Sometimes, I Read Grown Up Books

And, also, sometimes I read grown up book blogs.

Last week, my state had an Adult Services Forum, No Turning Back: Moving Forward In the Digital Age. I was on a panel Reading Bytes: Online Resources for Readers’ Advisory along with Yvonne Selander, Readers’ Services Librarian, Bridgewater Library, NJ; Joanne Cronin, Readers’ Services Librarian, Morris County Library, NJ; Brenda Muhlbaier, Circulation Manager (and RA coordinator), Gloucester County Library – Mullica Hill Branch, NJ; and Roz Reisner, Great Group Reads Coordinator, National Reading Group Month (Roz blogs about the panel at her blog, A Reader’s Place).

You can download the handout we put together, if you want.

Each of us brought something different to the panel; the online websites, blogs, and databases we use. My part of the presentation was mainly about blogs. Here are the blogs from my list: 

Beth Fish Reads Freelance editor & reviewer; an eclectic reader who reviews many types of books. Other blogs that feature a mix of reviews include Jenn’s Bookshelves, She Is Too Fond of Books, Sophisticated , (including nonfiction), Write Meg

Book Club Girl Books, news and tips for bookclubs.

The Book Smugglers Two bloggers (one US, one UK) review & discuss speculative fiction and YA.  

Booking Mama Book blog whose focus is book reviews & information for book clubs.

Bonjour, Cass! Reader whose focus is queer non-fiction/gender studies/LGBTQ fiction.

Boston Bibliophile Librarian, NBCC member, reviews current and backlist literary fiction, narrative nonfiction and books of Jewish interest.

Color Online Focusing on books for all ages by women writers of color.

Dear Author Romance book reviews and discussions of ebooks and digital technology related to ebooks.

INSPYS Award for excellence in faith-driven literature (Christian based). The bloggers behind this (at offer a good starting place for RA for those looking for faith-driven books, including works by secular publishers.

The Millions An online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture since 2003.

A Novel Challenge Challenges – Usually set up over an extended period of time which encourages participants to read a certain number of books or type of book; can be for a set period of time (with a beginning and ending) or may be perpetual (with no time limit).

Reading Group Choices News about reading groups, book festivals, libraries reading groups.

S. Krishna’s Books Freelance writer, editor, and book reviewer. Reviews include South Asian Fiction, or books by South Asian authors.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books Smart women writing about romance books & industry news

White Readers Meet Black Authors By Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey. The blog title explains it all!

Your Next Read Based on the books you look at, this will recommend other books you may like by creating “your map” of books.


Review: Full Dark, No Stars

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. Scribner. 2010. Personal copy.

Part of my “holiday reads” for grown ups. What better Halloween author than Stephen King?

The Plot: Four stories.

In 1922, a man who loves his farm decides that his wife is what stands between him and a happy life farming. He involves his son, and winds up losing and he wanted to hold onto.

Big Driver is about the victim of a violent rape who decides to take justice into her own hands. The victim happens to be a writer of cozy murder mysteries and discovers that difference between real life and fiction.

In Fair Extension, a man makes a deal to have everything he ever wanted, and part of what he wants is his “best friend” to not be successful. It’s schadenfreude taken to an extreme level. What’s the price paid for such a deal?

Finally, the woman in A Good Marriage believes she has a good marriage, and the proof is the long marriage, the two successful children. What’s a good wife to do when she realizes her husband is a serial killer? 

The Good: Each of these four stories has a vaguely supernatural air about it. The story with the strongest supernatural quality, 1922, can also be read as a psychological horror story — the Tell Tale Heart. Only with rats.

I enjoy Stephen King’s books; when I compare books I read to him, it’s a very big complement. If I had to pick only one author that would still be read a hundred years from now, it would be Stephen King. For all that, for all that I love The Stand and The Shining and his other books, I think it’s his short stories that are his most powerful. Building a world in hundreds of pages? Easy, you have hundreds of pages! Building that same world in a handful of pages? Now that is talent. King writes horror, and I enjoy the horror he writes, but some of his most terrifying writing has not been about vampires and killer cars but about the loss of a child, the death of a sibling. These are the types of stories in Full Dark, No Stars. They scare the reader because they hold up a mirror to show something the reader doesn’t want to see, a window into what they fear is happening in the house next door.

