New Jersey Association of School Librarians

On Friday and Saturday, I will be at the New Jersey Association of School Librarians Fall Conference in Long Branch, NJ.

On Saturday, Bonnie Kunzel and Sharon Rawlins are presenting on Best Books for Young Adults, highlighting recent titles, and they asked me to be on the panel! So, I will be sharing some of my favorites from this past year.

Remember, I look like my photo, just with longer hair and glasses. Please say “hi”!


Review: Fixing Delilah

Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler. 2010. Little Brown. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Delilah Hannaford, almost seventeen, is in a car headed from Pennsylvania to Vermont. It’s been eight years since she’s been to her mother’s hometown. Back then, it was for her beloved grandfather’s funeral. Because of a fight between her mother, aunt, and grandmother, Delilah has never been back and hasn’t even talked to her grandmother since. Now, Delilah and her mother are heading home. To bury her grandmother. And to discover that secrets can pull families apart and truth, no matter how painful, can heal.

The Good: Family secrets? Including an almost decade-long feud? And a summer spent cleaning out the dead grandmother’s house? It’s easy to tell why I moved this book to the top of my to-be-read pile.

What moved it to my “favorite books read in 2010” list? Fixing Delilah  is not “oh noes, this thing happened eight years ago, here it is eight years later, sorry, all better now.” Oh, the book begins eight years later and yes, something happened, and yes, the three women work towards reconciliation. The family argument splintered the family, with Delilah’s mother and aunt barely speaking, but it splintered a family that already was broken.  As we find out from Delilah, she, her mother, and her aunt are not unscarred or untouched by the eight years and what came before. Delilah and her mother have issues that link back to before the fight. The fight is not “the event”; it’s one event in family dynamics and dysfunction.

Delilah’s past year has been turbulent: sneaking out at night to meet her “not boyfriend” Finn, shoplifting, denting her mother’s car, and that is not even getting into her grades and issues with her so-called friends. Meanwhile, her mother, Claire, has become a workaholic. Yes, her mother has turned her life around from being a struggling single mother to a successful business woman, but she also never takes a break, multitasking even when home. The two are almost strangers.

Slowly, Delilah reveals the things about her life, her mother’s life, that are the secrets that keep the family apart. Her Aunt Stephanie’s death at nineteen. Her birth father and the one-night stand before his death that resulted in Delilah. And, of course, the fight with her grandmother that tore the family apart. Delilah, her mother, and her Aunt Rachel are now thrown together to clear out the family home and get it ready for sale. In putting the house back together, they also put their family together.

Along the way there is romance; literally, a boy next door. And a true friend. Is it too coincidence, too serendipitous that this summer brings love and friendship? No.  Delilah cannot heal – cannot open herself up to truly connecting with others – until she works out things with her family. As that healing happens, she allows a friend and a boy fully into her life. It’s not easy, and not without hiccups, but then, healing and change never are.

How does this compare to Ockler’s first book, Twenty Boy Summer? You know the scene in the film, 10 Things I Hate About You, about the difference between love and like? Bianca says “There’s a difference between like and love. Because, I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack. “ Chastity replies, “But I love my Skechers.” Bianca explains, “That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack.” Twenty Boy Summer is Skechers, and Fixing Delilah is a Prada backpack.

Review: Revolution

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. Delacorte, an imprint of Random House. 2010. Reviewed from copy from publisher.

The Plot: Andi Alpers, a senior, doesn’t belong anywhere and doesn’t care. After her brother’s death two years ago, her world fell apart. Her father, a Nobel winning scientist, always a worhaholic, moved out. Her mother’s grief registers itself in painting portraits of her dead son over and over. Andi’s about to be expelled from her expensive, prestigious private school but she doesn’t care. All Andi cares about her guitar and losing herself in her music with the occasional help of prescription drugs and a warm body.

Her father comes back into her life in “take charge, I can fix this” mode, as if Andi and her mother were another thing on his “to do” list. Her mother gets sent to a hospital and Andi is brought to Paris for her winter break, where her father can supervise her work on her ignored senior thesis. In Paris, Andi discovers the late eighteenth century diary of a teenage girl, Alexandrine Paradis, who was caught up in the French Revolution. Andi is captivated by the words of a girl her age. Twin stories unfold: Andi’s in the present day, Alex’s in the past, until the stories come together in a powerful ending that offers grace in a dark world.

