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Celebrating a 2016 Morris Finalist

3 May

I didn’t get to meet Kelly Loy Gilbert in 2016 when my Morris Committee selected her debut novel, Conviction,  as a William C. Morris YA Debut Award finalist. She was pregnant at the time and was unable to travel.I was thrilled to see she had a second novel coming out this year.

Picture Us In the Light  was published April 10th.

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Publisher’s Summary: Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father’s closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there’s much more to his family’s past than he ever imagined. Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family’s blessing to pursue the career he’s always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny’s lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can’t stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan. When Danny digs deeper into his parents’ past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed façade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Her website says that Kelly “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. “ Conviction did so. I think this one does so even more so.

Just as in Conviction,  things start out slowly. But don’t give up. Also, there are some flashbacks at the beginning and it is important that you pay attention because once everything comes together, you are going to realize the clues she dropped. There are a lot of issues addressed in the book – suicide, illegal immigration, being the child of immigrants – but it doesn’t feel like an issue book because you are so involved in Danny’s story.

 

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Morris finalist #3

8 Jan

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This weekend, I read my third Morris Award nominee – Dear Martin by Nic Stone. I can see why it was nominated and it pairs nicely with The Hate You Give, giving a different perspective on the same subject. Interestingly, both books, the main characters go to a predominantly white private school and have significant others of another race.

I felt that it took me a while to get into Dear Martin,  and it was a bit didactic in places, but, by the middle of the book, I was hooked.

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Publisher’s Summary: Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

 

 

Happy Book Birthday

24 Aug

On Tuesday, along with other members of the Beaverton Education Association executive board members, I attended a district event for new teachers. We greeted them, provided coffee, snacks and swag, and our president told them about how the union works. While handing out swag, we veteran teachers reminisced about teachers we’d mentored and how we feel like part of their family.

It is not unlike being a member of YALSA’s William C. Morris Committee. I feel as though I have a connection to the five authors we chose as finalists, and that is why I am excited to tell you that it is the book birthday of one of those authors.

Stephanie Oakes’ second novel, The Arsonist,  was released this week!

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Publisher’s Summary: Code Name Verity meets I Am the Messenger in this riveting YA novel from Morris Award finalist Stephanie Oakes, in which three points of view are woven together in a story that’s part Cold War mystery, part contemporary coming-of-age, and completely unputdownable.

This is a complex story. As each character narrates, your mind is trying to figure out how it all works. Oakes is crafty, telling us just enough from one character’s point of view in a chapter, then switching to another – a move that kept me reading.
Like her previous book, The Secret Lies of Minnow Bly,  the ending isn’t necessarily a happy one. But it is maybe the most realistic outcome we can hope for in a work of fiction.

A Strong YA Debut

28 Jul

While Angie Thomas is getting a lot of media attention for her debut novel The Hate U Give,  there is another debut novel you should read that addresses issues of immigration, assimilation, violence, and drug dealing in Detroit.

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Publisher’s Summary:

In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

American Street  is grittier than The Hate You Give.  Like Starr in The Hate U Give, the main character in American Street, Fabiola, is caught between two worlds. Woven throughout the narrative is Haitian Voodoo. And the narrative voice here is very strong. We spend a lot of time inside Fabiola’s head, where she is trying to make sense out of this strange world she finds herself in, and trying to find away to make her family whole again.

If you have read The Hate You Give,  be sure to pick up American Street.

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.

 

 

#alama16: O the joy!

12 Jan

I was awake for 23 hours yesterday, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It was my last day in Boston at the 106 ALA Midwinter Meeting, and it was THE day: the day of the  Youth Media Awards. A year’s worth of work distilled to a moment in time.

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I got up at 5 to get ready, check out of my hotel and be at the Convention Center for our 6:20 Morris Committee photo. I can tell you now that we had called our winner Saturday afternoon, but other committees called that morning and were very excited. We were a little more subdued.

After a visit to Starbucks we went to the ballroom, where the giant line had started forming. I can’t deny that I felt a little smug that I didn’t have to line up. Committee members get reserved seating at the front.

Oh, but there was a buzz in the air. Such excitement and anticipation. Just as things got started, the emotion of it all got to me and  got a  little teary-eyed. Then, I puled myself together  as the first announcements began.

When our award came up, you cold feel the nine of us tense up. Would people like our decision? As the names of our five finalists were read, I gauged the audience reaction on the applause-o-meter in my head. And the roar of the audience when it was announced was a huge relief.It was amazing to see my name up there alongside the names of people I have come to consider friends.

