Archive | June, 2011

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Me – it’s share time

29 Jun

Today is my birthday. I was never that excited about sharing my birthday. As far as I knew, no celebrities or historical figures that I cared about were born June 29th and only a couple acquaintances. But this year, I discovered that I share my birthday with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince and fascinating human being. Collectively, we would be turning 143 today, were he still alive. And it is hard to think of an author who I would be happier to share my birthday with (though I did share my birthday party day this year with Eric Carle, who is quite the special guy!).

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born on June 29, 1900 in Lyons, France. In addition to his writing, he was a dedicated aeronaut, who crashed his planes more than once (including, likely, a crash that took his life – what exactly happened on his final flight is still a bit of a mystery). During one of his failed flights, he crashed in the Libyan desert and, along with his co-pilot, wandered around the desert searching for help for three days (starving, hallucinating, all that fun stuff). It is believed that he drew on this experience in writing The Little Prince.

I first read The Little Prince back in high school and have read it every few years ever since. It’s a beautiful little fable that never fails to entertain, make me think, and both warm and break my heart. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you get to it! And if you read it a while back, I highly encourage you to revisit it someday!

There are a couple versions of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s crash in the Libyan Desert. In one telling, he and his co-pilot’s only supplies were grapes, two oranges, and a small ration of wine. In another, they had a thermos of sweet coffee, chocolate, and a handful of crackers (which for some reason, I picture being of the animal variety). If you were to crash in the desert, what three edible/potable supplies would you like to have in your pack? Or, if you’re feeling bookish, which three books?

Guest Post: Bridesmaids

24 Jun

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!

We realize that the following film is not quite YA, but we’ll call it a crossover. Plus aren’t 30 year olds the new young adults? Nora is going to be a bridesmaid at Em’s wedding in October and we watched this film together, so it seems especially appropriate to have a review of Bridesmaids on our blog!

Bridesmaids has been all the talk among critics and audiences this summer and for good reason. Written by Kristen Wiig (SNL) and directed by Paul Feig (The Office), Bridesmaids rips the veil of “traditional femininity” off the entire getting-to-the-altar spectacle. The most common question posed about this film is “Will audiences respond to a comedy led by an entirely female cast?” Judging from box office reports, the answer is yes.

Not that we needed another reason to love Kristen Wiig, but this film gives us many. In a turn from the quirky, uncomfortable and awkward characters she has endeared us to in her tenure on SNL, Wiig’s Annie is a realistic and relatable character who slowly unravels throughout the course of the film. She has followed her passion into bankruptcy and continues to sleep with the wrong man (a hilariously douche-y Jon Hamm) while ignoring the Mr. Right-under-her-nose (Chris O’Dowd – adorable!). All the while she insists she’s fine as her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), gets sucked into the wedding whirlwind with a newer, prettier, more perfect sidekick (Rose Byrne). I can’t remember the last time I related so closely to a character. It’s hard to be the under-employed, broke, single friend – trust me.

Wiig is responsible for co-writing the script as well as some of the funniest, screen stealing moments. The entire airplane scene was worth the $10 ticket alone. Five very funny women support Wiig, but it is only Melissa McCarthy, as the sister of the groom, who succeeds in sharing the spotlight. Using her weight as a prop rather than a punch line, McCarthy brings heart and sincerity to what could have easily been a cruelly stereotypical role. By offsetting some of the traditionally feminine moments with things that are traditionally unfeminine, or at least unacceptable, like emotional breakdowns and bathroom humor, Bridesmaids attempts to present a more realistic view of marriage. Unfortunately, it also sacrifices comedic talent. Ellie Kemper (The Office) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911) are comedic gems, but in this film their talent is wasted as stereotypical archetypes of “married women”, reciting clichéd dialogue not to mention a gratuitous make-out scene. Boo. Nonetheless, as Manohla Dargis of the New York Times writes, “It’s nice to see so many actresses taking up space while making fun of something besides other women.” And, as one of two male characters in the film, O’Dowd’s honest and caring police officer who is unapologetically interested in Annie may be the Lloyd Dobbler for thirty-somethings.

