Monday before BEA Links

  • R. David Lankes looks at ways that e-readers could be reinventing books and reading at School Library Journal.
  • This post on some of the REALLY COOL and innovative ways that libraries are being used in Helsinki makes me want to move there.  RIGHT NOW.  So many things about this make me excited: libraries as content generators!  Patron-driven programming!  Citizen Media Computers!  (Hat tip to Tame the Web.)
  • This is a gallery called “Hot Guys Reading Books.”  I have nothing to add.
  • A good conversation happening in the comments of this KidLit.com post on swearing in YA fiction.  (My opinion: would the character say it?  Then it should be there.)
  • Neesha Meminger’s post on bullying is wonderful.  I especially appreciated her thoughts on what gatekeepers can do to empower kids who are “easy targets.”  If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly suggest giving it some of your time.
  • The Book Smugglers gathered some poll data and dug deep into the way we relate to book covers, and how they can influence our purchasing and enjoyment of the books we read.  They ask some genuinely interesting questions.
  • Scott Westerfeld shares one of the best tidbits he found while conducting his book research, and it’s about the legalization of pants on ladies.  Sadly, there’s a current tie-in to actions in schools.
  • At this point I’m pretty sure that I’m just linking to every single thing Shannon Hale has ever said on the internet.  But she keeps saying such worthwhile things!  This time it’s about book banning and how books can start important conversations.
  • Over at The Rejectionist, Zetta Elliot takes a closer look at the myth of meritocracy in the publishing industry by re-imagining Peggy McIntosh’s classic article on white privilege.  She also points out the UK Publishing Equalities Charter and the need for something similar in the US.
  • Maggie Stiefvater, who has written some pretty awful YA parents in her day, weighs in on the “oh-no-there-are-no-good-mommies-and-daddies-in-YA” debate.
  • When Paolo Bacigalupi found a “distinct lack of ass-kicking” in books for young people, he up and wrote Shipbreaker with “knife-fights and sea battles and the bio-engineered warbeasts called half-men that are a lethal mix of tiger and dog and hyena and human.”  While I don’t know that I agree with him on the lack of kickassery, I can definitely say that his book kicks a lot of it.  Also liked his comments on the difference in tone between writing for YA and adults.  Good interview.  (Hat tip to Chasing Ray)
  • Just in case there is someone out there who hasn’t seen the Bronte Sisters Doll video that has been turning up all over my RSS reader lately – Go!  Watch! (Hat tip to lots of people, but first time I saw it was courtesy of Chris Ashworth)
  • BEA!  Woohoo!  If you see somebody wandering around with purple hair, there’s a pretty good bet that it’s me – stop me and say hi!

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins

Ry is on the train to summer camp when he reads the final letter from the camp director.  The letter reads, in its entirety:

Dear Roy,

Do not come to camp.  There is no camp.  Camp is a concept that no longer exists in a real place or time.

We are so sorry.  The Summer ArcheoTrails Program will not take place.  A statistically improbable number of things have gone wrong and the camel’s back is broken.  Your money will be fully refunded as soon as I sell my car and remortgage my house.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, blahblahblah.  We hope to regroup and put together a bombproof program by next summer.  Live and learn!

With deepest apologies, believe me,

(illegible scrawl)

Wally Osfeld (pgs 6-7.  All quotes taken from ARC and are subject to change.)

This is not the last statistically improbable thing that will happen to Ry during his summer vacation – not by a long shot.  Who ever would have guessed, for example, that shortly after reading this strange letter Ry would hop off the stopped train – just for a moment – to try to get cell phone reception so he can call his family, only to have the train suddenly pull away and leave him stranded in the hills with not so much as a house in sight?  By the time Ry reaches civilization he has only the travel cash from his pocket, a black eye, a pocketknife, a single shoe, and a useless cell phone with very little charge and no reception.  Not that the cell phone would have done him much good – his parents, who are on a vacation somewhere in the Caribbean, have lost their cell phone to a curious monkey.  And his grandpa, who is house-sitting and taking care of Ry’s dogs, has hit his head during a fall and developed short-term amnesia.  No one in the world knows that Ry is wandering by himself – and it might not seem like it at this moment in time, but a totally unplanned, detour-filled, almost-catastrophic road trip might be exactly what Ry needed this summer.

