Review: 17 and Gone

Last week, I reviewed 17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma (Dutton, 2013).

That review was for people who, well, don’t want to know too much about a book going in. So, short version of 17 & Gone for those readers is that Lauren is seeing ghosts, including a girl who may still be alive, and is that girl alive and why is Lauren seeing these ghosts?

This review is for people who don’t mind learning the why Lauren is seeing ghosts; and for the people who have readers who may not want to read the ghost-mystery book but, well, would want to read 17 & Gone based on that why.



Lauren has schizophrenia. 17 & Gone is about Lauren beginning to to have the symptoms, but, of course, she doesn’t know. The same way that anyone wouldn’t know. So, what she sees, and what she hears, and what she begins to get obsessive about, she interprets as ghosts. She believes that these voices are the girls; she believes the things they tell her are their true stories. The other things that she sees or experiences she believes are all related to that haunting.

I love how Suma does this; how we only known Lauren as her symptoms begin so we follow that gradual slope that she does, so it’s never a lot she has to process but a slow buildup of many things. By the time she begins to think her mother may not be her mother, by the time of blood and knives and fires, it all seems to make sense — just as it makes sense to Lauren.

I love how there a few hints that this is not Ghost Whisperer for teens; aside from the obvious, the tone and increased feeling of things not being settled. The timing seems a bit off; not that it’s wrong, but there is something a bit disjointed and jumpy in what and how and when Lauren is telling us things.

Lauren’s mother is a single parent, and when I read that her father had left and may be homeless I wondered. Later, it turns out that he, also, may have schizophrenia. Is this why Lauren’s mother is working towards a degree in psychology?

See why I was torn about how to describe and discuss this? Because much as some readers are going to want to discover this on their own, there will be others who are looking for books about teens and mental illness and because of that, will want to read 17 & Gone.


Pop Programming!

Remember my self promotion post from a few days back, about Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect to Your Whole Community AKA the book that Sophie Brookover and I wrote?

And I said how Sophie and I have contributed a couple of guest posts to our publisher’s blog, ITI Books Blog?

Well, I said we did a couple of posts so here is the promised link to the second post, Pop Culture Programming Year Round.

Please go read our ideas about programming and like or tweet the post!

Wikipedia and Sexism

A couple days ago, The New York Times had an opinion piece, Wikipedia’s Sexism Towards Female Novelists.

Long story short: “editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory.”

Also take a look at The Atlantic Wire’s take: Wikipedia’s Boys Club of American Novelists. It’s helpful because of the screen caps which capture what the pages at issue looked like at the time of the original reporting.

Forbes had an interesting reply: Yes, Wikipedia is Sexist — That’s Why It Needs You. While taking a more nuanced approach to what was happening, it still said that “there’s no doubt that gender and other biases, both conscious/intentional and unconscious, are common on Wikipedia.” In addition, “Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but over 80% of Wikipedia’s editors are young, white, child-free men, which means that their perspective is what largely dominates how information is organized, framed and written.” It encourages people to start editing, to add diverse voices, with some helpful resources.

Now, I’m not saying not to get angry, but before getting too angry, take a peak at the behind the scenes talk pages for the entries/date in question. It’s a revealing look at how wiki works; the talks the editors are having; trying to sort out what categories are for; etc. Here is the talk page for American Novelists; here it is a different discussion log.

I’m not going to lie: I use Wikipedia. I especially love it for pop culture but I turn to it for other things, typically in a light recreational way. I don’t think it cannot be used for research; but I think it has to be used for research knowing.

Knowing what? Well, there are mistakes. That don’t get changed. A relative’s page has the wrong birthplace, and has had it for a while. It also has only one reference, despite there being a couple of good resources (that have the correct birthplace); and now that I look at it, there are a couple of other minor errors. I like that it’s an example of the weaknesses in how Wikipedia works; and shows that the value for deeper research is in using the references to discover primary and secondary sources that are more reliable.

