Gilda Who?

I was nine when Saturday Night Live premiered, too young to watch the late night comedy show. When friends at school came in reciting parts, my mother assured me they were not allowed to stay up that late and were only repeating what their older siblings had told them.

Within a few years, I was old enough to stay up — often, at first, while babysitting waiting for parents to return home.

Yes, I know who Gilda Radner is and I still laugh and use “never mind” in conversation. I was 22 when she died, and I am now older than she was at the time of her death.

Cancer sucks.

As some of you may have read, part of her legacy – Gilda’s Club, for people living with cancer and their friends and families — may be changing its name in parts of the country, and in some areas already has, to remove her name. The Wisconsin State Journal, in an article Gilda’s Club changing name, as fewer know namesake, reports the reason for the change at the Madison, Wisconsin location “is that our college students were born after Gilda Radner passed“; it’s the fourth one to do so; and the assertion that “The national organization is phasing in the new name, Cancer Support Community, Stenz said, and the Gilda name will slowly go away.” (Other locations that did this didn’t appear to do so for the “Gilda who” reason, or at least didn’t share it with the press.)

Much reaction has followed; for example, see A Gilda’s Club Loses Gilda by Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. One part to point out: from what I’ve read, there is no nationally driven desire to change the name at all locations. It is a strictly local decision. See What’s In a Name at BrandChannel.

Names matter. They matter very much. The idea that if younger people don’t know who someone is, the answer is to remove the name and further erase them from memory appalls me. It bothers me in part because I work with teens; and do we respect them so little as to say, “you don’t know it? End of story, let’s not mention it again, if it’s not something that you know or remember, forget about it.” As someone who works with teens in a story/information setting, the idea of not providing further information where a lack exists is chilling. The idea of catering to this rather than correcting it bothers me. Add a qualifier to the name. Have a part of the website saying who Gilda was. To the question “Gilda Who” answer, “Radner,” not “never mind, no Gilda here.”

Names matter. They especially matter when the person is dead. Gilda’s Club is part of Radner’s legacy, and in all honesty, it really doesn’t matter whether or not someone remembers her because the name means she lives on. To change the name tells those college students “and the person you know with cancer? Maybe yourself? If they die, in a couple of decades, people won’t know who you are, or care, and any memorial people have done for you or your loved one will be removed.”

Names matter. I can understand that some people don’t know who Gilda is; there are plenty of people who I don’t know anything about. No one is saying anyone has to know anything about Gilda; though, of course, it would be nice if they did because she was a very talented woman. I’m not shocked that people don’t know who she is; again, I’m shocked that the response to this is to erase her name.

What are your thoughts on the name change? And do you know who Gilda Radner is?


Flashback November 2005

I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in November 2005.

I have to say, from a purely selfish viewpoint, I’m a bit fascinated at the evolution and growth of my writing and writing style over time. Some of these I’m not even sure are “reviews”.

Understanding the Holy Land : Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Mitch Frank. From my review: “Understanding the Holy Land is set up in a question and answer format. What I like about UHL (and about J and YA NF in general) is that at just over 150 pages it is concise and to the point. It gets to the heart of the matter. This is a complicated, complex, intricate subject; Frank, despite the brevity, writes honestly, truthfully and fairly about history, religion, ethnicity, race, and geography. It is obvious that Frank did a lot of research; because only by having an in depth understanding can someone write something that gets it all done in less than 200 pages.”

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy. From my review: “Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was kidnapped and murdered. Two people were tried for the crime and, despite eyewitness testimony that one of those people had forcibly removed Emmett from his grandfather’s home, and despite a motive, the two were acquitted. And later told a reporter the story of how they had killed Emmett. What had Emmett done? Why were the murderers acquitted? Emmett was African American; he was a 14 year old, raised in Chicago. Emmett had gone for the summer to the South, to Money, Mississippi, to visit relatives. While there, he may, or may not, have whistled at a white woman. Nelson’s wreath is a series of sonnets: in particular, a heroic crown of sonnets. This is poetry that is structured and requires discipline; it is not easy to write. Each word, each syllable, is important. It doesn’t just happen. It takes talent, it takes creativity, and it takes mastery of the form — especially where, as here, each sonnet reads so smoothly. Art like this — that requires time, patience, skill, dedication, practice, training, heart — doesn’t just happen. Nelson says that this form became “a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter, and a way to allow the Muse to determine what the poem would say.” What is brilliant about Nelson is that the discipline and structure is what frees her. This series is heartbreaking, haunting, and evocative. To learn what happened to Emmett, to see the pictures of his body, to think about the horror of his final hours… the brain shuts down, the heart cannot bear it. And so Nelson has found a way to make it bearable; and in making it bearable, we can listen, and learn. Just as each syllable matters to achieve the heroic crown of syllable, each second of Emmett’s life matters.”

