Photo Impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014 and Washington DC

9 12 2014

NCTE’s Annual Convention and the ALAN workshop was my first time in Washington DC.

But it wasn’t really *in* DC, it was in an artificial little place called National Harbor, which used to be a dump site, apparently (only about 10 years ago). Now it’s a sparkly artificial bubble with at its center a really really really big indoor Convention Center … that did a lot of Christmas music lightshow thingies. But anyway, National Harbor:

 

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Here are a few things that happened at NCTE itself:

On Thursday, I did the NCTE on Tour to the Library of Congress. The workshop we got there with the sources and how you can use them in the classroom was awesome. And we got a guided tour of the LoC as well there and there was an exhibition about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so that was a nice bonus:

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Friday to Sunday at NCTE:

 

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There was some – though not a lot of – time to visit Washington DC, which is nothing like I imagined it to be (my only East Coast refernence being New York City).   I decided to explore some of DC on my own on Friday afternoon, and the shuttle van took me to Union Station and then I just walked from there to the National Mall and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial and then back to the White House until it was time to go to Politics and Prose (I can now also say I shopped in the same bookshop as Obama, ha!).

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I loved being in Politics and Prose on Friday evening to see some authors in a more ‘natural’ environment of a bookshop. Fantastic:

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And then, the absolute greatest thing *ever*: the ALAN workshopthe panel discussions (so many great talks there), obviously the box of books (which caused me trouble getting over, so I just left about 10 or so there to be donated), the authors who were all so kind and signed books and even had time for a chat (I talked to M.T. Anderson! And David Levithan! And Libba Bray! And Frank Portman!). The panel with the transgender teens and their moms totally blew me away; Libba Bray’s speech was fantastic; the parent and child panel with Neal Shusterman, so many great discussions . I would do ALAN again in a heartbeat! Look:

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I went back to DC for a DC@Night tour on Tuesday evening. Boy, am I glad I did that:

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Finally, some random observations about my visit:

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So, NCTE/ALAN: a once in a lifetime experience for sure…but definitely one I would like to do again. I probably can’t do this every year (school), but I’m definitely checking out options for conventions that are a direct flight from Brussels. Atlanta in 2 years will probably be too soon, but 2019 is Philadelphia and that’s a direct flight too, so who knows? :)

 

 

 

 





Read in November 2014

3 12 2014

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to in November. I also don’t have the time right now for more than sketchy impressions of the books I read, rather than the full reviews they rightfully deserve. So here goes nothing…

Power books by power women, or also: books that will kick your ass as they rightly should:

GloryOBrien

 1) Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (by A.S. King aka the most missed author at NCTE/ALAN 2014)

I really hope to write a longer review of this, because this book and this author so deserves all the praise! This is a veritable horror story too. And can I be shallow and say how much I love my signed copy? Look at it!! But seriously. Read this!ASKingNCTE2014

4 stars (but really, it already has 6 starred reviews!)

2) The Truth about Alice (by Jennifer Mathieu)

There’s definitely an overarching theme in my November reads and that is cruelty. In this particular case, it’s cruelty in the guise of ‘slut shaming’. The Truth about Alice is Jennifer Mathieu’s debut YA novel and I was completely and shamelessly sucked in by it.

I “loved” every bit of this book: the multiple perspectives, the ruthless investigation of stereotyping people (and characters in a book), the way it unflinchingly shows how boys and girls are seen and judged in a completely different light. I also “hated” everything about this book: the way the boys and girls are shown and how stereotypes are reinforced. How some people have (too) loud voices and others don’t have a voice at all.

This is such an important book. For boys and for girls. And not in the least: for the adults raising those boys and those girls.

4 stars

3) Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (by Meg Medina)

This is a book from the heart. It’s not a ‘nice’ story, though. On the contrary, Meg Medina wrote a harsh psychologically layered story about bullying and female relationships. It’s edgy – and I’m not even talking about that title (which, by the way kicks so much ass ;) – and I’m sure not just girls will identify with Piddy Sanchez or possibly even the mysterious Yaqui Delgado. If there’s one thing that’s abudantly clear after reading this provocative little book then it’s that everyone has a story: the victim, but also the bully, even if we don’t know what that story is, as is the case with Yaqui Delgado. And more than being ‘just another bullying book’, what really stands out is Medina’s great rendering of female relationships.