What is really scary, for each of the stories, is not the ghosts or devil or other fantastical elements — it’s the everyday aspects of the stories. A man angry at his wife, who convinces his son to take sides, concerned only with “winning” his child, “winning” his farm, and is so focused on hurting his wife in order to “win” that he doesn’t realize the hurt he inflicts on his son and himself. A woman, beaten, raped, left for dead, who doesn’t want to go through life labelled a victim so takes the law into her own hands. The jealousy and resentment one feels towards one friends. And, the dilemma being between a rock and a hard place: expose a husband’s crimes and destroy the lives of your children who will forever be known as killer’s kids. All of those are about the real fears and temptations and choices people face. This is why Stephen King is a magnificent writer: because he gets into people’s heads, is fearless about showing the good, the bad, the gray, the dark wishes and dark choices.

In the Afterword, King writes that “I felt that the best fiction was both propulsive and assaultive. It gets in your face. Sometimes it shouts in your face. I have no quarrel with literary fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as a reader and a writer, I’m much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations. i want to provoke an emotional, even visceral, reaction in my readers. Making them think as they read is not my deal. I put that in italics, because if the tale is good enough and the characters vivid enough, thinking will supplant emotion when the tale has been told and the book set aside (sometimes with relief.”

The book has been set aside, and now the thinking . . . . It is not fearing a vampire child floating outside the window; it is fearing at what point one loses ones soul because they delight in the downfall of another. It is in discovering the consequences of taking a wrong detour. What would one do to survive?

Review: Okay For Now

Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Companion to The Wednesday Wars.

The Plot: Doug Swieteck and family have just moved to upstate New York. His abusive, drunk of a father mouthed off to his boss and got fired. The family packs up what it can and moved into a house Doug calls “the Dump” while his father gets a job with less pay. Doug’s attitude towards his new town? “Stupid Marysville.” “I hate this town. I hate that we had to come here.”  He doesn’t just have to fight his own initial bad attitude; it seems his family (at least, the men in the family — his father and older brother) — are quickly seen as thugs by the towns people, and Doug is a thug by association. Over the course of Doug’s eighth grade year, he gradually overcomes both his own bias and that of the locals.

The Good: The voice! Doug’s voice! I adored it, was swept away by it, not just in how Schmidt captures a thirteen year old with a chip on his shoulder trying not to be “that person” who strikes out in anger, but also how Doug reveals information. Look at that simple quote, above — “I hate that we had to come here” — and how in those few words we find out so much about Doug. It’s not the town he hates, but the fact that his father lost a job, that they had no options, that it’s a step down, that they “had” to do this. Again and again, Doug reveals information he doesn’t realize he’s revealing. It’s a thing of beauty, actually, to go through the book and find instance after instance of this.

Okay For Now is the story of a year in Doug’s life. On his first day exploring Marysville, Doug visits the library and discovers a book of Audubon’s bird illustrations. He is captivated it; he returns to it; he tries not to admit how he is fascinated by the portraits of birds. Doug’s interest in the illustrations — no, Doug’s falling in love with the Audubon prints — shows that Doug has depths he cannot admit to himself. He sees himself and his family and friends in the birds; he begins to draw, to learn how to look at things, to examine things closely; and realizes the importance of things and people being whole.

I laughed and cried at Doug’s experiences. His fortitude and strength in the face of challenges. His falling in love with Audubon’s bird illustrations. The way that Schmidt used the illustrations and Doug’s interpretations of the artwork throughout the novel. Doug’s dealings with teachers who (except for one) see him as nothing. I was swept away by the language.

From here on, spoilers.

Heavy Medal has discussed Okay for Now in the context of the Newbery criteria. It’s an interesting process, looking at a book in terms of awards. From a flat out, “will kids enjoy this book?,” I say the answer is yes. But for awards, one has to take that list of stellar books and go deeper. The main concerns with Okay For Now are not the voice or the setting, but rather the plot. A few things happen that some people just don’t “buy”; see Heavy Medal for details. I appreciate some of that; but, honestly, I don’t know sports so the use of Joe Pepitone, to me, is fine, a way to show some light and hope in Doug’s otherwise bleak world. Doug himself is so charming that as I was reading I believed everything he told me. It wasn’t until afterwards, thinking about it, that I began asking myself questions like “if Doug’s dad takes his $5 a week delivery boy money, how much did Doug make from the Broadway play and what is Dad doing with that?”