Seven Alone (alternate title: On To Oregon). From my review: “I guess it just goes to show that whether a story is happy or sad all depends on when you decide to say “the end.” Does the story end when the Sagers reach the Whitmans? Or does it end later? Another thing I’ve learned: when I’m watching any movie or reading any book that takes place over 100 years ago, I say to myself at the beginning: no matter what happens, they’d be dead by now anyway. It’s just a matter of how and when they die. So try not to get upset.”

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. From my review: “I had forgotten that the narrator speaks to the reader, in a way similar to The Tale of Despereaux and Lemony Snicket. And I still felt the excitement as coats made way for trees. I was surprised at the violence and how well Lewis described the battle without going overboard. No matter what anyone else says, I still think of Turkish Delight as fudge. I love that the children grow up in Narnia and return home accidentally.”

Rebel Angels by Libba Bray. From my review: “OK, it was really difficult to try to explain the plot in a few sentences. I’ve written and deleted for the last ten minutes. Here’s my best try, and yes I’m leaving a lot out: It’s Christmastime in Victorian England, where Gemma attends an exclusive boarding school. But Gemma isn’t your typical Victorian teen. Part of her being different is she was born and raised in India; part is because of her mother’s tragic death the prior year. But she also possesses magic; she can go from our world into a realm of magic full of myth and beauty. And something dark and dangerous has gotten loose, and it’s up to Gemma to try to save and protect both the magic realms and our world.”

Review: Ferragost

Back in August, I blogged about Melina Marchetta’s short story, Ferragost, a companion to her Lumatere books. As Marchetta explained in a blog post, “Ferragost is a stand alone short story. If you are a reader of the Lumatere Chronicles, you’ll remember that Celie is the daughter of Lord August and Lady Abian and is best friends with the Queen of Lumatere.”

 I recently read Quintana of Charyn, Book Three of the Lumatere Chronicles (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia, 2012). Don’t worry, I won’t post my review until the American edition is released by Candlewick. But, while reading Quintana and thinking of that review, I decided to post a short review of the short story, Ferragost.

Ferragost is, of course, a joy for fans of the Lumatere Chronicles, a bonus story of a world we love, despite its harshness and brutality. It could work as an introduction to Lumatere, if a reader wanted to start with something shorter than Finnikin to test the waters, to see if Lumatere is a good fit for them as a reader. It dumps the reader right into the action, into the world, just like other fantasies.

Ferragost is an Agatha Christie type mystery: Lady Celie is visiting the Belegonian spring castle, with only a handful of other people. A dead body is found. Who is it? What happened? With so few people in the castle, Celie is as much a suspect as anyone else. She has to figure out what happened, and who really did it. Twists! Turns! So much so that I hope that Marchetta decides to write a full length mystery one of these days.

Celie is the star of Ferragost; people like Froi and Isaboe and Finnikin are mentioned in passing. I suggest reading Ferragost before Quintana, because there is a bit of a reveal of something in Quintana that I enjoyed discovering on my own in Ferragost. Celie, a supporting (if not minor) character in the other books, takes the lead in Ferragost, so much so that I want to reread Finnikin and Froi, just to read about Celie, now that I know her better. Her character is strong and smart; did I realize it in the other books? Or was I taken in, thinking she was “just” the daughter of a lord?

Ferragost includes what I like best about the other Lumatere books: a fully created world, yes; engaging characters, yes; but also the sadness and tragedy that comes from the real-life world of politics and duty.

Help, Please!

For a presentation I’m doing on children’s and young adult book blogs, what book blogs do you recommend as “must” read?

The audience is school librarians, if that helps.

Along with that, what are some of the reasons you think school librarians should read book blogs?


Review: Broken Harbor

Broken Harbor by Tana French. Viking Adult. 2012. Personal copy. This is my Thanksgiving Holiday Read, a review of something that is not a YA book. (Yes, it’s the day after, but you have the weekend to read it!) Book 4 in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Previous books: In the Woods; The Likeness; and Faithful Place.

The Plot: Patrick Spain is dead, as are his two small children. His wife is in critical condition. They were found in their new house, in a development never finished, one of Ireland’s “Ghost Estates.” Mick Kennedy (nickname Scorcher) is the investigating detective. taking a risk on Richie, the rookie on the team.

