Showing posts from 2014

Belzhar - Meg Wolitzer

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be at home in New Jersey with her sweet British boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.
(Description courtesy of Goodreads)
Wolitzer's book is a mixed bag for me. I love many elements of the novel and found the concept to be quite intriguing. But there were also elements that felt disjointed, and the ending reveal left me feeling less than satisfied. I felt myself connecting to the secondary characters…

"Shouldn't You Be in School?" - Lemony Snicket

Let me make one thing clear, here. This is not a review of Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler). This is not a review of Handler's presentation at the NBA banquet. This is a review of his book. A book, it should be said, that I found enchanting, a word which here means, "I really, really, liked the novel!" So, without further ado, here is my review of the penultimate novel in this particular quadrilogy. Do you smell smoke? Young apprentice Lemony Snicket is investigating a case of arson but soon finds himself enveloped in the ever-increasing mystery that haunts the town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea. Who is setting the fires? What secrets are hidden in the Department of Education? Why are so many schoolchildren in danger? Is it all the work of the notorious villain Hangfire? How could you even ask that? What kind of education have you had? (Description courtesy of Goodreads)As usual, Snicket's descriptive abilities continue to impress me, as does his ability to weave a mul…

The Scar Boys - Len Vlahos

In attempting to describe himself in his college application essay--help us to become acquainted with you beyond your courses, grades, and test scores--Harbinger (Harry) Jones goes way beyond the 250-word limit and gives a full account of his life.

The first defining moment: the day the neighborhood goons tied him to a tree during a lightning storm when he was 8 years old, and the tree was struck and caught fire. Harry was badly burned and has had to live with the physical and emotional scars, reactions from strangers, bullying, and loneliness that instantly became his everyday reality.

The second defining moment: the day in 8th grade when the handsome, charismatic Johnny rescued him from the bullies and then made the startling suggestion that they start a band together. 
Harry's description of his life in his essay is both humorous and heart-wrenching. (Description courtesy of Goodreads)

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. I saw the cover on the shortlist for the Morri…

The Darkest Part of the Forest - Holly Black

As today's review is of a book coming out in 2015, I have asked a fantastic friend of mine to write his own review. So without further ado, here's Dylan Schroeder's write-up of Holly Black's upcoming novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest!

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
The Darkest Part of the Forest marks Holly Black’s return to the faerie genre and you can rest easy knowing that it is a triumphant one. I’ve been a big fan of Holly Black for a long time now, I’ve read all of her YA novels and I have to say that this is probably my personal favourite.
It’s the story of twins Hazel and Ben, who live in the little town of Fairfold, which happens to be nestled right next to a forest filled with faeries. The people of the town trea…

Courage for Beginners - Karen Harrington

It's always difficult to read a second novel from somebody that you so greatly admire. I love Harrington's first novel for young readers, Sure Signs of Crazy. It's dark, deep, and beautiful, and still manages to contain moments of humour in the face of tragedy. But this isn't a review of that first book for young readers. This is a review of Courage for Beginners.
I don't know much, but I do know people stop to look at unusual things. People slow down to look at car accidents. People pull out their cameras to snap pictures of orange sunsets. People lie on the grass in the dark if a news reporter says you might spot a meteor shower after midnight. ... In school I learned that if you are really quiet, people will think you are smart. This is another trick. I'm not smart. I just can't stop thinking. I sit here motionless and still. Thinking. There is nothing else to do. While I must begin by saying that I still like Sure Signs of Crazy the most, I very much enj…

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats - Alicia Potter & Birgitta Sif

I know it's early, BUT I really have almost nothing else to write reviews for right now! I hope you will all read this review, get excited, and eagerly await the book's release!

Miss Hazeltine has plenty of kitty company, and she gives her beloved scaredy-cats lessons in everything from Bird Basics to How Not to Fear the Broom.

The most timid of all is Crumb. He cowers in a corner. Miss Hazeltine doesn't mind. But when she gets in trouble and only Crumb knows where she is, will he find his inner courage and lead a daring rescue?

Sounds fabulous, doesn't it? I mean, considering we live in an age when cat videos rule the interwebz and kitty memes have taken over Facebook, this book will likely find many audiences, from the very young to the much more... uh, mature! Potter and Sif's fabulous picturebook will entice children through its charming illustrations and engaging text. 

