Friday, April 30, 2010

Cool Contest...

Another blogger has posted a contest that looks good. (And I'd love to tour and have four authors sign books...but this is the next best thing.) Books by Charlaine Harris, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, and Melissa Marr are up for grabs!

Check it out:

Fantasy book contest

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


What an uplifting and interesting book! So many books have some kind of tragedy in them, but this book held onto themes that ultimately uplift the reader. They certainly uplifted me. Essentially this book is about a new girl at Mica High School named Stargirl. As her name suggests, she is unique and unconventional which at first delights and then angers the student population. The main character falls for her. It's a sort of first love book with bigger ideas about conforming and being true to yourself. Heavy in a light way.

The three points:

1. Yoga. As I read the book certain passages that outline Stargirl's life philosophy struck me as totally vibing with yoga and meditative practices. So, of course, I loved it. Infusing the philosophy within the book allows for the appeal to adults as well as to younger readers. All in all, nice to see a meditation scene in the book. Hope the cosmic oneness flows into some young readers...

2. Simply written, but not simple. The book doesn't contain overwhelming vocabulary and certainly would appeal to middle school readers. The readability works to engage younger readers into different touchy subjects like "fitting in" and "finding yourself." Now, those can be extremely heavy subjects, but definitely digestible in this novel.

3. Strange lack of gender identification. I did not know until about 30 pages into the novel that the narrator was a boy. I thought he was a girl, and I don't know whether that's because I'm so used to and inclined to see narrators in young adult fiction as female, or if perhaps the character was written with gender neutrality in mind. Maybe I wasn't paying attention and missed a telling pronoun, but because this is written in first person, I doubt that. It's interesting I had this thought with Stargirl, because now I will probably be more in tune with gender issues, identification, and writing styles in future reads.

Either way, I recommend this one.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


The only word to describe today is gloomy. The gray sky's been pummeling rain since I woke up this morning. I left the house to grocery shop, but that's it, and I have no intention of leaving the house again today.

Today was the perfect day to read Sold by Patricia McCormick. The story is told from the perspective of a young girl, Lakshmi, from Nepal who is sold into slavery by her stepfather. My three points.

1. Heavy. This is not a light story, as the simple description above should have already brought to your attention. It's not that this is a bad story. In fact, I loved the book and read it straight through. But it brought tears to my eyes more than once, and it was not just the terrible cruelty of what the narrator endured; rather, the touching moments of small kindnesses throughout were devastating. Let me put it this way. After I finished the book I ran upstairs and devoured a slice of pizza. About halfway through I felt like a complete and total glutton, and realized that the three cups of tea I had today were more than this girl had throughout the length of her story. Whew.

2. Love the vignette format. I'm a big fan of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and love the idea of a story told through short vignettes that border on poetry. This book had a similar structure without the intense poetic technique of Cisneros's work. Poetry exists in the vignettes of Sold, but there was more simplicity to it that I think aided the book's feel as opposed to oversimplifying the message.

3. Lakshmi. This character felt real, though I don't know any thirteen year old girl's from Nepal. I believed in her moods, her cares and worries, and most of all her innocence shines through. Her strength of character allow her to survive, yet it is not an unrealistic depiction of strength in incredible odds. I believed in her, and I think you would, too.

Blog Hop!

Found this link this morning...will be spending a little time hopping around today!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

For the past few months I've been looking at a poster in a fellow teacher's classroom. Two little boys, one in striped pajamas, peering at one another through a barbed wire fence. I was intrigued but, I must admit, thought it would be a silly book about little kids that tugged relentlessly at the heartstrings. Two little friends and the holocaust? Really? I still wanted to read the book, though.

Then my mother got involved. She told me I just had to read it, that she loved it, and thought I would too. Being a dutiful daughter (who, me?) I immediately checked the book out of the school library and devoted a couple hours to it while everyone else was distracted with playoff hockey.

I discovered that there was nothing too maudlin about it at all. On to my three points.

1. It's a fable. Beautifully done. Fables can be irritating for their obvious symbolism and lessons, but this was so artfully constructed that there was a blend between the realism of the piece and the need to create a sort of, should I say it, simplicity. The characters are on some level two dimensional. But they are supposed to be and this adds to the deeper meaning, the transcendent
nature of the work. Just as I loved the symbolism of Steinbeck's The Pearl, I love the fable constructed here.

2. Clever, but not gimmicky. The clever part about how John Boyne portrayed the holocaust while making the story nonspecific is in his use of how Bruno, the main character, doesn't here the names correctly. For example, the fuhrer becomes "the fury" and Auschwitz becomes "out with." While the adult reader knows what these mistakes allude to, it also allows the reader to see this as a timeless story. Kudos, Boyne, kudos.

