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Archive for the ‘YA books’ Category

…because based on the trailer, I’m terrified. Let us count the reasons:

1. The set design: all that glass and steel makes the movie look like a slick YA blockbuster, a derivative mix of The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and the Divergent trailer. I’d always pictured the community as white picket fence suburbia, and I know I’m not the only one who expected part of the movie to be filmed in black and white–but everything in the trailer was in full color. They seem to be trying to drum up excitement with hovercrafts! explosions! stormtrooper police and an evil be-wigged Meryl Streep! so there goes any hope of subtlety.

2. There’s a redheaded teenage girl who I presume is Fiona. We see Jonas urging her to stop taking the medicine, to wake up and understand what the Community is missing. Presumably she listens, and at some point we see her kissing Jonas, which is ridiculous. I have no problem with an older Jonas, or even increasing Fiona’s role. But this is not the book to insert Extra Teenage Romance Angst. Save it for something where it would make sense (like Team Human, which is crying out for a campy, melodramatic adaptation). [Note: if I'm wrong, and it's actually Rosemary, that's even more messed up. Star-crossed lovers across time, yeesh]

3. The Giver hinges on the Community’s blissful ignorance: there’s no omniscient dictator suppressing his people, no nefarious plot to keep them docile. So why add Meryl Streep spouting clichéd lines about choice and freedom? You may as well replace her with President Snow or icy Kate Winslet from the Divergent trailer. The Community’s dystopia is chilling because it runs on autopilot, because the decision for Sameness was made long ago and no one is capable of understanding what Jonas and the Giver know. In the book, Jonas’ loneliness drives the plot. Make Fiona his sidekick and that tension disappears.

4. The worst possibility: we see Fiona injecting something into her wrist. I hope it’s just the daily injection. But if not, and she’s actually Released, then I have an awful feeling that watching her Release is what pushes Jonas to leave the Community. Compare that to what happens in the book, where he falls apart over the death of a baby he doesn’t even know, killed by his uncomprehending father. That compassion is kind of the point, not romantic angst…

Maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe the trailer is misleading us to increase controversy and publicity. But if I’m right, then the filmmakers have alienated a lot of people: those of us who grew up reading and loving The Giver, and others who’ve never read it, and now assume it’s a copycat Hunger Games thriller. Either way, that can’t be good for box office numbers. And worst of all, Lois Lowry will have to say she likes the movie, whether she does or not.

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ad-boxersboxBoxers and Saints may be the first book on this blog to get double reviews from Jen and me. Here’s her take, and mine is below. Major spoilers ahead!

Two weeks ago I wrote about book hype and how it can raise or lower your expectations for a book. Since September, the most-hyped book on my radar has been Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang. It took months for my request to arrive at the library, so in the meantime I read a ton of reviews and grew increasingly psyched. It had everything going for it: starry-eyed praise, a chilling trailer, a historical setting I knew nothing about, and an ingenious setup–telling both sides of a conflict through a two-volume set.

Luckily, it lived up to the hype. I loved the characters, the humor (Yang gets bonus points for putting humor in a book about a bloody revolution), the art. He also avoids one of my pet peeves: too often, stories set in other countries star characters who speak broken English, which is idiotic, since they’re obviously speaking their native language even if the book is written in English. Thankfully, everyone in Boxers & Saints speaks naturally, and it’s the missionaries who butcher the grammar as they attempt to speak Mandarin to the villagers. Also, whenever we see foreign soldiers talking in their own language (French, English or German), their words look like gibberish, or drunken attempts at drawing Chinese characters (if you squint, you’ll notice how each character corresponds to a letter of the alphabet. With enough patience, you could decode what they’re saying. I managed to find “e” and “a” before my eyes crossed in dizziness).

Most importantly, Yang tells a complicated saga through compelling characters, and the story has enough complexity for me to appreciate the shades of gray. As Jen said, there are no winners in Boxers & Saints. Everybody loses. Under different circumstances, Vibiana and Little Bao might have been friends, but the pull of history–and Yang’s masterful storytelling–was too much. While each volume stands on its own, they’re infinitely better when read together (it makes the most sense to start with Boxers)–hence my insistence on calling the series a book instead of books. Yang kept the surprises coming, and I didn’t even know what I was missing until the last page of Saints. (more…)

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boxers saintsIt’s been over two months since I finished reading Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, and I’m still thinking about it. Told in graphic novel format from the perspectives of two Chinese teens on opposite sides of the conflict known as the Boxer Rebellion, Volume One follows Little Bao, while Volume Two tells Four-Girl’s story. Their narratives intersect briefly as children growing up in rural China during hard times, and then dramatically in a clash of allegiances as the Boxers, a pro-nationalist movement, march towards Peking in an effort to dispel the foreign powers–and their foreign religion–from China by force.

