Archive | January, 2011

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl

31 Jan


I know this book is kind of old (well, like five years old or something), but I kept hearing so much about it that I felt the need to pick it up.  The title is great, and seems to promise some romance etc…and I naively thought it would be something along the lines of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.  It is not.

Not that it isn’t a great book – it is.  I think it really captures the voice of an alienated and bullied adolescent who is also trying to be a good person and just get through high school.  It is just that Fanboy kind of annoyed me the entire time.

1.  He is really whiny and complains all the time.

2.  His whole fantasy of showing his graphic novel to an author at a comic book convention and being “discovered” is kind of dumb.  I mean, how easy is it to google “how to publish a graphic novel”.  I know Fanboy only had dial-up and it was 2005, but still…

3. The obsession with the hot perfect girl at school is kind of lame.  Fanboy gets some credit for finding Goth Girl attractive (well, post seeing her big boobs), but come on.  Why would someone like Fanboy want anything to do with the mainstream, wine-cooler-drinking  “senior goddess” Dina Jurgens?  I never found football-jock types attractive in high school. At least Goth Girl is with me on this one.

I want to read Goth Girl Rising (the sequel from Goth Girl’s point of view), as I think I will relate to it much more.

The book is hilarious, and really addresses a lot of serious stuff in an interesting way.  I think plenty of people will love it – I just feel the need to complain about the whole nerdy-boy obsessed with hot popular girl trope.  The only example of a nerdy, interesting girl going for a boringly popular guy I can think of is the beloved film Pretty In Pink.  Plus in the original ending Andie chooses Duckie over Blane, but test audiences didn’t like it.  Argh.

Nora’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Barry Lyga
Publisher: Graphia Reprint Edition (September 2007)

Lois Duncan Updated

28 Jan


This fall I finally got around to reading a Lois Duncan novel, something I never did as a teen, though I remember looking at the covers quite a bit (my first job was shelving books at a library). While the book I chose to start off with, Killing Mr. Griffin, had some moments that felt a bit dated, most of the story could have just as easily taken place in present day. I learned from a recent article in School Library Journal,* that Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is reissuing several of Duncan’s classic YA books over the next year (the first three came out Fall 2010) with updated covers and texts that are intended to modernize these stories – give the kids more cell phones and less polyester pantsuits.

I was slightly concerned from the SLJ article that the publishers were perhaps exaggerating Duncan’s involvement in the updating to appease fans of her work, but a quick visit to her website made me breathe a sigh of relief. It sounds like she has been having fun reworking her novels, making sure that the dialogue and fashion seem natural and figuring out how to add technology without losing the suspense of disconnect. As Duncan writes, “I had to find ways to disable their e-mail and have their cell phones fall into rivers or toilets.” I’m sure that she is creative enough to troubleshoot the modernization of her stories, but it would be funny if in every single updated book a character dropped their phone in a toilet causing majorly suspenseful situations. It could be her new trademark.

For my next Duncan read, I want to try reading the original novel alongside the updated version – see which works better for me, an adult reader of YA who lived through the 80s (granted not as a teen!). The titles being updated are: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, Don’t Look Behind You, Down a Dark Hall, Stranger With My Face, Summer of Fear, Daughters of Eve, Locked in Time, A Gift of Magic, and The Third Eye. Anyone out there have a favorite or an update that you’re most curious about? Has anyone read any of the new versions? What do you think of this whole 21st Century update project?

*Thanks to my mom for sharing the SLJ article with me. She is a high school librarian and an awesome lady.

The Walking Dead

24 Jan


When a good graphic novel is made into a sub-par movie (Watchmen, you know I’m talking about you, right?), I get annoyed. While I recognize that they are different mediums and thus a direct translation is not sensible, it does seem like the filmmakers have a pretty good start on their storyboards with the graphic novel itself and thus have little excuse for their inferiority. I heard about The Walking Dead graphic novel series when the TV show premiered on AMC and decided to check both the show and the graphic novels out.

Interestingly enough, the author’s introduction to the graphic novel series talks about zombie movies, as if he were creating a motion picture rather than a graphic novel. The point of his introduction, however, is to let the reader know that his series (like the best zombie movies) isn’t about being scary or spooky but about how people react to such events, how they interact, who they become, etc. This gives me hopes for more interesting character development down the line. The main story thus far is as follows: King County Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes is shot in the line of duty and ends up in a coma. He wakes to find the hospital abandoned, aside from several zombie inhabitants. After finding his home also abandoned and learning from a recently single father what happened while he was sleeping (zombie apocalypse), he sets off in search of his wife and son. After a close call in Atlanta, he is brought by the man who saved him to the woods outside the city where a band of survivors make camp while waiting for the authorities to come rescue them.

