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Category Archives: Young Adult

I Maya want more from Samira Ahmed

LoveHateFilters

Coming off of reading American Panda at the end of 2017, I stayed up past my bedtime to finish the last chapters of Love, Hate, and Other Filters which I consider its sister book or really: if you like this, you’ll love this. They feature female main characters struggling with the traditional beliefs of their parents’ non-native backgrounds and the fast-moving changes that they believe raising their child in America is causing. You can see my homage to American Panda here, but now I’m going to gush about Love, Hate, and Other Filters. Bonus points that I discovered through some Twitter conversation that Samira Ahmed and Gloria Chao are friends and neighbors!

LoveHateOtherFiltersOf course again, there are wonderfully realized secondary characters to talk about including the two boys in Maya’s life: the “good on paper” older Indian college student, Kareem, and the white all-American classmate that she’s been pining away for, Phil. There’s Maya’s best friend, Violet, Maya’s dentist parents, and Hina, the coolest aunt ever who has deigned to swim against the current and be an Indian American woman who has forged a career in graphic design but has not married and has never had children. But, I digress and focus on the most memorable character, the main character Maya who is in her senior year and feeling the pressure from family to go to one college and study a certain thing rather than attend another college in another state and pursue her passion of film-making. Understandably, her parents moved to the United States for more opportunities for her, but they still have traditional values and want to keep Maya safe. So whether it’s her post-graduation plans or her love life, Maya is confused and needing to work through her doubts but empower her needs and wants. Her complexity of feelings and emotions are what drive readers to follow Maya on her journey.

That journey, especially as it relates to her parental problems is by far one of the most realistic portrayals featured in the memorable quote:

“The best way to get out of this conversation is to keep my mouth shut. I totally know this, yet apparently I prefer to bang my head against the wall over and over because I think arguing can change my mother’s mind. Note to self: It can’t. It never has.”

Yeah, I remember those teenage thoughts. I know my own kids who are not yet teenagers likely think this. Every teenager thinks this and yet, the arguing still happens because everyone involved in stubborn.

And while there are any number of scenes from the book that are memorable for their romance, their realism, their beauty, I think the scene that portrays a dark reality of hatred toward Muslims is the most memorable scene. I will not go into details because readers must experience it for themselves (actually several different times throughout the story), but Ahmed builds a secondary story from intermittent italicized pages that collide with Maya’s story in a powerfully contemporary way.

Ultimately, I dislike insta-romances and while Ahmed has a saccharine romance unfolding, it was not so unbelievable. Rather, it provided a juxtaposition to the harsher elements of tradition and Islamaphobia that Maya experiences. There’s commentary on fashion, school, friendship– literally everything that exists in a teenage world. It has a calming effect but serves as a lesson and discussion for any book club wanting to dive in.

And it is so worthy of being a book club book. It hits shelves on January 16th and when American Panda arrives on shelves on February 6th, book them close together, like an awesome book pairing of peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and more chocolate, or milk and cookies (or in Maya’s case- chocolate cake).

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Covers to keep you warm or make you cold

CoverstoKeepyouWarmorMakeyouCold

Books covers to warm you up… 

AmericanPanda

Who doesn’t love hot chocolate with heaps of whipped cream?

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Patina

Running will certainly keep you warm.

Patina by Jason Reynolds

SunnySideUp

So will basking in the sun while sitting on a pool floatie like our title character, Sunny!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Invisible

But a flame can only do so much, I’m sure you’d rather than a heater than a match. Invisible by Pete Hautman

90DaysofDifferent

And there’s only one thing that will get anyone thinking of summer and that’s ice cream. 90 Days of Different by Eric Walters

Book covers to keep you cold… 

AndWeStay

Even in tights, wearing a skirt in winter is it’s own kind of chilly. And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

TheSnowChild

A little girl with snow in her her bones and beautiful (but still cold) lashes lined with frost running around the Alaskan wilderness.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Peak

I make sure I’m bundled up on my way to the car, but Peak Marcello needs more to summit Mount Everest, that’s for sure.

