Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2009. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Astrid Llewelyn, sixteen, is minding her own business, making out with her cute boyfriend, when they are attacked by killer unicorns. Turns out, all the “you are descended from mighty unicorn hunters” and “unicorns aren’t friendly they are monsters and killers” stories her mom told her growing up? Were totally true. So now Astrid’s on her way to Rome to train to be a unicorn hunter, instead of being where she wants to be: at home, going to school, studying to be a doctor, and having a boyfriend like a normal person.

The Good: Why did I not read this last year? The only good thing about reading it now is that I then immediately read the sequel, Ascendant (September 2010).

I am a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Joss Whedon; so I can think of no higher complement than to say that Rampant is Buffyeseque in the best possible way. Talk about girl power!  Astrid and her fellow unicorn hunters (all female) are fast and strong when they are hunting and fighting unicorns. When a girl isn’t hunting a unicorn? No super powers. So unless there is a unicorn waiting at the end of the track, a unicorn hunter is not also going to be super human at sports.

Not just anyone can be a unicorn hunter; one is born to it, like Astrid and her cousin, Philippa. Only women can be hunters. In addition to the super-skills, a hunter can sense a unicorn and a unicorn can sense a hunter. That explains why Astrid and her boyfriend were attacked: the unicorn sensed her.

Rampant raises questions of destiny and duty versus choice.  To decide not to be a unicorn hunter is simple. Only virgins can be hunters. Yet if Astrid takes that step, decides to become “normal,” who does it help except Astrid? There are still unicorns, killing people. It just means there is one less person to do so, and in all honesty, there aren’t that many unicorn hunters around. First is the virgin requirement; but second is that the only girls who are unicorn hunters are all descended from a handful of families (who, according to myth, are all descended from Alexander the Great). Given that is, oh, several thousands of years and tons of generations and people moving hither and yon and last names changing and all sorts of things like that, most of the families are lost. A girl from such a lost bloodline would only know she is a unicorn hunter when she is confronted with an actual unicorn. Which (see above, Astrid and her boyfriend being attacked) is not a pleasant experience for anyone.

Actual unicorns, until recently, had been a bit hard to come by because (if you believe Astrid’s mother) about 150 years ago Clothilde Llewelyn killed the last unicorn. Except, given the attack on Astrid and others around the world, it’s soon clear that the unicorns didn’t become extinct, they just disappeared from view, and now they’re back. Back to a world that doesn’t believe in them, to a world where no girl has trained to hunt them for over 150 years.

Somehow, though, a small group of girls are assembled to start training. To reference  Buffy one more time – Rampant is what Buffy Season Seven should have been. Different girls of widely different backgrounds, interests, living together, training together, trying to figure out their roles when there are very little rules. I loved it! Forget vampires, the CW should sign this up as the next teen series.

What else? Peterfreund has created an entire mythology and manages to convey it all the reader without any info-dumps. It’s all woven into the story, helped by the fact that Astrid and her friends are also all discovering this anew. There are lots of real world concerns, like funding the whole boarding-school-for-unicorn-hunters, as well as people trying  to figure out, hm, if unicorns are real, what else is real? Turns out there is also a mysterious “Remedy,” somehow made from unicorns, that can cure anything. The story in Rampant is so new, so fresh, so fun, so scary, I just want to keep sharing with you all the awesomeness “and there are five types of unicorns! And the einhorn! And…and…and.”

And the battles! If part of you is thinking of My Pretty Unicorns and giggling at the thought of those pretty princess rainbow unicorns doing any damage, think again. There is blood and gore and death, and exhaustion and scars and recovery.

Oh! And there is Giovanni. Remember Astrid’s boyfriend at the beginning of the book? That’s not Giovanni. Giovanni is the hot guy Astrid meets in Rome. She likes him, they have a good time – and if she needs an out, he’s there…

So in one book: intricate mythology without any distracting dumps of information; scary adventure; family, friendship, love; and killer unicorns. What’s not to love?


Review: Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins

Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. Charlesbridge. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Present day Burma. Chiko, fifteen and bookish, responds to an ad for teachers and discovers it’s a scam by the military to force teenage boys into the army. Making it even worse is that his father was arrested four months ago and labelled a traitor for providing medical treatment to an “enemy of the state.” He is now in the army of the same government who has put his father in prison. There is no escape, just enduring his time and finding some small comfort in knowing that his pay helps his mother, now alone with no income.