Mick takes pride in what he does; and he follows the rules; and he gets the job done. Not many could take a case with dead kids, for instance; Mick does.

The Spains lived in a development called Brianstown. Before the fancy, unfinished, poorly built Brianstown, though, it was called Broken Harbor. Broken Harbor was where Mick’s family spent a week of vacation each summer, back in the day when families where happy with a week in a caravan and the beach and ice cream. Something happened to Mick’s family back then, but Mick isn’t going to talk about that. He’s not going to think about that. He’s going to solve the case, of what happened to the Spains.

The Good: Yes, I skipped the middle two books in this series. It was no problem, really; each book stands alone, loosely tied together by the members of the murder squad, yes, but with shifting main characters. So while I didn’t experience Mick as seen through the eyes of others in the earlier books, it didn’t impact how I read this. I could tell from how Mick treated Richie that Mick could sometimes be a bit of an annoying stick in the mud, particular about things being done the right way and only he, Mick, knowing that way. Of course, now I want to go back and read the two that I skipped!

They mystery is, of course, who killed the Spain family, who left Jenny Spain for dead? Mick is a by-the-book man, who believes that usually people “invite” crime in. There is something, somewhere, that made the crimes happen; it doesn’t come out of the blue; if a family member usually did it, look at the family; and these are what guides his investigation. Richie, younger, questions why Mick isn’t open to more possibilities. The tension between the two, the disagreement on what to look at and what to not look at, creates some of the tension in this novel. Even though this is told by Mick, at times I was sympathetic to Richie’s arguments, or saw the things Mick couldn’t recognize.

The other tension comes from Mick himself. What happened to his own family, years ago, at Broken Harbor, is a secret he slowly reveals to the reader. What is more quickly shown to the reader is Mick’s younger sister, Dina, who is flighty, irrational, mentally unstable, and has only her family to take care of her. Since their other sister has her hands full with her husband and children, it’s up to Mick to caretake Dina while delving into the murders of the Spains.

There are several ghosts in Broken Harbor. The Ghost Estates: the ghost of the broken dreams of posterity and promise, the ghost of success and happiness. It is Mick’s own ghosts, too, of what happened to his family. It may be even more than that. One of the things I loved about In the Woods is that there was a possible fantastical element to it, if the reader wanted to believe in it. Children disappeared, and was it for something a bit unreal, something pagan leftover in the woods? Here, Mick discovers that the house the Spains lived in, like that of their neighbors, was poorly constructed. The Spains tried to hide it with furniture and paint… except for the holes in the walls and baby monitors in odd places and a trap in the attic. What was going on in the Spain house?

Mick grew up in before the success a younger generation knew; the loss of that, perhaps, hits him and his generation a bit less than those who always knew plenty. He and his knew about wearing hand me downs or second hand clothes; for someone like Jenny Spain, though, those things would be a sign of failure. Broken Harbor isn’t just a murder investigation: it is also a look at economic prosperity and it’s loss. It’s a look at what that loss does to a person.

Broken Harbor is also a glimpse at the Ireland before that success, in the story of Mick and his family. Let me tell you: I really liked Mick. When I couldn’t understand his relationship with his sister, Dina, I reminded myself that (while he is roughly my age) his was a culture of  “what would the neighbors say” and “we take care of our own.” That, I could understand, and Mick’s and Dina’s tragedy is that neither of them can move beyond that. Still, they take of their own. That’s something, right? Broken Harbor, or broken people, and which people can put themselves together and which people don’t? What do you do when the wolves are at the door? For all that Jenny Spain doesn’t want to buy used clothing, who am I to judge, because neither do I.

Because this book has just the right mix of elements to intrigue me, because I liked Mick, because I felt sorry for the Spains, because the story haunts me, because I want to read the books I missed, because I want to read more about Ireland and the ghost estates. And because I was reminded of Ken Bruen‘s books. (Note to self: need to catch up with Jack Taylor and see how he’s doing.) This is a Favorite Book Read in 2012.

Other reviews: S. Krishna’s Books; Rhapsody in Books; NPR.

Flashback November 2007

I’m flashing back to reviews from years past. Here is what I was reviewing in November 2007.

I can’t believe this, but . . . I reviewed exactly one book that month. I KNOW. How times have changed.

