Review: Real Live Boyfriends

Real Live Boyfriends (Yes, boyfriends, plural. If my life weren’t complicated, I wouldn’t be Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart. Delacorte, an imprint of Random House. 2010. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Ruby Oliver is now a senior and has a real! live! boyfriend! Everything is terrific, until Noel goes away to visit his brother for the summer and starts acting strange and distant. Ruby handles the situation with her typical Rubyness, which means plenty of humor with the occasional heartbreak.

The Good: Ruby Oliver was first introduced to the world in The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, Ruby Oliver). Ruby was fifteen, suffering from panic attacks, and had just started seeing a therapist. Her school was full of ex-boyfriends and ex-friends. I know, that sounds heavy, but The Boyfriend List was laugh out loud funny because of Ruby, and how she told the story, and her wide range of pop culture references. The Boyfriend List was also a very clear look at high school social politics, of friendships and frenemies and boys and boyfriends.

Next came The Boy Book (A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them). Ruby was now a junior and while less isolated and lonely than in The Boyfriend List, she is still sorting out the complicated emotional baggage ex-friendship brings. Ruby narrates, and part of the joy of each book is how the reader observes things Ruby doesn’t.

The Treasure Map of Boys: Noel, Jackson, Finn, Hutch–and me, Ruby Oliver continued Ruby’s junior year. Ruby (as the titles indicate) continued to be boy obsessed and continued to be sorting out her relationships with family, friends, and boys. Part of Ruby’s charm is her self-absorption,  and her growing awareness of being less self-centered and also of taking ownership of her actions and their consequences. Not in a “deal with the bad consequences” way, no; but in a “don’t pretend you drift through life and stuff just happens way.” I made the infinitely stupid comment in my review of the third book that Ruby’s story felt done.


Which brings us to the fourth Ruby book, Real Live Boyfriends. Ruby is a senior and has a real! live! boyfriend! One thing I like about Ruby is how she projects and reacts to things and doesn’t always see the full picture. While the reader doesn’t know why Noel starts acting differently around Ruby — or, rather, stops acting in the way Ruby expects a real live boyfriend to act — the reader can see that some of what is going on is that Ruby has a clear vision in her head of what should be and what should not be. Which can be a bit tricky for those who aren’t in her head. Ruby has to work out two things: one, speaking up about what is happening insider her head and vocalizing her fears and disappointments instead of pretending everything is OK, as well as realizing that how she processes things and interacts with people is not the same way others process and interact and that is OK.

What really struck me with Real Live Boyfriends is how much I’d been taken in by Ruby’s boycraziness and loneliness and wanting friends that somehow I had stopped viewing Ruby’s panic attacks as something serious. This book really hit home that what this quartet of books is about is teens and mental health. This may be one of the few young adult novels out there that honestly addresses mental health issues in a way that is not message-driven and does not make the mental health issue the point of the book. Ruby’s panic attacks are part of who Ruby is, not the sole thing about Ruby.

As is obvious from the start of this, the Ruby books are best read in order. Not because of them being sequential and building on one another, which they are and do; but, rather, because combined they tell one story, of Ruby, as she matures and grows over the course of three years. It’s a true coming of age work and as I closed the book I wished that there was an award for best series, because the strength of some stories are not in their individual volumes but rather in the complete story. I don’t mean to say that the individual books aren’t strong — they are wonderful — but the true magic and genius of what Lockhart has done is revealed by looking at Ruby over the course of the entire series.

And now, for some quotes because I just adore Ruby’s voice:

Even though I know there is no such thing as a happy ending [7], a little part of me thought I had found one . . . . Even though having a real live boyfriend didn’t solve my mental problems or fix my family. Even though life wasn’t a movie. It still felt like a happy ending. It did. Until eight weeks later. [7 You can’t have an ending. It’s impossible. Because unlike in the movies, life goes on. You’re never at the end until you die.” I wasn’t sure how to replicate the footnotes, but wow, I love how Ruby views her life through movie lenses even as she knows that is foolish.

