Tag Archives: YA lit

Random book thoughts

14 Sep

From a rather bumpy start, due to my last-minute decision to change jobs,  the school year seems to be developing its rhythm. I have unpacked two of the boxes I shoved in my classroom closet. I almost wept the other day, the first day I asked my students to read with a partner. It sounded so beautiful and I forgot how much  love that sound. Although I am still tired, I am not as tired and I’m going to bed able to read or knit before I do so.

I have a stack of books I’m working through.

In the car, I am listening to  The Goldfinch  by Donna Tartt. I am not loving it. I find the protagonist whiney. There are 24 or 26 discs and I am not sure I will keep going on this one. It has received a lot of press, but everyone I know who’s read it didn’t really like it.


At school, as I unpacked to two  boxes I mentioned above, I found my copy of Falling in Love With Close Reading, which I’ve mentioned before. I was about halfway through when it got misplaced in the big switcheroo. Now I can finish it. I still plan to do a boo group with it at school, but I need to finish it first.


At home, I’m reading the YA novel The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.


According to Wikipedia,

 the winner’s curse says that in such an auction, the winner will tend to overpay. The winner may overpay or be “cursed” in one of two ways: 1) the winning bid exceeds the value of the auctioned asset such that the winner is worse off in absolute terms; or 2) the value of the asset is less than the bidder anticipated, so the bidder may still have a net gain but will be worse off than anticipated.

Rutkoski took this idea and has turned it into a compelling read. The main character, Kestrel, is the daughter of a general of a conquering army. One day at a slave auction, she buys a slave, more out of a desire to stir the pot during the auction, than because she needs him. I’m only about a quarter through, but I am seriously engaged. The slave, Arin, is more than he seems and I can tell that trouble is brewing and a revolt of some sort is in the  offing. Just where Kestrel will end up is yet to be determined. I have a few predictions, but I’m not ready to share.

Finally, I’m listening to The Queen of the Tearling  by Erika Johansen, while I knit.


I didn’t realize until looking for this image, that the rights to the movie have already been sold and Emma Watson is an executive producer and plans to star in the movie as the Red Queen. Frequently compared the A Game of Thrones, The Queen of the Tearling  is the story of Kelsea, the heir to the Tearling throne, who has been hidden away since she was an infant. She is summoned to reclaim her throne on her 19th birthday, setting in motion a whole series of events that involve a certain amount of gore. It’s a little derivative, but pretty good to listen to while I am otherwise occupied. It is meant to be a trilogy and we shall see if I persevere through all three books.

Madness & Wickedness

21 Jul

As much as I love historical fiction, I am glad I didn’t live when girls had few options. I was reminded of this fact while reading A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller .


It is the first decade of the 20th century and all Victoria Darling wants to be is an artist. But London society of 1909 is no place for a young woman who wants to do something other than follow the proscribed path for a girl of her socio-economic status. She is expected to marry well. When it is discovered that Vicky posed nude while secretly studying art, she is given an ultimatum: marry a young man of her parents’ choosing or be banished to live with an ancient aunt.

Thinking the marriage will be a means for her to apply to the Royal College of Art, Vicky agrees to the marriage. As he plan progresses, we watch Vicky bloom from a naive girl into an independent young woman. Some of her decisions along the way seem foolish and self-centered, but which of us didn’t make some poor decisions growing up? In her quest for independence, Vicky encounters the world of women’s suffrage and realizes her quest for the  freedom to make decisions on her own behalf is part of a larger quest for women’s rights.

I really enjoyed this book, and was especially pleased that Sharon Biggs Waller managed to include so much infer nation about the women;s suffrage movement in such a compelling way. It is an excellent example of “show not tell”.

Fans of historical fiction will love this book!

Not for the faint of heart

14 Jul


It took me a while, but I finished Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. I had a little trouble getting into it. In fact, I started it twice before I really committed to finishing it. This happens sometimes. The older I get, the more willing I am to abandon a book that really isn’t working for me. But I didn’t in this case and I’m glad I didn’t.

