Review: The Butterfly Clues

The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison. Egmont USA. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: In the year following the death of her brother, Oren, Penelope “Lo” Marin has been looking, searching, for something. She explores far from home, taking buses, going farther and farther away from her safe home and school. “Safe” — safe only in that her mother is a shadow of herself, since Oren died, and her father never comes home from work, and friends, what are they? Lo wouldn’t know. Lo is searching . . .

What Lo finds is a murder. Sapphire, nineteen year old stripper, has been killed, and Lo is drawn to the girl, to finding out who killed her, and she cannot explain why or stop. Just like she cannot stop knocking a certain number of times before entering a room, or having numbers that are good or bad, or collecting / taking items that then need to be set up just so in her room. Sapphire, a girl Lo has never met, is dead, and Lo cannot let it go.

A butterfly charm owned by Sapphire, a street artist named Flynt who may or may not know Sapphire, clues upon clues, as Lo finds out more about Sapphire, her brother, and herself.

The Good: I adore mysteries. Just adore them. The challenge faced by most YA writers is, how to get the teen into the mystery? Especially a murder mystery?

Lo is wandering around Cleveland when shots are fired. She runs, discovering later that she has overheard the murder of Sapphire. This, then, is what starts her obsession with finding out more about Sapphire, finding out who killed her.

Lo is alone and lonely, with several barriers set up between her and her classmates: her father’s job means the family moved frequently; Oren’s death; and Lo’s own obsessive-compulsiveness. I hesitate to label Lo, when The Butterfly Clues is very careful to not use any labels. Certain numbers are good, others are not; Lo has to rap or knock certain sequences when nervous, or when entering a room or a car; she is compelled to take (yes, steal) certain items and collects many things. Her collections have to be in certain numbers, and certain groups, and certain sequences, and those requirements may change. Lo has no choice in doing these things. The Butterfly Clues is a bit vague as to whether Lo’s parents realize the extent of Lo’s compulsions. Her mother is in a fog since Oren’s death; her father seems to believe that Lo can just stop; therapists are mentioned, but did Lo go to them because of Oren’s death or her own problems?

What I love about The Butterfly Clues is that it is not about obsessive- compulsive disorder; it’s about a girl who happens to have it, and whose brother died, and who is now investigating a murder. Her OCD may be part of why she cannot quit the investigation, true; it may be why she pushes herself into risky situations, such as applying for a job at the strip-club where Sapphire worked; but it’s a part of Lo who she is, always, not something to be “fixed” and not the point of the story. At the same time, it is entirely the point of the story because most other people would not have taken the risks Lo ends up taking.

Other great things about The Butterfly Clues: the setting, Cleveland, including both the suburb Lo lives in as well as the gritty city she explores. Lo’s complicated family, from her distraught mother to her brother’s problems to their constant moving. Her deep sense of loss and guilt from Oren’s death. That Lo’s OCD is presented so matter-of-factly, a part of her. The group of artists that Lo meets, including Flynt, who she is both attracted to and afraid of, because what will he think about her compulsions? And what is his connection to Sapphire?

Other reviews: The Book Smugglers; Someday My Printz Will Come; Teen Librarian Toolbox.


Flashback February 2007

flashback to what I was reading in February 2007:

John Lewis In the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, illustrated by Benny Andrews. From my review: “History cannot be hidden because it is violent or unfair or difficult; and Lewis proves a role model who acts, who tries to make the right choice, who is a leader despite his youth. It’s one thing to say you are for nonviolence; it’s another thing to keep to that view when personally attacked; when you see other assaulted and killed. To keep with those convictions, and triumph, demands respect. Kids need books like this. Lewis saw that “it was time to turn things upside down in order to set them right side up.” It is powerful, and important, to read about someone who believed that; who acted; and who continues to act.”