3. It was not maudlin! I kept waiting for the waterworks, thinking that I'd be crying shortly into the story with no possible letup until I threw the book across the room in a fit that it had gotten me so mushy. But no. I was okay. Until the second to last chapter. The ending of the story conveys such tenderness amidst evil that Satan himself might mist up. The innocence, the humanity, the universal power of friendship. It was, simply put, stunning.

Today's word? Maudlin: tearfully or weakly emotional; foolishly sentimental. As in: The book wasn't maudlin in the least; rather, it's raw power forced the reader to feel deeply.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A book from about ten years ago...

I saw this novel quite a few years ago, hanging out in the school library. The blunt title, Cut, mirrored with brutal honesty the subject of the book: teen cutting. It interested me immediately because I have known people who cut. I wondered if the depiction of this problem would ring true to me, or just sound like some adult talking about a problem and using every stereotype in the book.

I was not disappointed. On to my three points:

1. Solid writing. After suffering through some modifier laden prose, the tight writing of this novel made it impossible to put down. I wanted to keep reading not simply to find out if something was going to happen (ever!) but just because the writing was so well done. This author showed the readers what was going on, and had plenty of action.

2. Genuine characters. There was only one character that I thought was the stereotypical goth kind of kid. (But then again, there are stereotypical goth kids, so…) I liked them. I believed in the characters. And I enjoyed the main character, Callie. (And in a fascinating sidenote, she doesn’t speak until page 54—a full third of the way through the book. Symbolism anyone?) I felt her situation was realistic, and I have known people similar to her so it worked for me. She was like an amalgam of about five different people I have known. So, as a whole, she worked. It wasn’t as if she was all these individual’s weak character traits either. She was a good mix. I’ll leave it at that.

3. Interesting technique. The reader is the counselor. That’s all I will say. I liked it though, and it didn’t feel like a gimmick but a way to draw the reader in. I think McCormick realized that we might be analyzing her from the get go anyway, so why not have the counselor addressed as “you”. Fascinating use of second person.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


So last night YA Lit Chat had a chat with some YA authors via Twitter. It sounded extremely cool since Lisa McMann, the author of Wake, Fade, and Gone was going to be chatting as well.

Um, except I know nothing about Twitter.

So I sign up and get ready to find the group. No real problems there except when I got the group it was a hurricane...wait, tornado, of massive postings that I don't even think my computer could keep up with! Totally and completely insane. I decided that I'll just have to wait for the transcript and read through that.

They are having another one tonight, and this one has author Holly Black who wrote the Spiderwick Chronicles. I'd love to be there, too, but I think it's the transcript for me. :)

I'm currently reading Cut by Patricia McCormick. I've wanted to read that one for a long time. Only a few pages into it but a review coming this weekend.

Today's word: abjure: 1 a : to renounce upon oath b : to reject solemnly
2 : to abstain from : avoid

Hm. As in: "I abjure twitter."

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Must Read parody

First, I should take a moment to state that perhaps I have been too harsh regarding Twilight. I’ve talked with some other teachers who have read it and I guess there is something appealing about it…the desperate need to know how it ends, the drama of teen romance…

Nevermind. I don’t get it. I’m not too harsh.

But what I do get is humor. (Some of it anyway.) And I found the perfect book: Nightlight. A parody of Twilight written by The Harvard Lampoon, this novel crafts the story in a ridiculous over the top way that, much to my delight, often made it seem like the original novel. The main character, Belle Goose, moves in with her father and begins a new love. She meets Edwart whom she is convinced holds supernatural powers.

And so on. You know the story.

But the writing is hysterical. The same features of bad writing that litter the landscape of Twilight are employed with such comedic effect that I not only laughed, I cried. (I know that’s such a cliché, and that in itself is bad writing, but it was so true!) I give the writers credit because they were able to walk that fine line between bad writing which doesn't work at all and bad writing that is hysterically funny and aware of itself and what it is trying to accomplish. (This may be the focus of some negative reviews. But I loved it.)

This is a must read. And, I promise, I will be off the vampire kick soon. I'll be working on a new one soon.

Review forthcoming.


Today’s word: saturnine: adj. sluggish in temperament; gloomy; taciturn.

Cheer up! Don’t be so saturnine, because you’ll graduate in the next couple of months and be out of Chambers’s class forever!!!!!!!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Solid Vampire Series. Woohoo!

Finally, events occur!!

Granted, I am just starting this process and really haven’t read too many YA novels (shameful, I know), but I was thrilled after reading this novel because there was action, solid dialogue, and a more developed fantastical world.