Tu Reh also is a teenage boy; he is a Karenni, an ethnic minority in Burma, the target of the army. He and his family live in a refuge camp because his Karenni village was burnt to the ground. A friend’s mother died from forced labor; a teenage girl was captured by the army and tortured. Tu Reh wants to fight for Karenni independence, wants to fight the Burmese, wants to take his anger out in action.

The paths of Chiko and Tu Reh cross. A reluctant boy soldier, an angry fighter.

The Good: The first half of the book is told from Chiko’s point of view; the second, from Tu Reh. First we meet Chiko, a lover of books and learning, an only child raised in the city, the son of a doctor. He isn’t spoiled, but he is protected and safe and limited in his worldview. Upon hearing someone else in town speak, he thinks “their street accent grates on my ears.” With this quick phrase, Perkins reveals Chiko’s isolation and prejudices. Chiko is about to encounter much worse than accents.

Army training is brutal; the captain bullies the handful of teenage boys who, like, Chiko, were grabbed off the streets. Fighting and physical punishments are the norm. Tai, the street urchin whose accent so bothered Chiko, becomes Chiko’s friend, helping him learn how to take a beating without getting hurt. In return, Chiko teaches Tai to read and write. Chiko — whose knowledge of courage came from books — learns what true courage and loyalty is when he has an opportunity to save himself from army life. Should he take it? Can he abandon Tai?

The second half of the book belongs to Tu Reh. He is in the jungle, helping his father carry medical supplies to the Karenni hiding from the Burmese. He wants action, he wants to do something, he wants revenge. He wants to kill the soldiers who have inflicted such hardships, such suffering on his people. Tu Reh thinks this is bravery, this is noble, this is doing the right thing. Is it? His father gives him a choice — the freedom to make a choice — to see what kind of man he is. This choice involves the first person in a Burmese army uniform Tu Reh sees. That person, of course, is Chiko.

And with that, my description of plot ends. Because, you know, spoilers. These two opposites, apparent enemies, who don’t even share a language — the city boy, the village rebel — forge an unlikely friendship.

A book like Bamboo People, which introduces not one but two different cultures, can be tricky. How to avoid the awkward infodump? Perkins weaves information about language, food, customs and religion into the story so it’s informative without being awkward. Food is shown: “I squeeze lime over my food and start eating.” Later Tu Reh thinks, “Peh places both hands on my shoulders. I try not to show my surprise, but we both know that fathers only do this once or twice in a son’s lifetime.” The reader learns what Tu Reh calls his father, as well as typical father/son interactions for their culture.

Perkins crafts the story so that while older readers realize just how bad some things are, younger readers won’t realize what they are not ready for. For example, it’s pretty clear that an older teen who was tortured by soldiers was also raped, but that is never explicitly said.

Librarians and teachers will like Bamboo People because it’s a welcome addition to collections. It’s about Burma, told from an insider point of view. It’s a great book for class and book group discussion, about Burma, about politics, about choices. Perkins has a website, Bamboo People, with topical resources.

Truthfully, though, while some readers look specifically for books set in other countries, others do not. Many books have multiple points of entry to connect with a reader. For those readers, Bamboo People is also about teen soldiers: “Imagine going to a job interview and, instead, being dragged into a bus and forced into the army?” It is about survival, surviving the army, surviving the jungle, surviving the enemy.

Bamboo People is also about one of my favorite plot devices: two enemies becoming friends by discovering what they have in common. I was reminded of The Matarese Circle, Robert Ludlum’s story of a CIA spy and KGB agent who start as enemies but realize the true enemy is not each other. Except, of course, Bamboo People isn’t about spies and world conspiracies. And in Bamboo People, from the start Chiko and Tu Reh aren’t that different, really. Neither is exactly a supporter of the Burmese government, but for different reasons. Each has to find out for himself what “courage” really means. Each matures. Each, also, has a romance that is played out within the norms of their society. Chiko likes the daughter of a neighbor; their relationship is comprised of shy smiles, a photograph given to Chiko, the hope of her mother’s approval. Tu Reh, also, has a girl he likes. When he dreams of her, it’s of them sharing a life together. Perkins does not impose American values about love, courtship, and dating on the interactions these young men have with the young women they like.

Talking About a Revolution

In NJ Library, Citing Child Pornography, Removes GLBT Book,  SLJ reports “A New Jersey public library has ordered the removal of all copies of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Alyson, 2000) from its shelves–despite the fact there was no formal book challenge–and its library director has referred to the title as “child pornography.”