3.5 stars

Power books by power men

1) Knockout Games (by G.Neri)

Based on true events, comes G. Neri’s Knockout Games. I read this one right before Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and what the two definitely have in common is the violence. This one is a ruthless book. Set in St. Louis it’s all about a knockout club, a group of middle and high school kids who basically get into random violence (knocking out random people on the street for the fun and thrill of it). When Erica is uprooted to St. Louis after her parents’ divorce, she gets mixed up with the game (she’s good with a camera) and its leader, K (Kalvin), the Knockout King.

The narrative and the language are very straightforward. There’s no needless fancy talk, which wouldn’t really fit with the book’s topic anyway. Also like Yaqui Delgado, I see this being liked by a younger audience (Yes, yes, I know: there’s violence. And sex. Bite me). There’s also the same trope of the outsider trying to fit in, which that age group really seems to appreciate a lot. In this case, the protagonist is the white Erica who moves to a predominantly African American neighborhood and who’s trying to keep her head above water after her parents’ divorce.

3 stars

nctereads1

2) He Said, She Said (by Kwame Alexander)

This is described as a ‘hip hop’ novel and the language use of esp. the male protagonist Omar or T-Diddy (I did the same eye-rolling as the female protagonist!) in the book also reflects this. However, I can’t really say I was into it all that much. I also don’t like hip hop, so maybe it’s that. The story is too stereotypical for my taste: a good looking star football player (a real “player” too, of course) and a studious and responsible girl. Of course they’re destined to meet. Mixed in with this tale of destined yet too good to be true romance is a fight for social justice at the local high school.

I don’t know, it’s all very much in your face. I just couldn’t see past the shallowness of it all (maybe that’s the point?) and I just like my stories more nuanced and my characters with a lot more depth.

2.5 stars

Graphic novels:

1)  The Silence of our Friends (by Mark Long)

This graphic novel – also drawn by Nate Powell – is another (historical) graphic novel/memoir in the same vein as March Book One. It’s not quite as powerful as March Book One, but I can see this being liked a lot by my reluctant readers who’re really into history and the Civil Rights Movement.

3 stars

2) The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (by Stephen Collins)

GET THIS BOOK NOW. GET IT! NOW! Absolutely brilliant graphic novel. What can I say? There’s the neat and orderly island of Here. The threat of a chaotic There. And there’s a *gigantic beard*. I repeat: there’s a gigantic beard. What more do you need? Brilliant artwork? It’s all there.

Gigantic Beard 1

Gigantic Beard 2

It’s the ultimate surrealist and eerily honest truth metaphor about the state of man in our current society (unfortunately it’s probably also the ultimate hipster book). This book is  awesome. Did I mention there’s a gigantic beard? That is evil?

5 stars

 

Up next: photo impression of NCTE/ALAN 2014





100 Sideways Miles (by Andrew Smith)

5 11 2014

Look: here’s the thing. I don’t know much, but if there is one thing I know, then it is this: Andrew Smith is a 16-year-old boy.

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

So, OK, I don’t know what it actually is to be a 16-year-old boy, but I have lived with one for the last 18 years (because grown up men will always be 16-old boys, no matter how old they get) and I made him read[1] 100 Sideways Miles and here’s what he said:

  • Yes, it is fucking ridiculous to pee with a boner (in the morning) – something I had been wondering about for a long time too before I actually dared to ask my 16-year-old boy.
  • Yes, it’s fucking embarrassing to have your best friend buy a pack of condoms for you and people are overhearing the conversation – I guess this is a situation most similar to buying a pregnancy test for your best friend because – even though she claimed that yes, they’d obeyed Cade Hernandez’s number one rule (“Dude. Don’t be a dumb fuck. You have to use a condom. Only dumb fucks don’t use condoms.” (p.138)), ‘the condom broke’ – you now end up at the pharmacy (over-)emphasizing the fact that it is for your best friend, not for you… really, it’s not.
  • Yes, teenage boys think about boners and balls All.The.Time. Also, thinking of boners can give them a boner – but I knew that from Grasshopper Jungle, of course, but still, it’s always good to double-check your facts and sources.

Just this to say that Andrew Smith really gets how much of a teenage boy’s experience is linked to sexuality. How ridiculous would it be if this were not included in a book, featuring a male adolescent protagonist, right?

But I didn’t have to confirm everything with the 16-year-old boy I live with. Here are the things I knew myself:

First, it’s true about the eyes. Just like Finn Easton, I have heterochromatic eyes and just like with Finn, people hardly ever notice it, because they just don’t look. If they do notice and say something about it, it’s usually mid-sentence and a real conversation switcher. Some even think you’re an alien visitor from outer space[2].