Some books have a charm that is just so easy.  It takes a light hand and a keen sense of humor to make the reader stay invested and, well, somewhere within the realm of belief, in a book where literally everything goes wrong.  And I do mean everything – Ry is in the above situation within 30 pages, and things don’t get any simpler for him.  Luckily, Lynne Rae Perkins has both of those qualities in spades.  Despite Ry tripping from one unbelievable situation to the next, the wry, conversational style of the narrative keeps the verging-on-silly plot from running off the rails.  A notable example (and please know that I am doing my very best not to make this review just a string of random quotations – it’s a serious temptation with a book that’s so expertly narrated!): “Ry looked at his feet and legs in one of those little shoe mirrors that sat on the floor.  The shoes were a metaphor for the decline of western civilization: crappy and glitzy and barely useful, but pretty comfortable.  This is the narrator’s opinion.  Ry didn’t think that thought specifically, but he felt as dispirited as if he had.” (Pg. 68. All quotes taken from ARC and are subject to change.) You want to crawl inside the narrator’s head right now, don’t you?  I sure do.

And in the end, no matter what the plot threw my way, the absurdly delightful characters that people this novel could hold my attention in any situation.  Ry is funny, sweet, and a little bit dumbfounded – as anyone would be in the situations he finds himself in.  He is charming from the very beginning, and is capable of keeping his affable nature even in the worst of circumstances.  And then he finally stumbles into a town, finds a stranger, and tries his best to act like this is all something that happens to ordinary people. But in what might be the single stroke of good luck that finds Ry in his journey, this total stranger is Del.

Oh, Del Del wonderful Del!  Del lives, breathes, and thrives on people in unusual situations who are in need of his help.  Especially if that help involves unexpected road trips, fixing things in unusual ways, danger, or unlikely odds – and Ry’s story will have all of these.  Del’s the kind of guy who listens to Ry’s improbable story and says, well, since you can’t get a hold of your family I guess I’ll drive you from Montana to Wisconsin.  And when that doesn’t work out as they planned, he says well, I guess I’ll just take you down to the Caribbean to find your parents.  And when they end up in a car driven by a man with very little eyesight and no feeling below his knees, or in a small plane that requires some midair repairs over the ocean, Ry is able to stave off panic by looking at Del, who “seemed, as he was in any situation that required physical strength and agility plus mechanical aptitude and that also included unlikely odds, perfectly at ease” (pg. 259All quotes taken from ARC and are subject to change.) Del is, without question, my new favorite grown-up in a YA novel, and he is the perfect companion for Ry’s bizarre summer.  It is Del’s reassuring presence that makes the novel still feel comfortable and safe enough to be truly funny, even in situations that should, by all rights, be terrifying.

Now, Ry and Del’s adventure is interwoven with a few others – Ry’s parents, his grandpa, and even his dogs each have their own tale to tell.  And in Perkins’ hands, their tales are also funny and sweet and worth reading.  In any other context, I think I would have been delighted by these little sidestories.  But I fell so completely in love with Ry and Del that I got easily annoyed by anything that took me away from them.  Please don’t think of this as a genuine quibble with the book – when I make myself think of it in an objective way and not as a crazy reader with an agenda of her own, I think these detours were the best way to tell the stories of Ry’s family, and those stories are important to Ry’s journey and do a nice job of further illuminating the themes of luck and chance that the book centers around.  And I think many readers will love their addition, especially the story of the dogs, which is told in short illustrated episodes.

I have not yet read anything else by Lynne Rae Perkins.  I feel like an idiot now.  Are her other books this wise and wonderful?  Somebody get me a copy of Criss Cross, stat!

Lynne Rae Perkins

Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz-Ryan

When you see The Dreamer sitting on a shelf, you will want to pick it up and hold it in your hands.  From the shimmering cover that invites you into the universe of Neftalí’s head, to the thick paper that feels perfect under your fingers, to the calm green color of the ink, to the tiny illustration of an acorn that greets you on the title page, this is a book full of small treasures.  In a story that is about taking delight in the smallest details, kudos to the designers who made the physical object of this book reflect the subject matter so beautifully.