Read the full article, including the comments.

Other places to go for information and conversation about this book and the removal following a non-challenge:

New Jersey ACLU open records requests show book removal decisions history at Library Law Blog, which includes the internal library emails obtained by the NJ ACLU that reveals how and why the book was removed. Disclaimer: My blog is mentioned in the emails, because I’ve been posting about this for a couple months now. reporting on the Library Law Blog post. Check out the comments, many anonymous.

Blog post from National Coalition Against Censorship. This post mentions the 9.12 connection that comments at the SLJ article are disputing. Google news 9.12 and “Revolutionary Voices” to see May 2010 news paper reports that reflect the 9.12 involvement in this removal, including this one.

My original post on this issue — it’s the one that is referenced in the emails. Note the anonymous comment which attempts to promote readers to say “of course this book should be banned!” While I (and others) back up our posts, articles, and tweets with names, anon does not. Interesting, this is the post that was mentioned in the emails and commented on, instead of the more recent post I did on the removal.

And, finally, Bookshelves of Doom and her take, because seriously, part of my philosophy of blogging is “link to Leila once a week.”

Review: Folly by Marthe Jocelyn

Folly by Marthe Jocelyn. Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Books. 2010. Review copy from publisher. Sample Chapters.

The Plot: Nineteenth century England. Two stories.

Mary Finn, a teenage girl whose stepmother forces her into service.

James Nelligan, a small boy leaving his foster family to live at a foundling home.

 Two stories, taking place years apart, until they merge into sorrow and joy.

The Good: In 1893, Mary Finn tells us about “Caden Tucker – scoundrel, braggart, and heart’s delight. He’ll never be seen again, not ever, so don’t waste your time. The officers claimed they couldn’t find him and  neither could I, for all I looked till my bosom would split with holding the ache. . . . I’ll confess that there was a part of me that shone bright in the sunshine cast by Caden Tucker as it never did elsewhere. A part of me that were me, the true Mary Finn, when I were walking out with him.”

Mary meets Caden in 1877. In 1884, James, abandoned as an infant six years before, arrives at the foundling home. Do I have to connect the dots for you, to explicitly state the connection between these two very different people? So yes, we suspect what is in Mary’s future, even as we hope it isn’t true. It is, and it isn’t; Mary encounters those who are good and those who are selfish and those who are simply immature.

Mary’s life in the 1870s is depicted with language and details that put you there, both physically and emotionally, with Mary and her siblings in the countryside of England, poor, hard-working, respectable. Big and small things, both under Mary’s control and not under Mary’s control (a death, a marriage, a job, a chance encounter) bring Mary to London as a servant where she meets Caden Tucker. At each step of her journey we are with her, sympathising, and — because we are also following James’s story at the same time — wondering how these paths intersect. James, meanwhile, has a different time but in some ways a similar path, starting as an infant fostered in the countryside before being sent  to London’s’ Foundling Hospital at age six.

Folly – Mary’s folly, some would say. Why is love, or even comfort, folly? Why is making a sacrifice folly? And after the world has labeled you, what then? Are we bound by our past, or are we still allowed choices about the future?

Jocelyn addresses these questions, leaving answers to the reader, as the stories of Mary and James are told in heartbreaking beautiful language that perfectly captures the diverse voices telling the story. Teenage Mary, hopeful. Young James, uncertain. Eliza, another servant, jealous of Mary. And Oliver, one of James’s teachers and a foundling himself.

Because Mary haunts me and cheers me, Folly is added to my Favorite Books Read in 2010.

Nerds Heart YA

Nerds Heart YA is a blogger organized book tournament to showcase underrepresented young adult books — that is, books that did not get as much online attention as others. For 2010 (it’s second year), the tournament further highlights diversity. Thirty two books published in 2009 go against each other one-on-one, with the winner for each level moving on until there is only one left. The judges are all young adult book bloggers.

From the  Nerds Heart YA blog: the original thirty two books; the bracket showing judgesresults of the first round of decisions; the recently completed second round of decisions. I was one of the consultants who helped narrow down the list of possible books to only thirty two.

I enjoy tournaments like this because I think it’s all done for fun. Every year, in book blogs, a lot of books get the buzz, and often it is well deserved. Just as often there are books we read and love and blog about and look around and wonder… really? No one else read this or blogged about it? Nerds Heart YA is one way to bring more attention to those great books.