Grasshopper Jungle begins slowly, with the development and description of the town and characters. It is poetic and foul-mouthed and over the top at times. Sometimes when I was reading the book, I wanted to get away. When I was away, it called to me to come finish it. Andrew Smith is a beautiful writer, but he certainly doesn’t shy away from obscenities or the descriptions of the sexual thoughts of teenage boys. But it is the quality of the story-telling that got me. He spirals things around and suddenly you are int he midst of a tornado. Not a real tornado, but a cataclysm that is more destructive, though less likely to happen.

The story is funny and dark at the same time. It is about adolescence, GMOs, and reflections on ancestry.

Goodreads Summary: Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.

To make matters worse, Austin’s hormones are totally oblivious; they don’t care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He’s stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it’s up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

This is considered a YA novel, but I think a lot of adults might enjoy it. If you pick it up and feel frustrated or repulsed, don’t give up. Persevere. Revel in the poetry of the writing.

The Scar Boys: What I wanted Wonder to be

30 Jun


Let me start by saying I liked Auggie Pullman, protagonist of Wonder  by R. J. Palacio. It was a touching book and Auggie is sweet and likable. I didn’t love the book like so many people did. I felt it was a little too idealistic. You should still read it, if you haven’t already

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos, has the edge I wanted  Wonder to have. Harry Jones is likable, though a little less so than Auggie. He’s older than Auggie, but has a facial deformity due to a traumatic event in his childhood. Like Auggie, Harry also has one friend, Johnny, that helps him navigate the world of friendships. But unlike Auggie, Harry knows there will be no easy path or happy ending; he will always be an outsider.

Harry and Johnny form a bad, The Scar Boys, and it takes them through middle and high school. They are actually good and, in the summer after their senior year in high school, The Scar Boys go on a road trip. It ends badly, as you might expect, so I’m not really giving a lot away by telling you that it does. What The Scar Boys  does, that Wonder  didn’t for me, was really show the hurt and damage Harry’s disfigurement has on his psyche. Harry is a flawed hero. It is an emotionally raw book, without being heavy and dark.

If you liked  Wonder,  I highly recommend you give The Scar Boys  a read.

Summer Reading Goal #2

11 Jun

One of the first bits of  “summer fun” I plan to have is a trip to the theatre to see movie adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which I read when it came out.



Either before I go, or after if I dilly-dally, I also plan to read This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl.


This is the true story that inspired John Green to write TFiOS. This Star Won’t Go Out is a collection of Esther’s journals, fiction, letters and sketches, compiled by her parents, Lori & Wayne Earl.

I expect to cry at both the movie and the book. I have the kleenex ready.

Coming Soon: The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge

29 Jan

Hub Reading Challenge logo

Get excited, YA lit enthusiasts! Now that the Youth Media Awards have been announced and the selected list committees are wrapping up their work, we are pleased to officially announce that the  2014 Hub Reading Challenge is almost here!

When? The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge will begin at 12:01AM EST on Monday, February 3. Once the challenge starts, you’ll have about four months (until 11:59pm on Sunday, June 22) to read as many of the following as you possibly can:

  • 2014 winner and honor books for  YALSA’S 6 Awards (Alex, Edwards, Morris, Nonfiction, Odyssey, Prinz)
  • The books on the Top Ten lists from YALSA’s 2014 Selected titles 
  • The YA titles honored by the 2014 Schneider family Award and the 2014 Stonewall Award

If you participated in the Morris/Nonfiction Challenge, you can count that reading toward your progress in The Hub Reading Challenge. Otherwise, only books that you both begin and finish within the challenge period count, so if you’ve read any of these titles before, you’ll have to re-read them to count them.