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor. Illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo. 2007. From my review: “Magpie Windwitch is a faerie who likes adventure. She travels the world with her clan of crows, hunting for lost magics, trapping escaped devils. It’s a lot more rough and tumble than the lives of most faeries, but she is the granddaughter of the West Wind, after all. It’s adventure, and it’s exciting; and she thinks she is hunting just another devil. Except this one was trapped by one of the great Djinns, something unheard of. This devil is darkness and shadow; it dates back to before the legendary fighter Bellatrix, before the world began. Magpie is in over her head. Or is she?”

Things I’m Thinking About

And still don’t have an answer for.

So, over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah Mesle has an article YA Fiction and the End of Boys. I have conflicted feelings and thoughts about it; in part because Masle’s framing question is “I see, in the ongoing conversation about Bella and Katniss, our culture pondering whether YA novels support the strong daughters we all want to raise. But as we debate ad nauseam whether, for example, Bella Swan is a dangerous role model for young women, we’ve neglected to ask the corresponding question: what does it tell young men when Edward Cullen and Jacob Black are the role models available to them?”

Now, first of all, my own point of view is that books fill many needs; primarily entertainment, but other needs are met. However, to say that books should or do offer role models, well, I tend to back away from that because, in my perspective, that removes the entertainment and enjoyment from books and turn them into something didactic. (Note: I’m not saying Mesle says any of this; I’m saying why I don’t agree with the framing question.) We don’t insist that the novels for adults have the right sort of role models; why must books for children and teens have this additional burden?

Even then, to the extent that the question arises, what about the boys, my answer tends to be what was stated in the recent article about Gender Balance in YA Award Winners: “because we expect to find male dominance everywhere, we treat a slight predominance of women as proof that women have now become dominant in a way that’s unnatural and needs to be fixed. What does it mean that we see a list where female authors are slightly ahead at 56% as evidence that there’s a crisis and that men are gravely underrepresented? Do we expect to find male dominance to such an extent that we see anything that deviates from it as a cause for alarm? The “reverse sexism” argument is also sometimes used in these cases, and feminists are accused of hypocrisy for being glad that a list has more women than men instead of demanding a 50/50 gender ratio absolutely everywhere. However, until gender equality has been achieved in the world at large, I’m not going to apologise for being happy to see women slightly ahead in some very limited spheres. Yes, gender equality is the ultimate goal, but there’s a long way to go until we reach it and in the meantime I’ll enjoy whatever respite I can find.”

And also from that article: “I accept that boys too have the right to want to see themselves represented in the literature they consume. However, it seems very disingenuous to make this comparison when we live in a world where the overwhelming majority of stories are still for, by, and about men. A quick browse through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media website will show you that this is the case. Even if (award winners aside, as we have just seen) the world of YA were to prove an exception, we can’t pretend the impact this has on boys is the same the impact that lack of representation in every single sphere of our culture has on marginalised groups.” (I wrote more about this fascinating article at the post Balance, Or How Much Is Too Much).

So, even going the question “where are the role models for boys in books,” my response is “the role models for boys are everywhere.” Just look at movies, at the heads of corporations, at sports, at politics. When the world is looked at in a whole, role models for boys outweigh role models for girls.

Sorry for the tangent. Back to Mesle’s article. One thing fascinating about it — in that it’s different from most articles about teen books — is that it also looks at boys/boyhood as a social construct as it’s been looked at in books (“these novels heralded the end of boyhood as a happy ending, the beginning of a triumphant journey into a powerful manhood“). I’d argue (and I actually would like to sit down with Mesle over coffee or wine, her choice, to discuss this in more detail than the Internet allows) that there is a societal fear of adulthood, period, not just for boys.  (I’ve deleted a half dozen tangents about people carrying adolescence into their late 20s as well as how the increasing gendering of toys and clothes). I also have a knee-jerk reaction of “but I don’t think that nineteenth century was as happy for women.” See, another tangent, and you can imagine how much I deleted from this post as I wandered down such other paths.

Anyway. Much food for thought, and for that I thank Mesle. Also, read the comments — pretty interesting range of responses.

Other people also were given food for thought, and I’ve linked to them below. It’s interesting: different people react to different points of the article. Mine (per my wordy mcwordy writing above) is a mixture of “books don’t have to be role models,” “the boys are going to be OK,” and then wanting to rise to the readers advisory challenge: finding books that would satisfy what Mesle is looking for. Has she read Finnikin of the Rock? Why not Finnikin as the type of role model (and his father as the type of role model) she looks for?

Mesle herself posts more about the topic at her personal blog in Race, Boys, Ends.

