Archive | November, 2011

All These Things I’ve Done

23 Nov

It’s 2083. Chocolate and coffee are illegal. Paper and water are rationed. Anya Balanchine, the 16 year old daughter of the city’s former crime boss, spends her days going to school, hanging with her best friend, avoiding her jerk of an ex, and caring for her family. Her parents are both dead – the downside of mob life – and with a bed-ridden grandmother, a little sister, and a mentally challenged older brother, Anya is the primary caregiver for her family. When her ex-boyfriend is poisoned by the black market chocolate her family manufactures, she is thrown into the spotlight and forced to think about her birthright and what it means to be Anya Balanchine. Her life is further complicated by her growing feelings for the new boy at school, whose dad is the city’s new district attorney.

What I really appreciate about this story is that it is a bit hard to categorize. The story takes place in the future, but is not quite dystopian nor is it science fiction. It’s also a story about a young woman finding her place in her mafia family, but we’re only given a taste of what this mob world is like. And of course there’s the romance, but with all the obstacles in their way and Anya’s dedication to her family, the love story rarely takes center stage. My guess is that all three of these elements will be further explored in the next book in the series, and I’m happy to take it slow.

Zevin created a fabulous cast of lead and supporting characters. Anya is a clever protagonist with a strong narrative voice. Her relationships with her immediate family members are sweet – particularly her relationship with her little sister Natty. She’s a good friend, though sadly has just one. The relationship with Win brings out a softer side of Anya, which is probably good for her given what she goes through during the course of this book. She needs a break, and Win seems to give her some nice moments of escape, where she can breathe easy for a second and feel like a regular teenager. This is not to say that their relationship isn’t without complications. His father, the district attorney, would of course prefer that they not be together (though he is very nice about this), and her connections to the mafia can (and do) put anyone she’s close to in danger. Despite all the obstacles, I feel hopeful for these two.

The setting is fascinating – New York City, 72 years in the future. I love a good futuristic, real world setting where there are no flying cars or hover vehicles! The setting was believable and it was fun to see how Zevin used the city as inspiration for her future world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art turned night club and the (mostly) abandoned Coney Island, were two particularly well incorporated settings. The only setting/section that didn’t impress me were the scenes at Liberty, a juvenile facility that Anya is sent to while she’s awaiting trial for the poisoning of her ex-boyfriend. The scenes here felt formulaic and I was glad when Anya’s story moved on.

My only real disappointment with All These Things I’ve Done has more to do with marketing than Zevin’s delivery. With a dripping chocolate heart on the cover and the illegality of chocolate and caffeine highlighted in the book description, I expected the story to elicit stronger olfactory responses or memories. There’s this coffee shop in my town, where they roast their own beans, and after a visit I carry the smell of roasted coffee around with me all day. While this is perhaps a lot to ask of a book, I really hoped that the chocolate and coffee would ooze out of the pages. They did not.

All These Things I’ve Done is the first book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series. The book works well as a stand-alone, which is something that I always appreciate in a series book. While the story comes to a close with some loose ends left dangling for book two, we do get some closure in the end and a pretty fabulous final scene. Even without a big cliffhanger of an ending, Zevin has created a world, characters, and conflicts that will easily leave readers wanting more.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 2011)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review.

All The Kingdoms of the World (working title), which sounds like it will be full of adventure.


19 Nov

Beatrice has lived her entire life as a part of the Abnegation faction of her city (a ruined dystopia which was formerly Chicago).  Abnegation values thinking of others before the self, and everything is about forgetting selfish needs and desires.  The other four factions are Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice longs to escape the confines of selfless living, and she knows on her sixteenth birthday she will be able to choose another faction.  The only problem is that if she chooses to leave Abnegation she can never come back, and she will almost never see her family again. The day comes for her to choose between staying with her family and being true to herself, and her choice leads her to a competitive and grueling initiation where she must figure out who her friends are and keep the truth about herself a secret.

The Hype

Nora: So Divergent is hyped as the next Hunger Games, and for the most part I thought it lived up to the buzz.  It isn’t as powerful or resonating as Hunger Games, but it is almost as exciting.  

Em: I think this new series has great potential, but I’m not sure if it will rival The Hunger Games for me (which is ok, not all books have to be that good). The big difference between the two first installments of these two dystopian YA series is that Divergent felt more like a set up for the series than a solid book in itself, whereas The Hunger Games could stand alone without the next two books. So much of Divergent was focused on initiation and it wasn’t until the very end that we get deep into the conflict. It is a great lead up to the second book, but I guess I wish it was a great lead up to the middle of the first book instead.  

