Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday Words: Rating YA?

I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who has the occasional "head-desk" moment every now and again. These can come along for usually one of two reasons: 1 - I forgot something really obvious and now momentarily feel like a moron or 2 - I learn something that makes me want to close my eyes and unlearn it because it makes absolutely no sense to me.

When the report from US News came out last week showing numbers from a recent BYU study and questioned if the time has come for young adult novels to start coming with content warnings, my head-desk reaction definitely falls into the later category.

I mean, seriously?! People are seriously thinking about this? Okay then, let's talk about it.

The American Library Association is incredibly clear that they view censorship as the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons find objectionable or dangerous. A more in-depth explanation of their stance can be found here. The ALA is also incredibly clear that they are anti-censorship, and that while in many cases, the people trying to do the censoring have good intentions (such as in this case where they are concerned about teens reading more mature content or profanity), it is still not okay to try to prevent access to these materials.

Now I am not a parent, so I don't know what it is like to be in the shoes of a mother or father trying to keep track of what my child is exposed to and help them interact with positive influences. I am, however, a librarian and one who does a lot of work on collection development for the few thousand teens who utilize the school library I work in. When I'm selecting books for purchase, a few questions run through my mind: is this a genre in demand right now? Would this be an asset to our current collection? Is this something I feel this particular community would benefit from having readily available? If the answers are yes and my budget allows it, then the book is ordered.

I'd be lying if I said that none of these books had more mature content or language. Learning about  sexuality, relationships, drugs, abuse, and swearing all parts of being a teenager, so why wouldn't it be a part of YA literature? If people have a problem with those things, then I think they have a problem with teens. Open your eyes and ears. If you're worried about what teens are reading, then read along with them, don't slap a warning label on the cover and then tell them not to read it. Hasn't Banned Books Week taught us that the best way to get people to read something is to tell them not to? Anyway, these are the things that also occupy much of the tv shows and movies aimed to teens, so why are people surprised that these themes show up in books as well?

If anything, I believe that when these items are in books, it's much more purposeful. Sure, sometimes it's thrown in to be scandalous or for shock value, but more often than not, "controversial" items are included to teach something or to make a point. It happens in adult and classic literature all the time, so why not for YA also? For example, Nathaniel Hawthrone's The Scarlet Letter is the story of a woman who has an extramarital affair with her minister and deals with the public shame of it and raising her daughter alone while her ex-husband is out to get her and the baby's father deals with his guilt. Talk about spicy topics that wouldn't be out of place on a soap opera or reality show today, right? And this is a book that we consider to be a prime example of classic American literature and it's regularly taught in English classes across the country.

In short, I think that context matters. If you're concerned about what your teen is reading, ask them! Read along with them and have that discussion. Raise the level of debate, and challenge teens to think critically about the books they read. I have no doubt they are full of potential and are more than capable of rising to the occasion.

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Digging Deeper: Crossed

Crossed by Ally Condie

Dutton, 2011

Ally Condie’s novel Matched was one of first books I read when getting into dystopian fiction. It brought together elements that I thought were so striking – unlike in The Hunger Games where there is clearly something wrong with a government that forces children to kill each other, Matched presented readers with the Society, a system which on the surface gives the appearance of truly looking out for the best interests of citizens. If you trust in the system and follow the rules, then the Society will take care of you.

Except, things were not as they appeared. Through the eyes of Cassia, a seventeen year old girl, we start to learn that her perfect world is far from perfect. She begins to realize she wants what was taken away generations before her – the right to make choices for herself, including to be with the boy she’s fallen in love with, Ky.

Crossed, the second novel in this trilogy, picks up several months after where the first book left off. Cassia has made her way to the Outer Provinces, searching for Ky. However, thoughts of Xander, her best friend from home and the boy she was matched with to marry, are never too far from her mind either. But Ky has managed to escape the rough work camps and Cassia follows. New characters are introduced who are parts of their respective journeys, and while her longing to be with him remains, her desire to find and join the Rising, the group fighting to bring down the Society, is growing. The time is coming when she will soon have to choose not only between these two boys, but between love and the cause she believes in.

Condie continues to spin a story that keeps readers captivated. This time around, readers not only got to experience events from Cassia’s eyes, but Ky’s as well which was an interesting twist that I really enjoyed. The imagery was rich and I had no trouble visualizing the canyons Cassia and Ky are struggling to survive in. Readers also learn more about Ky’s mysterious past, why exactly his family was removed from Citizen status, and where his loyalties lie. Since the first book focused on what the Society can control, I loved learning about what’s being done to try to stop it this time around.

