By Elizabeth Wroten
On 06, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.
I am not sure why this is getting called a coming-of-age story. Maggie has some new experiences in the novel, but I wouldn’t say she grows up in any major way. Maybe I missed something. Graphic novels are not my strong suit, although I really wish they were. I just don’t find myself lingering on the art the way I know I need to.
Despite all that, this was a really sweet book. Maggie is so cute and innocent it would be really difficult not to like her. I was especially pleased to see a homeschooled kid in a book that is actually normal and well adjusted. Come to think of it I haven’t seen that many homeschooled kids in books, so it was nice to see one. Period.
The book deals with some heavy material (Maggie’s mother has left them, navigating high school for the first time), but does it in a way that is both gentle and not too heavy-handed. There are enough twists and funny bits to make a book that could come across as simplistic feel very nuanced. I really enjoyed this one.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 04, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.
At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.
This book just reminded me how foreign a concept the sibling bond is to me. Being an only child it is very difficult for me to understand how siblings relate to one another. Much like it is probably difficult for people who have siblings to understand how uninterested I am, and was, in having a sibling.
Actually, maybe it made me feel that family loyalty is also a foreign concept. The people in this family, fabulous and dead gay uncle aside, are the most petty, self-centered and mean people I have read about in a long time. (Yes, I know they aren’t real.) If my family was half as awful as any of these people I would drop them like a hot potato. No second thoughts.
In case it was unclear I really didn’t enjoy this book all that much. Largely because I found it really difficult to relate to any of the characters. Certainly I think a lot of people (people with mean siblings) could relate and love this book. Largely because it will give them hope that maybe their siblings aren’t terrible human beings. I went through the book really hating these people and not feeling especially sorry for June (to my mind she was in part to blame for some of the issues going on in the family) then suddenly the ending came along and, while it was kind of the ending you really really want for them, it rang very false to me.
I get that there were a lot of messages in this book about the power of art, the power of family, love and friendship, the need to let go, and how loss can bring people together. But seriously, I couldn’t get past how shallow these people were. Which I’m sure someone will blame on my being an only child.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Mar 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.
Libba Bray sure is the bee’s knees. This was one of those rare books I wanted to rush through to find out what happens, but wanted to slow down because I was enjoying the experience so much. I know this book is getting a lot of praise, but I can’t help heaping on some of my own.
Awhile back I read The Prophecy of the Sisters. I’ll admit I was drawn in by the cover of the first book and I paid for that. I guess the first book wasn’t awful, but as the series progressed it got worse and worse. I liked the premise of the astral or dream plane, the coming of evil, the bygone era, teens with paranormal powers, family mysteries, and murder. The thing is, as soon as I started The Diviners, I found myself thinking, this is what The Prophecy of the Sisters should have been. The Diviners really delivers on mystery, atmosphere, plot, character development and the details.
The Diviners is just a well written book and story. The plot twists and turns reveal just enough that you know there is something more but can’t quite put your finger on it. The characters at first glance seem like nothing more than types, but as the story continues tiny bits and pieces of information are leaked and you find they aren’t what they seem. I would even go so far as to suggest that one or two of them end up opposing the others. By the end of the book many of the plot pieces have fallen into place, but not all the threads of the story have come together. Just an all around good read.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 25, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.
Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.
Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.
And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
Okay, this one won an award or at least an honorable mention? Really?…Really? I got that Greg was an antihero. And I heard him when he said he learned nothing from the death of his “friend” Rachel. I even see the appeal of those angles for some readers. But really it just made the book feel like a huge waste of my time. I mean maybe I missed the point or I’m not hipster enough to understand that by not learning anything he learned something or how that’s just a realistic portrayal of someone’s life. There are no BIG LESSONS learned all the time. Sometimes it just sucks when your kinda friend dies. But I could have been reading The Diviners which I am already obsessed with and I am on page 22. And I am not a Libba Bray swimfan or anything.