Wolves by Emily Gravett. From my review: “Rabbit gets a book on wolves out of the library. He’s so captivated by the book and involved in the reading that he doesn’t notice it when the wolves leave the book. . . .  The book rabbit is reading is the book you are holding in your hands. Examine the endpages, look at the cover under the dustjacket: yep, you’re reading rabbit’s book. And if you’re reading rabbit’s book, and you know how that story ends . . . It’s like Stephen King or the X Files for kiddies.”

Manga Claus  by Nathaniel Marunas; art by Erik Craddock. From my review: “An elf’s plot to get a change in job responsibilities goes horribly wrong, resulting in an attack of evil demon possessed teddy bears who try to take down the North Pole. Only one man can stop them: Manga Claus.”

The Exiles At Home by Hilary McKay. From my review: “It’s Hilary McKay. Have you all not yet been converted to the cult of “anything she does is good”? No?. . . .  McKay quickly sorts out the four girls and introduces you to the way they view the world. That view is best summed up by young Phoebe, that there is “nothing worse than what happens to you by not doing it.” In a way, the girls remind me of Peter Pan. In that, the Conroys are seductive; you love them, laugh with them, turn the page, half in fear of what they think of next. But like Peter Pan, they are still very much children, with their own dedicated world view. It’s very matter of fact; honesty and blunt; sometimes callous; always entertaining. The older girls deliberately teach the next door baby some rather naughty behavior just so they can keep a baby-sitting job. I laughed so hard I cried; and luckily, the mother was rather understanding of it all. One example is teaching the poor baby the game of Omelette, which consists of crawling around a couch at top speed shouting “omelette” until one loses all sense. Ruth observes, “she was dizzy and the world whirled and the word took possession.””

Monday by Anne Herbauts. From my review: “This rather defies a simple plot description. Surreal is the best way to describe it: Monday is the figure you see on the bookjacket; the book begins with a description of his week, interactions with his friends, and as the seasons change so does Monday.”

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. From my review: “As the chapters alternate stories, from myth (Monkey King) to realistic (Jin Wang) to bizarre (Danny is obviously Caucasian and his cousin is every negative Asian Stereotype personified) the reader wonders, how does this all fit together? Once the pieces of the puzzle click together, it’s very satisfying and the reader wants to go back and start over, to pick up what was missed and to see how the stories overlap.”

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger. From my review: “Angela remembers being age six and the swim teacher saying, “boys in one line, girls in another.” Angela was puzzled: “why did everybody think I was a girl?” Ten years later, Angela realizes that “inside the body of this strange, never-quite-right girl was hiding the soul of a typical, average, ordinary boy.” Angela picks a new name: Grady. And with short hair, bound breasts, and a boy’s wardrobe, Grady quietly yet proudly comes out as transgendered and starts living life as a boy, both at home and at school.

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen. From my review: “This is a work of fiction; it is the story of Deogratias, a teenage boy who is a Hutu; and two teenage sisters who are Tutsi, Apollinaria and Benina. It begins after the Rwandan Genocide (800,00 to 1,000,000 dead); and has characters from all sides, the Hutus, the Tutsis, the observers, those who acted and those who did not. . . . There is a mounting sense of dread in this book; Deogratias is alive, obviously affected by the events that unfolded, but just how badly he has been injured is not known until the last pages. How did he get to where he is? And why is he so shattered, when he was not part of the ethnic group that was targeted for extermination? And what happened to those two sisters? With each page, there are glimpses of just how bad it will get, and little bits of hope to hang onto.

