Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Absent by Katie Williams

Williams, Katie. Absent. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 05/21/13. Print. 

3 Word Book Talk: Ghost Rumor Revenge

Annotation: If you died before your time and found life on the other side as a ghost, perpetually stuck in the purgatory of high school, what would you do with your days? Is there a way out of there? What if you were a suicide?

Review: How involved could it be in just under 200 pages, I thought? I tend to prefer the meatier books, the ones with 300-400 pages that have time to get somewhere before they are over. Boy, was I wrong here. May I venture to say that it is a sign of true genius to create a story that is, all at once, mystery, meta-physical, clique-crossing, revenge, love, empathy for fellow human being, greater understanding of human nature, coming-of-age, coming-of-death, coming-of-soul story?

Williams begins Absent with three teenage ghosts (really!) wandering endlessly around the high school where they died, trying to come to terms with not being able to do anything to affect the status quo, which is for them, not about being dead so much as about what other students are saying about them. Talk about endless purgatory, right? 

What makes Absent special is the truly fantastic writing, many lines are so good they are quotable. But what's also great is the deep characterizations of the three ghosts. You think it's just creative license stolen by Williams to throw three deaths in the same high school at you, just so she has a story with someone else for the protagonist to talk to. Not so. This is what brings me to the truly shining bit: the plotting. The fact that right when you don’t realize you’re getting somewhere, all at once it is like, SHAZAM! There is a deep mystery thriller here right under your nose. As well as a coming-to-terms-with-who-you-are-even-though-you-are-now-dead tale of discovery, shock, redemption, and finally, transcendence.

In under 200 pages.

Seriously brilliant.

genres: mystery / metaphysical / paranormal / ghosts / death / grief / suicide / contemporary / romance / coming-of-age / ya fiction

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Relic by Heather Terrell

Terrell, Heather. Relic. New York: Soho Teen, an imprint of Soho Press, Inc., Expected Release 10/29/2013. Print.

3 Word Booktalk: Apple Relics Bad!

Annotation: If the world flooded and the small amount of human survivors were reduced to living like the Dark Ages, what would they think, 200 years in the future, when they uncover our remains, of our Apple, our Prozac, our Mastercard? 

Review: Eva just lost her brother Eamon, who was going to the Testing with other candidates, to attempt to win the honor of Chief Archon, a role their father won years before. But Eamon was questioning the status quo, and it got him killed before he could even Test. Enter Eva, a Maiden of the Aerie, (yes, down to the head-to-toe gown, think Dark Ages) who decides to take Eamon's place in the Testing, after finding that the Lex (like their Bible, up there in New North) actually permits females to Test, even though it had not been done in 150 years.  Eva is, of course, a more determined female than average, and when things during the Testing don't add up, she (like Eamon before her) starts to question everything the Lex and her people of the Aerie, have led her to believe is true -- about them, about the Boundary people who "serve" them, and ultimately about their humans that lived before the flood (the Healing) took that civilization. 

Ok, here we go. On Amazon, it says this book is a cross between The Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games, hoping to entice readers who love that sort of thing. It isn't. The only similarities are this: female protagonist in a dystopian world, some kind of testing and competition, rulers that are insidious in their desire to protect the status quo, a world where the people live in the style of the Dark Ages with patriarchal gender roles. That's it. It is an insult to both writers of TGoT and HG to even compare this book to those. 

This is a sophomoric effort at best. Most of the characters were rather flat, when they could have been fleshed out so much more. The plot was rather predictable, and you know which way it is going to go at every turn, believe me, which bored me. Ditto to the transparent and trite future love triangle.

However, I did like the concept of people in the future misconstruing Apple as something we people of today thought of as God, and that the no-longer-functioning computer relics were glass worship alters. That our society was overdependent on Mastercard, Visa, Prozac and other "remedies" like Tylenol and Ambien, failing to see the true meaning of life. But this great concept also wasn't fleshed out as much as it could've been. Good concept, weak delivery. 

I didn't even start becoming interested until the last 30-40 pages, when Eva started to deviate from the plan and show some initiative, making the trajectory of the plot start to also take off, just when the book was ending, which pissed me off. What we are left with is a small desire to see if the next book (yes, another @#$?&! series! Is the stand-alone book now dead, I ask you?)

I don't know if that little itch is one I am willing to scratch. The first book was a bit of a snooze and I'm not sure I would invest the time, when there are some seriously fantastic books out there, just waiting to be read. (Read my recent review of The Dream Thieves if you doubt this.)

Genres: dystopian / science fiction / fantasy / ya fiction

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sinners and the Sea - Review

Kanner, Rebecca. Sinners and the Sea. New York: Howard Books - Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 04/02/2013. Print.


We all know people thought Noah was crazy. A storm coming to flood the whole earth? Yeah, right. That boat you're building is going to save two of every species, including you and your family? Good luck with that. What did his wife think about all this? He would be a tough guy to be married to, for sure.


Rebecca Kanner breathes life into an extremely old tale - that of Noah and his Ark. The fabulous twist is that she tells it from his wife's perspective, a woman the Bible didn't even see fit to assign a name. Using that oversight to her advantage, Kanner weaves a tale of mystery, suspense, shame, regret, bravery, and strife, all around a woman who becomes for us, and herself, the true hero of the story, and ultimately of her own life, proving once again (or maybe from the get-go of human time), that behind every great man stands a much greater (but often overlooked) woman.

Feared and hated in her native village for bearing a facial port-wine stain upon her face, seen as the mark of the Devil, our young female protagonist is an unfortunate burden to the father that loves her. All efforts to find her a husband and send her away for her own safety, fall on fallow ground, until finally crazy old Noah arrives on the scene, looking for a truly virtuous wife, in a land where all are hopeless sinners. Fitting the bill, she goes off with this muttering, dottering, crazy-for-God old man, sure he isn't long for this world. 