Which brings me to “but life is not a movie, as I continually forced to acknowledge.”

Me too, Ruby. Me too.


SLJ Day of Dialog

Not even a recap — I’m just going to link to those who did do a recap of the panel I moderated, Diversity in YA.

A photo of the awesome panelists:

That’s Cindy Pon (Fury of the Phoenix), Malinda Lo (Huntress), Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer) and Paul Griffin (Stay With Me).

Paul Griffin’s terrific and detailed write up all about the panel is at Bowllan’s Blog.

Betsy’s recap of the whole SLJ Day of Dialog.

SLJ’s article about its Day of Dialog.

From Birnam Wood.

I know blog posts are still being drafted and posted, so if I find something else that recaps the panel (or if you leave your link), I’ll update.

YALSA Nonfiction: Eligibility

This week, eligibility for the YALSA Nonfiction Award!

Once again, this is from the YALSA website: “The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults shall be awarded annually to the best nonfiction title published for young adults during the preceding November 1 – October 31 year. The Award will be given to a title that honors a work for subject, treatment and accessibility to young adults.” It’s really important to remember that year, as people wonder whether to nominate a title or why wasn’t a title nominated.

Some specifics: “All print forms of nonfiction are eligible for consideration, including graphic formats.” Hm…. I wonder, as ebooks grow and evolve, whether this will need to change.

The title must have been designated by its publisher as intended for young adults who are defined as persons between the ages of twelve and including eighteen.” “Young adults” is, in libraryland, pretty much a specific designation to accurately reflect the age we serve. It’s a term of art; and, as often with such terms, it has a different meaning in the “real world.” It’s also interesting in that I think most of those we serve wouldn’t use this term. Still, given that “tween” isn’t accurate and “teen” includes those who are 19 and excludes those who are 12, what other term is there? Also, note it’s also about what the publisher designates.

The title must include excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults.” Excellent….

Titles from a series may be considered on their individual merits.”

If no title is deemed sufficiently meritorious, no award will be given that year.” I am giggling at this one, as I believe it’s in every ALSC/YALSA Award policies and procedures, and really? Really? A year without even one title of merit?

The chair, with assistance from designated YALSA staff, is responsible for verifying the eligibility of all nominated titles.” Checking dates and publishers once, twice, thrice.

And, finally, “The award will be presented to the author(s) of the winning and honor titles at a ceremony at an ALA or YALSA conference.” Right now, as discussed earlier, this occurs at the Midwinter Meeting.

Next week: Sh! Don’t Tell! We’ll be talking confidentiality.

Bridget Zinn

Bridget Zinn died last week. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago. She was 33. Her first book, Poison, will be published in 2012 by Disney/Hyperion.

It’s heartbreaking.


Bridget Zinn’s Facebook page and In Memory page

Upstart Crow Literary, by Bridget’s agent Michael Stearns

Jone MacCulloch,who organized the 2008 Kidlit Blogging Conference, which Bridget attended

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s In Memory page for Bridget, with links to other posts for and about Bridget; more links from Sara Ryan

Lisa Schroeder

Cancer sucks.

Edited to add: Laini Taylor’s post

Review: An Incomplete Revenge

An Incomplete Revenge: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear. Henry Holt. 2008. Macmillan Audio. 2008. Listened to audio borrowed from library. Narrated by Orlagh Cassidy.

A holiday is coming up, so here’s a book for the grown ups. I’ve done this once or twice before, so just added the tag “holiday reads” to those books.

The Plot: England, 1931. Maisie Dobbs, psychologist and investigator, is asked to do a routine investigation into a real estate and business purchase. The economic slump had made cases hard to come by, so Maisie is happy for the work and happy to be of assistance to James Compton, son of the family who have been both mentor and employer to Maisie. She discovers a village where petty crimes and small fires are ignored, a village hiding from its dark past.

