Posts tagged ‘ya lit’

August 23, 2011

Review: Sweetly

by renata
,Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time! It’s billed as a “companion novel” to Sisters Red, which I thoroughly enjoyed. (See my “fairy tales with a twist” post.) Sisters Red had great, well-developed characters, exciting plot twists, and a very innovative, modern twist on a classic fairy tale. And Sweetly? Well… in my opinion, Sweetly is no Sisters Red.

You can definitely see how the two books are by the same author, and not just because the Fenris reappear. Gretchen, Sweetly’s protagonist, reminded me of Scarlett and Rosie from Sisters Red. She’s been through a lot and she’s a little scarred. She’s torn between wanting a normal life and knowing she can never have one, not since her identical twin was taken by a witch when they were small children. She’s haunted by her sister’s memory, by wondering if she could have saved her sister, by wondering why the witch didn’t take her instead. Very compelling angst.

And Sophia, the beautiful chocolatier that Gretchen and her brother Ansel end up staying with, is another great character. The book builds up a good deal of tension around Sophia, who seems very sweet and lovable, though many of the townspeople suspect her of being a witch. Good stuff, as is Gretchen’s tentative romance with the rugged local Fenris-hunter.

So what’s the problem with Sweetly?For me, the problem with Sweetly is exactly what made Sisters Red so intense: the werewolves. I don’t want to give away too much here, but all werewolf-related elements of this plot made extremely little sense to me. I’m all for re-telling and adapting fairy tales, but the story of Hansel and Gretel originally contained zero werewolves, and perhaps there is a reason for that. And the–okay, again, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but the wolves don’t act exactly the same way here as they did in Sisters Red, and the reason given for that seemed pretty bogus. So there were a few moments that I believe were supposed to provoke shock, but for me, merely provoked confusion and slanty faces. I simply was unable to suspend my disbelief enough to go along with the second half of the plot.

Mm, chocolates

From Encore Chocolates

Alas! As is so often the case, werewolves have ruined an otherwise good time, and so I am forced to rate Sweetly two and a half hand-crafted chocolates out of five.

August 12, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie

by renata

Little House in the Big Woods was the first chapter book I ever read. I loved it, of course–who didn’t? I have a well-worn box set of the Little House books. I even read Farmer Boy, even though it was about Almanzo and not Laura. (Farmer Boy always made me really hungry–those kids were constantly sitting down to hot doughnuts or homemade taffy or fresh watermelon or something awesome.)

This weekend I’m embarking on a summer roadtrip with my friend Anna. We’re going to South Dakota, and our first stop is De Smet, South Dakota… home of the Ingalls Homestead. I visited the Ingalls Homestead with my family, but I was too young to really remember. I’m super, super stoked to visit as an adult. Also, I got Little House on the Prairie and Little Town on the Prairie on CD so we can listen to them on our way. It’s going to be epic, you guys. Rest assured, I will blog photos of Anna and myself wearing bonnets and taking advantage of any other historical photo opportunities available to us.

In the meantime, here’s a review of a book that was clearly written by someone as enamored of Little House on the Prairie as I am.

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell is the story of Gen Walsh and her family. Gen’s mom signs the family up for Camp Frontier, inspired by her own love of Little House on the Prairie and the romantic ideals of frontier life. Gen and her brother are so not thrilled about spending the whole summer doing chores and wearing old-fashioned clothes. Gen manages to smuggle in her cell phone and occasionally sends out hilarious text messages to her best friends about her adventures. Unbeknownst to her, one of her friends has been reposting her messages on a blog. The blog goes viral and Camp Frontier ends up at the center of a media storm, forcing Gen to evaluate her opinions on technology and the camp itself.

I really liked this book. Gen is smart and funny, and I thought her family was very realistic. (They quickly thought of the over-achiever pioneer family as their rivals, simultaneously envious of their abilities and disdainful of their lameness.) I liked that they had believable quarrels but still loved each other and got along. And one of my favorite aspects of the story is one that hasn’t been mentioned often in contemporary literature, at least to my knowledge–the power of technology to make us feel connected. The relief Gen felt after sending out text messages to her friends, even though she couldn’t check for responses very often–that rang very true to me and matched my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s nice to feel like you’re communicating with your friends, even by text. Overall, I rate Little Blog on the Prairie three bonnets (out of five).