And her life is never the same. 

She arcs from a hated, feared, unnamed girl to a fierce, strong, determined woman truly deserving of the name hero. She survives not only Noah, with his determination to follow his God's will, (which involves a crazy scheme to survive a killer storm that will flood the earth), but also the multitudes who would kill for a place on the Ark her family builds, and finally her own offspring, who alternately please, fail and disappoint her, to become mother of the entire human race.

I'd say the girl had one helluva arc.

Rebecca Kanner's writing career is sure to have the same. Sinners and the Sea is written with great, descriptive prose; Kanner captures this time in history with visceral aptitude. We feel for this woman, who tries so very hard, both as a wife and a mother, to fulfill all that is expected of her, even at the expense of her own strength, sanity and heart. We feel connected to her struggle, cheer her small victories, and wish for a happy outcome to the truly arduous life of this unnamed woman. 

Mostly, we root for her to be granted a name.

Genres: historical fiction / mythology / religion / Christian Fiction / biblical / adventure / adult fiction / literary fiction

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2)

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Dream Thieves. New York: Scholastic Press, 09/17/2013. Print.

3 Word Booktalk* -- Dark Dream Magic

Annotation: Ronan's dad had a secret, and now he's dead. But Ronan has the same secret; he's a dream thief.

What if you could steal something from your dreams? Would that be a dream come true? So what happens when something follows you out of your nightmares? Ronan's going to find out.


Love Letter to Maggie,

Well, you just keep getting better and better, don't you? Not only an incredible weaver of intersecting plot lines, but ones that seem to develop straight from the conflict between these incredibly nuanced, deep and delightfully complicated characters who, as a reader, I fall in love with, hate with, or I'm loving hating them. The sheer electric tension between some of these characters crackles off the page in a such a tangible way it makes me almost recoil with the shock of it. Who are these people, Maggie? Did you know them? Are they modeled after people you know? They play so completely off each other, and while I am reading them, I see you perform the omniscient third person point of view so flawlessly I am feeling their emotions -- how they feel about each other, their hopes, fears and deepest desires -- as if I am a virtual body snatcher. If ever I thought you were a good, solid writer before, I have to say, you have grown so far beyond solid you've become a word magician of character, chemistry and plot creation. Go Maggie!

I can honestly say that book two is even better than the first book, and I can't possibly wait until the third book comes out. 

Whoever's not reading this right now is seriously missing out on the sweet spot of YA today.

Maggie, you have proven that truly great writing takes place firmly outside any genre labels. YA may be all the rage right now, but it is largely because writers like you have chosen to embrace that very unique period of life when all of us humans must decide just who we are going to be. Plumbing the depth of possibilities there -- with all the choices arrayed before us, opportunities shunned or seized, and pitfalls largely inevitable --- is what makes the metamorphosis from child to adulthood such a mesmerizing and memorable event. 

And what makes readers of YA so addicted to it.

Genre: paranormal / ghosts / fantasy / urban fantasy / supernatural / romance / mystery / contemporary / coming-of-age / YA lit

Check out the Book Trailer:


*From the 3 Word Booktalk by
Karen Jensen MLS
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Youth Services Librarian, Betty Warmack Branch Library
Reviewer for VOYA magazine since 2001

The Raven Boys - YA Review

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. New York: Scholastic Press, 2012. Print.

3 Word Booktalk* -- Magical Boy Trouble

Annotation: All the psychics in Blue's family tell her the same thing, if Blue kisses her true love, he will die. A buzz kill if ever there was one. 

Review: Out on a magical errand on St. Mark's Eve, Blue and her aunt are monitoring the Corpse Road to note the appearance of spirits that night, those of which who will die within the next year. Here Blue meets Gansey for the first time, and she is haunted by the knowledge of his future demise. Next she meets him in person, quite by accident, but doesn't tell him what she knows.

Well, Maggie is just getting better and better! As she has done before, (Shiver, Linger and Forever) she introduces us to a rather mediocre protagonist, Blue, in the first book of this series, The Raven Boys. Blue seems to be the voice of reason at the epicenter of all the more interesting characters that bloom, blossom and explode around her - Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, and Blue's mother and more interesting aunts and cousins. Blue herself lacks magic, but her mother and all the aunts and cousins, living together in their "house of psychics," possess the gift in one way or another. Blue's only magical talent is she is like a "WiFi hotspot" for everyone else's power. This includes increasing the power coursing through an ancient and magical ley line (Blue's mother, aunts and cousins know it as the "Corpse Road") that the Raven Boys are certain runs through the quaint town of Henrietta, VA, the finding of which has them all in quite a twist. Especially Gansey, who had dedicated his not-yet-even-an-adult-yet life to finding it. A old-money rich boy, he believes it will lead him to an ancient king, Glendower, who, once found, will re-animate and somehow grant the finder one monumental magical wish, one that goes way beyond the desire of money for Gansey. For Adam, having Gansey's kind of money would be wish enough.

Can't imagine why they are all in such a twist.

Oh, and Blue still has that secret she's keeping, and she's torn between the attentions of Adam, and the orbital pull of Gansey, who's spirit she encountered walking that corpse road on St. Mark's Eve, which means that he is going to be dead within a year. Does that means he is the "one" and she kisses him, sealing his fate? 

Will Blue find her first love among the Raven Boys, and yet avoid her first kiss? Will Gansey and his friends find the ley line and the ancient king, Glendower? 