The Braid by Helen Frost. From my review: “1850. Scotland. People are being forced off the land they have lived on for generations; the MacKinnons decide to move to Canada for a new start. Grandma Peggy doesn’t want to go. On the night the family is to leave, Sarah, 15, runs away; she wants to stay in Scotland with her grandmother. There is no time to go after her; so the rest of the family, including her sister, Jeannie, 14, make their way to Cape Breton, Canada.. The Braid tells the story of sisters Sarah and Jeannie and their now-separate lives. The Braid is also something physical; the girls had braided their hair together, and as they slept Sarah cut it, leaving half with her sister. . . .  Frost stays true to the time; neither Sarah nor Jeannie are literate; the family separation is brutally final, with no hope for direct communication. In a time of cell phones and text messaging, it is almost impossible to imagine a time where it would be months before Sarah learns of the deaths of some of her family. As time goes by, all the girls have is hope that the other is doing well, hope that somehow they will connect. Most brilliant of all is how Frost braids together the girls stories. For the narrative poems, the last word of each line of one poem becomes the first word of each line of the next poem. For the praise poems, the last line of one poem becomes the first line of the next. Independent, yet dependent; alone, yet connected.”

Hercules: The Twelve Labors. A Greek Myth by Paul Storrie, illustrated by Steve Kurth. From my review: Hercules is one of those people who are “in” the common knowledge, but really, how much do you really know? Seriously, can you name even half of the twelve labors? Without peeking over at Wikipedia, of course. This Graphic Novel is a great introduction for younger readers. Storrie tells this part of the Hercules saga with lots of action and humor. During one labor, there is the boast that “my club will strike you down!” followed by a “perhaps not” when the club does not in fact slay the beast.”

Stormwitch by Susan Vaught. From my review: “Ruba has been raised by her maternal grandmother, Ba, in Haiti; but Ba has died so Ruba now moves to Pass Christian, Mississippi, to live with her paternal grandmother, Grandmother Jones. It’s August 1969, and Ba raised Ruba to be proud of her African heritage, to be strong, to be a fighter. Ruba has a hard time adjusting to the segregation and prejudice in Mississippi, and a harder time adjusting to life with her grandmother. She sees none of the pride found in Ba; and Grandmother Jones, a devout Christian, frowns on the spells, potions and magic taught to Ruba by Ba. Holy Hannah, it’s not just tradition — Ba and Ruba really are witches! Or war women or storm chanters or whatever you want to call them. Basically, the spells and chants and potions work; they are part of the wisdom and tradition of the Dahomey Amazon women. And they are real. Which means that this changes from a book about a teen adjusting to life in a racist world to a book about a teen who can kick some racist ass.”

Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies. From my review: “This isn’t a Hallmark Made for TV version of illness, where by golly we all pull together and are better because of cancer! Cancer sucks. Cancer kills. And stress is hard and difficulty and can bring out the ugly.”


Review: Come See About Me

Come See About Me by C.K. Kelly Martin. Smashwords. 2012.

The Plot: Leah’s boyfriend, Bastien, is dead. Since the police knocked on their apartment door, telling her about the accident, Leah has barely been able to function. University classes, her part time job, her friends, all fall by the wayside as she tries to live with her loss.

Bastien’s Aunt Abigail, a widow, understands Leah’s all consuming grief and offers Leah a retreat: to live rent-free in a house she owns. It offers Leah a type of vacation, a break from having to think about anything other than herself and her hamster — and what she’s lost.

Leah, who still hears Bastien’s voice in her head even though it’s been months since his death, is shocked and surprised when she finds herself physically attracted to and wanting someone new, a young man named Liam. Liam, like Leah, is taking a vacation from his “real life”. Neither is looking for a “relationship” but both need companionship.

The Good: Leah’s grief over her loss is intense; so intense that even though Come See About Me starts months after Bastien’s death, it is still as fresh and raw as if it was that day, that hour, that she found out Bastien, her first love, her first lover, was dead. I confess, I was relieved about when Come See About Me started; it would have been too much, I think, to experience Leah’s loss in anything other than flashback.

Bastien is dead and Leah can barely function or concentrate. The offer of Aunt Abigail’s unused house is an escape from Leah having to make decisions about her future or to return home; it’s an oasis, allowing her Leah to just be. Little is required of her except taking care of herself, keeping the house in good enough order so if Abigail visits she is not overly concerned, and taking care of her hamster, Armstrong. Leah is lucky to have a rent-free place, and watches her bank account, wondering what to do.

