Review: The List

The List by Siobhan Vivian. PUSH, an imprint of Scholastic. 2012. Review copy from PLA.

The Plot:  Mount Washington High School has a tradition: each year, before Homecoming, a list is made. The four prettiest girls in school, one in each grade. And the four ugliest girls, one in each grade. This year’s anointed pretty girls: Abby, Lauren, Bridget, Margo. The ugly girls: Danielle, Candace, Sarah, Jennifer. The List is their story, of how it impacts each girl.

The Good: Eight story lines are juggled; eight points of view come together for one story about the power of words and labels. The List is also about casual, everyday cruelty; a meanness that here is in high school, brought to the forefront because of the list, but it could happen anywhere or anytime. Some people are “broken” by the list; some are made stronger; some embrace it; others, reject it.

Confession: I love books with this type of structure, going back and forth between characters, having some overlap, and shifting points of view.

The pretty girls: Abby, the pretty girl more interested in planning each outfit for the day than doing any homework. The list confirms to her that her priorities are the right ones. She’s shallow, yes, but also likable. I just wanted to shake some sense into her. (I totally pictured the younger sister from Ten Things I Hate About You.)

Lauren, the former homeschooler. Getting on the list means getting instant best friends, and her upbringing has left her a bit unsure who to trust.

Bridget, whose summer weight loss gets her on the list. Too bad that means keeping up the unhealthy habits she uses to keep her weight down.

Margo, who feels like getting on the list guarantees a happy senior year.

The ugly girls: Danielle, who before the list was a happy, confident swimmer with an attentive boyfriend. The list brings about self-doubt, and shows the cracks in her relationship with her boyfriend.

Candace, a popular girl who is also mean. The type of girl who would expect to be on the pretty list. The loss of status means a loss of friends.

Sarah, an outsider who decides to go full-on ugly. Her classmates think she’s ugly? She’ll show them ugly!

Jennifer, who has gotten on the list four years in a row. Sympathy and pity from her fellow students may be the beginnings of friendship.

The pretty girls, of course, have less issues than the ugly girls, but they also have negative consequences: Abby continues to ignore schoolwork. Lauren’s mother distrusts what is going on. Bridget obsesses about dress size. Margo, who has been enemies with Jennifer since before high school, is shocked to find her friends befriending Jennifer. The ugly girls, though — those are the ones who it hits, and hits hard, because it’s a world judges by looks.

I had two favorite story lines: Danielle and Margo. Danielle was such a strong character, to see the seeds of self doubt planted was heart breaking. Luckily, she is not alone: she has friends and her team rallies behind her. (Her boyfriend, well, let’s just say I think it’s a good thing she realized just how weak he was. This was a gift, Danielle!)

Margo, on the other hand, has a strong voice: the dynamics between and Jennifer were fascinating. They stopped being friends because, well, they changed. It happens. Friendships don’t have to end for big, dramatic reasons. Jennifer refuses to accept it, and that refusal shapes her attitude toward the list and toward Margo.

Other reviews: New York Times review; Stacked; YA Librarian Tales

Edited to add: I got so caught up in the stories that, until discussing this with the author on Twitter, I forget a HUGE part of the book.

The important impact of the books is not Jennifer, Sarah, Danielle, Lauren, or the others. The impact that matters is the one on the reader.

That can be a tricky thing for a book, to expect that engagement from the reader, because we’re used to characters changing, growing, in books, not ourselves. Abby’s in the same place, we may say — but that doesn’t matter. The reality is, for the Abbys of the world? They won’t change. And that’s important to have in a book.

Questions that I came away with, in a feel it in my gut way, not a putting together a book discussion way: How do I define myself, “ugly” or “pretty”? If someone threw that label at me, what would I do? Do I do that to others? Why do these labels have power, and why do people use that power?

Review: After Etan

After Etan: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive by Lisa R. Cohen. Grand Central Publishing. 2009. Personal copy.

It’s About: The May 25, 1979, disappearance of Etan Patz, age six.

The Good: Of course I remember it: little boy walking to the bus stop disappears. I was almost thirteen: old enough to remember, young enough to not quite know the details. Old enough to be aware of how the world changed because of it, changes brought about both by fear and knowledge.