This issue with American novelists is another example of knowing. But, instead of it being a question of realizing Wikipedia has errors, it’s about how it’s it written. The back and forth of the editors. When one person can make a change that impacts other things. Basically, for good and bad, it’s showing how the sausage gets made. Who edits Wikipedia? How? What biases may or may not be shown? How can one know what changes have been made and why? What has or hasn’t been erased, and how does that shape what we think about what we read?

And, aside from bias, just how does Wikipedia work? Part of what I enjoyed about reading the discussions going on about this topic is the consideration of what it means to have categories; sub-categories; and lists; how users use Wikipedia; whether an entry should follow the logic of the editor or the logic of the reader. To go back to the American Novelists and American Women Novelists: what does it mean when a women is removed from the first category? When is there value for such a category? What goes into making that determination? And if these changes are played out in real-time with the Wikipedia categories, what does that mean to the person relying on Wikipedia?

So, how do you use Wikipedia with students and teens? Do you, like me, have a favorite entry that is wrong to use to illustrate the danger of solely relying on Wikipedia? Do you think there is gender and other biases at work in Wikipedia?

Edited to add:

But wait! There’s more!

The author of the op-ed piece, Amanda Filipacchi, has a follow up op ed in The New York Times, Wikipedia’s Sexism: “As soon as the Op-Ed article appeared, unhappy Wikipedia editors pounced on my Wikipedia page and started making alterations to it, erasing as much as they possibly could without (I assume) technically breaking the rules. They removed the links to outside sources, like interviews of me and reviews of my novels. Not surprisingly, they also removed the link to the Op-Ed article. At the same time, they put up a banner at the top of my page saying the page needed “additional citations for verifications.” Too bad they’d just taken out the useful sources. In 24 hours, there were 22 changes to my page. Before that, there had been 22 changes in four years.”

For ease in seeing this, links to both Filipacci’s Wikipedia page and the talk page.

So, again — how does this, and the transparency behind it, influence how you use Wikipedia and teach Wikipedia?

Further edited the title to add “and sexism” to clarify the post.


I mentioned the Veronica Mars Kickstarter last month (which, by the way ended up being funded for $5.7 Million).

There’s another Kickstarter I want to mention, because it’s library related: Circulating Ideas, the Librarian Interview Podcast. You may remember that twice I’ve been a guest of Steve Thomas on this podcast, once in July 2012 and a second time in January 2013.

From Kickstarter: “I’d like to expand the show so that I can do in-person interviews at conferences, improve the overall sound quality, and more!” There is a goal of $2,000 by May 17, 2013. The good news is that it’s already been fully funded! It happened in the first two days, before I even had a chance to blog about it!

Still, I wanted to post about it because, as pointed out, Steve is a friend. Also, there are stretch goals that Steve is now aiming for.

There’s also a children’s literature connection: one of the pledge rewards is “NYT bestselling author (and former guest of the podcast) Tom Angleberger will do a custom drawing for you of any character(s) from his Origami Yoda books + signed copy of “The Strange Case of Origami Yoda” (you pick the inscription!)

Finally, I’m just getting acquainted with Kickstarter so I’m intrigued to see, via Circulating Ideas, how this works. I’ll be following it not just through May 17, but also afterwards.

Any other library related projects? Share in the comments!


Review: 17 and Gone

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma. Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Lauren’s beat up old van breaks down on a snowy day on the way to school, and because of that, she sees the missing poster she must have passed day after day after day. Abigail Sinclair. Seventeen, like Lauren. Missing from the summer camp where she was working. Something pulls Lauren out of the van, across the street, to the poster, to Abigail, to Abby’s story. It’s not until the van is fixed and Lauren is parking in the school parking lot that she looks at the rearview mirror and sees Abby. In the mirror. In her car. And suddenly Lauren knows more than any missing poster could ever tell her.

Lauren is being haunted by Abby, but she couldn’t tell you whether that means Abby is alive or dead. Lauren just knows Abby is missing, and there is more to her story than the poster tells, and that Abby wants answers and wants to be found.