What I loved most about this film was its presentation of the modern female experience and it is in this presentation that Bridesmaids was most subversive. Annie is kind of a mess but so what? Who says you’re supposed to have everything figured out and by a certain age? And since when does marriage prove that you do? For women, the markers of success have historically been a husband and a family, but now we can also add career to that list. So when you have neither, what are you left with? Annie’s journey to figure this out is painful, awkward, embarrassing and, most importantly, hilarious.

Ten Reasons Why We Love Thirteen Reasons Why + giveaway

20 Jun

Ten Reasons Why Thirteen Reasons Why makes our Top Shelf:

1. Hannah’s story is heartbreaking. Just as I’m sure many of the listeners did, we wanted to be able to change things, to save Hannah (or help her to save herself), but it was too late.

2. The book speaks to the complexity of adolescence, and to what it means to be powerful or powerless or both.

3. 13RW shows how school is a community, and how when a member of the community is in pain, or in this case commits suicide,
many may hold responsibility.

4. While there is a lot of talk about bullying and prevention of bullying, this book shows how easy it is to be a bully without even knowing what one is doing.

5. Use of outdated technology is genius. Cassette tapes are so much more tactile, more real, than digital recordings. It makes the listening more of a task (lugging around a box of tapes, finding a tape deck, pressing those buttons, flipping/changing the tapes, etc), which adds an interesting element to Hannah’s farewell assignment.

6, 7, 8. The book is suspenseful, unique, and incredibly well-written.

9, 10. Ultimately, it has a strong anti-suicide message, and it also requires serious self-reflection on the parts of the characters involved.

About the book: Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of a girl named Hannah Baker who takes her own life. But before she does, she records several cassette tapes explaining why and sends them to the people she feels pushed her toward that decision. The story is told from the point of view of Clay Jensen who spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah’s voice as his guide. He becomes a first-hand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself—a truth he never wanted to face.

Nora read 13RW in hardcover. Em listened to the audiobook. And now, there’s yet another edition to explore! In celebration of the paperback release of Thirteen Reasons Why, we are giving away two copies to two lucky winners! To enter, fill out this form by midnight July 4th. One entry per person, US residents, 13 years of age or older. Winners will be contacted by email and announced on this site.

Be sure to also check out Penguin’s 13RW Project, a place for fans of Thirteen Reasons Why to share their thoughts and stories relating to the book, and to view what other readers from all across the country have shared. Some share mini-reviews, some videos, some photos. Julia S. from Bon Ami, Texas wrote “You can learn from everything in this world, but I’ve got to say, what I got out of this book…amazing. People don’t often enough sit down and think about how we touch each other’s lives– in beautiful and destructive ways.” If you’ve read the book, we encourage you to add your thoughts to the site!

Thanks to Penguin and Big Honcho Media for inviting us to help celebrate the paperback release for Thirteen Reasons Why and the 13RW Project! And thanks to Jay Asher for writing one of our absolute favorite YA novels!

Fallen Grace

16 Jun

Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper takes place in a Dickensian 1861 London. Grace and her older sister Lily are orphans trying to survive by selling watercress, and it doesn’t help that Lily is mentally impaired. In addition, Grace just suffered through a pregnancy and the birth of a stillborn child. The midwife recommends she bury the child in the casket of a rich lady, and instructs her to go to the necropolis railway and find a suitable corpse. She meets both a kind lawyer (and brother to the dead woman whose grave Grace secretly hid her bundle in) and an unkind funeral business owner – Mrs. Unwin – at the graveyard. Both give Grace their cards, and this is where the story really takes off.

When Grace and her sister are forced out of their boarding house, Grace is forced to work as a “mute” (a pretty, grim, silent person who attends funerals) for the crooked Unwin family business. Her sister Lily is sent to work as a maid. Little do they know that the Unwins have terrible ulterior motives for employing the girls. In addition, there is more to the birth of Grace’s child than expected.

Fallen Grace is an interesting and well-researched read. The historical period works well, and the book is full of surprises and great details. For example, just the Victorian obsession with death and mourning is fascinating. The clothing rules alone – black for full mourning, purple for half-mourning etc…were complex and surely an example of successful marketing by the funeral business. It was also considered “unlucky” to keep mourning clothes, so they were to be thrown away, and new clothes were to be bought when a new death occurred.