Miss Hazeltine's is a book that will comfort the shy and the fearful, but without being ove…

What's New

Okay, so maybe this post is a little bit like cheating. I just got back from a conference, and in the meantime have had no chance to read anything as exam grading is taking up every free moment right now. So, in lieu of a review (I rhymed!), I will post some links to really awesome Top Books lists and links to what other people think will be the most amazing books of next year. I'm not allowed to post my own upcoming favourites for 2015 due to a current committee appointment, but don't you worry, I'm working to get some guest bloggers to help me out in the New Year!

So, here goes...

The Boston Globe's Best Young Adult Books of 2014 (most of which have appeared on my Top 14 of 2014 lists! Here's the first and second list, if you want to go back and look.)

The Guardian also put out a Best Children's Books of 2014 list, which is fun to look at because a number have not shown up on American lists.

And of course, Kirkus and Publishers Weeklyeach put out their respective…

Problem Novels and Contemporary Realistic YA

Dear YA Readers:

I'm not going to begin by dissing problem novels. I have read many good ones, and I believe they have a purpose. I do, however, believe that problem novels should only be a portion of what is out there for teens to read, and I am feeling as though the problem novel is making a comeback in terms of new representations of differing queer genders and sexualities. I've come across a number of novels recently, about bisexuality, intersex and trans teens, and other such emerging identities, but I've noticed there always seems to be the obligatory scene of violence against the other. Similar to early gay YA where the protagonist or secondary character either gets ill or beat up, or dies, many of these newer books feature a character who ends up being injured in the process of coming out or upon their gender/sexual identity being discovered by peers.

While I understand that authors seem to be including these instances of violence in order to lend a sense of realism …

My True Love Gave to Me - Stephanie Perkins (Ed.)

This book was birthed over creme brulee lattes in Charleston, South Carolina.... (Acknowledgments)

Like most short story collections, everyone will find different stories to love and everyone will find other stories less suited to their tastes. That being said, I did not end up finding actually disappointed with any stories in particular. There were some that I liked more than others, but that has more to do with personal taste, I feel, than anything to do with writing style or ability.

This is a really great collection of holiday themed stories, each of which takes a unique spin on what readers might expect. There are stories of simple romance and there are stories filled with magic; there are stories that revolve around every day holiday activities, and others that revolve around the supernatural.

Rainbow Rowell's "Midnights" is the story of a girl and a boy who are trying to figure out how to tell each other how they feel, over a number of New Years Eve parties, is lovel…

The Great Greene Heist - Varian Johnson

Jackson Greene has reformed. No, really he has. He became famous for the Shakedown at Shimmering Hills, and everyone still talks about the Blitz at the Fitz.... But after the disaster of the Mid-Day PDA, he swore off scheming and conning for good.

Then Keith Sinclair -- loser of the Blitz -- announces he's running for school president, against Jackson's former best friend Gaby de la Cruz. Gaby hasn't talked to Jackson since the PDA, and he knows she won't welcome his involvement. But he also knows Keith has "connections" to the principal, which could win him the election whatever the vote count.

So Jackson assembles a crack team to ensure the election is done right: Hashemi Larijani, tech genius. Victor Cho, bankroll. Megan Feldman, science goddess and cheerleader. Charlie de la Cruz, point man. Together they devise a plan that will bring Keith down once and for all. Yet as Jackson draws closer to Gaby again, he realizes the election isn't the only thing h…

The Girl with All the Gifts - M.R. Carey

"As fresh as it is terrifying . . . It left me sighing with envious joy . . . A jewel." -Joss Whedon

Not every gift is a blessing...