The Good: Revolution is stunning.

The first section of the book, “Hell,” has an epigram from Dante: “And to a place I come where nothing shines.” Nothing shines in Andi’s life. Revolution begins with Andi’s privileged classmates (“a diplomat’s daughter,” “a movie star’s kid”) having a party. From the start, the connection is made between present day and the French Revolution with haves and have nots, an upper-class and underclass.

Andi’s grief over her younger brother’s death seeps through every page, every sentence, every act: “…and then I play. For hours. I play until my fingertips are raw. Until I rip a nail and bleed on the strings. Until my hands hurt so bad I forget my heart does.” Her grief is fueled by guilt for her role in her brother’s death as well as the breaking down of her family. “Rain washed away the blood long ago but I still see it. Unfurling beneath my brother’s small, broken body like the red petals of a rose. And suddenly the pain that’s always inside me, tightly coiled, swells into something so big and so fierce that it feels like it will burst my heart, split my skull, tear me apart.”

Andi’s father goes to Paris to visit and work with an old friend, a historian whose specialty is the French Revolution. Together, they are working on testing the alleged heart of Louis XVII, the “lost dauphin,” ten year old Louis-Charles, the child of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Did the child die, alone and broken and terrified? Or was he smuggled out for a dead child? Andi discovers a diary of a young girl, Alex, a poor actress who became companion to Louis-Charles. “They keep him in the Tower, a cold, dark room with one window, small and high. The guards are cruel. There is no stove to warm him. No privy. His filth piles up in a corner. He has no playthings. No books. Nothing but rats. What food he is given, he puts in a corner, to draw them off. He does not know his mother is dead and writes these words with a stone on his wall — Mama, please….   Once you were brave. Once you were kind. You can be so again.”

Andi works on her senior thesis, about a French composer who lived during the Revolution, reads the diary of Alex, wanders through Paris. Her Paris, the Paris of Alex, are told in wonderful detail. Past and present come to life. Andi’s music connects her with fellow Parisian musicians, including an attraction to handsome Virgil. Those relationships begin to anchor her in the present. At the same time, she is desperate to get home, to rescue her mother from the psychiatric hospital she’s been committed to, to not leave her alone.

The parallels: Andi’s privileged life, the privilege of the French aristocrats. Her brother Truman, dead at ten, a death Andi blames herself for. Louis-Charles, dead at ten, a death that Alex feels responsible for. Louis-Charles, imprisoned in a tower and denied any comfort or love; Andi’s mother, imprisoned in a hospital, an artist denied paints and brushes. The music, Andi’s own music and those she hears around her, tied to the past, to the musicians that came before, and her research into the French composer Malherbeau. The DNA found in people, the DNA of musical influence. It all works, comes together beautifully. My heart aches for Andi, wonders if she can forgive herself and become brave and kind again. I got caught up in Alex’s diary, with concern for that small boy, and wondered if Alex’s increasingly desperate and risky acts to try to let Louis-Charles know that he is not alone, he is not forgotten, he is still loved worked. Did they do anything? Did they ease her guilt, did it give hope? Does hope matter when the end of the story is a cold, brutal death?

Just because “the wretched world goes on, as stupid and brutal tomorrow as it was today,” do we have to be stupid and brutal? Or can we be brave and kind, no matter what the world brings?

About two-thirds through the book, there is a second section. “Purgatory,” again with a quote from Dante. Andi descends into a catacomb for a party with her new friends. And here, Donnelly makes a choice about the story that not everyone will love. I am personally torn as to what exactly happens, what it means. Andi is in a bleak place, unsure of herself and her place in any world, still seeking an end to the endless sorrow of her brother’s death. Whether what happens next is literal or not, real or a dream, Andi is given the opportunity to work towards redemption. The final chapters are “Paradise,” again Dante: “Till I beheld through a round aperture Some of the beauteous things Heaven doth bear; Thence we come forth to rebehold the stars.” Those of you who have read the book, let’s discuss that in the comments. Those of you who haven’t — don’t read the comments until you  have.