Here is where I have a couple questions of my own about Okay For Now, which I haven’t seen discussed elsewhere.

Coach Reed. He was a bully and abused his role as teacher. (By the way, part of my love for this book is how Doug uses names and, when he doesn’t like someone, stops using their names. I love when the Coach becomes “so-called gym teacher”.) I didn’t get why he was targeting Doug, other than because Doug’s family is poor so he knows there will be no parent banging on his door about it. Yes, I get that the Coach was in Vietnam, at the My Lai massacre, but I just didn’t see how that ties into trying to get Doug’s fellow students to gang up on Doug. As for Doug keeping the stats, are we supposed to think that Reed is illiterate? One strength of the novel is that Doug’s time in Marysville is spent beginning to see people as who they are and not caricatures; and people seeing him as a person, not a no good thug. Is that the case with Reed? I’d say yes, but while other teachers do things that are open to interpretation (calling on someone in class may or may not be personal), with Reed, Doug provides some very specific instances of Reed’s bullying. Honestly, I can excuse all of Reed’s pre-tattoo behaviour, but I cannot excuse the wrestling incidents. I also don’t get why Reed stopped. I bought the turnaround with the Principal, but not with the Coach.

Was Ernie Eco the thief? If so, did he set up Christopher? And was the father aware of it? For me, the ending was overly cryptic about what had happened. (But, I did read this in ARC so maybe the final copy was clearer.)

Which brings me to a point I have seen addressed elsewhere, the father. He’s a mean drunk, and while there is some possibility that he’s stopped drinking by the end (the description of the father at the end may be alcohol withdrawal) color me unconvinced. Betsy at Fuse #8 points out how the adult reader may view the ending as different from the child reader. I can live with that, in the sense of not seeing it as a flaw of the book but rather a matter of interpretation. Plus, as others point out at Heavy Medal, all we are promised is that things are “okay for now.” This is why I love smart conversations, critical conversations, about books; I don’t see the end as flawed because of the father; rather, I can identify my own issues (drunk abusive men don’t change overnight and I cannot believe that Doug’s father did); and then see whether it’s an issue for the book (he’s not supposed to be shown as “fixed,” rather, “okay for now”.) (Though in the fanfic in my head, Doug’s mother finally throws her husband out in time to prevent her three sons from becoming him and continuing to be hurt by him and opens some type of gardening shop.)

Review: Shine

Shine by Lauren Myracle. Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams. 2011. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: “Stunned residents of Black Creek, North Carolina, pray for seventeen-year-old Patrick Truman, beaten and left for dead outside the convenience store where he works.” Patrick is, no, was, Cat’s best friend. Three years ago, something happened and Cat reacted by withdrawing from family and friends. Patrick is in a coma, and Cat can’t hide anymore. She has to find out what happened to him, who attacked him, no matter what the cost or where it leads.

The Good: Black Creek, North Carolina is a poor, rural town, a place without jobs, unless it’s making and selling meth. It’s a place, a setting, a culture, that is usually overlooked in literature unless to show “white trash” and make redneck jokes. Yes, there is brutality and drug use and poverty; Cat’s father tells a story of his childhood about rats coming into his room, and his shooting one, and his mother using it for rat stew because why let the meat go to waste?

Myracle does a beautiful job of depicting this rural area and its inhabitants with both compassion and honesty. It’s not entirely hopeless, but neither is it romanticized. Here is Cat: “My heart, as I closed the cabinet and rose to my feet, was a small dead creature. If I could bury it in the woods, I would.”

At this point, there will be spoilers.

I read Shine having read the infamous Wall Street Journal article, so I expected dark. And there are some bad things happening. Some of the “bad things” arise from the poverty of Cat, her family, and most of her peers. I’m a bit uncomfortable with calling an entire socioeconomic segment “bad” and off limits to literature for children and teens. In reading Shine, I was also struck by the warmth and honesty of people like Patrick’s grandmother. This was hardly the bleak place I thought I’d find, having read that article. Yes, some bad things have happened, but to readers who don’t like books where bad things happen (and that’s fine!) this book tells you up front: Patrick has been beaten. Cat is hiding something that has caused her to retreat, to become invisible; it is Patrick’s injury, not her own pain, that triggers her rage that makes her pursue the truth of what happened to Patrick, no matter what.

