Archive | November, 2010


30 Nov

Cassia has grown up trusting the Society to make all of her choices for her – what to eat, what to wear, what her job will be, who she will love, and when she will die. On her 17th birthday, she is pleasantly surprised to be matched with her best friend, Xander, as ideal life mates. When she opens a file to learn more about mating guidelines and her match, Cassia sees the face of another person, a mysterious young man named Ky who is not supposed to be in the matching pool. This “glitch” increases Cassia’s curiosity and interest in Ky and opens her to the realization that the Society can and does make mistakes. When her grandfather’s 80th birthday arrives, the day in which the Society’s citizens die, she becomes aware of ways in which her family has secretly rebelled against the Society. As she explores her feelings for Ky and a poem left behind by her grandfather – a poem which is not one of the 100 poems allowed by the Society to be preserved and shared – she begins rebelling in her own ways while still questioning whether or not the Society is what is best for her and her family.

Fellow lovers of dystopias will find much familiar material in Matched – especially those who have read Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Dystopian lit is one of my favorite genres because the possibility of an increasingly oppressive future world is something that I truly fear. The trouble with Matched is that I don’t buy the Society as a possible future. Perhaps the world would have been more believable to me had more been explained, but I also appreciate that Ally Condie left plenty of room for dreaming up answers and possibilities. I enjoyed the way in which she introduced the world of the Society to the reader, little by little without explaining every last thing. That being said, there are some choices that Condie made in her world-building that I question. For example, if the Society was trying to rid its citizens of choice and creative expression, why would they save 100 poems rather than saving just a few or none at all? I also find it hard to believe that there wouldn’t be more frequent rebellions (both secret ones and ones for all to see). Perhaps we will learn more about these in the next two books?

Another thing that I wonder about is where are the people of color? From my memory of the book, no one is described as having features which would suggest that they are not White, so either the Society is racially homogenous or the Society has somehow erased the citizens’ ability to see race (the former seems more likely to me). Both of these scenarios would suggest that citizens are somehow unable to recall the history of race and civil rights struggles. This also makes me curious as to which artists made the cut in the 100 poems curation. Are June Jordan, Langston Hughes, Phillis Wheatley, Rabindranath Tagore, Pablo Neruda, etc., remembered or forgotten? And I wonder how homosexuality and disability are dealt with. Do the Society’s scientists prevent parents from giving birth to children who are differently abled (they have found a cure for color-blindness, what else have they found a “cure” for)? Are homosexual citizens forced to live a lie and/or are they left out of the match pool? Where do people outside of the norms of the Society fit in this world?

While reading I was constantly asking questions, trying to make sense of the Society, and this is what I like most about Matched. I also genuinely like most of the main characters (Cassia and her family, Ky and Xander) and Cassia’s evolution from Society-trusting to Society-rebelling young woman is written in a way that is believable and that helped me to feel a connection with her as the protagonist. While Matched offers yet another YA love triangle, I think most readers will find it hard to feel invested in Xander as a romantic option at this point in the series, even though he seems to be a sweet young man. Though, out of curiosity, I did a search for “Matched” and “Team Xander” (I am tired of teams, by the way) and found a few reviewers who are all about the Xand-man. I personally don’t feel any need for Cassia to end up with either Ky or Xander. They both seem like nice people, but should she really be limited to the two men who the Society made show up on her viewscreen? While I don’t feel a strong need to know what happens next, I am curious enough that I will likely pick up the next book in the series – perhaps even all three.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Ally Condie
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile (Nov. 30, 2010)

ARC shared via We Love YA!, a young adult ARC tour site.

Buy Nothing Day and Buying Books

26 Nov

Today is Buy Nothing Day in North America and tomorrow is International Buy Nothing Day. It is not just a day to abstain from shopping, but a day to think about our habits of consumption. And for many artists and activists it is also a day to partake in some creative culture jamming. This year, Adbusters is promoting Buy Nothing Day as part of Carnivalesque Rebellion Week, a time when culture jammers of all kinds “will disregard the illegitimate laws of consumer society. For seven nights, they will honor instead the dictates of their hearts and the demands of their conscience.” Whether or not one chooses to participate in Buy Nothing Day events or to abstain from shopping, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment out of Black Friday to think about ways to produce less waste and to think about the impact of our consumption on our world and ourselves.

My sister and I have been discussing ideas for how to encourage ourselves and our family to not go so wild with gifts at holiday time. My fiancé and I are keeping our gift registry at a minimum so as to encourage our wedding guests to give to grassroots and non-profit groups rather than buying us stuff that we don’t really need. And I’m trying to focus my consumer habits throughout the year on supporting local artisans and businesses rather than massive corporations.