The characters are so deep, nuanced and resonant, it feels like you are getting to know real people in The Raven Boys, and then you start caring about them, and next worrying over their fates. 

(Sidebar: Adam so keenly reminded me of E from Entourage I began to see E in my head whenever Adam was in a scene.)

This is classic Maggie. She starts off with her protagonist, introducing her to all these other characters, and as the protagonist gets to know them, so does Maggie, and then, so do we. It is as if she hands them the pen, and they wink and run off with it and with us, and we fall in love. The fact that she can do it with not just one, but many supporting characters, is a singular talent of Ms. Stiefvater's alone.

By the time The Raven Boys ends, you are dying to know what is going to become of each of them  - Gansey, Blue, Adam and Ronan. Especially Ronan. We are given hints when Ronan is found by Gansey in a church at night, in quite a state, cupping a baby raven to his chest, as if he'd just given birth to it.

Genre: paranormal / ghosts / fantasy / urban fantasy / supernatural / romance / mystery / contemporary / coming-of-age / YA lit

*(This great idea comes from a this great librarian below, discovered on the YALSA listserv.)

The 3 Word Booktalk
Karen Jensen MLS
Teen Librarian Toolbox
Youth Services Librarian, Betty Warmack Branch Library
Reviewer for VOYA magazine since 2001

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Testimonial to Metro State University Class LIT332 with Adela Peskorz, the Wonder Professor

The past fourteen blog posts have been the result of a class at Metro State University, LIT332, adolescent literature. I have another blog, Words and Wind Move Me, where I had already been blogging on YA, but the class required me to start a new one and close the privacy settings. This blog is the result, and I like the name better. I think it will come up on search engines more frequently. Now that the class is closed, I have secured permission to take this blog public.

Being an aspiring writer of the genre, and having it be my go-to for a good read, I already felt I knew much about YA, so I thought LIT 332 was going to be a cakewalk. I have to confess, it was not an easy road; there was a ton of work. But looking back, I can’t imagine where I would trim anything out. When you do finally cross the end of the semester finish line, not only are you proud of yourself, but you know you are made of sterner stuff; you have developed a core that previously lacked, a strength now honed to a fine point. You feel invigorated and ready to take on anything. 

The course was so well-crafted and honed, everything we read, wrote and discussed funneled masterfully into our final group project. It was like listening to a symphony of perfect notes racing toward their crescendo. The challenge -- of teasing out which YA book possessed the most essential qualities of the Young Adult canon to deserve our award -- was one I feel we raced wholeheartedly to meet. 

The course was both a pleasure and an honor to share part in. I feel forever altered by it, and know it has set me firmly on the path to a future within YA Literature -- be it writer, editorial assistant, or teacher, (or professional blogger anyone?). Yes, you will work for it; this course is not for the faint of heart, but no other course I have taken has made such a profound difference in widening and deepening my scope of knowledge and synthesis of a topic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Survivor

Opdyke, Irene, and Armstrong, Jennifer. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. 
New York: Random House, Inc., 1999. Print.


One teenage girl has more courage than twenty grown men as she defied the occupying Nazis to hide Jews right under their noses.


When it comes to Nazi Germany, you don't need to write fictional stories. The truth is so much stranger and bizarre and horrifying than fiction, there is no need to write anything but those true accounts -- so brave, inspiring, and rivetingly awful. But what an amazing example of the good in the human spirit soaring above the worst examples of what humans can do, in this sad period of our history: the Holocaust.

Irene Gut Opdyke was just a teenage girl when the Nazis invaded her homeland of Poland. Training to be a nurse, she was caught between the Nazis and the Russians as they fought over ground in her country. Her story is unbelievably tragic and brutal. Her bravery, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice would be impressive for even a war hero, but when considering she was a very young woman, are downright astounding. Her story is honest and never self-congratulatory. Her multiple acts of humanity were to her the only possible ones she could ever have made.

Jennifer Armstrong, an award-winning author of historical fiction, best known for Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, which won three separate book awards, (1999 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor in nonfiction, 1999 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction, 1999 Riverbank Review Children's Books of Distinction - nonfiction) wrote Irene's story (as told to her) in first person narrative as Irene, providing such an immediate and raw connection to Irene and her experiences through the Holocaust as to put the reader right smack in the middle of it themselves. Being a writer, Armstrong handles Irene's story with such amazing respect and reverence, infusing each emotive scene with beautiful and haunting prose that allows this true account to read as lovely as any fiction, but always the reader is acutely aware that this is no fiction

I am of the opinion that the Holocaust is a story that lends itself particularly well to nonfiction, because it is precisely the personal, true aspect of it's horrors punctuated with contrasting acts of humanity and hope that makes any fictional tale of it seem frivolous at best, sacrilege at worst. There are enough personal, true accounts to be cautionary tales there is no need to make any up.

In My Hands won 1999 Children's Bookseller's Cuffies Award for best autobiography, 2000 Association of Booksellers for Children's Choices Award in nonfiction, and the 2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 2000 Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction - nonfiction. It is obvious that this is truly a highly regarded work, especially relevant to children and teens precisely because it is  a true account of a teen who experiences extraordinary events of history first hand, and not only doesn't allow herself to be a victim of this horrible time in human history, but becomes who she is going to be defined as a person precisely because she isn't passive, but is active, is instrumental, in saving lives and making a difference during a war when it seemed not many people dared to do so. Her story is one relatable and inspiring to all readers, but especially to teens who need stories and real-life heroes such as Irene Gut Opdyke.

I read this book because Jennifer Anderson nominated it (for a Mock-Printz) and wrote such a compelling case for it in our MSU discussion board. I want Jennifer to know that if I had finished it before nominations, I very well might have nominated it. I am positive I would have put it up for a honor. She was spot-on in her blog post when she summed it up with one word: magnificent.