That being said, Roth did a great job of creating characters and conflict that I want to see further developed in Insurgent (the next book in the series). And I enjoyed the world-building even though I didn’t buy the premise. I still want to learn more about how this society works (or doesn’t work) and what the world outside of the city is like. I’m also hopeful that Roth won’t turn the series into a love-centered storyline – I loved The Hunger Games, but once it became all Team Gale vs. Team Peeta, I kind of gagged a little. 

Nora: I agree that the love triangle part of The Hunger Games is one of the weaker parts of the story. I do think that it will work better in the movie…sometimes I need a visual to get the story. With Divergent I actually like the romance element. I think the boys are way more interesting than Peeta and Gale.


Em: Tris (Beatrice) is a solid protagonist. She’s complex. She has flaws. She’s tough, but not without her soft-side. And I love her relationship with Four – it seems natural and not too soppy – no insta-love here. All the other side characters are pretty fascinating too – from Tris’ parents and brother to friends Christina and Will and of course Peter who could prove to be a favorite character (not in a let’s be friends kind of way). Character development is a real strong point in this series thus far, and I am excited to carry forward with those that made it through book one (yup, Roth can be brutal, and I appreciate that!).

Nora: Beatrice is a little too self-doubting for me. I would like it if she got angrier, and was more complex with her actions and emotions. I also think it is a weakness that the characters can’t really interact with their families after they divide into factions. I just didn’t feel like Roth did a good job justifying why they had to separate completely from their families.

The Sorting Hat

Nora: My favorite thing is the Harry Potter-esque way in which one can sort oneself and their friends into the different houses – sorry I mean faction.  I think I am either Amity or Erudite. I could NEVER be Dauntless – all those paths that lack railings and jumping on and off of moving trains would kill me instantly – my ankle still hurts after spraining it horseback riding six years ago, so there is no way I could make it through combat training and all the other stuff they do. And Abnegation? Well, the details make Abnegation seem like a crazy religious cult where there aren’t any mirrors and people wear gray sack-like outfits. Not for me. 

Em: We can be faction roomies! If I had to choose a faction, I’d either go Amity or Erudite (though I think factions are stupid). But I’m definitely Divergent. When I take those Myers-Briggs style tests, I’m always split down the middle on the various traits. But Myers-Briggs says I’m an ideal teacher, so I guess I should go Erudite and then secretly be true to my Divergent self.

Nora: Let’s go for Erudite. We can just be nice on the side when we feel like it, but it won’t be a constant requirement.

Final Words

Em: While the story is at times reminiscent of previous dystopian novels (The Giver and The Hunger Games in particular), the writing, character development, and overall action make Divergent stand out. This is an impressive debut from Veronica Roth with great potential for being an exciting series. I will definitely pick up Insurgent and highly suggest that you give Divergent a try, if you haven’t already. 

Nora: I agree. I think it is worth reading, and is for the most part exciting and engaging. I wish more boundaries were being pushed though.

Em’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Nora’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: HarperTeen (May 2011)

Note: ARCs received from April at Good Books and Good Wine and from publisher for honest review.

Shatter Me

17 Nov

Juliette’s touch is lethal. She has been kept in isolation by the Reestablishment for several months. She thinks this is because she’s a danger to society, what with her life-draining touch and all. When a young man is thrown into her room, everything changes. Eventually, she learns what the Reestablishment has in mind for her and she is taken to a mansion-y place where she’s forced to wear gowns and eat tasty food (which doesn’t sound so bad, but is quite extravagant in this devastated future world). While the leader of the Reestablishment, Warner, tries to convince her to play for his team by being his weapon of torture, Juliet begins to figure out what she wants and who she can trust.

Shatter Me is plugged as The Hunger Games meets X-Men. I get the X-Men connection, since her super powers are reminiscent of those of X-Men’s Rogue, but I don’t see the Hunger Games connection. Sure Shatter Me is considered a dystopian novel, but it’s really more of a paranormal romance set in a future world that kind of sucks. Call that dystopian if you want, but it’s no The Hunger Games. Anyway, I’m a huge X-Men fan and love a good story about a character with super powers, so I enjoyed that aspect of Shatter Me. I hope that in the next book the character development focuses more on her exploration of her super power and less on her wanting to touch her boyfriend all the time (not that there is anything wrong with that).

What worked best for me in Shatter Me were the action scenes, though they were few and far between. I really enjoyed the opening chapters and how we were introduced to Juliette and the solitary environment that has been her home for the past 264 days. And I was intrigued by the final chapters and where it looks like Mafi will be taking us in the next book. Juliette’s super power is more complicated than at first it seems, and the moments where Mafi gives us a taste of what her special abilities could be are exciting.

What I struggled with the most was the writing style, which interestingly is what so many fellow bloggers out there love the most about Shatter Me. Mafi is a lover of metaphors. They overwhelm each page and at times they are nonsensical. She also uses the strike-through frequently, especially at the beginning of the story, as a way to show Juliette’s inner thought editing process. While this didn’t distract me to the extent that the overuse of metaphors did, it didn’t do much for me either, and I often thought the words would have been just as meaningful on the page without the strike-through. The dialogue, in particular the conversations between Juliette and Warner, often came across as scripted rather than natural and at times the conversations and narration felt redundant.

I also didn’t fall in love with the characters. That’s not to say that I didn’t root for Juliette and Adam, nor that I didn’t despise Warner (in that “I kind of like you as a character” way). They all just never felt that real to me, so it was hard to feel a strong connection. And for a romance that wasn’t quite insta-love, it still had me rolling my eyes frequently. At least the romantic interest for our main character is a nice guy! Though maybe the problem for me is that Juliette & Adam are both a little too nice.

Shatter Me didn’t really work for me. That’s not to say that there weren’t aspects that I appreciated nor that I don’t think you will enjoy it. If you like your language flowery, and you like some steamy make-out scenes that don’t move past a PG-13 rating, and a protagonist with a complicated and potentially lethal super power, this book may be right up your alley.

Em’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publisher: Harper Teen (November 2011)
Note: Reviewed from ARC passed on to me by local bookseller

Cover Commentary: This is one cover with a model in a fancy dress that I actually don’t mind! The dress is a little bizarre (is that a front bustle?), but at least there’s a significant section of the story where Juliette is forced to wear gowns. I also think the model looks tough as nails, which is how I pictured Juliette.

Stages on Pages

14 Nov

I attended the Stages On Pages tour stop at Oblong Books yesterday. The Stages On Pages tour features authors whose latest releases focus on young performing artists or who are performing artists themselves (in most cases, both!). Taking the stage in Rhinebeck were Sheela Chari (Vanished), Gretchen McNeil (Possess), Stasia Ward Kehoe (Audition), Rosanne Parry (Second Fiddle), and Jessica Martinez (Virtuosity).

Jessica Martinez started off the event playing a beautiful violin solo, and it is killing me that I can’t remember the name of the piece (not even the composer’s name). Regardless, it was lovely and I was jealous and impressed all at the same time. Jessica also gets some major points for peer pressuring Gretchen McNeil into singing for us. Gretchen was the one author in attendance whose book is not centered around a performing artist (unless banishing demons counts as both art and performance – could happen), but as with the other authors in attendance she is trained in a performance art (in her case opera). She made a very convincing argument as to how opera training aided her in writing her first novel – how opera is a form of storytelling and the value of showing rather than telling. Anyway, in addition to writing, she performs with Cirque Berzerk, which looks AMAZING. If I make it to ALA annual this year, I will have to catch a show!

So on to the books! The two middle grade titles represented at this event were Vanished by Sheela Chari and Second Fiddle by Rosanne Parry. Vanished, sporting a lovely cover design by artist Jon Klassen, is a mystery featuring a young Indian-American girl whose veena (a classical Indian stringed instrument) disappears. The veena is of special importance to me, because my host-sister in India from my semester abroad was named after the instrument. While the book doesn’t take place in Bangalore (the city where I lived and where Sheela was born), there is a portion of the book that takes place in South India, so I’m very excited to see a familiar bit of India in these pages. Second Fiddle is a historical fiction novel taking us way way way back in time to 1990 (ha!) Berlin, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Three friends (who comprise a string trio) witness a terrible crime on their way home from a music lesson one day and find themselves in quite the adventure, involving the KGB, the French National Police, and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. I’m definitely planning to share both of these titles with my tween radio co-hosts, who are quite the performing artists themselves!

The YA titles represented at this stop include a verse novel about a young dancer attending a prestigious ballet school (Audition), a contemporary romance about a violin virtuoso addicted to anti-anxiety meds who falls for her stiffest competitor (Virtuosity), and a horror story about a young exorcist (Possess). So Possess is clearly the one title not centered on performance art, though apparently there is one scene involving demon possession and a church choir (or something like that). Both Stasia Ward Kehoe and Jessica Martinez wrote from experience in their given performance art (Stasia – dance, Jessica – violin), though neither story is autobiographical. All three titles sounds fabulous. It is hard to know where to start!

So yes, I bought all five books. And in case five new books weren’t enough to make my shelves overflow with goodness, I also was lucky enough to win a sweet little prize pack from Little, Brown and Company that includes ARCs for Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler featuring art by Maira Kalman and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (the prize pack came with candy hearts and MadLibs-style letters from the editor of each book – the same letter but with words interchanged – one addressed to “Loverlorn Skeptics and Heartbreak Survivors” and the other to “Fellow Optimists and Hopeless Romantics”). Very cute. And I also took home an ARC for Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard which is a travel story set in Central America that sounds fabulous! So all in all, I left with plenty of great books to add to my already overflowing shelves (I can’t complain).

Me, my cool sweatshirt, and my sister love the piano.

Speaking of performing arts, I’m curious: do any of you have secret (or not so secret) talents in one or more of the performing arts? I dabbled in quite a few performance arts as a kid (dance, theatre, singing), but the only one that stuck was piano, and my piano playing was always more “personal art” than “performance art” seeing as I rarely played for anyone unless I had to. The strangest thing I ever did as a pianist was perform in a Piano Monster Concert, which had me and my friend Gayle playing duets with several other duos at the same time (so picture 12 grand pianos on a stage with 24 young pianists banging away at the keys at the same time). Very fun, very loud, very ridiculous. How about you? Any performing artists out there?

Guest Review: Girls Town

11 Nov

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!

“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? …for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” – Audre Lorde

Patti (Lili Taylor), Angela (Bruklin Harris), Emma (Anna Grace) and Nikki (Aunjanue Ellis) are best friends on the cusp of graduating high school when suddenly, and for seemingly no reason, Nikki commits suicide. Heartbroken and confused the girls seek out a reason for their friend’s death and in the pages of her journal discover that she had been raped. The rest of the film documents each girls’ personal struggle and their cohesive desire for retaliation.

This film is special for many reasons the primary being the honest way it confronts rape and the way it effects each girl individually as well as in the larger cultural narrative. No one person can speak about rape in a way that is all inclusive but the Girls Town script is fresh, organic and likely to strike a chord with many female viewers. (note: many of the scenes were improvised earning Taylor, Harris and Grace writing credits in addition to Denise Caruso and Jim McKay). As a director, Jim McKay’s understanding of, or at least respect for, the repercussions of this type of violence is communicated by creative and powerful cinematic choices. So often we see sexual attacks on the screen and it is painful, almost unnecessary, to watch. McKay opts to leave out the details of Nikki’s rape but opens his film with a monologue of sorts: the camera follows Nikki as she walks down the street in her neighborhood and instead of words or music we hear the sounds of her struggle during the attack. This poignant foreshadowing immediately connects us to Nikki. More importantly it reflects the deeply psychological effects rape has upon an individual. Is this what she hears in her head? What does she see when she closes her eyes? How can she live with this secret?

The culture of silence around rape is immense, but fragile. Which is why it crumbles so easily once it has been pierced. The discovery of Nikki’s rape leads Emma to admit that she was also raped…by her boyfriend. This sets off an intense discussion among the girls about their own relationships with men and the choices and responsibilities their gender holds them accountable for. The reality is stark and aptly summed up by Patti who bluntly responds to Emma’s admission: “What did you expect? They want to have sex with you; you don’t want to have sex with them, they’re going to fuck you anyway. You call that rape and I’ve been raped by pretty much every guy I been with.” It’s a hard truth to hear especially because it reflects a sad reality. So, let me follow it up with another pertinent truth, one that is much less heard in the dominant narrative, by the amazing Jess Valenti: “[Being] responsible has nothing to do with being raped. Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”

This conversation between the girls introduces the anger that has lived inside them that this event has now given voice to. In the image of a GenX Foxfire they begin to confront the violence they are subjected to and the people who perpetrate it. As exciting and important as it is to see these girls become active agents in their own lives, it was equally valuable to watch the girls struggle with their anger and how to move through it towards a place of deeper insight. The most interesting reflection of this process is when Patti directly confronts a guy who is verbally harassing her on the street. When she runs into him again he addresses her respectfully, apologizes, and owns his behavior. Relating the story to her friends she is met with resistance and cynicism about his sincerity to which Patti replies, “He listened to me.” Privilege is hard to resist and accountability, unfortunately, is not a common trait in Americans. However, attending to these issues on screen is reflective of a cultural shift that is necessary for evolution.

As I said, this film is special. For giving voice to a cultural silence, for showing girls being angry and brave and hurt and sad and powerful and finally, for sharing an element of healing imperative to our future.

The Scorpio Races: Review and Giveaway!

8 Nov

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” This is how it has always been on the island of Thisby. The annual Scorpio Races bring tourists to the island and blood to the shore. What makes the races so deadly is also what makes the island so unique – the capaill uisce, the flesh-eating water horses who are captured, trained and raced by locals each year. For four-time winner (six-time survivor) Sean Kendrick, this year’s race is especially important because ownership of his beloved capaill uisce, Corr, is on the line. And for Kate “Puck” Connolly, the first woman to ever enter The Scorpio Races, and the only participant riding a regular land horse, a win would help keep her family together on the island she loves.

Sean and Puck’s story is a love story. There is a little romance, but it’s also about the love and respect between rider and horse, familial love, and the love for one’s home. The romance is subtle, slow-growing, and based in respect and understanding. It’s the kind of romance that I not only buy, but eat up.

The story alternates (more or less) between Sean and Puck, with their stories eventually overlapping and joining. Both are complex characters. Sean is a man of few words (“the dead speak more than he does”) who can communicate with the horses in a way that is beyond compare. Puck may have been born out of a vinegar bottle (as one family story goes) but her sweetness shines through in her interactions with her brother Finn. The growth of both characters as individuals and in their relationship throughout the training season is as intensely interesting as the races themselves.

The Scorpio Races will get your heart racing. While the love story is part of this, the major player is the powerful and deadly capaill uisce. The capaill uisce are inspired by mythology, though Stiefvater took some much appreciated liberties with the story. We know from the start how dangerous these creatures are – both of our main characters were left orphaned by incidents with water horses – and we are reminded time and time again of their power. There was seldom a moment where I felt at ease while reading; danger seemed to lurk behind each page.

I would be remiss not to mention the beautiful writing in The Scorpio Races. Friends and colleagues had forewarned me that Stiefvater had a way with words, and I must say that I was truly impressed. Her writing is concise yet complete, with the meaning in each sentence far outweighing the number of words. And the island and its water horses, though stained with blood, are rendered so beautifully that you almost want to be there next November. Almost.

Em’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic (October 2011)
Note: ARC received from publisher for honest review.

film/animation history lessons.

[UPDATED 11/15/11] Thanks to Big Honcho Media and This Is Teen, we had two copies of the fabulous The Scorpio Races to give away to two lucky winners! And the lucky winners are Juhina and Natalie! I’ve sent the winners an email, so please keep a look out!

November Highly Anticipated Releases

1 Nov

Some months, the number of YA releases that I’m excited for far outweigh the number of weeks in the month. This month, however, there are four titles that I’m especially looking forward to reading. Four is a very good number.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
HarperTeen: November 15, 2011

    Everyone is raving about this debut novel. Shatter Me mixes two things I love in my books – dystopian societies and super powers. Not to mention, Mafi’s writing is said to be (amongst other fine things) beautiful and poetic. I do worry a bit about whether or not the main character’s power, or at least the drawback to her power, will read too familiar (the danger of touch immediately brings to mind Rogue from X-Men), but I’m still planning to give this one a try.

Mangaman by Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children: November 15, 2011

    I’ve never been able to get into manga. I want to, but I have yet to find the right start. Perhaps this little mash-up of a graphic novel will ease me in. In the latest from Barry Lyga, a manga character from a manga world falls through “the Rip” into the “real” world. An outsider in this world, Ryoko struggles to find his way home and with his growing feelings for a girl from “the wrong kind of comic”.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Razorbill: November 21, 2011

    I would read anything written by Jay Asher or Carolyn Mackler. Set in 1996, two teens, Josh and Emma, install AOL on a computer and get a glimpse of what’s to come when they are automatically logged into the facebook pages of their future selves. I wonder if this book will speak more to adult readers of YA, who remember the early days of Internet, than it will to today’s teens? Perhaps I’ll have to book club this one with some teens to find out.

Legend by Marie Lu
Putnam Juvenile: November 29, 2011

    And here’s another November-release dystopian debut that I’m excited about! When one of the Republic’s most gifted soldiers (June) and one of the Republic’s most wanted criminals (Day) cross paths, the Republic best watch their backs. Legend sounds action-packed and violent. It seems like it has a little star-crossed lovers thing going for it too, seeing as Day is wanted for the murder of June’s brother (“a boy like that, who’d kill your brother”).

What November releases are you most excited about?