I watched the show first and just recently read the first book in the graphic novel series. Their timelines are different, both in the sense that events happen in different order in the TV show than they did in the graphic novel, but also the ending of the first season of the show does not match up with the ending of the first book in one major way. The pacing is also much different – much quicker in the graphic novel, though there is definitely more action in the show. In the graphic novel, we barely get to know Morgan Jones and Little Duane before Rick heads off to find his family, whereas the two have much more screen-time in the show and continue to be important to the plot even after Rick moves on. Another major difference is that there are many new characters in the TV series. The show adds a few people of color, only one of whom appears to be a major character in the TV series (T-Dog), and a couple of racist tough guys, one of whom (Merle Dixon) leaves you uncomfortably questioning, “would you leave him to be eaten by zombies?” It makes me wonder if I’ll come across any of these characters in future books or if they were just made for the show.

From all the attention the series has gotten and its huge fan base, I was hoping for more from the graphic novel. I enjoyed the first book for the most part, though the pacing felt a bit off – at times too fast, at times too slow – and for the supposed focus on character, I wanted a bit more insight into the main players.  I’m planning to give the second book a try, this time reading it before watching the second season. Hopefully, the second volume pulls me in more than the first. Otherwise, it may just be the TV show for me.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Robert Kirkman
Illustrator: Tony Moore
Publisher: Image Comics (2004)

There was an interesting post last week on Guys Lit Wire called Zombies: A Not-So-Brief Literary History.

The Marbury Lens

22 Jan


Jack drinks too much and ends up getting kidnapped by a nasty pervert who also happens to be a doctor.  Jack manages to escape, but the experience haunts him, and he and his best friend Connor end up doing something horrible that they can never take back.  When the two of them travel to London to look at a boarding school they might attend, things begin to really get strange.

They meet some cute English girls, but Jack also meets Henry – a bizarre person with a pair of purple glasses.  Through the glasses Jack can see another world: Marbury.  Marbury is a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of mutants and death.  In Marbury, Jack has to take care of two other boys and himself.  Connor is also there, but in Marbury he is a mutant trying to kill Jack.  Oh, and there is a ghost that is involved with both worlds.

Overall the book is well-written, and the characters are appropriately complex.   The pace and the details are great, and the author is great at building tension.  There is a lot written about the way this book seeks to examine trauma and PTSD, but I think I read it more like a teenager: for the insane violence and general mayhem.  I am sure this is going to be made into a movie – it has to, as it would work so well in the world of Matrix/Inception-type films.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (2010)

Killing Mr. Griffin

20 Jan


I remember seeing Lois Duncan’s books on the YA shelves as a kid and thinking they sounded fun and mysterious, but I’m pretty sure that I never got around to reading any of her work. So this past Fall, when I found Killing Mr. Griffin at a library book sale, I decided that 2010 would finally be me and Ms. Duncan’s year. Killing Mr. Griffin was written the year before I was born, yet aside from a few fashion choices and the absence of cell phones, the book doesn’t feel too dated. For those who have yet to read this one, basically a bunch of kids (class president, bookish good girl, jock, bad boy, and popular head cheerleader) fed up with their strict English teacher decide to teach him a lesson by kidnapping him and giving him a scare. Of course, things go wrong, Mr. Griffin dies, and the students must find a way to cover their tracks and get their stories straight when the police begin to investigate their teacher’s disappearance.

Mr. Griffin is not a teacher I would have ever wanted and knowing (from the title) that Mr. Griffin is going to end up dead makes it especially painful to read his sections of the text. I just wanted to shout out to him, “Mr. Griffin! You have to be nicer to these kids or else they’re going to kill you! Don’t you know what this book is called?!” And I felt bad for his wife, though as a reader going on the journey primarily with the teen protagonists, I also found her a bit of a nuisance once she was on the case; she just found all the holes in their stories.  I like how Duncan jumps around from character to character, so that even while Susan (the good girl) comes across as the main character and likely the most relatable one for most readers, we still get access to different viewpoints and experiences. The one thing that really hurt the reading for me were the “now let me explain this to you, dear reader” moments. This is a huge pet peeve of mine with books and other media – those moments when dialogue stops feeling natural and starts feeling expository. Chapter Ten is the true criminal in this particular book, featuring bad boy Mark’s aunt and uncle having a conversation which explains Mark’s family history. In general, I thought this was the one real weakness of the book – unnatural dialogue – but I was able to get past that and just have fun with the story and all the characters’ missteps.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Lois Duncan
Publisher: Laurel-Leaf Books (1978)

Choker

18 Jan


Cara has been a bit of a loner ever since moving away from her best and only friend Zoe as a kid. One day she chokes on a carrot in the cafeteria and attracts the attention of some mean girls who start calling her “Choker” and taunting her in the halls. When Zoe shows up at her house, on the run from problems at home, Cara happily agrees to hide her best friend in her room for a while. Zoe’s arrival brings positive changes to Cara’s world – she gets a new look, a new attitude, and soon she has not only friends, but she catches the attention and interest of her long-time crush. But there are other changes as well – one student is found dead, another is missing, and things with Zoe don’t always seem right.