Second, Andrew Smith is really really smart. You know how Finn is a boy with some serious problems, right? Not only is he a boy in a book, but he’s also a boy in a book in the book. See what Andrew Smith did there? Look, here’s Finn, he’s a pretty unique boy: he’s got heterochromia, which is pretty rare[3]. But add to that a dead horse fell out of the sky, killing his mother and leaving Finn with a very distinct :|: scar and some nasty seizures, and you get an epilectic with heterochromia. What are the odds, right? So, yeah, our Finn is a pretty unique individual.

But look, the boy in his dad’s book is also called Finn, and that boy in his father’s book also has heterochromia and a :|: scar on his back. Again, what are the odds? No wonder Finn has doubts about his whole existence: “Maybe it’s like that for all boys of a certain – or uncertain – age: We feel as though there are no choices we’d made through all those miles and miles behind us that hadn’t been scripted by our fathers, and that our futures are only a matter of flipping the next page that was written ahead of us.” (p. 1)

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!

So here’s a boy who is most definitely not okay… Does he have a say in his own life? Is everything already scripted for him? Can he make his own choices? What would you do if the only thing you wanted was “to feel like a regular human teenage boy and do regular human teenage-boy things” (p.175), but your whole existence is overshadowed by another boy in a book who wants just that, and you basically feel trapped inside a book? If it involves seeing the world through distance and miles instead of hours and time, fact-finding expeditions, falling in love with a girl, a shadow play and a road trip with your  best friend, then you might be like Finn who is slowly trying to step out of the book…

Andrew Smith is definitely at his best when he talks about the confusion and awkwardness of 16-year-old teenage boys… And confusion may well be the universal default teenage state of being, of course, which is why hundreds if not thousands of (YA) books have obviously used that as their premise. Andrew Smith, though, is always capable of coming up with so many detours that there’s a difference to reading his books. He links one thing to another and he invites you to discover that these connections actually make sense. Why would you not link time to space? Why would you not take the unusual path? Why would you not talk about boys with heterochromatic eyes and epileptic seizures who lost their mom in a freak accident? It’s more than a premise or a gimmick, his willingness to challenge not just himself as a writer, but also us as readers, is what makes reading any of his books like a new adventure. 100 Sideways Miles is no exception to this.

And besides the fact that 100 Miles Sideways is  first and foremost a novel about a boy who’s trying to figure out what choices he has in life, the entire book actually also reads like a huge comment on ‘the coming-of-age’ story (for lack of a better word) and if you know a little bit about the way this book came to be, then you’ll see that Andrew Smith is taking the concept of ‘meta-story’ to a whole different level.  Stop messing with my mind, Smith. Continue messing with my mind, Smith. Exactly because he always has such honest, real, relatable and universal sounding protagonists and because this is so obviously an Andrew Smith book, his writing stands out and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.

Look, I get it. Andrew Smith’s novels may not be for everyone. The small details, the quirks, the narrative detours, the repetitions throughout the writing itself … it’s something you dig or…not. I totally got on board with it[4]. But hey, some people don’t like dark chocolate and prefer Hershey’s. Who am I to judge that, right? I mean, I don’t like Hershey’s, but I sure do like me some Côte d’Or 70% Noir Intense. And although ultimately I don’t feel like 100 Sideways Miles tops Grasshopper Jungle (but nothing really does), it’s still Côte d’Or milk chocolate[5].

________________________

[1] Which he read during the Perigee moon, by the way. I kid you not!

[2] I don’t have the :|: scar on my back, but I have a similar looking scar right next to my eye – souvenir from a Mini Golf game when I was 13.

[3] Relatively rare, in any case. About 6 in 1000 may have a very mild case of heterochromia iridum , while the thing that Finn has (very distinctive, one eye green, the other blue) would be considered “very rare” (I read numbers of about 2 in a million but also “less than 200 000 people in the US”). I know me and one other girl who has it, so yeah, rare.

[4] Maybe that’s because even though outwardly I am the most organized person on the planet, in reality, if you could look inside my mind, you’d see it’s pretty much a free jazz record: all over the place and sounds likes complete chaos, try finding some structure in that! Something I recognize in Andrew Smith’s books, I think.

[5] Which is basically the (only) chocolate I always have in my kitchen cupboards.

 

Exclusive 100 Sideways Miles Blog Tour:

This review is part of Lady Reader’s Official 100 Sideways Miles Blog Tour. Please go and check out the other reviews:

LadyReaderBookstuff

 

 

There’s a great giveaway too:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

More about the book and the author:

100 Sideways Miles was published by Simon & Schuster. Buy it at your local Indie.

Drop Andrew Smith a line on his Facebook page or tweet him @marburyjack .

