So, in case you’re wondering, Mockingjay totally destroyed me. (I mean, in a good way. But still.) I finished the book last Tuesday (it’s possible that my roommate and I both bought the e-book at midnight, and then read it until work, then bought it in hardcover and read the rest on the way home) and have been more-or-less unable to accomplish anything since then. We discussed it at book club last night, and some of my library school pals have arranged a conference call (not kidding) to talk about it again next week, and I get to talk about it constantly with my co-workers and our fabulous t(w)een patrons, so…maybe at some point I’ll be productive again. But probably not for a while.

Plus, the library’s been closed for a couple weeks. We’re open again and back on our feet, but we will be playing catch-up for a while.

Upcoming programs for the fall: back-to-school party (in two weeks – maybe I should get on that); a program about fantasy books, which no one here reads, but I’m still determined to increase circ because come on, who doesn’t like dragons; a Wimpy Kid release party (and why is Jeff Kinney suddenly being so vague about whether or not this is the last book in the series?); and lots of fun things for the tweens: gaming, crafts, book club (we’re reading Gregor for October – I’m so excited), and a murder mystery party. We loved solving the Sammy Keyes mystery, so that should be a lot of fun.

Maybe I should plan those.

…or I’ll go think about Mockingjay some more.

Casting for the Hunger Games movie, obviously

So this has been a hot topic for a while now, and after (an embarrassing number of) hours spent considering the question, I have decided who should play the main characters in the Hunger Games movie. Since there are a lot of pictures, you’ll have to click through.

P.S. I definitely can’t wait 12 more days for this book, and I am super bummed that there were no ARCs this year.

Continue reading “Casting for the Hunger Games movie, obviously”

News from the outside world

1. Dora the Explorer celebrated her 10th birthday yesterday, to great fanfare. We’re celebrating here with a Dora book display and, of course, some very adorable Dora coloring pages.

2. It turns out that the adults-who-read-YA book club I’m in here is not as unique as I thought! There are lots and lots of adult women (and men!) reading and enjoying young adult literature. And no wonder:

“A lot of adult literature is all art and no heart,” [Amanda] Foreman, who is currently working on a book about British involvement in the American Civil War, said. “But good Y.A. is like good television. There’s a freshness there; it’s engaging. Y.A. authors aren’t writing about middle-aged anomie or ­disappointed people.”

Review: A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend

A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, by Emily Horner

This is one of those books that I wish had come out a decade ago, because I could really have used it back then. I saw a lot myself and the people I knew in high school in this book, and I suspect it will resonate with a number of teenagers I know today. Don’t get scared off by the beginning, which is sort of weird and irritating – the rest of the book is great.

Cass’s best friend Julia dies in a car accident, and A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend follows Cass and her friends as they attempt to pick up the pieces, move on, and memorialize Julia as best they can. Cass memorializes her dead best friend in two ways: she takes the trip out west that she and Julia had planned, and she participates in the production of the musical Julia had been working on before her death. The road trip takes place during summer break, and the play is staged early on in the school year. The novel skips back and forth between the two stories, which normally bothers me, but here, the stories just work better this way.

The great thing is that both stories are equally engaging. I love road trip novels, and I really love Route 66, so I enjoyed the chapters about Cass’s struggle to bike from Chicago to Los Angeles. Watching Cass return to the “real world” and attempt to navigate her changed relationships with Julia’s friends – and enemies – is equally compelling. Horner’s portrayal of this gang of grieving teenagers rings true for me – I know plenty of kids, especially theatre kids, who watch a lot of obscure horror movies and would do anything for their friends.

I never got any real sense of what Julia was like – for all that the novel happens because of her death, we don’t know very much about her life. She liked theatre, was really into her boyfriend, was great at writing music…that’s about all we know. And that’s okay. This book is so not about Julia, and I like that. Instead, we get a smart, sympathetic portrait of smart, sympathetic Cass as she works through her grief by making mistakes, getting in trouble, and maybe even falling in love.

