Yes, I Am!

Yes, I am reading YA lit.

Over at In the Library with a Lead Pipe, Gretchen Kolderup asks (and answers) Are You Reading YA Lit? You Should Be.

Kolderup (who blogs at Librarified) explains, “Outside of YA circles, I sometimes find myself having to justify my tastes to others. Yes, a lot of why I read YA lit is because I work with teens. But even if I were to switch careers, I would continue reading YA lit because it’s good. That’s not to say adult lit isn’t, of course, but YA lit has a freshness that I really enjoy, and it rarely gets bogged down in its own self-importance.”

She explains what YA is, and isn’t; gives the full flavor of YA by addressing everything from book pacakgers to best sellers to literary fiction; discusses current trends; and recommends some titles.

For those readers not familiar with In the Library with a Lead Pipe, I highly recommend its articles! As explained at the website, “We are a team of librarians working in academic, public, and school libraries across the United States. In addition to essays by its founders, In the Library with the Lead Pipe will feature articles by guests representing special libraries and archives, as well as educators, administrators, library support staff, and community members. If you want to submit a guest post, see our submission guidelines.” In the Library with the Lead Pipe is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions. Each article is peer-reviewed by at least one external and one internal reviewer.” Yes, you read that right — the articles are all peer reviewed.

I Read Twenty Boy Summer, Did You?

Two books have recently been removed from the Republic, Missouri High School curriculum and school library: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. See GalleyCat and the Christian Science Monitor for more information.

While reading comments at newspapers can be painful, in the case of this it can be illuminating. People provide further information on the process, other parts of the backstory, and many speak up in opposition to what happened. See here and here, articles from a local paper, The Springfield News Leader.

Sarah Ockler’s book was removed because “feedback for “Twenty Boy Summer,” available in the library, focused on “sensationalizing sexual promiscuity.” He said questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents and a lack of remorse by the characters led to the recommendation. “I just don’t think it’s a good book. I don’t think it’s consistent with these standards and the kind of message that we want to send,” he said. “…If the book had ended on a different note, I might have thought differently.”

Huh. Personally, I thought Twenty Boy Summer was a sensitive look at loss, a complex examination of the different ways people handle grief, and how love can heal. As I said in my review, “Anna’s internal struggle about her loyalty to Matt and her growing attraction to Sam, the summer boy, is respectfully portrayed. Anna and Sam are in many ways the perfect summer romance: teasing, hot, honest, lustful, fun, and any decisions Anna makes are based on what Anna wants, not what someone else pushes. . . .

Bookshelves of Doom observes, “4 of the 7 school board members were in attendance when the vote was held. Or that the reconsideration committee—you know, people who actually read the books in their entirety—recommended that all three books stay.”  AND, bonus, according to this report, only one of the voting board members read the books. 

Ockler addresses what happened in detail at her blog, in Banned, But Never Shamed: “I’m still not going to write to send messages or make teens feel guilty because they’ve made choices that some people want to pretend don’t exist. That’s my choice. And I’ll never be ashamed of my choice to write about real issues.”

Review: Eona

Eona: The Last Dragoneye, The Sequel to Eon by Alison Goodman. Penguin Books. 2011. Performed by Nancy Wu. Brilliance Audio 2011.

The Plot: Eona takes up where Eon left off (so, if you haven’t read Eon yet, spoilers!):  High Lord Sethon has declared himself Emperor and his nephew, Kygo, the rightful Pearl Emperor, is missing. Eona no longer disguises herself as a boy, and is openly Eona, the Mirror Dragoneye. Lord Ido, the only living Dragoneye, has been jailed by Sethon because he murdered the other Dragoneyes in a failed bid to seize power for himself. Eona, along with her trusted friends Ryko and Lady Dela, is with the rebels fighting against Sethon and for Kygo, wherever he may be.

The problem is, some people cannot trust Eona after the whole “lying about being a boy” thing.  And since Eona cannot control her power, and causes damage because of that — well, again, people aren’t trusting her. Her idea to free Lord Ido from Sethon’s jail so he can teach her how to use her dragon power is met with skepticism by all. The thing is, are people right not to trust Eona? Where do her loyalties lie? Is she on the side of Kygo and the rebels? Is she only interested in her own power as Mirror Dragoneye? Or is there something else she’s fighting for?