Next on my to-read list (maybe): The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.

August 9, 2011

Emerging from the Book Fort

by renata

Or something?

Whew! I have fallen behind on blogging. My summer web design class just wrapped up and my final project for that took up a lot of time. Also, I’ve been preparing booklists for the public library TeenSpace as part of my library internship. That has been a really fun project, but also weird! I did research (including asking all my Twitter friends for recommendations) to pick books for different categories, and then the teen librarian wanted me to at least skim every book I recommended. I had already read some of the books I was recommending, but I had at least fifty books stacked up in my living room to skim. It looked like I was building a book fort. (I should have taken a picture–I already returned a lot of the books.)

It was an interesting experience. I almost never quit reading books after I’ve started them, no matter how bad they are. But obviously there was no way I could read every book I wanted to list within the time I had available. And, honestly, there were books that I cast aside after a few pages, having immediately realized that they were not books I wanted to recommend. It was frustrating, though, since most of the books seemed pretty good and I wanted to keep reading!

Here are the lists I made:

(Readers with long memories may have noticed that I am recycling themes I used for projects from YA Lit last semester. I did have to heavily expand on these themes to make the lists long enough, however.)

A few quick picks from all these books I’ve been poring through. (Books that I have set aside to make sure I actually finish reading them.)

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Krug

A super cute, funny book with a diverse cast of characters. My favorite is Augie, a twee little gay boy who loves musical theatre and campy old movies and yet is actually a fully-developed character.

Mercury by Hope Larson

A graphic novel with two coming-of-age stories, one set in the present day and the other in 1859. Funny and poignant, and I learned a few things about Canadian history.

Mare’s War by Tanita Davis

Two black teenage girls reluctantly take a roadtrip with their eccentric grandmother, who tells them stories about her childhood, including how she lied about her age to join the WAC during WWII.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

The story of a trans boy who decides to transition from Angela to Grady, causing quite a stir at his high school and among his family. It manages to pull of the trick of being informative about gender dysphoria without coming across as too “after school special-ish.” I actually finished reading this one because I got so into it. It’s full of relatable, believable characters.

 

Anything that made it onto one of my booklists came recommended from somewhere, usually multiple sources, and passed at least a skim from me. Check them out!

July 22, 2011

Review: Fire

by renata

Fire by Kristin Cashore is a prequel (sort of) to her brilliant book Graceling. (I don’t think I fully reviewed that book here, so let me just say, it is wonderful and you should go read it ASAP. It’s probably my favorite book that I read this year, and I don’t even generally like non-contemporary fantasy novels.) I’d heard from a few friends that Fire wasn’t as good as Graceling, and that it wasn’t really related to Graceling. That bummed me out, because I wanted more of Graceling‘s protagonist, Katsa. But I’m glad I gave Fire a chance, because it was really great.

Fire

The titular protagonist of Fire (and this sounds weird–when I first heard it, I said, what?! But really, it works) is a so-called “monster” woman. (There are “monster” versions of all animals, but monster humans are very rare. Fire believes herself to be the only one living in the kingdom.) Being a monster means being a woman who’s so beautiful that people go crazy for her and her namesake fire-red hair. She also has the ability to control their minds. She resists using this power, and she really just wants to be left alone out in the forest with her childhood friend and sometime-lover Archer. But it’s not to be, and she gets sucked into helping Prince Brigan defend the kingdom against various rebellions and treacheries. (I’m really not going to go into the details of all that–it’s complicated. Just read the book if you want to know more!) Fire’s relationship with Brigan is initially strained. Brigan doesn’t trust Fire, both because of her abilities and because of the terrible deeds her father did. Fire doesn’t trust Brigan because she can’t read his mind, and because he’s a total jerk to her when they first meet. But perhaps they can grow to trust each other… and love each other? Yes, of course they do, effing duh. But their relationship has a sweet and believable progression.