Yang sets the scene with ease, using Little Bao’s passion for folk opera, Four-Girl’s home life, and a host of mortal and supernatural characters, to give us insight into the cultural, social, and political situation influencing China as the 19th century drew to a close. Yang also portrays Chinese culture–even its more outlandish superstitions–with sensitivity and skill. Having read other books about China, I appreciate that his characters are influenced by, but don’t embody these superstitions. Rather, they come across as fully fleshed individuals with human motivations. (more…)

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I’m a quarter of the way through Eleanor & Park, and enjoying it a lot more than Jen did. I had the advantage of reading without high expectations, whereas Jen read it over the summer, right after it won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and much praise from reviewers. That’s the danger with hype: even great books can easily fall short. Luckily, by the time I got to the book a week ago, my main concern was finishing it before SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books begins next week, and the only review I remembered was Jen’s.

Of course, hype can also work the other way: there was a lot of grumbling about What Came From the Stars before Jen and I read it. I like to think we would have loved it regardless of what the reviews said, but our low–or at least neutral–expectations didn’t hurt. We continue to be bewildered by those who fail to appreciate its genius.

Perhaps I should start avoiding certain reviews. I get most of my book recommendations through blogs, twitter, and The Horn Book. When all three sources start rhapsodizing about the same book, I get nervous about the book’s ability to deliver (notable exceptions: The Doll Bones, Bo at Ballard Creek, Team Humanwhich were simply too good). I could impose a quota: if there’s a book I’m going to read anyway, I pledge to read no more than X glowing reviews before I judge for myself? This seems like a superficial solution. Sometimes it takes a good five or six reviews to push me to read somethingie Between Shades of Gray, because I wasn’t ready to be depressed. I would hate to miss another book like that by avoiding what others have to say.

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knifeIn many ways Hayley Rose Kincain is like the rest of her peers–the ones that inhabit YA books about high school. She starts off as the typical new kid, unused to the social pecking order after years of homeschooling on the road with her dad. A self-imposed loner, she is readily armed with a snarky response to everything high school throws at her. And just by being herself, she catches the attention of Finn, a “swoon-worthy” jockey nerd/nerdy jock who pursues her in his quest to find writers for the school paper, whom she promptly declines.

But Hayley also has an exhausting secret she is trying to keep. Everyday after school, she monitors the odometer on her father’s truck to see if he actually went to work that day. She checks the contents of the fridge to see if her father’s been eating (good) or drinking (bad). And she does her absolute best to keep everyone else in her life at arms length, lest they realize how poorly her father is coping with civilian life after the trauma of serving tours in Iraq–and take her away from him.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory, it’s clear that as Hayley’s dad teeters on the brink of despair and destruction, Hayley is trapped just as trapped there beside him, even if she didn’t physically go to war. (more…)

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floraLisa: Hello! So, Newbery reactions!
It was a good year for squirrels
Jen: and a good year for Floras!
Lisa: yes. I haven’t read Flora and the Flamingo but I could see Ulysses’ Flora attempting to dance with a flamingo
Jen: really? I think she’d be too cynical
Lisa: well, if her mother stuffed her into a tutu…
and there was a pink bird nearby…
Jen:
….
….
soooooo, anything surprise you about this year’s ALA youth media awards?

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It’s the most wonderful time….to roll out our favorite reads of this year! Now we’re primarily a middle grade book blog–that’s our niche. But this year, we thought we’d flip the tables and try something different. Doll Bones and Hero on a Bicycle aside, we’re recommending our favorite YA titles of 2013, and we’re asking for your middle grade recommendations, instead.

easyOut of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys–As resourceful, intelligent Josie Moraine plots to leave her messy family situation (her mother’s an aging prostitute) and past behind, Sepetys brings New Orleans, in all its gaudy splendor, to life. We only wish the ending didn’t resolve so abruptly, because Sepetys definitely left us wanting more!

Cover_of_Rose_Under_Fire_by_Elizabeth_WeinRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein–In this companion novel, Wein wisely avoids writing another Code Name Verity, but the friendships Rose makes in Ravensbrück are just as heart-wrenching and root-worthy. She also shines a light on a part of WWII history we’ve never heard of: the Ravensbrück “rabbits.” Also, Maddie gets some closure, Rose gets a future, and we get some tissues.

ghost_hawkGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper–Cooper explores the events leading up to King Philip’s war through the fictional characters of Little Hawk, a member of the Pokanoket tribe, and John Wakely, a Pilgrim boy. Leaving aside the historical fiction/fantasy debate (and an epilogue we could have done without), we admired the writing, the rich characters and the narrative structure–there’s a surprise halfway through that will mess with your head.

Which books delighted you this past year? Let us know–we’re itching to read some satisfying children’s books over the holiday break. Bonus points if they’re middle grade titles or non-fiction!