His website is at www.authorandrewsmith.com .

 

Finally, also huge thanks to Amy del Rosso @ Lady Reader’s Bookstuff. You’re Côte d’Or 70% Noir Intense!

 

Follow the tour:

 





Read in October 2014…

27 10 2014

Wolf in White VanWolf in White Van (by John Darnielle)

This book is easily going to make my top 10 of the year. I haven’t read any of the other books of the National Book Award long list, but they must be darn good for this one not to be a finalist, because, holy crap, this is a damn fine piece of writing. Strongly recommended to people who like good shit.

4 whole stars

WeWereLiarsWe Were Liars (by e. Lockhart)

I admit to finally having given in to the hype (my first mistake, given my not so good track record with e. Lockhart’s books). Admittedly,the “mystery” kept me going until the end, and makes this a short little pageturner. But now I can say also once and for all that e. Lockhart’s books are just not for me. I absolutely hate the white privilege ‘woe is me’ rants of most of her main characters I have read. I have no sympathy for the main characters whatsoever and the literary techniques used by Lockhart here feel very try-hardy… It’s not about ‘sympathetic characters’ at all (I could care less about nice or not in a book, I don’t even care for nice in real life), I just find no connection between myself and this book…at all…ever. And I want to read books that *I* connect to, in whatever form: characters, style, world, anything…but here’s it’s just not there. I recognize that Lockhart can write a book, but they’re just not for me.

3 stars objectively / 2 stars for me

Out of the pocket (by Bill Konigsberg)

I think this is an incredibly important book content-wise but I was really disappointed with the execution of it. Konigsberg ‘s sophomore novel Openly Straight is in that respect clearly a step up from this debut novel.Out of the pocket

3.5 stars for story / 2 stars for style

Not exactly a love story (by Audrey Couloumbis)

Cutesy love/friendship love story set in the 1970s, which reminded me a lot of Natalie Standiford’s How to Say Goodbye in Robot for some reason. It has the same vibe going on, only a little more stalkerish… (that sounded worse than it was!)

3 stars

She is not invisible (by Marcus Sedgwick)SINI_CVR_FINAL

This is an ‘I liked it’ Sedgwick novel and not an ‘I loved it Sedgwick’ novel. There’s no denying that Sedgwick has talent coming out of his ears and is great at multiple genres over the age-ranges (I mean Revolver and The Raven Mysteries are so different and yet so very typically Sedgwick at the same time…)… but for some reason, I love Sedgwick a whole lot more when he does the whole ‘atmosphere’ thing, rather than the somewhat meager ‘whodunnit’ thing like we get in She is not invisible, especially when the plot is well…rather thin.

3 stars.

 

 

What is worth reading:

  • The piece A.S. King wrote for the ALAN Review:

2014-10-20 18.33.31

 

  • And look here:

Glory

 

Still in the pipeline: a review for Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles.





Read in September 2014

27 09 2014

Due to severe lack of time, here’s a photo impression of recently read books:

  • Holly Smale’s Geek Girl: All the rage in London, so I decided to check it out. It’s not even half bad ;) Of course, it’s utterly predictable, but it’s an easy read which will please a lot of my reluctant readers. 3 stars
Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

Because this seemed to be all the rage in London, I bought the series.

 

  • Michael Grant’s Messenger of Fear: another new series by the author of the Gone series. It’s no Gone, though, but luckily no BZRK or Eve & Adam, both of which I just couldn’t get into. This one shows some promise. Will check out the next book in the series! 3 stars
Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite 'first in a series' flaws. Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

Messenger of Fear: First book in a new Michael Grant series, promising but has some definite ‘first in a series’ flaws.
Bonus: this copy was signed by the author!

 

  • Andre the Giant by Box Brown: a graphic memoir of Andre the Giant. Nice enough, although it lacks some depth. 3 stars
Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

Graphic Memoir about legendary wrestler Andre the Giant

  • The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz: bought this solely because Andrew Smith told me to. Yvonne Prinz tells the tale of a music (vinyl) obsessed girl in Berkely, who works at a legendary music store. Although the (love) story in itself is one I’ve read before, there’s a melancholy sweetness to this book that makes it really hard to resist.  3 stars
The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob's record store, aka Amoeba ;)

The Vinly Princess by Yvonne Prinz, featuring Bob&Bob’s record store, aka Amoeba ;)

 

 

Currently reading:

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

Model Misfit, the second book in the Geek Girl series

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel... will let you know what I think later.