That type of “knowing” is not the same as really knowing: I didn’t know the particulars of the case. I had a general idea of what happened after. When the investigation dramatically made its way to the news this past week (In Basement, Hopes to Solve ’79 Case of Missing Boy from The New York Times), I had questions, and decided it was time to read in depth about the case instead of relying on memory or short news articles.

The story is heartbreaking: six year old Etan disappears during the short walk to his school bus stop. Etan never arrived at school that morning, but the school didn’t call his parents, so it wasn’t until Etan didn’t come home that his mother knew he’d gone missing. After Etan is about those first few days, yes, but it also the months and years and decades after. It is about Etan’s parents. It is about the change in society, in knowledge, in laws.

What perhaps made the strongest impact on me was what happened to Etan’s family. (Cohen only briefly touches on Etan’s two siblings, respecting their privacy). The Patzes are going through a nightmare, a nightmare that this past week’s headlines show is literally a never-ending nightmare, yet they have lives to live. Two other children to raise. Finding their son, finding what happened to Etan, justice, matters, but so, too, does creating a loving home for their other children.

After Etan is a reason I sometimes prefer non-fiction to fiction, because the family survives. It does not self-destruct. A fictional version of an always-lost child would have demanded more darkness and scars; would have insisted that those touched be permanently broken.

References are made to other cases, showing the tight time frame that raised the public awareness of  missing and murdered children and the way the police and legal system addressed the cases. The Atlanta Child Murders were happening at the same time. Steven Stayner’s 1980 escape from his kidnapper. Adam Walsh’s kidnapping and murder in 1981.

Reading the book as a basement is being excavated is chilling, because there is no answer. Is Jose Ramos, the person many believe molested and murdered Etan Patz, guilty? The author of the book (like the investigators in the book as well as the Patz family) clearly believe the evidence is there. Is what is happening now going to provide evidence supporting or contradicting that belief?

One thing that struck me as I read the book: the changing way society deals with allegations of pedophilia and molestation.

Additional reading: The Long Search for Etan Patz by Edward Klein, Vanity Fair, 1991; What Happened to Etan Patz by Lisa R. Cohen, New York Magazine, 2009

Flashback April 2010

As I explained earlier this week, I’m beginning a new feature.

As a brief recap, I’m going to be highlighting reviews from past years.

So now, flashback to April 2010!

Passing By by Yona Tepper, illustrated by Gil-Ly Alon Curiel, translated by Dr. Deborah Guthman. Kane Miller, 2010. Picture book. From my review: “Yael is on her balcony with her bunny. Instead of being isolated, she observes (and so is part of) her larger world. A dog goes by, a cat, a truck, a bicycle. Always — some is far away, someone is coming closer, there is something new. A beautifully illustrated book for preschoolers — just the right balance of security (Yael at home, her mother, eventually her father coming home) with adventure (rather, the adventure she observes).”

The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell. Balzer & Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins. 2010. Young Adult. From my review: “I loved this book because it works as a classic coming of age story, with Carrie figuring out her world and her place in it; with that world including expanding her horizons beyond her small town. Carrie works on being a writer and what that means. As the book starts, Carrie has been rejected for a summer writing program in New York City. She is at first reluctant to join the school newspaper (it’s not her type of writing); she does not become an investigative journalist, rather, (spoiler!!!) she starts looking at herself and her friends and foes as source material, providing biting (and anonymous) commentary on high school. Sorry about that spoiler. But this is a prequel of sorts, to both the book and film Carrie, so the reader “knows” where Carrie will end up, at least in fifteen odd years. The question isn’t whether Carrie become a writer living in New York City; the question is how that happens. And while there is romance, sex, and love in The Carrie Diaries, this is equally about becoming an artist, finding a voice, and discovering what is, and isn’t, important.”

The Enemy by Charlie Higson. Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group. 2010. Young Adult. From my review: “Zombies! Zombie parents who eat their young! It’s a zombified The Girl Who Owned a City And even better — at one point a character corrects us. It’s not zombies because the adults didn’t die and they can be killed by any traditional killing-a-person methods. Rather, the adults got sick (with a side effect that they look zombie like, decomposing flesh, broken bones, etc.), lost memory/humanity, and now want to eat human flesh. But they didn’t die and then come back from the dead. So, not zombies. ZOMBIES!!! . . . . , so if you are into zombies, you want this book. If you are into “all the adults die, now what do the kids do” books, you want this book. Want to know what is terrific? One kid who is totally set up as a main character — is killed halfway. I mean, in a book like this you know kids will die. And they do. But you don’t think it’s going to be one of the main freaking characters. And not so early in the book! What that tells you — nothing is safe. No one is safe. “Safe” is just a word.”