Now, here’s the thing. Parts of Fire kind of reminded me of Twilight (which is not a good thing, in my book). I mean, you have this impossibly beautiful woman who everyone falls in love with. She can read everyone’s thoughts… except one man, in whom she’s romantically interested. Sounds a lot like the Edward/Bella dynamic, right? But here’s the thing: it’s infinity times better than Twilight. Kristin Cashore is an impressive writer and she really gets into the heart of what it would mean to a woman to be so impossibly beautiful. Fire is reflective without being whiny (… most of the time). Also, as in Graceling, Cashore explores sexual relationships and gender roles in an intelligent, interesting way. After you read Fire’s thoughts about motherhood, you will never be able to take Twilight‘s baby Renesmee seriously (… if you ever could).

Besides Fire herself, this book is stuffed full of wonderful, developed side characters who I really cared about. Which is good, because if I didn’t like them, I might have found all of their soap operatic romantic difficulties a little bit much to take. As is, I enjoyed it and rooted for them all to find happiness.

Oh, and the little bit of this book that ties into Graceling is super creepy (as it should be). I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Graceling, but still–a really great read. I rate it four monster cookies (out of a possible five).

MonsterCookies

July 19, 2011

Review: The Name of the Star

by renata

Okay. Here’s a confession. I really like Maureen Johnson as a public figure. Her Twitter is hilariously weird, and she always stands up for YA lit when people like the Wall Street Journal say dumb stuff about it. (Which I guess is in her professional interest to do.) But I’ve been a little ambivalent about the books of hers I’ve read. They’ve been clever and enjoyable, but they haven’t really grabbed me. And then, I completely misunderstood what The Name of the Star was about–I thought it was straight-up historical fiction about Jack the Ripper, and I wasn’t that excited about it.

So why did I even read it? Well… at the ALA conference, the line to get Maureen’s new book was the same as the line to get Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. And like I said, I like Maureen Johnson, I just don’t love her the way many seem to. And I think part of that is because I am not actually a teen girl, even though it might be hard to tell that just based on my GoodReads and my iTunes. She’s clearly doing something right in terms of her target audience.

Name of the Star

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Anyway, so, I wasn’t that excited about The Name of the Star, but I still felt cool and insider-y to have an ARC of it, so I decided I had to read it before it comes out for real (September 29th). Then I sat down and read it all in about two days because it was so good and I got so hooked!

The Name of the Star is not actually historical fiction. It’s set in modern-day London, and the protagonist is Rory Deveaux. Her parents are professors at Tulane and they are spending a year in England for some kind of professorial business (I forget and it doesn’t matter), so Rory will be doing her senior year of high school at Wexford, a boarding school in London. I really like Rory as a character. She’s funny and, I think, reacts very believably to her new situation. She’s excited to get out of small-town Louisiana. She’s a little nervous about British boarding school, but she’s armed with Google.

Shortly after Rory arrives at Wexford, there’s a shocking murder in London. It becomes clear that someone is reenacting the Jack the Ripper murders, and London goes into Ripper-mania. Personally, I have never been that excited about Jack the Ripper. I studied abroad in London and was taken aback by just how much Ripper tourism there is. I mean, really, out of all the stuff that’s from London, why go on a Ripper tour? Was the Beatles tour sold out? But I digress.  Johnson clearly did a lot of research into the Ripper and pulled up a lot of interesting details that got me a little more into Ripper-mania than I thought I would.

Rory’s friend (and crush) Jerome is into the Ripper and he starts poking around in the case. Rory tags along and quickly gets in over her head. I don’t want to say more! But I loved all the twists and turns. This book was not at all what I expected it to be, and I got really into the mystery. I loved all the fun secondary characters. And I’m already looking forward to the sequel that I assume is coming since the cover says “Book 1.” Really. Put this on your radar, even if you don’t think you like Maureen Johnson and/or Jack the Ripper and/or historical fiction and/or books. (Oh, and the title gets explained about halfway into the book. The title frankly confused me before I started reading. Don’t even worry about it. Just read it.)

I rate the Name of the Star 4.5 Haunted History Ghost Tours (out of a possible 5).