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir, Coming-of-Age, Multicultural

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ship Breaker

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2010. Print.


Breaking down ships ain't all that's breaking. Bones, backs and spirits follow closely behind in this hard life in a dystopian future where American reaps what they've sown, a catastrophic life for many. Nailer is looking for a way out.


In writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, the world-building is a huge part of it, and the creativity and amazing work done by Paolo Bacigalupi -- here in this dark, cruel dystopian world of America -- is so very visceral one can not help but think how much more it takes to craft a story such as this. 

Not only have you a quest -- the hero's journey -- but you have the character arc of a fully drawn protagonist, Nailer, along with great supporting characters -- Pima, Sadna, Tool, Lucky Girl -- a fantastically evil villain -- Richard Lopez (Nailer's own father), and one amazingly tale. This is so much harder to accomplish than realistic fiction, where the writer just draws from experience for the setting, people, etc. There is nowhere near the level of imagination and research in a realistic novel as there is in any good sci-fi/fantasy. I am in awe of writers like George R. R. Martin, Suzanne Collins, Veronica Roth, Christopher Paolini and J.K. Rowling. Building worlds that work, and are plausible -- with problems and conflicts that are inherent to that world, and are key to the working plot -- takes serious talent and a layered imagination! My hats off to Mr. Bacigalupi for joining their ranks.

Nailer is a teenage boy with problems far beyond anything a teenager today deals with. With the coastal area of futuristic America he lives in reduced to a third-world slum, Nailer works in what amounts to a back-breaking job on 'light crew' breaking down beached oil-burning freighters of the past just to survive. He lives in a shack with a horrifying father who drinks, gets high and gleefully beats him as if it were a game. Every day, Nailer risks his life for a job that he could lose at any second on the whim of an evil crew boss or an accident deep in the bowels of a ship's vent system. Most of his crew members and community are untrustworthy, but a select few luckily have his back. 
When a storm beaches one of the beautiful white clipper sailing boats Nailer only dreams about, he and trusted crew member Pima think their luck has changed and brought them the Lucky Strike salvage of their dreams. When they discover a rich "swank" girl alive in the wreck, it is a deal changer. Kill her? Ransom her? Help her? This moment is the moment that changes everything.

Genre: Dystopian/Science FictionFantasy, Coming of Age

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  New York: Little Brown & Co., 2007. Print.


Junior has to get off the rez if he doesn't want to die a drunk Indian. 

Reason for Nomination:

Every reason! Sherman Alexie is a master storyteller. It is funny, bittersweet, insightful, irreverent, and it's a damn good story. Plus, it has wonderful little cartoons added to give it that "graphic novel" element, but with really great writing and dialogue, something I think the graphic novels lack.

Arnold Spirit is Junior, a fourteen-year-old Spokane Reservation Indian trying to make it in a world that has tried to sequester and kill off all that's left of his own kind. But his own kind is doing a good job of hurrying their own demise by drinking themselves dead first. 

An intelligent, book-loving, thoughtful, sensitive geek, Junior is a keen observer of people and of life, and draws cartoons to touch on what is universal in humanity. As he says, a cartoon is understood by anyone, speaking any language. Every teen can relate to them, as well as Junior's search to find his place in an often hostile world.

Junior takes a long-view of life on the rez, and sees that his only chance to thrive -- hell, even survive -- is to make it on the outside, by first attending a white school. But that means being a traitor to his own kind, and worse yet, his best friend. His journey to find his identity in a white world without losing the parts of himself and his heritage that are Spokane Indian is a tightrope act with dizzying ramifications.

Genre Categories: Humor, Alex Award Winner, Adult-Market Author, Censored/Challenged, Multicultural, Coming-of-Age/Search for Identity, Problem Novel/Realistic/Edgy Fiction.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Book Thief

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf, A Division of Random House Children's Books. 2006. Print.


How the lives of a teenage book thief, an accordian player, and a Jewish fist fighter intertwine during Nazi Germany,
as narrated by "Death." 

Justification for Award Rejection:

I do admit, it is a good story, the plot is good and interesting and I am even partial to historical fiction. But it doesn't deserve a Printz. Here is why:

To be Printz worthy, first and for most, it really should be YA, and it should be fantastic YA.
For a yes vote, there HAS to be emotional connection to the protagonist of the story. That protagonist must resonate with the reader and have a character arc, meaning they must start at the beginning one way, and by the end of it be forever altered, showing an arc of growth that the teen reader can not only relate to, but journey with themselves. For it to be really great, that journey must feel profound. 

I am asking all of you to get your inner teen lens on.

Historical fiction is a tough sell to teens, but can be done. The only way I've seen it ever work on a teen is when it is written in FIRST PERSON NARRATIVE, or a close Third Person. Today's teen will only crawl back in time if they can crawl into the teen's head that is telling the story. And the story better hold elements of coming-of-age that teen reader can fully relate to.

Let's view The Book Thief through that teen lens.

It is entirely plot driven, and it is very unclear who the protagonist is. The reader is in no way intimate with the protagonist.

As a device for writing in Limited Omniscient Point-of-View, the author chooses Death as the narrator. At first I thought this was going to be interesting, but we never learn a damn thing about Death as a character, but for the predictably trite snarky "grim reaper" comments. Now, teenagers are extremely interested in death, as proven by risk-taking behavior, fascination with all things vampire, etc. If I was going to write a YA book with Death as the one speaking, Death would be the PROTAGONIST. Because Death would be one interesting dude to talk to. 

