March-May Reads

25 05 2015

Books I read from March to May 2015:

Graphic novels2015-03-05 16.53.46

March Book Two ( by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell): more behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement with Congressman John Lewis. A must read for everyone. Huge hit with my students too. (****)

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (by Ben Hatke): the kid and I read a couple of pages of this every night. We love Strong Strong and One J We are currently on the last Zita book… (****)

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: beautiful artwork, very evocative. The whole work oozes nostalgia. I loved this one, but I think it might be more of a critics’ favorite than a kids’ favorite. (****)

Non-fiction

IMG_20150509_153050[1]Rethinking Normal: a Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required: The not so secret life of a transgender teen by Arin Andrews are the memoirs of two transgender teens who were also in a relationship for a while. It reads pretty much like a teen would write it, which definitely adds to the authenticity. But obviously these two memoirs are pivotal in understanding what transgender teens go through. Both books were featured in my Awareness Week display at school and checked out in no time. (both ***)

No choirboy: murder, violence, and teenagers on death row by Susan Kuklin. This book is raw and sad. How could it not? No sensationalizing, just harsh truth. (****)

Books in a series

Half Bad by Sally Green: first in a series of books about ‘witches’… not at all like Harry Potter, though. It has been a while since I have liked a “fantasy” thing, but it is basically adventure with witches but done well. A bit of a slump about 2/3 in, but still very worthwhile. Definitely a series to continue. (*** ½ )

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: 3rd in the Shades of London series. This one is better that The Madness Underneath, but still not as good as the stellar first book The Name of the Star. I do hope there will be a rocking conclusion of this series in book 4, though. (*** ½ )

Isla and the Happily Ever After: I have a soft spot for Stephanie Perkins since I saw her at Politics and Prose in Washington. Bonus is that she does contemporary romance really really well. Give me a Perkins and a Dessen and I’m a happy camper J. Isla and the Happily Ever After has the added bonus of giving us more glimpses of the characters of the other books. (***)

Standalones

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos: there are not enough music-related YA books. So if you pick this one up, make sure to pick up Yvonne Prinz’s The Vinyl Princess! These books make a great pairing. (***)

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin: Besides the fact that I could not stand the character (or the way she was being presented by all of the players in the story ) of Addison Stone – at all – this book is really well done: a faux-memoir, complete with photos and artwork and disclaimers etc. I really did look up if there was an ‘Addison Stone’ after a chapter or so 😉 (*** ½ )IMG_20150525_110557[1]

When I was the greatest and The boy in the black suit, both by Jason Reynolds. I am not a fan of the writing. In When I was the greatest, the narration was a bit too one-dimensional for my liking. And The Boy in the Black Suit just confirmed that Reynolds’ style isn’t my style. Both books were well-liked by kids in my class, though. (both **)

And we stay by Jenny Hubbard: A character’s poetry just always distracts me in a book (that’s a me-thing), even if there’s an Emily Dickinson theme throughout the story. The story of grief, recovery and friendship is great though. Hubbard’s style is very recognizable. I always like it when I can pick out a writer’s words from just a few lines. (*** ½ )

Invincible by Amy Reed. Amy Reed’s books are a hit with my teen girls. Beautiful and Crazy have a very high circulation and I am sure that it’ll be the same for Invincible. As for me, certain things are ‘believable’ – like how quickly Evie gets addicted and the behavior she displayed after the “miraculous” recovery – but other things were just too rushed. I don’t really think the Marcus character was necessary either. I would have liked to have seen more of the parents, sister and Kasey tIMG_20150525_110925[1]oo. This reads like a train, though, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I do have to say that I was a bit disappointed to hear that this is not a standalone… (**)

Press Play by Eric Devine: this made me think of Joshua Cohen’s Leverage a lot. They’re both set a sports context, there are some brutal things going on ‘behind the scenes’ (here’s it’s the hazing and lacrosse, in Cohen’s books is bullying – and much worse – and football) and there really are no compromises in this book. It’s extremely honest and raw, and there’s a good voice, but the book is too long for me. (***)