My biggest criticism, however, was the pace of the story. In this way, the novel does seem to suffer what is commonly referred to as "second book syndrome" where in the world of trilogies, the second book feels a bit like filler until the third and final installment, where all of the tied up loose ends and answers come along. The whole book takes place over the course of a few days, no more than 10 at max, but it didn’t feel like a whole lot was really going on to advance the plot in that time. This book was definitely more about character and history development, which is fine, but patience is imperative.
That being said, I’m even more excited now for Reached, the final installment in the trilogy due out November of this year.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Truth About Librarians

Stereotypes can often play a huge role in shaping our opinons on people or things we know little about, so I decided to take on five fairly common stereotypes about librarians and share why they aren't as accurate as you may have thought they were.

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading (and watching)!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday Words: The Gaudy Gatsby?

One of my favorite books that I read during my high school English classes was F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. It was the perfect book for my junior year spring break when it was assigned, and as I was on vacation with my family, I was also wrapped up in the story of the mysterious Jay Gatsby as well as his acquaintances Nick Carraway and Daisy Buchannan.

Oh, the green light! And talk about great closing words for a novel - that final sentence still makes me go "wow."

Anyway, I've never seen a film adaptation of this movie, though I know that Robert Redford starred as the titular character in the 1970s. So I was naturally curious when I heard a few months ago that a new film production was underway, and I was really excited yesterday when I saw the buzz that the trailer for this movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire was now online.

My thoughts on it, however, are mixed. Maybe it's just the mix of the modern music (Jay-Z? Really?) with the world of the 1920s. Maybe it's the editing style combined with the incredibly bright colors that made my senses feel a bit overwhelmed. Or maybe, as is the case with so many film adaptations, the book is always better.

And so I walked away from my viewing experience just thinking "hmm. okay." I'll no doubt see the movie when it comes out at some point, but for now let's focus on the two minutes and 28 seconds that we've been given for the time being. What do you guys think? Would F. Scott be joining the party, or do you think he's rolling over in his grave?

Check out the video below if you missed it! Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Something from Nothing: Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green
Dutton Juvenille, 2008

I have a long list of authors and titles that I'm embarrassed to admit I haven't read yet. John Green was absolutely on it - when I first read Looking for Alaska a little over a year ago, I was also upset that I hadn't heard much about him before then and that I was so late to the party. I went on to read An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I was one of the many thousands who pre-ordered and then went on to be emotionally rocked by The Fault in Our Stars (which I successfully convinced the school I work for to put on our summer reading list this year!) Only one solo-Green novel remained, which was a challenge because it is always checked out from our library - Paper Towns.

Quentin (aka Q) is a few short weeks away from his high school graduation, and he's had a pretty average life so far. The only part that he considers to be particularly extraordinary is that he lives next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman, the adventurous girl who was his best friend when they were little who doesn't even speak to him now but he's in love with her anyway. But then one night, she shows up at his window dressed as a ninja and takes him out for a night of bending the law and doing the unthinkable. And then she disappears without a trace, no one knowing where she's gone or why. So Q becomes a man possessed, piecing together where she could be and if he ever really knew her at all.

This was a case of me reading a book at the perfect time of year - I recently graduated (though with my M.S.) and the end of the school year for the district where I work is just around the corner. All of Q's feelings about this particular crossroads of his life were incredibly realistic and relatable. I also enjoyed the secondary characters of this story - they each had a distinct purpose and reminded me of someone I know or used to know. (Though, to my knowledge, none of my friends' parents collected Black Santas, though it's entirely possible they just kept that fact hidden.) Another aspect of characterization that Green is masterful with is having a character who's not present still make a huge impact - though Margo isn't actually with Q for most of the story, you still feel like you know her, or rather, realize that like Q, you can never really know her. I also think the inclusion of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, specifically "Song of Myself," was completely brilliant - I struggled with that particular work when I read it in college, but I'm now completely excited to give it another try.

To those critics who feel that Green has a particular style to his characters and storytelling, I agree and disagree. Were there parts of this story that reminded me a lot of Looking for Alaska? Yes. Margo and Alaska have their similarities, as do Q and Pudge. And like An Abundance of Katherines, this trip also featured the independence and discoveries that come with a road trip. Green's characters are teens who are unashamed of being smart or different and I applaud that move - it makes me wish these books existed when I was 16 because I really could have used them.

All in all, it's easy for me to see why this book is never on my library's shelves. It's smart. It's funny. It keeps you on your toes. It's honest. It's at the high level that we've come to expect from John Green.

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading.

John Green's Website
John Green on Twitter
John Green on Tumblr
John Green on YouTube

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Words: Keep It or Kick It?

Not all books out there are gems. Or if they are (which would be incredible), books are certainly not "one size fits all" beings. That's why there are so many different genres, authors, styles, imprints, and levels to them, and the lines are continually blurring, giving us all even more directions to go into and explore. Options can be great because it means that the chances of there being something you actually like increase.