The Good: I’m trying not to give away all the twists and turns and reveals of Eona, but wowza! Goodman does some masterful plotting and fancy footwork, with just the right mix of being able to surprise me but when I look back at earlier chapters, I nod, seeing clues to what will come. Eon had a few twists — Eon’s a girl, the long-lost Mirror Dragon, returns, and it turns out that dragon is a female which explains its bonding with Eona. Comparing the turns and surprises in Eon to those in Eona is like comparing the rides at the local boardwalk to those at DisneyWorld. The boardwalk is fun and has the ocean, but DisneyWorld, is, well, DisneyWorld. Eona has twists and plot developments that made me sit up and go “woah.” I don’t want to say too much about them, because since I enjoyed the roller coast ride of Eona largely unspoiled, I want to preserve that for other readers.

What can I say?

Ido is an interesting villian; when I listened to the audio, Ido sounded like Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Ido is power hungry, has killed (or arranged the killings of) many, tormented his apprentice to madness, yet, somehow, there is something bad-boy-appealling about him. What appealls is not that Ido has done bad, bad things; it’s that Ido is honest about his own intentions and priorities. He wants power, period. And, in a way, how can one condemn Ido when the background story is a power struggle between Sethon and Kygo? Why is it better for Kygo to want power? Is it really alright to say or believe, it’s OK for Kygo to want to be Emperor because of birth but it’s not OK for Ido to want it because he’s not of noble birth?

The issue of power is one that Goodman paints in shades of gray. Eona wants Ido to teach her how to control her power, and he tempts her with the possibilities of what she can do with her power. While Eona wonders whether she should be selfish and pursue her power for individual gain, or be unselfish and dedicate herself and her power to the Empire (as represented by Kygo), the reader wonders at who in Eona’s world has power, who does not, and what it means. As Emperor, Kygo cannot be physically touched by such people as the doctor who seeks to heal him. Such a touch could result in a death sentence for the healer! Decorum dictates who bows to whom, how low to bow — and all these things, all this showing of respect, all this manifestations of power are not directly questioned (this is not a “and then there was a revolution for Democracy” book, but then, fantasy kingdom stories rarely end that way) but they are questioned in how Eona interacts with her own power, the power of a Dragoneye. Eona’s power — like Kygo’s — is a mixture of heritage and chance.

Speaking of Kygo, I should point out that three is an interesting number: Ido, Eona, Kygo. Eona has complex, mature feelings for both; she is attracted to things about both men, and the tension between the three of them is delightful. Eona’s relationship with Ido is tied to issues of power, of control, of knowledge, and it’s not so much that she wants him as she wants to know more about the things he knows. Kygo observes this and sees it as Eona wanting Ido, and I was entertained at the young Emperor, who can have anything (well, except his Empire because of his evil uncle), being jealous of Ido and Eona’s relationship.

One last thing about how powerful Eona is; I’ve written this much, yet there is still so much more I could write about it.The gender politics, for instance, could be an entire post, with Lady Dela as a contraire (a
“twin soul,” with the body of a man and the spirit of a woman), Eona’s masquerade as a man,the eunochs at court, the “blossom women” (geishas).

On the Red Carpet

If you weren’t able to attend the 2011 Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder, you can read the speeches in The Horn Book or Children & Libraries.

Of course, part of the fun of the celebration is hearing the authors and illustrators. But part of the fun is also being able to meet fellow members of the children’s literature community. Thanks to KidLit on the Red Carpet (Jim Averbeck, Kristin Clark Venuti, and Katie Davis), everyone can see the stylish clothing and hear the reactions of those who attended! Just head over to Kidlit on the Red Carpet for your viewing pleasure; people such as Ellen Hopkins, Kirby Larson, David Diaz, Sondy Ecklund and me appear! (Yes, me, always with the self promotion.)

If you prefer FaceBook, the videos are also available there to like and share.

And Then I Read The Book

I’ve been meaning to post about the recent news about Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian being “cleared for any grade level in Richland high schools.” (Richland School Board Reverses Course on Book Ban at The News Tribune).

What I found interesting — and interesting enough to post about it so long after the decision was made — is that it illustrates a few points I find important.

First, that reconsideration policies should include reading the book. From the News Tribune report: “None of the board members had read Absolutely True when they first voted on it. That was the job of the Instructional Materials Committee, or IMC, established a little more than a year ago to review all books used in Richland schools. Guay and Donahoe thought that the entire IMC read the book before its members gave it mixed reviews last month. But to speed up the process, IMC members split up in groups. Each group reads a particular book and then shares its findings with the rest of the members. Once Guay and Donahoe found out that only part of the committee had read the book, they wanted to revisit their votes against it.”

Relying on someone else’s interpretation of a book can be risky, especially if someone else is pulling out the so-called “bad bits” to make an argument against a book. Reading the book in its entirety, to see it as a whole work of art rather than a collection of words, is invaluable.

