Archive | February, 2011

Book Lovers in Haiti Post-Earthquake

28 Feb

I met Barbara when she was a student and DROP TV (Direct Revolution of Programming) producer at the non-profit where I used to work. When she graduated high school, she became our organization’s first youth Board member and we became friends (no longer stuck in our teacher/student roles). Sadly, the day came when her Student Visa had worn thin and she had to head home to Haiti. We’ve kept in touch since her departure by email and Facebook and even an occasional phone call or video chat. One day I posted an article on Facebook about a library in Queens that was throwing away “pristine” copies of books during their weeding process without allowing for staff or patrons to offer these books new homes. Barbara wrote to me infuriated by this story and told me about the situation in Haiti for library and book lovers. Knowing that Barbara is an avid reader of YA and a writer as well, I asked her to come share her thoughts and experiences here. So without further ado…

    Hello, my name is Barbara. I aspire to be everything, but mostly I really want to be a Media Mogulette. I was honored that Em wanted me to write about not having proper, well-stocked libraries in Haiti.

    My most pleasurable past time is reading. When I perish (how fatalistic of me), I dream that I will be so lucky as to do so in a library or a book store and they can place my urn on the mantlepiece surrounded by books.

    I’m a survivor of the January 12th, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. That day we lost not only a lot of people, but we also lost our cultural institutions and the very few libraries we had. Our libraries, which were already in shambles, were either completely destroyed or closed down because of financial strain.  Not having a major library leaves a deep sense of emptiness for a book addict such as myself. How am I supposed to furnish my young mind and what of my fellow citizen and books lovers and little future book lovers?

    My dream when I become Oprah rich! (I can dream) is to open and finance libraries all over this country of ours.

    I wept when I read that Jamaica was recycling their weeded books – some of which were in great condition. I was furious! I’m sure if they had looked hard enough they would have found a home for those books.

    The Haitian people went through a lot last year. They need a little escapism. When I go to the library, it’s not just a place. It’s this magical land full of wonder and adventures. Losing yourself in a book is bliss. My favorite genre right now is urban fantasy. When I escape through these characters the world melts away. It inspires me to bring my own characters to life. That is what we need as a people right now a little inspiration, relief, escape, and fun.

I’ve been sending books to Barbara this year. She lets me know when family or friends are heading to Haiti from the US and I send them books to hand off to her (shipping to Haiti is super pricey so this saves a lot of $$$!). If anyone has suggestions of favorite urban fantasy books, please let me know as it is not my most read genre.

If you are interested in helping out fellow book lovers in Haiti, consider donating to the ALA’s Haiti Library Relief efforts. The ALA is raising funds for three libraries in particular – three libraries which Barbara says “are the lifeblood of Port Au Prince”, offering cultural events and showcases of local artists in addition to lending books. Barbara (and the ALA too) also suggests Better World Books who accept book donations which they then sell and use funds raised towards their education efforts in Haiti.


25 Feb

Punkzilla is the story of fourteen-year-old Jamie, a skinny, hyper kid who went AWOL from military school and became a runaway on the streets of Portland. The book, told in a series of letters and in the first-person, follows Jamie as he tries to get to his brother in Memphis. His brother is dying of cancer, and he is a family outcast for being gay, but he is the only one Jamie thinks he can turn to for support and love.

Punkzilla recalls Jamie’s life in Portland, which includes drugs, stealing, and mild sexual encounters. It also looks back on the cruel and abusive father (“the Major”) that managed to turn away two of his three sons.

Overall this is a fast and interesting read, as Jamie is a complicated character. While his choices can often be unsettling (like doing meth and stealing), ultimately he is likable, and the reader will both fear for him, but also hope that he will find what he is looking for in life.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adam Rapp
Publisher: Candlewick (December 2010)

Fat Cat

17 Feb

Okay, so we all know I thought this was going to be a book about a fat girl who moves into a cave to lose weight. Sadly, there is no cave. Just a girl who embarks on a school-year-long science project to return to the diet and lifestyle of our hominid ancestors. She gives up processed food and driving and (spoiler alert) she loses weight! A miracle!

Most of the book is about Cat’s anger towards her former best friend Matt for doing something really bad when they were in like 6th grade or something. It is also about her best friend Amanda who is unfailingly perfect and wonderful always.  The book is also about wanting snacks and not being able to have them.

Fat Cat annoyed me, and I feel guilty because it is a perfectly good book, but reading on every page about Cat wanting a candy bar or how great Amanda was or about homemade hominid-approved pumpkin bread was just too much for me. Also, I just want to say I don’t think what Matt did was that big of a deal. So there.

This book may be well-loved by those of you who are sick of dystopias, rich kids, moral ambiguity, zombies, etc., and who just want to read a book about a very nice girl who is nice to everyone, but as I was just telling Em, I’m sick of outcasts in books being so perfectly nice and wonderful (examples: Artichoke’s Heart, Parrotfish). Sometimes outcast are total jerks too (or at least they sometimes do mean or selfish things like not share their banana bread).   So are there any YA books with mean or at least complicated fat people? 

Nora’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Robin Brande
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 2009)

The Julian Game

12 Feb

Raye is a scholarship student at a prestigious school who wants to be a part of the in crowd. When the popular Ella Parker enlists her help in getting back at her ex, the ever-so-handsome Julian Kilgarry, Raye jumps at the chance to join Ella’s inner-circle. When Raye shares her fake online persona with her, Ella convinces Raye to take revealing pictures disguised in a blue wig in order to use “Elizabeth” to seduce Julian and lead him to trouble. But when Raye falls for Julian and the feeling seems mutual, Raye feels the wrath of Ella in ways she hadn’t predicted and has to work to get her reputation and real friendships restored.

