On the Streets

This past week Twitter had a campaign about the diversity of books. People from around the globe tweeted about why we need diverse books. I, myself, participated in this campaign. I wrote:

because the world’s story cannot and should not be told through one race.

However, race was not the only discussion. People also tweeted about race, gender, and sex. There is need for all these books. Everyone needs to be afforded the chance to read about themselves in literature. The realization of how lacking our literature is of diversity is represented in statistics.

In 2013, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Madison, Wisconsin completed a comprehensive survey of all published children’s literature for the year 2013. Out of 3,200 books, only 93 were about African/African-Americans. These 93 books included picture books, novels, and non-fiction. The statistics become even more depressing for other minority groups:

69 books for Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans
57 books for Latinos
34 Books for American Indians

These numbers demand to be addressed, and we must also not make the mistake of assuming one particular literature represents one specific race.  My library’s teen librarian tweeted:

because Black characters should be fairies and badass assassins too

I point this out because it seems that all literature that revolves around African-Americans is placed in a urban setting or should be about the Civil Rights movement. Yes, we need this type of literature, but we also need every-day characters of different races. This being said, I do believe that we need more urban literature for both young adults and adults.

I was afforded the opportunity to hear Jason Reynolds, author of When I Was the Greatest Speak. I was blown away by  his discussion. He talked about how people today do not always understand another culture. What one might perceive as”ghetto” is displaying an ignorance of a culture. This can be portrayed by people’s perceptions of urban literature.

Characterized as gritty, violent, and over-sexualized, urban literature can be considered quite controversial to the semi-protected minds of suburbia. However, these books can and are culturally relevant to those living in an urban area. They are also going to be more appealing to urban teens more than John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Wanting to understand the appeal of urban lit to both teens and adults, Allyssa Harris, a certified women’s health nurse practitioner and Connell School assistant professor, completed several interviews about women and their reading habits.

Harris, who attempted to read an urban book and was disturbed about she read, found that most of her patients could relate to the literature. Many of these woman were avid readers of urban lit and shared their books with their friends and families. When Harris asked these women why they read this genre, the women said that the books reflected true life and accurately portrayed what happens on the streets.

While Harris questioned how these books influenced girls and their sexual activity, some of the books did act as a warning. A teen who read The Coldest Winter realized how her life paralleled Winter’s life and decided to change her ways, as she didn’t “want to be like that.” These books might not be what some considered the most ideal reads, but for others, it is a way of life.

Young Adult

421338 Tyrell by Coe Booth

Tyrell and his family have been kicked out of their apartment and now are living in a homeless shelter. Trying to keep things together the best that he can, Tyrell tries to balance all aspects of his life.

This book grabbed me from page one. I was completely enthralled by Tyrell’s story and wanted to know how his story would end. Booth has weaved a plot line and characters that make you feel emotions. She actually fleshes out each character, so her reader can understand everyone’s viewpoint. You might not agree with where each person is coming from, but there is no questioning of each character’s actions and motives.

This is not a clean urban lit. This book contains sexual references, drug-use, and language. However, if a reader gives the book a try, they might discover the passion of a boy trying to handle a hard life.

Adult Novel

106393The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah

Winter Santiaga is a princess in the urban world. With a drug lord father and dotting mother, Winter gets almost everything she wants. Until one day, Winter’s world comes crashing down. Winter must now learn to navigate the streets without her father’s influence.

This is a gritty book. When I think of urban fiction, I feel that The Coldest Winter is the quintessential example of the genre. I think within the first chapter I was completely hooked and amazed by the language and plot line, specifically when the mother talks about her twelve-year-old daughter getting her freak on. When I asked a co-worker who was familiar with the culture about this topic, he was not shocked at all. He said that Sister Souljah captured the community accurately. The plot only becomes more intense as the pages turn.

Besides the intense plot, I really enjoyed reading about the different characters. Winter drove me bonkers. Touting herself as a street-smart girl, Winter’s only love is money and material items. Her need for expensive items continually takes her on a vicious cycle until her ultimate downfall.

I actually loved this book. I am a firm believer that any genre that is well-written can take its reader into its world and this book accomplishes this feat. I would definitely recommend this book to a teen who wants to advance to the next level of urban lit.

Recommendations

17428880 When I was the Greatest by Jason Reyonlds

This is an amazing YA debut novel. Set in Bed Stuy, New York, When I was the Greatest follows Ali and his two friends, Noodles and Needles, as they navigate life and its hardships.

This book is vastly different from the other two books I read, as Ali has a strong and present mother and the language is kept to a minimal.

71332 Push by Sapphire

Precious Jones has known nothing but abuse in her life. Her mother belittles her and her father rapes her. Pregnant with her father’s second baby, Precious seems invisible to the larger world. Until one educator gives Precious and her life a new outlook.

18143768 Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland is currently the only African-American soloist for the American Ballet Theatre. Overcoming socioeconomic hardship and racial adversity, Copeland has risen from living on a motel room floor with five siblings in Los Angeles to a ballerina superstar in New York City.

 

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Something Old With A Twist

Many of us have been subjected to reading at least one classical book in our lifetime. I remember reading “Animal Farm”, “Pride and Prejudice”, and “Jane Eyre” in high school. Some of us embraced these books with loving hands, while the others threw the books aside and sought Spark Notes. However, today’s teachers are noticing that literature classes do not have to be solely focused on the classics. They are now embracing newer literature for their students. It is not uncommon to see The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and  The Kite Runner in a today’s curriculum. Many educators are discovering that modern day literature, including young adult novels, can successfully address complex and enlightening themes. Bonnie Ericson, author of Teaching Reading in High School English Classes, states “To limit our selection of novels, especially to the ‘classic’ novels, is to tell our students that all these other texts, perhaps the students’ preferred types of reading have less value.”

 Young Adult

99561 Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book is perpetually checked out from my library. Either patrons are seeking more John Green books or students are currently reading it for class. I placed my hold almost three months ago and had to check-out the audio, because the book still had not arrived.

Miles Halter’s life has been uneventful. Wanting some change and excitement in his life, he opts to attend his father’s alma mater, Culver Creek Boarding School, where he hopes to find greater meaning in his life.  Upon his arrival, Miles receives the nickname of ‘Pudge’ and meets Alaska Young and Chip “The Colonel” Martin. He soon learns how to smoke pot, drink, and pull elaborate pranks. However, with one night, Pudge’s life is forever changed.

Everyone always discusses how amazing Looking for Alaska is for contemporary young adult literature. I guess there must be two camps, since I did not think the book was earth shatteringI found Pudge to be extremely whiny, and I was not emotionally attached or blown away by Alaska. Yes, I thought she was extremely smart, but I didn’t quite get her. I also didn’t see any deepness to her character.  I did LOVE The Colonel. I wanted to be The Colonel’s friend. He was brilliant without the moodiness and seemed to understand life.

I became peeved when Pudge despaired and contemplated his relationship with Alaska. I did discuss my feelings and questions with a teen librarian and she pointed out that Alaska was one of those girls who is nice to everyone. Nice is translated into “she likes me” to a 16-year-old boy. Hence, Pudge’s attachment to Alaska. Put into this perspective, the characters’ actions and emotions made way more sense.

I do think that Green does a fantastic job of raising questions. I liked how he really never answers the big “why” question. I also LOVED the “masturbation” and speaker scene. I won’t go into detail, because I want the reader to experience them firsthand.

Overall, I do believe this is one of those books that readers need to create their own voices for the characters. The narrator was not necessarily bad; I think his voice diminished some of the larger parts of the book.

Adult Book

5107 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

When I finally finished The Catcher in the Rye, my first thought was, “Holden Caulfield needed some Xanax.”  Well maybe not Xanax, but he needed something.

The only premise I got from the book was that Holden thought everyone around him was full of crap. What I took away from this book was that Holden was full of crap and didn’t see it. He gets expelled from boarding school and then decides to leave before his parents find out about his expulsion. He tramps through New York City and meets with people from his past and complete strangers before eventually “returning” back to his family.

Holden does attempt to address some deeper issues, but I just could not connect with his character. There are people who rave about how they connected with Holden’s angst. I wanted him to go get help. I think even 15-year-old me would have been like, “What is wrong with this kid?”

My opinion is that teachers probably could find a newer book that conveys teen angst with a much more likable character.

After reading these two books, I would be interested to see which book students gravitate towards more. It would also be interesting to do this experiment in a college setting to see if the students respond the same way.

