Tag Archives: YA literature

Reliving the Summer of 77

13 Apr

I was in grade 7 in 1977 and the summer between grade 7 & 8 was very exciting. Star Wars  had come out and we took the Greyhound from New Hamburg into Kitchener to see it.  Saturday Night Fever was released that year, but it was rated R,, so we had to content ourself with the record album. The PG version wasn’t released until a year later. It was also the summer of the Son of Sam murders in New York, which was news even in my tiny town in Canada.

All of this forms a backdrop to Meg Medina’s latest book,  Burn Baby Burn.


Although it seems odd that my youth is historical fiction, this was an excellent read. It isn’t about any of the things I mentioned above, but they all play a part of Nora’s life, where she is trying to figure out her life and her family as she finishes high school and moves on to the next phase of her life.

Publisher’s Summary:Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.

This is a serious novel, but the whole time I was reading it, and even now, a few days later, I can;t help but sing this song:



Smokey detour

23 Aug

Yesterday the sky was eerie, due to wildfire smoke that was blown down the Columbia River Gorge and into Portland. It truly transformed the city. It also got me thinking about books with smoke on the cover, in pictures or words.

Although it is not smoke from a wildfire, the cover of Looking for Alaska by John Green is quite striking. This is my absolute favorite John Green novel. I loved TFIOS, but this one is even better!


Publisher’s Summary: Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .

After. Nothing is ever the same.

Local author Laini Taylor captured my attention a few years ago with The Daughter of Smoke and Bone.


Publisher’s summary: Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Ellen Hopkins followed up her novel in verse Burned, with a sequel entitled Smoke. 


Burned: Seventeen-year-old Pattyn, the eldest daughter in a large Mormon family, is sent to her aunt’s Nevada ranch for the summer, where she temporarily escapes her alcoholic, abusive father and finds love and acceptance, only to lose everything when she returns home.

Smoke: After the death of her abusive father and loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn runs away, desperately seeking peace, as her younger sister, a sophomore in high school, also tries to put the pieces of her life back together.

Another great novel with a sequel comes from E. K  Johnston.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim: In an alternate world where industrialization has caused many species of carbon-eating dragons to thrive, Owen, a slayer being trained by his famous father and aunt, and Siobahn, his bard, face a dragon infestation near their small town in Canada.

Prairie Fire: Every dragon slayer owes the Oil Watch a period of service, and young Owen was no exception. What made him different was that he did not enlist alone; his two closest friends stood with him shoulder to shoulder. Steeled by success and hope, the three were confident in their plan. But the arc of history is long and hardened by dragon fire… and try as they might, Owen and his friends could not twist it to their will. At least, not all the way…

The air in Portland smells a little less smokey this morning and the air should be clear sometime tomorrow. Fortunately, even after the smoke has cleared, we’ll still have these great books.


It’s finally here!

13 May

There aren’t a lot of good books about knitting. Oh, there are fantastic pattern and history books, but the quality of novels on a knitting theme is, at best, mediocre.

I have been anxiously awaiting this book, which I first heard  about last year,  Boys Don’t Knit (in Public)  Bu T.S. Easton.


Goodreads Summary:Ben Fletcher must get to grips with his more ‘feminine’ side following an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady and a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso from Waitrose. All a big misunderstanding of course.

To avoid the Young Offenders unit, Ben is ordered to give something back to the community and develop his sense of social alignment. Take up a hobby and keep on the straight and narrow. The hot teacher he likes runs a knitting group so Ben, reluctantly at first, gets ‘stuck in’. Not easy when your dad is a sports fan and thinks Jeremy Clarkson is God. To his surprise, Ben finds that he likes knitting and that he has a mean competitive streak. If he can just keep it all a secret from his mates…and notice that the girl of his dreams, girl-next-door Megan Hooper has a bit of a thing for him…

The book was first published in the UK, where the cover was much brighter


The library finally got a copy and I am planning on spending much of my weekend deep within its pages.


YALSA’s 2015 Hub Reading Challenge Begins!

9 Feb


It’s one of my favorite times of the year: YALSA’s  Hub Reading Challenge time.

Challenge objective Read/listen to 25 of the titles on the list of eligible titles to finish the challenge. The list includes YA novels, audiobooks, graphic novels, and books for adults, so there’s plenty to choose from. Bonus objective: read/listen to all eligible titles to conquer the challenge!

Challenge rewards Beyond experiencing the best of the best that YA lit has to offer, everyone who finishes the challenge will be invited to submit a response to a book they read for the challenge. The response can be text, graphics, audio, video and will be published on The Hub. Furthermore, everyone who finishes the challenge will be entered into a random drawing for our grand prize: a YALSA tote bag full of 2014 and 2015 YA lit! (If the winner is a teacher or librarian or something similar, they’ll also include a few professional development titles.)