Come See About Me is not so much about Leah getting over or past Bastien’s death, but about Leah trying to figure out a new life without him, without being part of a couple. Her steps into a Bastienless future are small, but significant because of how long it takes her to get there: friendship with neighbors, a part-time job.

And Liam. Liam begins as just a young man Leah sees around the town of Oakville. And then, one night — not love. Leah looks at Liam and wants him: physically wants. The jolt of desire, desire not for love but to be touched and touch, rocks her. Like Leah, Liam is in Oakville to escaping his past; like Leah, he is looking for nothing more than a connection without commitment.

Leah isn’t looking for love; she’s looking for sex. Bastien was her first and only lover, and Leah’s wanting Liam shocks her in its intensity. The words used to describe her interactions with Bastien are blunt and matter of fact, just as her wanting him is blunt. Leah has shut herself away from life and people, yes, and it’s her body that first reaches out to another and is ready for another, before she can emotionally or mentally acknowledge her need for another.

Other things I liked about Come See About Me:

The setting, Oakville. It’s as important to Come See About Me as any character or event; by the end of the book, I knew its lakes and pubs and stores. When I went to the book website, I found that Oakville is an actual place outside of Toronto! Part of me wants to go visit, to see the places Leah saw.

The casual diversity throughout the book. Bastien is black; Leah’s best friend is Korean-Canadian. The older couple next door are lesbians (amusingly, Leah doesn’t at first realize their relationship).

The writing: “the future felt both distance and so certain that it didn’t seem to require any consideration.”

The author writes about how Come See About Me is New Adult in a terrific post explaining the background of the novel, the decision not to make Leah either a teen or a thirty-something. (If New Adult is new to you, check out my posts on New Adult).

Other Reviews: Clear Eyes, Full Shelves; Stacked; Early Nerd Special; Book Overdose.


Review: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an “innovative, original episodic video and social media series produced for the web” adapted from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

That’s the boring description. The better description is it’s AWESOME and AMAZING and WOW.


The Plot: Lizzie Bennet, grad student, is creating and posting her online diaries (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) as part of her grad student thesis. Her best friend, Charlotte Lu, helps with the creation and editing; her sisters Jane and Lydia make appearances; and as time passes, the story is continued in not only more of Lizzie’s own videos but also in the video diary of her sister Lydia and the social media postings of friends and family.

The Good: AWESOME and AMAZING and WOW. Wait, did I say that already?

I can only watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as someone who loves the source material; so I’m not even going to pretend how this would work for non-Austen fans.

I loved, loved, loved this update: Lizzie is a grad student and her family is having financial difficulties, and that illustrates the socioeconomic divide between the Bennets and the Lees and the Darcys. The updates include tweaking names and using a diverse cast: George Wickham remains George Wickham, but Darcy is now William Darcy, Charles Bingley is Bing Lee, and Charlotte Lucas is Charlotte Lu.

Part of the fun, at least to me, is discovering those updates on my own,so I don’t want to give them all away. In this update, there are only three sisters. There is, however, a cousin Mary! So Mary does come into play, except the modern version of Mary is someone wh is both a bit emo and who feels like an outsider as a cousin, not a sister. Some things remain unchanged, such as Lizzie’s mother who is still marriage-obsessed for her daughters.

I also really enjoyed how The Lizzie Bennet Diaries made me re-think certain things about the series, such as how Lizzie’s own perspective impacts things. And Lydia. To avoid spoilers, all I’ll say is Lydia may be my favorite character.

The story has unfolded in “real time,” starting last April. What this means is that as of the time I’m writing this, the story is still going on!   For those who followed from the beginning, it means going to the website a few times a week to get updates on the story. Those updates are primarily video, but are also tweets or posts. For those who want to follow along in full-real time, you can follow the characters’ Twitter accounts. For those like me who only recently started watching, links to the full story (in proper, linear order) is at The Story.

I watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in the order at the website. (Hint to new watchers: I kept backspacing to the main page, not realizing each entry had it’s own next/previously link at the bottom). (Second hint: a couple of times, the wrong video played, so be careful that the number on the video is the right number you want to watch.) Theoretically, though, you could watch in any order you want: just interested in Lydia? Watch her own videos; don’t care for the tweets between characters? so don’t read them; etc.

Aside from just being a great series, and aside from showing how a retelling can be original, and aside from illustrating how an update can be faithful, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is also an example of how story-telling evolves and how that evolution does not mean that existing methods of story-telling disappear. We live in a world where Pride and Prejudice can be a book, can be movies and musicals and TV shows, and can also be a “video/social media” series. This retelling no more erases the Jane Austen book than an e-book means that linear storytelling and “books” disappear and become choose-your-own-adventure/game apps.


The Latest on New Adult and a Question

As you may remember, I did a poll about New Adult Readership.

The results? Well, I think it has more to do with my readership. No one under 18 responded; and since I used the free version of SurveyMonkey, I only have access to the first 100 responses.

The data: 84 of the 100 said they either read, or would be interested in reading, “New Adult” titles. 16 said they would not.

Of those interested in reading, the age range in descending order: 39%, ages 23-29; 27%, ages 30-35; 26%, over 36; and 18-22, 6%.

Of those not interested in reading, the age range in descending order: 59%, ages 23-29; 18%, ages 30-35; 18%, over 36; and 18-22, 6%.

While I think this shows more about my readership, I take some bigger things away from this. First, readers are interested in reading beyond “the ages I am,” if New Adult = college aged. At that same point, one cannot assume that college aged means someone wants to read about college aged.

As a reminder, the other posts I’ve done about New Adult: What is New Adult?New Adult, Where Does It Go?; Books That May Or May Not Be New Adult.

ABC News has an article out, Emerging “New Adult” Book Genre Puts Smut Fiction on Bestseller List. I’ll be honest: as a reader (not a New Adult reader, but a reader) I find this offensive as well as inaccurate. I also believe the use of “smut” is about shaming the reading choices of young women, which is a way to shame them about their sexuality. I also believe that it’s being used to create unnecessary “oh noes” by attempting to make it seem like this is a teen-reader phenomena: “Now there is a new genre merging the “young adult” fan base with “erotic fiction” fans. It’s being called “new adult.” The implication, of course, is that fan base is teens, but as that article and most articles show, the readership is of people in their twenties; and yes, they read “young adult” books but guess what? If you’re a twentysomething reader, chances are you read young adult as a teen. Because you were a teen. As some studies have shown, favorite authors and genres have created reader loyalty so that non-teens read and continue to read young adult books. Still, that does not make “smut fiction” (please) a “thing” amongst teen readers or being driven by teen readers.

ABC Nightline also did a program: ‘New Adult’: Sexy New Book Genre for Young Adult Readers. It begins, and has some reporter questions, as annoying as the article. Note how the books described are not the “smut” of the article title (hello, Twilight is now “smut” according to Nightline — one of the most famous works championing abstinence is now “smut”). Still, watch it — because what is excellent and terrific are the actual interviews with the authors and readers (none, by the way, who are young teens). (I’m not sure how stable the link to that article will be; try the ABC Nightline website if it doesn’t work.)

What bothers me most about the sensationalism about those two articles is that there are real things to discuss: self-publishing meeting needs that weren’t recognized by publishers; what readers want influencing what is being published; what these books actually are; whether this is indeed a thing or a passing fancy.

