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Category Archives: Young Adult

Cover Love

Covers are integral for selling a book without having to say a word (as well as titles, but that is a blog post for another day). If put on the spot, the kind of covers I drool over are Sarah Cross’ Beau Rivage series, Ellen Hopkins hardcovers, George O’Connor’s Olympains graphic novels, and standalones that capture the mood of the book like Out of Darkness and And We Stay.

So I took the opportunity to capture the beauty of a new book to be released in October that I had an advanced copy for, E.K. Johnston’s (Exit, Pursued by a Bear) That Inevitable Victorian Thing. Not only is the cover art gorgeous, when you really look at it, the artist understood the book as well. Plus, the content is an intriguing alternate history with GLBTQ characters, picturesque settings, and lovable secondary characters.

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Teens will keep interested in the content, but likely what will draw them in if a librarian isn’t there to recommend it is the cover. What other covers do you adore? I can say for certainty that I would poster-print Cross’ covers and hang as wall art if I had the wall space. Well… we are remodeling our house, so maybe this is a real possibility.

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Then, what’s really underneath it all, too? Anne Blankman shared her love for the hardcover where publishers put thought into what’s underneath. Understandably I now strip all my hardcovers to see what’s underneath. Ever done it? You should, you might be a winner! Pun intended– because the last book that I fell in love with was You May Already Be a Winner for it’s navy hardcover with a complimenting golden ribbon along the spine.

Your mission next time you’re holding a book in your hands is to take a few minutes to appreciate the design of the cover. And if it’s a hardcover, see what’s underneath it all *wink wink*.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2017 in Cover Love, Fiction, Graphic novels, Young Adult

 

They’re not just words, but a full orchestration on bathroom walls

WordsonBathroomWallsSites like Edelweiss and Netgalley that provide advanced reader copies of titles are perfect for the librarians who want to get ahead. We want to know what’s coming soon, so the books are on the next shipment in upon publication. My strategy on both sites is never say, strategic, it is more about surveying the landscape: a mix of new authors and seasoned ones, series that I follow, or topics that are trending. Oftentimes with topics and trends, it’s taking a leap of faith on new authors usually because of a snappy summary, awesome title, or eye-grabbing cover.

I can’t remember exactly why I chose to request Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton but likely it was the tag regarding mental health. Now I admit, everything related to this topic is reflected against Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep *cue book hug and swoon.* So when I got a few pages in… and then a few pages more… and then full chapters and chapters until I was ignoring everything else to finish it, I was blown away by my response to a book about a male teenager with diagnosed schizophrenia undergoing a new experimental drug and seeing a therapist while changing schools and meeting an intelligent life force in a girl named Maya.

  1. A female writer capturing the insights of a male protagonist so well that I went back twice to remind myself that she was in fact a female writer.
  2. How can this book make me laugh when the book is also seriously discussing schizophrenia in a teenager? It is a beautiful dichotomy and portrays the humanity of all, including those with a mental health issue.
  3. The familial relationships are (just one of many) very real representations of families. There are healthy adult relationships, divorce, loving parents, grandparents, new babies, broken relationships, and more.
  4. Sex. The funny, the true, the butterflies, the necessary conversations that Adam wanted to have with readers about his experiences with Maya. Adam was indeed the most memorable character, though I found Paul, Adam’s stepdad a unique voice in Adam’s narrative. The conversation in which Paul tells Adam where to find condoms in the bathroom was just perfect.
  5. I panicked at the very beginning as it is epistolary and I briefly eye-rolled at the cliche, but it worked. So well. Seeing a therapist and not wanting to talk, so he talks and takes jabs in writing. It worked. So well.
  6. It references the historical event in Newtown, Connecticut from December 2012 when a mentally unstable young man took the lives of twenty-six people: twenty school children and six adults. This was a memorable scene and quote for me as a reader

“They didn’t mean you, Adam.”

“They did, they just didn’t know they meant me.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling, when I learned what someone would say if they knew my secret. What they really thought about people with my condition. Not the fake comforting words they’d give that other people would hear. The real words in their heart. If they knew I was a threat, they’d tell me to kill myself. They’d think I was a monster.

I will tell you that I had no less than thirteen quotes, highlighted paragraphs, or bookmarked pages that I wanted to revisit once I finished reading it and plenty of experiences that Adam references that helped me better understand (albeit fictionalized but researched) a person with schizophrenia. At one point Adam discusses the very real problem of not knowing whether music playing when he’s entering a Starbucks is really playing inside the Starbucks rather than in his brain. He uses cues from other people quite frequently to filter out his brain versus reality.