This is an interesting, creepy, who-done-it story. I enjoyed Woods’ writing style, though at times I felt like the wording was a bit too suggestive, leading the reader towards a particular outcome. I actually figured out who-done-it before there was any it to be done by a who (sometime between the prologue and chapter 4). I think it was simply that early on I realized that there was only one conclusion that really made sense. In fact, I kept reading in large part because I wanted proof that I was right. This sadly made the ending a bit less exciting, though from other reviews that I have come across, most readers are surprised by the conclusion. I still enjoyed reading this one, even with the lack of surprise or mystery. I found myself wanting the best for Cara – wanting her to make friends, get the boy, and mostly for her to get busted by her parents for hiding Zoe away.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Elizabeth Woods
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 2011)

ARC received from Oblong Books & Music

33 Snowfish

16 Jan


When I picked it up, I didn’t even realize that 33 Snowfish is written by the same author as Punkzilla – Adam Rapp.  (Punkzilla is at the top of my to-read list).  Anyway, 33 Snowfish is told from the point of view of three characters: Boobie, Curl, and Custis.  Boobie is a silent pyromaniac, Curl a drug addicted prostitute, and Custis is an abused young boy who loves them.

Making up a sort of family, the three of them try to survive and protect one another.  This proves more and more difficult as they succumb to disease, the cold, and their horrible pasts.  In addition, Boobie ends up kidnapping his infant brother, and eventually it is up to Custis to keep the baby alive.

The story really focuses on Custis, who is racist, angry, and severely abused.  Yet he is also innocent and kind, and often seems like any other little kid. The book is short, brutal, and sometimes painful to read.  Overall, a great and interesting read.  A good break from all the vampires, rich kids, and dystopias.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publisher: Candlewick (2006)

The Good Neighbors
Book One: Kin

13 Jan


Life as Rue knows it has been drastically changing. Her mother has disappeared, her father is arrested on suspicion of murder, vines are overgrowing buildings throughout the city, and Rue is seeing things. Is she going crazy or is the world? Good Neighbors refers to faeries, beings which I must admit I know little about. Apparently back in the day they were referred to as good neighbors or people of peace. According to Rue’s maternal grandfather, who attempts to take temporary custody of her when her father is arrested, they were not called this because they were peaceful or good but rather because they were feared. “As they should. As they will again.” Spooky. Book One: Kin is the first installment in the Good Neighbors graphic novel series from Holly Black which, as the name suggests, sets Rue off on a journey of self-discovery as she learns about her family ties to the faerie world.

The first book in a graphic novel series has a lot of pressure on its shoulders. It has to set-up the series, keep the reader’s interest throughout, and leave them wanting more so that they will pick up the next book. Black, with significant help from Ted Naifeh’s haunting, fantastical illustrations, succeeds in this task by creating a world full of mystery, a world yet to be seen (in full at least), and a protagonist that most readers will be able to relate to on some level. The story unfolds at a nice pace, at times skipping from scene to scene and at times feeling more linear. The graphic novel medium is a perfect fit for this story and Black and Naifeh take advantage of this with dynamic spreads where the images and words join forces in telling the “complete” story. This is a great example of a graphic novel with effective use of black and white illustrations – the artistic style and lack of color fit nicely with the mysterious, at times quite dark subject matter. That being said, part of me still longs for a little color from time to time; perhaps it’s my childhood love of beautifully illustrated fairy tale picture books creating this desire for vibrant colors. I look forward to reading more in this series and other work from both Black and Naifeh.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Holly Black
Illustrator: Ted Naifeh
Publisher: Graphix

Be sure to check out artist, Ted Naifeh’s website to learn more about his work and see samples of his art.

Also, fun fact: the lettering for Good Neighbors is by John Green and the book was edited by David Levithan. Ah, good YA friends indeed.

Girl Power: the Nineties Revolution in Music

11 Jan

Alicia is back! Alicia is 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 guest posts with us here at Love YA Lit once a month!