Last month, The Christian Science Monitor ran an article, Is a ‘new adult’ genre the step between YA and adult books? This held the interesting, and a bit disturbing, statement: “many agree that it’s a group title for books that are more mature than young adult titles – a literary category that may serve as a stepping-stone for readers moving beyond the young adult fold.” While it’s nice to see the books being talked about in a non-sexytimes way, I don’t agree that readers need a “stepping stone” between young adult and adult books.

Meanwhile, over at The Telegraph there is Sex in Young Adult fiction – a rising trend?, making this seem (like other articles) like a teen-reader trend. I guess “grown women like to read books about grown ups” doesn’t quite grab the attention, does it? (Also, I’ll share something else: most teen readers I know are well aware where the romance books are in bookstores and libraries and yes, they read them. It’s not new…. teens have been reading adult books since, well, we’ve had teens and books. But, really, that’s beside the point because “New Adult” is about readers who aren’t teens.)

Over at the YALSA Blog, they have a series on Trendspotting and a recent post was on New Adult. One of the things that Sarah does with that post that I really like is puts the genre within the context of all media, mentioning TV shows that may fit the genre/reader need.

One last thing: a general poll to you, dear readers. I’m going to read and review and least one New Adult book for this blog: what book do you suggest?


List O Mania: LA Times Book Prize

The Los Angeles Times has announced it’s finalists for the Book Prizes. The Prizes will be announced in April.

For Young Adult Literature, the Finalists are:

Paolo Bacigalupi / The Drowned Cities (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

A.S. King / Ask the Passengers (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers). From my review: “Astrid lives in a small town where everyone knows, or thinks they know, everyone’s business. Everyone judges. So Astrid keeps some things to herself: like that her father is smoking pot. Like how she and her younger sister Ellis are no longer close. Like she’s sure her mother dislikes her. Like Astrid has been kissing Dee, a girl from work. For months. Astrid doesn’t even tell her two close friends at school, Kristina and Justin, which is both amusing and sad because Astrid knows their secret, that the popular, well-liked couple are not really a couple, both are gay, and both are covering for each other because being gay in their small,  perfect town would be impossible. Besides, just because Astrid like kissing Dee, it doesn’t mean she’s gay. So Astrid plays a game, giving love to strangers, staring up at planes and sending love. And the passengers flying over Pennsylvania wonder why suddenly they feel hope, or love, or calmness.

Martine Leavitt / My Book of Life by Angel (Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers)

Matthew Quick / Boy 21 (Little, Brown Books For Young Readers)

Elizabeth Wein / Code Name Verity (Disney-Hyperion). From my review: “Maddie and Queenie become friends, meeting first as wireless operators, staying in touch as their war careers take different paths, Maddie as a pilot and Queenie with the OES. “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.” This friendship, this pair — how can you not love them? Love Queenie? And one moment there is laughter in the English countryside as Queenie displays both her ability to get lost and to talk people into doing what she wants, the next the reminder that Queenie is in a Gestapo prison listening to people being tortured, clutching her dirty sweater as if it can somehow make the noise and dirt and blood go away. Somehow, remembering a younger, more naive and sheltered girl telling another, while German bombs fall during the Battle of Britain, “‘Kiss me, Hardy!’ Weren’t those Nelson’s last words at the Battle of Trafalgar? Don’t cry. We’re still alive and we make a sensational team,” somehow, that makes Queenie hold on just a little bit longer as she writes to explain herself and what she has done.”

(The above list from the LA Times Book Prize website).


List O Mania: Andre Norton Award

Thanks to all the suggestions and reminders of various lists and awards the feature young adult books!

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., have announced the 2012 Nebula Award Nominees, including the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Twelve titles were nominated; the winner will be announced in May. This list is from that announcement. I’ve included links to the ones I’ve read.