Recommendation Pairings

Classic: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

New Retelling:

18049084 Noggin by John Corey Whaley

He’s alive!!! AGAIN!!!! Travis Coates died from cancer five years ago. Willing to take a chance on science, Travis agreed to allow doctors to decapitate his head and attempt to reattach it to a donor’s body. Although the procedure is successful, Travis  must learn not only how to adjust to a new body, but to a life, including  friends who are now five years older than him, that has moved on without him.

This is an absolute amazing book. Whaley has created a thought-provoking, enlightening, and hilarious book that will have readers wanting more. It is a modern-day loveable Frankenstein.

 

Classic:  The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

New Retelling:

12291438 The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

As the daughter of renowned scientist Dr. Moreau, Juliet Moreau had a comfortable life, until rumors of her father’s monstrous experiments reached the public’s ears. Now 16-years-old, Juliet is completely alone. Her father’s location unknown and her mother dead, Juliet fends for herself by working as a maid. However, when Montgomery, her father’s assistant and Juliet’s old childhood playmate, appears in London and knows the location of Julie’s father, Julie has the opportunity to face her father on his island of madness.

Classic: Romeo and Juliet

Retelling:

51fUgqNZ8fL If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

When Elisha and Jeremiah first meet, it is immediate attraction. However, Jeremiah is African-American and Elisha is Jewish. Fearing that their love will not be accepted, they keep it hidden from their families until it is too late.

A beautiful and simple retelling of Romeo and Juliet with modern day issues.

 

Additional Recommendations

Classic: The Odyssey by Homer

New Retelling: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Classic: The Wizard of OZ

New Retelling: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

 

 

Jailhouse Blues

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. With 500 prisoners for every 100,000 residents, the United States penal system currently holds about 2.4 million inmates. This number has quadrupled since 1980 and has created a debt-sucking hole for its civilians. It costs taxpayers $21,00o to incarcerate the average prisoner for a year at a minimum-security federal prison and $33,000 for a maximum-security prison. However, most of these facilities are not overrun with murderers and rapists, but inmates who committed a drug offense. Those in for homicide only make up 1% while drug offenders make up 51%.[1] Furthermore the system is racially unjust. There have been numerous articles and research about the racial injustice of the penal system. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, tackled this controversial topic. She discovered that white students use heroin and cocaine seven times the rate of black students and crack at eight times the rate of black students. However, 80% of those sentenced for cocaine/crack laws are African American.[2]

Besides these statistics, the United States also manages a juvenile justice system. Like the adult penal system, the juvenile justice system is also broken. Despite the dropping rates of youth crime, the juvenile system continuously increases its inmates. Furthermore, studies have routinely shown that incarceration of youth is more expensive and less effective than rehabilitative and educational approaches.[3] Many authors have attempted to tackle this controversial subject. Some, such as Susan Kuklin and Richard Ross, approach from an informational standpoint, while others-Walter Dean Myers and Paul Volponi-enlighten their read readers through fictional accounts. Most of these books have no issue with getting in their readers’ faces and forcing them to contemplate how should the justice system be handled. However, it is up to the readers to make that decision.

Young Adult Book

3466294 No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row by Susan Kuklin

In No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row Susan Kuklin takes her readers onto death row. Interviewing and recording six different stories, Kuklin presents teens sentenced to death. However, Kuklin routinely highlights specifics about each case. We learn about teens who were lured into committing a violent act by following an older sibling and friend. Some even took the downfall so their loved one could remain out of jail. Others were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Majority of the young men interviewed believed they deserved to be punished and make no excuses for their actions. What is unfortunate is that many of these inmate are serving a life sentence for a crime they committed at 13.

It is very evident that Kuklin is against the death penalty and presents facts of why.  Readers are pushed to question if a young teen should be punished for the rest of their lives for something they committed in their early teens. Many of the teens she interviewed also expressed remorse at the actions they took. The book is not necessarily groundbreaking, but Kuklin presents these cases in a way that demonstrates that life isn’t black or white.

This would be an interesting bookclub book because of the issues presented. However, the group would need to be willing to agree to disagree, as the book has a controversial topic.

Adult Book

15779249 Juvenile in Justice by Richard Ross

This is an extremely fast but captivating read. For five years Richard Ross traveled across the country and talked with children and teens in the juvenile system. Taking over a 1000 pictures in over 250 facilities, Ross attempts to show the grim and destitute conditions of the juvenile system. Ross captures children in different facilitates and inserts interviews with the pictures. Furthermore, he includes facts about the juvenile system. Facts include how many girls in the system have been sexually abused and how a child may be placed in the system for refusing to eat a bagel. The book might be simple, but it is impacting.

I would probably recommend this book to be a companion book for a novel about incarcerated youth. I think students might enjoy discussing the situations. It might also reach reluctant readers with its lack of text.

Gurnee’s FYA Book Club

842087 Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Before he was an award-winner children’s author, Jack Gantos was pot-smoker drug smuggler. In 1971 Gantos was seeking literary enlightenment through adventure. Gantos eventually said yes to smuggling over 2,000 pounds of hash in exchange for $10,000.  His luck ran out when the authorities caught up to him.

The bookclub really enjoyed this book. At 192 pages Hole in My Life was an extremely fast and enjoyable read. Gantos’ life is extremely interesting. Most of the club was shocked that his parents allowed him to live alone during his high school years. We also discussed how Gantos continuously ran into trouble but miraculously came out unscathed.

I thought the book fit pretty well with my incarcerated youth unit. We discussed if Gantos had deserved his original lengthy sentence. In addition, many of the parents were appalled by the lifestyle that Gantos had lived. Two expressed concerns that they did not want to their teenage sons to read this book, as they were afraid they would be influenced to particpate in the same activities. This sparked an interesting conversation. We discussed how reading statistics have routinely shown that children who read about events are less likely to participate in those activities than those who do not read.

Recommendations

44184 Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Written in the style of a movie script, Monster takes its reader into the trial of a Steve Harmon. Convicted of assisting in a convenience store hold-up and murder, Steve reflects on how one mistake can impact his life.

This would be a great read aloud in a classroom. Teachers will also have the opportunity to investigate an unreliable narrator.

7099273 The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

Two boys are born into similar backgrounds. Missing fathers, similar crews, and troublesome circumstances lead both boys potentially down the same path. However, decisions and choices will take one boy to a successful career and the other to a life sentence.

6314763 Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman

In 1993 Piper Kerman smuggled drugs from the United States to Brussels out of love. 10 years later and with only weeks away from her crime expiring, Piper was indicated on drug trafficking and money laundering crime. For 15 months, Piper has to learn how to navigate prison life.

Orange is the New Black has been turned into a successful Netflix series.

Other Recommendations

Riker’s High by Paul Volponi

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

 

[1] Ezra Klein and Even Soltas, “Wonkbook: 11 facts about America’s prison population,” The Washington Post, August 13, 2013, accessed April 17, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/13/wonkbook-11-facts-about-americas-prison-population/.

[2] Morgan Whitaker, “Criminal Injustice: The Percentage of African-Americans in Prison.” MSNBC, September 23, 2013, accessed April 18, 2014, http://www.msnbc.com/politicsnation/criminal-injustice-the-percentage-african.

[3] Alex Piquero and Laurence Steinberg, “Rehabilitation Versus Incarceration of Juvenile Offenders: Public Preferences in Four Models for Change States,” MacArthur Foundation, December 11, 2007, accessed April 18, 2014, http://www.macfound.org/media/article_pdfs/WILLINGNESSTOPAYFINAL.PDF

Beam Me Up!

I am one that normally does not gravitate towards science fiction books. I don’t discriminate against these books. I just prefer contemporary fiction. So it always surprises me every year when a science fiction book tops my favorite books. It might be the possibility of futuristic worlds or the ability to speculate human actions and behaviors, but I am normally captivated with what is going to happen to the characters in these books. Like fantasy, science fiction takes its readers to new or different worlds. While I could discuss specifically the awesomeness of science fiction, I want to jump into a very large debatescience fiction versus dystopia.

According to the world wide web, authors, and readers, there is a difference between science fiction and dystopia. Some place dystopia as a sub genre of science fiction, while others argue that dystopia can be completely separate from science fiction. I used to be in the class that dystopia was a sub genre of science. As a fellow facebooker wrote, “Anything that takes place in the future or a parallel universe = Science Fiction.” However, after taking a Facebook poll and talking with an author, I have migrated to the class that dystopia does not have to be classified as science fiction.  Let’s take a look at the definitions:

  • Science fiction can merely be a world that is different from our world. The world is not necessarily dystopia or utopia.
  • Dystopia is a world traditionally controlled by totalitarian forces and the masses are oppressed.