As an avid reader who enjoys her personal library collection and prefers to shop locally, I am extremely grateful to have outstanding independent bookstores in my area. My neighborhood bookstore, Spotty Dog Books & Ale, as its name suggests, is a book store with a bar that serves artisanal ales and other goodies (they have a tasty hummus plate, cookies, teas, and more). They are located in a beautiful old firehouse (hence the spotty dog), have a section of the store dedicated to art supplies, and have fun events including musical performances, author talks, and trivia nights. Just a half-hour away is Nora’s neighborhood book store, Oblong Books & Music, an independent book and record store with an impressive YA section and great author events. This year we have been lucky enough to make it to a few YA Extravaganza events at Oblong including the launch party for Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution, a reading and book stamping with Suzanne Collins, and a reading/signing/talk with David Levithan, Rachel Cohn, and Sarah Mlynowski. Suzanna Hermans, manager of the Rhinebeck Store, always has great suggestions for books to check out whether on the shelves or upcoming releases. I am also lucky enough to have several excellent used book stores in my area and Friends of the library book sales that help keep me well-stocked with gently used books without making a significant dent in my savings account. Thank you to these local groups and businesses for supporting my love of books!

We Appreciate YOU!

25 Nov

It is Thanksgiving here in the USA and I’m feeling the need to share some long overdue appreciations!

We are incredibly thankful for everyone who visits our blog – both regular readers and those who just happen by. We are grateful for the book blogging community for creating opportunities for dialogue and sharing thoughtful, respectful book reviews. We appreciate the publishers, authors, and bloggers who share ARCs and books with us whether for review or for plain-old-enjoyment. And we are eternally grateful for authors who share their creative talents through inspiring and entertaining stories. Many many thanks!

I am also incredibly grateful for all that I have. I recognize that I am incredibly lucky to have my basic needs met and it hurts my heart that everyone can’t say that for themselves. I have a wonderful life filled with loving family and friends. I am grateful for the amazing non-profits and dear sweet friends who have helped make it possible for me to be involved in inspiring and creative projects. And I am grateful to all of those who work to make the world a better place for us all and for future generations.

I am grateful to my blog buddy Nora for sharing in our love of YA literature and, as I’ve mentioned before on our blog, for sharing amazingly tasty vegan meals with me. I am celebrating Thanksgiving with my parents, fiancé, and 12 of my future in-laws this year. As with every Thanksgiving since I went vegan in 1998, I am the only vegan at the table. My family (present and future) is wonderfully supportive in making several dishes vegan so that I can partake in the family feast. The one dish that I make for myself each year is Mixed Mushroom Gravy (this year I also made a cashew nut roast and cranberry sauce – yum!). So in bringing this all back to books (though not so YA)…

I want to say a special Thanksgiving thanks to Bryant Terry whose book Vegan Soul Kitchen has never done me wrong. Today I am making his Mixed Mushroom Gravy, which is both simple and delicious (my kind of recipe!). Other favorite recipes include Butternut Squash-Bartlett Pear Soup with Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds and Cajun-Creole-Spiced Tempeh Pieces with Creamy Grits. The latter dish is one of Terry’s six highlighted dishes in the book that he says “reflect the spirit of cutting, pasting, reworking, and remixing African, Caribbean, African American, Native American, and European staples, cooking techniques, and distinctive dishes to come up with something all [his] own.” In addition to his beautifully crafted recipes, Terry also incorporates poetry, music suggestions, and stories into a truly unique cookbook.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Bryant Terry
Publisher: Da Capo Press (2009)

Whether you celebrate this American holiday or not, I hope you all have a wonderful day and a tasty meal! Many thanks for all the good you contribute to the world!

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

22 Nov

I love TED Talks. I go through phases where I watch them as soon as they are posted and then there are periods of time where other activities take priority. I had been in a TED Talk slump recently, but then a Board member from my local library suggested that I check out a 2006 talk by Sir Ken Robinson (his 2010 follow-up talk is embedded below) and soon after Maggie Stiefvater posted her TEDxNASA Talk on facebook (also embedded below) and all of a sudden I’m back on board! In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, I encourage you to check out or to download the TEDTalks video podcast via iTunes. Or if you just want a taste, here is a sampling of some of my favorite talks:

Maggie Stiefvater: How Bad Teens Become Famous People

Adora Svitak: What Adults Can Learn From Kids

Erin McKean Redefines The Dictionary

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring On The Learning Revolution!