The author of the WSJ article said that the people of Black Creek “reveal themselves to be in the grip of homophobia, booze and crystal meth.” Well, yes and no. There is homophobia, in some of the responses to the attack on Patrick. The attack is quickly labelled a hate crime, due to “suck this, faggot” being scrawled on his chest.  Here’s the thing: yes, Cat relates some fairly hateful treatment of Patrick on his first day of high school, three years before. That was three years ago; at the present time, while Cat and Patrick are no longer close, Patrick has a group of friends that includes Cat’s brother Christian and two of his own former tormentors, Tommy and Beef. Cat learns that there is some true friendship there. “Homophobia” is too easy a word to use for the complex feelings shown. Some people use crystal meth, yes, and their lives are shown to be ruined as a result. Cat’s brother doesn’t use, and others also don’t use. What Myracle does is show that Christian, Tommy and Beef appear to be “redneck bigots,” but once one reads the entire book, it’s not that easy to label them.

Enough of that article; except that, perhaps because of it, the ending of Shine was too hopeful for me. (I know! Me, who loves hope or at least being hopeful). Cat reconnects with those she had severed ties with; and by the end of the book is no longer alone, no longer lonely, no longer isolated, and has brought healing to herself and to others. Healing and forgiveness, of oneself and others, is a big part of the last part of the book. Cat’s world is one where family and friends are important. Forgiveness is necessary for her to move on and still be a part of this community.

Still, I’ll be honest: Cat’s a nicer person than me. I didn’t entirely believe in one character’s change of heart. Part of this may be because, through Cat’s eyes, we see this person primarily at two different points: one, three years ago, when he did something horrible; and now, three years later. I understood that Cat needed to let go and move on, but I wanted something more. Perhaps it’s that three year gap that is a hurdle for me, and without seeing more of that person during that time period (and seeing them without Cat’s emotions and feelings), I just am not convinced by his words. (Readers of this blog know this is hardly the first time (and won’t be the last time) that I want more justice for characters than they do for themselves.)

Cat early on describe herself: “sometimes I felt like my entire existence meant nothing.”  For three years, that was how she saw herself and she isolated herself. Because of this, Cat knew who Christian, Tommy, Beef and Patrick were three years ago. Cat’s investigation leads her to discover who these boys are now, years later. That gap in time is needed for the narrative, because (like Veronica Mars) it allows Cat to be both insider and outsider as she investigates Patrick’s attack. Insider, she grew up with these boys; outsider, she’s unaware of what they do now.

Myracle has been very careful in the place she has created, not just in the physical descriptions. Part of the place is the ethics of the people living there, and for Cat, that includes keeping secrets and not involving other people. So, Myracle stays true to her characters and even at the end, while Cat discovers the truth about what happened to Patrick, she and others keep things secret, don’t tell the police, because there is “no reason to complicate things” and protecting reputations, of oneself, of others, is what matters. I disagree; but this isn’t a story about me, it’s about Cat, and given her world, her decisions make sense.

So I Flipped To The Back of the Book…

So, I’m reading Lauren Myracle’s Shine and I do something — Well. To some, something unforgivable.

You see, there was something happening in the book and, well, I couldn’t wait. I had to know whether someone was going to be OK.

So I flipped to the back of the book, skimmed a little, got the answer to my question, and returned to my reading.

Hello, I’m Liz, and I read the end of books.

I don’t always do it. Just sometimes.

I’ve seen authors react with shock and horror that I’ve done the literary equivalent of cutting the Gordian knot, with the Gordian knot being their carefully structured plot.

Here’s the thing: I’m not doing it because I don’t want to read your book. I’m doing it because I’ve gotten so invested in the characters that the level of anxiety on their behalf is such that I just need to reassure myself. (Sometimes it backfires, like when I thought a character was safe only to realize I’d read a few pages of a flashback not the actual ending.) I’ll keep reading if I realize the entire cast has gone the way of Burnt Offerings, but, sorry, I’m not willing to put myself through that emotional turmoil. (Please, spoilers are not needed on a 1973 novel and awesome 1976 film! With Oliver Reed! OLIVER REED who will always be my Athos. Oh, right, point.)

You’d think this would mean that I don’t mind spoilers, and to a certain extent, I don’t. When it does matter to me, I avoid reviews and discussions and move the book up on the to-be-read pile.