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)

Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz). From my review: “Cassel Sharpe, 17, couldn’t stay out of trouble if he wanted to. (Now that’s a question; given his talents, his family, and his background, does he want to?) The Feds are forgiving his past crimes if he works for them, using his unique talent as a transformation worker, someone who can transform whatever he touches. His mother is in big trouble with the local crime boss, and all will be forgiven if Cassel does him one little favor. Cassel knows there is no such thing as one favor. It’s complicated by the fact that neither the mob nor the feds can now he’s working for the other. Oh, and another thing — the crime boss just happens to be the father of the girl Cassel loves. Just to make things all that more simple — not — Cassel has to worry about his senior year in high school. Classes, avoiding demerits, friends, and a possible blackmail scheme. It’s all in a day’s work for someone with a black heart like Cassel.”

Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)

The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom). From my review: “The Diviners is a supernatural story set in the Roaring Twenties. Evie is the main character, yes; but she’s only one of the main characters. Once in New York, she meets her uncle’s assistant, Jericho, reunites with best friend, Mabel, becomes friends with Theta, a Ziefgeld Girl, and Theta’s roommate Henry; and crosses paths with a pickpocket, Sam. At the same time, we learn about Memphis, a numbers runner in Harlem. In a way, Bray is establishing a Team; but (since it’s Bray) it’s not as simple as bringing a Team together. Bray doesn’t do anything as expected as having these teenagers (and all of them are about seventeen years old) meeting and sharing their secrets with each other by page 110. Heck, it’s not even as simple as Evie and the others meeting each other; there are crossed paths and missed meetings. In other words, it’s a cast of characters who are unexpected and fresh and delicious, both in who they are but also in how they related to each other, even when they don’t know it.”

Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)

Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House Children’s Books; Doubleday UK). From my review: “Seraphina’s world: What is her world, exactly? The book begins just a few weeks after she joins the royal household, but soon it’s learned that this is Seraphina’s first steps outside her family. Seraphina has tried to keep herself away, hidden, at arm’s length from others to protect her secret. She doesn’t always know how to interact with others. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered, while reading, if some of Seraphina’s brusqueness was part of her dragon heritage or the result of a deep seated sense of isolation: “I did not understand that I carried loneliness before me on a plate, and that music would be the light illuminating me from behind.” Whatever the reason, she is also a keen observer of people: “He noticed my eyes upon him and ran a hand through his wheaten hair as if to underscore how handsome he was.”

Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)

Every Day, David Levithan (Knopf Books for Young Readers)

Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)

Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)

Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)

Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

Film Review: Perks of Being a Wallflower

Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), based on the book of the same name (1999) by Stephen Chbosky. Rated PG 13. Chbosky also wrote the screenplay and directed the film.

The Plot: Charlie starts high school awkward, shy, and without any friends. He meets two seniors, Sam and her stepbrother Patrick, and they welcome him into their offbeat circle of friends.

Charlie’s freshman year has highs and lows, as he navigates friendship, his crush on Sam, and his own complex history.

The Good: I loved this movie so much!

It was so perfect: Charlie, starting school alone, and trying and meeting indifference and trying yet again before he falls into a friendship with Sam and Patrick and their friends. It’s not easy; one of Charlie’s missteps involves dating a friend of Sam’s while he has feelings for Sam, and, of course, that doesn’t end well.

What makes Perks perfect isn’t whether or not Charlie (or Sam or Patrick) always makes the right choices; it’s that Charlie (and Sam and Patrick) keep trying, and keep being open to the possibility of being infinite. Sometimes they make bad choices, and sometimes bad stuff happens just because that is life, and things get intense and messy, but they don’t let that define who they are, or narrow their futures. It’s not as easy as being optimistic or trying; Charlie has some bad days; therapy and treatment end up being of great help to him.

Charlie is great; his own traumas (something that happened with his late aunt; his best friend committed suicide) has made him a wallflower, an observer, but he is also someone who wants connections. I watched this with my niece, and one of her complaints at the end was her twelve year old observation that all of Charlie’s friends have graduated and he’s going to be starting his sophomore year without friends, once again. I have to share because I had the exact same initial reaction when I read the book! And had to tell myself that the sophomore year Charlie is going to be able to find friends, and have an easier time of it, because of what has happened during the time-period covered in Perks.