My record collection is organized by race and gender and it pains me to say that the white male section is nearly the same size as the white women, non-white women, and non-white men’s sections combined. Clearly this is not completely accurate research, but I use this example to illustrate how dominant white male influence has been on the music industry, even in the personal collection of an educated, girl-band supporting feminist. However, the largest decade reflected in my female collection is the 90s, a pivotal decade that permanently inserted the female experience into music. From Bikini Kill to Britney Spears, Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music chronicles women’s integration into and influence on music in the 1990s and reminds us of a host of revolutionary acts that are in danger of being lost on current and future generations.

Meltzer’s manuscript is a cohesive fusion of history, advocacy and personal narrative that ultimately serves to inform. The author’s investment in her subject matter is directly attended to as she inserts her own experience into the dialogue, offering a personal experience of one girl that also reflects the unique experiences of many. I was in my formative years during the 90s, ages 12-22 to be exact, and from Madonna to Hole to Tori Amos, I discovered and defined myself by my relationship to that music. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville remains one of the most influential albums of my life – required listening for every teenage girl.

Girl Power is chock full of information and the first few chapters offer an insightful history of the riot grrrl movement and the creation of female-billed music festivals. Meltzer guides her readers through a timeline that chronicles the shift from grrrl power to girl power, the former a feminist movement reflecting girls’ concerns and the latter a marketing tool employed by the music industry to capitalize on young girls’ increased consumer presence. She also offers interesting insights on the cultural implications reflected in the changing landscape of pop music, i.e. the difference between Madonna and Britney. My only critique is to suggest that the 90s also the decade to boasted a proliferation of black female artists: Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, TLC, En Vogue. Though there are brief mentions of Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill, little attention is given to non-white artists or any genre outside of rock.

Meltzer closes with a call for community and collaboration, and a subtle hint towards girl made music – “When girls in their bedrooms around the world recognize they’re connected – via the internet, their experiences, their love of the same pop culture – they will see that the flaw in girl power is to fixate on the individual; real power will come when they decide to band together.”

Alicia’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Marisa Meltzer
Publisher: Faber & Faber (February 2010)

Note: In the book Meltzer discussed the film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains. See this movie! It is awesome and stars Diane Lane and Laura Dern when they were teens!

Girl Power Playlist from Alicia

Silent All These Years – Tori Amos
Bitch Theme – Bratmobile
This Ain’t Pleasure – L7
Rebel Girl – Bikini Kill
Drunk Butterfly – Sonic Youth
Flower – Liz Phair
Cannonball – Breeders
anonymous – Sleater Kinney
Fast As You Can – Fiona Apple
Asking For It – Hole
U.N.I.T.Y. – Queen Latifah
Only Happy When It Rains – Garbage
That I Would Be Good – Alanis Morrissette
On & On – Erykah Badu

And a few video highlights from the playlist!

The Secret Society of the Pink Crystal Ball

8 Jan


Erin Channing is super smart – she is in the running for top GPA in her class – so she should be a shoo-in for the AP Art History trip to Italy. But Erin doesn’t just need good grades to get accepted; she needs personality, character, and outside interests and she worries that she doesn’t have enough in this department to warrant her easy access to the Italy trip. Her life just isn’t that interesting. That is, until her estranged Aunt Kiki passes away, bequeathing her a Pink Crystal Ball (a la Magic 8 Ball) which seems to make things happen when she asks the ball a question. As she and her BFFs, Lindsay and Samantha, try to get the most out of this magical new tool, they realize that the consequences of using the ball are not always what they expected. And Erin realizes that she needs to figure out the mysterious rules of the Pink Crystal Ball to make sure that things don’t go horribly wrong.

This book is extremely pink – more pink than I am used to picking up at the store/library. And yes, I recognize that our blog is also very pink and in reviewing this book, I run the risk of making our site look like a Barbie website, BUT it is worth the risk as this was an incredibly fun book. I was hoping for a light read and expecting to be over-girlied (I believe I just made up a word), but was pleasantly surprised by what a page-turning read this was. There were many opportunities for the story to go Disney Channel on me – and on that note, I can totally picture this book inspiring a popular made-for-TV tween film – but it never crossed that border for me. Erin was a relatable and likable protagonist, her friendships and crush were believable and sweet, and their adventures were exciting and at times quite funny. I’m also a sucker for logic and so Erin’s working out of the rules of the magic ball was of particular interest to me. And most importantly perhaps, I love the message about embracing each other’s differences and uniqueness – I think that’s a topic that we all could take a refresher course in from time to time.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Risa Green
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire (2010)
Received from Planned Television Arts for honest review

Cover note: I love the in-your-face pinkness of the cover (the back is hot pink too) – it’s not messing around. And I really like how the crystal ball is raised a bit from the rest of the cover design; I actually made people touch it whenever I showed them the book.