One thing I like about reading ends of books before the middle: it means I can appreciate the craft of the writing and plotting and characterization even more because I’m not so obsessed with “OMG will x live/die/go to jail/get the girl”. I know, that’s the reason to reread a book but I don’t usually have time to reread. That said, I do like to reread the first few chapters of a book as soon as I’ve finished it.

So, I’m Liz. I read the end of books first. Do you?

Edited to Add: Head over to Peter’s Collecting Children’s Books to see my knuckles rapped for my bad reading habits! All joking aside, some great questions to ponder about how we read books.

Review: Guardian of the Dead

Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey. Little, Brown. 2010. Personal copy.

The Plot: Ellie Spencer, 17, literally runs into her crush Mark Nolan one day and he says two things that will change her world. “I like your laugh” and “do you know what you are?”

Ellie’s world at her Christchurch, New Zealand boarding school and had been safe and predictable: studying, hanging out with her best friend Kevin, neglecting her tae kwan do.

It’s not safe anymore. There is Mark Nolan, with his cryptic words and unexpected appearances; there is the beautiful and strange woman who takes an almost proprietary interest in Kevin; there is the Eyelasher murderer. Most dangers of all is Ellie’s growing suspicion that myth and magic are real — and deadly.

The Good: I love stories about the power of story, and the power of belief in story.

Guardian of the Dead begins as a boarding school story. Ellie, 17, left behind as her parents travel the world celebrating her mother’s remission from cancer, has distanced herself from her old friends (she chose a boarding school in Christchurch New Zealand far from her hometown in the North Island) and interests (Tae Kwan Do). Even her choice of best friend is safe: Kevin is popular and handsome, but is only interested in friendship. As Kevin brings a reluctant Ellie into his circle of friends, the reader would think, “oh, that’s what kind of story that is.”

Except the reader knows that Mark Nolan has told Ellie not to go out alone after dark — and she forgets the conversation, forgets he liked her laugh, only remembers (but doesn’t know why) that she’s not supposed to go out alone after dark. Well, that’s strange.

And it only gets stranger.

The action and plot of Guardian of the Dead is straightforward: the patupaiarehe, while long lived, are not immortal. A handful of the few remaining patupaiarehe decide to regain their lost immortality at the expense of thousands and thousand dead. Ellie and her friends are all that stand in the way of the patupaiarehe.

I love Ellie. Her isolation and loneliness, fueled by the emotional turmoil caused by her mother’s illness and now being the new girl at school, is raw and a believable. Ellie feels out of place, not just as the new girl, not just as a daughter whose family has suddenly shifted with her parents away, but also as someone unsure of herself. A significant part of Guardian of the Dead is about Ellie’s beginning to let other people in (Kevin, Mark, Kevin’s friend Iris) and become more comfortable with herself. Part of it is Ellie recovering emotionally from the family’s struggle with cancer, and that recovery is helped along  because Ellie discovers hidden truths about herself and her world that give her strength and purpose and meaning. The hidden truths are the discovery that myths and legends are real; because this takes place in New Zealand, it’s the mythos of the Maori that figure prominently in Guardian of the Dead. As Mark explains to Ellie, “they’re real places to the patupaiarehe. They make them real out of their belief. But if you go in and you don’t know what you’ll find, you could find yourself in any kind of place. You bring your own history, your own mythology with you.” And, as Mark’s initial reaction to Ellie shows (“do you know what you are“), Ellie’s involvement is more than a bystander who happens upon the unbelievable. Ellie’s knowledge of her place in the world of magic and belief.

The setting is New Zealand. My knowledge of New Zealand is mainly The Lord of the Rings and Heavenly Creatures. Healey does a terrific job of creating the world of New Zealand for someone who has never been there. One thing I wondered, if the copy published in New Zealand was as full of details about geography, history, and culture or if it was a there for the benefit of people like me. Healey provides a detailed afterward about the Maori mythology she uses in Guardian of the Dead. Those interested in her research process and use of cultural consultants in revising her story can read more at her blog.

Review: The Fox Inheritance

The Fox Inheritance. Mary E. Pearson. Henry Holt & Co. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Audiobook from Macmillan Audio. Narrated by Matthew Brown. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Book 2 of the Jenna Fox Chronicles.

The Plot: Jenna. Locke. Kara. Three teenage friends who did everything together. Including died together. Well, at least their bodies died; their minds were saved.