What? To complete the challenge, read or listen to 25 of the selected titles before the deadline. Everyone who completes the challenge will be invited to submit a reader response (which can be text, audio, video, graphics, or some combination) to his or her favorite (or least favorite!) challenge title, which will be published on THE HUB.. Additionally, everyone who completes the challenge will be entered into a random drawing to win a grand prize: a YALSA tote bag full of 2013 and 2014 YA lit titles! (If you’re a librarian or teacher, they’ll also toss in a couple of professional development titles.)

Not challenging enough, you say? For the speed readers out there, The Hub offers this: on top of completing the challenge, you can go on to conquer it by reading all of the eligible titles.

As you read, you’ll also be earning badges that you can post on your blog or website or include in your email signature to show off how well-read you are, and if you conquer the challenge by reading all of the eligible titles, you’ll earn a super-elite badge.

How? Keep track of what you read every week and how many titles you’ve finished. Every Sunday, the HUB will create a check-in post; comment on the post with what you’ve read or listened to that week (and what you thought of it!). If you’ve completed the challenge, fill out the form embedded in the post . The challenge runs on the honor system, so be good!

Format matters, because listening can be a very different experience from reading in print, so be sure to experience challenge-eligible titles in the format in which they were honored. For example, Scowler won the Odyssey Award, which recognizes outstanding audiobooks, so even if you’ve already enjoyed the print version, you’ll need to listen to the audiobook to count it for this challenge. Better Nate than Ever  won for print and for audio, so you can read and listen to it and it will count as 2 books.

Who? All readers of young adult literature — teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers, bloggers, parents, teens, anyone! — are welcome to accept our reading challenge.

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

22 Jan

About 10 years ago I had a self-selected mute in the 4th grade class I was teaching. Let’s call her J.  She had an honest to goodness diagnosis, this wasn’t just something we in the educational establishment had labelled her with. J had experienced a trauma recently in her life and mutism was her way of dealing with it. She was a really great kid and we hit it off. That was the year the 4th grade started writing interactive reading journals. The kids had to write me a weekly letter about what they were reading and I would write them back. They turned their journal in on Monday and I had til Friday to write my 20+ letters back. . Of course the kids write about more than just what they were reading, but it gave us a chance to “talk”.  Each Friday, I would sit with each kid and read my letter to them. It gave me a chance to have uninterrupted time with each student at lest once a week. J was able to use her journal to give herself a voice. That;s how she and I were able to connect, and get to know each other.

But what if you can’t write, either because you are too young or never learned?  All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry examines this idea.


Like Charm and Strange, the story unfolds in fragments. Slowly we get pieces of where Judith lives, what happened to her and her friend Lottie, and how she lives now. It is not pretty. Judith disappeared for two years and her tongue was cut out while she was gone. When she returns her Mother lets her into the house, but doesn’t really accept her back. Judith cannot talk and is marginalized, if not outright ostracized. But, circumstances change. Having received little schooling when young,  Judith was unable to read or write. She finds the courage within her to go to school. A renewed friendship gives her the chance to learn to talk again, even if she does so imperfectly. And Judith finally has a chance to speak truth to power.

I had checked this book out from the library earlier this year and returned it unread. The jacket description is good, but it doesn’t really convey the power of the story. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

A 2014 Edgar Award nominee for YA.

A Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick — #5, Best Books of Winter ’13-’14.

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2013 and 2014 “Battle of the Books” contender.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book for 2013.

A Horn Book Fanfare 2013 title.

Nominated for the Carnegie Medal and a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults award. 


Peaceful Pilgrims?

18 Dec

I love books that shift my thinking. They can be books that add to my knowledge, give me a new perspective on a topic or simply make me think about something I’ve never considered before. Susan Cooper has done all of these things in Ghost Hawk. 


Let me first say that I know there are some historical inaccuracies in this book. That’s why it is listed as fantasy or historical fiction, not non-fiction, people. I defy you to find a work of historical fiction that gets everything right. What I think is important historically is that this book shows readers that the Plymouth colony was not just the  Thanksgiving love-fest we tell kids it is every November.