Nothing Like You

20 Nov

When we first meet Holly, she is jammed into the backseat of a car, losing her virginity to Paul, a popular guy from school who she hardly knows. She assumes it to be a one-night-stand because she’s not his type and he already has an on-again-off-again girlfriend. When Paul comes back for more, they start having secret sex in her bedroom late at night. She desperately wants to feel good – to fill the emotional void left after her mother’s death – and her relationship with Paul helps her to feel desired and loved. The sex is exciting for her at first, but their relationship becomes increasingly complicated as Holly gets to know and like Paul’s on-again girlfriend Saskia and as he proves to be creepy and controlling. And it is hard keeping things from her best friend Nils, whose relationship with Holly is seemingly platonic but hints at the possibility of becoming more.

He kissed me. And it wasn’t like last time, in the car. Last time felt wrong, but this time felt great. So funny, how something so wrong can feel so right. How before at the beach it all felt so empty, and how now, hating him and wanting him and feeling guilty about Saskia all rolled into one really wonderful feeling. (p. 56)

Holly is a complex character. The reader can feel for her and root for her, while at the same time Holly’s making some pretty awful mistakes that could hurt some of the people that she cares for the most. At some point, like Holly surely did, you just kind of wish that Paul would go away and you could forget that anything happened and Holly, Nils, and Saskia could be BFFs forever. In Nothing Like You, Strasnick sought to explore the mystique of the “other woman” – how when you develop an interest in someone, a special “other” in your crush’s life can pique your curiosity. Paul adds to Saskia’s intriguing otherness by informing Holly that she is nothing like her (hence the title). This makes Holly feel both special and insufficient, depending on which young woman Paul’s attention is directed towards. His statement also makes her wonder, who is Saskia, and if she’s nothing like Holly, who is Holly? As the two young women get to know one another, Holly realizes that they have more in common than Paul would have her believe. Saskia is sweet and it warms (yet also breaks) my heart when Holly admits to feeling love for her. Nils’ and Holly’s little clubhouse friendship is very endearing and brings up memories of fearing that romance/sex could affect “the way things are”. Paul, on the other hand, is a manipulative jerk who clearly doesn’t care about Holly or Saskia. It is frustratingly sad that Holly gets herself stuck in a situation where she is risking her friendships with two truly decent individuals by hooking up with such an awful person. Some readers may be unsatisfied with the conclusion of the story, but I respect Strasnick for staying true to her characters and concluding Holly’s journey in a realistic and not at all drawn-out way.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Lauren Strasnick
Publisher: Simon Pulse (2009)

Feel free to check out Nora’s interview with Lauren Strasnick about her latest book Her and Me and You. Strasnick is also currently the reigning champion in my informal YA book trailer competition. I find that most book trailers are reminiscent of poorly produced fan videos, while others tell far too much of the story or fail to grab my interest. Strasnick’s is cute, attention-grabbing, and sums up the plot without giving too much away. Well done, Lauren!

ReadNex Poetry Squad and Youth Media

15 Nov

Sorry that we were MIA for a while there. Time flies when you’re really busy (and hopefully having fun in the process). Nora has been tied up with her grad school courses, work, and family commitments. And I have been busy celebrating the opening of my new library and planning a conference presentation for the Multicultural Education Conference at SUNY New Paltz. My friend Tim and I offered a workshop on Youth Media as a tool for empowerment and education at this year’s conference – Tim focused on youth produced video and I focused on youth produced radio. I will include some links to some of the pieces that we shared at the end of this post.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the ReadNex Poetry Squad (i.e. the nex poets to be read about). The ReadNex are comprised of four spoken word poets/emcees (Decora, FreeFlowin, Jarabe Del Sol, Latin Translator) and a DJ (DJ H20). Tim and I reconnected with Latin at the Multicultural Education Conference last week. I first met the ReadNex Poetry Squad at a conference for youth mediators that my friend Dana was organizing and was blown away by how engaged, inspired, and downright happy the youth participants (and us adults too) seemed throughout the workshop. A year or so later, I invited them to join us at Children’s Media Project, a non-profit media arts center, to be interviewed by our students and to share some of their spoken word talent. The DROP TV (Direct Revolution of Programming) production crew that Tim worked with and the Radio Uprising production crew that I worked with recorded the event to further share with their communities.

