Archive | May, 2011

A Month Of Bookish Events

31 May

May has flown by and now that summer is upon us – or at least summer weather – I’m back to my audiobook listening while gardening ways (really helps pass the time and makes weeding less tedious). But before I venture out to the backyard today, I thought I’d highlight some of the great events I went to this past month (and one sneaking over from late April).

I was lucky enough to make it out of work early (thanks cool library job!) one day in late April to make it down to Oblong Books & Music for a reading with the fabulous Nnedi Okorafor. The event was part of the Chinua Achebe Center’s Africa Week program at nearby Bard College. I had recently read Okorafor’s book Zahrah The Windseeker, which is one of my absolute favorite YA fantasy novels, and so was thrilled to get the chance to hear her read from some of her other novels (Akata Witch and Who Fears Death). I left with a pile of books, so large that at the moment of book signing it inspired Okorafor to say “Wow! I really did that!” In my big pile of books was a hardcover copy of Zahrah The Windseeker, which I already own in paperback. Now to decide who to gift a copy too (I already bought copies for both my libraries and for a friend in Haiti)….

Photo borrowed from Hudson Children's Book Festival. Yup, that's my arm.

So then May came along and first up in my month of bookish events was the Hudson Children’s Book Festival which is always a fun time. I was there as a representative for the libraries that I work for and Love YA Lit, as well as recording interviews with my ten year-old buddy Quinn for our radio show on WGXC. We interviewed several authors including YA authors Laura Wiess, Jo Knowles, Terry Trueman, and Amanda Marrone. Sarah Darer Littman was the final interview of the day and was kind enough to both put up with my severe lack of energy (forgot to eat lunch, not enough coffee) and to help me rejuvenate by chatting with me for a long while about her books, her life, and her Hunger Games essay. Earlier in the day I interviewed Michael Northrop and Quinn bought his latest book Trapped. Two days later when I saw her at the radio station, she was already half way through the book. She’s confused that I haven’t read it yet. I set myself a deadline so that we can have a Michael Northrop’s Trapped focused radio show in June before she forgets what she wants to say about it! All I know so far is that she wants there to be a sequel.

Mid-way through the month I ventured down to New York City to Books of Wonder for the final stop on the Diversity in YA Spring Tour. The panel included Jacqueline Woodson, Kekla Magoon, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Malinda Lo, Neesha Meminger, Cindy Pon, and Matt de la Peña. I was excited to hear from and meet everyone, but I found myself most excited to see Jacqueline Woodson. This past year I listened to audio recordings of After Tupac and D Foster and Peace, Locomotion and both of these titles found a permanent place in my heart. I have love feelings for these books. So it was wonderful to meet her, as well as the other fabulous panelists who were all incredibly funny and smart and inspiring. Another highlight of this event is that I finally met the fabulous Steph of Steph Su Reads whose blog was one of the first book blogs that really grabbed me back when Nora and I first started talking about creating this blog and seeing who else was out there.

And finally, I didn’t make it to BEA (you know those three amazing jobs I have? sometimes it’s hard to take time off), but I did make it to the Book Blogger Convention this past Friday (thanks other cool library job!). While I didn’t have BEA as an excuse for my tiredness, I did have only 5 hours of sleep and so joined the sleepy crowd of book bloggers for a day of socializing and panel discussions. The best part of the day was meeting so many wonderful bloggers whose blogs I love (Jamie of The Perpetual Page Turner and The Broke and the Bookish, Anna of Anna Reads, Meredith of The Librarian Next Door, and so many others*). The toughest part of the day was choosing between panels and not letting my sleepiness stop me from being social. This was my first time attending BBC and it was great to spend a day connecting with and hearing from others involved in the book blogosphere. By the end of the day, I was sort of paneled out, and so was thrilled when our break out session during Blogging for a Niche Market turned into a casual conversation about books we love and our hopes and fears re: the Hunger Games movie. This was just what I needed at the end of the day and I was finally able to meet Sarah, Erin, and Jenny from Forever Young Adult and Lenore from Presenting Lenore. So all in all a great day! Special thanks to Michelle, Trish, and Rebecca for all the hard work they put into organizing the event and to all the panelists for sharing their wisdom!

*It was also nice to see April from Good Books & Good Wine again – we cross paths at author readings frequently and it was nice to see a friendly face first thing in the morning!