Book tournaments do something that some people hate but I find fascinating; comparing two unlike books. Sometimes, it does work out that two similar books are up against each other but just as often, it’s not the case. In those situations, how do you pick a winner? I also enjoy learning more about the judge (here, bloggers) making the decision. Why do they prefer one to another?

By using book bloggers as judges,  Nerds Heart YA provides an opportunity to discover more young adult book bloggers. So for people who are wondering, “what young adult book bloggers should I be reading,” this is a great place to start. Also, because these are all 2009 titles, the books are ones you may have read so you can discover which book bloggers have tastes similar to your own.

With the tournament half way through, now is the perfect time to check out some great books and try to predict what book will win!

Review: Stranded by J.T. Dutton

Stranded by J.T. Dutton. HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: With great reluctance, fifteen year old Kelly Louise and her mother are leaving Des Moines for her mother’s hometown of Heaven, Ohio.

Kelly Louise — named for Tina Louise, of Gilligan’s Island fame — tells of being dragged back to the small town her teen mother escaped from years ago, to live with her cleaning-obsessed Nana and religion-obsessed cousin Natalie. Natalie, fifteen,  loves unicorns and Jesus equally. Her mother promises it’s just a temporary move, but it’s the middle of the school year! Why is her mother doing this to her? Doesn’t her mother realize that it’s going to make it that much harder for Kelly Louise to get a boyfriend?

The Good: Kelly Louise tells this story; and her voice makes this fresh and different; she’s funny and amusing, self-centered and a drama queen, and, like Lola from Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and Alice from Alice, I Think, you’re going to alternate between cringing, laughing, and loving Kelly Louise. She’s a riot; at times delusional, as she convinces herself that her big-city ways (high heeled boots and beret) will make all the the boys think “hot new girl at school!” Instead, they look at her and think “strange girl.”

Here is Kelly Louise talking about a conversation with her mother: “I asked questions about Mom’s happy golden teenagehood. Sometimes you have to bolster a single parent by taking an interest in what they seem to want to go on about.”

Don’t let Kelly Louise fool you: her story may be told funny but it is serious, because Heaven is best known for the recent news story about Baby Grace, an infant abandoned in a cornfield.

Dutton’s story of the unthinkable — a baby left to die — is told against a setting of lost family farms, alcoholism, and second generations of teen pregnancies. Single parents raising kids. Kelly Louise’s voice brings humor, and she thinks of herself, first, most of the time. But she also thinks about Baby Grace, and family secrets, and what it means to do the right thing.

Kelly Louise is discovering the reality of Heaven — neighborly and small town cute, while lost and struggling. People who can be both caring and cold. And, always, family secrets. Look back to that quote of Kelly Louise, seemingly indulging her mother about a past “happy golden teenagehood,” and remember that it ended with a teen pregnancy, single parenthood, and a lifetime of economic struggling. This is the beauty of Stranded: dead seriousness wrapped up in humor.

Kelly Louise’s mother got pregnant when she was barely older than her daughter is now. Aunt Denise, cousin Natalie’s mother, is an abusive alcoholic who lost custody of her daughter to her mother, Nana. Their grandfather, dead for ten years, was an alcoholic who lost the family farm. Kelly Louise doesn’t know who her father is; Natalie’s father is never mentioned. The family stories of others in Heaven aren’t too different.

By page 45, Kelly Louise’s mother tells her the truth. Natalie, of Church youth group and virginity pledges, got pregnant, hid the pregnancy, and gave birth to Baby Grace. Kelly Louise’s mother tells her, “we have to pretend this never happened.” Kelly Louise veers between denial and continuing her life (trying to make friends, flirting with boys) and not quite believing that Natalie has done this and will be getting away with it.

Kelly Louise is stranded in Heaven; and so are others, stranded both physically but also emotionally, by desperation and secrets and the walls that such secrets make. Kelly Louise may view things selfishly, she may be over-obsessed with getting a boy and having sex, she may be self-obsessed and funny, but she also has a true heart and a belief in the truth.

This is a working class world, far different from the middle class suburbs of Lola and Alice and the typical young adult book that has a Kelly Louise narrator. Kelly Louise’s single mother struggles to pay the rent and at first Kelly Louise believes their return to Heaven is financially based. On page 229, Kelly Louise observes the class bad boy: “He was wearing a plaid shirt that made him look more like a farm kid than an asshole. In an earlier generation, and one before large, industrialized harvesting methods nudged the family farms out, he would have been one. Me, too, probably.”