And it turns out — it’s not just Abby who is haunting Lauren. Once Abby finds Lauren, once Lauren thinks, here is a girl who is just 17 and she is missing, she is gone, Lauren starts realizing there are many more girls who are 17 and go missing. She finds their missing posters and they, like Abby, began to show up, to haunt her, to appear in her dreams.

Why is it that so many seventeen year olds disappear? Why are they coming to Lauren? And what happened to Abby?

The Good: This is both one of my Favorite Books of 2013 and one of the most difficult books of 2013 to talk about. Because of that, I’m splitting this into two blog posts. This one will be spoiler-free; the one I post next week won’t be.

While this is a bit mystery (what happened to Abby? can Lauren figure it out?) and a bit ghost story (all the girls that Lauren sees, the dream she has about them) this isn’t quite as simple as either a mystery or a ghost story. It’s not tidy; it’s not that linear. “Girls go missing every day,” Lauren realizes, and later says “I want to give warning, I want to give chase. I’d do it, too, if I thought someone would believe me.”

But warning about what? Chasing what? About Abby, or any of the girls, or about what seems to happen when a girl turns seventeen that makes that year the riskiest year of them all?

No matter how much [Abby’s] disappearance itched at me, tugging and not letting go, she wasn’t the only girl who wanted me to have her story. That’s the thing I’d soon discover. There were more. So many more. There were more lost girls out there than I’d ever imagined, and now they knew where to find me. Their whispers came from the shadows, the sound of so many voices more static than song.”

One of the first girls that appears to Lauren is Fiona Burke. Unlike Abby, or the other girls that will show themselves (Natalie, Shyann, Madison), Lauren knows Fiona. Or knew her. Fiona disappeared when she was 17; Lauren was only eight at the time. Fiona was her next door neighbor, and Lauren’s memories of Fiona mix with what she sees of the teenage girl who appears now to her. Does 17 mean something special to Lauren because of Fiona’s disappearance all those years ago? Or is it something special because that is how old Lauren is now? Is that what connects her to all these girls who went missing at 17? Is that what makes it easy for these ghosts to connect to her?

Whatever the reasons, they connection is made and Lauren knows she cannot tell anyone because who would believe her? It is quickly clear that she is the only one who sees this girls: not her mother, not her boyfriend, not her best friend, not any of the people at school. Just Lauren. Part of the reason I just loved 17 & Gone is how the author conveys Lauren’s point of view, her conviction, and why she does what she does in language that is almost foggy and never quite clear — much like how Lauren sees these girls. Here, for example, Lauren describing a setting: “The campground was buried in a valley of mosquitoes, pine treas, and poison oak, skirting the edge of a tepid lake.” It’s a language of belief rather than a language of questions; and so the reader believes what Lauren believes.

The resolution, the explanation of why Lauren sees these ghosts and why it matters that these are all girls who are 17 & gone, is shocking and at the same point makes perfect sense. Lauren’s story is told from a place of fragmentation and smoke; and then it clears. While Lauren says early on, “this was before I shattered into the particles and pieces I’m in now,” when was Lauren whole? 17 & Gone begins with Lauren shattered by what she sees, by these girls, by her knowledge that “girls go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good-bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone.” And this “go missing” is both a metaphor by the child who goes missing because the teen is becoming an adult and also solidly real: Abby is a real person who went missing, as was Fiona, as are the other girls who haunt Lauren. It’s not just about road from childhood to adulthood.

What else do I want to say in this post? I adored the portrait of Lauren’s mother. Forget everything else: Lauren’s mother is tattooed (I know!) and is working at a local university while pursuing her degree. Before she got this job she was a “dancer.” The two of them live in a carriage house on a bigger property. Mix that all together, and you have a very working class family in a richer neighborhood, with a woman making sacrifices for herself, her daughter, and their future. While this woman was well-drawn, she never became front and center. This was always Lauren’s story.