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The awards ended and about an hour later, we had round 2: The Morris and YA nonfiction awards ceremony. We moseyed over to that room, so far away it felt like we should leave a trail of breadcrumbs, to get things set up.

Here is the unexpected thing. I knew the job of my committee was to pick the best YA debuts published in 2015. I knew this was important in the careers of these young writers. I didn’t realize the emotional impact t would have on all of the.

Four of the five finalists were present. Kelly Loy Gilbert is at the stage in her pregnancy when she is not allowed to fly, so she appeared by video. Ana-Marie McLemore was the first speaker up and the honesty and self-reflection she put into the few minutes of her speech had me teary-eyed. Stephanie Oakes went next and by then, there were full on tears. Leah Gilbert started off with humor, as she does in her book, then got me weepy again. By the time Becky Albertalli, got up, I felt as though I’d been through an emotional wringer.

The publishers had arranged a “champagne and canapés” party for the committee and the authors, because, although we’d spent months reading and taking their books apart, we hadn’t really met them. It was wonderful because, again, they all shared how much this genuinely meant to them.

From there, I was off to the airport. I got there early, but I was so emotionally drained by that time, I was happy to sit for a while and just watch people.  Our flight boarded on time.  When I was finally seated and ready to just reflect on the wonder and emotion of the day, the fight attendant announced that because of some soccer person (who I think might have been on our flight) every passenger over the age of 21 could get a free drink. The icing on the cake.

I arrived home around one this morning and will go pick Lucy up shortly. I go back to work tomorrow. My life is returning to its normal rhythm and hum, but the emotion and excitement of the last few days will stay with me forever.

 

 

#alamw16 It’s A Wonderful Life

9 Jan

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After getting up early yesterday, I made it to the airport in a timely manner. After clearing security, I made my way to my gate, where they were announcing that, due to a lack of tailwinds, we’d be leaving 10 minutes early, if we could get everyone aboard. Apparently everyone heard the message because we left about 10 minutes early and the pilot announced he’d fly a little faster than planned to help the people on board who had tight connections. I love flying Alaska Airlines!

I had an aisle seat, which gave me the opportunity to get up, stretch or take a walk. I managed to finish the last reread before we landed, on time, in Boston. My research turned out to be true: free transportation on the Silver Line from the airport. I caught the bus and was in my hotel room by 4:30. I unpacked and had a shower to refresh myself before venturing out.

It is a 5 minute walk from my hotel to the convention center. I walked over there to get my badge before heading over to my first event. The weather in Boston is uncharacteristically warm, and is forecast to be so until Monday, when it will dip closer to freezing again.

My first event was cocktails with Holiday House Publishing. It was a nice event where they were featuring some of their new books, but that also had picture book art on display. They had delicious creamy tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches to eat. After flying all day, I was feeling a little dehydrated and hungry, so I really enjoyed this meal! I also ran into a couple of my committee members.

I swung back to my hotel, the Boston Seaport, which is quite nice. I have a king size bed in my room and the bathrobes are really fluffy. I dropped off my conference bag and the arcs I’d collected and regrouped for a while before heading off to downtown Boston to a restaurant called The Top of the Hub for dessert reception with Cassandra Clare to promote her newest Shadowhunter book, Lady Midnight, which kicks off a new Shadowhunter series.

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The Top of the Hub, 50 floors up, has amazing views of Boston. As we got off the elevator, we were greeted by a waiter bearing blue drinks. They were pretty, but a little strong for my taste. As I wandered through the room, I stopped first at the cheese table. But everyone in line wondered where the desserts were. As we rounded the corner in the L-shaped room, looking for a table we realized there were lots of dessert tables. I sat and chatted for a bit while I ate my cheese, then decided to peruse the other options. There was a sundae table, donut & cookie tables, a cotton candy table. I thought I’d reached the end, but then, the crowd at the end of the room parted and I saw the crepe table. Delightful!

I got my crepe, then sat and chatted with a committee member and a few other people we knew joined us. Shortly afterwards, a Simon & Schuster rep let us know Cassandra was going to speak shortly, so we finished up and moved closer to where that would occur.

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I left shortly after that, tired but content, and with a full stomach. Here’s what I collected over the course of a few hours yesterday.

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My committee meets at 1:00 this afternoon. We have to narrow our 5 books down to one winner. Wish us luck!

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