friends, many of whom have slept with Ellie, encourage him to lose his virginity with her. "Told ya she was a sure thing," one of the guys says. Ellie, who feels unloved at home, can't understand why these boys just hook up with her and then leave her. Ellie admits she feels empty most of the time and hopes these encounters will fill her life, will make her loveable. After her one night stand with Josh, she ends up pregnant. She tells her best friend Corrine, who reaches out to Caleb (Josh's best friend and a boy who's nurtured a life-long crush on Ellie). As the girls spend more and more time at Caleb's house, Liz, his liberal and warm mother (who I love for saying, "Since when does having sex make someone less special?" when Caleb tells her how Ellie will hook up with anyone, and he thought she was different, special) suspects Ellie's pregnancy and Ellie leans on Liz for support, as her own parents can hardly look her in the eyes.

Overall, I felt the novel was uneven. Caleb (who, I guess because of his description of having curly hair and his particular way of speaking and his quiet crush, reminded me of Brian Krakow from My So-Called Life--an image I couldn't shake through the whole book) and Corrine are strong, thoughtful characters. Sad-sack Ellie seems to have almost no personality, and Josh's reaction and thoughts are interesting, but under-represented. The novel does manage to elicit emotion thanks to the characters' honest and varied reactions, but the emotional pull comes from all of the other characters, and not Ellie herself. It's a quick read, so if anyone else picks this one up, chime in with your thoughts.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When You Reach Me

Hey everyone--

I just got Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me out of the BPL-- there was no wait list or anything! If I bump it to the top of my to-read pile, would you guys be up for discussing it here? It's the subject of a lot of buzz for the Newbury, so I definitely want to read it before ALA Midwinter this January.

This reminds me: how many Boston area Misfits are going to Midwinter? Would any of you be interested in making a special Misfit outing to the ALA award announcement ceremony? I'm definitely going to be there, and I think it could be a fun opportunity for us to hang out face to face.

Ruby Oliver, Faceless No More

As everyone on this blog is well aware, I am a *huge* E. Lockhart fan. I spent most of 2008 utterly obsessed with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and this year, I think I've come to appreciate her Ruby Oliver books (The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book and, The Treasure Map of Boys) just as much-- possibly even more. Their brilliance is quieter than The Disreputable History's (where Lockhart wears her PhD on her sleeve) but they are no less accomplished for it. All this is a long way of saying: I have a major interest in these books. So naturally, when I heard they were going to get new cover art this September, I was interested. And now, three months later, the covers are finally being shown to the public, and I (shockingly) have some opinions about them.1

Here's the new cover for The Boyfriend List, and links to the others can be found in the first footnote on this post.

Now, for my thoughts on these covers. First, to be fair, the small bits of good. These covers are very pretty. I can imagine them having serious shelf appeal.2 I don't totally hate the model, and the design aesthetic is definitely right on. The clothes they've picked out are cute, and somewhat Roo-appropriate. I'm not even going to complain that only one of the four covers features Ruby's glasses, and even in that cover she's not wearing them.3 Um. I like that they kept the font the same too? I guess? Also: they refrained from chopping off the top of Ruby's head or changing her race, so many worse things could have happened.

That stated, I still don't like these covers. It's not just because I thought the old covers were adorable, and perfectly suited to the books. It's not just because I already have a *matched set* of the first three books in hardcover-- a set that will now be RUINED because the fourth book won't match. It's that these are photo covers, and for the Ruby Oliver books photo covers are ALL WRONG.