And so, there is the bad boy, being raised by a meth-dealing uncle; Kelly Louise and Natalie, who have the possible inheritance of alcoholism and teen pregnancy; other teens, whose main concerns are parties, music, and escaping by religious fervor or drunken binges (or both).

Why should their stories only be told in darkness or dreariness? Why not have a Kelly Louise tell it, the way she sees it, with humor and laughter and caring?

Press Release: Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award

Last November, I attended my first ALAN Workshop, which was a lot of fun and included the reception for the first Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award.

Here is the press release for the 2010 Walden Book Award, which will be celebrated at the ALAN  Workshop in Orlando (information at bottom of press release).

Press Release:

2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award

  Winner and Finalists Announced

 The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the winner of the second Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.  Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit. 

The winner of the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is:


 Fire by Kristin Cashore


The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:


Marcelo in the Real World

by Francisco X. Stork

(Arthur A. Levine)



 The Monstrumologist

by Rick Yancey

(Simon and Schuster)




North of Beautiful

by Justina Chen Headley

(Little, Brown and Company)




The Sweetheart of Prosper County

by Jill S. Alexander

(Feiwel and Friends)



All Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award titles will be identified by an award sticker—gold for the winner and silver for the four finalists.  This year’s winning title and finalists will be honored at an open reception on Monday, November 22, immediately following the 2010 ALAN Workshop in Orlando, Florida. 

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation; the ALAN Executive Council; the ALAN Board of Directors; past AEWA chair Dr. Wendy Glenn; NCTE; and last, but not least, the more than twenty publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

 The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered 202 young adult titles throughout the process.  The committee was comprised of ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities.  They are:  Daria Plumb, Committee Chair, Classroom Teacher, Riverside Academy, Dundee, MI; Erica Berg, Classroom Teacher, Rockville High School, Vernon, CT; Jean Boreen, Professor, Northern Arizona University, Department of English, Flagstaff, AZ; C.J. Bott, Retired Classroom Teacher and Consultant, Solon, OH; Lois Buckman, Librarian, Caney Creek High School, Conroe, TX; Jeff Harr, Classroom Teacher, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Kent, OH; Jeff Kaplan, Associate Professor, University of Central Florida, College of Education, Orlando, FL; Bonnie Kunzel, Youth Services and Adolescent Literacy Consultant
Germantown, TN; Teri Lesesne, Professor, Sam Houston State University, Department of Library Science, Huntsville, TX; Barbara Ward, Assistant Professor, Washington State University, Department of Teaching and Learning, Richland, WA.

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents .

Review: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.  Scholastic Press. 2010. Reviewed from ARC from ALAN Conference. The Wolves of Mercy Falls series; Linger is a sequel to Shiver

The Plot: Shiver, the tale of human Grace and sometimes wolf Sam, ended on a happy note, with Sam permanently shedding his wolf and becoming a real boy, so that Sam and Grace could live happily ever after.

Except, things are never that simple, are they? Spring is here, the time of year when wolves change back into human form. Sam is adjusting to being human and not being a wolf, as well as being the caretaker for the human-wolves in the forest, especially the new ones.

Grace’s perfect life isn’t so perfect, because her distant and absent parents are acting quasi parent-like, at least when it comes to her love life and their suspicions of Sam. Now she has to balance their dislike of him with her own growing love for Sam. If only parental disapproval and caretaking of new wolves was their only problem.

The Good:  Stiefvater continues to slowly reveal the world of human-wolves. What makes someone transition into a wolf? Why do some have years before their wolf-selves become permanent? Why would someone voluntarily give up their humanity to become one? Why do some people who get bit live, why do some become wolves, why do some die?

This remains Sam’s and Grace’s story. Sam is realizing for the first time he has a future. Or does he? What is his responsibility to the wolves, to his adoptive father Beck, to the new wolves, Cole and Victor, who were just turned the prior fall? While free from becoming a wolf, is he now trapped in Mercy Falls?

To make things worse, Thomas Culpeper, who lost his son Jack to the wolves in Shiver, continues to hunt the wolves. Culpeper sees them as animals who kill, who took his only son, and nothing will stop him from making sure there are no more wolves in Mercy Falls.

Grace has the love of her life, but something else is happening: “But now it is spring. With the heat, the remaining wolves will soon be falling out of their wolf pelts and back into their human bodies. Sam stays Sam, and Cole stays Cole, and it’s only me who’s not firmly in my own skin.” Her parents are suddenly suspicious, looking at Sam as just a high school fling who is a distraction to school work. Grace wonders, can she still go away to college? If Sam is linked forever to Mercy Falls and caring for the wolf pack, does she have to stay?