Review: Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

I’ve never been a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, to be honest. I read this for a book club, and was surprised by how much I liked it. I really like Gaiman’s writing – it’s straightforward without sacrificing style. And I liked Richard quite a bit, really, but–

Richard, like pretty much everyone else in this book, wasn’t fleshed out very well. I felt like I “got” the Marquis better than anyone. Door? I had no idea at all. She was a blank slate who occasionally showed off some interesting powers. But she had no real personality traits, and I never got a sense that she and Richard developed a friendship, except that Gaiman told us that they had. Whatever.

The other problem is that once you get to the end, you get the distinct impression that you’ve just read the less interesting half of Richard and Door’s story. The plot part of this book doesn’t make all that much sense, once you start to think about it. Nothing really happened. But stuff is totally going to happen…right after the end of the book.

I did like it, though. This book gets major points for the good writing and the really thoroughly developed, fascinating world Gaiman created. But I just kept expecting more: more characterization, more plot, and at least like ten more chapters to really finish the story.

Review: The Line, by Teri Hall

The Line, Teri Hall

This is yet another YA dystopian fiction novel. This one takes place near some border (pretty sure it’s Canadian). It is the first in a series, and I will definitely not be reading the rest. Also, YA authors, I’m tired of series. Is it that hard to write one good stand-alone book?

In short: It’s not like there was anything wrong with this book. There just wasn’t anything right, either. The writing is really clunky (I am pretty sure some of these paragraphs were “what not to do” examples in my high school creative writing textbooks). The characters are flat and boring. Plus, Hall does that annoying thing where she unnecessarily makes up words to sound more sci-fi (“digim” for “picture,” “creds” for “dollars”) – Star Wars novels do this a lot, but they’re Star Wars novels, you know? Made-up words do not create an interesting world all by themselves. Overall, the world was not particularly well-developed or believable – when is this set? How is it possible that all of these countries have different names? How is the government simultaneously so tyrannical and so incompetent? And WHY did all of the “world-building” happen in the form of a pop quiz? The other big problem is that this book requires the reader to be concerned about the characters, which is impossible because a) we know nothing about any of them, nor believe anything they say because they are all painfully insincere, and b) you never believe that their world is actually dangerous. Oh no, they might have to wear jumpsuits? Ugh. Add to that the predictable ending and the lazy dialogue, and you’re in for a real treat. I might have liked it in middle school, though, because I was a big “X-Files” fan and would have loved the over-the-top paranoia about the government.

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Th1rteen R3asons Why, Jay Asher

So I hate the dopey title, and I really wanted to hate the book. It’s such a contrived (if original) premise – girl leaves suicide mix-tapes for all the people who made her suicidal. And I’m not sure it’s especially well-executed; in particular, the parts of the novel that are narrated by Hannah (the tapes) in no way sound like dialogue, and that bothered me – after all, the author could’ve just had her write letters. My other initial hesitation was Hannah herself. I’ve had a couple of friends who have committed suicide, so to me that person looks different than Hannah, who is blonde and popular and, well, female. Add to that the fact that a few of her 13 choices seem downright petty, and I got mad at her for making people feel guilty for the rest of their lives because of an almost certainly unintended slight – 100 pages in, I was skeptical.

But it’s a weirdly moving novel, when it comes to it. It took me until the end of the book to appreciate it, but I did, and I was glad I read it. The protagonist’s part in Hannah’s suicide is heartbreaking, and the interactions he has with other recipients of the tapes are compelling and ring true – much more so than the contents of the tapes themselves. I like to see teenagers reading this book (and they do, in droves), for a host of reasons. I appreciate that Asher lays out (in a non-didactic fashion) many of the warning signs of severe depression, which is good information for kids to have. Even better, what this book teaches is the importance – in this case, a life-or-death level of importance – of treating other people kindly and with respect, all the time. A lot of the people Hannah blames for her suicide weren’t unusually mean, for high school kids. They were just callous and uncaring, and that was enough to hurt her. The more reinforcement that message gets, the better.