A teen might ask Death:

How did you become Death? Is it just a job given you by God? Or given you by the Devil? Was it a punishment? Or do you enjoy doing it? How long have you been doing it? Who did it before you? Have you ever been talked out of taking somebody? If so, did you get in trouble for it? Were there fateful ramifications, like upsetting the time/space continuum? Have you ever gotten attached to a human? If so, why? Did you then spare them death because of that attachment? Do souls that kill others (as in Hitler) go straight to Hades, or are they serving a necessary job for other souls to grow, and so actually fulfill some weird type of villain casting in this 3D world we call reality? What happens to us when we do go with you, Death?

So, in my opinion, the "Death" narrating this story is so pathetically ill-used -- not fully drawn. Other than the couple times he interjects his snarky "death humor" his limited "2D voice" fades right into third person narrative -- SO DAMN IRRITATING.

Who then, is the PROTAGONIST? Is it Leisel? Hans? Max? Hans is the most sympathetic character; I liked him quite well. However, he was a middle aged man, with possibly a character arc, but this limited omniscient point of view left me, (and I strongly believe, any teen reader) very distanced from him as well as all of the characters, on an emotional level. Liesel shows no real character arc, and especially not one of YA. There is no character here for the teen to identify with, emotionally or otherwise.

What would this book have looked like if it was told in (changing) First-Person Narrative? If first Leisel told the story, then other chapters were given to Hans being the Protag, then Max? I think I would have loved to hear Rosa in first-person. However, a wise writing teacher once told my class sternly, if you have a character that you as a writer, are giving a tic, or a word/phrase that they like to say, to identify with them, you must use them SPARINGLY -- you need to realize that one "Dude" in dialogue counts for ten. The very same goes for "Saumensch" or "Saukerl." Rosa (and later even Liesel) whips these out so much that by the tenth time I read them I started to wonder if it was the first (or only) German word Zusak ever knew.

Speaking again of IRRITATING, there is nothing I hate more than a writer that is trying to hard with the prose. I'm all for lyrical writing, if it is well done, but if a writer is using descriptive words that not only do not apply, buy obscure meaning, that is just irritating as all hell and says to me they are trying way too hard. The same goes with using a word in the wrong tense. ARRRRGGGHHH!

Examples, so you don't think I'm full of crap:

"You will be caked in your own body." (Location 21) Caked? Really?

"A gang of tears trudged from her eyes." (location 252) Gang? Trudged? Trying too hard.

"Liesel was tempted to ask her the meaning, but it never eventuated." (location 284)
 Why would you use the word eventuated? Why?

". . . eyes were swampy and brown. Thick and heavy." (location 2478) When thinking of eyes, what do you think swampy means? Or thick?  Just annoying.

"the mayor's wife was sitting hunch-drunk over at the desk." (location 2813) 
I have no idea!

There were some verb-tense situations also, but I unfortunately did not highlight them. Believe me, they were there, and I think it was purposeful, like a "break the rules because I can" thing, just like sentence fragments are used, often to good effect. The verb-tense errors did not work. At all.

Finally, let's talk length. I'm all for a good fantasy or adult novel being 500 plus pages long, but if you are doing YA, and it is 400 or more pages, it damn well better be a fantasy. They let you have that many pages due to the necessary world-building that goes into fantasy/sci-fi. But at 576 pages, with no clear protagonist, this historical fiction was WAY TOO LONG for YA. I am an avid reader. I consume books as a favorite past-time. I love YA as a preferred genre to both read and write in. I was very excited to read this because it was so highly recommended by y'all. Instead of zooming through this, I was falling asleep every time I picked it up within 10 pages, so it took me forever to slog through it. That is why The Book Thief does not deserve our Mock Printz Award.

Genre: Printz, Historical Fiction, Coming of Age, Fantasy. 
(I challenge all of these but the Historical Fiction heading.)

If I Stay

Forman, Gayle. If I Stay. New York: Dutton Books, A member of the Penguin Group Inc., 2009. Print.


 It seems like Mia has everything. Cool parents, a best friend, a fantastic boyfriend, a shot at getting into Juilliard as a cellist.  If tragedy wiped out half of your equation, could you go on? Is the choice yours? Mia has to decide to stay in the world, or take her chances with the next.


Mia is a seventeen year old classical cellist with cool rockers for parents, a dedicated best friend, and an emo-core musician boyfriend on his way to stardom.
Yet still she doesn't feel like she "fits" into her life. Even her little brother is blond like her parents, but she's brunette. Her parents seemed to have a bit of difficulty adjusting to her classic geeky leanings. Mia wonders why Adam loves her, when he could have any one of all the cool rocker girls that follow him at his gigs, that can easily "rock-talk" when she can't. Adam's shows and his whole scene leaves Mia uncomfortable, even though she does loves him. 

Forman starts If I Stay with supporting characters that are so one-dimensional and saccharine, they don't ring true. The dialogue was at first completely irritating and predictable. Maybe Forman does this to make the protagonist Mia's life seem perfect and normal, so that when the tragedy hits it will have more of a jarring impact. The problem is, this beginning could cause a reader to stop before they even get to the good part. 

If the reader should persevere, the story will lose a few of the offending characters, and Mia's inner voice will find its depth and promise. Told almost entirely in backstory (exposition), If I Stay manages to stay in first person narrative by allowing Mia's consciousness, (or soul), to follow her people around, allowing her to eavesdrop on happenings outside of the view from where her physical body is stationed. Foreman breaks the "rules" with all this exposition, but does manage to drop in the shining moments of Mia's life's memories just when needed, allowing the reader to judge, along with Mia, whether she has enough to stay for.