Walton’s portrait is a fully-realized masterpiece that I can only compare to a symphony. Each element of story is tuned to perfection and that is a testament to her writing ability and gift for storytelling. This book has sat with me each day since reading it like others than capture a fundamental story.

So before I finish, I’ll share other recent books that capture a fundamental narrative that I advise reading:

  1. The Serpent King by Jeffrey Zentner (relationships, aspirations and goals, family)
  2. Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten (revenge, relationships)
  3. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (legacy, friendship)
  4. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (choices, family)
  5. Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist (choices, self-discovery, savvy)

FiveFundamental

 
 

Red, white, and blue titles

USA

Not necessarily red, white, and blue covers, but sharing American experiences. I realized I could write multiple posts on favorite titles (both fiction and nonfiction) that discuss the American experience, but I’ll share a few that highlight different time periods in the history of the United States of America.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America trilogy

Last year I reviewed the final book in the series, Ashes, as an appropriate, haunting, and gorgeous finale to her series highlighting the American revolution. The sisters Isabel and Ruth and the most vivid character, Curzon, delve into the harshness of the revolution, especially along color lines and the reality of those that fought for freedom and those that they left at home.

The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi

This is a young reader’s edition both sentimental and uplifting of Welles Crowther, a young man who helped rescue people inside the Twin Towers after the planes struck on September 11th. Crowther died when the towers fell, but it’s the signature red bandanna given to him at a young age that survivors were able to identify after the fact, making him a national figure that then-President Barack Obama knew. Rinaldi’s nonfiction account recognizes Crowther’s heroism and bravery.

Don Brown’s graphic novels Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans and The Great American Dust Bowl 

These graphic novels demonstrate the power of a graphic novel in that both provide a visual narrative of traumatizing and debilitating events in different parts of our country. And Brown’s rich style breaks readers’ hearts through pictures of grief and loss with several panels so bold that they’re mesmerizing.

I’ll certainly revisit the idea of books about American history in future posts, but in the meantime, learn about the revolution, dust bowl, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina with these titles in a variety of genres and formats.

 

It’s not “odd” how much I “true”-ly adore Cat Winters’ stories

It’s true that the moment I realized Cat Winters would be at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago, that I resolved to finally meet her. I had already professed my love for Cat Winters’ writing style in this blog post from April 3, 2016 and then having finished her newest Odd and True that will be due out September 12, 2017 just a week before the conference, it solidified her unique storytelling and her articulate and creative writing because after numerous books and short stories that I’ve read of hers I can say: she’s consistently awesome.

First the book, then the picture of when we finally met!

And it all starts for me in telling you when True says to a gentleman in the memorable quote: “Tell little Celia you met a polio survivor who now hunts monsters.” This summarizes both the perseverance of the sisters, Odette and Trudchen, but specifically Trudchen during a point in history in the early 1900s that polio was a debilitating disease and one had to depend on others for help.

So when Odette encourages her sister to escape away from their aunt’s home, it becomes a magical adventure. Which leads to a memorable scene: That split second decision that True makes to get on the train with Odd when Odd returns from years away and little contact. True realizes it’s now or never and gets up from her wheelchair, abandoning it for her leg braces and hightails it on the train, leaving her aunt speechless. It was True drawing a line in the sand. Yet, in second place for a memorable scene is the resolution, which would be a total spoiler if I were to really tell you, so I won’t go there!

But I will go there long enough to tell you that for me, the memorable character while equally shared among the cast of well-developed adults might just have to be the young girl we meet at the end of the story, who we learned about periodically as that thread unfolded throughout the monster-hunting adventures and allowed readers to fall in love with Odd as much as True. It was rich and heartbreaking but why Winters tells an especially captivating tale.

While I missed her at a YA authors speed dating event in the morning, I rushed to her signing on the exhibit floor where I was able to capture the moment when I finally met THE Cat Winters.

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Fangirling aside, I advise you to make yourself a cup of loose leaf tea and hunker down for a dark exploration of monsters and the motivations of one supernatural family.

 

Dear Nic Stone

DearMartinOh, how I love thee. Let me count the ways or at least count down the days until you visit our high school library this coming fall. After reading an advanced copy of your book, Dear Martin, which will grace the shelves on October 17, 2017, we are highly anticipating our students reading it en masse. It’s the timeliness of the topic and the historical significance of Justyce writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s the rich character development and the realistic situations. It’s the deceptively simple writing that is anything but simple. In a nutshell, it’s exceptionally accessible.