The Good: This is fifth in the series about Maisie, a girl who began life as a servant and has ended up a university-educated woman running her own business as a psychologist and private investigator. Maisie’s past, her education, intellect, and intuition mean she fits in many places, listens, hears more than people say and sees more than people realize. I cannot begin to say how much I adore Maisie.

An Incomplete Revenge offers a look at a village scarred by the Great War. A zeppelin dropped a bomb on an village in Kent and the town seems to have never recovered. James Compton wants to buy a business in the town, but a bunch of petty crimes and small fires gives him concern, enough to hire Maisie to look into it. It’s the time of year when working class Londoners take a working vacation in places like Kent, harvesting hops. The Londoners are given a place to sleep and get paid; for a few weeks, they escape city life. The reader (and Maisie) learns about this, as well as observes the tensions between the Londoners, the people in Kent, and the gypsies.

I cannot say how much I love all these details of life in the 1930s.

The mystery is also quite good; most of Maisie’s mysteries involve not just looking at the crime, but also looking at the victims and the suspects and doing so as a psychologist. What makes them tick? Why do people do what they do? And, as always, this is a generation haunted by the Great War.

Winspear also weaves contemporary issues in; here, the sons of Maisie’s best friend, Priscilla, have just started school. At the new school, they are bullied. Seeing how Priscilla, Maisie and the headmaster react to what is happening at school with the boys is fascinating, especially given today’s attitudes. The kindness of people to those who they consider “us”, the harshness and cruelty to the “other” are also explored, both in terms of the English and the gypsies, Londoners versus the people in Kent, the English and the Germans.

Priscilla and her sons. Priscilla and Maisie are friends from University days. Both left school to volunteer for the Great War; Priscilla lost all three of her brothers. She now has three sons, and part of my heartbreak reading these books is doing the math, figuring out how old the boys are now and how old they will be in 1939.

Another interesting relationship that develops during the series is that of Maisie and Billy Beale. Billy is a working class Londoner, who fought and was wounded in the Great War. He now works for Maisie; as the series continues, Billy’s responsibilities and input into the cases increases. One of my personal frustrations is that, given different circumstances and education for Billy, I think he could one day be a partner in Maisie’s work. But I don’t think we’ll be seeing that, given he doesn’t have Maisie’s education, connections, or accent; and he also has a wife, mother, and small children to support.

Reading the series in order: My review of the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs. I think it’s best to start with the first book, because it begins in 1929 then jumps back in time to show Maisie’s rise and path. This is especially for those readers drawn to these books because of the setting. Imagine Downton Abbey, but instead of the girl who teaches herself typing in hopes of being a secretary? Imagine she’s caught reading in the library, and offered private tutoring… as long as she still does all her household duties. Those of you who have watched such shows realize just how impressive Maisie’s climb is. Because the first book concentrates on Maisie’s teen years (as well as the 1929 mystery), it’s the one with the most teen appeal and was awarded a 2004 Alex Award by YALSA.

After the first book, in all honesty, unless you hate spoilers, it’s OK to read the books out of order. Each book stands alone, but time moves forward so Maisie’s relationships and friendships change and grow, and people come and go. People die, babies are born. Maisie continues to grow and mature; but, there is no series plot arc.

Review: Small As An Elephant

Small As An Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson. Candlewick. 2011. Brilliance Audio. 2011. Narrated by William Dufris. Reviewed from audio from Brilliance.

The Plot: Jack Martel, 11, wakes up on his first day of vacation, hot and worried that he’s overslept. He struggles out of his tent, looks around the camp site and sees — nothing. His mother’s tent is gone; his mother’s car is gone.

His mother is gone.

Jack believes his mother will be back soon. He goes about his day, finds something to eat, plays with some other kids staying at Acadia National Park. But then it’s the next day… and the next day… and Jack realizes his mother isn’t coming back, school is about to start, he has no way to get home to Jamaica Plain and if anyone realizes that his mother is gone, there will be big, big trouble. It’s up to Jack to figure out what to do next.

The  Good: Jack breaks my heart.