Two hundred sixty years later, Locke and Kara’s stored minds and memories are made part of new, perfect, synthetic bodies. A second life.

Everything and everyone they knew is gone. During those years, Locke and Kara existed, had been aware, been there for each other in the dark void. Now they are in new bodies . . .  a little taller. A little stronger. A little more good looking. A little more perfect.

Can two people who went through what they went through really be the same people? With manufactured bodies and downloaded memories, are they people?

The Good: Locke and Kara have spent a year at the estate of Dr. Gatsbro, the man responsible for their lives and new bodies. He cares for them, has hired people to help him, keeps them safe at his isolated mansion as they learn about this new world. Kara is suspicious of the doctor, and Locke — despite loving her, despite their bond from friendship and hundreds of years shared in the dark — wonders if he can trust Kara, if she’s the same person she was. When it turns out that Kara and Locke are samples to show off to perspective buyers — people seeking immortality by creating ageless, perfect younger versions of themselves to download into before they die — the two run away. Once away from their safe, guarded prison, Kara and Locke realize that Dr. Gatsbro was selective in what he told them about the world.

Locke and Kara go” home” to Boston; but it is not the Boston they knew. Imagine, a person from 1751 waking up in 2011. Imagine them looking for their house, beliveving, somehow, that something of what they knew still exists. That is Kara and Locke. They have something that a person from 1751 wouldn’t have: Jenna. Jenna Fox, the girl who died with them, was reborn like they were — except for Jenna, it happened shortly after the car crash. Instead of centuries in isolation, Jenna has had a life. Kara and Locke get separated, but both seek out Jenna. Locke, because Jenna was his best friend. Kara, for revenge for abandoning them. Locke is in a race, to find Jenna first, to find Kara, as he hopes that Jenna has answers and that Kara remembers the friendship the three once shared. Both also are trying to keep from getting caught by Dr. Gatsbro.

The teenage friendship of these three is depicted as magical; and isn’t that true? The magic of like minds meeting, of finding friends who love you, of sharing life and love and laughs. Friends who bring out the best in each other. Locke flashbacks frequently to their friendship before, so the reader feels the loss as strongly as Locke does and, like Locke, wants the magic back and is angered at all that has been lost.

Oh brave new world; I was fascinated by the future Pearson has created. Shoes that mold to your feet. Free public transportation. A political structure where two separate governments and citizens share the same borders. And, of course, synthetic bodies and standards that struggle to define what it is to be human. All this is shown through Locke’s eyes, so we see what he sees and learns what he learns, all through a perspective of a reluctant teen time travel. For Locke is a teen — mentally he may have lived centuries, but since those centuries were in a dark void with only Kara for company, Locke has had no chance to grow or mature.

This is a sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the story of Jenna’s days after the car crash. Readers of that book will know more than Kara and Locke about what Jenna did and did not do.

Jenna lives in California, so Locke starts a road trip across the country. What a road trip! Locke’s traveling companions are Miesha, the attendant Dr. Gatsbro hired to look after Locke and Kara who feels guilty for the part she played in his scheme; and Dot. Dot is a fascinating character; one of the most memorable and original people I’ve met in a book in 2011. Dot drives a taxi, and looks human from the waist up. As a robot taxi driver, from the waist down she is part of the car she drives. Yet, Dot is not a robot. When Locke enters her taxi, seeking to run, seeking help, Dot goes against her programming and helps him. Dot yearns to be more than she is, wants to have a story to tell others like herself who are trapped in designs not of their own choosing. The crazy, futuristic road trip these three take is fantastic, fun, and scary.

What does it mean to be human? Is Jenna more human than Locke and Kara? Are Lock and Kara human? What about Dot?

Lauren Myracle Shines

 Lauren Myracle has withdrawn her book, Shine,  from the National Book Awards: “In a statement issued by her publisher, Myracle wrote that she “was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work.”  Via the LA Times Arts Beat blog. Also via the LA Times: “The National Book Foundation regrets that an error was made in the original announcement of the Finalists for the 2011 National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and apologizes for any confusion and hurt it may have caused Lauren Myracle,” it said in a statement. “At her suggestion we will be pleased to make a $5,000 donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation in her name.”