Memorable character: Readers are endeared to Justyce right from the beginning and his issues are our issues. But it’s when he begins to dig deeper both with his friends, family, and himself that the learning commences. We are living with and through him. What would we do in situations that he’s in? If we would be in them at all because of our skin and age. Stone eloquently posits these injustices as Justyce writes to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Memorable scene: There are several significant scenes, but the ones that stick out to me are the conversations that happen in Doc’s classroom. They read similar to a transcript and further incorporate alternative formats like Justyce’s letters to King and the narrative itself. These telling scenes provide insight into necessary conversations in understanding a variety of viewpoints: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Memorable quote: Though, one of the most memorable quotes doesn’t come from Justyce’s class discussions, instead one that takes place between him and his mom after a class discussion as Justyce is awakened to the thoughts and feelings of others: “‘Yeah. We had this discussion in class today, and… I don’t know, Ma. Everything I’m doing right now feels like a losing battle.’ She nodded. ‘Hard being a black man, ain’t it?'”

In addition to following her on Instagram, I advise teen readers to read and re-read the book, stare at the phenomenal cover, and pressure your librarians to order multiple copies to share with your friends.

 

The opposite of long

LongWayDownIt only took me half of the train ride from New York City to Albany to devour Jason Reynolds’ newest YA Long Way Down that will celebrate its book birthday October 17, 2017. Yes, we will be ordering multiple copies for our HS library. Yes, we continue to be in awe that our HS library hosted him a month after the release of his co-written All American Boys. Yes, I will read everything that this guy writes. So what’s so special about this book? I’ll start with the most..

Memorable character: By far it’s each person that walks into that elevator with Will and no, I don’t want to explain anything more other than to say that they all have their own agendas, all have their own histories, and add a deeper layer before he makes his weighty decision. Which leads to the most…

Memorable scene: Which is clearly the ending. My favorite kind of ending. The kind that ends similarly to Wink Poppy Midnight by Genevieve Tucholke or The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, which is to say darkly with a big question mark around what will happen next and, that you’re fairly certain as a reader that the author should never/could never/would never write a sequel that answers the question.

Memorable quote: And when Reynolds’ pulls off an ending like this, it’s true that the entire book was tragically and beautifully written to build the suspense and provide the motivation to do X. And surprisingly, the book is verse. I’ve followed his poetry posts on social media and know he’s gifted, so creating a novel in verse seems like a natural extension of this talent. Rather than ruin it with in-line text, here is a full-page spread in which Dani is asking Will a valuable question:

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So, what’s my advice? If you aren’t lucky enough to land an advance copy, be sure you’re the first in line on October 17th to get your own copy from your independent book store. And if you’re in charge of ordering for a YA collection, I advise you to order multiple copies. You won’t regret it.

 

Books with memories

For the last several years, I have only had a small (for a librarian) bookshelf in my home. This is not to be confused with the TBR stack that is stored in a footstool in the living room. The books that are on the bookshelf have been read and are there for very specific reasons. I’ll share a few of the backstories.

DeathwatchDeathwatch by Robb White is there because it was the first book, as a seventh and eighth grade English teacher that I recommended to a student who came back within days to tell me that it was the best book he has ever read and to thank me for recommending it. Could that have been the first inkling that I would make a good librarian? Perhaps.

Patrick Doyle is Full of Blarney by Jennifer Armstrong is shelved because it was a humorous gift received by my mentor as a middle school English teacher dealing with a particularly challenging parent and child in my first year teaching. Ah, memories I don’t wish to go back and relive, but absolutely learned from.

ThingsTheyCarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is sentimental as it was a book that a group of people spent one full year planning and implementing as a city-wide read. I am particularly proud of the months-long activities that accompanied the the book including a day at our high school library that included local veterans, art installations, and learning activities.

Stolen Lives by Bill Heller. This book has a dedication to me and another employee at the school I work in because we helped him find some answers to the questions he was seeking related to the second book in a series of investigations about a higher incidence of a specific cancer affecting graduates of our school after nuclear fallout during a rainstorm.

HarrisandMeHarris and Me by Gary Paulsen and Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White are both great examples of laugh out loud readalouds showcasing that not all stories have to be about dead parents and addiction. Instead, both are wonderful romps about kids being goofy.

And last, I would be remiss not to showcase the dozens of books I’ve amassed (and will continue to amass) when our high school library host author visits. Signed copies are the memories of a job done right and fantastic stories that highlight all that’s perfect in young adult literature.

So while I can do lists upon lists of great YA literature, which I do on this blog, I’ll highlight some of the special copies of books on my shelf.