The ReadNex are special for many reasons, but one that stands out for me is their focus on youth. Their nationally recognized Hip Hop and Spoken Word Poetry Youth Empowerment Workshop is “designed to build confidence, give an in depth understanding of poetry and use Hip-Hop as a positive medium for self–expression and public outreach.” Three young women who had been participants in a recent ReadNex workshop, attended the Youth Media presentation that Tim and I offered. The ReadNex frequently present and perform at the conference and this year they invited the youth participants to perform with them. The ReadNex also recently released their first music video off their latest album and they invited their youth workshop participants to take part in the video as actors and extras. The Youth Media field is all about creating opportunities for young people to make and share their media and to develop their skills and knowledge. The ReadNex Poetry Squad are not only talented emcees, but they are amazing allies/mentors for emerging artists. Want to learn more about the ReadNex Poetry Squad? Check out their website and latest music video:

As promised here is a sampling of the outstanding youth produced media that we shared at the conference last week! For the audio pieces, the titles link to the YouthCast web articles that feature the work.

Lanzhou Handdrawn Noodles by Xiaojuan Ke of the Chinatown Youth Radio Project
The Chinatown Youth Radio Project was a three-week intensive media project for teens run through the Asian Arts Initiative of Philadelphia. In this piece, youth radio producer Xiaojuan Ke explores a local business, Lanzhou Handdrawn Noodles. In her words:

I think food occupies an important position in the minds of the people all over the world. And I think food culture represents one of the most important traditions within Chinese culture. And Lanzhou Hand Drawn Noodle House is the first and the only hand drawn noodle house in Philadelphia Chinatown. And the skills to make hand drawn noodle are also unique and interesting. So I thought if I could make a piece on it would help people better understand the Chinese culture.

Slip of the Tongue by Adriel Luis of Youth Radio

Tim and I first came across this spoken word piece as the audio track for a video created by Karen Lum of Youth Sounds Factory, now part of the Bay Area Video Coalition. I would suggest listening to the audio first and then watching the video so as to compare how you visualize the piece to how Ms. Lum did. We shared the audio recording at the conference rather than the video poem.

Routine Check by Sami Muilenburg of Reel Grrls
I love Reel Grrls. I can’t believe that I have yet to visit them. Reel Grrls is a media production program that seeks to empower young women from diverse communities and to help them to cultivate voice and leadership at a young age. This video is another take on spoken word inspired video – following a young poet through her daily routine.

Guest Review: The Carrie Diaries

9 Nov

Our good friend Jacinta recently connected us with Alicia – a music, movie, and book lover with a critical eye and a feminist heart. A freelance artist of many talents, when opportunities arise Alicia finds herself a writer, editor, performer, radio DJ, and cultural commentator, particularly on pop culture and the media. She blogs over at pop!goesalicia and will be guest posting with us here at Love YA Lit from time to time!

Sex and the City the television series ended six years ago. One might find this hard to believe, considering the characters and the lavish lifestyles they live have been far from gone in the mainstream media. The latest installment in the SATC enterprise is The Carrie Diaries, author Candace Bushnell’s young-adult novel that introduces audiences to Carrie Bradshaw as they’ve never seen her before – 17, virginal and unsure of how to fulfill her dream becoming a writer. The young Bradshaw struggles through adolescence the same way her adult self struggled through her 30s, and with just as much, if not more, wit and insight. It’s easy to see how Carrie became Carrie as Bushnell chronicles a very real, and entertaining, teenage experience using the skills we’ve come to know her for: realistic dialogue, relatable, yet flawed, friendships and capturing the excitement and emotion of the first moments of love.

As a feminist scholar and critic, and an advocate for girl-friendly media, I was plagued by very familiar annoyances in the reading. Although adult Carrie admits in SATC (season 4, episode 17) that her father left when she was a toddler, Bushnell posits high-school Carrie as the eldest of three girls being raised by their father since their mother died a few years earlier. Although a single dad raising three young women is certainly an alternative to the status-quo, it is not more or less feminist than a mother, working full time and raising 3 daughters. And in the case of the latter, it provides something very important missing in both fiction and film – positive female role models.

The debate over Bushnell’s characters and their choices has been raging since the debut of the original series. In The Carrie Diaries, the author offers her own feminist commentary that is neither subtle, nor convincing. In a chapter dedicated to Carrie’s discovery of feminism, the 12 year old visits her local library to see her mother’s favorite (fictional) feminist Mary Gordon Clark speak. The young Bradshaw is chagrined by the woman’s gruff and judgmental manner, leaving her to ponder “How can you be a feminist when you treat other women like dirt?” An excellent question, though I’d be interested in asking Bushnell “Why all feminists must be represented as angry, elite meanies?”

Unlike her adult counterpart, whose friendships offered support, honesty and resilience in the face of obstacles, the high school Carrie is surrounded by a group of friends that are competitive, highly emotional, or just plain bitchy. Her most passionate moments include falling for a narcissistic, but gorgeous guy who eventually cheats on her with her best friend, developing her voice as a writer with the support of the Brown-attending George, and eventually being published in the school paper, with the help and support of the paper’s editor – her friend’s boyfriend.