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix. Scholastic. 2010. Young Adult. From my review: “The seven parts of Keys to the Kingdom is a stunning sequence of books; more like seven volumes of one book than seven books. At first, it didn’t seem like that. It was Monday; there was an adventure. It was Tuesday; there was an adventure. But then, wow, realizing that more, much more, is going on than a simple quest by Arthur to find the seven keys and seven parts of the Will. . . . . And the ending… Lord Sunday delivers everything the last book in a series should. And then some. Some things that the reader had begun to suspect, or fear, come to pass. Middle school book? Oh, yes, middle school students will read and enjoy this series, but the questions and answers given are food for thought for older teens and adults. Arthur may be a seventh grader in the first volume of the book, as is Leaf, but the inhabitants of the House (Suzy, the Will, the Denizens) are all hundreds if not thousands of years old. Or older. And Arthur himself ages, in time and temperament and even appearance, as these books go by. The seven days? Hardly twenty four hour days.”

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. Little, Brown. 2010. Young Adult. From my review: “Because of the love story between Rosie and Silas. Because of the terrific sister relationship between Scarlett and Rosie. Because Scarlett and Rosie are strong, capable, dangerous, lethal hunters. Because I cared so much for Scarlett, Rosie and Silas, I began to think they were real. Because the story line is smart and clever. Because the story is both original yet uses established lore. Because the writing is exciting and lyrical. For all those reasons, this is a Favorite Books Read in 2010.”

The New Brighton Archeological Society by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon. Image Comics. 2009. Middle School Graphic Novel. From my review: “Mysteries are introduced in the first few pages (a Manor house, a flying island, a goblin (or fairy?) wedding. Flashforward fifty years, where we see the two sets of parents die in Antarctica while searching for something. So, another mystery! The four kids recover from the loss of their parents by discovering that their parents weren’t simply archaeologists. The parents also trapped ghosts, befriended goblins, and pursued assorted other supernatural thrills and fun. The kids dub themselves, like their parents before them, the New Brighton Archaeological Society.”

Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton. Bloomsbury. 2010. Middle grade. From my review: “Albee uses the history of poop — where humans poop, and how, if at all, they remove poop from where they live — to tell about the history of waste removal (or waste non-removal, as the case may be). It’s more than poop, though, because Albee explains the link between waste and disease. Seriously, learning how many diseases that people get (and die from) that basically comes from contamination from poop is enough to make you throw up, and then become an obsessive compulsive hand washer. And then, when you’re reading history and biography books and that disease gets mentioned and you realize it’s because it was the poop… excuse me as I go throw up and wash my hands.”

Review: Catch and Release

Catch & Release by Blythe Woolston. Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. 2012. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Polly Furnas had her whole life planned out. The Plan: marry Bridger Morgan. College and a career and babies. Money saved from her part-time job and three (yes, three) hope chests were part of the plan. The Plan is Polly-That-Was.

Now, none of that matters. None of that will happen. Not Bridger, not college, not anything. Polly is Case Six. She got MRSA, flesh-eating bacteria, after scratching a pimple on her face. She lost her eye, part of her cheekbone, and is scarred. She is lucky: Cases One, Two, Four Five and Seven (three football players, a lunch lady, a newborn) all died. Case Three, Odd Estes, a junior football player, lost part of a leg.

Polly’s spending days with her mother, watching TV, because watching TV is something you can still do with one eye, when Odd comes knocking on the door. Does she want to go fishing, he asks. And because there is nothing else to do and she has to do something, Polly says yes to a fishing trip that morphs into a roadtrip, a not-quite running away from home and a not-quite running to confront Bridger.

What choices will Polly and Odd make about their lives and futures?

The Good: I adored Polly — the new Polly. I’m not sure what I would have thought of Polly-That-Was, with her future set in stone and all her choices made because those choices, like her life, were nice and easy. Polly was a much wanted only child; she met Bridger at a dance her freshman year of high school and they’ve dated and Planned their lives ever since. Two nice kids planning a nice life. The type of life where Bridger’s mother insisted on being called “Mom-B” and taught Polly how to make his favorite mac’n’cheese.