Turtle in Paradise

22 May

Turtle is an eleven-year-old girl living through the Great Depression. Her hopelessly romantic mother works as a live-in housekeeper, and when she takes a job with a mean lady that hates children, Turtle is sent to live with her relatives in Key West.

The Conchs of Key West live in poverty, but food grows everywhere, so at least they aren’t hungry. Turtle’s many cousins (all boys) quickly take her in, but they still won’t let her join in all their fun – she has to work to be a part of things.

Turtle in Paradise is intended for middle readers, but the writing is excellent and will appeal to older readers as well. There are tons of great details about the Great Depression and Key West, and the author (of Conch descent) provides an inside view into the culture.

Turtle herself is a dry and witty narrator, and the book is both realistic fiction, historical fiction, and an adventure novel. There are a couple of parts that seem far-fetched, but the author always manages to bring everything back to reality. A great read and highly recommended.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (May 2010)

I Am J

16 May

J is half-Jewish, half-Puerto Rican, and he was born a girl. Growing up in New York City in a small apartment, J’s parents always encouraged him to do well in school, and they don’t really mind that he is a lesbian. However, J is not a lesbian – he is a boy, and he knows his parents are not going to be happy when they find out.

J decides the cure to all his problems will be testosterone shots, but he doesn’t understand why he has to legally go to a therapist to get permission to transition. Of course, in therapy (and eventually a support group and a specialized high school for GLBTQ teens), J learns much more about being trans, the GLBTQ community, and himself. His discovery that he can openly apply to college as a trans person is especially heartening.

J’s best friend is self-centered and annoying, but she does care for J, and is ultimately supportive. J himself is a complicated and not always a likable character – therefore there is finally a book about a trans person that doesn’t show the trans person as a completely selfless saint. While some of the book can feel somewhat heavy-handed and formulaic, like there is a checklist of things that a trans teen will go through and the author had to make sure she included all of them, mostly the book is a real story and well-written. J is a genuine character, and overall his story is a fast and interesting read.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Cris Beam
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (March 2011)


9 May

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick has been compared to a one act play, and this seems pretty accurate. A mystery and thriller, the book takes place in the Arctic Circle in both the present and the past. Sig Andersson is a young boy on the brink of becoming a man. His father has dragged Sig and his sister around the top of the world, almost starving and freezing to death on multiple occasions. When the story begins in the present, we discover that Sig’s father is dead on the ice. In the past, we learn of the hardships (including the death of Sig’s mother) and the happiness Sig and his sister experienced as children.

When (in the present) a horrible man named Wolff comes to seek what he believes is rightfully his from Sig’s father, Sig is alone with his father’s dead body. The tension and fear quickly begins to escalate, and Sig is forced to make choices based on the lessons of his now-dead parents.

The story is well-paced, and the historical setting of gold/iron-rush Alaska and other Arctic towns are nicely detailed. Sig is a believable character, and his actions are unexpected. Overall this is a great read for someone who wants something quick and page-turning. It really forces the reader to think about questions of morality, weaponry, fear, and free will.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (April 2010)

Miles From Ordinary

5 May

Lacey lives with her mom and the ghost of her granddad (no, this isn’t paranormal fiction), but feels alone in the world. Since her Aunt Linda left, Lacey has had to serve as caretaker for her mother whose mental illness keeps her from living independently. But her mom has seemed better lately, and Lacey has convinced her to start working at the local grocery store. Lacey is excited to start a summer job of her own as well – at the library where her Aunt Linda used to work. On the first day of employment for Lacey and her mom, Lacey feels hopeful and excited – maybe she’ll even make a friend this summer. But as the day progresses, memories come flooding back, worry takes over, and the day turns from dream to nightmare.

I find stories – whether in book or movie form – that capture such a small time period in a character’s life, to be especially fascinating. In this case, while the story is centered on one day in Lacey’s life, we do get “more” from her via her memories of times past. Lacey is an interesting character in that she is so very alone. We learn about her through her thoughts, hopes, and memories. We are limited in what we can learn about her through her interactions with others because those interactions are few and far between. While she is able to take care of herself, it’s also clear that her mother’s mental illness has affected her (she too talks to the ghost that haunts her mother). And while my hope for her grew throughout the story, even as her hope for herself diminished, I came out at the end of the story not knowing how to feel – will she be ok? will she be emotionally or mentally scarred? will she be great? I just don’t know! But I like that. I like a book that leaves me wondering, imagining, questioning. This book was a quick read – albeit difficult at times – featuring a unique character on a day that proves to be a major turning point in her life but not in the way that she had hoped.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Carol Lynch Williams
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (March 2011)

Guest post: Jane Eyre, my heroine!

