It’s been so long since I last posted that WordPress has completely reformatted itself and I no longer understand how to blog. It looks easier, but I am reminded that cliches are cliches for a reason, as looks are freaking deceiving.

Before I get to reviewing, a few changes. I like discussing books. I like recommending books. But reviewing books seems a little weird now, because I Work In Publishing, and I feel as though I can no longer pretend to have an objective voice. YOU may not know what house I work for, but I do, and that affects what I think.

So how about this. I’ll still talk about books, and if I love a book (like the one I’ve chosen to start the year with), I will absolutely tell you. But I’m not going to be super judgy or formulaic anymore. And my posts might be more literary and current events oriented, since I no longer have weekly coffee hours with my advisor during which to talk about anything and everything YA literature related. 

Oh yeah, and for those wondering if I did in fact make it through the crazed, nearly psychotic break inducing last six weeks of my last semester of college, I did.

So about six weeks ago I decided to graduate in December instead of next May. I was pretty confident about it. It was kind of an anti-climactic moment, actually. I looked at my transcript, realized I only had 13 credits left, and decided to go for it.

I just looked out into the empty space of my room and said, “Yep, I’m graduating in three and a half months.”

And then Life kind of snickered, under its breath.

And I was all, “What? I can do it.”

And Life was all, “No, no, I agree.” But it was kind of suspicious because Life was grinning all weird and popping popcorn and changing into sweatpants like I do before I’m about to watch a movie.

And I was like, “Is there something I’m not getting?”

And Life was all, “It’s just funny, how you think you can just say that and it’ll happen. It’s cute.”

And I just stuck out my chin and was like, “No, really. I’m going to finish my coursework, do my senior colloquium, do well at my internship, babysit twice a week, fulfill my 20 hr/week RA duties, see my friends, keep my apartment clean, get a decent amount of sleep, and keep a blog running.”

And while it is going to happen, and I’ll be entering the real world in about six weeks, I’m also writing this post (first one in a month) in the middle of a horrendously messy room, running on about three hours sleep and I can barely remember what my friends look like. I’m sure Life is enjoying the show.

I will start posting here again, eventually, but for now, read these books:

Crossed by Ally Condie
The Name of the Star  by Maureen Johnson
Legend by Marie Lu
Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Feed by M.T. Anderson
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Today marked the end of a long journey. Since June, I’ve been slowly working my way throughThe Book Thief, a wondrous story by Marcus Zusak that encompasses everything a book should be.

I realized I could never do a Monday Review for this book. How do you “review” perfection? How would I pretend to be worthy of judging a book such as this?

I have no idea how Marcus Zusak did it, but I can find no fault with it. Nothing I would change, nothing on which to comment.

It’s a story narrated by Death. It is set during World War II, in a poor German village, centered around a poor German girl, who loves and is loved dearly.

Death says, “A small but noteworthy note. I’ve seen so many young men over the years who think they’re running at other young men. They are not. They are running at me.”

Doesn’t your breathe just catch in your chest? Don’t you just want to jump in and sink to the bottom? It happens over and over and over, which is why it took me so long to read this book. Usually I eat up pages, steamrolling my way through, underlining and writing notes and laughing and crying until suddenly, I’m done.

This one I had to digest slowly. It’s the most delicious, dense flourless chocolate cake you’ve ever had. You have to pause every few bites and breathe.

But I kept going back. I kept picking it back up, wondering what was next, marveling at the mastery of character, words, and above everything else, humanity. I have never experienced a clearer depiction of humanity than this.

This, this is what teenagers should be reading in high schools. This is the book I want young adults exposed to. I have been searching and searching and searching and here it is.

There is a word that I think is overused. It is a wonderful word, but it doesn’t often apply. Here, now, I think I can use it easily:

Extraordinary.

I’m back! This weekend I submitted a crazy important paper in to my university, and now I’m just waiting to see if, basically, they think I’m ready to graduate. Based on that one paper. So you can see why I haven’t been around lately.

BUT in the midst of all that paper writing, I had to read several books for my internship (at PENGUIN!!!), including this gem of a novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door. LOVED it, and so will you.