In all honesty Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl would have, after page 50, been one of those ones I abandon to recommending to people I know who like movies and books about not much. Kids who don’t want to think too deeply, but want a book that makes them feel like they are learning a lesson. But thanks to the YALSA Hub challenge I read it cover to cover. God, I want my day back. I can’t even give it a whole-hearted real review. And the cover is awesome and I really wanted to read it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 22, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step inside Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, a menagerie of human curiosities and misfits guaranteed to astound and amaze! But perhaps the strangest act of Mosco’s display is Portia Remini, a normal among the freaks, on the run from McGreavy’s Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave. Free at last, Portia begins a new life on the bally, seeking answers about her father’s disappearance. Will she find him before Mister finds her? It’s a story for the ages, and like everyone who enters the Wonder Show, Portia will never be the same.
Despite the cover, this is not the book for the kid who wants to run away and join the circus. Too bad because we’ve all been there, right? I mean, there is some running away and there is a circus, but really it’s a book about finding. Finding yourself, finding your family, finding a family, finding a future, finding where you belong and who you belong to.
In actuality, this a a book for kids who like their fiction a bit dark and even a bit sad and melancholy. It is absoultely beautifully written. Even though most children have not been sent off to a home for wayward girls for being too imaginative and unmanageable, Portia is so familiar a character. She’s headstrong, angst-y, and ready to grow up, but she also longs for the more magical and comforting time of her childhood. In the end her story isn’t about being sent away or looking for her father, but about finding a place in the wider, lonely world and making a family for herself from the hodge-podge of people she finds herself amongst.
Wonder Show really reminded me of Carnivale, a television show from a few years back. It was dark, conflicted, and…adult. This book tried to be and there were hints of cruelty, sexuality, and abuse, but in the end it was a middle-grade novel. I think if nothing else, this Yalsa Hub reading challenge is teaching me a lot about what I like to read and what I can see value in for other readers. The thing is, I will read just about anything and, if not love it, at least lose myself in the story. And I guess what I’m finding is I like the more adult books and, really, as a kid I think I would have too. Leaving out the complexities of the world, especially a world as dark as a traveling freak show, always feels like pandering to me. Yet, I still connected with the book and with Portia.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 20, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.
Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.
So, this book thoroughly creeped me out, but I am not above scaring the pants off myself then regretting it for several nights afterward. But hindsight is always 20/20.
The Name of the Star isn’t the most well-crafted of books, but it sure did keep me turning the pages well past midnight so obviously literary merit didn’t really matter. The first 100-150 pages did take a leisurely pace developing the story, setting the scene and introducing the characters, which could have been irritating, but I think it actually served to make the plot twists and turns creepier. From that point on some of the strange goings-on and mysterious pieces began to come together and fall into place and it got really spooky really fast.
I have to say it irked me that Rory is from New Orleans. I know this is one of my own personal quirks, but I always feel like authors choose to set creepy stories there or have characters with special “talents” from NOLA because it’s a place associated with voodoo, cemeteries and general creepiness. I can’t say that that is truly the motivation here or elsewhere, but it always feels that way to me. Especially since there really was no reason Rory couldn’t have been from Atlanta or Sacramento or anywhere else.
Besides that minor irritation, I stayed up late reading it and got up early to finish it.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 18, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.
Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.
In a recent interview I read on NPR with John Irving he made a comment that kept coming back to me as I read The Miseducation of Cameron Post. He noted, “…how thoroughly intimidating and confusing and conflicted the world of adult sexuality seemed when you were on the doorstep of it but still standing outside.” I suppose this is a place we’ve all found ourselves, but it was especially true of Cameron who finds herself there on the eve of her parents death. Add to that the confusion of the realization that she prefers girls, something that has never been explicitly condemned in her world, but she is sure would be.
While I wasn’t sure I loved the book, despite it’s buzz, I did find it incredibly compelling and relatable. The story is all about figuring out sexuality, love and relationships and the confusion that comes with the inexperience of the teenage years. Cameron may have the added confusion of being a lesbian in a place where homosexuality is discouraged, but I think ultimately her struggles aren’t really unique to lesbians. Like any teenager she’s trying to figure out that “world of adult sexuality”.
Despite Cam’s relative inexperience, this book isn’t for the prudish. Kissing and sex abound, as does pot smoking and language. But the struggles are so relatable and so universal that none of it seems to be gratuitous or there just for the sake of scandal. The book also seemed to move lazily through the years considering how predictably the plot unfolded. But I think that was kind of the point, or at least the explanation I was going with, because it certainly reinforced Cam’s naiveté. The rest of the characters in the book always felt authentic and never came across as two dimensional. Even though this really isn’t a book for the religious set, I thought it was very fair-handed in how it dealt with evangelicals and their teachings. I also think the well-rounded characters helped keep the plot feeling less like a vehicle for a Message than a real story.