1 May

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!

You know the story; orphan girl is tormented by wicked aunt and eventually sent to a home for girls where she is treated equally as awful. Upon maturation, girl is sent to serve as a governess for the unwanted child of a stoic barrister. Girl falls in love with barrister but before they can marry discovers the skeleton in his closet – quite literally. Girl flees once again finding refuge with a minister and his sisters, until she is once again forced to leave for refusing to marry the man she loves as a brother. Ok, maybe its not exactly your average teen story, especially in Hollywood, but Jane Eyre is a modern role model more worthy of our attention than most of the mainstream media’s offerings. A timeless reflection of a young woman’s search for autonomy Jane’s journey is not unlike the path that all young women must travel.

Orphaned and left in the custody of her cruel Aunt Reed and her abusive son, Jane learns early on the difference between good and evil, as well as the consequences that await a girl who stands up for the truth. It is this commitment to Jane’s integrity and sense of morality that separates writer Moira Buffini’s interpretation of Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript from the previous 18 adaptations. Director Cary Fukanaga further distinguishes his film through artful imagery, an emotional original score composed by Dario Marianelli and performed by Jack Liebeck, and a stellar leading lady, Mia Wasikowska. The love story, between Jane and her employer, Mr. Rochester, the passionate Michael Fassbender, is secondary in this version. Instead, Fukanaga explores Jane’s relationship to solitude and the fine line that differentiates it from isolation. In doing so, he has created a site for young women to recognize the injustices of female adolescence and, thanks to a transcendent performance by Wasikowska, a teen character with traits worth emulating.

The film excels by making the isolation Jane experiences tangible. Opening with her departure from Thornfield Hall, a wide lens follows Jane as she treks across barren landscapes under gray skies, crying and collapsing. Fukanaga returns to similar moments of a solitary Jane in an empty world throughout the film but none of these images relate the unbearable sense of loneliness as the scene in the boarding school where Jane has been sent by her Aunt. In order to distract the teacher from beating her only friend, the young Jane allows her writing tablet to drop to the floor and smash. Left to stand alone on a chair in an empty room without food or water, the schools sinister headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, warns the other girls, “to withhold the hand of friendship from Jane Eyre,” deftly illustrating what young women today experience from their “Mean girl” peers.

At Thornfield, where she is employed as Governess to the unwanted child of the master of the house, Mr. Rochester, Jane’s isolation begins to evolve into a more self-governed solitude, as her only options are the elderly Mrs. Fairbanks (Dame Judi Dench) and the child she cares for. The isolation remains present in her young charge, the French-speaking Adele, for whom language is a barrier. Upon first meeting Jane, Adele confides to Jane “Nobody speaks to us,” a resounding truth for generations of unheard female voices.

The absence of choice that has defined Jane’s life and the commendable way in which she perseveres are what is most important for teen viewers to see. From an abused orphan to an alienated governess her life has not been her own, yet to the best of her ability she consistently makes choices that are in her own best interest. When she discovers Rochester’s secret, on their wedding day, she is not persuaded by his urging her to stay because, as he decides, no one would have to know. “And what about truth?” Jane asks and then she leaves. She refuses to live his lie or to live his life.

Many would say that Bronte was ahead of her time by creating a story and character that has remained so relatable to generations of women, and it’s true. But is also true that the world has not changed as much as we’d like to think. Everyday young women are overwhelmed with images and expectations that encourage conforming to traditional expectations rather than empowering them towards independence and self-discovery. Hollywood is the epi-center of this struggle where women are outnumbered both behind and in-front of the camera. By re-introducing audiences to an enduring role model, Jane Eyre reminds girls that listening to your own truth is the only way to be truly free.

This post was originally written for Sadie Magazine, an awesome online feminist magazine that we here at Love YA Lit highly suggest! Visit them online and keep an eye out for Issue 9 coming soon!