A revolution is an event: the French Revolution, the American Revolution. It is also a change in a way of thinking. This is Andi’s revolution.

A note on book design. I don’t have an e-reader; I’m not sure if e-books will replace physical books. I do know that the book design of Revolution shows the value of a physical object and how it adds to the book and is not merely a physical case to hold pages. In addition to the stunning artwork (a photograph of a modern girl, the painting of a 18th century girl, upside down, revolving) there is the red ribbon. Andi wears a red ribbon around her neck, holding a key that belonged to her brother; the surviving nobles of France wore red ribbons to remember those relatives killed by the guillotine.  The ribbon is glossy, raised, and the spine shows the key. The endpapers are blood red.

Oh, and for the historical fiction lovers like myself, there are acknowledgements and sources.

Because the language is stunning. Because Andi and Truman, Alex and Louis-Charles haunt me. Because I am still wondering at the difference between stupid and brutal, brave and kind, and whether it matters. Because my reservations about the book are about only a handful of pages, and those handful do not outweigh the seeking of braveness and kindness in ourselves. Revolution is a Favorite Book Read in 2010.

Review: The Iron Duke

With the Thanksgiving weekend coming up, here’s something a little different for you — something for the grown ups to read! Yes, I sometimes read books for grownups, and this steampunk romance is a fun, entertaining, hot read for the weekend.

  The Iron Duke (A Novel of the High Seas) by Meljean Brook. Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2010. Personal copy.

The Plot: A dead body has been found on the estate of the Duke of Anglesey and Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth has been called to find out what happened. It’s a delicate situation. The Duke is Rhys Trahaearn, the pirate who nine years ago freed England from the control of the Horde. Mina knows that the investigation will be difficult, because Rhys is a pirate made respectable, a national hero, adored. Mina, on the other hand, is the oldest daughter of an impoverished Earl — and she is also half Horde. The Horde had enslaved England and its people in every possible way, and every time people look at her, they can only see their enemy.

Investigating the mysterious death is not going to be easy. It turns out that Rhys is not a suspect — so Mina doesn’t have to worry about accusing the most popular man in England of murder. Together, Mina and Rhys discover a conspiracy that could threaten England itself. Mina must also fight a growing attraction to Rhys. 

The Good: This book is AWESOME. But before I get into all the amazing wonderful reasons I love this book and want there to be many, many more, let me be one hundred thousand percent clear: Adult Book. For grown ups. For the romance section of your library, or general fiction, or science fiction. This is for YOU. Enjoy it over Thanksgiving.

The Iron Duke is alternate history, set in a Victorianish world where the Horde (the descendants of Genghis Khan) successfully invaded Europe and England. Those of you wanting all the specific details can check out the author’s website for the exact details. There are airships, and steam powered vehicles, and nanoagents. Why, what is a nanoagent? Small bugs that were introduced to the English, hidden in sugar and tea. Once activated by the Horde, the Horde could use radio waves to control the nanoagents and thus control the people — their actions, their emotions, their bodies. Strong emotions, that may lead to rebellion? Done away with. What would make a miner or seamstress better? Why, having their tools be part of their bodies! The nanoagents help incorporate the metal into bodies, but also helps people heal, go faster, be stronger — be better workers for the Horde. And if the Horde thinks not enough babies are being born to create new workers, they order a Frenzy. A Frenzy is… well. I told you this was for grownups.

Brook does an amazing, astonishing world building. I was blown away by this intricate alternate history, and how careful Brook was in what she told the reader. Obviously, she put a lot of thought and research into The Iron Duke, but she resists the temptation to infodump all she knows on the reader. We don’t know all the history, we don’t even know all the present day politics and events. We know what Mina and Rhys know, we  learn what we need to make this work. Any science fiction or fantasy writer should take a look at the way the history is told, is related, to see how less is more even when dealing with a complex alternate historical and technical world.

