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TGIF: A Monday Retrospective

13 Feb

It was a tough week. I won’t go into all the details. Suffice it to say, I was looking forward to Friday night. And not for the reason you think. Yes, it was the end of difficult week, but it was the night that Leah Thomas and Len Vlahos were going to be at Powells in Beaverton!

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It was a small but devoted group of fans who assembled. For us, it was nice because it was less formal. I got to reconnect with Leah and chat with Len, both of whom were William C. Morris Award finalists in different years.

They talked a lot about how they came up with the ideas for their current novels:

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Publisher’s Summary: Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can’t imagine how she’ll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family’s future, Jackie’s father does the unthinkable–he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever . . .

In this brilliantly written tragicomedy told through multiple points of view–including Jackie’s dad’s tumor–acclaimed author Len Vlahos deftly explores what it really means to live.

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Publisher’s Summary:Ollie and Moritz might never meet, but their friendship knows no bounds. Their letters carry on as Ollie embarks on his first road trip away from the woods–no easy feat for a boy allergic to electricity–and Moritz decides which new school would best suit an eyeless boy who prefers to be alone.

Along the way they meet other teens like them, other products of strange science who lead seemingly normal lives in ways Ollie and Moritz never imagined possible: A boy who jokes about his atypical skeleton; an aspiring actress who hides a strange deformity; a track star whose abnormal heart propels her to victory. Suddenly the future feels wide open for two former hermits. But even as Ollie and Moritz dare to enjoy life, they can’t escape their past, which threatens to destroy any progress they’ve made. Can these boys ever find their place in a world that might never understand them?

Both have some odd things happening in their book ( a brain tumor as one of multiple narrators in Len’s book and the Blunderkids in Leah’s). I bought both books and got them personalized. I got an arc of Nowhere Near You at ALA and had already read it. I will send the autographed arc to my twin sister. I’m planning on reading Life in a Fishbowl this week during independent reading time at school.

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It was a really fun evening and a great way to end a long week.

Snow day reading

8 Dec

Ok, so maybe it is more like an anticipated freezing rain day. In any case, I get a day at home. Apparently I am on the every other day plan this week, having taken Tuesday off to see the orthopedist. He told me I don’t need surgery, which I’d hoped to hear and suspected, and,  to stop babying my knee. I sort of knew that, too.

While sitting in the waiting room, I started reading the first of the 2017 Morris Award books that I have yet to read.

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Publisher’s Summary:Three sisters struggle with the bonds that hold their family together as they face a darkness settling over their lives in this masterfully written debut novel.

There are three beautiful blond Babcock sisters: gorgeous and foul-mouthed Adrienne, observant and shy Vanessa, and the youngest and best-loved, Marie. Their mother is ill with leukemia and the girls spend a lot of time with her at a Mexican clinic across the border from their San Diego home so she can receive alternative treatments.

Vanessa is the middle child, a talented pianist who is trying to hold her family together despite the painful loss that they all know is inevitable. As she and her sisters navigate first loves and college dreams, they are completely unaware that an illness far more insidious than cancer poisons their home. Their world is about to shatter under the weight of an incomprehensible betrayal…

Right from the get go, Devlin had me because Vanessa’s older sister is named Adrienne, and I rarely see my own name in a book.

Though not very far into the book, I can see by the writing why the committee selected this as a finalist. The prose is very well-written and the characters, even the minor ones, are well-developed. I plan to spend much of my day off work with this beauty.

The 2017 William C. Morris Award Finalists!!!!!

5 Dec

Here they are!

I’ve only read 2 of the 5, but I now have the 3 I’ve yet to read on hold at the library.

Book cover, Girl Man's Up

Girl Mans Up written by M-E Girard, published by HarperTeen, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Gender expansive Pen wants to be seen for who she is, not defined by her appearance. Her Portuguese parents want a traditional girl; her friend Colby treats her like one of the gamer guys. But it’s Blake who helps Pen learn to respect herself and “man up.”

Book cover, Rani Patel In Full Effect
Rani Patel In Full Effect written by Sonia Patel, published by Cinco Puntos Press.