Peak by Roland Smith

Winterdance

And speaking of extreme sports, what about the Iditarod that Gary Paulsen ran and wrote about several times?

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen

IfYouComeSoftly

It looks beautiful, only if you’re not standing out in it.

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

 

Mei I have seconds?

MeiIHaveSeconds

Early this morning I decided that I was not going to read another book today. And that was a difficult decision (Navy or burgundy? Eggs Benedict or Belgian waffle with fresh fruit?) because I had a full day of nothing planned on vacation. I could have read more but I stopped because I wanted to end 2017 having read a stellar one.

2017-12-31 14.14.39I tweeted last night after beginning American Panda by Gloria Chao that I hadn’t giggled as much out loud in a while and I wasn’t even halfway through the book. Suffice it to say, I giggled more, but I also cried, smiled, hugged, and loved everything about this #ownvoices story, which is why I’m profiling it here though it doesn’t come out until February. I’ve done my share of lists and themed posts recently, but today I’m spending all my time on sharing my love for this one book (and it’s more than the adorable cover and fabulous chapter-opening font).

Memorable character: Mei! After all, Mei is the heroine of the story. So while I would love to profile others (boy crush Darren, older brother Xing, Mei’s mom, Nicolette, and even Xing’s future-wife Esther because they are all fully-realized characters in Chao’s book), I have “hecka heart eyes” only for Mei. She is seventeen and a freshman at MIT. She’s pre-med because that’s what her parents want for her, but she’s a germaphobe. She loves to dance but must lie that she does because she should be studying. She’s the dutiful daughter especially after the first born and only son has been disowned because he deigned to marry a woman who wouldn’t bear him children. And now she’s questioning everything from tradition to her own future but in a more concrete way.

And it is no more significant than the memorable scenes Chao offers us of Mei dancing in the Porter Room: what freedom she feels every time she lets loose in frustration or joy. A secret space where she can be who she wants to be- expectations be damned. Everyone seems to know what Mei needs except for Mei and the noise is deafening. The pressure she feels doesn’t have to be a reader who comes from a traditional Taiwanese family either because it’s a universal experience. And the book is built from these.

Including when the tables turn and Mei is patiently teaching her mother a thing or two and when a touching moment becomes a memorable quote: “‘You don’t have to pretend. You can be yourself.’ She turned her palm up and squeezed. ‘I’m learning from you. My smart girl. My American panda.’ Then she said the words I’d waited seventeen years to hear. ‘I’m proud of you.'”

The familial relationships are a deep part of the book, yet the slow romance between Mei and Darren feels grown-up. There’s no insta-romance or ridiculous proclamations, just hot chocolate and silly, nutty names that develop across the entire book. And I’m grateful for that. Like an onion, there are layers to the story and characters and Chao explores and probes delicately telling her own private story, just one story.

As readers, we can only hope that more people like Gloria Chao become writers to share their stories. This book is one of mirrors and windows: some will see themselves reflected in Mei’s story, while others are looking in the window at a life they don’t know much about. It’s a lovely example of diversity among books and one I am happy to love as hard as I do. Plus it’s excellence in execution (from the flow of the chapters to Mei’s mother’s voicemails) is the reason I stopped reading at 11am on December 31, 2017 because I couldn’t possibly top the warmth of American Panda to close out the year.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Authors, Fiction, Upcoming Releases, Young Adult

 

Best of 2017: Six sensational YA + MG

I’m going to feature two “six sensational” lists: one for YA and MG and one for adult, so stay tuned for the adult list coming in a few days. But let’s focus in on the best published in 2017, not just what I read, but specifically what was published. And it was hard. So hard. Please don’t ask me to rank them one to six, simply it is a list of the six most sensational.

The irony is that I either specifically posted about the book I picked or had it in mind when I was posting about another topic. So beside a recap of why it belongs on this list, I’m linking to the previous post too.