Mina and Rhys are two smart, flawed people. Mina is half Horde as the result of a Frenzy. She herself was old enough to be subject to a Frenzy before the Horde were driven out of England. Mina’s past makes her who she is: smart, driven, enough of an outsider to be a good observer, enough of an insider to know how people think. She doesn’t trust easily — not other people and not herself. When you’ve learned you cannot control your own body, your own emotions, your own feelings, how can you trust anything? And that is another thing — her past is part of this story. Mina’s relationship with Rhys is one she fights, not because she doesn’t like him, but because she has to learn to trust herself before she can trust herself to be with him. Also? Mina’s past is not unique. Her entire country – including Rhys – is full of people trying to figure out the same things. Bad things didn’t just happen to Mina, or to Rhys. They happened to everyone.

Rhys. Rhys is hot. And he is strong, impulsive, loyal, smart, a leader. Like Mina, he has things in his past which means he keeps people at arm’s length. Rhys is attracted to Mina but he has his own issue about emotional intimacy. Sigh. It’s so much fun seeing these two people, attracted to each other yet being held back by their own baggage.

This is a love story, yes, a love story between Mina and Rhys. But it’s not the only love story here: it’s also the love between friends and family. Rhys, an orphan, has created a family out of friends, one bound with loyalty. Mina may be the child of rape, but she is also the adored daughter of her parents. Her parents are amazing people — despite the Horde trying to control strong passions and emotions, despite being subject to multiple Frenzies, despite all their hardships, her parents love each other and love all their children.

Oh, and while this is a romance, and steampunk, it’s also a mystery! A very well crafted mystery which I didn’t figure out ahead of time.

Did I mention the hot romance? And that it’s a romance for adults? It is steamy. Rhys and Mina work through their issues with physical and emotional intimacy. A lot.

Oh, and before I forget! ZOMBIES. Yes, there are many, many zombies.

There are no unicorns, but given the technology which has included some genetic mutations and scientifically altered creatures, I wouldn’t be surprised if they show up at some point.

I have some questions about how the nanoagents work and the Horde and other details. But you known what? I trust Brook. My questions are just because Brook has created such a believable, real, world that I want to know more. I trust that we may have those answers in future books. Heart of Steel is due in November 2011; I’m hoping we see even more!

One more thing. No, this isn’t for your middle school. No, it isn’t for your high school. Ask your adult fiction selector to buy it. Your teens who are excited about books where a couple may or may not kiss? Yes, this is not for them.

Alt History / Steampunk

I love Alternate History books. Love, love, love. Because…

Why, I cannot tell you NOW. Not when, as announced by Leila at Bookshelves of Doom,for the entire week of December 13th, we’re going to celebrate and discuss — and we, of course, invite and encourage you to do the same — Alt History and Steampunk novels. (We’re mostly focusing on the YAs, but I suspect we’ll do some branching out — there’re a TON of adult titles, and loads of those have insanely excellent crossover potential.)”

Leila is having a contest as part of the celebration! Nutshell, design a better book cover. Full details are at her blog.

Basically, alternate history is fiction where something has changed in the historical timeline. Steampunk is a particular subset of this genre.

If you want to read a whole lot more about it, as prep for what you want to post about the week of December 13, check out this post at Tor by GD Falksen:steampunk is Victorian science fiction. Here “Victorian” is not meant to indicate a specific culture, but rather references a time period and an aesthetic: the industrialized 19th century.” And if you want to read even more, here is Scott Westerfeld talking about it in Genre Cooties.

Image from Finding Wonderland.

Review: The Iron King

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa. Harlequin Teen. 2010. First in the Iron Fey series. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Meghan Chase, almost sixteen, lives in the middle of the Louisiana bayou with her mother, stepfather and four year old half-brother. Maybe it’s the oddness of having had her father disappear when she was six; maybe it’s living on a pig farm and being poor; maybe it’s not having any of the technology (like cellphones) that her stepfather dislikes; maybe it’s that her only friend is Robbie Goodfell, the school’s greatest prankster — whatever the reason, she doesn’t have many friends. Her crush on cute Scott Waldron ends disastrously.

Could it get any worse?

Why, yes. Meghan starts seeing things. Doesn’t think they are real, until her little brother starts acting strange and it turns out — well, nothing is what she thinks it is. Fairies and otherworldy things are real, her brother has been replaced with a Changeling, and to save him she has to enter the NeverNever, the world of faery. A dangerous world with dangerous creatures, because it turns out? Her good friend Rob is actually Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck. Her father is Oberon, King of the Summer Court. Which means she is half-faery and a princess. Also, it means that Oberon’s wife, Titania, isn’t too happy she exists. Then there is this whole other court, the Winter Court, ruled by Mab.