There are some authors who argue that dystopia is an off-shot of science fiction and people are afraid to call it science fiction. I can agree with that discussion point. However, I also talked with Ilsa Bick, the author of Ashes trilogy, and she said that technically not all dystopias are science fiction. She gave two great examples. This was her argument:

For example, if you set a novel in a country where the prevailing government has been overthrown, you can turn it into a dystopic novel, but it doesn’t have to take place in the future nor must it be science-fiction. You could make the argument that books that take place in private academies, where the students have no recourse to anything outside the school, are also just dystopia novels.

Her statement completely turned my reasoning upside down. It made me stop and think about how  genre classification cannot be classified neatly. My reasoning for this discussion is to make other readers aware of the differences. I’m also open to any debate about how people perceive these two genres.

Young Adult Book

375802 Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

In a futuristic society the world no longer relies on adult soldiers, but gifted children to fight their wars. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is the third child in his family. Conceived in hopes of being the perfect mixture of his volatile brother and empathetic sister, Ender is accepted into Battle School, where he will learn to perfect his skills to be a general for Earth.

In today’s libraries, Ender’s Game is normally found either in the juvenile or young adult section. However, when it was first published in 1985 it was written for an adult audience. This is quite noticeable in the themes that Mr. Card explores. The largest and most contested theme is the violence. Almost every aspect of the book revolves around violence. Ender must defend himself physically against violent bullies, his brother is violent, the alien invasion is violent, and the Battle School teaches acceptance of violence. Ender struggles with balancing his empathy and achieving the goals of what is expected of him.

What I thought was so great about this book was how the themes were so thought provoking. This was would be a terrific book for a book club. Even though Ender is six when we first meet him, the events that he experiences create fantastic discussion points. Readers can discuss violence, compassion, innocence, relationships, humanity, and the characters themselves.

I would strongly recommend listening to this book. The narrators did a fantastic job!

Adult Book

6320534 Under the Dome by Stephen King

This was my first Stephen King novel, EVER! I’m kind of ashamed to say that it took me 27 years to finally read a book of his. Thankfully, a good friend mentioned that I should give this one a go for my independent study.

In Chester’s Mill, Maine everyone is enjoying a beautiful fall day. A woman is taking flying lessons, a man is mowing his lawn, and a man is hitchhiking out of town. All of a sudden a dome drops around the town. Some people are killed instantly, while others are fatally injured. The town soon must grapple with a potential dictatorship, multiple deaths, and the strange meaning behind the dome.

I might have just become a Stephen King fan. I quickly learned two things about Stephen King:

1. He goes all the way with his storylines. I’m pretty sure his story contained way more gruesome deaths and details than all The Hunger Games books combined. I kept thinking, “Is he going there?! Yes, he did!!!”

2. He has no problem killing off main characters. I would be intently listening to the story and then scream aloud when a character I loved was killed off.

The fact that Mr. Stephen King is willing to take these steps in his writing scared the living daylights out of me. Why? Because I could see how any town could become a Chester’s Mill. Mr. King develops his characters realistically, allowing the reader to see all the dimensions of how people respond in a crisis. Mr. King gives us villains,  mentally-ill, heroes, and everyone in between. I absolutely hated some of his characters. I wanted the dome to lift back up and fall down on specific people. A true sign that the book is well-written, in my opinion, if I could develop such a strong dislike of a fictitious characters.  Favorite characters are also not immune to the chopping block, which I appreciated.  In real-life situations good people do not always outlive evil. I’m sure that if George R.R. Martin and Stephen King got to together and wrote a book it would be DEATH TO ALL!! 13-best-game-of-thrones-memes-spoilers--L-cGNFBR

There is also a strong possibility that the book would only be one page long because Martin and King would have killed everyone in the first paragraph.

Besides the characters, King does a superb job of setting the plot. He masterfully crafts  world-building in an enclosed town. King slowly reveals each layer of the town without overwhelming the reader, hence why the book was over a 1,000 pages. It is extremely frustrating when authors throws 20 characters at the reader in the first ten pages. It does not give the reader the time to process who is who. I enjoyed learning about the characters and their history with each turn of the page. I would suggest that if someone has a hard time keeping characters straight to give the audiobook a chance. Normally, the narrator will do different voices, allowing the listener to discern who is who.

My only pet peeve with the book was who was controlling the dome. Under the Dome is what I would call social science fiction. It is set in present day with an element of science fiction. The book revolves more around speculative human behavior than futuristic technology. I’m not going to give anything away, but I kind of scratched my head when the citizens discovered who controlled the dome. I was slightly disappointed. My reaction was, “That’s it?!” I would be completely open to discussing with other readers on their thoughts about the ending.

I would probably only give this book to a teen who is avid reader and willing to take the challenge of reading this door stopper.   Reluctant readers would most likely be turned off by the thickness, but I might be able to bribe them with all the gruesome details.

Recommendations

9969571

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Wade Watts lives in the year 2044. Trying to survive his life’s grim conditions, Wade passes time by playing in the virtual world of OASIS; and like everyone else, he seeks the hidden clues to the fortune of  OASIS creator James Halliday.  Until one day Wade finds the first clue and the virtual world is thrown into upheaval.

24770Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

In Tally’s world everyone becomes beautiful upon their 16th birthday and joins the city of the young and beautiful. Ecstatic, Tally is counting down the weeks until she receives her own procedure. However, Tally’s opportunity is completely stopped when her friend Shay decides to run away instead of becoming a “pretty.” To proceed with the procedure, Tally must find Shay and turn her in.

32145Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

This might not be a futuristic book, but it discovers how science intersects with death. Mary Roach explores how cadavers are used in the name of science. From crash dummies to facelift dummies, the dead become science experiments.

Additional Recommendations

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

 

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I had a really hard time coming up with a blog title for this week’s review. Am I discussing hard topics? Death?  Realistic situations? Technically both of these books fell into all these categories. I decided to go with “Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Depressing YA books are now all the rage. Forget vampires! Give us dying teens, depressed teens, and teens dealing with the hard stuff. Some people might complain that teens are not ready for these subjects, but the immense popularity of these books with all age levels suggest otherwise. The popularity has further increased with people gravitating towards John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. 

Teen librarian, Susan Steider, commented that Green has become the modern-day Lurlene McDaniel (For all those under the age of 25, Lurlene McDaniel writes super depressing stories about teens). The Fault in Our Stars has commenced a dying teen craze in YA books.  It seems like every month there is another dying teen book being released. A few titles are Maybe One DayThe F- It ListSomebody Up There Hates You, and Side Effects May Vary. Don’t despair, teens dying are not the only popular ones. Technically, traumatic events with teens have always had a following. Speak and My Sister’s Keeper have remained fairly popular years after their original published dates.

Some have argued that these books appeal to teens, as teens experience the turbulence of hormones and emotions. However, what sparks my attention is why adults are gravitating towards these depressing and turmoil-filled pages. Are they wanting to relive their teen years, or are the books speaking to something deeper in them.

Known as ‘sick-lit’, these books speak to both teens and adults while promising to leave the reader emotionally drained and ‘devastated’. Some fear that by placing these books in the hands of  impressionable teens that society will soon be filled with suicidal and self-harming teens, while others go as far as to say that teens should not be reading these books alone.[1] I’m going to pooh-pooh at this thought. Teens are going through a variety of emotions. Most just want to be understood and want to understand what they are going through.  Just because I read every single Lurlene McDaniel in 6th grade did not mean that I wanted to die of cancer, lose a loved one, or suffer a traumatic incident. Assistant professor at Knox College, Barbara Tannert-Smith mentions in her article that teens are attracted to these novels because of self-identification with the suffering protagonist.[2] However, this type of literature can be seen as a safe place where teens can explore these topics. Michelle Pauli states that “The rise of young adult means we are able to explore ‘the darkness’ with the safety wheels on.”[3] It seems that adults are gravitating towards these books for the intensity as well.