The gigantic beard that was evil by Stephen Collins. Apparently this is a brilliant graphic novel… will let you know what I think later.

 

Also, coming soon: a review of Andrew Smith’s 100 Sideways Miles… (thanks Amy Del Rosso)!

 

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

As always, beautifully done!

As always, beautifully done!





Overdue update (August reads)

5 09 2014

A long overdue update about books read in August.

The disappointments:

  • Crazy (Amy Reed): Even though it gives an insight into a important mental health issue (bipolar disorder), it’s not done very convincingly. The book is told in emails between Connor and Izzy, which is a poor choice of narrative device to tell this particular story, because it gets in the way of real character development and it actually hinders the plot advancement. The result is a fairly predictable course of events. It also doesn’t really help that the main characters are…well… dull.
    2.5 stars
  • California (Edan Lepucki): mCaliforniaore dullness… I got Californa mainly for the Colbert Report / Amazon / Sherman Alexie reason. The hype about this book was huge, it helped Edan Lepucki immensily, but the book itself…meh…I’m not too wild about it. It’s the story of Frida and Cal in a post-apocalyptic world that seems to just be… It looks like something environmental happened, but there’s hardly any world building so it’s all a bit sketchy.
    The main problem with this book though is that it seems thoroughly underdeveloped: the characters are dull and need fleshing out, the plot is not really going anywhere and meanders its way towards a sort of non-conclusion, there’s a lot of talk about actions that have been taken / are being taken but that we never get to experience being taken… if that makes sense? No? Don’t worry, the book itself makes very little sense as well. And nothing gets any sort of satisfying explanation because the reasons mentioned to do something are all so very arbitrary (like the whole Containment – Children bit: doesn’t make sense). A poor man’s The Road, I guess?
    2.5 stars

Onto the better stuff…

Picture book classics

  • Robot Dreams (Sara Varon): a wordless picture book about a dog and his robot-friend. This picture book classicsis a timeless and universal tale of the search and need for finding a connection and friendship. I also adore Sara Varon’s visual style. It’s so soft and easy-looking. My kid loves it as much as I do (Odd Duck is probably my kid’s favorite book).
    4 stars
  • The Dark (by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen): I think Jon Klassen’s Hat-books are a stroke of pure genius, but what he does here with Lemony Snicket is equally brilliant: a variation on a child’s age-old fear: fear of the dark. Really not to be missed!
    4 stars

Great YA books

  • 17 & Gone (Nova Ren Suma): I have to say that me liking this book came as a bit of a surprise. I liked – didn’t love – Imaginary Girls, but 17 & Gone is such a step up from that, in my opinion. Yes, I did guess from the very start what was going on, but despite that I continued to be enthralled by what was going on with Lauren and her visions of the lost girls. The main reason for this is Nova Ren Suma’s lush writing: her sentences are more than words on a page. They’re vibrant and have a sense of urgency that is mesmerizing and just urge you to keep on reading. Definitely the surprise of the summer.
    4 stars
  • We Were Here (Matt de la Peña): I have to say that I have completely fallen for Matt de la Peña’s books. I liked Mexican Whiteboy a whole lot, but I have to admit that I fell a bit in love with We Were Here. We Were Here is about a boy Miguel who’s sent to Juvi for a crime he’s doesn’t reveal, but which obviously haunts him. There he meets 2 ‘companions’ in Mong and Rondell. Three teens, each with baggage aplenty on a ‘road trip’ to Mexico. This story of (especially) Miguel and Rondell is the stuff classics are made of and it’s done so well. We Were Here really made me think of Of Mice and Men, a book that is also referenced in the story. We Were Here really broke my heart in the exact same way as Steinbeck’s classic did. I can’t wait to hear Matt de la Peña speak at NCTE’s Annual Convention in November!
    4.5 stars

 

 





Re-read: As I Lay Dying (by William Faulkner)

18 08 2014

2014-08-18 14.07.14I read this the first time when I was somewhere between 16 and 20, I think. But to be honest, I understood fuck all about it then.

I only re-read it now, several university degrees later and after 2 more decades of reading (none in the least after reading Adam Rapp), and pheww… this book, this author: so far ahead of its/his time: structure, voice, topics, everything is so different from things that came before. And now I can see how much authors that came after him owe Faulkner.
Only now I can place this in the proper context.
What an overpowering book this is.








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