How it went down by Kekla Magoon: This is such a pertinent story at this moment in time. Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. No one seems to know exactly what was going on and everything has the need to share what they thing went down (there are more than 15 different ‘voices’ in the book). As I said, this book is every so important right now, but as a book, I felt it could have been ‘tighter’: some voices are indistinguishable, which (again) drags out the story a little bit. (***)

Top picks

The next two – although also standalones – deserve their own category:2015-04-01 16.00.31

We all looked up by Tommy Wallach: It’s not often I read a blurb and then read the book and I feel the blurb is *exactly* what the book is like, but in this case it is: “This Generation’s The Stand… at once troubling, uplifting, scary and heart-wrenching.”
Also, The Stand was one of my favorite books when I was the age of the characters in this book and often when a books is likened to The Stand, it ends up being a disappointment afterwards, or worse the book is dragged out over 2 or 3 or more books. But We All Looked Up definitely wasn’t a disappointment: a good story, great characters, drive, action, feelings, totally unpretentious writing… a “real book”, you know… Loved it! (*****)

I’ll give you the sun by Jandy Nelson made me miss my metro stop. That’s always a good thing… The writing is gorgeous, there was a great interplay between the words and the artwork (I read the UK edition). This definitely deserved all the accolades it got. It also got a (quick) translation to Dutch, but it doesn’t have any artwork, which is a pity. (*****)

On the surface We all looked up and I’ll give you the sun have nothing whatsoever in common, but they both made me fall in love with reading all over again. Both of these books have the capacity of making you forget about time and the world around you. The reading pleasure was high for me in these two books. And isn’t that why we read: to feel?

 

 





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:

 





B as in…

10 08 2014

1) Brock and Barrington Stoke

Now, I’ve always liked Anthony McGowan and his wittier-than-witty sense of humor in books. Seriously, if you want to know how dark and twisted should be used in the same sentence as humor, go on an read *any* of his other books. I promise you there is no one like McGowan out there. But, I think Brock just made me like him even more! Brock was published by Barrington Stoke. On their website you can read that they are an “independent publisher dedicated to cracking reading. We know that every parent wants their child to become a reader, and every teacher wants their students to make the jump from learning to read to loving to read. Our books are commissioned, edited and designed to break down the barriers that can stop this happening, from dyslexia and visual stress to simple reluctance.” As a teacher I know how hard it can be to get reluctant readers to pick a book, a2014-08-05 12.15.20ny book… and often books that they might pick up are just books they have to read but don’t like anyway, or they pick it up because it only has X number of pages… as few as possible.

With Brock McGowan accomplishes a number of things at the same time, not in the least just telling a really greatand poignant story. McGowan does not compromise on integrity or heart in this book, which is what makes any of his other books also so memorable. Brock is the story of Nicky and his brother Kenny and their ‘adventure’ with a badger.  The brothers themselves don’t have an easy life as is made clear early on, but the story McGowan tells is not just a harsh one. This book is a perfect combination of dark and light, horrifying and sweet. A excellent read for a reluctant and basically any reader.

4 stars

 

2) The Boy in the Smoke or World Book Day…

In 2014 Maureen Johnson wrote a short little book called The Boy in the Smoke, especially for World Book Day. Bonus for Maureen Johnson fans is that this book is part of the Shades of London series and that it gives the reader an insight into Stephen Dene’s background. Stephen Dene is the lead detective of the Shades, of course, and the more interesting of characters from that set of books. The prequel is nicely done, nothing too special, but a sweet in-between thingie to keep you going until the 3rd book in this series comes out (scheduled for March 2015).

3 stars





Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders (by Geoff Herbach)

20 07 2014

Geoff Herbach has a thing with sports and ‘funny’ (intentional or not) male voices. In Stupid Fast, Felton was the boy ‘on the outside’ who suddenly came to the center of attention because of his athletic prowess. In Fat Boy vs the Cheerleader, Herbach once again has a look at ‘a boy on the outside’, Gabe ‘Chunk’ Johnson, a fat band geek who – after hearing that funding for summer marching camp is going to the new dance squad – decides to wage the war of the vending machine.