This past August author, Malindo Lo, asked adults #whydoadultsreadya on twitter after contemplating it on her blog. Many adults posted their reasoning behind reading ya, but some of the responses included:

“I enjoy the immediacy of the stories and the sense of being at the beginning of the path of who you’ll become,” Tweeted by @sesinkorn

“I love the intensity of 1st time experiences, experimentation, & growth that we’re told to stop doing as adults,” Tweeted by @sarahockler

“To understand the youth. But really, because I like the stories, and it’s easy to read. Raw, earnest, beauty.” Tweeted by @sara_r_l

As it appears, adults enjoy the good ya book for multiple reasons.

 

Young Adult Book

11870085 (1)The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

You might have noticed by now that many of the books that I’m reading are ones that I have put off for some time. Again, The Fault in Our Stars falls into this pile. When it first came out I had read to page 20 and then left it sitting on a counter until it was due back at the library. The book was soon receiving all sorts of hype. My Facebook was filled with people lamenting that nothing would measure up to this book. People on Goodreads were raving about how it was the best book they had read in a long time and etc. I still was not interested. I finally had to pick up the book for Forever Young Adult Book Club meeting. I went in not wanting to be part of the bandwagon. I wanted to be a rebel. I failed miserably.

A quick summary. Hazel is dying of cancer. She knows it. Her parents know it. Even her non-existent friends know it. Hoping to make the best of a seriously crappy situation, Hazel attends college and support groups to maintain some resemblance of normal life. However, Hazel’s life is soon sent into a tailspin when Augustus Waters walks into support group one day. Hazel and Augustus soon forge a relationship filled with love, laughter, tears, death, and the universe.

First thing’s first, I thought the relationship with Augustus and Hazel was “nice.” I wasn’t blown away. I have read plenty of YA romance novels and the only difference was that they both had cancer. What blew me away was the deepness and thoughtfulness these characters displayed. Some have argued that teens don’t talk that way, aka deep intelligence, but Hazel and Augustus are not your normal teens. For one, they have cancer. Their perspective on and life death is going to be drastically different from the teen who spends his/her time at the mall. However, why can’t teens have philosophical thoughts. Give the characters a bit more credit.

What was so profound for me were the things they discussed that made complete sense. The narcissism people display upon their impending death. How people’s mark on life tend to be the scars they leave on others. How grief reveals someone’s character. And my personal favorite, “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”

The book is a 4 for me. Despite my love of its philosophical moments, the book did have its failings. Augustus parents kind of drove me nuts. It is apparent they do not fully understand him, but the way they responded at the end kind of had me scratching my head. I also wish that Green would have left Peter Van Houton in Amsterdam. I would have been perfectly content with not knowing his story.

I normally do not like to re-read books, but I want to reread the The Fault in Our Stars to ponder the meaning of life.

Book Club

Zion read The Fault in Our Stars for their February book club. Three quarters of the staff absolutely loved this book. Our tween associate even reread because she loved it so much. However, the love was not shared with everyone. One associate thought it was meh and the other thought Mr. Green had another agenda. We had a very heated argument about the purpose of the book. We decided to let the FYA group settle the debate.

The club was actually split 50/50. Some really enjoyed it, whereas others were more meh about it. Our biggest discussion was what was John Green’s ultimate focus of The Fault in Our Stars. The jury’s still out, but it made for an insightful discussion.

The one interesting thing is that Zion’s FYA group decided that they had had enough of depressing YA lit. They requested that Elsie pick some happier books for the club. Apparently, sick-lit is not all the rage for adults. Elise decided to scratch Thirteen Reasons Why. She replaced it with the fantasy book, Cruel Beauty.

 

Adult Book

16151178The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Have you ever LOVED a book and raved about it the minute you put it down? You don’t even want to think about picking up another book because you want to bask in the greatness of it. Then, you revisit it a few days later and realize that it is kind of forgettable? This is what happened to me.

The Sea of Tranquility is a 2014 Alex Award. This is particularly awesome because it means that the book has been deemed a good cross-over for young adults and adults. I thought it would be a good fit with The Fault in Our Stars because of the tragedy element.

Nastya Kashnikov is the new girl at school. Filled with secrets and hiding a deep tragedy, Nastya hides behind heavy makeup and revealing clothing. She also refuses to talk.

Josh Bennett is an open-book. Losing almost everyone in his family to death, Josh is all alone and everyone knows it. Avoided like the death plague, Josh is relatively content in his own world.

However, it takes one word from Josh and a night run from Nastya for them to form an unlikely relationship and eventually, a romance.

When I finished reading this book, I shouted from the mountain tops. The book had been cruising at 3.5 to 4 stars and then I finished it. I thought it was solid 5. The ending took my breath away. However, I started to think about the ending and I became confused. I even contacted the author on Twitter and started a discussion on Goodreads. Thankfully, I received clarification. This dropped my original rating from a 5 to a 4. Now that I’m writing this review, I realize that I’m having a hard time recalling the book.

What I remember is that the plot slowly developed. I enjoyed that reader got to see Nastya and Josh’s relationship grow. Unlike most YA novels where the main character’s love life is instantaneous, this relationship had to be felt out. We are also provided glimpses into the Nastya’s accident and its aftermath. This helped propel the story along.

What I did not like about this book was Nastya’s family. What family would give up on their child after a traumatic accident. Maybe I come from a different family, but my family definitely would not have been content with me moving away from them. Nastya’s sudden silence is also very disturbing. Once she stopped talking it seemed liked her parents were like, “We are done. Move in with your aunt.” This seemed completely unrealistic for a family that was tight-knit before an accident.

I do believe that the major characters were done somewhat well. Those who did not have a significant role were in the background, while the major characters were fleshed out. One reviewer on Goodreads did have quite a few things to say about this book. She also mentioned something very interesting about all the characters. They were all beautiful and talented. Every.Single.One.Of.Them. This made me go “Huh, she’s right.” Unfortunately, I cannot think of any other aspects that really stood out to me.

Overall, I still would hand this book to a teen and/or an adult. I think both of age groups would enjoy the storyline, even if isn’t completely memorable.

Recommendations

8621462A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Have you ever had a monster invade your dreams and no matter how hard you try to escape, the monster always returns? For Connor O’Malley, a monster has invaded his dreams and life. During the day Conor battles his emotions about his mother’s cancer and at night, it is a monster from dreams. To escape the clutches of this monster, Conor must only speak the truth.

6609549By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters

After years of bullying, Daelyn is ready to give up on life. She has attempted suicide several times and each time has failed until she stumbles across a site that will help her successfully complete her goal. As she prepares for her “final journey,” Daelyn begins to recall memories from the past and begins to distance herself from her family, only to discover that a potential friend may destroy all her plans.

11330361A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

On June 10, 1991 Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped on her way to school. Captive for 18 years, Jaycee endured sexual and psychological abuse from her captors. She eventually bore two children to her kidnapper. It was not until August 26, 2009 that Jaycee was finally free.

I’m going to forewarn you this isn’t the most well laid out book. Jaycee’s thought pattern tends to jump sporadically, but her story demands to be heard.

 

Other Recommendations

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

The list can go on with this topic. Feel free to ask me for more recommendations.

 

[1] Tanith Carey, “The ‘sick-lit’ books aimed at children: disturbing phenomenon. Tales of teenage cancer, self-harm and suicide…,’  Mail Online, January 2, 2013, accessed March 29, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2256356/The-sick-lit-books-aimed-children-Its-disturbing-phenomenon-Tales-teenage-cancer-self-harm-suicide-.html.

[2] Barbara Tannert-Smith, “Like Falling Up into a Storybook”: Trauma and Intertextual Repetition in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak,” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 35, no. 4 (2010): 395-414. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed March 29, 2014).

[3] Michelle Pauli, “‘Sick-lit’? Evidently young adult fiction is too complex for the Daily Mail,” The Guardian, January 20, 2013, accessed April 1, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/04/sick-lit-young-adult-fiction-mail.

Where the Heck is My Prince Charming?

In 2009, the Disney Princess Collection generated a revenue of $50 billion dollars. From tiaras to bedroom furnishings, young girls have the ability to reinvent themselves into their own version of a princess.[1] This desire is not only perpetrated by young girls. Many adult women also desire the perfect fairy tale.

In 1981 Colette Dowling released her book, The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence. After four years of research and traveling around the United States, Dowling made a startling discovery. She discovered that the majority of women she interviewed wished to be saved by a man. Some women blatantly sought a prince to take care of them while others expressed undertones of it.  Dowling named this discovery “The Cinderella Complex.” Defined as a psychological and personal dependency, the Cinderella Complex is “a network of largely repressed attitudes and fears that keep women in a half-light, retreating from the full use of their minds and creativity.” Women who suffer from this complex are Cinderellas waiting for their prince or external circumstances to transform their lives. [2] Although this definition emerged in the early 1980s, it still prevails today. Through romance novels and fairy tales, women are taught that external forces can change their lives despite their own independence.