Jack loves his mother. She loves Jack; she is fun, inventive, energetic, kind. Sometimes, though, she gets caught up in what Jack calls “spinning.” It’s not the first time she’s left for a couple of days, but before at least he was home, in his apartment, by friendly neighbors. Now he has $14 and not much more than the clothes on his back. And, Jack loves his mother. Another kid would go to the police, tell a grown up, call a grandparent. Not Jack. He is afraid that once he does that, people who don’t understand his mother will get involved and split them up. Jack is afraid of losing her forever and tries to keep it together until she returns.

Jack breaks my heart; at eleven, he is just old enough to take care of himself, or rather, to try to take care of himself. Just old enough to know that if lets any adult know, they will decide he shouldn’t stay with his mother, take him away, maybe lock her up. Jack is also young, just young enough to believe that he can get away with hiding from the attention of adults, that he can somehow make it from Maine to Massachusetts on his own. Young enough that he makes mistakes, like leaving his cell phone in his shorts pocket before going into the water.

I rooted for Jack, and I didn’t want him to be caught even though I knew at some point his journey had to end. As time passed and his mother didn’t return, I knew that what Jack wanted as his happy ending could not happen. As an adult reading this book, I also knew what Jack took the entire book to realize: his mother needed help. Also, as an adult reading the book? I was less kind than Jack, in that I wanted to take his mother and yell at her for leaving her child.

But for the age group for this book? For tweens? They will be making both the emotional and physical journey that Jack makes. They may have an adult in their lives like Jack’s mother, they may not, but they will understand the love and bond between the two.

What readers will also like? That Small as an Elephant grants the deepest wish and fear — of being left alone, of not having a grown up telling you what to do, of being able to take care of oneself. They’ll be impressed with some of Jack’s survival tricks, and may think of things they would do differently.

Spoil Me This

In my review of Divergent, I didn’t reveal a significant choice the main character, Tris, made early on in the book. When I linked to a review by Presenting Lenore, I said “Warning: slight spoiler there about what faction Tris selects. So don’t click if you don’t want to know; on the other hand, Tris makes her choice by page 47.” In the comments to my review, Lenore said, “Oops! I guess I should’ve had a spoiler warning. 🙂 I just thought her choice was so obvious, I didn’t even think about it!!”

For Divergent, I was probably being ridiculously cautious. It did get me thinking, though…

How much — or how little — to give away in a review or discussion or book talk is hard!

I once listened to a book talk that began, “Melinda was raped at a back to school party…. ” and I was like WHAT? You’re kidding me! How can you tell that up front!

Sometimes, for some books, I like discovering things for myself. Other times, though, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not I know the outcome of a book. As a matter of fact, knowing the ending can make me like a book more, because I get a better appreciation for things like plotting and characterization.

I also look at my blog posts as a mix of review (what works for the book), recommendation (hey, here is a cool book!) and discussion (can you believe what happened?).

And, to be honest, it also depends on how new the book is. At this point, given that Hunger Games is now a trilogy, it’s hardly a spoiler to say who won the Games in book one . . . unless, of course, you’re booktalking it as a recommendation.

What do you consider a spoiler? Does it matter to you as a reader? As a blogger, how much do you tell about what happens in a book?

Review: Blood Magic

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton. Random House. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Silla sits in the cemetery, a book of magic spells before her. Magic sounds crazy. Spells requiring blood sounds insane. For Silla, crazy and insane are words she takes seriously, ever since she came home to find the bodies of her parents and a room full of blood. Crazy, insane, are words said about her father. The police say he killed her mother and then himself. Silla is sent this book of blood magic, in her father’s handwriting.

A father who believed in magic, who wrote a book of spells that require blood and herbs and other ingredients (and always, always blood) — is this proof he was crazy?

Silla decides: if magic is real, if the spells of her father’s work, it is proof that he was not crazy. Silla cuts her palm, says the words. The spell works. She looks up and sees a boy is watching.