Neftalí’s family lives under the shadow of his domineering father, a railroad man.  Happy family moments are stopped cold by the sound of the train whistle that announces Father’s impending return.  Rodolfo, Neftalí’s older brother, has already abandoned his dreams of studying music and becoming a singer, and Father is doing his best to railroad Neftalí onto the same path of leaving dreams behind and pursuing the future of Father’s choosing.  But while Neftalí appears to be a weak, vulnerable child, he has hidden reserves of strength and stubbornness.

Munoz-Ryan does a wonderful job of capturing the nuances of Neftalí’s character.  His compassion and curiosity are almost overwhelming, and they often get the better of Neftalí’s desire to please his authoritarian father.  His fascination with words is woven into the text as he plays with their sound and meaning.  The story is episodic, and the scenes are well chosen to crystallize the moments that made Neftalí into Neruda, but they also hang together well to tell a story of a shy young man with a highly developed sense of wonder.  One of this book’s greatest strengths, in terms of getting it into the hands of children, is that it easily stands on its own as a novel.  There is no need to know anything about Pablo Neruda to appreciate this book – in fact, there is no need for a reader to even know that it is based on a true story.  While being aware of Neruda’s life certainly adds layers of resonance to this book, the story will be enjoyed by anyone who can appreciate Neftalí’s struggles and his unique outlook.  The selection of poetry  in the back of the book, which includes several of Neruda’s poems that directly address some of the pivotal moments in the book, is expertly chosen to appeal to young readers and may convince some young readers to seek out more.

While Munoz-Ryan’s telling of Neftalí’s childhood is wonderful, the collaboration with Peter Sis makes the story sing.  Each chapter begins with three small pictures on a single page, each picture showing some scene, feeling, or object that will be important to the text.  These tiny drawings echo the small treasures that Neftalí collects, and they evoke the fascination with the world around him and the attention to detail that define Neftalí.  Larger drawings, all in Sís’ characteristic stippled style, illustrate the fantastical ways in which Neftalí sees his world while also working in relevant lines from Neruda’s poetry (edited to add – please see Pam Munoz-Ryan’s correction in the comments – these lines of poetry were written by her, not Pablo Neruda.).  These drawings are full of wonder, but also very evocative of Neftalí’s feelings in that moment – whether that is fear of his father looming up above the sea, sadness and protectiveness of a hurt swan, or the excitement of traveling and making new friends.  Sís’ drawings do with ink lines what Neruda’s poetry does with words – they crystallize feelings and experiences down to their essence, conveying them in briefly but completely.  They complement the story, and the poetry, beautifully.  Asking Peter Sís to turn Pablo Neruda’s imagination into visual form was a stroke of genius, and one that will give young readers an additional window into the world of his words.

Pam Munoz-Ryan

Peter Sis

Speed Reviews

Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis Gill – A story that sometimes got a little bit goofy, but in a very self-aware way that I enjoyed.  And I am completely in love with these characters – Bug and Pesto are too much fun.

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan – While this one didn’t pack quite as much of an emotional punch as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I thought that it was really well-plotted and absolutely terrifying.  And that’s exactly what I want from a zombie book.  Loved the connections between the two stories. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins – Cute but predictable story set in a(nother) school for kids with magic.  I did think that the mean girls side of the story was handled well, but I didn’t find this novel especially memorable. (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood – I was completely won over by this rollicking old-time story that has tongue firmly planted in cheek.  I didn’t think that the conceit was going to hold through a full novel – was pretty sure that it would feel one-note and boring by the end – but I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case.  I think it worked because Miss Lumley and the Incorrigibles are such winning characters. (Review copy provided by publisher.)

The Color of Earth and The Color of Water by Kim Dong Hwa – While I realize that these books are about a young girl’s developing sexuality, it sure would be nice if we were ever privy to a single one of her thoughts that doesn’t center on boys and sex.  Diversify, please!  On the good side, the art is absolutely gorgeous.

She Thief by Daniel Finn – Interesting story, but suffered from some pacing issues, and the slangy sort-of-Cockney dialect was distracting.  I did like the setting a lot –  a future London that sometimes feels a lot like the past until a cell phone shows up in somebody’s pocket.  (Review copy provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner – Are we in the golden age of YA dystopia or what?  I keep thinking “oh man, another depressing dystopian novel, here we go again” and then I keep getting blown away.  This was taut and exciting and surprising and exactly what you would want from this type of story.  I handed it directly to one of my library kids when I was finished, and he came back the next day gushing and asking for the sequel.  Which I need.  Right now.

The Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda – Great beginning – the first chapter definitely brings the intrigue.  And the whole things move quick and draws the reader along.  And Billi is a bona-fide ass-kicker.  And yet…  just didn’t make me care as much as I wanted to.  Can’t put my finger on why.

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner – Ok, confession time: I read The Thief and liked it fine.  But I didn’t love it, and so I never got around to the rest of this series.  Go ahead and berate me for a couple of minutes – I totally deserve it.  This series is AMAZING.  Eugenides is THE AWESOMEST.  I need to talk about these books in ALL CAPS.  The Thief improves on re-reading, and the rest of the series is so full of intrigue by people who are smarter and craftier than I could ever be – I can’t get enough.  Read the whole series in three days.  (Review copy of A Conspiracy of Kings provided by the publisher.)

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – This is a book that you will feel intensely.  Just stunning – and a good crossover adult/YA title.  Kambili’s story is a necessary read.

Borderline by Allan Stratton

Borderline starts out as a coming of age story about Sami Sabiri, a Muslim-American teen who is struggling to balance his family with his school and social life in a very white suburb.  It turns in to a taut thriller that explores safety in the Homeland Security era, race, and terrorism. 

Now, if those were descriptions of two different books, I would probably pick up book #2.  And if I did, I would be missing out.  While the issues of justice, fear, and racial profiling that are addressed in the story of the arrest of Sami’s father are extremely interesting and the author does a nice job of carefully weaving them into the text, I did find the situations sometimes past my point of belief.  And I was genuinely more invested in Sami’s story before he is thrust into extraordinary circumstances – not my usual reaction to a book. 

Sami is such a likable kid, and his isolation from friends and schoolmates and his frustration with his strict father are shown in a way that make you really feel for him.  Sami’s easy sense of humor when he is with his best friends Andy and Marty contrasts with his insecurity at school, where he is the only Muslim student.  But as Sami tries to navigate a path between the usual small teenage rebellions and his desire to please his parents, and especially his strict and distant father, Sami begins to drift away even from his friends, who don’t understand the pressures that Sami feels.  Sami’s uneasy navigation of those relationships are this book’s greatest strength.

Sami’s father’s strange actions begin to arouse Sami’s suspicions, and shortly after Sami launches his own investigation of his father’s activities, Mr. Sabiri is suddenly arrested and accused of being part of a terrorist plot.  Not only is Sami ostracized and sometimes threatened by neighbors, classmates, and even school officials, but he is also desperate to learn the truth about his father.  Whlie his mother works closely with a lawyer to fight a justice system that seems to ignore the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty in the face of potential terrorism, Sami becomes convinced that he is the only person who will be able to reach the accused leader of the terror plot and prove his father’s guilt or innocence.  He and his buddies race off on a poorly-planned mission to seek out a possible terrorist. 

This is the part of the story that I had some mixed feelings about.  Maybe if Sami hadn’t been such a vividly drawn character, I might have been more willing to gloss over some of the tremendously stupid decisions that were made by someone who seemed like a smart kid, if a little bit impulsive.   If this book had started as a legal thriller, I probably would never have questioned Sami’s actions in his quest to save his dad.  But because Sami was so real to me, I had a little trouble reconciling the two parts of the book, which sometimes pulled me out of the action of the story.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that the true story behind Sami’s father’s arrest is much more interesting and convincing than I ever would have guessed.  I may have drifted away a little bit, but the conclusion really grabbed my interest and pulled me back into the plot of the book.  And I never drifted away from the characters – Sami and his friends and family had a grip on me from beginning to end.

Allan Stratton on the web

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

April 2010 Reading Log

YA

Middle Grade

Kids and YA Nonfiction

Graphic Novels

Adult Fiction

Currently Reading

(Side note: I am a reading machine!  23 books: my best month ever!  And in a month where I had houseguests three weekends in a row!  I am feeling a) very accomplished and b) like I should probably get out more.)