Once Polly got sick, Bridger and his family disappeared. All Polly got was an “I’m not coming home from college this summer and let’s take a break” letter from Bridger and a get wall card coldly signed “The Morgan Family.”

Polly has lost everything, especially the niceness that used to define who she was and what she wanted out of life. Her future is lost to her. Her present, also. Friends are scared away by both the MRSA and her face; Polly doesn’t even get the satisfaction of graduating with her class. Her job, working with small children, doesn’t want her back because she may scare the kiddies.

Catch & Release is about Polly picking up those shattered pieces by running away with Odd. Of course, she doesn’t realize at first that’s what she’s done. It’s a simple overnight fishing trip but Odd keeps driving, further and further west. Odd has his own loss: his leg and his identity as a football player. His family situation is as messy as Polly’s is tidy. This is Polly’s story, but we get glimpses of Odd from letters he writes home to his much-loved grandmother.

Catch & Release starts in Montana. Woolston paints a beautiful picture of the country and towns that Polly and Odd pass through; afterwards, I found myself looking up the places they’ve gone, Natural Bridge, Yellowstone, Elkhorn. Along the way, they fish. When the two were in the hospital, well enough to be up but not well enough for visitors, they spent time together and (she being a senior, he going into his junior year) didn’t have much in common so talked fishing.

I had no idea.

I’m sorry, I’m not an outdoors girl and I don’t know fishing and I had no idea what it meant, when Polly said they talked about fishing (“the occasional day on the river or a spring creek“). She has a fly book. A FLY BOOK. “So pretty, so well organized, so full of things that are too tiny — hello, sweet little Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph–or too fuzzy-headed to give me a fighting chance of getting the line threaded.” Let’s just say, those readers who understand that sentence will love this book and its portrayal of fishing, and what it means to Polly. Those who don’t will love how Woolston uses fishing to bring Polly back into the world. Fishing may be to eat the fish for dinner, but it is also, as the title indicates, catch and release. To accomplish something, to catch the fish, but then to move on, to let the fish go. It’s a beautiful metaphor for where Polly finds herself, emotionally.

Slipping in, here and there, is Polly’s loss of her eye and scarring. If a reader forgets for a moment, then there is the waitress who sees her face and drops the coffee pot; there is the fly Polly cannot attach; there is the struggle with depth perception as she walks. Slowly, Polly adjusts.

This is one of those books where I don’t want to say too much about what happens, not because of any twists or turns but because Polly’s emotional journey is so elegantly told.

One last thing: when I went to write this review, the book jacket came off and I saw the book cover. Well played, Carolrhoda Lab, well played. A beautiful, subtle touch.

Because Catch & Release portrayed it’s setting so well. Because both Odd and Polly were tough to like but easy to love. Because the structure was deceptive, starting at the end and then leading us to the beginning. Because Bridger made a poor choice but Polly is so much better off without him or his mother. Because, while they had few pages, the love and support of her parents shone through the pages. Catch & Release is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: Forever Young Adult; Stacked; The Contemps.

Fab Films: Distribution of the List

More from the policies and procedures for YALSA’s Fabulous Films Committee.

From the YALSA Website:

Distribution of the List: It is YALSA’s aim to achieve as wide a distribution of the list as possible. The list will be made available to the library press through ALA’s Public Information Office. It will be sent to Booklist and other professional library and education journals, and also will be made available on YALSA and ALA’s web site and other appropriate web sites and electronic discussion lists. Committee members and the administrative assistant will continue to look for other ways to promote the list.

Interested in some of the prior lists?

2012 – Song and Dance

2011 – Other Times / Other Places

2010 – Outside In

Next week: Criteria

Review: Ripper

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha. Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: An action adventure steampunk Jack the Ripper mystery set in New York City!

New York City, 1895. Carver Young, 14, is living in Ellis Orphanage. He loves mystery stories, and the biggest mystery of them all is who he is. “Young” was made up because he was left at the orphanage as an infant. The only clue he has to his past is an old letter from his father. “Shan’t quit, but have to stop for now, boss” says the letter from London dated 1889.