Nicholas watches, watches a girl in a cemetery hunched over a book, murmuring words, watches her cut her hand. Nicholas is shocked — because he recognizes what she is doing.

The Good: With a book like Blood Magic, the author needs to convey world-building information to the reader without doing a dreaded info dump. Since Blood Magic is set in the real world, Gratton has to show that the magic is real and how the magic works. Show, not tell. And this she does masterfully.

Gratton’s world building is smooth and seamless: by page 8, Silla is convinced that magic is real, that blood magic is real, for the simple reason that the spell works. So, too, is the reader convinced that the world of Blood Magic is real. Next is learning more about how the magic works and Gratton makes the interesting choice of offering us three narratives: Silla and Nicholas telling alternate sections in the present day, and Josephine Darly’s twentieth century diary. Gratton wants the reader to know more about magic than any individual — Silla, Nicholas, or Josephine — knows. We learn along with Silla about the giddy joy of discovering that magic is real and that her blood has power; we remember along with Nicholas that some people, such as his mother, cannot handle that power and turn to drugs; and we watch as Josephine’s delight in magic turns to delight in power, including power over others. We realize, before Silla, that blood magic is serious; yet Silla’s enthusiasm and sense of discovery helps balance Nick’s caution. Josephine’s increasingly dark choices remind the reader not just where Silla’s and Nick’s journey may lead but also that Silla’s father, who practiced blood magic, ended up dead in a pool of blood, his wife beside him.

Blood Magic uses blood, and usually the idea of using blood for something seems — dark. Evil. Wrong. Blood magic, black magic. Blood Magic explores how power is itself not good or bad; it is how it’s used. It’s amazing how Gratton takes a scene that in any other book (girl, blood, cemetery, spells) would signal “this girl is the bad one!” and sets that girl up as heroine and the reader agrees, to the point that it may make the reader rethink how the trope of “using blood for magic is wrong” the next time it is encountered in another work. The practical matter of using blood is also addressed: Silla, Nick, and the others are left tired and drained. Band-aids cover cuts, and others whisper or question the self-inflicted wounds.

What else? There is romance (Silla and Nick) and family dynamics. Silla’s ex-step-grandmother has stepped up to take of Silla and Reese, while Reese is postponing college. Nick’s mother is gone, and his father’s younger trophy wife makes Nick’s life difficult.

Against all this are the multiple mysteries: who killed Silla’s parents? Who is the person who sent her the journal? What is the truth about Nick’s mother? Who is Josephine? Questions are answered, but not every mystery was resolved. It is natural, that not everything gets tied up with a bow at the end. Blood Magic is a standalone novel, there will be a companion novel, The Blood Keeper.

YALSA Nonfiction: Calendar Part II

Now, to continue with the YALSA Nonfiction Committee Calendar, this time from July to January.

Again, all the information is from the YALSA Website.

July, August, September, October: “Committee reads, suggests and discusses titles [keeping in mind that only one book will be the winner].  Committee continues to nominate titles.” I like the reminder that only one will win!

November: “Nominations close the first week of November.” Nominations have to close at some point, and since the eligibility year ends October 31, this makes sense. “Up to three nominated titles from committee members sent to chair; list compiled and sent back to committee.” Reading and discussing only gets one so far; nominations are now what matters most. And, for the next year’s committee, “New committee begins work for next award.”

Mid November: “Conference call held to discuss nominated titles.” My interpretation of this one: “do not schedule a vacation where there is no phone access in November.”

Late November: “Conference call to vote on short list.” My interpretation: “while eating turkey, you’ll be arguing final five. Hope your family understands.”

Early December: “Publish annotated short list.” Deep breath. I think announcing that short list will be as nerve wracking as what happens next, which is . . .

ALA Midwinter Meeting: “Decide on winner, which will be announced at the Youth Media Awards Press Conference. The entire list of committee nominated titles will be released at this time as well.” Winner is announced; and for the past few years, the same night as the announcement is when the winner is celebrated. If you go to the Midwinter Meeting, do you usually stay Monday night? And the entire list of nominated titles being released is a way for people to learn about other quality nonfiction for young adults, especially since Best Books for Young Adults is no more.