But what do you do when you find yourself reading a book for recreational purposes that's just not for you? At what point do you make the choice to keep going with it or just give up and move on to something else?

This is not a rhetorical question by any means, and I'm genuinely interested in what people have to say about this. I know with my students, I usually tell them the rule of thumb that a few of my teachers/peers in library school went by - if you're not interested by page 50, maybe it's time to move on. But that's difficult for me. Maybe it's because I'm a writer too, so I know that sometimes with different people's styles, things take a little longer to unfold (though 50 pages is an awfully long time, especially if the book is only 2-300 pages long in the first place). I also know that I've settled into a definite comfort zone as of late that I want to break out of. Plus, as is the case with some things I've read lately, perhaps the book has gotten really great buzz, glowing reviews from others, and has even been nominated for a really huge honor, so I feel like I'm just missing something, like I'm the only one weird enough to not see what is totally fantastic about this book even though it's apparently obvious to everyone else.

(I know that's not really true, but it sure can feel that way from time to time.)

My personal choice is to keep on trucking, and if it's a library book, if I still haven't finished it by the time the three week check-out period is over, I just return it. If it's not a library book or there's still time left, I choose to power through and hope my mind will be changed.

But what do you think? Please leave your thoughts and comments - I'm genuinely interested in what you all think!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Small Town, Big Questions: Where Things Come Back

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Atheneum, 2011

When it comes to my reading choices, I hate to think that I have a type. I'm willing to mix it up and try new things - with books, the more, the merrier. But if you look through the reviews I've written here so far, there's a definite theme: I like what are typically described as "girl books" - strong female characters, series, and usually at least a dash of romance that's written by a woman.

I've been reading a lot of those lately. And I really didn't want to read another one, at least for a little while.

And so, I was thrilled when my library's copy of Where Things Come Back was on the shelf because I could finally give it a try. A stand-alone novel written by a man? Sounds good to me.

In his debut and Morris Award winning novel, John Corey Whaley weaves several story lines together. The most prominent is the story of Cullen Witter, a 17 year old who is in for the longest summer of his life in small town Lily, Arkansas for a variety of reasons. He's not the greatest with girls. He thinks his town is stupid for their obsession with the Lazarus Woodpecker (which an amateur birdwatcher claims to have spotted even though it's been extinct since the 1940s), going so far as to name everything in sight in its honor. But the biggest thing of all is that his 15 year old brother, the smart, caring, and insightful Gabriel, inexplicably goes missing.

I really had no idea what to expect from this novel, though the Printz medal it adornes on the cover did make me think this would probably be a book that asks BIG QUESTIONS like other Printz winner and honor books have in the past (John Green's Looking for Alaska, A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz), and I was right. Every character in this story is asking something and is in desperate need of an answer, whether they know it or not. And some are more obvious than others, which was something I enjoyed. Sometimes as a reader I saw things long before Cullen did, but I enjoyed watching him put the pieces together in a way that meant something different to him.

While the final portion of the book when the two main plot lines finally converge left me a bit dizzy (I had to go back and re-read a few pages to make sure I was understanding the timeline correctly), I have to say that I was overall very satisfied with this novel. It wasn't like anything I've read in a while, the narrator was a boy whose view I found relatable even though we don't have a whole lot in common (and isn't that so great when that happens?), and even though Big Questions are on every page, as a reader I never felt overwhelmed by them. I was curious to see how each character handled (or sometimes, mishandled) the card that life dealt them.

A good one-time read for me, and a must-read for anyone who has found that Printz books tend to be their style, Where Things Come Back will keep you coming back for more.

John Corey Whaley's Website
John Corey Whaley on Twitter

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Blogging or Vlogging, Take 2!

After several weeks of thinking about this and spending almost all of my Friday night working on trying to get along better with technology, I finally have a functioning video to share with you all!

Comments welcome! Please tell me what you all think!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday Words: Blog or Vlog?

I had what I thought was a great idea for this edition of Wednesday Words, but allow me to explain why you are reading this entry of my thoughts (as usual) as opposed to watching them (something new I've been thinking about trying).

To book blog or vlog? That is the question. I am extremely, incredibly, infantiley (I know that's not really a word, but roll with me) new when it comes to the world of book blogging. It's why I consider myself more of a rambler instead. Someday I'd like to be the one whose books are being reviewed, but in the meantime I like that having my blogs keeps me in the practice of writing and also helps me keep track of what I read. I don't like just saying "yes I liked this book" or "no I didn't care for it" - I like to think about and express why. And so far, writing about it has been very beneficial.

But I also subscribe to a few YouTube channels which are dedicated to books, book reviews, book news, etc. and I really like those, too. Things like hand gestures and tone of voice come into play. It's a little more engaging and allows for a different avenue of creativity and engaging conversation.

So which is better, or which do you prefer?