And just as it gets more confusing and dangerous, enter Ash. Mab’s son. Someone who makes Meghan’s heart race.

The Good: Let’s just get down to it, shall we? It’s Team Puck versus Team Ash.

On the one side, Puck. Minuses: he was sent by her father to keep an eye on her. Has been half-lying to her about her identity for years. And those jokes can sometimes get on one’s nerves. Pluses: he’s her best friend. The person she can absolutely trust. He knows his way away Faeryland and he’ll help her, no matter what. He’s a fighter, he’s loyal, and he’s cute.

On the other, we have Ash. Minuses: the Winter Court and Summer Court are long-time enemies, so he’s her built in enemy. He’s sworn to kill Puck, in a “cannot take it back” way. Dark, moody, edgy, not very communicative. Not to be trusted. Pluses: He’s Mr. Hotty from Hottyville who just sets her heart a-racing.

Me? I say date Ash, marry Puck.

I’m trying to figure out when to put my spoiler warning. Like triangles, with two very different but equally interesting people? Read The Iron King. If it’s all about the world building and you want an otherworld that has both the dark and the beautiful things from ancient stories, tales, and myths come to life, read The Iron King. In addition to Puck and Ash, there is Grimalkin, a talking cat, sirens, goblins and more.

But what I really liked about this book is something that is a bit spoilery. Don’t want spoilers? I warned you!

As in Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement, belief matters. “Doorways to the Nevernever tend to appear in places where there is a lot of belief, creativity and imagination. Often you can find one in a child’s bedroom closet, or under his bed.” Children (like Meghan’s younger brother) can see and talk to those from the Nevernever because they believe. At one point, Meghan is told she can tap into her half-faery powers to become invisible if she just taps into that power. Personally, that seems the worst thing, because the minute you doubt…oops. It doesn’t work.

In The Iron King, not believing can have consequences: “Mortal disbelief has always taken a bit of the Nevernever.” It turns out that belief can have consequences, also. Mortals and their belief in science and technology have not just “taken a bit of the Nevernever”, it has created new type of fey, the Iron Fey. The Iron Fey have kept their existence secret from their traditional, older brothers and sisters. What’s interesting is that iron — science and technology — have always been fatal to the fey. So here are a new fey that are both immune to the dangers of the mortal world, and themselves are dangerous to their fellow fey.

The Iron King ends on a cliffhanger: to save her brother, Meghan has made sacrifices and promises. Promises that must be kept. Her future survival is a bit of a question mark. So, to, is the future of the fey and what will happen now that the Iron Fey are no longer hiding. The story continues in The Iron Daughter and The Iron Queen.

Review: Hush

Hush by Eishes Chayil. Walker, a division of Bloomsbury. 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Gittel is a teenager, preparing to graduate High School, get married, get a job. She is haunted by memories of her childhood friend, Devory.

When they were both nine, Devory hanged herself in the bathroom of Gittel’s house.

Now an adult, Gittel realizes that there was something terribly wrong. As a child, she had seen something, before Devory died. She told Devory’s mother: “I told her that Shmuli [, Devory’s older brother,] came into the room,  how he went under her blanket in the middle of the night.” Devory’s mother is all anger and denials and saying Devory is a troubled liar: “You must never tell this to anyone.. . . . You must not tell this to the police.”

After Devory is found dead, Gittel’s father hears Gittel tell the police: “she just didn’t want to sleep with her brother.” Gittel later hears her parents argue. Her mother says, “They’ve been our neighbors forever! They are an important family, … No one will believe it anyway. . . .It’s too late.” Our children will be kicked out of school, no one will talk to them, she warns. There are no more interviews with the police.  The teachers at school tell her “not to talk to anyone in the class about what happened.” To do so would be a big sin. Devory’s family moves away. Gittel’s mother throws away the photographs of Devory. Her father tells her to forget.