Next week: Eligibility!

Review: Memento Nora

Memento Nora by Angie Smibert. Marshall Cavendish. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Nora James, 15, was shopping with her mother when a nearby building exploded. She saw the body of a man, heard it hit the ground.

Luckily for Nora, she doesn’t have to worry about bad memories and nightmares. All she has to do is go to one of the many TFCs, a Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic. Take a number, wait your turn, tell the good doctor what you want to forget and take a pill. The memories are gone, and a person can continue his or her life, happily ever after.

While waiting at the clinic, Nora sees a teenage boy with a cast that has the word “memento” go in, come out — and as she watches, he spits out the pill and mouths the word “remember.”

Nora’s mother takes her to the TFC, and shows Nora just how easy it is by going through the process. The memory she shares is not of the explosion and dead body. It is far more personal, and far more world-shattering.  Nora decides she doesn’t want to forget, that it’s important to remember, and only pretends to take the pill.

Nora and Micah (the boy in the cast) meet and compare memories. Together, they decide to spread the word that memory matters. Neither quite realize the risks they are running, by questioning the established order.

The Good: Nora’s world is about forty-odd years in the future. It’s a world where corporations are everywhere and all powerful and the divisions between the haves and have-nots have increased. The wealthy live in gated communities with their own schools and malls; the poor, if they’re lucky, sleep in their cars. Random domestic terrorist acts by the Coalition are frequent. Her school is Homeland High #17, owned and run by Homeland Inc. It’s a dystopia for some, a utopia for others. And in case life gets a little too much, just take a pill.

Nora’s family is rich; her mother is a real estate attorney and her father owns Soft Target Security, whose clients include TFC. Not quite rich enough to live in a gated community with it’s years long waitlist, but much better off than Micah, who lives in a shed because his mother, a nurse, doesn’t have a good enough credit rating to rent an apartment. Some families chose not to live the “real American”  way as described by Nora’s father: “real Americans worked hard and bought stuff for their families so that other real Americans could do the same thing.” Some are like Micah and his mother, who cannot afford it. Others are like Winter Nomura and her grandfather, who live partly off the grid because Winter’s parents were arrested and held in Detention years ago.

Before Nora realizes the impact memory erasure has had on her life, on her family, she was the type of girl who loved nothing more than shopping and being “glossy.” Now she is aware, seeing and realizing things for the first time and she wants to do something. That something is making friends with Micah and Winter, the arty crowd. That something is creating a comic with Micah called Memento, about the memories they erased and why. Winter helps them make copies and distribute it in school. One of the memories Micah fought to keep is of a black van by an explosion. It turns out, the black van is important — and a threat. People will do almost anything to stop Nora, Micah, and Winter.

The story is told by Nora, Micah, and Winter in “Therapeutic Statements” at a TFC. From the start, the reader knows… whatever these three teens are telling us, they are soon going to be forced to forget.

Memento Nora is tightly written and stands alone. However, there are certain threads that remain open, mainly about Winter’s parents and Micah’s father. A second book set in this world, The Forgetting Curve, is due next spring. The short description at that link gives nothing away; it could be a straight sequel, or it could be something entirely different.

Like Paolo Bacigalupi’s science and world in Ship Breaker, Smibert’s science fiction draws on real science and real events as inspiration, which can lead to some interesting discussions about just how close we are to Nora’s world, both the world of TFC, the world of corporate control and consumer spending, the world of haves and have nots living two separate existences. Finally, Memento Nora is short, the way most young adult novels used to be. It’s 184 pages, with short chapters, a small trim size, and nice font. Those of you who have read one too many paranormals of a bazillion pages know what I mean about just how exciting it is to have a book of this length. The plotting, fast pace, and size, make it a terrific read for reluctant readers.

This was recommended by Diana Tixier Herald at her program at the recent NJLA conference. Off to find some of the other books she talked up!