LongWayDown1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Here is the entire post where I featured Reynolds’ book, but he’s been making the rounds on social media and in pop culture by being featured as the sexiest author and professing the importance of poetry in turning kids on to literature. We need to listen to this voice in young adult and middle grade literature. Not only is he successful for both audiences, he inspires both youth and teachers and librarians.

GoodbyeDays2. Goodbye Days by Jeffrey Zentner

You’ll see more about Jeffrey Zentner in a post in April, since he’ll be visiting our high school library and it was after reading Goodbye Days that solidified the need for a visit. Clearly The Serpent King took everyone by storm, but to follow it up with another rock-solid, thoughtful, and contemporary story made him someone to pay attention too. Here was the original post on Goodbye Days. It makes us think about the different people we are in different situations and also the consequences of one bad decision.

whatgirlsaremadeof3. What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

I know ’em when I see ’em and I will always read Arnold’s books. They are haunting, imaginative, and unique. Not for every reader, but when they’re the right ones, it’s like magic. The post focused on the tragedy of the main character which was painful but evocative, which is obviously why it also made the National Book Award finals. The book is deep and painful like Demetrios’ Bad Romance and worth taking note.

Pashmina4. Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

While I didn’t post directly about Chanani’s graphic novel for middle grade readers, I had it in mind for the post Cover love. Specifically after reading this article on the cover development of the graphic novel. As a reader, I’m always curious about the design process for the superb covers and what went wrong when they turn out bad (and I’ll not talk about the publishers who slap the movie posters on the covers of books-turned-to-movies because UGH, I can’t even go there).

Snow&Rose5. Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

It is no secret that I’m a fan of a fairy tale retelling as evidenced by my obsession with the Beau Rivage series Sarah Cross pens. And this one was a sleeper, an ARC I received at an event that I got lost in. As with the best ones, I featured the book in this post, and think its value is in the cyclical storytelling that focused on family and friendship in a magical forest. Martin is a captivating writer that does not hide darker elements with the fluffier side of fantasy.

WordsonBathroomWalls6. Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton

Score another one for young adult novels that focus on mental health topics but the humor and engaging characters are what caught me off guard and the reason for the post on Walton’s book. Adam has schizophrenia and is dealing with everyone’s fear of him while trying to find a balance and a relationship. The character development was fully-realized from the main character through secondary characters and provided a balance of perspectives and included a very recent tragedy to demonstrate the fear society sometimes has for those with mental illness.

 

We all “gotnicced”

This post first appeared on the Times Union Books Blog.

NicStoneDearMartin

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @getnicced

When Albany High School collaborates with the New York State Writers Institute, magic always happens. It was like that in 2015, when Jason Reynolds came hot off the publication of the nationally-acclaimed All American Boys. Fast forward to 2017 and Nic Stone. A fresh-faced debut author whose book is on the short list for the Morris Award and whose book, Dear Martin, is another contemporary look at social injustice.

As she explained to an room of fans, students, educators, and community members at the New York State Museum’s Huxley Theater yesterday evening in their capstone event, she hopes people who read the book take away the message to think critically in a world too quick to tweet, overshare, and not consider the experiences of others. Likewise, her entertaining presentation included a captivating reading of the first chapter of her book along with diving in to social movements past and present, and then taking questions from the audience before signing books. She was personable and relaxed, letting the message of her book speak for itself while indulging the audience in revealing a bit about her next few projects (can’t wait!) Plus, she writes a kick-butt book personalizations that show she’s paying attention and has a style to die for, making mention of her boots she bought to prepare her for heading to the arctic tundra that is upstate New York (she grew up in Atlanta before spending three years living in Israel, then moved back to Atlanta where she currently resides with her husband and two children).