 Speed Read:

Lola lives with her awesome adoptive dads in San Francisco. For her, every day is an opportunity for a fabulous, colorful outfit. Life seems peachy as she hangs out with her best friend, her older boyfriend, and her friends at her move theater job, until her old next door neighbors move back in. Instead of coasting through life with the perfect social circle, Lola is forced to deal with her feelings for the boy next door.

The Deal:

I LOVE LOLA! She is exactly who I want teenagers reading about. She isn’t afraid to be who she is (wigs and all), she loves her friends and family dearly, lives passionately, and feels emotions honestly. The best part? She isn’t perfect. Far from it. She gets teased because of her outfit choices and she may not have made the best choice of current boyfriends, but Lola keeps working through all the troubling parts of her life until she finds the right path. When was the last time you saw a purple-haired girl on the front of a teen novel? Or the last time a kinda nerdy boy was the heart-throb (and oh is he yummy)?

Stephanie Perkins’ last novel, Anna and the French Kiss is a companion novel to this one, meaning Anna and Etienne show up, a lot! Perkins isn’t afraid to write a lovely fairy tale, unabashedly writing swoony boys and picture perfect situations. Bedroom windows facing each other, anyone? You would think it would end up like that Taylor Swift video (ie: cheesalicious), but instead this novel is absolutely perfect. Kind of a like a caramel apple. Totally sweet on the outside, but with a good crunch and healthy bite on the inside. Read it. And start counting down the days until Stephanie Perkins’ third book comes out next fall!

How Far Should You Go:

For Stephanie Perkins’ last novel, I said not to compromise your integrity in order to get your hands on that book. For this one, go ahead and do it. Steal from children, cut off old people on the side walk, run red lights. You want to read it. It’s lovely and light and amazing and fun. Trust me.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen isn’t actually sixteen anymore, but whatever. The purpose still stands.

Oh yeah, they’re both good. Another thing I love about Stephanie Perkins. She manages to convey all those teenagery emotions and feelings without having to say every single thing on the page. A sixteen-year-old may have a different experience with this book than a thirteen-year-old, and that is a wonderful achievement.

The Low Down:

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Published: September 29th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

There’s no excuse. Let me just say the last two weeks have knocked the wind out of me, but I’m getting back on top of it. To make up for it, I’m reviewing an absolutely killer book, just in time for its paperback release tomorrow. Enjoy!

 

Speed Read:

The two desires struggle within me: the desire to be safe, and the desire to know. I cannot tell which one will win.

Cassia lives in a perfect world. Her entire life is mapped out before her, perfectly individualized to suit her wants and needs. From the moment she was born, every fact about her was filed into the system, allowing officials to know the likelihood of each of her choices and reactions, from how she would deal with the first day of kindergarten to the probability that she would choose the green dress on the night of her Match. That’s how she knows that her Match, the person selected by the Society for her to marry, will make her happy. When it turns out to be her best friend, Xander, she couldn’t be more excited.

Except.

Something happens, and it makes her doubt everything she’s ever believed in. Who is she? And what is this Society she lives in? Even when everything is crafted to give each person the best life possible, would having a choice ultimately be better?

Bonus: Book trailer!

The Deal:

I’m not sure if this is blasphemous to the YA literary community or not, but Matched was, dare I say it, better than The Hunger Games. I know. Take a second.

The thing is, I love action. But for me, the whole point of a dystopian novel is the world building. As much as I lovedThe Hunger Games, it lost the magical-ness once it became more about the war and less about the subtle commentary on our current and projected society. Plus, the love triangle really annoyed me.

Actually, more on that. Finally, finally a love triangle I can get behind! I couldn’t stand Bella/Jacob/Edward. Didn’t see the point of Katniss/Peeta/Gale. But Cassia/Xander/Ky? Sign me up. This is a girl who’s love triangle actually stands for something. Easy, legitimate happiness? Or scary, but possibly huge and life changing love? Her choices make sense, her feelings have time to grow, and her emotions actually seem legitimate. I mean, I never really like love triangles because it’s like, most high school girls just want one guy to ask them out. It’s kind of ridiculous to have such a high percentage of heroines with two guys pining for her. Plus, I just don’t buy that both guys always are so in love with the girl that they wouldn’t just move on. Teenage guys can be pretty lazy when it comes to dating. But I digress.