Also, permit me a moment to show off:

I can't tell if that's supposed to be "ty" (thank you), "by" (kind of obvious), "mj" (her initials?), or something else. Whatever, though. Thanks, Maureen!

July 6, 2011

Europe on $0 A Day

by renata

I just unintentionally read two books and watched a movie that took place in Europe (by which I mean, I didn’t sit down to have a Europe-themed reading/movie week. I read and watched them all on purpose. I wasn’t tricked or anything.) and now I’m wishing someone would send me to boarding school and/or on an international scavenger hunt. But since that’s not likely, I guess I’ll just review some international YA books and a movie.

So, I finally read Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. And, yes, I loved it. Probably everyone else has already read this by now, and Sandy already reviewed it, so let me just say that reading it made me really hungry. I give Anna and the French Kiss four croissants (out of a possible five).

croissant

Mmm, croissant.

Next up: Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. I know! I don’t know why I hadn’t read this yet, given that it’s probably her best-known book. I really enjoyed it! I had to suspend my credulity, to be certain… why did she have to be seventeen? It would have been so much more plausible if she were eighteen, in terms of traveling as a minor and such. But whatever, if I want plausibility I’ll read Jon Krakauer, right? So, seventeen-year-old Ginny finds the titular little blue envelopes and gets sent on a quest by her late, wacky Aunt Peg. She’s not allowed to call or email home (though she does cheat on that one a bit). She goes on a cool trip across Europe, and, get this, travelling by herself is like, totally a growth experience and she comes out of her shell and (maybe) finds love! She learns more about her Aunt Peg and starts coming to terms with her death and her life! For me, the best part of the book was the armchair travel. I give it three backpacks (out of a possible five), and I’m definitely going to put myself on the library wait list for The Last Little Blue Envelope.

13 Little Blue Envelopes

And finally, I saw Monte Carlo, the new film starring Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester. I went to see it on opening day with my friend Anna (with whom I previously saw Prom and Soul Surfer). We are aficionados of tween/teen movies, and we admire Selena Gomez’s work in Another Cinderella Story, Princess Protection Program, and Wizards of Waverly Place. We also like her album, Kiss & Tell. You could call us Selena Gomez fans and we would not even try to deny it. We were so excited about this movie that we went to see it on opening day.  (I KNOW.) Unfortunately, it was not worth our excitement.

MonteCarlo

I would not advise seeing this film.

The plot of Monte Carlo is: Selena Gomez, her fellow waitress friend, and her bitchy stepsister (Leighton Meester) all go on a one-week trip to Paris together, following Selena’s high school graduation. Their guided trip is very hectic and crappy. They get left behind by their tour bus and rush into a very posh hotel to get out of the rain. Inside, Selena Gomez gets mistaken for a very rich and spoiled heiress (also played by Selena Gomez). Heiress-Selena (who reminded me a lot of Posh Spice) is supposed to attend a charity ball the next morning, but she bails out of the hotel and goes to the beach (because she doesn’t care about the children). Waitress-Selena and her friends get whisked away in a private jet to Monte Carlo. “Hilarious” mistaken identity antics ensue, and in the end, heiress-Selena gets a mild dose of comeuppance and they all raise a lot of money for charity. Also, there are some European romances, obviously. Hoorays. We knew going into this that it would be formulaic and cheesy–that’s what we wanted. But it was just too slow-moving and too, well, boring, despite the great backdrops of Paris and Monte Carlo. Oh, and it needed about 300% more scenes with heiress-Selena. She was awesome. The best part of this movie was the anxious tween girls who sat behind us and offered helpful commentary like, “Oh no! She forgot her necklace! GO GET THE NECKLACE!” and “STOP KISSING!”

I rate Monte Carlo three of out five Spice Girls, but only if you can see it with chatty tween girls. Otherwise, two Spice Girls (and neither of them are Posh Spice). Oh, also, I feel strongly that this should have been a musical. Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy are all in various stages of launching musical careers. Plus, Finn from Glee is in it. And yet, no singing? Boo, Monte Carlo. BOO.