The book intertwines the stories of Little Hawk, a  Wampanoag boy living in what is now Massachusetts, and John Wakely, a young settler in Plymouth. This is literary fiction, so the audience of kids who might pick this up is not huge, but I think it would be a great novel to use to support a unit on the  early colonization of the United States, or to recommend to kids who love historical fiction.

I listened to this in my car. At first, I wondered about the choice of Jim Dale as the reader, but quickly grew to like his warmth.

Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge

5 Dec

The 2014 Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge will begin on Monday, December 9 and run through January 27th.The Challenge is to read all the nominees on the Morris and YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, or just one of the two awards. I’m still waiting to hear what will be on the Nonfiction list, but the finalists for  The William C. Morris YA Debut were announced yesterday. They are


Charm & Strangwritten by Stephanie Kuehn, published by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan.

Drew, also known as “Win,” has been isolated in a New Hampshire boarding school since he was 12. Though he excels at both academics and athletics, he is concealing a horrific secret that has driven him to the brink of madness. With the help of his friends, can Win confront the beast within him before it’s too late?


Sex & Violence written by Carrie Mesrobian, published by Carolrhoda LAB, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

Evan Carter bounces from school to school—he has no friends and views girls as nothing more than a means to sexual release. When a brutal attack leaves him physically and mentally broken, Evan must evaluate what matters in his life and learn how to “accept responsibility, but not blame.”


Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets written by Evan Roskos, published by Houghton Mifflin, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

James has a lot on his plate: strained relationships, a fractured family, and an all-consuming anxiety. He deals with depression by hugging trees, “yawp”-ing at the world like his idol Walt Whitman, and conversing with his imaginary therapist—a pigeon named Dr. Bird.


Belle Epoque written by Elizabeth Ross, published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books.

When Maude Pichon moved to Paris, she never dreamed she would end up working for the Durandeau Agency as a “repoussoir”—a foil for society’s elite who believe a plain face alongside them makes them look more beautiful. A countess hires Maude as a companion for her daughter, Isabelle, but as the girls’ friendship grows, Maude finds herself torn between her integrity and her livelihood.

And, the only one on the list that I’ve already read (and now get to reread for the Challenge)


In the Shadow of Blackbirds written by Cat Winters, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

At the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, WWI, and the Spiritualism movement, outspoken Mary Shelley Black is adrift in a fear-ravaged San Diego. While her childhood friend Stephen challenges her heart, his antagonistic spirit-photographer brother, Julius, represents everything her scientific mind abhors. When the unthinkable happens, how will Mary Shelley endure the unbearable losses, not to mention the evolution of her supernatural abilities?

You can find more info on the Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge here.


The Rainbow Connection

24 Nov

I can be brought to tears by listening to Kermit the Frog sing The Rainbow Connection.  Do you remember it?

Why are there so many
Songs about rainbows
And what’s on the other side
Rainbows are visions
They’re only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide
So we’ve been told and some chose to
Believe it
But I know they’re wrong wait and see

Someday we’ll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

In the world of dog owners, when  dog passes away, we talk about them going to the Rainbow Bridge. I can’t even read that one anymore. I’m getting weepy just mentioning it.

Rainbow Rowell has had quite a year, with two fantastic books: Eleanor & Park  and Fangirl.

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I finished Fangirl this weekend and only just read Eleanor & Park before Fangirl. I’m not going to write much about Eleanor & Park   except to say that you really should read it.

I wasn’t sure about Fangirl when I started it. It was so different from E & P, but I connected. It is about twins who go away to the same college. One is out going and one a little more reserved, just like my twin sister and I, although we went to different universities. It is told from the point of view of Cath, the shyer twin.  And this is what I liked most about the book. I was the shy one in our twindom. I felt just like she did meeting my new roommate and figuring out how being a twin works as an adult. My sister didn’t have Wren’s drinking problem, our dad wasn’t bipolar and our mother was present, so there are lots of differences. But I understood Cath’s anxiety about new people.

Anyway, you should read Fangirl, too. But be prepared for something different.

You can learn a little more about Rainbow HERE.

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