Ally Condie has written an incredible story. It’s almost unclear whether the Society is Dystopian or Utopian, even Cassia can’t really figure it out, and in some ways, the Society is appealing. With technology, they are able to accurately predict every choice someone will make, giving the Society the ability to arrange a happy, fulfilling life for each person without the havoc of free choice. I can’t imagine giving up having free choice now, but if I’d grown up with it, like Cassia? I think I would be fine having my perfect life mapped out for me. Aside from the wonderfully unique world, Condie’s writing is subtle and detailed, revealing that there is a lot going on below the surface that we haven’t found out about yet. The sequel Crossed comes out November 1st (shhhh, but I get to read it this week! I’ll let you know how it is), and I am SO EXCITED! I have high hopes for the continued excellence of the series.

How Far Should You Go:

So it’s the night of your Match. You’re about to find out who your hubby will be for the rest of your life. This is the person you’re going to have children with, who you’ll live with, who will share in your rewards and punishments alike. If he becomes an Aberration, so do you. If you become, heavens forbid, an Anomaly, he goes with you. This. Is. Huge. But then, they tell you, you can read Matched and wait another year to find out your Match, or you can give up the chance to ever read Matched and find out your Match right now.

Wait the year. Read the book. You’ll both understand this crazy scenario and my reasoning behind loving it so much. And you might reconsider your blind love of that Society that rules your life.

The 13/16 Test:

They’re both good. This is one of those beautifully crafted books that doesn’t condescend to young adult readers at all, but doesn’t resort to a lot of explicit wording or situations to do it. Not many authors can pull it off, and Cassia’s story didn’t really require anything too mature, so this one is a nearly perfect example of a great YA book.

The Low Down:

Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Published: September 20th, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

As I try to enjoy my last week of summer (psych! Hurricane Irene ruined all my last minute beach plans, so I’ve mainly been sitting here getting a jump start on reading for school), I started thinking about teachers. I wish I could say there have been many literary teachers who have inspired me, but children’s lit is strangely lacking in this department. The great thing about teachers is they’re limited to school hours, so they can provide wisdom and advice, but they can’t follow the characters around talking about curfew and responsible driving. I wish more authors took advantage of this unique adult/child relationship, but for now, here are a few great teachers I’ve found in some of my favorite books:

1. Bill from The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I’m not sure how it happened, but Charlie happened upon the best English teacher anyone could ever hope for. Bill sees that Charlie is smart, but has a lot of growing to do, so he starts assigning Charlie extra reading assignments. He does it in a way that makes Charlie feel like his thoughts have worth, and because of it Charlie starts to think more critically about literature and life in general. I love that Bill gives Charlie A’s on his report cards home and on his transcript, but privately tells him he got a B, making Charlie accountable not to his parents or the school, but to himself, and letting him know that even if his work is good enough for an A, Bill knows that Charlie can and should do better. Bill also listens to Charlie’s problems, while still maintaining that teacher/student line. If only all teachers took more interest in their students, maybe more students would take interest in their subjects.

2. Mr. Freeman from Speak

Like Bill, Mr. Freeman is a great teacher because he pays attention to his students. He realizes that not everyone is an artist, so he uses his art class as a way to teach experimentation, exploration, and personalized creativity. He gives everyone room to grow in their own way, while still holding them responsible for saying something, anything. While his message is particularly important for Melinda, every high school student needs someone telling them to speak up. There are too many people in the world telling them to speak only when spoken to.

3. Dr. Hyde from Looking for Alaska

I love the Dr. Hyde, specifically because he doesn’t go out of his way to make any one student feel special. There’s a moment when Miles is caught daydreaming in his class, and Dr. Hyde kicks him out. Later, Dr. Hyde tells Miles that he knows he enjoys his class, so he should work to be present in every moment of his life, wherever he is, and leave the daydreaming out of it. It’s a great lesson, and he’s a very subtle character that has a lot of influence on the way Miles looks at life. Dr. Hyde  is masterful at keeping the line clear, while still using his experience and wisdom to better his students’ lives.

I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who can only read certain books in certain places. Pairing an environment and a book is like finding the perfect wine for a meal. I mean, yes, more is always better, but the point is, it’s an art.