Carver has a plan: find his long lost father. Who better to ask than Teddy Roosevelt, the police commissioner? Maybe Carver can impress Roosevelt enough to get a job, something he needs now that he’s too old to stay at the Orphanage.

Carver doesn’t quite get what he wants, but he does get what he needs: a job and the chance to track down his father. He also finds himself in the middle of Roosevelt’s investigation of the bloody “library murderer.” It turns out, his long lost father and the current criminal investigation may have more in common than anyone realizes.

The Good: The prologue reveals up front that Jack the Ripper is the library killer. It also includes a copy of one of the “Dear Boss” letters written in 1888 by Jack. When Carver discovers the letter sent by his father, Petrucha has given the reader not familiar with Jack the Ripper enough to realize the identity of Carver’s father. You know who doesn’t know? Carver, or any of the other people in Ripper. That knowledge is the reader’s.

Carver has two friends from the Orphanage who also recently were adopted: Delia, taken in by a married couple who are both reporters, a career Delia aspires to; and Finn, a bit of a bully who finds himself adopted so that he can be part of staged photo ops.

Carver ends up being adopted/apprenticed by Albert Hawking, a detective from the famous Pinkerton Agency. The founder of that Agency is dead, and Hawking and another Pinkerton detective, Septimus Tudd, have started the New Pinkertons to carry on. Under the dual tutelage of Hawking and Tudd, Carver begins to track down his father. It’s old fashioned research. If the letter is dated 1889, doesn’t that mean his father came looking for him in 1889? Are there records of the travelers from England who entered New York City in 1889? Some of what Carver does is hardly glamorous or exciting, but it is real detective work.

Tudd likes experiments and science, and, in a nutshell, the New Pinkertons is Steampunk Central. It’s pure science fiction, not fantasy, and Petrucha explains in a note the reality behind the inventions that Carver uses and encounters. I was familiar with Alfred Beach and his Pneumatic Subway; when explaining that something else dated to a few years after the events in Ripper, Petrucha muses, “if a secret detective agency can’t get a few advance models, who can?”

As the title and the start of the book reveals to all (except, of course, Carver who doesn’t realize he is in a book called Ripper), Carver isn’t just tracking his father. He’s tracking Jack the Ripper. And, Jack the Ripper is the library murderer. I thought that was it; that I just needed to wait for Carver to come to that realization. Except — well — it turns out to be so much more than that. So much that it’s one of the books where I went “WHAT” and turned back to the first chapter. Well done, Petrucha! He made me think I knew what was going on when I knew nothing at all. Better yet, I didn’t even suspect because, remember, I thought I knew it all.

Ripper conveys a sense of the time and place of New York City in the 1890s. I was reminded of one of my favorite books, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, and so wasn’t surprised at all to see Petrucha reference it in his acknowledgements. I hope there is a sequel because there are a few things I had questions about and while my questions did not need to get answered in this book, I would like to get answers at some point. Or, if you want, we can discuss in the comments!

Flashback Reviews

I’m going to be starting something new later this week: flashback reviews.

One thing about readers — a “new” book isn’t a book that was just published. It’s a book that is “new” to them. Most of my reviews are for newer books; and I was thinking about ways to highlight “older” books.

My idea? A flashback to reviews from previous years. I’ve decided to start with April, because I started blogging in April (April 2005, to be exact). I’m also going to start with a few flashbacks a month: for the next year, flashbacks to 2005, 2007, and 2010. Next year will be flashbacks to 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2011. (Why four years? 2008 was the year I was reading for Printz, so I have very few reviews from that year.) Anyway, that’s the plan as it stands.

In addition to seeing reviews for older titles, it’ll also be interesting to see how my review style has changed.

If you have any suggestions or ideas for this project, let me know!

Diana Wynne Jones

Last March, Diana Wynne Jones passed away. Bristol (where she lived for many years) is planning a celebration of her life and work. Also in celebration, a blog tour has been organized by Sharyn November/Firebird with help from Greenwillow and Harper UK, her major US/UK publishers.

I did not have the honor of meeting her; but I have had the honor of “knowing” her through her books.

As I was getting things together for a post in honor of the Diana Wynne Jones blog tour, I realized something.

The books of hers that I loved? I read before I started blogging seriously. Which means that I have no links to reviews.