The Huffington Post has more as does Publishers Weekly. From PW: “As to how things changed from last Wednesday, when the category expanded to include six titles, to Friday, when the Foundation asked Myracle to withdraw, Augenbraum reiterated that it was a matter of respecting the integrity of the awards process, which “goes to the idea that the judges’ choices need to be respected.”

The Twitter reaction has been fierce, with most comments being made using the #Isupportshine hashtag. Bookshelves of Doomhas some of the Shine tweets at her blog, both with and without the hashtag.

Libba Bray has weighed in, as an author, as Myracle’s friend, and (as she discloses in the post) as the wife of Myracle’s agent, Barry Goldblatt: “What happened after that is worthy of a soap opera called “As the Incompetence Turns.” Over the next few days, a back-and-forth of “we’re keeping it,” “no, we’re not keeping it,” “it’s worthy,” “no, it’s not worthy” was played out in the media and over the Internet in a very public, very hurtful way that did not seem to take into account that at the center of all this was a real live human being, an excellent writer, whose work and reputation were being dragged through the mud as if it were no big thang while the ruffled feathers of injured egos were patted down in a backroom somewhere.”

School Library Journal has its report up on the website. The New York Times also reports on the happenings.

If forced to pick my favorite report on this, I’d select NPR’s blog post: “The solution that Myracle says was chosen, though — asking her to take it upon herself to voluntarily withdraw — doesn’t do much for their PR problem. If they wanted Myracle off the list, they had the option of withdrawing the nomination and saying, “We made an error, we still think it’s a wonderful book and never would have made this mistake if we didn’t consider it an entirely deserving choice, but we have to use the list our judges made, and we apologize.” If they wanted to call it serendipity and essentially overrule their judges, they could have done that, too. But asking her to withdraw — to solve the problem for them — when she had nothing to do with the creation of the problem in the first place seems a bit unfair.”

Peter at Collecting Children’s Books notes that in the past, the NBF wasn’t limited to 5 books.

My take:

People make mistakes. It happens. What matters is not the mistake that is made, but what we do about the mistake.

Based on everything I’ve read, mistake after mistake was made, from the moment that the NBF decided to handle recieving the nominated list over a telephone call, using titles only, up until today’s announcement. What the NBF did about their mistakes just made it worse and worse, creating even bigger headaches. As I said in my original NBA post, this should be a time of excitement for the nominated authors and the judges. Unfortunately, how the mistakes were handled have tarnished it for all involved.

EDITED TO ADD: Lauren Myracle gave an interview to Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair is only my most favorite magazine in the world  (sorry, InStyle and Entertainment Weekly). It’s part of their online content, at Vanity Fair Daily.

EDITED TO ADD: Lauren Myracle has a guest post at the Huffington Post.

So Much Fun

So many articles, so little time.

From about a week ago: Maria Tatar at the New York Times, with No More Adventures in Wonderland: “But the savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was, and the shadows are rarely banished by comic relief. Instead of stories about children who will not grow up, we have stories about children who struggle to survive.” Much discussion has ensued about the article, pro and con, on blogs, listservs, and Twitter. For a sympathetic view I’ll direct you to Monica Edinger at Educating Alice  (“I’ve long admired Harvard’s Maria Tatar for her varied work on children’s literature and folk lore. She’s done a number of fine annotated editions of classical books and tales including her latest, The Annotated Peter Pan.”) Fellow SLJ blogger Fuse # 8 had a different take at Darkness Redux: Has The Children’s Novel Lost Its Way: “It’s essentially a better written version of that Wall Street Journal piece from a couple months ago but with a different focus.” Don’t miss Nina Lindsay of Heavy Medal and her post, Where Danger Is Balanced By Enchantment: “Tatar contrasts the “luminous promise of magic” in Peter Pan and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to the “unforgiving…savagery” in The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and The Graveyard Book.  To her credit, she’s not denouncing the latter–just noting the shift, and her nostalgia.” My very short response? Like Educating Alice, I admire Tatar’s work; but as Fuse #8 points out, comparing yesterday’s children’s books to today’s young adult books isn’t quite the right way to prove your thesis, and, to use Heavy Medal’s phrase, a bit too much nostalgia for earlier times and earlier books.

Meanwhile this week Salon gave us not one but two articles that slam children’s and young adult literature!