As a lover of pop-culture and an advocate for media literacy among the youth, especially girls, I was encouraged to find the positive elements of a story that will surely resonate with a large audience. Although Carrie’s mother is absent in reality, she is ever present in the lives of her daughters, all of which are struggling to maintain her legacy while evolving into who they will be as individuals. The biting, yet quirky, humor that endeared me to Carrie on SATC punctuates the tensest moments in the novel as Carrie offers teen-appropriate insights like, “Funny always makes the bad things go away.” Unfortunately, comparing the young Carrie to the character she became on the series leaves me no less than disappointed. The Carrie created here comes out an evolved and matured being, moving forward into the next phase of her life, something that was remiss of her character when the SATC series ended, and further exacerbated in the following two films. In fact, I’d favor a film version of The Carrie Diaries over both SATC films.

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Candace Bushnell
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 2010)

Review originally posted at pop!goesalicia July 2010.

Living Dead Girl and Room

7 Nov

Living Dead Girl is a page turning, terrifying, and fascinating novel about a girl named Alice who was abducted to serve as a sex slave for Ray.  She has lived with him for five years in a nondescript apartment complex, and everyone assumes she is his daughter.

Behind closed doors Alice must do whatever Ray wants or else he threatens to harm her family.  In addition, now that Alice is going through puberty, Ray wants her to find a “replacement”.  Alice is happy to comply, and is even eager to find someone else for Ray to victimize.

What is interesting about Living Dead Girl is it investigates why abducted children (and adults) stay with their captors even though escape seems relatively easy.  It also investigates the mental processes that serve to turn the abused into an abuser.  The author makes Alice a believable and generally sympathetic character (despite her eagerness to harm someone else), and the fast paced narrative makes it impossible to not read this book in a couple of sittings.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Elizabeth Scott.
Publisher: Simon Pulse (2009)

Another book which is not YA, but may be of interest to fans of the abduction/abuse genre is RoomRoom is told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy named Jack, who has lived his whole life with his mother in Room – an 11-foot-square room in a soundproof, escape-proof shed.  His mother was abducted and impregnated by Old Nick, a faceless presence who comes each night to “visit” his mother.  Jack is safely hidden, and is mostly innocent of what is happening.

I really can’t begin to describe how well-written Room is.  Jack’s worldview is fascinating: the room and his mother are his life, and that is enough for him.  The story has nothing too graphic (despite the subject matter), but it takes many exciting turns, and is incredibly unique.

Nora’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Emma Donoghue
Publisher: Little Brown and Company (2010)

Every Time A Rainbow Dies

3 Nov

For the past four years, since his mother returned home to Jamaica to die, 16 year-old Thulani has lived a very isolated life. He shares a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother and pregnant sister-in-law, and cares for (lives for) his pigeon companions who live in a dovecote on the roof of their building. One day, from his rooftop refuge, he witnesses a woman being brutally raped and scares off her assailants. After helping her home, he can’t stop thinking about her – the one who drew him out of his isolation. He pursues her and in the process he rejoins the world.

One complex aspect of this story is Thulani’s pursuit of Ysa. Thulani is a super sweet young man, who I can’t imagine hurting a fly. Yet, as he initially begins to pursue Ysa, he follows her on the street and he watches her from a “safe” distance. His actions made me nervous not because I actually felt he posed any physical threat to Ysa, but because I worried for her emotional safety. Would she notice his stalking? Would she feel frightened? Stalking a recent victim of sexual abuse, let alone anyone, isn’t the most respectful way to try to get to know someone. But I’m glad that Williams-Garcia has Thulani make this error in judgment, because it gives Ysa the opportunity to put him in his place, allowing the author to send a message to young readers about power and consent. After this encounter, Thulani is able to win Ysa’s trust and friendship through his persistence and his willingness to let her take control and call the shots. Thulani and Ysa form an unusual bond, as two individuals who have to learn to let down the protective barriers over their hearts in order to truly share themselves with one another.

While Everytime a Rainbow Dies is a love story, it is also about connection, community, responsibility and growing up. Williams-Garcia creates a convincing sense of place, an engaging cast of supporting characters, and meaningful, believable dialogue. While not entirely uneventful, the plot feels very “every day”, so if you’re looking for intense plot arcs, you may want to look elsewhere.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Rita Williams-Garcia
Publisher: Amistad Press (2001)

On a side note, this book was banned from an elementary school in Texas back in 2004 for sexual content. While I don’t believe in book banning, I do think that this book was an odd selection for an elementary library since it is a YA title and has some fairly graphic sexual content.