After a devastating family blowup, Rani, aka MC Sutra, shaves her head, stops hiding her love of writing dope rhymes, and attracts attention with her new look and rapping skills. Despite finding a community where she can express herself through poetry and rap, the years of abuse take their toll.
Book cover, The Serpent King

The Serpent King written by Jeff Zentner, published by Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a Penguin Random House Comapny.

In a small southern town, senior year finds three misfit friends facing the prospect of their separate futures with both hope and dread. Dill fears he will never escape his snake-handling father’s poisonous legacy. However, Lydia, a fashion blogger, and Travis, a fantasy warrior, foresee hopeful futures.
Book cover ,The Smell of Other People's Houses

The Smell of Other People’s Houses written by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a Penguin Random House Comapny.

Life in 1970s Alaska proves difficult for teens, native and non-native alike. In four distinct voices, Ruth, Alyce, Dora, and Hank express the heartbreak and tragedy altering their lives forever—poverty, unwanted pregnancy, death, and abuse. However, when their lives intertwine like invisible threads, each may receive a chance for redemption.
Book cover, Tell Me Something Real

 

Tell Me Something Real written by Calla Devlin, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, and imprint of Simon & Schuster.

The Babcock sisters—brash Adrienne, faithful Marie, and shy Vanessa—spend their summer waiting while their mother slowly wastes away from leukemia. When shocking and devastating information about their mother’s illness surfaces, the girls turn to each other for the love and support they don’t find at home.

Busy reading weekend

14 Nov

Since I spent most of the weekend letting my knee recover, I had a lot of time to read and knit. I read three print books and listened to two audiobooks and almost finished a pair of socks. The perks of a knee injury.

One of the books I listened to was The Sun is Also  Star by Nicola Yoon.

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Publisher’s Summary:

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Another great bit of bibliotherapy.

The universe seems to be bringing Natasha & Daniel together and apart and you can’t help rooting for both of them.

I met Nicola Yoon at an ALA dinner in San Francisco. Her first move, Everything, Everything was about to be published  and she was one of 4 authors promoting their work. It was a wonderful novel and I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet. Warning: neither are suitable for middle grade audiences. They are clearly YA.

The story is narrated in two voices, Natasha’s & Daniel’s and unfolds over the course of a single day. As each shares part of their story, you can’t help but fall in love with them. Their narration is punctuated by the Universe telling details about side characters or facts. It could have become didactic, but it is really effective.

Yoon’s sophomore novel is even better than her first!

 

Life After High School

1 Jul

Yesterday afternoon, I attended my niece’s high school graduation. It was a  well run ceremony for the 178 grads. They did a couple of things I’d never seen done before. The program not only listed each grad’s name, but their plans for the next phase in their life and the awards, if any they were receiving. Here’s my niece’s page.

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I realize you can’t read the text, but I wanted you to see her space. She is the first name on the page and won a lot of awards. The phone call from the high school said she was winning “an award” so it was a surprise to everyone, my niece and her parents, that she won so many. She was also one of three who delivered the valedictory address. I was a proud auntie! I only cried once. As I read over her awards, one of them stood out to me: the Unity Masonic Lodge Award for the Social Sciences. I couldn’t help but thinking how proud my dad, her grandpa, a lifelong Freemason, would have been to see that.

Not everyone in her graduating class are of to a post secondary experience. Some are entering apprenticeship programs. Some are going straight into work. Some will be traveling and others are returning for a victory lap.

Hanneke , the main character in The Girl in the Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse, doesn’t attend university after high school as she had planned.

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It is 1943 and the Germans have occupied Amsterdam. Rather than pursuing higher education, which seems pointless to Hanneke in such a mad world, she gets a job that leads her into becoming a black marketeer.

Publisher’s Summary:Amsterdam, 1943. Hanneke spends her days procuring and delivering sought-after black market goods to paying customers, her nights hiding the true nature of her work from her concerned parents, and every waking moment mourning her boyfriend, who was killed on the Dutch front lines when the Germans invaded. She likes to think of her illegal work as a small act of rebellion.