It’s Not the End of Boys, It’s the Beginning of New Men by Saundra Mitchell

YA and Boys and the Problem of Limited Historical Context by Phoebe North

YA Fiction and the Many Possibilities of Manhood by Malinda Lo

Should We Be Worried About the End of Boys? Probably Not… by Sara Allain

From ‘Little Men’ to ”The Hunger Games’: How To Make Young Adult Fiction Work For Young Boys by Alyssa Rosenberg

The Book Smugglers (part of a round up post of multiple topics, scroll down for it)

My Report Back from the YALSA YA Lit Symposium

As you may remember, I attended the YALSA YA Lit Symposium. And that while Hurricane Sandy gave me some problems, I did get there.

My report on the Symposium was in SLJ’s Extra Helpings eNewsletter at YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium Considers Fandom, Contemporary Fiction and Transmedia. Angela Carstensen (Adult Books 4 Teens at SLJ) also reported back for the eNewsletter at The YALSA Young Adult Literature Symposium Hones in on Social Reading and Classics vs. Contemporary.

Some more reports, to capture the flavor of the Symposium:

Stacked, YALSA’s 2012 YA Lit Symposium Recap

YALSA, The Hub has multiple posts, including YA Literature and Fan Created Work (the panel I was on).

YALSA Blog, including Paper Presentations, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the YALSA Symposium

B.A. Binns has a series of posts about the Symposium

The Show Me Librarian

The Brunette Librarian

I know I missed some posts; so please include links to other reports and posts and recaps in the comments!

Cross – what?

Gretchen, Stop Trying To Make Fetch Happen.

The beauty of that quote is it can apply to so many things.

Kelly at Stacked has a longish post with Some thoughts on “new adult” and also “cross-unders”. As Kelly explains, the Atlantic really, really likes the term “cross unders”; they themselves say it’s the term they prefer for when an adult reads young adult books. Here is the post where the Atlantic explains the term they really, really like.

Kelly, talking about the term, says “Because “cross-unders” is the precise term for an idea that exists but it is being used as a way of being different when it’s actually a way of talking about an idea that already does exist. In other words, “cross unders” is a way to describe books that have cross over appeal to readers. Is this semantics? You bet. But there is a huge difference in what a cross over sounds like than what a cross under sounds like. The first sounds like a bridge, whereas the second necessarily places a judgment on the literature. Cross over appeal is a phrase used to describe books that are published for one market but will appeal to readers in another. Cross under, on the other hand, is being framed by The Atlantic (and yes, they are the only source using this term) as a way to describe books published for the teen market but that appeal to adult readers. In other words, these are books that grown ups have permission to read, even though they’re not meant for grown ups.”

I really, really don’t like the term “cross under.” I agree with Kelly that the term has judgment; if I cross “over” to a book, there is equality. If I go “under,” I’m going beneath myself.

So, what do you think?

When adults are reading young adult books, is it:

a. cross over?

b. cross under?

c. just reading, what’s with the labels?

To make it even more simple, I set up a Survey Monkey so either leave your response here in the comments or click here to answer the survey.

And the winner for the National Book Awards is . . .

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander!

From my review: “what a world! There is magic and science. Graba is a witch, with gearwork legs shaped like chicken’s legs. She uses magic to move her house around. (I know! A twist on Baba Yaga!) Goblins were once human, and now that they are changed operate under different rules than humans. Humans acting is disallowed, both because it is frowned upon to pretend to be something you are not but also because there is real power in wearing a mask. Rowan was discovering that power, and it may be the reason he is now missing. Perhaps, overall, what I liked best about Goblin Secrets was its mix of familiarity (goblins and witches and curses) and originality (coal made from hearts, gearwork legs and soldiers, dangerous pigeons). I’m reminded of the books I loved as a child, the ones that gave me enough for my imagination to wander in the world even after the story was done.”

The more I thought about this as the winner, the more I think it came down to how this story can be read on two levels. First, as a fantasy, set in an original world that captures the imagination of the reader and provides a heroic quest for Rownie to find his brother and save his city. Second, it was the story of a child finding a family; finding people who love him; finding people who care whether or not he eats a hot meal. The last line of Goblin Secrets is “His fingers twitched and his mouth watered, but he waited for his supper to cool.” I’m reminded of the “and it was still hot” from Where The Wild Things Are. I think that dual reading of the imagined world and the real emotions helped push this to making it the winner.

Here’s an article on William Alexander and Goblin Secrets, where I am quoted: Writer William Alexander taps younger self for National Book Award-winning ‘Goblin Secrets’ by Pat Condon.