From the YA perspective, I wonder what the story would be like if the protagonist had more problems in her life, like many teens really do, making the question of "staying" more of an unknown quantity. Mia isn't a girl with any kind of moral dilemma, not the kind some teens struggle with. Still it is a well-written story, and has a few moments of beautiful prose, and still manages to wring a few tears toward the end. I just would not log it as one of my favorites. 

Genre Category: Coming of Age/Search for Identity, Romance

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tell The Wolves I'm Home

Brunt, Carol Rifka. Tell the Wolves I’m Home. New York: The Dial Press, imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., 2012. Print.


Only spend time with the best people. Words to live, (and die) by.

Justification for Mock-Printz Nomination:

We all live with the fear of not ever truly being known. Many of us live quietly on the fringes of our lives or at the edges of others’, so to find someone that gets you, really gets you -- on a soul to soul level -- is rare; it’s like being struck by lightning. This isn’t about romantic love, or parental love, but about soul love. 

It is also about loss, choice, and moral dilemma. About jealousy, regret, and letting go with dignity. About forgiveness, recognition, and the beauty that exists all around us in the small things. It is about acceptance, blindness, and fallibility.

To minimize this story by limiting it to it’s plot details would be like trying to reduce the ocean to letters on the periodic table. What I can say is that I forgot I was reading a story, written by a writer -- a work of fiction. For me, this book is alive and the people in it are real -- more raw, vivid and filled with human emotion than anyone I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Because most of us will never let anyone climb in this close, give anyone this much honesty, this sharp of a shameless look inside, as seen here, from June. I had to flip around after reading this book to see if it was true, a memoir perhaps, based on the author’s life. Even if it is not, June, Finn, Greta and Toby live for me. Carol Rifka Brunt has done the impossible as a writer -- she has birthed real people, real souls -- with words from her own. And with that, they lift right off the page.

Genre Categories: ALEX Award Winner, Multicultural (LGBTQ), Realistic/”Edgy”/Problem novel, Romance. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Chbosky, Stephen. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York: Gallery Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc. 1999. Print.


LIfe as a watcher has its perks, but to really live, Charlie is going to have to get involved.


In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is a profound thinker with a deep-down wrong done to him by someone he loved greatly, and he struggles through his coming-of-age experience as mostly a passive observer of life, until things push him over the edge, and he must engage, with often explosive and reverberating results. His journey from passive to active participant can't begin until he stops running from this truth and reconciles the past with his present.

Chbosky uses the literary device of having his protagonist, Charlie, tell Perks through letters he writes addressed only to an anonymous "friend", but this is used to further enhance the sense of Charlie's passivity, by distancing the reader, making them another observer in Charlie's world.

Perks may have swearing, sex, homophobia, molestation, abortion, suicide, depression, anxiety, drinking, drugs, etc., which I'm sure garnered it attention from crazed censors who think monkey see monkey do, but it was and still is a highly accurate portrayal of the teen experience. It was also honest, potent, relevant, and profoundly bittersweet, and Charlie's words express what every teen struggles with: being alone, connecting with others, and finding strength to go on in a world that doesn't always have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Genre: Challenged, Censored and Banned Books, Realistic/"Edgy"/Problem Novel, Multicultural (LGBTQ), Coming-of-Age/Search for Identity.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Every Day

Levithan, David. Every Day. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.


Body Hijacking -- the ultimate identity theft.


How many of us can say that we’ve ever loved someone entirely, exclusively, for who they are on the inside

What would it be like to have a soul, but not have a body? What would life be like if it meant “borrowing” someone else’s body every day, never the same one twice? How could you ever love or be loved, if you were never the same “person” every day?

I thought I wasn’t going to like this. I usually want, and expect, to climb into stories and get to know the protagonist, his people, his setting, and settle in to his interactions and tale with the other characters. The idea that my protagonist was unable to be described, because he didn’t possess a body, really wasn’t working for me. And then it did. Once “A”s voice began to consistently express itself with a trajectory that transcended the bodies he/she was in every day I jumped on board. I consistently thought of “A” as male, perhaps because the first body he was in was male, and he fell in love with that guy’s girlfriend, a heterosexual girl, so I started to categorize “A” as male because of that and because it made his love interest, Rhiannon, the most comfortable.

“A” has been jumping bodies as long as he/she has been conscious of being alive, and it happens at midnight each and every day. “A”’s age seems to correspond to the age of the bodies he/she jumps in, and “A” grows up at the same pace. In the story, “A” is now sixteen. Jumping takes place into a body that is geographically located within a few minutes to a few hours of the last one, so if that body ends up in say, Hawaii that day, on a plane, “A”’s next jump would strand him in Hawaii, unless another body he was in moved that day somewhere else. “A” always tries to maintain the status quo for the person’s life he is borrowing for the day, trying to “do no harm” and even leave things better when leaving than when arriving, if possible. But when “A” ends up in Justin’s body, and meets Rhiannon, he falls hard, and all bets are now off as “A” hijacks each subsequent body to try to stay connected to her, even if just a voyeuristic venture; soon that wears “A” down.

Risking all to reveal his true nature to Rhiannon, “A” strives to connect in a way most of us take for granted -- to love and be loved -- for more than one day. But everything goes terribly wrong; errors are made that set in motion a reckoning that could prove disastrous to both Rhiannon and “A”. How much is it worth? How much is “A” willing to risk? What if there was a way for him/her to stay?

The beauty in “A”’s experience is we are able to see what it is like to “try on” people and truly “walk a mile in their shoes” aka their bodies, to ultimately learn to accept and understand all types of people -- the geek, the beauty queen, the mean girl, the jock, the lesbian, the gay male, the trans-gendered, the fat guy: teens of all shapes, sizes, skin colors, cultures, gender and/or sexual affiliations -- and truly see that our humanity is universal and should be embraced. That life should really be about kindness, connection, love and moral integrity.