On a routine delivery, a client asks Hanneke for help. Expecting to hear that Mrs. Janssen wants meat or kerosene, Hanneke is shocked by the older woman’s frantic plea to find a person–a Jewish teenager Mrs. Janssen had been hiding, who has vanished without a trace from a secret room. Hanneke initially wants nothing to do with such dangerous work, but is ultimately drawn into a web of mysteries and stunning revelations that lead her into the heart of the resistance, open her eyes to the horrors of the Nazi war machine, and compel her to take desperate action.
Beautifully written, intricately plotted, and meticulously researched, Girl in the Blue Coat is an extraordinary, gripping novel from a bright new voice.
This is the book I read, cover to cover as I flew from Portland to Toronto earlier this week.  I highly recommend it.

 

Crazy first week of vacation

23 Jun

Teachers had one more day of work on Monday to enter grades, pack up and check out. I took two (very short) naps on Tuesday. That’s usually my m.o. for the first few days of vacation, but this is a funny week. We had interviews yesterday for a new Math teacher on our team. It was good to be sitting on the other side of the table for a change. Today, I have part 2 of some Reading work we did earlier in May. So, really I’ve only had one vacation day this week.

And yet, I have managed to get in some good summer reading. I finished Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, a story of a girl caught between two countries.

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Publisher’s Summary: A beautiful and haunting debut novel in verse about an American-Japanese girl struggling with the loneliness of being caught between two worlds when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes an ocean away.

Eleven-year-old Ema has always been of two worlds—her father’s Japanese heritage and her mother’s life in America. She’s spent summers in California for as long as she can remember, but this year she and her mother are staying with her grandparents in Japan as they await the arrival of Ema’s baby sibling. Her mother’s pregnancy has been tricky, putting everyone on edge, but Ema’s heart is singing—finally, there will be someone else who will understand what it’s like to belong and not belong at the same time.

But Ema’s good spirits are muffled by her grandmother who is cold, tight-fisted, and quick to reprimand her for the slightest infraction. Then, when their stay is extended and Ema must go to a new school, her worries of not belonging grow. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes, Ema, her parents, and the world watch as the twin towers fall…

As Ema watches her mother grieve for her country across the ocean—threatening the safety of her pregnancy—and her beloved grandfather falls ill, she feels more helpless and hopeless than ever. And yet, surrounded by tragedy, Ema sees for the first time the tender side of her grandmother, and the reason for the penny-pinching and sternness make sense—her grandmother has been preparing so they could all survive the worst.

Dipping and soaring, Somewhere Among is the story of one girl’s search for identity, inner peace, and how she discovers that hope can indeed rise from the ashes of disaster.

This is a lovely novel in verse that bicultural kids would understand on a personal level, and kids who aren’t bicultural will find eye-opening. Although the format makes this a quick read, it is not an easy read. Some one sentence chapters pack a huge emotional punch.

This was a wonderful way to start my vacation.

The Last Boy…..

15 Jun

Being the only person of your color, language or religion at your school isn’t that uncommon. Lots of kids live this daily. It can be lonely and isolated, but they make friends and adapt.

Jeremy Miner, the protagonist of Lee Gjertsen Malone’s  The Last Boy at St. Edith’s is isolated because he is the only boy at his school.

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Publisher’s Summary:Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. 475 of them to be exact. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy.

Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in co-education. And he needs to get out. But his mother—a teacher at the school—won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.

Together with his best friend Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimal damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide how far he’s willing to go and whom he’s willing to knock down to get out the door.

When I was a librarian I would occasionally be asked for books about pranks. There aren’t as many as you might think. And though the book seems a little far-fetched, it really works. The characters are believable and Jeremy’s family life and friendship give some insight into economic disparities and gender roles. Yeah, these are all white kids, but it is still a good read about individuality, conformity, and friendship

Wild and Wary

1 Jun

Perhaps you’ve seen the dog dictum from Francesco Marciuliano’s collection of dog poems I Could Chew on This:

We were wolves once

Wild and wary

Then we noticed you have sofas

It has toured social media in a variety of memes. To illustrate this point in a non-meme way, Lucy is snoring beside me, in my bed, while I write this post. This is the first summer in eight years that I will have only one dog and I have promised Lucy that we will have some adventures together. Before she fell asleep, I read Lucy a bedtime story about one dog’s adventures.

