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Archive for the ‘YA books’ Category

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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Review: The Lord of Opium

“Whatever you may wish, you’re a drug lord now and must learn to behave like one.”  –Celia to Matt, page 11.

(warning: contains spoilers for The House of the Scorpion)

Published eleven years after The House of Scorpion, I finally find out what happens to Matt in Nancy Farmer’s sequel, The Lord of Opium. Now that El Patrón is dead, Matt Alacrán is no longer a lowly clone but the new Lord of Opium, and along with El Patrón’s vast resources and power, he has inherited a boatload of problems. El Patrón’s death–and his convenient murder of all his funeral guests, including the Dope Confederacy’s drug lords and the entire Alacrán family–has left Opium in lock down and the surrounding drug countries in a power vacuum.

Not only must Matt prove to El Patrón’s men that he’s capable of ruling Opium, he must rely on their help without being sure of whether he can fully trust them. Cienfuego, head of the Farm Patrol–Opium’s thuggish security force–knows far too much about border defense. And just outside, super creepy drug lord Glass Eye Dabengwa is itching to invade. Dr. Rivas is the only medical doctor left in Opium, but is clearly keeping secrets of his own. Meanwhile, Matt wants to disband his entire sordid drug empire. That means finding a way to free the eejits who work the poppy fields by removing the microchips implanted deeply in their brains. But the more Matt learns about the process, the more impossible his task seems. (more…)

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