Genre Categories: Romance, Multicultural (LGBTQ), Paranormal/Fantasy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Mcnamee, Graham. Acceleration. New York: Laurel Leaf, Division of Random House Children’s Books. 2005. Print.


How does a punk like Duncan go from unsuccessfully stealing a $600 toilet to trying to catch a serial killer? 


How Graham Mcnamee manages to cram one big cardiac arrest into a mere 210 tense pages is worth the price of admission on to one very fast subway train. Let’s see if the acceleration kills you.

Characterizations: Human, flawed, funny, tragic, complex across the board. And the protagonist is so very relatable to other teens today. Duncan is just a 17-year-old punk, living in the low-rent part of town, with little future but petty crimes and crappy jobs, but at his core, he’s struggling for more. A haunting past failure acts as a spur to his subconscious flank, making stopping the psycho all the more important to who Duncan is going to ultimately be.

Pacing: Builds and builds, ratcheting up the speed and tension until you want to pop. I literally started this in the morning and read it all the way through without stopping. I haven’t done that with a book in fifteen years.

Plot: Masterful. Every time you think you know where it’s going, it takes a sharp curve. Every scene, every thought, every move accelerates the story to it’s explosive conclusion. 

Genre: Mystery/Thriller, Coming-of-age, Realistic/edgy fiction

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy

Meyer, L.A. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc. 2002. Print.


Life on the streets of London in 1797 ain't no place for an orphan - aye, it be a hard and short one. Life on a navel ship ain't no place for a girl, but for a boy it be one helluva adventure. So Mary becomes Jack, and so it begins.

Justification for Nomination:

At first I wasn't going to nominate this for our Mock-Printz, because I started to worry that I shouldn't nominate everything I liked, as the criteria for the Printz demands the highest degree of excellence. I also figured a historical fiction adventure on the high seas would be considered outside the box for fiction popular today, so wouldn't be considered for a Printz. I was just going to say how much I liked it, but still turn it away.

Then I realized that I liked this book so much more than anything else I'd read so far this semester, perhaps because adventures and historical fiction both hold a special place in my heart, so just because they aren't the fiction du jour doesn't mean they should be disqualified for the Printz. So here I go -

Louis A. Meyer really nails the back streets of London in the late 1700's - the smells, death, poverty, dirt and grit, the orphans, body-snatchers, petty thieves and cutthroats. Seen through the eyes and told with the very distinct and believable voice of a young girl named Mary Faber, Bloody Jack transcends black and white words on the page to become full technicolor life in 1797. The cockney British dialect of the lower class flavors Mary with a realism more heartfelt than many of today's modern realistic YA fictions. Forced to grow up and fend for herself at an alarmingly young age, Mary is both resourceful and shrewd, and discovers in short order that cutting off her hair and donning the clothes of her dear departed friend Charlie will afford her the safety and many freedoms not possible as a female. Seizing a rare opportunity to board a naval ship as one of six ship's boys, Mary becomes Jack, and is soon learning the ways of sailors and service, seeing the world, chasing and battling pirates.

But as adolescence intervenes, Mary has more trouble keeping up with what she calls The Deception. They say a woman on board a ship is trouble, and even though no one knows "Jack's" secret, the trouble brews anyway, putting him/her at the center of a convergence of bad blood and revenge.

Jack's voice is true, she explores what it means to be male in a man's world, and feels what it means to be shut out of a lifestyle based on gender. As she matures she discovers her female nature, finds her own moral compass, and puts aside fear and self-preservation in order to save others - all which speak to a coming-of-age theme. The other characters are detailed, nuanced and well-drawn, adding another dimension of realism to Bloody Jack - the friend, the lover, the sage, the foil - so many characters fill out the archetypical roles of the hero's journey. The twists, turns and accidents of fate that land Jack in the middle of events that miraculously save the day are so fun and unexpected, they are a delight to read; I rushed through the pages and couldn't put this down until it was done. I discovered there are nine more in the series, and if it wasn't that I had to read another assigned category, I'd be rushing to be reading them right now. What a rip-roaring and rollicking high sea's ride!

Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure, Romance, LGBTQ

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Last Time I Wore a Dress

Scholinski, Daphne. With Jane Meredith Adams. The Last Time I Wore a Dress. New York: Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1997. Print.


Liking to wear jeans and T-shirts may be a big no-no for women in places like Iraq, but here in the U.S. of A you wouldn't think it would get you committed to a mental institution. But for Daphne, it did. 


To say Daphne Scholinski has an indomitable spirit would be an epic understatement. She grew up in an unhappy home, thankfully her parents divorced, but still neither her mother or father seemed to want to be a parent. Her mother went off to "find herself," leaving Daphne and her little sister to live with their dad, who wasn't a caretaker (even for himself). She was a lonely, angry and misunderstood teenager, who was confused regarding her sexuality, but was not crazy. She was understandably depressed; her parents emotionally abandoned her. She was in desperate need of a nurturing figure and the protection a child should expect while being parented in any loose sense of the word; she might not have been molested continuously by stray neighbors and random passers-by if she'd had those things. She certainly wouldn't have been put in a mental institution during her formative teenage years (from 15 to 18), years critical to her mental and social development and formation of identity.