June 17, 2011

Review: Every Little Thing in The World

by renata

Confession: I love summer camp. Love it. I went every summer as a kid, and as an adult, I spent four summers working at various Girl Scout camps. (I’m still volunteering occasionally at one this summer, when time allows.) And, of course, I love YA lit. So you’d think that I would love YA books about summer camp!

Well, mostly, I don’t, and here’s why: all the children’s and YA books I’ve read about camp so far are wrong. First of all, they are always about the kinds of fancy, expensive camps where kids stay in cabins. Also, they are always about co-ed camps. I acknowledge that expensive, co-ed camps exist. But I went to the kind of Girl Scout camp where you sleep in platform tents and make weird little crafts out of pine cones. As an adult working at Girl Scout camp, I learned just how tight the budget is at those camps. The reason we made crafts out of pine cones are because pine cones are free and we’ve already spent our summer budget on glue and marshmallows.

SettingSun

The camp I attended and worked at. NO CABINS. CABINS ARE FOR SISSES.

I literally laughed out loud (repeatedly) at the plot of Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, which involves Camp Rock being outshone by the bigger, fancier Camp Star. The problem with that is that Camp Rock is a friggin’ ridiculously nice camp. (I briefly Googled to try to find images of their camp so I could show you, but all I came up with were lots of pictures of the Jonas Brothers pouting in nature. But let me just tell you that in their very nice, wood-paneled dining hall, the juice comes out of trumpet-shaped dispensers. Do you even know how much craft glue you could buy for the cost of one trumpet-shaped juice dispenser?)

CampRock2

Look at them, inside their CABIN. Ugh.

Anyway, so YA books about camp tend to focus on the drama of life at a long-term, co-ed camp. (Or, a single-sex camp with another single-sex camp across the lake. These camps always have huge, beautiful lakes.) Usually they are romances that spring up amidst cushy cabins. Bah! Also, they are always doing weird shit like Color Wars. What even is a Color War? BAH. Books about camp never focus on what I love about camp: the friendships, the creativity that comes up when you’re bored in your tent with no electricity, the delight in gaining prowess at new skills, and (yes) spending time in nature.

I did find a camp book that I actually kind of liked (even though it was still wrong):

EveryLittleThingInTheWorld

Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont.

It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Sydney, a girl with divorced parents whose mother is fed up with her and whose dad is a strict “live off the land” type. Sydney gets sent to live with her father for the summer, shortly after discovering that she is pregnant. She’s afraid to tell her father, and he sends her off to an intense wilderness camp without the summer, completely unaware of her pregnancy. It’s a co-ed camp (drama!) and one of the boys happens to be the start of a Dawson’s Creek-esque TV-show (double drama!) and some of the boys are sent from a juvenile detention center (triple drama!). The teens get sent off on long canoe trips. To Sydney’s surprise, she really enjoys canoeing and being outdoors, and she enjoys the teamwork of canoeing. She also spends a lot of time reflecting on her pregnancy and weighing the options. I won’t spoil the ending, but I really appreciated how well de Gramont captured her tough decision and the process she went through. I also appreciated that romantic drama was kept to a relative minimum, even though it was a co-ed camp (boo). It captured a lot of what I love about camp–friendships, learning new skills, loving nature. And yet it had enough drama to make it a compelling and surprising read.

I’m still waiting for someone to write an awesome YA novel about Girl Scout camp. If no one does it in the next few years I might be forced to put pen to paper myself.

June 13, 2011

Is YA Lit Too Dark?

by renata

Spoiler: no.

I’m a little late to the game on this, but I still wanted to chime in. Because why have a blog if not to post your opinions even if no one else cares about them?

It seems like every few months or so, some adult has written a big story discovering YA lit for the first time and being shocked at how well-written/violent/popular/whatever it is. Meanwhile, YA lit continues on being written and read like usual.

Most recently, Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote this story for the Wall Street Journal, Darkness Too Visible, about how YA lit is just too graphic and dark for teens to handle, and whatever is a parent to purchase for their poor teens to read?