The main character Rose, who totally and completely rocks, is a Dhampir guardian who must protect Lissa Dragomir from the Strigoi. At first it might seem confusing but in reality it’s pretty clear once you get reading. Quick cheat sheet:

Dhampir-being with vampire and human blood.
Strigoi-fierce vampires who never die.

The novel begins with action which is such a change from the pokey, nothing-really- happens writing of Twilight. That action continues right up until the end and some mysteries kept me wondering and reading on for more which is an absolute plus.

So, on to my obligatory three points:

1. Overall, pretty well written. Sentence structure is varied so that there is some hustle and flow (couldn’t help but write hustle and flow.) The reader isn’t bored with the same sentence type over and over, and Richelle Mead works short sentences in so that they feel natural. I only noticed four typos (not really a fault of the author…) and it isn’t even fair to comment on that in my opinion.

The only drawback would have to be the flashbacks. Just too many for me. I know that they were necessary for background information, but it could have been done less, or perhaps just more adeptly. And they were only distracting maybe two to three times. So I forgive. And you should too.

2. The characters and situations were real! Yay! I know that this is fiction, but I still want my teenagers to act like teenagers. The words that come out of their mouths? And appear in quotation marks? Should sound like what a teenager would say! And in this book it rings true to me. The main character, Rose, is sarcastic and tough. Who doesn’t like that? Other characters also feel like real, separate, and believable teenagers in this school. Kudos there.

One aspect of YA lit I am not quite sure about is the level of touchy, edgy content. My gut feeling is that most teenagers know and experience a whole lot more than what many adults want to believe. This book was brilliant at bringing in real issues through the fictional world, covering everything from addiction, cutting, inappropriate relationships, and your garden variety bullying that is so common. It all felt real and I think it was dealt with smoothly and with insight.

3. It’s a book where vampires are vampires, and humans are humans. Well, sort of. There are slight modifications and creations veering from traditional vampire lore, but there are plenty of those out there that don’t totally buck the basic principal of vampirism. Anyone who is intrigued by the fantasy won’t be put off or disappointed. For example, the vampires take classes during the night, their daytime. They don’t sparkle!

I couldn’t help that last sparkle comment. Just couldn’t.

You can get to the website for the series here.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Moon, but the same tune...

I just finished New Moon a few hours ago. I raced through the book, partly because I'm on a break right now, but also because I wanted to know what happened.

I know. Strange.

But I think a few things about this book should be said. Emphasized. So here are my three points about New Moon.

1. Bella needs to get a life. I know that she has one, but it is dependent on the others around her. Sure, everyone is dependent in some way, particularly young people. But to have your entire existence so wrapped up in another person is...not good.

And the messages are still there. Bella feels this compulsive need to be in danger. Any time she puts herself at risk she hears Edward’s voice, so of course she just has to have more. She’s an addict. And when she does hear Edward, he has this strange parental/pseudo-violent voice. For example, on page 359 Bella hears Edward’s voice again: “‘No, Bella!’ He was angry now, and the anger was so lovely.” So…the anger is “lovely” to Bella? Need I say more on this whole abusive relationship veiled as true love?

I should? Oh, okay.

When Bella does get some time off from Edward, she’s miserable but her grades improve. Awesome! Except she has decided to blow through her college savings. College, to her, is plan B. That’s just great. Nothing like promoting independence through complete lack of planning for the future and an unhealthy obsession with an absentee dude. At least we know where our main character’s priorities are. Take this little glimpse into her thoughts on page 528: “Compared to the fear that he didn’t want me, this hurdle—my soul—seemed almost insignificant.” Oh. My. God. She is afraid he doesn’t want her, and feels her soul is “almost insignificant”?

We’re also presented with another relationship between the character Sam and Emily. Emily has been scarred for life by Sam, but of course the reader needs to understand that this was all part of an unfortunate “turning” period during which Sam had no guidance. Yeah? Well there are plenty of people in the world that have stuff happen with no guidance. It doesn’t constitute an excuse for violence. I understand we’re not dealing with humans, but these arguments have been made by regular ol’ abusers. And people buy into it.

Self-esteem? Anywhere? Bueller?

2. The ending of this book is much better than Twilight, in my opinion. I liked the action it contained, and despite the “vampires glitter in the sun” attribute, I liked more vampire involvement. I won’t say anything else.

3. Again, editing!! I’m in Bella’s sick and codependent head way, way too much. This book, too, could have been trimmed way down. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it’s just a feature of YA books period. Maybe I am being unduly harsh on this book because I need to be more well versed in YA lit.