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end. (Inside Jacket Flap)

Melanie and her fellow students on the army base are kept in locked cells. When they go to class, they are strapped into wheelchairs, held fast with wrist, foot, and neck restraints. The teachers are all a bit odd, but the reader is kept just enough out of the loop to want to know WHAT THE HELL is going on! One teacher has a drinking problem, one is just boring, and another's (Miss Justineau) conscience is unravelling. When stude…

Absolutely Almost - Lisa Graff

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.
I am going to start this review by talking directly to Lisa Graff: Do you purposely write your books just to make me hungry?! It's making it really difficult to diet when I keep reading about cake and donuts and ice cream! Okay, now that I have that out of the way, let's talk about the book.
Albie finds most things in life to be on the difficult side. He's not a natural at math. He finds reading and writing to be a challenge, and his artistic skills aren't quite what we might call "developed." But Albie is still a good kid, and he means well, even if he doesn't quite get it right all the time. Unfortun…

The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim - e. k. johnston

Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. 
There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim's fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. 
At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes every…

YALSA Symposium 2014 - Highlights

As I sit here in my hotel in Austin, TX, I can't help but feel both satisfied and unsatisfied at the same time. The YALSA Symposium is simply too short, and I feel like I barely got to see all the people I was trying to. At the same time, it was a wonderful opportunity to finally get a bit more connected with YALSA, an organization I've been a member of for a while, though my work has been mostly peripheral where they are concerned. All that being said, I did manage to meet some incredible people and hang out with some good friends as well. Here are some of the highlights!

Lisa Yee and Jonathan Auxier are hilarious and some of the nicest people you could hope to run into in a strange city!

Jacqueline Woodson made me feel totally starstruck. And the same goes for Bruch Coville. I managed not to have a Judy Blume snot bubble incident this time, though, so I guess my suaveness is improving...

I had the opportunity to hear some amazing panels at the Symposium, too (it wasn't ALL …

The Fourteenth Goldfish - Jennifer L. Holm

I love a good quirky novel, something that is realistic but just a little bit "off" or bizarre. In this particular gem, eleven-year-old Ellie is noticing how much life has begun to change after leaving fifth grade... and now her grandfather is living with her and her mom... and he looks to be about thirteen years old. What the whaaaa? Love it!

I took my goldfish home and named it Goldie like every other kid in the world who thought they were being original. But it turned out that Goldie was kind of original.

Because Goldie didn't die.

What starts off as a simple-seeming book about a girl growing up, soon turns into an examination of life, death, aging, science, and friendship. I know, I know, it sounds cliche, but Holm, as always, keeps things from slipping into that realm. Her signature wit and honesty is effortlessly woven into the novel, bringing Ellie and her grandfather to life within The Fourteenth Goldfish.

What I love about this book is that Holm pulls no punches. Wi…

I Don't Want to Be a Frog - Dev Petty & Mike Boldt

Frog wants to be anything but a slimy, wet frog. A cat, perhaps. Or a rabbit. An owl? But when a hungry wolf arrives—a wolf who HATES eating frogs—our hero decides that maybe being himself isn’t so bad after all. In this very silly story with a sly message, told in hilarious dialogue between a feisty young frog and his heard-it-all-before father, young readers will identify with little Frog’s desire to be something different, while laughing along at his stubborn yet endearing schemes to prove himself right.

This book is a fantastic examination of wanting to be something or someone else. Frog wants to be a cat. Of course, young readers will realize that a frog just can't be a cat! But this is a wonderful metaphor exploring what it means to accept ourselves for who we are. Daddy frog tries to explain why little frog can't be a cat, while at the same time little frog slowly begins to understand how he can still be a frog while being himself. When he comes across someone higher up …

And We Stay - Jenny Hubbard

Jenny Hubbard's And We Stay has a lot going on. Emily Beam is haunted by events preceding her move to Amherst School for Girls in Massachusetts; Emily's ex-boyfriend killed himself during a moment of panic after bringing a gun to school. Emily is angry, but she also feels guilty, as though his death is somehow her fault, for breaking up with him. At her new school, she befriends her roommate, K.T., but manages to get herself into trouble time and time again by refusing to follow the rules, even though she has so many supporting individuals helping her to recover from her traumatic past. Along the journey of healing, Emily discovers her love for poetry and its cathartic properties, and her love for Emily Dickinson becomes more and more important as she researches the late poet's life.

As I said, there is a lot going on. There's love, sex, death, suicide, pregnancy, kleptomania, abortion, guilt, and poetry. It seems like it would be rather overwhelming in a novel of only …

Once Upon an Alphabet - Oliver Jeffers

Squeeeeee!!! Is it possible for me to say that I love pretty much everything about this book? Because it's true!

If words make up the stories and letters make up the words, then stories are made up of letters. In this menagerie we have stories made of words, made FOR all the letters.