Instead, I have a list, and recollections. Confession: I forgot just how many of her books I’d read until I began going through the list.

I read the Chrestomanci series out of order. First I read Witch Week; then, I began at the beginning with The Lives of Christopher Chant and then Charmed Life, as recommended by the author. Whenever people (including myself) begin to dither about books in series being standalone or not, or whether it needs to be read in order, I remember how many times I’ve read books “out of order” and managed to enjoy the book and the series. 

Dark Lord of Derkholm cracked me up. Even now, remembering, I’m laughing over the tourists paying to visit fantasy land, and the inhabitants having to put on a show.

One of my favorite animated films is Howl’s Moving Castle.

The Time of the Ghost may be my favorite book, which may sound odd to some people because it’s not the fantasy type book she’s known for. The mix of boarding school, odd sisters, and a ghost with amnesia is deliciously spooky and funny and sinister.

I almost forgot her non-fiction book, The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land, which any fantasy reader or writer should read. The stew! The capes! The inns!

As for Fire and Hemlock: stay tuned! Later on in the tour, I’ll be sharing my review.

Meanwhile, check out this blog to Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones. So far my favorite post is the one featuring a cake of one of her books. Bet you can’t guess which one!

If you’re going to be tweeting about DWJ and her books during the tour, or looking for tweet, the hashtag is #dwj2012.

What else? Firebird is reissuing three of DWJ’s backlist: Dogsbody, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman; Fire and Hemlock, with an introduction by Garth Nix; and A Tale of Time City, with an introduction by Urusla K. Le Guin.

Also, this year Greenwillow published DWJ’s last new book, Earwig and the Witch, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Review: The Girl in the Park

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks. Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from NetGalley.

The Plot: Sunday morning, at 7:16 in the morning, Rain is woken up by a phone call from Wendy Geller’s mother. Wendy’s mother sounds like someone who is scared but is trying not to be scared: Wendy didn’t come home last night. Does Rain know where she is? Ms. Geller doesn’t realize that Rain and Wendy haven’t been friends since freshman year, two years ago.

It’s not till later that night that Rain hears the news: Wendy’s body has been found in Central Park. She’s been murdered.

It’s Day One. And even though the two girls were no longer friends, Rain feels she owes Wendy. No matter what it takes, Rain will find out who killed Wendy.

The Good: Rain is an outsider at her school. Oh, she has some of the right credentials: rich enough to go to school, plus her mother’s an opera singer (“if you’re into opera, you probably know her“) so Rain is even a “daughter of” someone. Rain also has a cleft palate, and while she’s had surgery and speech therapy, she goes to school with people who for years mocked what she did (or didn’t) say. Wendy, the new girl in school, doesn’t, even though to do so would help her gain friends with the popular kids. Instead, Wendy tells her “cleft palate. Big deal. Okay, maybe you sound a little funny. Some. Times. But you need to forget about that and speak up, girl!

Rain doesn’t speak up. She listens. This is what she brings to her investigation of Wendy’s death: an insider’s knowledge of her classmates, an outsider’s observation skills, and the ability to get people to talk and to hear what they do and don’t say.

Why Rain and Wendy stopped being friends is part of what drives Rain to do this one final thing for Wendy: find the person responsible. What happened between the girls? Wendy was the outsider, whose well off grandparents paid her tuition, but the money wasn’t the “right” kind and led to jokes behind her back. Rain was alone, and the two got together and had fun. Rain remembers what she loved about Wendy: “I thought about the particularly insane thing she had promised to do that night. And I wondered two things: Doesn’t she know how ridiculous she is? And what is that like? To have no fear?” “Wendy always seemed to know where life was, and if you were lucky, she’d grab you by the hand and take you along for the ride.” That was the good in Wendy; the bad – well, I could understand why their friendship cooled. It’s important to Wendy that people like her, that people chose her, so “she becomes the kind of person people ‘like’ instead of the person she really is.”

I felt terrible for Wendy: Wendy as a ninth grader, wanting what she can’t have. Wendy in a school that mocks her. The cruelty of immature children and teenagers. And I felt worst when I saw Wendy trying to get back for hurts in ways that just hurt herself. Rain, of course, was in no way to help or save Wendy because Rain had her hands full with her own issues, her own anger and hurts.