How the National Book Awards Made Themselves Irrelevant by Laura Miller; all you need to do is read the subtitle, “a once-influential literary prize is now the Newbery Medal for adults: good for you whether you like it or not.” Sadly, the article could have been interesting without the Newbery slam. Miller asks some interesting questions, such as whether the judges give preference to overlooked titles. I was particularly intrigued with her “the judges often have a distorted sense of the role literature plays in the lives of ordinary readers.” She supposes that people reading only two or three books a year “want to make sure they’re reading something significant.” Actually, I find that supposition to be distorted; I’d say that the reader wants to read something they will enjoy, and “enjoy” varies for the reader. Some may want something significant, others enjoyment, others catharsis, and so on and so on. Anyway, the Newbery mention is relatively minor yet just enough for me to not quite get why it’s even there, except to get people like me pissed and comment at her article. Apparently, Miller was scarred by reading And Now Miguel and other Newbery medal “medicinal reading experiences”. However, later she mentions reading and loving From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. My take away is that since Miller didn’t like some Newberys she assumed all were bad until she had to read Mixed Up Files and what a surprise, she liked it. True story: I hated my Nana’s cheesecake and so for years thought I didn’t like cheesecake. At almost thirty I tried some and LIKED it and now it’s my favorite. Early impressions aren’t always the correct ones.

To be honest, though, when I read adult fiction I tend to read genre fiction, not books like those nominated for the NBA. So in a way, I have no skin in the game.

Salon also blessed us with Why Teens Should Read Adult Fiction: Parents push young-adult fiction because it’s safe. But protecting kids from sex, death and adult themes is wrong by Brian McGreevy. You know, I think I’m only three or four sentences away from loving this article. Now, put the pitchfork down because what McGreevy is actually saying is parents think YA is safe. He could have been clearer on the point that its not a correct assumption, but since his point is teens should read adult fiction, “McGreevy sidesteps the entire issue of what YA books are and aren’t with a “The YA category is a marketing distinction, not a moral one, however much parents would like it to be a synonym for “safe.”” I wish the point that “YA doesn’t equal safe had been stronger, because I can easily see a parent not as familiar with YA books believing that this article is telling them it is “safe”. This could have been a stellar article if McGreevy’s point was that protecting teens from sex, death, and mature themes in any book is wrong, whether that book is YA or adult. His concluding sentences are “Life’s genesis and termination — and every gradation of human experience in between — is [children’s] birthright. They are entitles to learn about it at exactly the rate it is appropriate to their individual moral development to do so. And as long as you love them enough, they’ll end up basically OK.”

I don’t believe that books for adults are inherently “better” than books for teens; and I think readers, whatever the age, are fascinated by many things and have many reading hungers. Just as kids who want to read adult books should not be kept from doing so, so, to, teens who want to read teen books should not be kept from doing so by an attitude that YA is the easy-reader stepping stone to adult books, best ignored by the kids who are really smart. I know I’m biased by my own reading experiences (but obviously Miller and McGreevy and Tatar are biased by their own reading experiences and that doesn’t stop Salon and The New York Times from publishing them), but I read everything as a teen, and I read everything now, and why would we want to limit any reader to “just” adult fiction or “just” young adult fiction? Our reading hungers are varied, so our reading options should be varied, also.

National Book Awards

I have become the type of person that, when the National Book Award Finalists are announced, I have to read them all.

OK, not all-all. I mean the Young People’s Literature Finalists.

This year, there are six titles.

Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc. ). My review.

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Marshall Cavendish)

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)

Shine by Lauren Myracle (Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The Judges: Marc Aronson (Panel Chair), Ann Brashares, Matt de la Peña, Nikki Grimes, Will Weaver.

The plan: read the books I haven’t read yet; review; and write a wrap up post before the winner is announced on November 16.

If you’re familiar with the NBA, you may be saying, “six? I thought there were usually five finalists.” Well, yeah. That’s covered in Oops! National Book Awards Unveil Six YA Finalists at School Library Journal and National Book Award finalists announced – with an extra title at the LA Times.

All I know is six books I’ve heard good things about (or read and liked) are on the finalist list. Six authors got the good news about being finalists. And now the five/six issue is taking away from what would otherwise be an exciting time. So, what I’m going to do is what I usually do when reading for a list like this: read the books I haven’t read yet, thinking, what about this book made it worthy for the list? What are the strengths of this book? Why do I think it appealed to the judges? Then I’ll post my reviews and look forward to see which one gets the nod!