This book is full of short stories for every letter in the alphabet, "From an Astronaut who's afraid of heights, to a Bridge that ends up burned between friends, to a Cup stuck in a cupboard and longing for freedom." (Official Synopsis)

The concept is brilliant, the illustrations gorgeous. Jeffers has outdone himself this time. Though the book will likely find child audiences due to the adorable drawings and the shortness of the tales, many, many, adults will find this collection of stories to be very enjoyable!

I have a thing for Owls (probably because they're adorable and they have HUGE eyes!) Which makes "O" probably one of my favourite short stories in this collection, beca…

GG Predictions for Children's Text

Like most award related things I try to predict, I will probably get this one wrong, but I'm still going to try and I'm sticking to my guns! I love four of the books, and one of the books I just don't see as YA (When Everything Feels Like the Movies), but I won't go into a tirade here because, having worked on awards, I don't want to poop on the jury that has obviously worked hard all year! I totally respect the hard work and there was obviously a reason that they chose the book to be on the shortlist. But that doesn't mean I understand those reasons.

I haven't reviewed all of these, nor have I read all the way through one of them, but I still feel confident in my choice. So, without further ado, here's my prediction for the 2014 GG Award for Children's Fiction - Text:

And the National Book Award Goes to...

Who knows! I'm not on the jury! 

That being said, all of the books are intricate, rich, and cover important topics in different and stylistically unique perspectives. Three of the books focus on civil rights in some capacity, one focuses on the environment and threatened animals, and one centres on the rather unique topic of death, head transplants, and getting a second chance at life. All of the contenders this year are strong in my opinion (even though I have heard dissenting opinions on a few of the titles), but eventually one has to win. And so, without further ado, and with the knowledge that I'll probably get it wrong, here's my prediction:

Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy: Book Two) - Deborah Wiles

A National Book Award Finalist review:
"There is no state with a record that approaches that of Mississippi in inhumanity, murder, brutality, and racial hatred. It is absolutely at the bottom of the list."
Roy Wilkins, Chairman of the NAACP  (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) 

Deborah Wiles' second book in The Sixties Trilogy focuses on the Freedom Summer of 1964 in Greenwood, Mississippi—the summer when volunteers came down and "invaded" the state in order to help back individuals register to vote and better understand their rights as citizens. At the centre of the story are Sunny Fairchild (a white girl who tells of how the town goes haywire in the wake of change), and Raymond Bullis (a black teen who just might become someone others won't be able to ignore.) Other secondary characters round out the novel to great effect, bringing to light a range of opinions, prejudices, and desires.
There was a colored boy in our pool. A colored bo…

Port Chicago 50 - Steve Sheinkin

A National Book Award Finalist review:

Now, two and a half years into World War II, more than 200 black sailors had died in service at the segregated base of Port Chicago. "Ought not this sacrifice," the paper asked, "touch the conscience of America? Is one to assume, as the nation continues to ask the Negro to die for less than the white American dies, that the national conscience of America is at such a low moral level that most Americans are satisfied that the blood of Negroes is worth less than that of whites?" (74)

On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion killed over 300 dock workers at Port Chicago. Less than a month later, 244 men refused to go back to work unless work safety conditions were improved. Fifty men were charged with mutiny, facing decades in prison. Port Chicago 50 is a fascinating and enlightening book about a tragic yet crucial moment in civil rights history, highlighting to prejudice which black men and women faced in the armed forces during WWII.…

The Lonely - Ainslie Hogarth

Just to warn you, I die at the end of all this. So don't get too attached to me or anything. I bleed to death, and it's gruesome. So if you're squeamish or don't like to see bad stuff happen to kids, then you should probably just stop now. Because what happens is I bleed slowly all day long. I get pale and desperate and cry and throw up. And I'm just a kid so I don't deserve any of it. I'm "too young to die." Even though I'm just as susceptible to being crushed by a giant rock as anyone. (1)

Thus begins the tale of Easter's death alone in the woods, her legs crushed under a boulder, her blood slowly seeping out at her as nature slowly swallows her up and she is forced to confront her past, her lies, and her relationships. Easter suffers from The Lonely. The Lonely makes people sad and it makes them lie, and it seems to affect the women in Easter's family. This is an truly bizarre tale with a lot to like and a lot to question. Though not…