Yet, there are new trends emerging in fairy tales. New retellings recast women as their own agents. No longer does the prince pick his princess, princesses are now choosing their own prince, casting off the prince for another princess, or simply forgoing a prince while they blaze their own trail. Regardless, most new retellings feature some element of the traditional fairy tale. Heather Tomlinson points out that fairy tales are not cut and dry, but rather offer authors the opportunity to fashion their own retelling. This include exploring darker elements or telling the story from another character’s viewpoint. However, all fairy tales hope for one thing: a happily ever after.

YOUNG ADULT BOOK

16030663   Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

In all honesty I can’t believe that it took me over a year to read this book. A teen librarian placed this book directly into my hands and said, “You must read this book. It is so different from any YA book I have read.” I of course blew her off and waited an entire year to read it.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson, yes there are two Johnson’s in there, has always been different.  He can hear voices of the dead, specifically the voice of Jacob Grimm. As an outcast of Never Better, Jeremy is used to being on his own. His mother left town suddenly and never looked back. Devastated, Jeremy’s father locked himself in the house and hasn’t seen the light of a day in years. On his own, Jeremy tries to maintain his family’s one-book bookstore by working jobs in the summer. However, Jeremy’s quiet and secluded life is interrupted when Ginger Boultinghouse comes barreling in. Ignoring Jacob Grimm’s voice, Jeremy soon finds himself in the village’s spotlight and in a grim fairy tale of his own.

I thought this was one of the best young adult books I have read in a while. The fluidity of the sentences immerses the reader within the story. It was like melted butter for the eyes, and unlike Seraphina, the text did not become tedious. Furthermore, the character development is superb. Each character’s voice was very distinct, particularly the bakers.  I also loved the originality of the plot within the fairytale context. Can you name five original young adult plots on one hand under one minute? Some claim that the plot is fairly predictable, but what fairy tale ending isn’t?

What really stood out to me in this book was the traditional fairy tale elements. Grimm is like a fairy godmother in the story. He protects Jeremy to a certain degree and offers advice. Jeremy can listen to Grimm or ignore him. Another really interesting fairy tale element is the lack of a mother. Take a moment and think about all the different fairy tales and their retellings. Who is always missing from the storyline? The mother. If a mother is present, she is normally in the form of a stepmother or a distant character. I question how the plot might have differed if McNeal would have broken tradition and made the father who took off suddenly and made the mother the recluse.

I would still highly recommend this book to both adults and young adults. Even now as I write this review and hold the book, I feel that the words are waiting to be discovered again.

Adult Book

13982 The Fairy Godmother (Five Hundred Kingdoms #1) by Mercedes Lackey

I’m not going to lie I kind of like this cover. A co-worker thought it was horrendous, but I am a sucker for pretty colors. It was also one of the first books to pop up in my research for adult fairy tale fiction, and the premise sounded promising.

Elena Klovis is a dead ringer for Cinderella.

  • She has the evil stepmother and stepsisters. Check.
  • She is beautiful. Check.
  • Has a godmother. Check.
  • Has a prince……He is 12 years old. Uncheck.

Realizing that her situation is not the ideal fairy tale, Elena has two options: continue to live to utter misery until her stepmother returns or become a fairy godmother for the land. Godmother it is.

Under the guidance of Madame Bella, Elena quickly learns the godmother trade and is soon given her own kingdom, where she must manage the kingdom’s fate, deal with virgin-seeking unicorns, and handle a stubborn prince.

The most fantastic element of this book is Lackey’s spin on it. I enjoyed the realistic approach that everyone’s happily after is not supposed to happen perfectly. She also does a splendid job of mixing traditional elements with modern themes. Details, such as virginity, that conventionally hold higher value is just a mere ideal. However, the romance killed me in this book. It was a wham, bam, thank you ma’am romance.  My largest complaint was Prince Alexander’s character development.

From the  beginning he is an ass and Elena turned him literally into an ass, hoping that Alexander would learn some humility. It is very evident that Alexander does not think highly of woman or those beneath his royal status, as he initially refuses to do any sort of work. He eventually develops a more noble personality and even rescues a young maiden from another knight, whereas only few short months ago he would have demanded his share of this girl. It just wasn’t believable.

I do believe that the series will appeal to young adults who enjoy their fairy tales, despite its misgivings. Lackey eventually explores other fairy tales and mythology.

Recommendations

11235712 Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

The first book in the series, The Lunar ChroniclesCinder merges the traditional fairy tale of Cinderella with a futuristic and science fiction setting.

Living in New Beijing, Cinder, a cyborg, tries to survive her living situation by working as a mechanic for her stepmother. However, Cinder’s life is soon thrown into upheaval by the entrance of Prince Kai, a mysterious illness that is plaguing the residents of New Beijing, and the reveal of Cinder’s past.

82751 Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah

This is technically the juvenile/YA version of Adeline Yen Mah’s Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Daughter. I have read both books, but I prefer Chinese Cinderella. The storyline was a tad bit tighter and kept my attention. Falling Leaves felt a bit more scattered.

I would recommend this book to all those who enjoy an authentic Cinderella story. The book has your evil stepmother and siblings, and the injustice that normally befalls the Cinderella character.

17412780  Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Princesses are not only for fairy tales. In Princesses Behaving Badly Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explores true tales of royal women throughout the ages. Some women were brave and fearless while others became political pawns for their families. Most did not get happy endings. This is a fun history book without the heaviness of a typical non-fiction book.

Other Recommendations

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge


[1] Peggy Orenstein, Cinderella Ate My Daughter (New York: HarerCollinsPublishers, 2011), 11-13.

[2] Colette Dowling, The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence (New York: Summit Books, 1981), 1-31.

Give me a L.G.B.T.Q. Book!!!

Last semester, I had to complete a collection assessment in a library of my choice. Knowing that most of my classmates were going to pick libraries in the surrounding area, I decided to pick my childhood library, a library deep in the heart of Texas. My chosen theme: LGBTQ.

My first task was to find three reputable sources to assist me with analyzing the collection. I picked Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) bibliography, “Gay and Lesbian Themes and Topics in Selected Children’s and Young Adult Books,” the Rainbow Project Committee’s “2013 Rainbow list,” and the “Sexuality” chapter from Liz Knowles’ and Martha Smith’s Understanding Diversity Through Novels and Picture Books. With a combined list of 213 notable LGBTQ books, I was sure that I would face some challenges, but nothing prepared me for the results I was about to uncover.

Out of 213 books, this particular library, which shall not be named, only had 8 books of LGBTQ. Yes, you read that right: 8 books. This is a whopping 3.76% of the 213 book list. To make matters worse, the newest addition to the collection was published in 2008. I checked recently and they had added one more book since I last looked at their collection. The newest addition, Homosexuality, is from the Opposing Viewpoint series. Based on these statistics, they definitely have not developed a bisexual or transgender collection. This is extremely distressing when an estimated 9 million adults are openly LGBTQ in the United States. However, this statistic does not include the adults and young adults who have not chosen to openly declare their sexuality.[1]

Providing literature representative and inclusive of the LGBTQ community is even more imperative. Forty-two percent of LGBTQ youth report living in communities that do not accept their lifestyles, while 92% of LGBTQ report hearing and seeing negative messages about their lifestyles.[2] Alexander F. Parks goes one step further and pushes libraries to openly book talk LGBTQ literature and not just put them on the shelves.

He argues that many libraries expect young adults to find these books on their own, but if libraries were to openly book talk excellent LGBTQ books, we could open new and exciting avenues of exploration.[3] I would further argue that libraries should book talk not just young adult books, but adult books too.  By providing access to LGBTQ literature, libraries remain committed to offering free and non-discriminatory access for all, while sending the message of freedom to read.

YOUNG ADULT BOOK

11595276 The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

My fingers have been tingling with anticipation for this book for a while. I was extremely excited that I finally found an excuse to sit down and read The Miseducation of Cameron Post.  A fellow teen librarian touted the book as a contemporary Annie on My Mind, but with more mature themes. I have never read Annie on My Mind, but I have read other LGBTQ coming-of-age books. With how much praise this book had been receiving when it first came out, I was expected to be blown away. Sadly, I ended up walking away feeling like this book could have had 200 pages eliminated.