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To follow-up on Jen’s post about sympathetic magic, I started thinking about all the other books that have sparked the Code Name Verity Effect–or rather, the [Insert Book Title] Effect. Like Jen, I don’t seek out those experiences to feel closer to the book. It’s the other way around–they introduce me to new concepts/places/things, or they make ordinary experiences extraordinary. For example:

  • In What Came From the Stars, Tommy Pepper hears a haunting rendition of Bach’s Sleeper’s Wake, the same song he used to play on the piano. That compelled Jen and me to find the music and try it out as a flute duet…with cacophonous consequences.
  • I never wanted to learn how to knit until I read The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer. I’m far from sending secret messages in coded stitches, but someday…

I also associate certain books with everyday objects. It’s like an inside joke only I can understand:

  • After reading Holes by Louis Sachar, I had a persistent urge to eat raw onions, even though I prefer them cooked. And I still think of Sploosh every time I see a jar of peach jam.
  • Every time I see a rabbit in profile, I’m reminded of the Watership Down book cover. Then I start wondering if the rabbit lives in a totalitarian society, or is a hero intent on saving said society from the tyrant.
  • The effect isn’t always permanent. For the first week after reading Out of the Dust, I couldn’t play the piano without thinking of Billie Jo’s burned hands and wincing in sympathy. Lucky for me, I got over it.

And of course,

  • Tea time is at four. We’ve never had tea time, but we know that’s when it would be, if we did.

Surely we’re not the only ones with literary inside jokes. What are yours?

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I highly recommend heading over to The Book Smugglers as they host daily guest bloggers throughout this December–including Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. A scholar of folklore as well, Wein chose to talk about the sympathetic magic of reading. In academic terms, she defines it as “objects exerting action ‘on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy.’” For example, a Hershey Bar wrapper and her Pennsylvania childhood.

Wein goes on to theorize that when we give objects and places from works of fiction special significance to bring a fictional world to life, that’s a form of sympathetic magic. I was surprised when she referenced as an example The Code Name Verity Effect, because while I do think we experienced the sympathetic magic of CNV, it wasn’t exactly in the way Wein describes.

In what we coined the “Code Name Verity Effect”, objects, phrases, and places associated with the book gained a certain “cool” status they did not previously possess. At the very basic level, we developed a “secret sympathy” for ordinary items like egg cups and combat boots because they reminded us of Code Name Verity. It was like being in on a secret, delightful. But those vintage egg cups and RAF issue boots didn’t make us feel any closer to Julie and Maddie, or make these characters any more real. Instead, reading about egg cups and combat boots in CNV made us want to geek out over egg cups and combat boots as they exist in our world. Simply put, if Maddie enjoyed eating an egg served in an egg cup, maybe I would, too.

Same idea with flying over the Pennines and visiting the Holy Island Seals. Before reading CNV, we didn’t even know they existed. But once we learned about them from Maddie and Julie, the strength of their (or Wein’s) narrative made these places seem special in and of themselves. It’s Wein’s writing that makes us feel an affinity for the seals, not the seals that increase our affinity for Maddie or Julie. Sympathetic magic, the other way around.

Here, let me explain in a diagram.

Here, let me explain in a diagram.

I’m trying to think of a case in my reading experience where Wein’s application of sympathetic magic–ordinary objects, made special from a treasured book, brought me closer to the world of the book–and I keep drawing a blank. I was too old to hope for a Hogwarts letter on my eleventh birthday when I read Harry Potter for the first time. And no amount of Bertie Botts Every Flavor merchandising will make me less of a Muggle. But a real world experience that allows me to relate better to a fictional character–I suppose that connects me to a fictional world more effectively than any object.

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IMAG0923When moving from book medium to play medium, a good adaptation is just as important as good source material. Sadly, this was not the case for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Based on Gary D. Schmidt’s depressing Newbery honor-winning book of the same name and adapted by Cheryl L. West, Emerson Stage’s production more often than not goes through the motions of playing Lizzie Bright without actually capturing the spirit of Lizzie Bright.

As in the book, young Turner Ernest Buckminster the Third, the preacher’s boy, feels like a fish out of water when his family moves against his will from Boston to Phippsburg, Maine. Unlike the book, his family consists of just him and his strict father, a widowed minister, since Turner’s mother was written out of existence. Unable to make friends with any of the Phippsburg boys, to the town and his father’s disapproval, Turner ends up befriending Lizzie Bright, a black girl his age who can throw and hit a baseball like no other. She lives on Malaga Island, just across the bay. Unfortunately, the town leaders see Malaga as an eyesore, especially if their plans to turn Phippsburg into a vacation resort are to move ahead.

Along the way, Turner bleeds all over his starched white shirts, looks into the eye of a whale, and is drafted as punishment into reading poetry and playing hymns for Mrs. Cobb–a crotchety old woman obsessed with documenting her last words. This leads up to a scene that’s as hilarious in person as it is on the page. If only the rest of the book’s nuance was retained as well. (more…)

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