While it’s tempting to roll one’s eyes about the Board having not read the book when it previously voted on it, I think it’s a temptation to avoid, at least publicly. In arguments and discussions, extremes never add to the conversation; rather, it results in two sides saying “why don’t you listen to me” while they don’t listen to to other person. Room is needed to listen; room is needed to change one’s mind; and room is needed so that one can change one’s mind without a big old “told you so” resulting.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone is a reader or immersed in book culture. So, to those of us who read, and read reviews, and know that one person’s five star book is another’s no star book, reading a book oneself in this type of situation (removing a book) seems obvious. To others, though, it’s not so apparent.

Finally, the impact of Meghan Cox Gurdon and the Wall Street Journal continues. As reported by the News Tribune, at least one of those speaking out against Absolutely True used Gordon’s WSJ article as evidence that the book doesn’t belong in schools.

YALSA Nonfiction: Honor Titles

Not that many policies left!

The second to the last of the policies & procedures for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Adults is about Honor Title(s).

From the YALSA website: “A short list of up to five Finalists will be announced during early December, with the winner announced during the following Midwinter Conference in January. The remaining maximum of four titles will then be considered Honor Titles.”

It’s pretty interesting to have the five Finalists announced in December.

Only one policy left, so next week we’ll be talking Relationships With Publishers.

Review: Texas Gothic

Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Amy Goodnight’s summer job is taking care of her aunt’s Texas ranch while her hard working aunt goes on a vacation to China. Along with her older sister, Phin, they’re taking care of the dogs, the goats, and the plants that make up Aunt Hyacinth’s herb farm and organic bath products. What Amy didn’t plan on was the destructive neighborhood ghost. Lucky for her, the Goodnights know more than a little about the supernatural. Amy may try to present a typical place to the world, but the truth she hides yet cannot deny is the Goodnight family is a family of witches. Too bad the very cute next-door-neighbor cowboy doesn’t believe in ghosts or witches and just want the trouble-making Goodnights to stay out of his way and off his land. 

The Good: In my review of Clement-Moore’s The Splendor Falls, I compared it to books by Barbara Michaels: “You know all those Barbara Michaels books you go looking for? Young girl, old family home, dueling love interests, with the three s’s: setting, suspense, supernatural? And when they’re done, you wonder what to read next?” Texas Gothic shows that Clement-Moore is this generation’s Barbara Michaels, and I guess it’s more accurate to say that those teen readers who like these books should be shown the Michaels books rather than vice versa. It is 2011, after all. (For the record, both Leila at Bookshelves of Doom and Vicky Smith at Kirkus make the same comparison).

Let’s see if Texas Gothic contains the elements I listed in the review for The Splendor Falls.

“Young girl” — Amy Goodnight, just graduated high school and on her way to college. For good measure, there is her older sister, Phin, who takes a very scientific approach to her own witchcraft studies. Two young girls! And then there is cousin Daisy, who — well. Let me just say, if you’re a fan of NCIS, you’ll love Daisy.

“Old family home” — Aunt Hyacinth’s farmhouse is a hundred years old. Technically, it’s not Amy’s family home, but I think this counts.

“Dueling love interests” — I wrote this meaning two possible love interests for the main character, and that isn’t present here. However, from first meeting, cute cowboy Ben McCulloch and Amy are dueling. He is annoyed that rumors of ghosts are interfering with his management of the family ranch, a responsibility he took on after his father died. He blames Aunt Hyacinth for the rumors, and fights Amy and her family tooth and nail. Just as Amy needs to convince herself to embrace her witch side, so, too, does Ben need to be convinced that ghosts and witches are real. “They fight endlessly but like each other” is really hard to pull off, because if people are fighting, how can they get to the point of liking each other? The cause for the fighting makes sense — Ben feels his family and home are threatened by made up stories, Amy doesn’t like her family mocked. As time goes by, the cause for fighting shifts. Ben still doesn’t believe in ghosts, so when he sees Amy putting herself in danger he gets angry at her foolishness. Amy gets angry right back at his failure to trust and respect her when it comes to the supernatural. As for the like — well. Did I mention that they first meet when Amy is in her underwear? (It covers more than a bathing suit, but still). Amy admires Ben’s sense of responsibility that led him to drop out of college to take care of the family business — plus, he’s cute. Ben admires Amy’s dedication to her own family.

“Setting” — Texas! Texas Gothic is full of details that made this Jersey Girl believe she was experiencing those wide-open spaces and the herb farm. Excavations to build a bridge reveal a body, long dead, and so a group from the University come out to conduct a dig. Ben is not thrilled with that — especially when more bodies turn up. (Not to give away any spoilers, but the bodies are of European descent).