This all sounds much more grim than it is – Grace is strong and smart, and even when faced with terrible circumstances she perseveres. The romance element of the book is good without being a central focus. Grace is an excellent character, and the author manages to tell a tragic story in a way that isn’t melodramatic or overdone.

Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Mary Hooper
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2010)

Page by Paige

14 Jun

It’s a new page in the life of Paige Turner (yes, that’s her real name and yes, her parents are writers). Her family has moved from Virginia to New York City, but Paige lives in her head. To the outside observer, she’s the red head who likes to draw. But Paige believes that somewhere inside is the real Paige – the daydreamer, the schemer, the artist. She buys a sketchbook, her first new friend in the city, and within its pages she explores this new Paige, until she’s ready to set her out into the world.

Page by Paige is a heart-warmingly expressive, debut graphic novel by Laura Lee Gulledge. What makes this novel so special are the poetic drawings – the visual interpretations of Paige’s thoughts and feelings. The artwork is imaginative, beautiful, often whimsical. I appreciate the symbolic and metaphoric artistry in this book, though it speaks far more to teenage Em than to me as an adult reader of YA (I would have eaten this up as a teen!). The relationships, however, are what really drew me in. Paige eventually finds some friends outside of her sketchbook, fellow artists and schemers, who help Paige learn to open up, trust herself and others, and to be the real Paige. Their relationships are charming and they each come across as believable individuals; no cookie-cutter characters here. Their art actions (“brought to you by the Agents of Whimsy”) are cute and at times inspiring. And although, it takes up far fewer pages, I also appreciate how Gulledge developed the relationship between Paige and her parents (who I still can’t believe named her Paige Turner), especially the mother/daughter relationship (the masks, the connect-the-dots).

Though a work of fiction, Page by Paige reads very much like a memoir, in large part because Paige Turner and Laura Lee Gulledge have many things in common – from hair color and geographic translation to artistic talent and buddies named Longo. You can learn more about Laura Lee Gulledge at her artist blog, This Illustrated Life, and more about Page by Paige at the Page by Paige blog. Both sites will definitely be of interest to readers/admirers of Page by Paige.

Bonus points for having a frame of Paige reading Y The Last Man, one of my favorite graphic novel series.

Em’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Author: Laura Lee Gulledge
Publisher: Amulet Books (May 1, 2011)

May be of interest to those who enjoyed Cecil Castellucci’s The Plain Janes and vice versa.

Don’t Stop Now

6 Jun

Lil’s pre-college summer has barely begun when she receives a voicemail from her sort-of-friend, Penny, made up of three small words: “I did it”. And Lil is pretty sure that she, and she alone, knows what “it” is. Lil is convinced that Penny has faked her own kidnapping, and is fairly certain that she is the only one who knows. Soon, Penny’s parents, the police, and eventually the FBI are calling Lil looking for answers. To avoid the pressure of her insider knowledge (including a hunch about where Penny is hiding out), Lil and her best friend Josh hit the road, heading out West in search of Penny. Along the way they stop by quirky roadside destinations, listen to a whole lot of Elvis, and contemplate if and when to cross the line from friend to boyfriend/girlfriend.

Lil and Josh are really at the center of this story, even though their “quest” is to find Penny. If it were not for guest narrator appearances by Penny at the end of several chapters, I could have easily forgotten why they were headed to Portland. Penny’s time in the role of narrator helps the reader understand what Penny is running from and to see Lil and Josh from an outsider’s POV. Otherwise, the story is told from Lil’s perspective, allowing the reader to dive inside her mind as she reflects on her feelings for Josh, what exactly this trip means for them, and what the future holds. Lil definitely spends more time contemplating her relationship with Josh than she does worrying about her missing sort-of-friend. She has, after all, had a crush on Josh for years and with college life on the horizon, it likely feels a bit like a now-or-never time for their relationship. Because our protagonists are on the road, there are very few side characters sharing page-time with them. Thankfully, Julie Halpern has written fun, friendly, believable characters that one would consider spending several days in a car with (even with Elvis on loop). In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever read contemporary YA fiction where I related so much to the protagonist and found the object of her affection so crush-worthy.