Writing this memoir, Daphne had the help of Jane Meredith Adams; I am unsure how much of the writing was strictly Daphne's, but her voice rings out in such a raw, ripping, painful way that I heard her loud and clear. When talking about her father's girlfriend she wrote: "She couldn't understand why I didn't get along with my father. She looked at him and saw a guy who tickled her on the couch and I saw a guy who beat me with a belt until I stopped crying. So we were in two different movies."  When discussing her disappointment in a new therapist at the hospital she writes, "Even this man with the kind blue eyes wanted me to cover my face with makeup. The bruises underneath my skin (figurative) - didn't he want to put his finger lightly on each one and say, Tell me about it?"  and later she reflects on "Why the thing they cared the most about was whether I acted the part of a feminine young lady. The shame is that the effects of depression, sexual abuse, violence: all treatable. But where I stood on the feminine/masculine scale: unchangeable. It's who I am." She is so honest, so forthcoming, it is amazing to think she could pull down the massive walls of self-protection she must have needed to withstand her harrowing, amazingly painful nightmare to reveal to her readers such a candid account of her teenage years.

At once both funny and horrifying, Daphne's memoir reads like a novel; she is quite graphic with her descriptions, and it is organized with flashbacks and backstory so artfully threaded throughout her narrative that it never bogs down, but feels as immediate and page-turning as any fiction novel, yet it is real. What was done to her is so wrong it raises the hackles of any reader, but also speaks intimately to those teens grappling with questions of sexual identity and preference, and helps them explore themes of rejection, belonging, self-acceptance and above all strength of the spirit.

Daphne Scholinski is an inspiration. 

Genre: Memoir/ Multicultural (GLBTQ) 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Knoft, Division of Random House, 2010. Print.


It was hard enough watching his mother get hit, so Jace learned just how to deflect his father’s blows from her to himself. Until one day when he’d had enough. And in one moment changed everything.


Reading a story about physical abuse could be a real downer, but Swati Avasthi inflects her protagonist, Jace Witherspoon with a such strong YA voice so full of ironic humor and such no-holds-barred honesty we are riveted to the page, rooting for Jace, even when he disappoints us. Even when he disappoints himself.

With certainty, many teens painfully exist under the tyranny of physical abuse at home, and no matter where Swati Avasthi did her research, whether it was from personal experience or a very close friend, her writing bleeds on the page, it was so visceral. If all it did was bleed, that would be a lot to take, but she lifts it up, and takes us on a journey with Jace, both figuratively and literally, as he flees his parents, his life and mostly himself, and tries to make some sense from what has happened to him, what could happen to the mother he left behind unprotected, and whatever did happen to his brother, who split years before. 

In one scene, Jace sits alone listening to a fight going on in the apartment next door between his brother and his brother’s girlfriend. As it escalates, Jace tensely waits for the sound of blows and crying, as that has been his only experience with disagreements in his life. When those blows don’t come, but instead the sounds of calm resolution and possibly warm embraces, Jace is stunned, wondering how his brother has broken the cycle of ugliness that has claimed them all so fully. He wants to ask him how, but can’t without admitting he was listening, or revealing the very thing he’s running from.

Jace is such a great character, so multifaceted, flawed, conflicted and confused. His first-person narrative is so honest and reflective it is easy to climb into Jace’s head and identify with him, it’s that immediate. Bonus points for all the other characters being so well-developed the reader feels like a fly on the wall in someone’s true-life hidden nightmare. The setting is littered with many references to fast-food, music and books that claim placement in the here and now - middle-class America. The prose is so good, the dialogue so raw, the theme so gritty, and the pacing so like a suspense-thriller, you will willingly take this quest of self with Jace, a perilous journey that will find him profoundly and forever altered. 

When the dust settles, life can rebuild. 

Genre: Realist/Edgy/Problem Novel, Coming of Age, Sports, Romance

Sunday, February 10, 2013

one of the those hideous books where the mother dies

Sones, Sonya. one of the those hideous books where the mother dies. New York: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004. Print.


With a name like Ruby, you'd think going to live in LA with a famous movie star would be a cake walk -- even if his name is Whip. 

Justification for Rejection:

Ruby Milliken, a fifteen-year-old girl from Boston, has to leave her boyfriend and best friend to go live with her father in Los Angeles after her mother dies. Rich and handsome, Whip Logan is a famous movie star that somehow is her father. It seems he divorced Ruby's mother soon after she was born, and she's never met him. If you have to have your mother die, acquiring a lifestyle of the rich and famous doesn't seem like such a bad consolation prize. 

It isn't. 

Ruby is a stereotypical teenage middle-class suburban white girl; her dad is a stereotypical heart-throb Hollywood movie star. Having left her mother after Ruby was born, Whip Logan is actually a nice guy that was just abiding her mother's wishes, but now that Ruby's mother has died, he wants to make it up to Ruby. She gets to live in Hollywood's version of a castle. She attends an exclusive high school for kids of the rich and famous. But Ruby misses her best friend and boyfriend back in Boston, who both miss her back, but predictably turn to each other for comfort (like any reader wouldn't see THAT coming). 

Ruby bonds with her dad's "personal assistant" who is a great guy and bridges the gap for Ruby to forge a relationship with her forgiveness-seeking father. The gay assistant turns out (of course), to be her dad's lover, and they all live happily ever after, (like any reader wouldn't see THAT coming). The fact that Ruby seems to miss her boyfriend and best friend more than she misses her recently deceased mother makes this verse novel miss the mark completely, abandoning one of the best opportunities to delve deeply into serious subject matter and take this into poetic territory. 

This verse novel also doesn't rhyme, have rhythm, isn't in iambic pentameter, doesn't possess any great prose, and would just be a little novel ready to be a Disney Channel movie if the sentences were simply formatted in paragraphs instead of dangling and left-justified with liberal use of white space in order to look like a poem.  

This verse novel is all shiny candy-cane surface. Thumb's down.

Genre: Poetry/Verse Novel