17 & Gone is a Favorite Book for 2013 — because Lauren’s voice is so strong and true. Because Nova Ren Suma’s writing is such that I quoted it again and again in my reading journal. Because while it’s not a linear mystery, it is a mystery — two actually, both what happened to Abby and why is it that these ghosts appear to Lauren? — and both mysteries are resolved, satisfactory and breathtakingly, in the pages of 17 & Gone. And because of how those mysteries are resolved, which warrant an entire post next week.

Other reviews  — which, warning, are more spoilery than here. Leila Roy (bookshelves of doom) at Kirkus; Stacked; crossreferencing.



Pop Technology!

Excuse a little blatant self promotion; yes, it’s about the book Sophie Brookover and I wrote in 2008, Pop Goes the Library: Using Pop Culture to Connect to Your Whole Community (Information Today).

Sophie and I have contributed a couple of guest posts to our publisher’s blog, ITI Books Blog.

The first post: Don’t Be Afraid to Explore New Technology. Want to guess what bit of tech both Sophie and I use frequently that didn’t even get a whisper mention in the book? Go over to the ITI Books Blog and find out!

Please, leave a comment over there to tell us what your favorite new or not so new technology is.

Flashback April 2006

What I reviewed in April 2006:

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. From my review: “Costis is a loyal guard to his Queen, the Queen of Attolia. Like most loyal Attolians, he is angry that The Thief of Eddis has manipulated his way into becoming the husband of the Queen and is now the King of Attolia. The King is nothing more than hick from Eddis, and a thief to boot. He kidnapped the Queen to force her into marriage! And when Costis cannot bear it any more, he punches the King. He has punched the King in the mouth. Costis expects disgrace; he expects his family to lose everything; he expects to die. But the King lets Costis live. And Costis finds out that he has a thing or two to learn about the King of Attolia. . . . For those of us who know Gen, part of the delight is in knowing how wrong Costis is, and the wonderful anticipation of waiting for the reveal. For once, we are on Gen’s side, we “know” what to expect, we are part of the tricks and strategy. Or are we? Gen still has a few surprises up his sleeve, and even the person who thinks he knows Gen may discover that he or she doesn’t know the King of Attolia. . . .  The Queen cut off Gen’s hand; and now they are married. And it may be wrong, but I adore these two together. The balance of power, of love, of politics, of loyalty, is, gosh darn it I think I’ve run out of adjectives!, anyway, the love story is touching and raw and weird.

Sebastian’s Roller Skates by Joan de Deu Prats, illustrated by Francesc Rovira. Originally published in Spain. From my review: “Sebastian is a shy little boy, who won’t speak up for any reason; not to say hello; not to tell the barber that he doesn’t like his haircut; not to make friends with the girl in class. Then one day he finds a pair of roller skates.”

May Day by Jess Lourey. From my review: “Mira James, a twenty-something grad student, leaves Minneapolis for a part time job in a library in rural Battle Lake. She’s barely settled in when she finds a dead body in the stacks. It’s a little bit mystery, a little bit chick-lit, a little bit fish out of water, a little bit small town story, and a lot of fun.

Duck & Goose by Tad Hills. From my review: “As is obvious to any age reader, the round object with orange, red, and yellow spots is not an egg. It is a ball. So from the first, the reader is actively engaged in the story because they know something that Duck and Goose do not.”

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Sequel to The Thief. From my review: “Eugenides, The Thief of Eddis, returns. In The Thief, he stole Hamiathes’s Gift; and the Queen of Attolia was not happy. Gen — Eugenides — had outwitted her. Escaped her. Eugenides is well known now; but he cannot stop being the Thief, including spying in Attolia and taunting the Queen by leaving trinkets by her bed. As she sleeps. The message is clear: The Thief of Eddis can enter the palace of the Queen of Attolia and not be caught. Except …. He can be caught. And is caught. And the Queen of Attolia considers what manner of death… how to set an example… as the Queen of Eddis offers ransom and threatens action, in exchange for the return of her Thief. The Queen of Attolia decides to let Eugenides live; but does inflict a price. The traditional punishment for a thief. Cut off his hand. Eugenides is returned to Eddis, a broken man. The Queen of Eddis does not take the mutilation of her thief lightly; and now Eddis is at war with not only Attolia, but also neighboring Sounis. And all the while the faraway country of Mede watches, and plots, hoping to take over all three countries.”