In general, I dislike photo covers. Like every other literacy advocate I worry that they hamper readers' imaginations and generally limit the text in ways they don't need to. I especially dislike when books targeted at teenage girls feature models, as this one does, because honestly, don't girls have to see enough models already? And yet the publishing industry keeps putting them out, because apparently Photo Covers Sell.4 My dislike of these particular covers, however, goes deeper than my general dislike of photo covers. These ones are especially frustrating because they undermine one of the strongest choices E. Lockhart made when she wrote these books: the choice NOT to tell us what Ruby looks like. In The Boyfriend List, Ruby breaks the fourth wall and explicitly addresses the subject and, in the process, made one of my favorite observations about books written for girls:
I'm not telling you what I look like in any detail. I hate those endless descriptions of a heroine's physical attributes: "She had piercing blue eyes and a heaving milk-white bosom blah blah" or "She hated her frizzy hair and fat ankles blah blah, blah blah." First of all, it's boring. You should be able to imagine me without all the gory details of my hairstyle or the size of my thighs. And second, it really bothers me how in books it seems like the only two choices are perfection or self-hatred. As if readers will only like a character who's ideal-- or completely shattered.

Then, in a footnote on this statement, Ruby/Lockhart relents a tiny bit and satisfies her readers' curiosity by making a list of Ruby Oliver's "five perfect, ideal qualities" (ex. "long, dark eyelashes") and five which she justifiably hates (ex. "bad eyesight and an inability to wear contacts, so glasses always obscure eyelashes anyway, effectively negating them.") Throughout the books, other things about Ruby's looks are mentioned-- she likes her legs, for example-- but never once does Lockhart describe her in more detail than she does here. I think this love/hate method of description is just about perfect. This is exactly how I tend to think and speak of myself. I have certain aspects of my appearance I like, and other parts that I loathe in minute detail. I'll bet you anything that most of E. Lockhart's teen readers do as well.

And I'd also bet that, for those girls who managed to find Ruby, it was a relief to come across someone who they didn't have to compare themselves against physically. They don't have to think "Oh, Ruby may say such and such about her looks, but I know that *really* she's stunning, and nothing like me." Instead, they could pay attention to Lockhart's stellar writing, and feel like they were in the company of a girl who was as real as one of their friends. They could think of a 15 year-old girl who actually looked 15. While these photo covers can't change the words inside of the book, by choosing this model pretty girl to represent Ruby, the publisher is undermining Lockhart's artistic vision. They are changing Ruby from the normal-looking but intensely lovable girl of Lockhart's text into a girl who could sell you lip gloss-- and probably has. Lockhart has very deliberately written about a girl who is somewhere between perfectly ideal and completely shattered, and she stresses in no uncertain terms how important that choice is. So it's depressing that Delacorte decided that girls will only buy her books if they are marketed with yet another impossibly ideal face.5

Along with the publisher, I genuinely hope these new covers achieve their goal of roping in new readers. The more books E. Lockhart sells, the happier I'll be, no matter what their covers look like. But I do feel like these ones miss the point, thematically, and I'm sad that Delacorte thought this change was necessary. Come December 2010, don't be surprised if you find me sitting around with Photoshop, putting together a Real Live Boyfriends cover featuring a toy meerkat. After all, I'm going to need a matching set.

[1] Lockhart has been premiering the new covers during a week long blog tour, all five stops of which I highly recommend you check out. All the interviews/guest posts Lockhart has contributed are a lot of fun to read, and give some great insights into her books. Listed in sequential order-- with links-- the blog tour went as follows: Little Willow's Bildungsroman (where I got the image I used in this post), The Story Siren (where you can see the cover for The Boy Book), The Page Flipper (where you can see the cover for The Treasure Map of Boys-- my least favorite of the four), Cheryl Rainfield's blog (where you can see the cover for Real Live Boyfriends), Sharon Loves Cats and Books, and (eventually) over at Park Avenue Princess.

[2] Not that the original covers lacked shelf appeal. In fact, the high cute quotient of The Boyfriend List was one of the reasons I picked it up in the first place.

[3]Because mentioning it here obviously doesn't count as complaining about it at all.

[4] Although it's worth noting that the best selling YA books of recent memory, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga, feature covers that could be the gothic siblings of the original Roo covers, what with their choice to focus on thematically important things rather than a picture of any one character

[5] My unverified rumors proved to be false, as unverified rumors frequently are. You should still shop independent when you can, but to keep money in your local economy, not because of my misinformation. See Amanda's comment for more information!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


In the latest issue of Voice of Youth Advocates, it says that they are looking for more reviewers. You can find their reviewer application kit here.