In short: For the win, in spite of the goofy title. A strong message and characters that teens will recognize from the hallways of their very own high schools make this a compelling read.

Read it if you like: Other “issue” YA novels, like (I’m going to date myself here) Cut and Smack

Review: The Grave, by James Heneghan

The Grave, James Heneghan

This is another St. Patrick’s Day find, as it was the only YA book that popped up in our catalog under “Ireland”. The cover art is atrocious, but I’m always vaguely interested in books about Ireland, so I picked it up.

It was the right choice. Tom Mullen, a Liverpudlian foster kid, falls into a mysterious mass grave in 20th-century Liverpool and wakes up in Achill, an island off the west coast of Ireland, in the midst of the potato famine. This is of course a pretty bad place to find oneself, but Tom does swimmingly: within minutes he’s rescued one of the townspeople from drowning and is hailed as a hero (possibly of a supernatural order). Oddly enough, the kid he’s rescued is pretty much his doppelganger, which lends some credence in the villagers’ minds to the “supernatural” theory. Tom bunks with the Monaghans for a few days, befriends the oldest Monaghan brother, Brendan, who is disabled and reminds Tom of his co-foster-kid back home. He also falls in love with Hannah, the Monaghan daughter. He gets shunted back and forth between 1840s Ireland and 1970s Liverpool, facing tragedy and historically accurate hardship in both places, until he finally learns why he was sent back in time–and, in the process, learns valuable lessons about family and friendship (of course). I won’t reveal the ending, because it actually surprised me, and it’d be a shame for you to miss out on it.

The problem I had with this book—and it’s relatively minor—is that Tom sounds much older than he is. He’s only supposed to be twelve or thirteen, but his attitudes and vocabulary and interests seem at least three or four years older, and it’s kind of disconcerting. Obviously he’s supposed to be more worldly than your average adolescent, what with being a foster kid and all, but this goes beyond what can be accounted for by his status. I really enjoyed his voice and the writing generally, but in my head, Tom had to be fifteen to make it work.

In short: A well-written and compelling time-travel story. Its somewhat clichéd ending and message don’t detract from the power of the famine scenes, so it works in the end.

Read it if you like: Snarky British teenagers; the potato famine

Don’t take my word for it: Reader Rabid, Reading Matters

Review: The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages

The Green Glass Sea, Ellen Klages
I liked this book. I suspect most children will not even give it a chance. Certainly there is absolutely no way that we could get the kids at our library to read it. (Evidence: before I checked it out, the book had gone out once–to a different library, through ILL.) This a shame, because The Green Glass Sea is really great historical fiction.

This book takes place from 1944-1945 at Los Alamos. Dewey, our heroine, is terrific and mad likable, particularly if you are/were a nerdy kid yourself. She’s living there with her scientist father–her mother is not in the picture–and having a grand old time asking for advice on her inventions from–oh man, was that Richard Feynman? Nuh-uh.

So okay, I geeked out a little. So does Dewey. Sadly, her strange, very personal utopia falls apart when her father is sent to Washington and she is left to stay with the Gordons, whose not-so-charming progeny is one of Dewey’s tormentors at school. Through a number of big events, both personal and historical, Dewey and Suze learn to navigate their relationship and the strange world into which they’ve been thrown. The two girls and Mrs. Gordon are wonderfully crafted characters, and the way the book deals with war–and with the devastating weapon its adults are building–is honest, nuanced, mature. The last chapter, in particular, is astonishing. It’s really good, you should read it!

In short: Great historical fiction that’s probably too old for most kids who are Dewey’s age–throw it to the YAs and the more mature tweens. Good news: there’s a sequel.

Read it if you like: Historical fiction, particularly about World War II; strong female protagonists