Wendy is dead in a park and the headlines are turning it into the story of a party girl who made the wrong choices. Rain knows her friend is more than tabloid headlines. Rain is pushed outside her comfort zone of passively observing and listening as she investigates what happened to her friend. The Girl in the Park is a murder mystery, yes; but it also a coming of age story, as Rain learns to speak up, both for herself and for Wendy.

The Girl in the Park provides several suspects, clues, and false leads. Rain has to look past who she likes (or doesn’t) based on their past poor treatment of herself and others.

Rain’s cleft palate and speech difficulties are perfectly woven througout the story; they infuse Rain’s character and explain her own distance from her classmates. This is not a story about a girl with a cleft palate; it is a murder mystery where the investigator happens to have a cleft palate. When looking at the author’s blog, she mentioned drawing from her own experience (The Psychic Ouch). In her post, Fredericks writes ” I didn’t want to write a “It’s so hard to be me” novel. So I started wondering what would happen if a girl who was terrified to speak to people (I suspect there are a lot of us out there, cleft palates or no) had to speak up? What if she had to start asking questions, demand to be heard?” Frederick suceeds; this is not a problem novel; and she makes Rain’s self-imposed silence both particular (the cleft palate) and universal (for anyone who, for whatever reason, has felt silenced).

Other reviews: Chronicles of a Book Evangelist.

If you’re about my age, or from the New York area, “party girl found dead in the park” may sound familiar. Fredericks notes that she was inspired by the murder of Jennifer Levin. For those interested in what happened to Levin, from New York Magazine: East Side Story: Robert Chambers, Jennifer Levin, and a death that shocked the city.; Jennifer Levin’s Mother Remembers “Preppy Murder” Case.

Fab Films: Creation of the List

From the YALSA Website:

Creation of the List: Committee members are encouraged to nominate and view titles prior to the ALA Midwinter Meeting and to discuss those titles on the committee discussion list. 

All selection decisions for the YALSA Fabulous Films for Young Adults List will be finalized at the annual Midwinter Meeting. Members must be present in the viewing room and must have viewed the entire title to be able to vote on that title. There will be no proxy voting.

Each title must be viewed in its entirety to be considered for inclusion on the list.

A simple majority of the members present at each session during the Midwinter Meeting will suffice to place a film on the list. If a title fails to receive a majority vote, it will not be included in the current list, nor will it be reconsidered for subsequent lists.

In the case of films that are not able to be viewed by members before the Midwinter Meeting: after ten minutes of viewing, members present will vote as to whether or not they want to continue viewing the video. If the vote to discontinue is unanimous, viewing will cease and the title will be dropped from consideration. If the vote is not unanimous, the timer will be reset for an additional ten minutes. After this period, members will vote again, and if the vote to discontinue watching the video is unanimous, viewing will cease and the title will be dropped from consideration. If the vote is not unanimous, the timer will be reset for an additional 40 minutes.   After this period, members will again vote, and if three-fourths or more of the members want to discontinue watching the video, viewing will cease and the title will be dropped from consideration.

Once a title has been viewed, each member will have the opportunity to critique that item. This discussion begins with the member who nominated the video, and will proceed around the room clockwise, with each committee member having a chance to speak.  Discussion will end with the nominator of the video, who will get an additional five minutes to answer and address questions that may have arisen during the discussion of the video.

Titles must be evaluated on their own merits and may not compared to other similar works.

After each member who desires to comment has done so, voting takes place in the same order. The administrative assistant tabulates this vote and announces the results.

The administrative assistant will assign a committee member the responsibility of preparing an annotation of the selected title.

The chair will ensure that the annotated list is turned in to the YALSA staff before Tuesday of the Midwinter Meeting. This final list must be submitted electronically, in a format approved by the YALSA office, and in hard copy. It must include complete and accurate bibliographic information, annotations, and producer information with current addresses.

The chair will ensure that the press release is written and turned in to the YALSA staff before Tuesday at the Midwinter Meeting.

So, view the entire film to vote; be present at the meeting to vote. Midwinter is when that voting takes place, and to get on the list requires a simple majority. Annotations are created for the list; and the list and press release are submitted the Tuesday before Midwinter Meeting. The final list is then sent after the list is finalized.

Next week: Distribution of the List