The Julian Game is both timely and timeless. Timely is the discussion of online communication and cyberbullying; timeless is the focus on the desire for reinvention and friendship. I’m surprised that there aren’t more YA books about cyberbullying or even simply about the difference between online relationships and real life ones. There are plenty of mean girl and bullying themes in YA, but I haven’t come across many (outside of Gossip Girl) that really focus in on these themes in the context of social media and the Internet. This seems much more common in TV.* I particularly like how Griffin explores how pretending to be someone you’re not online can go from the extreme of disguises and fake profiles to having a friend feed you lines to hit on a girl.

I think most readers will relate to Raye and her desire for something new and exciting in her life. Relating to her makes it even more painful when she ditches and lies to her best friend Natalya about hanging out with Ella. Ella is a fascinating character – unlike any character I have previously read – and so even though she is clearly scary and unkind, it’s not hard to imagine being drawn to her. Though at the same time, with mean girls like Ella, one always must ask, how did she get to her position of power? There is also an interesting aspect of character development with Ella that never becomes a real part of the story, a choice which I respect – that being that she wears gloves all the time and taps things with her finger (she calls the tapping her “little compulsion”). It’s refreshing to see a character with OCD as a key player in a story that is not at all about their anxiety disorder.

The one thing that made The Julian Game difficult for me to read at times, was the chat language and made up words used by the in-crowd. It’s hard reading something written by an adult in teen speak and not second-guessing the validity of the dialogue. This is something that I struggle with in reading YA, so has nothing to do with Griffin’s writing talents. (I do love the sound of the words “shì bú shì” – Ella’s frequent phrase, which she picks up in Mandarin Chinese class; it makes me wish I had an excuse to use Chinese in my day-to-day.) Even with my holdups with teen speak in literature, Griffin writes in a believable voice for the many characters who inhabit this story. On top of that, it’s a quick and enjoyable read with a fun bit of quirkiness to it.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Adele Griffin
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (2010)
Note: ARC received from author for honest review.

If you missed it back in September (Banned Books Week), be sure to check out Adele Griffin’s guest post here at Love YA Lit where she wrote about one of her favorite YA books of all times, The Chocolate War.

*interestingly enough, I happened to watch an old episode of Friday Night Lights where Lyla is cyberbullied the same week that I was reading Griffin’s novel. synchronicity is my friend.

Dirty Little Secrets

7 Feb

Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu is the story of a girl whose life is severely affected by her mother’s compulsive hoarding disorder.  Lucy spends most of her energy hiding what is happening in her home, and lives in fear of being socially ostracized by her classmates.  When Lucy comes home one night and finds her mother dead among the piles and the stench, she decides that calling 911 is not the solution.  Since the furnace stopped working anyway (meaning her mother’s body won’t rot too quickly), Lucy begins to try and clean up the mess before an outsider can find out the truth.

Omololu tells Lucy’s story with great detail and suspense.  The reader really gets a feel for what it is like to be a teenager living a double life of appearing normal but hiding a terrible situation at home.  The author worked professionally to help hoarders and their families, so this part of the book feels especially authentic.

Overall some aspects of the book seem a bit far-fetched, but Omololu manages to keep the reader grounded for the most part.  Dirty Little Secrets is a page-turner and a great read.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: C.J. Omololu
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (February 2010)


2 Feb

Ash’s mother dies when she is young and her father remarries. Soon after, he dies as well, leaving behind a world of debt. Ash’s stepmother decides that she must work off his debt in the service of the household. Faced with her stepmother’s abuse and the grief of losing her parents, Ash finds her only joy in re-reading fairy tales from the book that she once shared with her mother. She dreams that one day fairies will steal her away to the fairy world, and when she meets the fairy Sidhean, she believes that her dreams may really come true. But then she meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, and she realizes that this world, the real world, may hold some dreams for her yet.

As a child, many of my favorite picture books were fairy tales with elaborate illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky and Trina Schart Hyman. Malinda Lo’s writing for me is incredibly reminiscent of these artists’ beautifully detailed work. Lo’s exquisite writing combined with her heartfelt reworking of the classic Cinderella tale, sets Ash apart from other fairy tale retellings. In this story, it’s very clear that our “Cinderella” will determine who fills the role of “Prince” in her fairy tale and that her true love will not be the real deal, royal throne and all Prince. The fairy Sidhean serves as “fairy godmother” here, but in a much more complex, interesting, seductive, and at times scary fashion. While there is a definite familiarity of story elements from the start, Lo creates a unique tale with a storyline that reads much more natural than your usual fairy tale. The romance is more believable than the dime a dozen love-at-first-sight-happily-ever-after-the-end fairy tale relationship (don’t even get me started on the “romance” in Rumplestiltskin!). The relationship that builds between Kaisa and Ash – from friendship to love – is sweet, romantic and sexy. And it’s incredibly refreshing to see our “Cinderella” become empowered and save herself, not waiting for her knight in shining armor to swoop in and save the day.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2009)

Waiting on Wednesday
“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. One of my most anticipated upcoming releases is Huntress, a prequel to Ash.

From author Malinda Lo’s website:

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo’s highly acclaimed novel “Ash” is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the “I Ching”, and is filled with action and romance.

Set for release in April from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.