She quotes a concerned mother who:

Had popped into the bookstore to pick up a welcome-home gift for her 13-year-old, who had been away. Hundreds of lurid and dramatic covers stood on the racks before her, and there was, she felt, “nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff.” She left the store empty-handed.

Right after this story went up, I read All This Darkness! What to Buy the Grownup Reader (A Parody) by Sarah Ockler, a pretty funny piece about how condescending Gordun’s article is. One of my favorite parts of Ockler’s piece was:

I recently stood slack-jawed in the adult fiction section of my local big box book store, having decided that supporting my community while getting personalized recommendations by professionals who generally adore books and make it their business to know exactly what sorts of things a reader will love was just not on my to-do list this year, feeling stupefied and helpless.

The mom in Gurdon’s story could have asked a damn librarian (or small bookstore employee) for some kind of appropriate book rather than standing at Barnes & Noble and wringing her hands. But whatever. We all know about librarians and their leftist, anti-censorship agendas.

Anyway, assuming libraries are out of the question, is it even true that YA lit has gotten “darker”? Darker than what, exactly? YA lit is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until maybe thirty, forty years ago, if you weren’t reading children’s books, you were reading adult books. Adult vampire-suicide-mutilation books.

Gurdon even briefly points this out in her article:

As it happens, 40 years ago, no one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing. There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers and some not.

I don’t really understand how this is supposed to be preferable to the existence of young adult literature.

Anyway, tons of people have already responded to this article. There was a pretty hilarious Twitter meme: #YAKills. (A few highlights: “I became convinced that my labrador retriever was my daemon, and we got kicked out of every restaurant for a year. #YAkills@NaturallySteph. “Shared 1 pair of unwashed jeans w/3 friends for a summer – not only did I not get a boyfriend, but no one would sit next to me. #YAKills” @ChandraYB )

There was also the serious version, #YASaves. Sherman Alexie (author of the YA book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, as well as several books, short stories, and poems for adults) wrote a response to Gurdon’s article that’s probably the best explanation of how YA lit saves: Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood.

He talks about his own childhood of poverty and abuse. He talks about the children and teens who have responded positively to his novel, which gets called out by Gurdon for being popular among teens, yet depraved. Do read Alexie’s piece if you are at all interested in YA lit or young adults or humans. A small highlight:

When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.

No, they are simply trying to protect their privileged notions of what literature is and should be. They are trying to protect privileged children.

Word, Sherman Alexie. Word.

Or as Linda Holmes wrote for NPR:

While the WSJ piece refers to the YA fiction view of the world as a funhouse mirror, I fear that what’s distorted is the vision of being a teenager that suggests kids don’t know pathologies like suicide or abuse unless they read about them in books.

Obviously, I would prefer it if no children or teens had to suffer. But the fact is, millions of young adults are survivors of abuse and/or poverty and/or homelessness and/or discrimination and/or any number of things that are much worse than anything that happened in Breaking Dawn.

And even for privileged children, there is value in reading “dark” books. I myself grew up a happy, white, middle-class kid. I had my own little school dramas and angst, of course, but overall I was extremely lucky. But I devoured Lurlene McDaniel books–you know, the ones about teenagers dying of cancer? Why did I do that? I didn’t have cancer. A cousin of mine died of leukemia when I was four or five, but I didn’t know him very well and don’t consider myself to have been particularly scarred by the experience. (it’s sadder to me now, as an adult, to think back on what his death must have been like for my older cousins, my aunts and uncles, and my parents, than it was for me personally as a child.) And it wasn’t just me–Lurlene McDaniel’s books, and other copycat teen illness books, are extremely popular. According to Wikipedia, she’s written over sixty YA books.

In case you’re not familiar with McDaniel’s books, here’s a plot summary of one, chosen at random from Amazon.

SheDiedTooYoung

Wait, she dies? Spoiler alert, Lurlene!!

She Died Too Young (published 1994–well before the alleged onset of Darkness in YA lit)

Chelsea James and Katie O’Roark met at Jenny House and spent a wonderful summer together. Now Chelsea and her mother are staying with Katie as Chelsea awaits news concerning a heart transplant. While waiting for a compatible donor, Chelsea meets Jillian, a girl who’s funny and kind. Jillian is also waiting. She needs a heart-lung transplant. The two girls become fast friends. When Chelsea meets Jillian’s brother, he awakens feelings in Chelsea she’s never known before. However, as her medical situation grows desperate, Chelsea finds herself in a contest for her life against her very best friend.