Admittedly, the book started off fairly well for me. Danforth introduces us to Cameron, a young girl growing up in small town Miles City, Montana during the 1990s. We read how Cameron begins to explore her sexuality with her best friend, Irene, during one summer. However, Cameron feels severe guilt when her parents die in a car accident on the same day that Irene and she share a kiss. She soon finds relief that they will never find out what she did. As the years progress, Cameron finds herself exploring her sexuality on different occasions, until one day she develops an intense and powerful relationship with the new girl, Coley Taylor. This comes to a crashing halt when Cameron’s sexuality is revealed to the town and she is sent to a camp that “fixes” people like Cameron.

I guess I was expecting a little more drama with the book. I don’t mind quiet books, I actually think some of the most beautiful books are “quiet” novels. However, the book jacket of this book made me believe there was going to be a little more excitement – surviving in Miles City and an ultra religious aunt who wants to “fix” Cameron. I actually thought that this book could have taken place anywhere and the aunt did not have to be defined as ultra religious.  I actually thought the aunt was someone who embraced her religion wholeheartedly and she responded to Cameron’s sexuality with what I am assuming was a response held, and still held by many today, in a conservative small town. This was a time when Exxodus International was the largest sexual reorientation organization in the world. I do want to iterate that I am NOT assuming this a belief held by all conservatives during this time.

Besides what I deem a misleading book jacket, I felt the book tended to drag in certain places. I understand that Danforth was trying to develop Cameron’s experiences, but I just got bored. The most exciting part, for me, was the relationship with Coley and Cameron. Whoo! Get me a fan, THAT was a romance. It was steamy and made the reader anticipate where it was going next.  And then, Cameron is “discovered” and sent off to God’s Promise: Residential Discipleship Program.  Some other readers have claimed that this is where Cameron finally discovers herself, but I saw it as more of her finding her community. The thing is, I was still bored.

For a Forever Young Adult book club, The Miseducation of Cameron Post raises good questions. Readers could argue whether Cameron ever truly discovers herself, if the relationship between Coley and Cameron was a true romance or lust, and they can argue the plot itself.

ADULT BOOK

12875258Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I ADORED this book. This has to be one of my absolute favorite reads this season. When I was researching potential LGBTQ books that would be good cross-overs for teens, Tell the Wolves I’m Home kept coming up. A 2013 Alex Award, Tell the Wolves I’m Home does not disappoint.

In 1987, fourteen-year-old June Elbus has just lost her beloved uncle and godfather, Finn, to AIDS. Living with a mother who will not acknowledge the cause of Finn’s death, and a sister who seems determined to make her feel even more forlorn, June’s only solace is the last painting that Finn painted of her and her sister, Greta. This all changes when June receives a mysterious package  containing the teapot that Finn treasured. June soon learns that the mysterious sender is Toby, unbeknownst to June, Finn’s significant other. Forging a new friendship, June tries to understand and navigate the complexities of human emotions.

What I appreciated  most about this book was the character focus. Although there is a LGBTQ theme, it was not the sole focal point. The focal point, for me, was how one man and his death interwove multiple people’s lives; how a teenage girl must learn to deal with not only the loss of her favorite person, but her unresolved romantic feelings for an uncle; A lover who is trying to reach out to the only person who understood Finn the way he did; A sister dealing with emotions of jealousy and being pushed into adulthood too soon; and a mother, who is not only dealing with the loss of a brother and best friend, but decades of buried emotions. This book encompasses the life of a man who happened to be gay, but shows the power of human connections.

Another reviewer mentioned that one should listen to Mozart’s Requiem before you read the novel. I would suggest that you listen to it afterwards. I listened to it several weeks after reading the book and I could still place the powerfulness of the book with the music. I immediately thought this would be a fantastic indie movie, if done correctly.

Adults and young adults will both enjoy this book. It has a little coming-of-age feel, while also looking at how to face the past, and coming to terms with who you are. Every single character presents something to the reader.

Read this book. Savor this book. Weep with this book.

Recommendations

6017769 The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

I read this book in 2009 when it was first published, and I remember loving it. I still recommend it to people today. It is definitely a coming-of-age LGBTQ book.

Dade is spending his last summer before college trying to make the best of a crappy situation. Not officially “out,” Dade has to learn how to deal with a “boyfriend” who still has a girlfriend, his parent’s marriage bordering on divorce, and a new love interest who comes barreling into his life. With a strong realistic approach, despite Dade being gay and male, the reader will connect emotionally with him.

13532208 Born This Way: Real Stories of Growing Up by Paul Vitagliano

This is a great and fun read. Showing people from the 1940s to present day, the book gives intimate snippets into people’s lives as they reveal their own stories of growing up gay. If you would like to continue to explore these snippets, the book is based off the blog, Born This Way.

17261129Freakboy by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

Told in verse, Freakboy alternates between three narrators. Brendan, the all-American boy, who feels like he is in the wrong skin. Vanessa, Brendan’s girlfriend, who is dealing with an emotionally distant boyfriend while trying to savage the relationship that has now consumed her life, and Angel, the transgender female, who helps other face their fears after conquering her own struggles and fights. Freakboy offers a pinprick of insight into the impact of sexual identity.

Other Recommendations 

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Ash by Malinda Lo

Freak Show by James St. James


[1] Gates, Gary J., How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender? The Williams Institute, http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBTQ-Apr-2011.pdf (accessed March 3, 2013).

[2] “Growing Up LGBTQ in America: View Statistics,” Human Rights Campaign, http://hrc.org/youth/view-statistics#.UV3z5avwLXE (Accessed March 3, 2013).

[3] Parks, Alexander F. “Opening the Gate: Booktalks for LGBTQ Themed Young Adult Titles.” Young Adult Library Services 10.4 ( Summer 2012): 22–27. Professional Development Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2014).

Double, Double, Boil and Trouble.

Almost 20 years ago J.K. Rowling released her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone for all those people outside the U.S).  What was so transcendental about Harry Potter was the book’s appeal to everyone. Boys, girls, young and old wanted to immerse themselves in the world of Harry Potter. Although the last book was published in 2009, Harry Potter and Hogwarts still enthrall new readers every day. However, Harry Potter is not the fantasy character to introduce readers to fantastical fantasy worlds.

Blurring the lines between reality and the unfathomable, fantasy fiction has a rich history dating centuries ago. From Homer’s Odyssey to J.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, fantasy books continue to captivate readers of all ages. Authors, publishers, teachers, and researchers have been fascinated in the continuing success of fantasy literature. A prevailing belief is, as said in author’s Tamora Pierce’s words, “Fantasy creates hope and optimism in readers. It is the pure stuff of wonder.”[1] Fantasy fiction invites its readers into new worlds where almost anything can happen. These worlds not only appeal to the young but also adults.

In the recent years, more and more adults are gravitating to children and young adult fantasy books.  Mike Cadden, a professor of English, along with Sandra Beckett, a professor of  French, believe that children and young fantasy books are appealing to adults because they present a “traditional, well-wrought, and unified story” making them great cross-over books for multiple generations.[2] Seeking these elements, I wanted to discover how well two books would cross-over for young adult and the adult crowd.

YOUNG ADULT BOOK

Seraphina Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Set in the mythical Kingdom of Goredd, Seraphina introduces an imaginative and intelligent world where dragons and humans live among one another. With the ability to transform into human form, dragons attempt to maintain a 40-year peace treaty by living within the stipulations imposed on them. Raised by the dragon, Orma, Seraphina has learned to balance her relationships between dragons and humans. Taught in the draconian ways, Seraphina lacks the prejudices of the dragon-kind that are held by the humans in Goredd. As the assistant to the royal music master, Seraphina quietly attempts to dispel any dangerous myths about the dragons with the young heirs of the kingdom. However, Seraphina has her own secret, a secret that may eventually cost her life. Yet, when member of the royal family is killed, Seraphina must not only try to help maintain peace but preserve her life.

This book was so delicious…at first. I wanted to absorb every word and the mere idea of skimming was unthinkable; the vocabulary was so rich and I would most likely miss an important element. Hartman’s Kingdom of Goredd is definitely not your traditional young adult fantasy world, where the reader only glimpses a small portion of the fantasy world. In Seraphina, Hartman reveals a world with multiple layers. Introducing several characters (note to future readers: there is a glossary to keep all of them straight), Hartman has created and spun a world so magical that readers can re-read this book several times and notice something new and exciting.