I know this is a little late, but I was pretty busy braving the massive lines in NYC before the storm hit. If you’re not from around here, the New Yorker way to deal with natural disaster is to close the blinds and pour a drink, so the grocery store lines were out the door. Literally. Walk in and all of the water bottles were still on the shelves, but the beer, wine, and liquor were cleaned out. Gotta love that city mindset.

Anyway, this weekend was particularly apt for scenic reading as we had to prepare to go without electricity. It never went out in my building, but I made sure my kindle was charged and I had books on hand that would see me through the storm. I figured there were two types of books I’d want to read if it got really bad:

Category #1: Ship Breaker

Read this type of book when you want to go all out and embrace the madness. While you sit inside and ignore the rain pounding at your window, you can read about what happens if a natural disaster gets really crazy. Also consider The Wizard of Oz. If you’re genuinely afraid of getting swept away in a hurricane, this may not be your best bet. In that case, try…

 

Category #2: Sloppy Firsts

Sometimes it’s better to just shut off from whatever is happening outside. I know during the firestorm of 2007, there was no way I was going to open a book about a wild fire. In that case just find a lighthearted, preferably hilariously funny book that will make you forget all about the state of disaster right outside your door. If the characters in your book are clueless high school students who care more about who is dating who than the state of current affairs, it’s very likely you’ll be sucked in and suddenly it’s all like, what? Hurricane?

I know Irene ended up being kind of a let down (I wanted crazy wind! I wanted insane rain! I wanted to be huddled in the basement with all of the other student staff playing hours of gin rummy by flashlight! What, too much?), but it never hurts to be prepared. The next time your town is plagued by locusts or there’s acid rain, you’ll know how to quickly and efficiently categorize your books into those worth taking with you to the evacuation center, and those you might want to leave at home.

I have a deep, deep devotion to my favorite book, Looking for Alaska. It has been my answer to the “what’s your favorite book” question for about four years, and I attribute a good chunk of my desire to work in children’s books and YA Lit to it. So when I say that The Sky is Everywhere may be as good as Alaska, it’s kind of a big deal.

Speed Read:

     And then we are wrestling and laughing and it’s many, many minutes before I remember that my sister has died.

Lennie’s sister has died, and she doesn’t know how to grieve. Her grandmother seems to have gone a little crazy and her uncle spends his days smoking a lot of weed and her best friend doesn’t seem to be on the same plane anymore. Lennie deals by wearing her sister’s clothing and hanging out with her sister’s boyfriend, as if the things she left behind can bring her back. When she meets Joe Fontaine, seemingly the happiest person in the world, she starts to realize that life really will go on without Bailey. All she has to do is make the choice.

The Deal:

The Sky is Everywhere could have easily fallen into a melodramatic, weepy trance about two words into the first chapter. It’s about a little sister who loses the light of her life and anchor, and is left to figure out grief, love, and life on her own. It’s even hard to summarize this book without feeling a little cheesy.

But that’s what’s so incredible. Jandy Nelson took this difficult topic and turned it into a work of art. It’s a pretty typical teenage story – girl must choose between two guys – but the added emotion from her sister’s death amps everything up to high volume, and believably so. For once, a character who’s self-esteem is low in believable ways. Also,  I’m in love with the writing and I love Lennie’s voice:

Before he finally hops on his board, he hugs me good-bye and we hold on to each other so tightly under the sad, starless sky that for a moment I feel as if our heartbreak were one instead of two.

and

He can’t stop smiling at his brothers, who are pounding their guitars into notes so ferocious they could probably overthrow the government.

and

I want to hurl a building at God.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop. But you see? Sigh. The best.

How Far Should You Go:

So someone has built a fortress out of tiny legos. Millions and trillions of tiny legos and in the middle of the fortress is this book. The only way to read it is to pry apart each of the tiny legos and tunnel to the center, taking the time to wedge your fingernails in between each teeny brick and make a hole until you find it in the center. And they give you a choice. Do it, or never get to read The Sky is Everywhere. You should do it.

The 13/16 Test:

Fine and fine. There is some sexy talk in the book, but it’s nothing Thirteen doesn’t already know about, and it’s all based on mature relationships and all that jazz.