I’m A Pill Bug by Yukihisa Tokuda, illustrated by Kiyoshi Takahasi. From my review: “A non-fiction book about the pill bug. The book begins with asking the reader, what am I? “A ball? No, not a ball.” And since I had just finished Duck & Goose, which involves mistaking a ball for an egg, I was very amused.”

Learning To Fly by Sebastian Meschenmoser. From my review: “The human narrator explains: “Last night, I found a penguin. He told me he’d been flying. But . . . penguins can’t fly.” And so begins the story of the man who befriends the penguin and the penguin who tries to take flight. This book, translated from the German, is delightful. I love some of the sentences: “He looked so heartbroken that I believed him.”

The Sword of Straw by Amanda Hemingway. From my review: “When Nathan, 13, dreams, he goes to other worlds and universes. Literally; go check his bed and you’d find it empty. He sometimes goes to sleep in clothes because showing up somewhere else in pajamas? Awkward. The previous year, dreaming had taken him to worlds where he found the Grail, and brought it back to his quasi uncle/mentor Bartlemy Goodman, a mysterious, older than older magician. Bartlemy is one of the good guys; and as Bartlemy relates the tale of the Sword of Straw, Nathan dreams of a dying city with a wounded king. Ready or not, another adventure is about to begin.

Review: Midwinterblood

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick. Roaring Brook Press. 2013. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Always, there is an Eric and a Merle; a hare and a loss; and the island of Blessed.

These are the constants.

What changes in the seven stories of Midwinterblood is the time, starting in the future, 2073, and going back in time again and again until the seventh story set in a time so far past it has no date. What changes are who, exactly, Eric and Merle are; and how they connect or don’t. On what is lost. And always there is the hare.

What is happening? What is going on Blessed?

The Good: I adore stories told like this! Going backward — 2073, 2011, 1944, and so on — emphasizes the mystery. To start at the “beginning”, if that is even the start, would reveal all at once — any tension would disappear.

Instead, it’s 2073 and Eric’s work takes him to Blessed, an isolated island. He meets Merle and feels an instant connection. He also finds himself almost seduced by the island himself, forgetting why he’s there. “The sun does  not go down. That is the first thing that Eric Seven notices about Blessed Island. There will be many other strange things that he will notice, before forgetting takes hold of him, but that will come later.

Something is wrong: despite the friendly villagers, something is obviously not right. But what? And that story ends and suddenly the reader is in 2011.

The island is still Blessed, but there are changes, to the island and the people and what is known or not know. Edward, an archeologist, discovers a viking funeral with two skeletons. He meets two villagers: Merle and her son Eric. There are other changes: there was no hotel or place for visitors to stay in 2073; in 2011, a guest house is mentioned. Changes the reader notices, but unknown and unknowable to the characters who know only their time, their place, their knowledge of history.

One thread is followed, then another, and I loved the mystery of it all. And, as well, the horror. The stories include those of war, of ghosts, even a vampire. The words hint at something more, something worse, and how did this story begin? How can it end? “And there was something about the words she used to tell the story that made them realize something bad was going to happen.”

Because I adore the creepiness; because this type of backwards story, with the mystery falling back in time to be discovered, is the type I love. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Other reviews (warning: some have much more spoilers than my review): Sonder Books; Reading Rants; The Book Smugglers; educating alice; crossreferencing (Sarah and Mark).

Central Park Five

The Central Park Five is a documentary by Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Sarah Burns. Sarah Burns also wrote a book by the same name (Knopf, 2011; reprint 2012).