I’m pretty sure I read that one. Why would I read that? That is super sad. I mean, the title gives it away. I read it because kids and young adults are trying on the idea of mortality, of tragedy. Even if I didn’t need a heart-lung transplant, and neither did anyone else I knew, there was still the idea that someone out there did, and someday I might. Someday I would die! How sad! I read about dying teens, and teens with drug problems, and teens who were exposed to toxic waste and developed super powers. I read about teens who were abandoned alone in the woods with only a hatchet and their wits to keep them alive. I turned out fine (does that sound braggy?).

I also definitely slipped into my mom’s bookshelf and read some adult books I didn’t really understand. I mean, I could read the words, but I didn’t really understand them. I distinctly remember reading She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb at about age 12 and having no idea what was going on, but feeling really grown up that I had it. I also remember seeing the movie Cider House Rules as a young teen and thinking Tobey Maguire was like, so cute. Then as an adult I read the book and went, wait, this is about abortion? Was that part in the movie? (I checked and yes, it’s totally in the movie. It’s like, the central premise of the movie. But I didn’t get it because I didn’t really know what abortion was.) If kids aren’t old enough to be reading something, they won’t understand it.

If teens aren’t already doing meth, they’re  not going to run out and start after they read Crank by Ellen Hopkins. But it might help them gain an understanding of why someone might start doing drugs.  And if they have been affected by meth, they’ll be relieved to see someone on the page whose experiences might match their own.

I guess in summary all I have to say is: if you don’t like the Hunger Games, don’t read the Hunger Games, and don’t buy a copy for your kids. But please settle down about what a travesty it is that teens are reading books where bad things happen, or I will come to your house and shoot you with a crossbow. I’m unhinged! I read YA literature! Do not fuck with me!

June 9, 2011

Can We Talk About the Breaking Dawn Trailer?

by renata

You guys. I can’t tell you how excited/appalled I am for the Breaking Dawn movie (part 1!) to come out. I am not a fan of Twilight per se, but I did slog through all four books and I do love talking about them. (I always preemptively clarify that I read them while I was in the Peace Corps. I find that this cuts off judgment. Oh, what, you haven’t read all four Twilight books? Yeah, I read them… while I was saving babies* in a developing nation, NBD.)

Anyway, so, I’d read all four books. (Note: in case it’s not clear, this post will contain spoilers for Breaking Dawn.) Then after the first movie, lots of people were talking about Twilight. Specifically, lots of people were talking about how effed-up Twilight is. I’m not going to go too in-depth about that; I feel like other blogs have already talked about how effed-up Twilight is better than I could hope to do. But for a few years now, my party trick has been to say, “Yeah, sure, Twilight is messed up, but do you know what happens in the fourth book? Can I tell you?” And then I tell them and revel in their horrified stares and their adorable insistence that I am making it up. But no, my friends, I am not capable of making up the atrocities of Breaking Dawn. Only Stephenie Meyer is.

Now that the movie is approaching, I feel the way a friend of mine feels about Scientology. For a long time, her party trick was to explain all the hilarious details of Scientology (“And there’s an alien lord named Xenu–yeah, seriously–“) But now South Park and everyone else have made fun of Scientology. It’s old hat. Everyone knows how crazy Scientology is. And soon, everyone will know how crazy Breaking Dawn is.

I mean, seriously. THEY HAVE SEX UNTIL THE BED BREAKS. BELLA GETS INSTANTLY PREGNANT WITH A HALF-VAMPIRE BABY. JACOB FALLS IN LOVE WITH A BABY. !!!

Anyway, the trailer. In case you have not seen it (or would simply like to revisit it), here it is:

So, first of all: the first minute of this trailer is mail getting delivered. Was this movie sponsored by the U. S. Post Office? This perfectly encapsulates how simultaneously appalling and boring I find the entire Twilight saga.