Alas, I am in the minority of those who didn’t love this book. Many people complained about the slow start, whereas I thought the beginning held the most excitement for me. When Hartman talks about the dragons parading through the streets of Goredd with their teeth bared as a sign of friendliness, I was sold. Then, the book became tedious for me. The rich vocabulary and the multiple characters made me feel like I was wading through mud. By the last 50 pages, I felt like my brain was just numb. However, I was interested to see how Warren-Newport’s Forever Young Adult Book Club thought of it.

Book Club Perspective

Seraphina was the first book that I read for a Forever Young Adult book club (FYA). To help me further grasp why and how adults are gravitating towards young adult books, I have decided to attend two different FYA book clubs. One FYA is at my current library, Zion-Benton Public Library, and the other, Warren-Newport Public Library, is about twenty-five minutes away from Zion.

For February, Warren-Newport decided to read Seraphina. Zion read the book back in 2013 and I was unable to attend, so I was excited to see what complete strangers had to say about the book.

Overwhelming consensus: LOVED IT. There was an adult male participant, who apparently had disliked every book the book club had read up to this point, until he started reading Seraphina. When he started reading Seraphina, he tracked down the book club leader and told her how much he was loving it. The book club also outlined the reasons why they loved this book:

  1. The world-building. The adults loved how they could read a paragraph and re-read it and find something new. Some mentioned that they could envision this world, not just from Seraphina’s viewpoint. Our book club leader mentioned that Hartman had originally taken the traditional route of a very focused view-point and her editor wanted to her to expand her world. It took her over 9 years to finish writing Seraphina. It definitely shows! For those anticipating her sequel, Shadow Scale, it comes out March 2015. Apparently, her publisher is willing to work with her writing style. Kudos to her!
  2. The one complaint was having to keep track of all the characters. Some participants likened it to the Game of Throne series, but they realized that this comes with a world-building fantasy world. One librarian, who had read the book first and then listened to it, mentioned that she preferred the audio, as the narrator did all the different voices, allowing her to keep all the characters straight. You also get some music with the audiobook.
  3. They loved the love theme. This is one of the few young adult books that does not have a vomit-inducing romance. Seraphina and her love-interest are realistic about their situation. Seraphina also does not “lose” herself in the romance and continues being a strong character.                                        Hartman also introduces the great love concept of how do you react when the person you love is someone completely different. Can you ever really know the person you love? I believe we talked about this theme for a good 15 minutes.
  4. The adults also thought the book was relatable to the modern reader. Seraphina must deal with an appearance that she cannot change. When she attempts to change herself, it makes the reader cringe. Everyone agreed that we all have features we would like to change but cannot.
  5. However, almost everyone agreed that they thought the book was well written. There were a few, like me, who thought it became tedious, but the majority thought it was a winner. Take my viewpoint with a grain of salt.

Adult Book

Discovery A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

While Seraphina introduces readers to a high-fantasy world with dragons, Deborah Harkness introduces her readers to a fantasy that happens in modern times.

Double, double, boil and trouble, witches, wizards and a vampire, OH MY!

Noted historian, Diana Bishop is not your average scholar. Descended from a long line of powerful witches, Diana actively shuns her heritage and refuses to participate in the magical world. Until one day, she accidentally opens a bewitched and highly desired manuscript. Her world is soon spilling over with witches, wizards, vampires, and daemons seeking the manuscript. Trying to navigate this new territory, Diana soon gains a helping hand and an alliance with a 15,000 year old vampire, Matthew Clairmont, as she begins to learn about her own powers while battling evil forces.

This book was recommended to me by several librarians, so I thought it would be a fitting cross-over book for young adults. Touted as a sensual and contemporary Twilight series, A Discovery of Witches would definitely appeal to Twilight lovers. However, unlike Twilight, Harkness adds more depth to her characters.

Diana Bishop is descended from a strong bloodline of witches. I personally wanted to know where her story went. Matthew Clairmont is a 15,000 year-old vampire whose personal history and library will have historians drooling. Bishop’s aunts are a hoot and a half. However, the characters could also be very Twilight-esque.

Diana is a Yale professor. She is a strong and independent woman. Then, all of a sudden a 1500 year-old vampire turns her into a delicate flower. It doesn’t help matters that he entered into her apartment, without her permission, and she is completely cool with it! I don’t know how many woman would be like, “Oh, you were in my house without me! Awesome, let’s date!!!”

Matthew also has some very Edward tendencies. He is fiercely protective of Diana and forbids her from participating in certain activities. He is also the one that has sexual restraint while Diana is clamoring to get his clothes off. Of course, it doesn’t happen until he has marked her as his own.

While I bash these characteristics of the book, these are the traits that are going to appeal to the young adult Twilight fans. However, be forewarned that the love relationship in this book is much more steamy than Twilight. 

Recommendations

Print Soulless by Gail Carriger

With the supernatural ability to steal someone’s soul with one touch, Alexia Tarabotti’s lack of soul is the least of her worries. With England’s vampires disappearing and the blame placed upon her, Alexia must not only solve the mystery with the devilish handsome werewolf, Lord Maccon, but fend off her mother’s constant banter of her doomed spinsterhood.

This is a completely fun read. Alexia Tarabotti is not your classical beautiful heroine, but her spunky nature will have readers’ laughing.

3236307 Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling is a book that I read almost five years ago and I still recommend it to young adults and adults, alike. Katsa has a Grace, the Grace to kill a man with her bare-hands. Working for her Uncle, the King, Katsa is forced to use her skill for her Uncle’s whims until she meets Po and forces herself to understand her own identity while solving a kingdom’s mystery.

Graceling has a strong female character who shuns love. Some might say there is raging feminist theme, but I enjoyed a book that challenged the norm. This is a great book for discussion.

11532961 Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

Finding a nonfiction book that deals with fantasy was like finding a needle in a haystack. I then put on my thinking brain on and thought about the Salem Witch Trials.

In Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem Rosaylyn Schanzer presents her reader with chronological facts that are normally ignored when discussing the trials. No longer in black and white, the trials are shown the many shades of gray. In the end Schanzer allows her reader to make up his/her mind.

Other Recommendations 

Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris

The Girl of Fire and Thorn by Rae Carson

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice


[1] Cart, Michael. “Carte Blanche: Suspending the Old Disbelief, by Michael Cart.” Booklist. http://www.booklistonline.com/ProductInfo.aspx?pid=6140143&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1 (accessed March 10, 2014).

[2] Cadden, Mike. “All is Well: The Epilogue in Children’s Fantasy Fiction.” Narrative 20, no. 3 (October 2012): 343-356. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost(accessed February 15, 2014).    

Romance, Relationships, Oh My…

Young adult novels today are dripping with romance. Pick-up any YA book and there is 95% chance there is love story buried deep in the pages. These romances wouldn’t survive without some kind of relationship. Authors either develop their character’s romantic relationships beautifully, or they make the romance instant and completely unrealistic. Fortunately, this week’s two books can fall in the first category, somewhat.

15795357Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book has been receiving a lot of hype over the past year. I picked it up when it first came out but put it on hold until a later date. I decided to pick it back up after I saw that it had been assigned for a young adult literature class at UW-Madison. Several friends and classmates have been continuously raving about this book. I thought it was a worthwhile addition to my reading list.

Eleanor and Park has a very Romeo and Juliet-esque feel to it, just with a slower start. Park and Eleanor first meet when Park moves offer so that Eleanor can sit on the bus. They ignore each other for a few weeks until Park notices that Eleanor is reading his graphics with him. Slowly, their relationship develops from an ignored affair into a full-on “I can’t even breathe without thinking about you.”

The greatest strength of this book is the realism behind it. Park and Eleanor are not your traditionally beautiful characters. Eleanor is fat. Rainbow Rowell flat out tells her readers that Eleanor is fat. Probably not as fat as she think she is, but nevertheless, not a Giselle Bundchen. Eleanor also comes from a troubled family. However, for once, the romantic interest does not swoop in and save her constantly from her misfortunes.

However, I felt book started going towards the more generic ya romance when the two characters finally made their relationship official. There were constant “ I can’t live without you.” Eleanor even goes to say, “I don’t like you, Park,” she said, sounding for a second like she actually meant it. “I…” – her voice nearly disappeared – “think I live for you.” Maybe I wasn’t your typical your teen, but I never said this to any of boyfriends. I don’t even think I have said direct line to my husband. Friends protest that some teens do talk this way, but I kind of hit my head on the desk when I read it.