I set out to figure out if this other option would be something I want to explore, so I fired up my Mac, opened iMovie, and attempted to even try putting very simple, basic, clips together before trying to make something real. Let's just say that iMovie and I are in a fight because several hours later, I was no closer than when I started, and I didn't want to just have one long take - I wanted to be able to do basic edits, too.

Hopefully in the future, that will change. However, for now the question stands and I want your opinions, people! Blogging or vlogging?

If you're unfamiliar with the vlogging option, I highly encourage you to check out the three I subscribe to; they each have a different feel and approach, but they're all fantastic.

The Story Siren
Girls in the Stacks 

Comments welcome and, as always, happy reading!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Searching for Answers: Out of Sight, Out of Time

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter
Hyperion, 2012

I love getting good, old-fashioned mail. I especially love waiting for the mail at work and when the big boxes come in, because it means a book order is finally here. This week we got an exceptionally awesome load of YA books I'd ordered a few months ago, and the one that I selfishly just had to take before letting my students check it out (usually I let them go first because I'm a nice librarian) was Out of Sight, Out of Time, the latest installment in Ally Carter's incredible Gallagher Girls series.

When we last saw Cammie, it felt like everything and everyone was against her. The Circle of Cavan was going after her and she had no idea why. She wanted to search for answers, but the people she loves were put in danger just by being around her. Secrets came to light that even this young spy who has been trained to deal with a world of shadows had a hard time handling. And so she made the decision to search for answers on her own, by herself so no one else could get hurt, so this could all finally come to rest.

And then you read chapter one, in which Cammie wakes up four months later in the Alps with absolutely no memories of anything since she left the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. She wanted answers, but instead is only left with more questions once she returns home. Questions about where she went, what happened to her, who was she with, and what was everyone else doing when she was gone. With only one semester left before graduation and being considered a full-fledged, field-ready spy, Cammie is both incredibly knowledgeable and unbelievably young to have to handle everything happening to her.

I literally read this book in a matter of hours because I could not put it down. The growth that Cammie and her friends have had over the years in so well done and incredibly realistic given their situations - it's almost hard to believe that this series started with the girls in the beginning of their sophomore year and digging through the trash to figure out how to talk to boys. Liz, Macey, and Bex each show different sides of themselves this time around and I loved how Carter emphasized the fact that while they are the best in the world at what they do, they're also in many ways just girls with 17 year old thoughts and feelings. And to those of you who are curious, yes Zach is back as well in a fantastic way that I wasn't expecting and completely loved.

This series is a fantastic example of contemporary YA with an innovative twist. They feature strong girls in an extraordinary situations, and while it can feel like teen books bash adults and parents sometimes, this is not the case here. Cammie and her friends have an incredible support system in the adults they know and trust, and while there are bad guys and gals too, there is an underlying love among the good that is something even us non-spies can understand. In my opinion, this is the strongest book in the series yet and Gallagher Girls #6 can't possibly come soon enough.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday Words: Whose YA Is It?

In the last few weeks, multiple blogs and listservs I subscribe to have brought up the question of YA question development in libraries and has it or should it change as a result of the rise in the number of adults reading YA. Let's take a look at both sides of the argument, shall we?

Librarians have to be selective when it comes to ordering. As much as many of us would love to be able to buy all the books, there simply isn't the money or the space for that to happen. And so the delicate dance of collection development comes into play - selecting items that you believe or know your patrons want, branching out and getting books that may be of interest to them, and trying to satisfy the wants and needs of as many as possible.

In that light, a library patron can often check out items from any area of their public library - age doesn't matter. Theoretically, a five year old could check out some seriously existential adult materials in the same way that adults can pick out books from the YA and children's collections. So a patron is a patron is a patron, and you have to pick books that you think your patrons will read. And if a lot of your YA books are being read by adults, the argument can be made that it's okay for those who do the selecting to go with YA books that have greater appeal for adults.

But on the other hand, it's the YA section. Young Adults, not Adults who are Young at heart, right? For example, at my local library, even though the collection is classified as YA, there's still a giant mural that proclaims the space as the Teen Center. Because the space is for teens. The books are about teenage characters. If adults like it, well that's awesome, but they aren't the target demographic or intended audience for many of these stories - the fact that they like them too is just like a fantastic bonus.

So what's a person to do? Personally, I'm lucky in that right now I work in a high school library so the majority of the book budget goes to YA titles and I can play around with this a bit. Do I get the series that my students love that I'm not sure you could even pay me to read? You bet. Do I also get the books that don't shy away from big questions and serious situations that teens may not necessarily jump up and down for now, but maybe they will someday because their teachers sure do? Yes I do. So I guess I lean towards the second argument, but if a librarian can support his or her answer either way, then rock on.

But what do you all think? Comments are always welcome - come on, don't be shy!