“Suspense” — first is the ghost, of course. Is there a ghost? What does the ghost want? There have been rumors of a ghost — the “Mad Monk” — for years, including the Mad Monk being responsible for accidents that seriously hurt people. Amy, Phin, and members of the local University’s forensic team try to determine whether the bones have anything to do with the ghost. Clement-Moore does a great job of weaving together two different suspense threads — the ghost as well as the story of the ghost. Well versed in tv and media, the crew quickly realize that stories of ghosts could be used and manipulated by people to hide other activities, or just to cause trouble.

“Supernatural” — ghosts and witches are real! And, from the start, Amy knows it. She feels her job in the family is to protect her family from outsiders who wouldn’t understand, including stopping her older sister from honestly sharing her knowledge and opinion with those who don’t believe in ghosts and witches. Oh, remember Aunt Hyacinth’s herb farm and organic bath products? Spells! You can literally wash that man right out of your hair. Amy’s combination of familiarity and distance with the supernatural is a great way to introduce the reader to the world of witchcraft in Texas Gothic.

I loved Amy and her family. Amy’s desire to protect/deny her heritage stems from an incident when, as a child, she and her sister went “ghost hunting” for a La Llorona that ended with the two girls almost drowned and their furious father threatening to take them from their mother. Amy reacted by boxing up all her ghost books and keeping witchcraft at arms length; while it’s not explicitly said, Phin’s reaction is to view witchcraft as one big science project, matter of chemistry, physics, tests, cause and rection. I would love to see Texas Gothic the start of a series of related books, with Amy, Phin, Daisy and other Goodnight women solving more supernatural mysteries.

Dewey, LOC, Color

In the real world, I have recently moved.

I currently don’t own an ereader, but after packing and unpacking all those books, I want one just so I don’t have to pack so much next time! Of course, an ereader would only solve the problem of future books, not current books. My last major move was in 2007, and it inspired the post My Own Private Library. One of my big questions then, and still a big question, is — how to organize the books?

You’d think it would be easy, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s not like the books were unorganized in the last place I lived. The thing is, the new place is a different set up, more rooms (yay), and bookshelves will be in different places. What books go where? What in the bedroom, the living room, the office?

Right now, I’m sorting the books into the following categories: personal library, professional library, review related. The first are, well, my own books. The second are ones that I have for professional reasons, titles like The Best in Children’s Books 1979-1984. Why, yes, I own the whole series; wait,  you don’t?

Another subset of professional are the books I’ve read for my current YALSA committee.

Finally, the review related is basically the books and ARCs to be read for this blog. Sadly, it looks like I will not have room for a kitchen bookshelf, which means I also have to decide where to put the cookbooks and magazines.

Review related will be organized by author; I’ve tried by publisher and by release date and neither quite worked for me.

My personal library will be mostly by author, with certain nonfiction subsets for history or biography. The professional library will be alpha by author.

The bigger question, and one I’m having a harder time judging, is what rooms these books go into so I don’t split them up. Here’s my big question — what’s the best way to go about doing this? My past method has been to first organize the books on the floor and then put it on the shelves, after I know how many titles, etc.

I also think I’m finally going to go ultra organized and actually enter everything into Library Thing. Is there an app for the iPhone I can download to scan barcodes to make that easier?

Tips, suggestions and advice are welcome, as are war stories on how you organized your own books.

Review: What Happened to Goodbye

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen. Viking, an imprint of Penguin. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from ALA Midwinter.

The Plot: Mclean has spent the last two years at four different high schools. At each one, she tries out a different personality: different name, different interests, different clothes.  The most recent move lands her at Lakeview in her senior year and she’s not sure who she wants to be this time around. She’s been the cheerleader, the drama girl, the super involved student government member. She knows who she doesn’t want to be: Mclean, the girl whose parents’ divorce was very public, whose mother betrayed her father, who was talked about behind her back. For two years she’s kept her past, her self, her mother, at arm’s length — and also kept her present a comfortable distance, too, so that “goodbyes” are never said as she leaves one school for another. Mclean can only run from herself for so long.

The Good: For some people, like Alyssa at where I get my hair done, all they need to know is “a new Sarah Dessen? She has a new book out?”  Yes! Yes, she does.

While What Happened to Goodbye has a romance in it, this is not a romance. Rather, it is about a girl whose life fractured, whose sense of self fractured, and who spent two years hiding from what had happened by trying on and discarding new personas. Now, Mclean is at a time and a place, both physically and emotionally, where she can put those pieces together and become herself.