Gittel tries to do as she is told. Forget Devory, forget what happened. Her life in Borough Park continues, time goes by, she goes to high school, there is an engagement and marriage plans, but all along, Gittel is haunted by Devory and why she died, and why her community, the loving, warm, close-knit, nurturing, protective Yushive Chassidim Jewish community, acts as if nothing happened and as if Devory never existed. As Gittel becomes an adult within her community — marrying and becoming a mother — she realizes she can be hushed no longer.

The Good: Gittel will haunt you, as Devory haunts her.

Hush is a fascinating and brutally honest examination of what happens to a family and community that believes that if they think child sexual abuse doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen, and anything — or anyone — that says otherwise should be quieted, excluded, shunned, hushed. Best to act as if nothing ever happened. I could not read this book in one sitting. I had to put it down, take deep breaths, literally walk away.

Hush uses a fictional name for the main ultra-Orthodox Chassidic sect (Yushive), because the author refuses “to point a finger at one group, when the crime was endemic to all.” Chayil paints a community that is warm and loving. The relationship between Gittel and her father is tender; this man loves his child. Unfortunately, because he is a product of this community, the best her father could do to help Gittel as a child was to protect her by keeping the secret and insisting she do the same.

Gittel is a woman who values her world and wants to be a part of it — Gittel marries, has a child, has no desire to leave — while realizing that there is something wrong with the community that needs to be fixed. What is wrong is how the community handles the sexual abuse of children by its own members.

For most readers, the lives and customs of the ultra-Orthodox depicted in Hush will be a window into another world. A world of men studying in kollel, a world where marriage and children are valued above everything else with young brides hoping for to be pregnant by their first day of marriage, a world with arranged marriages, where the young men and women getting married are not told the facts of life until days (or hours) before the wedding. A world where the goyim and their customs are strange and at laughable. Chayil’s insider view of this community is full of warmth; the reader understands why Gittel stays.

The treatment of child sexual abuse victims by the community is even more horrible, in light of how much children are valued. Gittel eventually realizes what so many do not: pretending something doesn’t exist, not giving it words, does not prevent it from existing. When walls are built as a protection to keep danger out, they can turn into a prison.

Hush is not a condemnation of a community. This is a condmenation of how a community reacts to something tragic and horrible. In Hush, the abuse and failure to deal with it happens in a community that is a closed religous one. As shown by the scandals of the Catholic Church, it can happen in communities that are less isolated. The failure is not about religion or lack of religion. The failure is what happens when a group of people decide that they are “good” and “evil” can only come from outside the group. When that evil comes from within, the group has no knowledge, skills, or ability to deal with it except to ignore it because to admit to it would negate the firm belief that “we” are good and that goodness can be protected only be guarding from threats from the outside. As Chayil says in her Author’s Note, “We forgot that the greatest enemies always come from within.”

Add to that the belief that keeping a child from knowledge preserves that child’s innocence. Gittel’s husband is so sheltered that he is shocked and disgusted when he realizes his wife has breasts. He had been led to believe “that” was something only goyishe women had “to make men look at them,” and no self respecting Jewish woman would have them. Laugh, smile, or cry at the image of such an argument happening between a married couple — but at some point, “protecting” a child from the outside world stops being protection and becomes injurious to the adult the child becomes.

Gittel knows she saw Shmuli crawl into his sister’s bed, but she does not know what it is until, years later, a police officer calls it “rape.” When Gittel uses that word to explain to her new husband what happened to Devory, he is as innocent as she is. “What does ‘rape’ mean?” Not knowing what “rape” meant does not stop Shmuli from raping his younger sister. It does not prevent her mother from labeling Devory, not Shmuli, as the troublemaker. It does not stop Devory from hanging herself using a jump-rope because her family won’t keep her brother away from her. Ignorance is not innocence; and ignorance does not protect the innocent.

Eishes Chayil is a pseudonym. An Author’s Note, as well as the jacket copy, explains that Chayil was raised Chassidic. It doesn’t explain why she uses a pseudonym. Maybe, like Gittel’s family, she is concerned that her extended family will suffer if she spoke publicly. Maybe the concern is not being associated with one particular sect; if she is part of x, people may say, “oh, it only happens in x, not in y.” It’s sad, though, because Hush is about Gittel finding her voice to speak up for Devory. Chayil is speaking up, is not hushed, but she cannot publicly own it the way Gittel can.