I loved the generosity of Sam and Patrick. Yes, they like him; but they also make the conscious choice to include Charlie. It’s easy enough, at that time and age, to be too self-involved in one’s own life, too narrow in focus, to be able to look beyond one’s own pain and   problems. Charlie’s sister, for example, is shown to care about Charlie (something later in the movie proves) but for his freshman year she is too involved in her own problematic relationships to be there for Charlie. His older brother is at college, and so is also into his own world. Sam and Patrick aren’t perfect; when the relationship with Sam’s best friend implodes, they don’t think of Charlie first, but who would? No one is perfect; and part of what I love about Perks is the acceptance of those imperfections, in Charlie, and in others.

I think part of why Sam and Patrick can be so inclusive of Charlie is that they have already both dealt with some issues in their own past. They see that kindred spirit of a survivor in Charlie. Sam’s past includes sexual assault; Patrick is accepting and open of his own sexuality but his boyfriend is in the closet and the relationship is uneven and shaky at best.

Another reason this movie is terrific is the music. The movie is set in the early 90s and the fashion and the music! Yes, I bought the soundtrack. Other very 90s thing? People using drugs, and drinking, without any after-school special “omg you must be an addict” moments. A surprising lack of helicopter parents.

Some quotes I love: “Right now we are alive and in this moment I swear we are infinite.” “We accept the love we think we deserve.” “But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here and I am looking at her. And she is so beautiful. I can see it. This one moment when you know you’re not a sad story. You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.” “My doctor said we can’t choose where we come from but we can choose where we go from there. I know it’s not all the answers but it was enough to start putting these pieces together.

I read the book years ago; for me, what works best, is that I have as much time between reading and watching as possible so I don’t compare and miss scenes and wonder what happened to characters.

Lists, Lists, Everywhere

As you’ve read over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of book awards and lists!

I love, love, love awards and lists. Have I read the books? How many?

Have I heard about the books?

For the books I haven’t read, especially this time of year, I optimistically keep them while I weed out the review copies of last year and the year before. Yes, I’ll be reading this year’s books but maybe I’ll have time for 2012 and 2011 books!

The lists are also motivation for 2013 reading: what types of books, what genres, have I not been reading? How should I change how I pick the books I’ll be reading in 2013?

What about you? Do you like awards and lists, and if so, why? Have I missed any awards or lists that include teen books?

Battle of the Kids’ Books

Do you know what time it is?

It’s time for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, aka BoB!

Why, what is BoB?

Excellent question. Sixteen children’s and teen books from the prior year are selected; each title “battles” the other, with a celebrity judge reading the two books and selecting a winner. Those winners then each battle each other, and so on, until there is one final round of two books and a winner is declared.

I find it a lot of fun, both because of the randomness in which the books go up against each other, and also because of what the judges select and how they come to a determination of which book “wins”.

The complete list of books is at the BoB site; as is the schedule of when the battles will be posted; and the judges. A short post tells a bit about each judge. As I’m writing this, the brackets are posted, but with just the first round books and the judges TBA. Once the judges are all announced and assigned, it’s fun to not just say say “what book would I pick” but also speculate “what book will that judge pick?”

As in the past, I’ll be posting my reactions to the individual battles and rounds. Because of timing, I’ll try to have those posts up either later that day or the next day. This year, I’ll also share my own predictions.

What are your plans for SLJ BoB?

Edited to add: Did I say two books and a winner is declared? Did I mention I spell three “t w o”? As Monica points out below, “the final round involves THREE books as we have one who comes BACK FROM THE DEAD. That is, one of the contenders previously kicked off is voted back in our Undead Poll — which opens next Thursday.” I even have posts scheduled for when the Undead Poll opens! I knew this!