What happened a few years back that shattered Mclean’s life? Her parents, Gus and Kate Sweet, were college sweethearts who owned a restaurant. Gus Sweet was a huge basketball fan, especially for this college team; the Sweets stayed in that same town. Gus worked the restaurant, Kate did the books, Mclean (named after her father’s favorite coach) played there growing up. Money was tight but they were all happy. Then the local college got a new coach, Peter Hamilton, who came to dinner at Gus and Kate’s restaurant. Long story short; Kate and Peter had an affair, Kate and Gus got divorced, Kate and Peter got married, Kate became Katherine, wife of the famous coach, living in a big house with a housekeeper and soon baby twins completed the picture. Kate’s life was now fairy tale perfect, and she expected Mclean to seamlessly move into that big old house with a stepfather and ignore the fifteen years that had come before. Mclean, seeing her father abandoned and crushed (and her family the target of gossip and headlines), said no way; when her father got a job evaluating and saving (or ending) failing restaurants, Mclean went with him.

What Happened to Goodbye has exactly what one wants and needs from a Dessen book: Mclean finds herself; along the way she meets some true friends and has to learn just what friendship means — which means learning how to say goodbye instead of leaving and changing names. The setting — here, the failing restaurant called the Luna Blu and it’s cast of employees — is one that is so fully created the reader thinks they’ve been to that restaurant even if the food and service needs a little work. The romance is just the right touch, to say that it’s part of Mclean’s life and it impacts her but it’s not the only thing in her life and it isn’t the sole reason she finally rediscovers her self.

The part of What Happened to Goodbye that captivates me is not all that — though, rest assured, those are things that I enjoyed. What captivates me is Kate, the mother, and how Mclean views both her parents and how the reader views those parents. I was as angry as Mclean at her mother’s betrayal — cheating on her father, getting pregnant, leaving him. Her father loses everything: wife. home. restaurant. Even his love of basketball is gone, because the coach for “his” team is the man who took his wife. Gus Sweet now lives a semi-nomadic existence of living in rental homes, with all his possessions fitting in a small U-haul. Who wouldn’t get mad?

And yet. Maybe it’s because I’m an adult reader, more of age with Kate than Mclean. Maybe it’s because I picked up on the subtle clues that Dessen included, even thought it’s Mclean telling the story. Kate and Gus, together for fifteen years, had always been an odd couple. The restaurant was failing long before Hamilton came to town. Gus was a workaholic, with little time for his wife and child outside the restaurant/basketball world he loved. While Mclean sees the situation as pretty black and white (Mom = left = controlling & bad, Dad = abandoned = easygoing & good), she shows details that show more dimension to the complicated relationship than that. Don’t worry — Kate’s story doesn’t overly intrude on Mcleans, and wow, Mom needs some sensitivity to Mclean’s feelings.

What else, before the links? OF COURSE there are Easter Eggs. This is Dessen, after all.

Links: From Michelle at Galleysmith, “Mclean has a diverse circle of friends.  Each person is quirky in his or her own way but again not so over the top that interactions and situations are unrealistic.  Mainly created through her unique ability to bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise be so inclined she finds herself constantly surrounded by people who have problems of equal magnitude to her own.”

From Forever Young Adult: “Her dialogue continues to be natural, her characters real, her pauses thoughtful. Her habit of wrapping up each passage with a reflection stood out more to me in this book, and I don’t know if that’s because, as a swimfan, I’m hyper aware of her style, or because she employed that technique more frequently.”

Jinx! Bookshelves of Doom and I post about What Happened to Goodbye on the same day!

YALSA Nonfiction: Final Voting

After a couple weeks off (4th of July, Summer Blog Blast Tour), back to the YALSA Nonfiction Award Policies and Procedures!

We are almost at the end — this week, it’s Final Voting of Award Title.

Hoe does the final voting take place? It’s simple; here is the procedure from the YALSA website:

  • Oral ballots will be used and tallied either by the chair or her/his designee(s).”
  • “Members are reminded that, at this point, they are voting for the winner, NOT for honor titles.”
  • “On the ballot each member votes for her/his top three choices. First choice receives five points; second choice receives three points, and third choice receives one point. To win, a title must receive five first place votes and must also receive at least five more points than the second place title. If no title meets these criteria on the first ballot, any title receiving no votes is removed from consideration and a period of discussion of remaining titles follows. A second ballot is then conducted. Balloting continues in this fashion until a winner is declared.”

And you thought reading and award committees meant there would be no math! It’s actually quite mathy.

Next week: Honor Titles!