As an Irish Catholic, I’m hardly the person to judge the accuracy or authenticity of Hush. So, instead, check out the review at Tablet Magazine, part of Nextbook which includes an interview with the author. In addition, comments point out that the American Jewish Libraries Newsletter (not online, member only) reviewed this title and that the Jewish Book World Magazine, which comes out quarterly, will have a review in its February issue. Also see the Velveteen Rabbi’s review.

Kirkus Review has an interview with Chayil.

Edited to add 11/26/10: Book Review of Hush at Fink or Swim; with a follow up message posted both at that blog and Dov Bear.

Historical Fiction Month

It is Historical Fiction Month over at Melissa Rabey’s blog, Librarian by Day.

As explained in Rabey’s November 1 post, “Every weekday in November, there will be discussion of young adult historical fiction.  Whether it’s a book review, an essay from a guest contributor, or a post from me, readers will learn new things about historical fiction.”

Rabey also presented on historical fiction at the 2010 Young Adult Literature Symposium — and yes, my coverage of the Symposium is coming soon!

Rabey is the author of Historical Fiction for Teens: A Genre Guide from Libraries Unlimited. And, disclaimer and disclosure, she is also a good friend of mine.

Review: The Suburb Beyond The Stars

The Suburb Beyond the Stars by M. T. Anderson. Scholastic. 2010. Review from ARC from ALA.

The Plot: Brian and Gregory, having survived The Game of Sunken Places, are preparing for the next Game. Brian, as winner, gets to plan it and is constructing it around old detective novels. Gregory, his best friend, is helping. The Game is part of a highly structured battle between two elfin groups, the Thussers and the Norumbegans. There are many rounds, and the ultimate winner claims the kingdom of Norumbega. The Game has been going on for ages.

Until now. Turns out, the Thussers are getting impatient. Brian and Gregory return to the mountains of Vermont to discover people are missing, the world is changing, and much more is at stake than one kingdom.

The Good: I cannot believe I didn’t review The Game of Sunken Places. Since it was published in 2004, I must have read it in my pre-blog days. I loved The Game of Sunken Places. It reminded me of the horror stories I read and loved as a teen, such as Shadowland by Peter Straub. Visiting mysterious relatives in a creaky mansion, a game come to life, high risk stakes. Actually, as I think on this — Stephen King has been known to read young adult books. I would love to see King talk about this book in his EW column.

The events of the first book are recounted at the start of The Suburb Beyond the Stars, helping out both the reader who hasn’t read the first book and the reader who read the first book years ago. I was a bit surprised when I found out about a sequel, because while I adored the first book it seemed like a standalone. Would this just be a rehash of the first book, except now being told from the point of view of the game-makers instead of the game-players?

Silly, silly me. I should know better. This is, after all, M.T. Anderson. If we lived in a world that valued genius writing the way we valued tanned twentysomethings who drink and go to the beach and clubs, Anderson would be a millionaire who required body guards to keep his fans away. “Tobin at the airport!” the headlines at TMZ would scream. His Delaware would be sung by American Idol contestants. Heck, Tobin would be one of the most popular baby names. My point being, never doubt in Anderson. Rehash? Silly, silly me.

Everything changes in this book. The Thussers have decided not to play the Game. They have not told the Norumbegans, of course. While Brian and Gregory were in Boston, playing by the rules, the Thussers have slowly begun to invade. Oh,  yes, this is horror — this is scary — but it’s funny and amusing. The Thussers invade by building a suburb, a SUBURB, to attract suburbanites and then use them and that place as their point of entry to our world. They plan on taking over the planet, one suburb at a time. This is biting satire.

I could write more. I could write about the unexpected, terrifying creatures Brian and Gregory encounter. I could tell about the plotting and twists and turns. I could go on about world-building. And oh, the language! The writing! The many post-its in my book, marking a particularly amusing sentence. I could write about how while this is perfect for middle school, older teens and adults will enjoy it.  I could share the excitement that the next book in the quartet, The Empire of Gut and Bone, is coming in 2011. But if I took the time to do all that, I would not have the time to explore the tie-in interactive website that Scholastic has put together. Before I go, two quick things. Yes, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2010. And here is a link to the trailer for the book (because I cannot get it to embed in this blog).