The Low Down:

The Sky is Everywhere
Author: Jandy Nelson
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Published: March 22nd, 2011
Classified as: Young Adult

The NYTimes is at it again. Robert Lipsyte wrote a lovely little article on boys and reading. The book blogging community has already reacted (also: here and here), but there was a specific aspect of the article I wanted to address. The problem, he writes is that:

The current surge in children’s literature has been fueled by talented young female novelists fresh from M.F.A. programs who in earlier times would have been writing midlist adult fiction. Their novels are bought by female editors, stocked by female librarians and taught by female teachers. It’s a cliché but mostly true that while teenage girls will read books about boys, teenage boys will rarely read books with predominately female characters. (emphasis mine)

Not only does he not back up his claims with statistics, his condescending tone implies that the highest a female M.F.A can go is midlist fiction (which is usually true-only 30% of Pulitzer Prize winners for Fiction are female). While editors, librarians, and teachers do tend to be female, male authors still dominate the bestseller lists. Currently, seven out of ten authors on both the  children’s chapter and paperback lists are men.

Aside from that, he does not go on to expound on how we can change the trend that “teenage boys will rarely read books with predominantly female characters.” Guess what, women have been surviving and thriving in a male dominated world for, I don’t know, all time? And we’re doing just fine. We read, enjoy, and fall in love with books that are written by men as well as women, because that is what brings us the best life experience. We are not taught from an early age, as men are, that engaging with or emulating characteristics of the opposite sex will make us worth less. And because of it, yes, teenage girls will pick up a book about a boy and enjoy it.

So where is the part of the article where he asks why boys don’t read books about girls?

I am not saying that boys don’t deserve books that were edited, heralded, and taught by men. Women understand the importance of stories and culture that is by and for the same group. I am saying that in some ways, men need to get over it already and start teaching the next generation that women have voices that are of value to people who don’t also happen to be female.

Really, Robert Lipsyte, boy culture won’t implode if you suggest they pick up a book about a girl. We’ve been reading about men and boys for hundreds of years, and, as you say, girl culture is as strong as ever.

I’ve been struggling a bit with the constant mantra that we see in defense of controversial Young Adult literature, it being that YA Lit lets each reader know that they are not alone. I know in my heart that this is true. It is the feeling I had when I was fourteen and read Sloppy Firsts and finally had a friend who also had acne and frizzy brown hair and sometimes felt disconnected from her friends and family because of aspects of herself that were beyond her control. It is the feeling that I had when I was sixteen and read Looking for Alaska, and had a friend that went to seek a great perhaps and succeeded and made it through tragedy to the other side. It is the feeling I know every teenager experiences when they open a book that reflects a familiar emotion back to them.

But I didn’t know why YA Lit has this power.

Then I realized I had the answer all along. Teenagers usually do not have the ability to articulate their opinions and beliefs as well as adults. This is not because they are not intelligent and it is not because they do not have any opinions or knowledge. It is because there is a huge difference in believing something, and having had the practice to be able to effectively communicate the reasoning behind that belief or feeling. Combine their lack of experience with the crazy emotions and first-time experiences of being an adolescent, and you have a group of people who are going through an overwhelming amount of new experiences, without the tools to work through it effectively. 

This is where YA Lit comes in. An adult who is able to accurately remember what it was like to be a teenager (and they are few and far between), has the unique ability to place themselves back in those hormonal, emotional shoes and now has the ability to articulate it clearly and beautifully. A teenager would not usually be able to write the books that are being written, but they can read it and connect with the words on the page. They do not have to have the ability to write the book to understand it’s importance, and the fact that they are pretty much incapable of writing it themselves makes the book that much more meaningful. A YA book has the power to finally give some relief to the teen who had been struggling with an unnamed, scary emotion like love, loneliness, lust, or longing.

This is why YA Lit is so important. And this is why it is important to not only have well-written, entertaining books, but books about the scary stuff. Anorexia, failing grades, absent parents, addiction. Loneliness, bullying, rejection, rage. Most adults can no longer remember what teenage feelings truly feel like. Most adults cannot remove the tinted glasses of experience and time that have removed them from the raw emotional power of being a teenager. So we have to allow the adults that can remove those tinted glasses to do their work well and in peace. And we have to trust that when a teenager clutches a controversial book to their chest and says, “This book saved my life,” they mean it in a very literal way.

And then, they will get through it, and they will grow up, and they will in turn forget. And they will be the ones having to put their trust in the next generation of teens.

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