And although this book definitely has a couple of things in common with the Stupid Fast-trilogy, it’s more of a watered down version of ‘the funny’ and ‘the great male voice’ we are getting here – it’s like a Stupid Fast meets Glee ultralight.. And I have to say that I am more than just a bit disappointed.

Stupid Fast – Herbach’s debut – remains the strongest of his novels up to now, and with each consecutive book it seems to me that the narrative element that stood out the most in his debut, namely “the voice”, just gets watered down and doesn’t manage to grab me anymore. In Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders, we get Gabe’s voice as he is recounting the events that led up to where he is now, namely talking to Mr Rodriguez, an attorney. We’re not actually getting the dialogue here, but just Gabe’s responses, which takes a bit of getting used to at first, but which is just annoying after a good couple of chapters. This type of narration also just seriously stands in the way of actual character development.

The thing that irks me the most about this book, though, is once again the ‘absent’ (mom left) or ‘clueless’ (Gabe’s dad) parent trope. Instead we’re getting a grandfather who used to be a bodybuilder champion, and who serves as the voice of understanding, but I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve also seen him before in I’m with Stupid.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any interesting things about Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders. There’s a thing to be said about the name-calling that goes on (and one of the characters does say it), there’s bullying, there’s a whole lot about the social stratification at high school, there’s something about friendship and shifting allegiances and changes. All that could and should have been combined in a very interesting way, something Geoff Herbach managed to do in his debut, but hasn’t managed to do since in my opinion. Here everything just felt really fluffy and coincidental. All in all, I sincerely hope Herbach finds what’s missing soon, because I definitely loved the pants off of Stupid Fast and I refuse to believe that Geoff Herbach was a one-book wonder!





Read or reading in July

7 07 2014

 

I’ve been buying second (or maybe 3rd or 4th) hand copies of Paul Zindel novels. Confessions of a Teenage Baboon is the first one to arrive. It’s absolutely not what I expected it to be, but I really liked it. It has a ‘hopelessness with a shimmer of hope nonetheless’ that I think must have been rare at the time it was written. It certainly is rare to find nowadays. Also, it amazes me once again how much was possible in the 70s… This is something you also see in TV-series or in movies. Show a boob on TV today and it’s 16+ and a guy who’s smoking is always the bad guy of course. But here there is some really crazy shit going on, which I am sure would land this book on some ‘watchlist’ today. And even though it’s clear that this book wasn’t written today, it’s pretty timeless as well. Good stuff.

Confessions of a teenage baboon

After reading The Free, I’m also on a Willy Vlautin kick. Good thing we have them all lying around here. The Motel Life, Vlautin’s debut is up next.

The Motel Life





Exam reads: one pass, one fail.

22 06 2014

My life next door (by Huntley Fitzpatrick)

Despite the butt-ugly cover (yes I am a sucker for good covers and this one is just too cheesy!), I liked this book quite a bit. It’s what one would call “a beach read” but in the best Sarah Dessen sense of the word: well-plotted, good characterization (protagonist Sam as well as the love interest Jase and his entire family), a summer romance, an all around satisfying contemporary read by an author who takes her time to tell a story. I like that. If this is what my summer will be like, reading-wise, I am a happy camper!

4 stars

 

the adoration of jenna foxThe Adoration of Jenna Fox (by Mary E. Pearson)

Very disappointing read…reads like it was ‘so 5 years ago’… by which I mean it’s a book that followed a certain trend (e.g. Matched, Beta, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer…) and the trend wasn’t a great one to start out with. It did start off intriguingly enough with a girl who woke up from a coma with no memories and who tries to put the pieces together again, but it soon goes down the hill of predictability. Those pieces of the puzzle, well, it’s not very hard to figure out for the reader what went on with Jenna as Pearson takes us along on a tour of medical science and bio-ethics. All very “issue-y” and all none too subtle. Nah, just a blah book, I guess.

2 stars

 








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