And it was a different, more personal feel for her visit to Albany High School in the afternoon. While events that have already been shared in the media did interrupt the presentation for a brief time, students’ appreciation for her style and brains had them chatting on Washington Avenue during the fire drill and picking up where we left off once we were back inside. The questions from the students ranged from personal to professional and all needed a picture with her before leaving, looking forward to reading the book if they hadn’t already. It’s evident that she is comfortable discussing the issues that her books bring up and does not shy away from sharing her thoughts and picking the brains of the teens on what they think. It’s again what she wants the message of the book to be, think about your perspective but learn from the perspectives of others.

I’m sure the same could be said for the conversation that occurred in the University at Albany class that she taught earlier in the day, making for a long day but fulfilling day with an up-and-coming author. That she shared she’s working on a middle grade novel and literary fiction makes it known that she doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon. The fact that the New York State Writers Institute grabs these authors as their stars ascend is magical and to be applauded with the hard work of staffers like Mark Koplik.

Therefore, if you haven’t yet followed the New York State Writers Institute and their array of events, do so now. Their collaborative style is beneficial to the greater community and the institutions that they partner with enriching us all. But especially when it comes to connecting students with authors for those of us who work with a teen population and want to continue to encourage a love of reading, learning, and exploring.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2017 in Authors, Blogging, Events, Young Adult

 

Scratching the surface: A-Z in 2017

As part of the #edublogclub year-long challenge to blog on education. While the official club has ended, they have shared posts to continue the journey through 2017. This week’s prompt was to create an A to Z.

Well, it is almost 2018, so why not reflect on what I read in 2017 by breaking it down alphabetically. This certainly does not even capture half of what I actually read from picture books to adult novels, but what a fun way to look back at some of the book I read this year.

American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse

Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

CiCi’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training by Joris Chamblain

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Hunted by Megan Spooner

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Jonesy by Sam Humphries

Kindred: A graphic novel adaptation by Damian Duffy

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Nowhere Girls, The by Amy Reed

Odd & True by Cat Winter

Patina by Jason Reynolds

Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts by Susan Cain

Reason You’re Alive, The by Matthew Quick

Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin

Takedown, The by Corrie Wang

Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The by Rachel Joyce

VWord: True Stories about First-Time Sex edited by Amber Keyser

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold

PaX by Sara Pennypacker

You May Already be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis

Zoboi’s American Street 

Letters

 

Thankfulness

For the past few weeks, we’ve had a display in our library that asks students and staff to share what books they’re thankful for. Those books become the feathers on our turkey. And while some simply put the title, others added why. So on Thanksgiving, let me share a few of the books I’m thankful for and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

2017-11-22 12.48.25-1

  • Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkle for all the reasons that I keep bringing up the book in blog posts.
  • Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence for it’s humor and authenticity. She captures what every book lover and/or librarian feels when we read books especially when they come at the right (or wrong) time in our lives.
  • From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty professes a need to talk about death more in our death-scared American culture so that deceitful practices and high prices can be uncovered and allow people to discover what they truly would like after death.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a contemporary classic that began the conversation about rape in young adult literature that continues to strengthen the voices of teens struggling. Plus, everyone knew the groups that she was talking about in high school from the geeks to the jocks and everyone in between.
  • Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge is a graphic novel with beautiful color and a main character wanting to find her voice as she’s growing up. So, as she’s navigating the good and bad, Gulledge gave me all the feels on every page with how she captured Paige’s internal and external feelings. Those images I will not forget and would use them as wall art they’re so creative.
  • Steam Train, Dream Train and Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Litchenheld are two of the most gorgeously illustrated, phenomenally-rhymed, and thoughtful children’s books that I had the pleasure of reading to my own boys. It was more perfect because I had one who was a fan of trains and one who was a fan of construction equipment. It couldn’t have been more perfect a match.
  • Anything by Ruta Sepetys, Erika Robuck, or Jeffrey Zentner. They spin tales like magical weavers of words and I’m lost in their significance any time I pick up a new books of theirs.

I could go on as book lovers are apt to do, so I’ll stop there and ask, what books are you thankful for?