Second of all: “No measure of time with you will be long enough. But we’ll start with forever.” Edward, that is meaningless, but I will give you a pass because everything you say is either meaningless or offensive.

Also, can we talk about how Bella does not look at all pregnant when she starts freaking out? I mean, I know her pregnancy was all super vampire fast and everything, but I feel like that scene is just going to trigger some eating disorders. I guess it’s more visually compelling than a scene of her looking at a pregnancy test or something.

In conclusion, as is true with all things Twilight, the best part of this trailer is Charlie Swan. Play the trailer back and just watch his reaction to the wedding invite (It’s at 0:26.) Thank you, Charlie, for saying what we’re all feeling.

* Number of babies personally saved by me during my two years in the Peace Corps: zero. But whatever, how many babies have you saved? The most important thing to remember is: none of us are as bad of people as Bella Swan. She is the worst person.

June 7, 2011

Review: White Cat by Holly Black

by renata

White Cat by Holly Black was on my summer reading list. It’s the first one off the list I’ve read so far. And I didn’t even read it, I just listened to it. (It’s fine, it’s still the first week of June. I have time, right?) Anyway, it was so awesome, you guys! Normally I’m kind of ambivalent about audiobooks. I love the idea of them, especially for long trips. But in practice, I get fidgety. I usually end up listening to a disc and then changing to music for awhile, then putting in the next disc. I listened to White Cat all the way through, and I was mad when it was over. I already requested the sequel, Red Glove, from the library. (In audiobook form, of course, since it is also narrated by my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg.)

Partly I think this audiobook was successful because of its narrator (my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg). He was a perfect match for the book’s narrator, Cassel Sharp. Cassel’s a teenage con man attending an upper-crust private school. He’s often the smartest guy in the room, though he’s not always quite as smart as he thinks he is. I know not everyone loved The Social Network the way I did, but hopefully we can all admit that my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg is an excellent smartass.

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My celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg

I didn’t know much about the book. I might not have read it if it hadn’t been narrated by my celebrity crush Jesse Eisenberg. But I’m so glad I did! I knew it was a fantasy book, which isn’t usually my jam. But for some reason I thought it was an old timey fantasy book, which really isn’t my jam. But, it isn’t! It’s my favorite type of fantasy book, which is, of course, fantasy books set in modern day where everything is the same except for one magical difference. I also love it when the political ramifications of magical differences are explored in detail. (This is also why I love X-Men so much, though I guess that’s sci-fi, not fantasy. Whatevs. See also: the scene from Harry Potter when the Minister of Magic talks to the regular Prime Minister of England. Totally awesome. Is that book 5 or book 6? Uhh either way, totally awesome.)

Anyway, the one magical difference in the world of White Cat is that some people are born with a magical power. These people are called “curse workers” and they’re very rare. There are seven kinds of curse workers, and the most common type is luck workers. As the name implies, these people can change your luck. Mostly, people hire them to be present at weddings and baptisms and stuff. But there are other ones, like death workers (who… can kill you) and memory workers (who can erase your memories, or give you false memories). It’s illegal to ever use these abilities, so most people who have them end up as criminals.

Everyone in Cassel’s family is a curse worker, except for Cassel. He’s the youngest and he’s still in school while his two older brothers work their way up the hierarchy of one of the biggest crime families. His mother is in jail after one of her cons went bad on her. Cassel has learned a lot from her, though, and even though he’s not a worker, he’s still a talented con artist in his own right. But he tries to downplay his family life at school–he just wants to keep his head down and fit in. He especially doesn’t want anyone to find out that he accidentally killed his childhood best friend, Lila. Unfortunately, Cassel starts having strange dreams of Lila that cause him to sleepwalk, and he’s forced to leave boarding school when he almost sleepwalks off the roof and the school declares him an insurance liability.

Cassel starts to suspect that someone is working him, and he starts to discover that things in his family are not what they seem.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s all very exciting! I figured out some of the plot twists, but not all of them. I rate this book four Jesse Eisenbergs (out of a possible five Jesse Eisenbergs).

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White Cat by Holly Black