Andrea Zuill’s debut picture book, Wolf Camp,  combines the idea of the wolf ancestor with summer adventure at a camp where city dogs can get in touch with their inner wolf.

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Publisher’s Summary: Meet Homer, a dog who heads to camp to live like a wolf! Here’s the perfect book for the legions of kids out there who love dogs and funny books.

Small town debut

16 May

Last year was taken up with debut YA novels I couldn’t write about so I am excited to get write about Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King.  I wonder what this year’s Morris Committee thinks of this one.

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Publisher’s Summary: Dillard Early Jr., Travis Bohannon, and Lydia Blankenship are three friends who have one thing in common: none of them fit the mold in tiny Forrestville, Tennessee. Dill, a talented musician, grew up in a Pentecostal snakehandling church, playing in the praise band. During his freshman year, his father went to prison for a heinous crime, leaving Dill and his mother impoverished.

Travis is a gentle giant who works at his family’s lumberyard and is obsessed with a Game of Throneslike fantasy series, much to his abusive, alcoholic father’s displeasure.

Lydia comes from a loving upper-middle-class family and runs a popular fashion blog that’s part Tavi Gevinson, part Angela Chase, and part Dolly Parton. She’s actively plotting her escape from rural Tennessee for bigger and better things, to capitalize on her Internet fame. This will mean leaving behind Dill—whose feelings for her run deep.

But that’s not Dill’s only problem. He has a cursed name. His grandfather, Dillard Early, became consumed with slaughtering snakes in grief and vengeance after one killed his daughter. He wore their skins pinned to his clothes during his descent into darkness. The whispering and staring locals called him “the Serpent King” before he committed suicide by poison. Dill’s father, also named Dillard Early, was the pastor of Dill’s church, whose parishioners handled serpents and drank poison as signs of faith.

Caught between his mother’s pulling him to drop out of school to help pay off the family debts and Lydia’s pushing him to go to college to escape Forrestville’s whispers and stares, Dill is quickly approaching a reckoning. One that will force him to confront the legacy of darkness—serpents and poison and self-destruction—that is his inheritance.

There are some weaknesses, predictability and some unrealistic elements you might expect in a debut novel, but overall, they are flaws I can live with. It is sad and funny and captures the ups and downs of living life in the goldfish bowl of a small town.

 

 

Of dogs and adventure

11 May

Fiona went to the Bridge 6 months ago today.

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I don’t cry any more, but I still miss her. Sometimes I call Lucy by the wrong name, or nickname. Not often, but it is the little things that make me remember. Lucy gets a lot more attention these days and I worry about her welfare. She has a better life than many people in the world.

That’s why Dan Gemeinhart’s The Honest Truth  made me so angry.

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Mark, the main character is sick and runs away from home with his dog. He is a hard kid to like because of his anger, but it is his reckless endangerment of his dog that had me throwing the book across the room. I almost didn’t finish it because I was terrified about his dog’s welfare. Fortunately, Mark learns the lesson he needs to learn and that made persevering to the end worthwhile, but it was really touch and go for a while. Honestly, the dog was my favorite character.

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Publisher’s Summary:In all the ways that matter, Mark is a normal kid. He’s got a dog named Beau and a best friend, Jessie. He likes to take photos and write haiku poems in his notebook. He dreams of climbing a mountain one day. But in one important way, Mark is not like other kids at all. Mark is sick. The kind of sick that means hospitals. And treatments. The kind of sick some people never get better from.

So Mark runs away. He leaves home with his camera, his notebook, his dog, and a plan to reach the top of Mount Rainier — even if it’s the last thing he ever does.

The Honest Truth  is a 2017 OBOB book, which is why I am reading it. I’ve started my prep for next year’s OBOB season. I also have an arc of his newer book, Some Kind of Courage, which came out in January. I hope I like that main character better.

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