National Book Awards

The five National Book Awards, Young People’s Literature finalists. For more on the Awards process, see the NBA website. One thing to note: when talking any award, each one is different, from the nomination process to the make-up of the selection committee to the criteria to the selection process. Comparing awards and finalists can be fun, but bottom line, often it’s comparing apples, pineapples, and pine trees.

November 16 is the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference, which will feature all five Young People’s Literature Finalists at the Schomburg Center of The New York Public Library.

November 17th is the National Book Awards Dinner & Ceremony. You can follow the events on Twitter at NationalBook.

A recap of the five finalists:

Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown & Co.)

From my review: “Ship Breaker is breathless, non stop action, with barely room to breathe. Getting lost in ships, hurricanes, deadly infections, knife battles, and that’s just the first third! The world-building is done so seamlessly that it’s not noticed. Along the way, much is given to the reader to think about. This is set in the future, but all the big questions are about our today: the divide between the haves and have nots, the ecological impact of actions, the use of child labor, as well as questions about loyalty, choice, and fate.”

Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird (Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group) – NBA Interview

From my review: “A child dying. Who understands that? Who knows why? How can anyone, adult, parent, friend, know what to do when faced with such a tragedy? It’s a community tragedy, because Devon was killed at school. Two other children shot a teacher, Devon, and another student. Erskine takes that tragedy and makes it so much worse, because of how Caitlin processes the world around her. It’s not so much that sees the world in terms of black and white as that she wants to see it in black and white.”

Laura McNeal, Dark Water (Alfred A. Knopf) – NBA Interview

From my review: “I was reading this on the train, and I was surprised to discover I had lost track of time as I was drawn into Pearl’s world and Fallbrook. Luckily, I did not miss my stop! . . . In addition to the beautifully written setting and descriptions, Dark Water is full of metaphors and connections — the types where it is left to the reader to connect the dots. McNeal respects her readers enough to know that they will figure it out.”

Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown
(Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) – NBA Interview

From my review: “Reese feels like he has no choices. But does he? And if he believes he has no choices, does that mean that once he’s released something will happen and he’ll just wind up back in Progress? If he believes fighting is freedom, will he ever be free? Myers brings you into Reese’s world and the limitations, offering no easy answers. I read somewhere that any good book ends not with an ending but a beginning. Lockdown ends with the beginning of Reese’s life.”

Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer
(Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) – NBA Interview.

From my review:  “I love the Gaither sisters! I love how they stick up for each other in public, yet get mad at each other in private. I love how they have this thing where they don’t just finish each others sentences — when taking on someone, they converse as if one, a solid family unit.”

Young People’s Literature Judges: Laban Carrick Hill, Kelly Link, Tor Seidler, Hope Anita Smith, Sara Zarr

Who will win? I have no idea. Both One Crazy Summer and Ship Breaker are on my favorite books read in 2010 list. So, obviously, I’m hoping for either of those books. One Crazy Summer dares to allow a flawed parent to not just exist, but to be loved by her children. Ship Breaker warns of a nightmare future where life has little value, but that makes living all the more important. Though I remain unconvinced that Pearl and Amiel love each other in Dark Water, I am convinced they are rea and the setting — I still think I was there, in California, as the fires burned. Reese from Lockdown stays with me, also; long after the book is over, I hear his voice . While only are in Reese’s world for a few weeks, I am caught up in wondering about not just Reese’s future but that of his sister and friends. And Caitlin in Mockingbird breaks my heart, with her wanting to connect, to be a friend, but not quite being able to. E.M. Forster said, “only connect,” and in her own fashion that is what Caitlin wants to do. Isn’t that what we all want?

Why these five books, then? The National Book Awards is decided by authors, and authors view each other’s work with a different lens than readers. The way these authors have created settings you can see, feel, touch; the way you think you can pass any of these characters on the street; the use of images, metaphor, symbolism — each book is distinctive in its own way. Being finalists shifted three of these books (Dark Water, Lockdown, and Mockingbird) to the top of my “to be read” pile, and I’m glad I read them all.