While Cam’s situation, as an orphan and lesbian in a small conservative town, may be familiar to some, it isn’t these particulars that give the story its power. Nor was it the sex scenes that will titillate some. Had I read this book as a teenager I know I would have found it incredibly provocative. Not because I was struggling with my sexuality, but becuase, like most teens, I found sexualtiy and relationships, as John Irving said, incredibly confusing and even a bit frightening. And at heart, Miseducation is all about figuring those things out for yourself and overcoming the fear.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 15, Feb 2013 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
Just making a point of telling everyone that I am going to try and complete the YALSA Hub reading challenge. You can read more about it here, but what it boils down to is I have to read 25 books by June 22nd. That’s totally do-able, so long as I don’t get too distracted. Like all librarians, there are so many books I want to read, but I have a house to keep in order and baby to look after (although she frequently gets read aloud to from my books while she plays) and myriad other obligations and hobbies (we should have new bees in a month or so!!). Since I haven’t done much reviewing on this blog (mostly because the books I have been reading so far don’t relate so much to my library career as they do to my child-rearing career) I thought I would review the books that I read for the challenge here. Hopefully I’ll keep up a good, steady stream.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 19, Dec 2012 | In Remix | By Elizabeth Wroten
I just read this article about the racism that is rampant in YA book covers. It was such an informative post and I for one will admit I was only partially conscious of the state of YA covers.
What I wanted to add to this article was something I became acutely aware of after becoming a mother to a girl. These YA covers are detrimental to white girls, too. Notice that the girls on the covers shown (and the many more put on display in libraries and bookstores) are very airbrushed? They have flawless skin – not a pimple, red spot or freckle in sight. They are wearing sexy clothing. They are very thin and mostly tall. How many girls of any color do you know that are naturally built like that? I only know one, maybe two. Lucky her. Unlucky the rest of us who are told to make our bodies conform to that ideal. No matter how accepting we are of how we look (tall, thin, short, round, busty, hippy, brown, white, etc.) we still feel the pressure and still have moments of weakness where we look at ourselves in the mirror and wish we were just a little bit thinner, a little lighter skinned, a little taller.
And it isn’t only girls who get bombarded with impossible body ideals. Boys get it, too. Not every man has a rippling chest and six pack. Not every man is tan with perfect skin. I feel for the boys too.
Now it’s creeping into our books. A place that should be an escape. Especially since so many books do such a good job of putting girls of all stripes up on a pedestal. How about Katniss? She wasn’t much of a “girl” but she still kicked some serious ass. How about Ismae from Grave Mercy? She’s got some serious scars on her body, but she also kicks ass. Even Bella from Twilight is supposed to be plain, not some great beauty. I like beautiful book covers and I frequently pick up books where the cover has caught my attention. But I think you can have your cake and eat it too. You can have normal looking girls, girls who match the character in the book, and a beautiful cover.
So it comes down to the question, what can we do about changing or at least impacting bad body image as librarians? I don’t know. I really don’t. As a parent I will be doing my utmost to ensure that my daughter has a healthy self-image and understanding that Hollywood bodies do not equal normal. We don’t talk about weight in a negative way. We don’t hold up images of women as an ideal. I try to show her diversity of all kinds. I tell her she is beautiful. Did I mention my daughter is only 16 months? It needs to start early because the media gets to them early (Pink Legos? That make tea parties? As if girls can’t play with “boy” colors and don’t want to make their own forts, planes, trains, etc.). But as a librarian, I just don’t know.
I have seen an activity that could help to combat some of this negativity. It might be worth a try and if nothing else, it would be fun. Have either a book club or TAG or English class read a book with out seeing the cover (enshroud it with kraft paper), then create their own cover. I know a lot of kids might shy away from this. Especially, if they felt they had to draw a person, but I would encourage them to take their own pictures or find images online. This doesn’t have to be a super-slick, publisher-quality cover. Just a good representation of what they think the cover should look like. Then do a big reveal of the publisher’s cover and compare and contrast the two. I’d be very curious to see what happens if you use one of the books where the picture on the front doesn’t match the words in the book at all.