Maybe. But don’t count on it. ;)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Really, Twilight? Really??

I cannot walk through the halls of my high school without seeing copies of Twilight nestled in student arms. Yet I resisted reading the first book of the Twilight series, despite numerous student claims regarding its awesomeness.

Then I fell. I borrowed a copy. This same pattern began over twenty years ago with cabbage patch dolls. I thought they were the ugliest dolls I had ever seen, but by the end of the craze I succumbed and became the proud mother of Olive Sheila. I tend to resist fads then jump on them like a crazy fiend just as the fad becomes nerdy. It's just my style. I've made my peace with it.

Anyway, reading Twilight was eye opening. I could not believe so many young girls loved this book! Not even that, I also heard about adult professional women who loved this book. That's insane! What were they thinking?!

I shouldn't be too harsh in my analysis. First, I read the book months ago. Second, there must be something of value here to make so many readers gaga (and not the good kind of gaga, the Lady kind) over this series. But I have three main complaints that I have to list here and now:

1. Bella ain't no heroine! Yes, I said it with improper grammar to add emphasis. She's in love with a boy who potentially could kill her and yet she's irresistibly drawn to him? This isn't a love story, folks; it's the description of an abusive relationship hinging on possible domestic violence. This relationship is just crazy talk. If I had to hear Bella drone on about how beautiful and perfect Edward is in real life, I'd suggest counseling. "I love him, he's perfect, but I'm clumsy, awkward, and unattractive." Okay, Bella, here are a few numbers for support groups. Call them. Pronto.

Seek help, Bella. You have serious issues with your self-esteem.

2. Editing. There doesn't seem to be any here at all. Give me a weekend and a red pen and this bad boy is down to a reasonable 150-170 pages. About 300 pages contain the following message: Edward is beautiful and perfect. He's too good for me, he might kill me, but I love him so much.

Okay. Maybe I could edit it down to two sentences.

Oh, yeah. This might be my devotion to the flash fiction genre and tight, concise writing, but a few thousand less adverbs. Please!!! (I'm begging you, Stephenie Meyer. Begging for less adverbs.)

3. Vampires do NOT sparkle. I know, I know. Vampires are the product of the human imagination and fascination with immortality, death, and sex. Therefore, any rules about behavior, causes, conditions, etc., can be broken or thrown out the window.

But I don't care. They do NOT sparkle. Especially in the sun. This is just the antithesis of everything I know and love about vampires. (Thank you, Anne Rice, thank you. The teenager in me misses you like crazy right now.)

And that is my first reaction to Twilight. On to New Moon...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The "why" of my wandering (and wondering)

Recently, I had an epiphany. A few points in my life came together and I decided they must be pointing me on a specific path, one I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams. Interest in YA lit. Now, I know this should seem incredibly strange to you. After all I am a high school English teacher. But YA lit has always seemed, well, childish to me.

Again, I know what you are thinking. Um, don't you teach teenagers English? Shouldn't you love YA lit? Yes, on some level I should. I admit that I am one of the few adults that actually likes teenagers. I have always wondered (hence the wondering of the blog title) why there seemed to be so few books that were actually suited to the ages of 14-18 that didn't reek of formulaic and stereotypical stories and characters.

Then a few incidents occurred. I will list them in no particular order of importance.

1. I have a YA manuscript, shelved and dusty. I wrote it about four years ago, maybe even more, and then let it fall by the wayside. I started a new manuscript lately too. And I started to take a look at some titles out there to see if my ideas were too formulaic too. (Of course, anything I wrote would have to be awesome, right? ahem.) Anyway, I decided I needed to start reading some more to find out if my gut feelings about YA lit were way off.

2. There was an incident in a school system concerning a book by an author that I have worked with before. (I totally dig her writing style...very influenced by flash fiction which I also heart as well.) It concerned some of the subject matter being too racy. I have read another of her books and sure, I could see it being a little racy. But have you met teenagers lately? Spend 40 minutes to an hour with a group and just observe. I doubt they picked it up reading books, so wouldn't it be interesting to get them thinking about what we consider taboo? Needless to say I was intrigued by the controversy. (I haven't talked to the author about it yet, but it might be nice to see if I could interview her and post it here...)

3. One night I was having a "discussion" with my husband. :) I think at one point I proclaimed myself an expert on teenage behavior. Well, if you consider it and state that they are completely unpredictable then you might also be an expert. Anyway, he said something about how I still thought like a teenager so of course I am. A normal adult may have been offended. (Not me. I'm on a boat!)

So why shouldn't I start reading and reviewing YA lit? Absolutely no reason.

So here I am. No turning back now.

(Please let there be good stuff out there!)