In my opinion, the book did not live up the hype. I thought it was good romance, but not the greatest I have ever read. Adults who lived through the 80s will enjoy the nostalgia, especially the big hair references.

16181775 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison

I recently got my mom hooked up on audiobooks and this was one of the books that I gave her. She called me one day just gushing about it. She described it in terms of the show, Big Bang Theory. She felt like she was watching Sheldon Cooper try dating. If you have never watched the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper is a brilliant theoretical physicist. It has never been confirmed, but Sheldon has Asperger’s syndrome. In The Rosie Project Don Tillman has very similar characteristics to Sheldon. Tillman also decides that he must find a wife and commences the wife project. This is completely destroyed when Rosie Jarman walks into his office and turns everything on its head.

I liked this romance novel. It has the everyday quirks of two people trying to navigate life. One person trying to rediscover her past and the other trying to apply scientific theories on how to achieve love. I also loved how humorous the book can be. Since readers are viewing the plot through Tillman’s eyes, we see how Tillman does not recognize social cues. However, the reader can immediately recognize when Tillman discusses something that probably should not have been mentioned. It is also interesting to see when Tillman makes a social faux pau. This includes loudly propositioning Rosie for sex in front of one her colleagues. This situation is very reminiscent of Sheldon Cooper publicly asking his friends if they were talking about coitus during a panel discussion.

Readers will enjoy reading how two unlikely characters, a storybook Penny and Sheldon, learn what makes and defines love.

Recommendations

16068905Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Travel back to Nebraska with Rainbow for another imperfect relationship. I actually preferred this relationship novel over Eleanor & Park. I appreciated that Rowell does not make her characters perfect. Simon is far from perfect and Cath has her own special characteristics. Simon’s and Cath’s relationship is not an instantaneous car crash but more like peeling an onion.

15795628 Blackmoore by Julianna Donaldson

This is a nice and clean romance for those who want a little more chivalry and little less sex. Defined as a proper romance (granted I think romance can be anything but proper), this is a book that you can recommend across ages without having to fear  the content.  I will admit that some characters and their personalities can be annoying (I had a few moments of eye-rolling) and the plot is extremely predictable, but there is something captivating about the book.

3573176 Six-word Memoirs on Love & HeartBreak by Writers Famous and Obscure

Ernest Hemmingway, allegedly, created one of the first six-word memoir when he wrote, “For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn.” This trend continues in Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak. Authors portray the loss and beauty of love. This book will resonate with the young and old.

If you are in the library field and would like to create your own seven-word memoir, check out http://booksecret.org/

Back from the deep abyss and jumping right into the Holocaust

It has been almost three months since I first posted  to my blog. Not wanting my blog to disappear in the abyss of dead blogs, I decided to incorporate it into my independent study to get it jump started.  I figured 16 weeks of writing a blog will motivate me to review more books. The emphasis of my independent study revolves around me reading young adult books that appeal to adults and vice versa. This being said, I have already completed my first week.

When I was choosing my books for this course I decided that my first week will focus on Holocaust literature. This is always a popular topic. From The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (John Boyne) to Night (Elie Wiesel), there is a steady stream of literature to pull from. I, myself, almost always pick up any book that deals with this topic – just look at my Goodreads’ account. This led me to my first two books, Rose Under Fire (Elizabeth Wein) and My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story (J.L. Witterick).

 Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

This past summer I got to meet Elizabeth Wein twice at the annual ALA conference. The first time was at the YALSA coffee klatch, where she talked about her inspiration for Code Name Verity. She also disclosed that she would be signing her new book, Rose Under Fire, at the Disney booth. I was stoked. You would have thought that I had devoured Code Name Verity when she told my table this. However, I sadly had not. I had interlibrary loaned the book when it first came in but passed it to a fellow co-worker. This co-worker absolutely adored it. Finishing my master thesis, I put the book on my to-reads list. Fast forward two years later, I haven’t finished reading the book.  Truthfully, I could not get into the book. I figured that I would give Wein another chance with Rose Under Fire. 

Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. While Code Name Verity deals with a young female pilot caught by the Gestapo, Rose follows the experiences of another young  woman caught by the Nazis and placed in the concentration camp, Ravensbrück. Technically, you can read the books separately. However, there are some spoiler alerts for Code Name Verity in Rose Under Fire. 

When I first started reading Rose I was slightly underwhelmed. Told through accident reports and diary entries, Rose talks about her experiences as an ATA pilot and her daily experiences with friends.  The book finally picks up  around page 60 when Rose goes missing. Her friends and family express their thoughts and feelings through the letters. The action then really takes off in part two of the book. It is here that Rose begins her story after she is back in the safety of the Allies. Recuperating in a hotel, Rose writes down her story. She alternates between her emotions as a survivor and her actual survival within the camp.

The most refreshing aspect of this book was Wein’s focus on a group that is not normally written about, the “rabbits.” These were 74 Polish prisoners who were used as medical experiments in Ravensbrück. Rose’s relationship and interaction with these women show a different side of the concentration camps.  Furthermore, her interactions with a past medical nurse (now a prisoner) really shows that no situation is black or white, but many shades of gray.

Readers may find Rose’s poems to be the weakest part of the book. They are littered throughout the book. I personally tried to read them, but I never made any connection with them.  I felt like the poems pulled the book down, and I ended up passing over all of them. Despite this small tidbit, readers will propel through Rose’s experiences. 

Adults will enjoy fleshing out the characters in this novel while learning about another side in the Holocaust. 

My Mother’s Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story by J.L. Witterick

I selected My Mother’s Secret as a pairing for Rose Under Fire because  several people just raved about it. I immediately placed it on hold at my local library. As soon as it came in, I cracked it open. I was pleasantly surprised with what I read.

The book is told in three different voices. Four voices  are intertwined through a mother’s and daughter’s bravery and courage during World War II. Each character trying to survive during the Nazi regime. Witterick really demonstrates how stories can overlap and interact with one another. From two Jewish families trying to save their lives to a German soldier who abhors war, these characters place their safety in one family’s hands.

This book is an extremely fast read. The story is written very tightly and the character development keeps the reader wanting more. Witterick does not waste one single word and the chapter’s seamlessly  transition into each other. Teen and adult readers will enjoy this beautifully written book. 

Recommendations:

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman
This is a debut novel of a trilogy series about Gretchen Müller. Müller is a young woman living in the Munich, Germany during the 1930s. Considered a quasi-niece of Adolf Hitler, Gretchen is taught that  Jews are subhumans who cannot feel emotion. Her beliefs and thoughts are quickly turned upside down when she meets Jewish reporter, Daniel Cohen.

This books does not come out until April, but I was afforded the luxury of reading an ARC of it. I normally groan when I see that a book has turned into a trilogy, but I am excited to see where Blackman takes Gretchen’s story. I also really appreciated her attention to detail. If you know anything about Hitler’s life, pay close attention to the characters in this novel.

Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian

This is an older book. Written in 2002, Bagdasarian creates a fictional account based on the Armenian Massacre. Although this week’s focus was focused on the Holocaust, I thought Forgotten Fire fit extremely well into this unit, especially when Hitler said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Bagdasarian does not attempt to mask any of the atrocious committed during this period. Vahan Kenderian’s story continuously lacks happy endings. With his family and life stripped away from him, Vahan learns to survive in a country who despises his heritage.

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance by Doreen Rappaport

Opening her book with the poem “I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever,” Doreen Rappaport transports her readers to Hitler’s regime and the experiences of Jewish resistance fighters. Told in five separate sections and spanning across continental Europe, Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust compiles over twenty biographies and experiences of Jewish resistance fighters. From disguising themselves as Nazis to practicing their religion in secret, Jewish resisters did not go peacefully to their deaths and ensured that their voices were heard.

Students and researchers of Holocaust literature will appreciate this book as it offers an in-depth examination of the roles Jewish resisters played. Each segment furthermore only remains ten pages, allowing it readers to fully engage the text without feeling burdened. Archival images of the resisters and the events surrounding the Holocaust continue to deepen the understanding of the history. Finally, readers will appreciate the comprehensive bibliography and index. Rappaport’s final closing poem “I am a Jew and will a Jew forever” will offer its readers new meaning once finishing this book.

Other Recommendations

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson