November 28, 2011

Video Monday: Verbal Voguing

by renata

I’m not even going to apologize for being a bad blogger lately. You don’t own me!

Anyway, rather than post a teeny-bopper song this Monday, I thought I would instead share the ever-hilarious Louis Virtel’s thoughts on today’s collection of teen hearthrobs.

“Miley Cyrus, Kevin Jonas, Scar… all those Disney villains look the same to me.”

November 16, 2011

Review: The Future of Us

by renata

All right! It’s been a minute since I actually reviewed a book around here! The reason why is: I BEEN BUSY.

But whatever! This book has been sitting on my shelf since I got an ARC in July and I finally read it!

The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

The Future of Us takes place in 1996. Emma Nelson has just gotten her very first computer, and she installs AOL on it. But somehow, her computer connects her… to the future. AOL sends her to some weird website called Facebook. She doesn’t really get why this Emma Nelson Jones person, who kind of looks like her, but older, is sharing such inane details about her life on the internet. Eventually she becomes convinced that she’s looking at her own future, and it looks like her marriage is not a happy one. Her next door neighbor and erstwhile best friend, Josh, comes over to check out the new computer. They find him on Facebook, too, and discover that in the future, Josh is married to Sydney Mills, pretty much the hottest girl in school. She’s never spoken two words to Josh, but Josh is perfectly happy with the idea of someday marrying her.

Every day, Emma and Josh come home to check out their Facebook futures, which change slightly based on their actions in the present. Emma is desperately trying to find a way to fix her future, while Josh is just trying to figure out what he can do to start dating Sydney.

Can you guess what happens in the end? Did you guess that Emma and Josh start dating? You are correct, but it’s still a cute ending. Also, future Emma deletes her Facebook profile, so they can’t spy on their future anymore.

Overall, this was a really fun book to read! I suspect that adults in their 20s and 30s might enjoy this more than actual young adults. I had a lot of fun nostalgia reading about Emma deliberating over which Windows 95 screensaver to pick, or Emma’s mom kicking her off the internet so she could make a phone call. Kids these days probably won’t relate to the trials of growing up in the 90s, although they’ll probably get a kick out of Josh and Emma’s bewilderment over Facebook. Emma and Josh’s confused, flirty relationship felt real to me, as did their other high school drama.

I give The Future of Us four likes out of a possible five.

November 7, 2011

Music Monday: Round and Round

by renata

YOU GUYS, if this video does not make you want to immediately go out and buy a tan trenchcoat and giant sunglasses, then you must already own a tan trenchcoat and giant sunglasses.

Seriously, Selena Gomez is the coolest ever.

That is all.

November 3, 2011

Race in YA Fantasy

by renata

This morning I went to a talk by one of my professors on the subject of Race and Fantasy Literature for Youth. Her talk was fascinating, and she provided us with a suggested reading list. These books provide a variety of perspectives on race in fantasy. Some authors use fantasy to talk metaphorically about race relations. Other authors more closely reflect actual race relations but use fantastic elements to subvert or otherwise explore race. I haven’t read any of these books (though I have read other works by some of these authors), but after hearing about them I want to read all of them!

I’m just going to provide the Amazon links and summaries for these, since I haven’t read them. This list of suggested reading was prepared by Dr. Kate McDowell and is part of the reading list for her YA Fantasy Literature course at UIUC.

Watersmeet

Ellen Abbott, Watersmeet.

From her birth, Abisina has been outcast–for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe. But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known. In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.

Malorie Blackman, Black and White. (Called Naughts and Crosses in the UK.)

True enemies. False hope.

Sephy is part of the ruling class. Callum is considered a second-class citizen. They have been friends all their lives, since before there were barriers and boundaries. Now, things are different — they have to meet in secret, as hate and violence seethe dangerously close to the surface of their society’s fragile order.

Once, Sephy and Callum thought they had to proect their love; now, they must defend their very lives….

Joseph Bruchac, Skeleton Man.

Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? What are her dreams of the Skeleton Man trying to tell her? There’s one thing Molly does know. She needs to find some answers before it’s too late.

Nancy Farmer, The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm.

In Zimbabwe in 2194, General Matsika calls in Africa’s most unusual detectives – “the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm” – to find his missing children.

Virginia Hamilton, The House of Dies Drear.

The house held secrets, Thomas knew, even before he first saw it looming gray and massive on its ledge of rock. It had a century-old legend — two fugitive slaves had been killed by bounty hunters after leaving its passageways, and Dies Drear himself, the abolitionist who had made the house into a station on the Underground Railroad, had been murdered there. The ghosts of the three were said to walk its rooms….

Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness.

For fifteen years, Reason Cansino has lived on the run.Together with her mother, Sarafina, she has moved from one place to another in the Australian countryside, desperate not to be found by Reason’s grandmother Esmeralda, a dangerous woman who believes in magic. But the moment Reason walks through Esmeralda’s back door and finds herself on a New York City street, she’s confronted by an unavoidable truth— magic is real.

Voices

Ursula LeGuin, Voices.

Ansul was once a peaceful town filled with libraries, schools, and temples. But that was long ago, and the conquerors of this coastal city consider reading and writing to be acts punishable by death. And they believe the Oracle House, where the last few undestroyed books are hidden, is seething with demons. But to seventeen-year-old Memer, the house is the only place where she feels truly safe.

Then an Uplands poet named Orrec and his wife, Gry, arrive, and everything in Memer’s life begins to change. Will she and the people of Ansul at last be brave enough to rebel against their oppressors?


Julius Lester, Time’s Memory.

Amma is the creator god, the master of life and death, and he is worried. His people have always known how to take care of the spirits of the dead – the nyama – so that they don’t become destructive forces among the living. But amid the chaos of the African slave trade and the brutality of American slavery, too many of his people are dying and their souls are being ignored in this new land. Amma sends a young man, Ekundayo, to a plantation in Virginia where he becomes a slave on the eve of the Civil War. Amma hopes that Ekundayo will be able to find a way to bring peace to the nyama before it is too late. But Ekundayo can see only sorrow in this land – sorrow in the ownership of people, in the slaves who have been separated from their children and spouses, in the restless spirits of the dead, and in his own forbidden relationship with his master’s daughter.

How Ekundayo finds a way to bring peace to both the dead and the living makes this an unforgettable journey into the slave experience and Julius Lester’s most powerful work to date.

Akata Witch

Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch.

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing – she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Robert Paul Weston, Dust City.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

His son, that’s who.

Ever since his father’s arrest for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood, teen wolf Henry Whelp has kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves . . . until a murder at the Home leads Henry to believe his father may have been framed.

Now, with the help of his kleptomaniac roommate, Jack, and a daring she-wolf named Fiona, Henry will have to venture deep into the heart of Dust City: a rundown, gritty metropolis where fairydust is craved by everyone-and controlled by a dangerous mob of Water Nixies and their crime boss leader, Skinner.

Can Henry solve the mystery of his family’s sinister past? Or, like his father before him, is he destined for life as a big bad wolf?

Laurence Yep, City of Fire.

When her older sister dies trying to prevent the theft of one of her people’s great treasures, Scirye sets out to avenge her and recover the precious item. Helping her are Bayang, a dragon disguised as a Pinkerton agent; Leech, a boy with powers he has not yet discovered; and Leech’s loyal companion Koko, who has a secret of his own. All have a grudge against the thieves who stole the treasure: the evil dragon Badik and the mysterious Mr. Roland.

Scirye and her companions pursue the thieves to Houlani, a new Hawaiian island being created by magic. There, they befriend Pele, the volatile and mercurial goddess of volcanoes. But even with Pele on their side, they may not be able to stop Mr. Roland from gaining what he seeks: the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yu. Together, they will give him the power to alter the very fabric of the universe….

Don’t those all sound great? I can’t wait to start reading them!

Also, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on this blog or not, but Liar by Justine Larbalestier is one of my all-time favorite YA books. Incredibly complicated and cool and twisty. Definitely worth checking out, but I don’t want to tell you anything about it because you should be surprised by it.

October 28, 2011

All Hallow’s Read

by renata

Halloween is approaching! I hope you all have your costumes lined up. Are you going as a spooky literary character, like Mrs. Havisham or Dracula or Claudia Kishi’s accessory drawer? I hope so!

Have you heard about All Hallow’s Read? Probably you have because Neil Gaiman started it and Neil Gaiman is directly plugged in to the hive mind of the internet. Seriously. Neil Gaiman is reading your thoughts right now. And he’s tweeting about them.

Anyway, the gist of All Hallow’s Read is that you should give someone a scary book for Halloween! Oooo! I am trying to think of scary books I like. In general, I am not a big fan of scary books. I am what you might call “high-strung” and I don’t need to be reading about ghosts or vampires or whatever to raise my blood pressure. Anyway, if I want to be terrified, I’ll just watch Fox News. (Zing!!) Still, in the spirit of Halloween, I tried to come up with some of my favorite scary reads.

the witches

Noooo witches noooo!

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Eek! Environmental destruction! Totalitarian theocracy! Forced illiteracy! What could be scarier?
  • Sandman #6: 24 Hours by Neil Gaiman. This is collected in Preludes and Nocturnes. If you haven’t read Sandman yet, you are probably tired of people telling you to read Sandman. But seriously though, you should read Sandman. And read “24 Hours” if you want to be scared!
  • The Witches by Roald Dahl. This book is why I don’t trust anyone who wears pointy-toed shoes.
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I promise I will only buy eggs if I personally know the chickens!! I promise!! No stop telling me about where eggs come from! Noooo!
  • Eating Animals

    Nooooo corn-fed cattle nooooooo

    What are your favorite scary books? Tell me!! But if they are too scary you have to come over and hold my hand while I read them.

October 24, 2011

Music Monday: Dinosaur

by renata

You guys, I love Ke$ha. Were you aware? She’s just so consistently hilarious and trashy. Love her. So, naturally, this summer when I found myself with a group of young children whose group was called “the dinosaurs,” my first response was to chant the first two lines of Ke$ha’s brilliant song, “Dinosaur”:

D-I-N-O-S-A you are
A dinosaur!

But then, to my horror, a 9-year-old girl said, “That’s a Ke$ha song!”

In one of my uncoolest-ever grownup moments, I blurted, “You are way too young to listen to Ke$ha!”

“No I’m not! I have her CD!”

“Well!! Ke$ha is not camp appropriate so we’re not going to sing any more of that song, okay! I just wanted to make sure everyone knew how to spell dinosaur!”

Let’s revisit those lyrics, shall we?

D-I-N-O-S-A, you are a dinosaur
D-I-N-O-S-A, you are a dinosaur
An O-L-D M-A-N, you’re just an old man
Hitting on me, what? You need a CAT scan

Old man, why are you staring at me?
Mac on me and my friends, it’s kind creepy
You should be prowling around the old folks home
Come on dude, leave us alone

At first we thought that it was kinda ill when
We saw that you were like a billion
And still out tryna make a killing
Get back to the museum

Of course! Just what every nine-year-old girl needs to be listening to. Of course, the first CD I ever bought was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, and I was in 6th grade. I was listening to her sing about going down on someone in a theater and I had no clue what that meant. If you had forced me to define it I probably would have guessed that Alanis was sitting on someone‘s lap. And anyway, I thought “Ironic” was a way better song. So deep, Alanis!

So, although my inner old person feels that nine-year-olds need Ke$ha the way someone of legal drinking age needs a black fly in their chardonnay, the truth is that girl probably thinks the song is about actual dinosaurs.

T-rex

D-I-N-O-S-A you are a dinosaur

Kids have been listening to music that was “inappropriate” for them since Elvis. Or earlier. I don’t know, I’m not a music historian. I’m just an avid Ke$ha fan who will one day learn how to keep her mouth shut around tween girls.

October 21, 2011

Chime On You Crazy Diamond

by renata

So, anyone who follows YA lit at all has probably already heard about the Shine/Chime debacle. However, I know I have a few friends whose only real contact with the world of YA lit is through this blog, and so I feel honor-bound to report about this. Also, I think the story is hilarious.

Basically? The National Book Foundation accidentally nominated Shine by Lauren Myracle for the National Book Award, when instead they meant to nominate Chime by Franny Billingsley. Apparently, they read the list over the phone and someone misheard. I mean, Shine vs Chime I get, okay. But the author names? And nobody double-checked? Were they drunk?

Shine vs Chime

Same thing, right?

And then they asked Lauren Myracle to recuse herself from the award nominees. I mean, like she hadn’t already realized she wasn’t going to win it?

Of course, I feel sad for Lauren Myracle–what a letdown. She did get the NBF to donate some money to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, since Shine is about a gay victim of a hate crime.

Vanity Fair has a really nice interview with Myracle here.

I felt gutted. I felt embarrassed, and ashamed that I had the gall to believe that this book was worthy. So over the weekend came the question of, Do I withdraw, or do I let them strip it from me? I first thought: They made the mistake; they can clean it up. Then I realized that I had a chance to either be classy or be seen as someone gripping with white knuckles to something they didn’t want me to have. And I was going to be taken off the list regardless.

So I decided to step down, and that’s when we thought it would be nice to ask the National Book Foundation to make a donation to the Matthew Shepard Foundation—I live in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is where Matthew was medevac-ed after his assault in Wyoming, and he came to the hospital where all my kids had been born, and is right around the corner, all of which was very much in my mind when I was writing Shine. And they graciously agreed to donate $5,000 to the foundation. And that’s the one unsullied good thing that’s come out of this for me. And that’s more tangible good than a shiny gold sticker any day.

Anyway, so that’s nice. Way to be classy, Lauren Myracle.

I haven’t read either of the books–to be honest I’d never even heard of Franny Billingsley or Chime, but I’m sure they’re both good.

But like seriously, National Book Foundation. Nominating Shine instead of Chime? That would be implausible as a plot point on the Brady Bunch, let alone in real life in 2011 when we have e-mail and text messages and fax machines and just any number of ways to prevent this kind of thing from happening. It also makes me kind of question the validity of all awards that have ever been given out ever. Was Ship Breaker really supposed to win the Printz last year? Or did the power just go out and someone on the committee had to go and trip the breaker? Should A Sick Day For Amos McGee really have won the Caldecott, or did someone on the committee say, “Hey Miss, I have to pee”? We may never know.

October 17, 2011

Music Monday: Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

by renata

I might have mentioned before that I love Selena Gomez. It’s true! I do. This was one of the first songs of hers that I heard. It’s featured in Another Cinderella Story and I highly recommend it for working out or just listening to it and feeling sassier.

I actually just watched that video for the first time and it is kind of weird. Selena is both a sexy maid and a sexy referee? What is happening?

However, this, the official video, is not the version of the song I first heard. This is:

Did you listen to both? Did you catch the difference? Listen to the random rapper at 1:46. In the Disney version:

Selena hit the track, like a surfer making waves

In the original version?

Selena hit the track, like Katrina making waves

(Note: on this particular video there are completely mis-transcribed lyrics on screen. Trust me. It’s “like Katrina making waves.”)

Last summer, my friends and I listened to the original version a bunch and always laughed at that line. Was there seriously a Hurricane Katrina reference in this tween pop song? Or was it supposed to be a reference to Katrina and the Waves? (Obscure, but less offensive.)

Finally, we did some research and came up with this from Wikipedia:

“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” by Selena Gomez was released as a single on August 5, 2008 on iTunes[11] and a Radio Disney version (which removes the Hurricane Katrina reference) was released on September 9, 2008, on iTunes.

Controversial! Selena really is just like Hurricane Katrina.

October 14, 2011

Rock Me, Bartimaeus (and other thoughts on fantasy)

by renata

This week was FANTASY WEEK in my children’s literature class! We read: The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt*, and Sector 7 by David Wiesner.

But I just want to talk about The Ring of Solomon. Jonathan Stroud was not at all on my radar until I saw him at the ALA conference this summer. (He was on a panel with David Levithan, which is why I went to that panel.) He was completely funny and charming and I made a note to myself that I should really pick up some of his books sometime. But there are just so many other books out there, and I never got around to it until it turned up on my booklist for class.

The Ring of Solomon by Jonathan Stroud

The Ring of Solomon is technically a prequel to the Bartimaeus trilogy, but we were assured that it stands on its own. And it does–I had no trouble understanding the character or the plot. He’s a bitter, immortal djinni. Got it. Others in class who had read the whole trilogy thought that Ring of Solomon was weaker than the other three, but I will have to take their word for it.

I enjoyed Ring of Solomon well enough. Bartimaeus, a world-weary, clever, sarcastic djinni, is a hilarious narrator, and his wry footnotes brought to mind a magical David Foster Wallace. The book itself, I feel, could have benefited from a better editor. It was maybe 100 pages too long. The first two thirds of the book dragged on, mired in description and long asides. The payoff was probably worth it–it had a very elaborate and satisfying ending.

Genie

You ain't never had a friend like Bartimaeus

I understand that there are some fantasy readers who love long descriptions of made-up worlds. I am not one of them. I don’t want to have to keep checking the magical glossary to see what kind of magic is happening. I do not want my books to come with maps of fictional lands. (Technically The Ring of Solomon has a map of the Middle East, which is probably a real place., although I’ve never been there.) But I know that not everyone shares these opinions. If you love magical glossaries and sassy genies, you will probably love the Bartimaeus books. For me, I give The Ring of Solomon three Robin Williamses out of a possible five.

For class, we also have to pick one classic children’ book we never got around to reading before. I’m reading Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea for this assignment. I’m only 2/3 through it so I won’t give it a full review, but so far, reading it has made me realize what I value in fantasy books: a sense of humor. Jonathan Stroud has one. J.K. Rowling has one. C.S. Lewis has one. Patricia Wrede has one. Terry Pratchett has at least two. If Ursula LeGuin has a sense of humor, she has that thing locked up in a dungeon somewhere and allowed it nowhere near A Wizard of Earthsea. Yikes.

* There was some debate about whether or not Tuck Everlasting is actually fantasy, and although it does not have unicorns or dragons, it does have a fountain of immortality, so.

October 10, 2011

Music Monday: Life’s What You Make It

by renata

Guys, somebody stole my laptop last night! To cheer myself up I am listening to mad tween pop. Join me, won’t you?

You’re so right, Ms. Montana. Life is what I make it. I shouldn’t let no small frustrations bring me down. I feel better already!