Sam and Grace, those two crazy kids. I like their relationship; they are so easy with each other and comfortable with each other. They love each other, and are in love with each other, and are friends. Take away the whole wolf aspect of the story, and you have a fairly healthy teenage relationship. I say “fairly,” because theirs is the type of relationship that is so complete there isn’t room for many other people.

Two new voices add to the story: Cole, the young man who chose to become a wolf, and Isabel Culpeper, who lost her brother Jack when she tried to stop him from becoming a wolf. Cole and Isabel’s flirtation and attraction is more brittle, more heated, less romantic than Sam and Grace. It provides a nice balance to the sometimes too perfect, too happy Sam and Grace.

Sam, bitten as a child, never chose to be a wolf. With Cole, Stiefvater explores why someone would want to lose themselves in wolfishness.

When I reviewed Shiver, I had questions. Some are answered, but just as many more are asked. Without giving too much away, both Sam and Grace were bitten as children; Grace was cured inadvertently as a child, while Sam’s cure was deliberate. The cure is dangerous; Isabel’s brother Jack died from it. It turns out the cure is more complex than anyone realized and that there are repercussions to deal with.

Linger‘s ending is perfect, and if the series ends with Shiver and Linger I will be content. But I really hope there is a third book!

For the record, while both Grace and Sam like Beck and the wolf family he created, I am suspicious of the man and just don’t trust him.  Some reviewers of  Shiver didn’t like the potrayal of Grace’s parents (too distant! too uninvolved!) but very few questioned Beck’s actions towards Sam (deliberately biting a child so that he would join the pack), which to me was almost a kidnapping. But then, I am a suspicious person because I also think Grace’s parents have a secret or two they are not sharing.


Oh, a new Harry Potter lawsuit! This one began over in the UK and just jumped the Atlantic to the US.

As reported in The National Law Journal, “The latest suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, alleges that Rowling copied themes from Jacobs’ The Adventures of Willy the Wizard — No 1 Livid Land in her book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Willy the Wizard was published in the United Kingdom in 1987, while Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was published in 2000. Willy the Wizard was not published in the United States. Jacobs died in 1997” and “The suit claims that Jacobs originally approached literary agent Christopher Little — who now represents Rowling — about helping him find a publisher for Willy the Wizard. In its statement, Scholastic refuted the claim that Little was Jacobs’ agent.”

And here is another report of Christopher Little denying he was Jacobs’ agent, from The Bookseller: “The statement read: “The claim that Ms Rowling’s agent, Christopher Little, was agent to Adrian Jacobs is simply untrue.”

As explained in the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law Blog, an import part of the plaintiff’s case is proving “support its argument that J.K. Rowling had access to Willy the Wizard while writing and publishing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and that the works are “substantially similar,” the complaint outlines a list of suspicious circumstances and parallels in “theme, plot, characters, setting, and total concept and feel.”

The initial complaint filed against Scholastic is available via Scribd

Personally, the “substantially similar” items as laid out in the complaint don’t strike me, as, well, substantially similar.

To me, the far more intriguing thing is the access and agent. That is, that Jacobs and Rowling shared an agent and that establishes Rowling’s access to Willy the Wizard. Since Little is flat-out denying he was Jacobs’ agent, that adds the additional wrinkle of what does in fact create an agency agreement. While the complaint calls Little Jacobs’ agent, the description from the Willy the Wizard website sounds more like an agent’s typical rejection of a work that is not accepted for representation: “However his literary agent advised him that the work needed some re-writing and was densely packed with themes and concepts that needed expansion and development.  Adrian Jacobs was impatient to publish and not wishing to re-write , Adrian commissioned an illustrator- Nick Tidnam RBA and retained him to illustrate the manuscript. Cecil Turner of Bachman Turner published the book in October 1987. Some 5000 copies were printed. Adrian sent a large number of copies of the highly colourful finished book to his literary agent.”

The timeline is also interesting. Basically, it means that Little held onto Jacobs’ work for years and then gave Rowling access. Per the complaint, Little became Rowling’s agent in 1994, seven years after he was given the Willy the Wizard book. Six years after that, Goblet of Fire was published.

So, thoughts? Is agency law different in the UK? Should authors who sent their vampire stories to Stephenie Meyer’s literary agent years before Twilight was published by paying attention?