There is much to love in Don’t Stop Now – the witty dialogue and friendly banter between Lil and Josh, vicarious cross-country sightseeing, and loads of fun media references. If you’re looking for a light summer road trip read – with a small dose of serious-time and a whole lot of heart – this book may be just what you’re looking for.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Julie Halpern
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (June 7, 2011)

Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review.

June is looking pretty good

1 Jun

June is a good good month. We’ll be celebrating our blogoversary in late June, we might (fingers crossed) be seeing some of you at ALA, and Em is celebrating her birthday (and Nora a belated birthday party). Add to that an impressive selection of enticing YA book releases and we’ve got one special month! Here’s a sampling of the upcoming titles that we’re excited about (some celebrating their release today – enjoy it!):

Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Anticipated release date: 6.1.11 Poppy

    The Fug Girls’ YA debut Spoiled sounds fabulous – a nice mix of character and guilty pleasure (oh fashion, hollywood, rags to riches, secret half-sisters). Currently reading this one and enjoying it so far!

She Loves You, She Loves You Not… by Julie Anne Peters
Anticipated release date: 6.1.11 Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

    Julie Anne Peters is a great writer and it’s always nice to have more LGBTQ characters on the YA shelves. Plus it’s always interesting when a character experiences such drastic change – in this case a sudden move away from everyone and everything she knows.

Don’t Stop Now by Julie Halpern
Anticipated release date: 6.7.11 Feiwel & Friends

    Lil hits the road with her best friend who she’s been crushing on since they first met. Mix in the mystery of a missing friend, possible fake kidnapping, 80s movie references, and quirky stops along the way, and you’ve got one fun book. About half way through this one and excited for more!

Blood Red Road by Moira Young
Anticipated release date: 6.7.11 Margaret K. McElderry

    Bloggers we believe in have been reading this one and raving about it. It’s dystopian, sounds like it has a strong female protagonist, and Publisher’s Weekly’s review said the narrative voice has a Cormac McCarthy vibe. All this and more makes it sounds like a strong contender for books we both love.

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham
Anticipated release date: 6.7.11 First Second

    Em just read Level Up last night in one sitting and laughed out loud and got a little teary eyed and loved every minute of it. The basic premise is family expectations of grandeur versus doing what one loves (and if/how those two can intersect). Or in other words: video games vs. med school. There are also cute little angels trying to keep our character on the path to his destiny by doing the dishes and making flash cards and stalking him (maybe that last bit isn’t so helpful).

Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Anticipated release date: 6.7.11 HarperTeen (EDIT: had to fix the release date – it comes out sooner than I thought!!!!!)

    “2 girls + 3 guys + 1 house – parents = 10 things April and her friends did that they (definitely, maybe, probably) shouldn’t have.” (from official product description) I hate math, but I love that equation. Sarah Mlynowski joined Rachel Cohn and David Levithan this past year at an author reading I attended and her energy and story-telling convinced me that anything she writes will be a real fun time. Plus crazy times = good times and this seems like a nice, light summer read.

Hourglass by Myra McEntire
Anticipated release date: 6.14.11 Egmont USA

    Ghosts, time travel, and a whole lot of originality – at least from what we’ve heard. Hoping to start this one next week!

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
Anticipated release date: 6.14.11 Dutton Juvenile

    Have heard the words “love” and “Printz” from multiple people when talking about this upcoming title. Sisterhood, secrets, and drama. A beautiful cover doesn’t hurt either.

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
Anticipated release date: 6.14.11 Delacorte Books for Young Readers

    Boarding school boys caught in a web of lies around the drowning of a classmate and a teacher who suspects something’s up. I’m sensing a little Dead Poet’s Society and Killing Mr. Griffin vibe from this one.

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
Anticipated release date: 6.21.11 Hyperion Book CH

    Is anyone not looking forward to the second Heist Society novel? Heist Society was a surprise favorite for me in 2010 and I’m excited to see what happens next with Kat and crew.

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Anticipated release date: 6.28.11 HarperTeen

    Georgia Nicholson’s cousin Talullah takes center stage in this new series from Louise Rennison. Nora loves Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging and Em is embarrassed to admit that she has never read it (what?!). Theater camp is always funny and there is snogging and moors (who can resist a moor or snogging for that matter?)

What June releases are you most excited to read?