In 1989, a female jogger was raped in Central Park. Five teenagers, all African American, were questioned, confessed, and arrested. They recanted and plead not guilty. All were convicted and served their full sentences. The oldest, sixteen at the time, served his time in adult prison.

Years later, someone else confessed to the crime. His confession (unlike that of the teenagers) matched the facts of the case; his DNA (unlike that of the teenagers) matched the DNA found at the crime scene.

This documentary is the story of the teenagers; why the confessed to something they didn’t do; the trial; the second confession; and their lives now.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m adding it to my list because while the documentary is stunning, I had a lot of questions that I think the book will answer.

This would be a great documentary to show to students for several reasons. It’s about teens, even if its now grown men relating their stories. And it’s about what those teens go through because of people being convinced that the teens were guilty when, in fact, they were not. Adults may watch thinking “what if this happened to my son;” teens will watch thinking, “what if this happens to me.”

The Central Park Five is a look at a specific time and place that is not so long ago. When talking about this documentary on Twitter, it was pointed out by Sofia Quintero that “in contextualizing the case it didn’t give equal weight to the racial terror of the time.” So, while this does show some things, those using this with teens would probably want to bring more information and resources on what was going on in New York City at the time.

While the racial terror is important to understand, it’s also important to just understand that false confessions do happen. A “false confession” is someone confessing to something they did not do. I think it can be very hard for someone to understand. Why say you did something that you didn’t do? Especially something like a brutal rape? And why confess and think that doing so means you’ll go home? As Quintero pointed out on Twitter, in this situation part of the reason those teens did so was because of the time and place.

Other things factor into false confessions — it’s complex. I think someone using this documentary should also provide more resources on false confessions, so that viewers don’t think it’s something that couldn’t happen now. (See Wikipedia for a list of other well known false confession cases; The Innocence Project, which explains that “In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.”; and a recent TIME article, Why Innocent Men Make False Confessions).

I watched The Central Park Five when it was shown on PBS, which means I could follow along with the discussion about it on Twitter (hashtag CP5). Many people, rightfully so, reacted to the ages of the teenagers: 14, 15, 16. The 16 year old was sent to Rikers Island. It is only right to react with anger to that. But — and I think this is part of the overall discussion — when it comes to the juvenile justice system, can we just demand compassion in retrospect for the innocent? There are tragic stories in the papers —  I won’t link to any one — that involve allegations of teens doing horrible things and people responding with cries that those teens should be tried as adults. Should they? Why or why not? It’s not a simple or easy question, but I wonder, if it’s wrong for that teen to have been sent to Rikers, isn’t it wrong for any minor?

Did you watch The Central Park Five? Do you have any ideas of how to use it, for programs and in the classroom?

Finally, because I’m about books, I wondered after viewing this how many books there are for teens about false confessions.

There is The Rag & Bone Shop by Robert Cormier: “Twelve-year old Jason is accused of the brutal murder of a young girl. Is he innocent or guilty? The shocked town calls on an interrogator with a stellar reputation: he always gets a confession. The confrontation between Jason and his interrogator forms the chilling climax of this terrifying look at what can happen when the pursuit of justice becomes a personal crusade for victory at any cost.”

When I mentioned this on Twitter and asked for other recommendations, a number of people mentioned Code Named Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Much as I love that book, no — it’s not the same dynamics at all. Unreliable narrator, or a main character trying to manipulate a situation and come out the winner – that’s not false confession. I don’t think Monster by Walter Dean Myers counts, either, because to me the heart of the book was the narrator coming to terms with their own actions and whether felony murder is murder.

Blythe Woolston and I discussed the problem briefly: part of the reason we don’t see more of such books is it makes the person it happens to a victim and in most cases, they end up in jail. Or, as Woolston phrased it, “very hard to write fiction with an abject MC stripped of agency.”

So, if you have some ideas, please share the book and author and a bit about how the false confession figures into the plot. For example, someone confessing to protect another (a parent or sibling), is not a “false confession” in this context.