For more details, including the list of books, or to jump in and take part visit The Hub’s blog post about the challenge.

For my part, I am challenging myself to read all the Alex winners. I get to count the books I read for the  Morris/Nonfiction challenge. Then I will cherry pick from what is left on the list.

Are you in?

When Twins Don’t Get Along

18 Dec

I recently reread Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, which I have always said is my favorite KP book. It wasn’t quite the book I remembered, but I still enjoyed it.


 The main character, Sara Louise Bradshaw, has a twin sister, Caroline, who is prettier and more talented, and better at social situations. The book is essentially Louise’s attempt to break free of her sister’s shadow.

As a twin, I find this a fascinating book and I remember now why I liked it so much. My sister and I got along very well, and still do. I was the quieter, shyer twin and sometimes felt like I lived In my sister’s shadow. Sometimes that was a safer, more comfortable place to be. I could let her take the lead in social situations where I felt uncomfortable, and often let her speak for both of us.

I am currently reading I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.


It features boy-girl twins, Noah and Jude who are very close until around age 13. Noah is artistic and solitary, Jude is much more outgoing. The story is narrated in an alternating pattern, with Noah telling the early years, and Jude telling about life at age 16. As each chapter unfolds you find out what happened to break their connection, and what helps put it back together.

Even if you are not a twin, both stories explore complex sibling relationships that most people can connect to.


10 Dec


 I love that Scott Westerfeld surprises me. Each new series is unlike the one before. I suspect that turns many people off, but I love it.

Afterworlds intertwines two stories, told in alternating chapters. First, we have the story of Darcy Patel, teenage author who has had a book accepted for publication during her senior year of high school. She decides to forgo college, move to New York and dive into the world of YA authors. I loved this because I figured Scott  Westerfeld knows a lot about how all this works. Darcy is young and naive, but willing to explore a new world. She struggles with rewrites because she poured her heart and sol into the draft she sent out. Although a girl who has always been lucky, Darcy is an engaging character and her naiveté and insecurity actually make her more endearing. What Westerfeld does brilliantly is alternate Darcy’s story with the novel she has written. This is a darker tale of life between death, terrorists and spirit guides who lead the deceased to the underworld.

I listened to the book on CDs generously provided by Audiobook Jukebox. This was really well-narrated by two readers: Heather Lind (Lizzie) and Sheetal Sheth (Darcy). The voices are different enough to easily differentiate the two stories, yet similar enough that they seem connected, just as Lizzie is connected to Darcy. Lind’s voice is a little lower, which is perfect for the darker story of the Underworld. The book is on 12 CDs, runs about 14 hours and is published by Simon & Schuster.

This would be a good  beginning book for a teen who isn’t a huge fan of sci-fi/fantasy, but might want to try it out. It would also be excellent for someone interested in becoming an author.

More interesting than THE INTERESTINGS

29 Nov

I hated Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, so I was skeptical when I heard she had written a YA novel.


Mostly, I hated The Interestings because I didn’t like any of the characters.  Fortunately, Belzhar was full of characters I liked and a premise that I found interesting. One might say that the theme is “Art saves Lives”.

Jam Gallahue goes to a therapeutic boarding school in Vermont following a tragic event from which she has not recovered. She is one of 5 students selected for an exclusive English class called “Special Topics in English”which is taught by veteran instructor Mrs. Quenell when she has the perfect set of students. Mrs. Quenell chooses to focus solely on the work of Sylvia Plath with Jam’s small class and gives each student a journal to write in weekly. It turns out that this is no ordinary journal and, as they write, each of the five students has an opportunity to travel to Belzhar, named in honor of Plath’s novel, where they can go back to a time and place where they were happier.

Magical realism might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it works here. And, when you read the ending, you can see why it is so important to the story about the fragile teens at the school. Wolitzer treats teen mental health issues seriously and sensitively.

Glorious Glory O’Brien

15 Oct


I drove directly to a bookstore yesterday to pick my copy of A. S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the World, which was finally out. I’d been counting down the days. several times throughout the day I checked online to see if my favorite independent bookseller had  it, and was dismayed to see that they only had it in a warehouse. Shock and disappointment. So, I went to a chain bookstore,which is sort of on my way home, because when I checked on-line it said they had it in stock & on the shelves.  When I got there it wasn’t. Teen-aged me would have been to shy to ask, but almost 50-year-old me had no qualms about asking for help. Sure enough it was on the shelves, but in the “O’s” for “O’Brien” and not int he “K’s” for “King”.  If you look at the cover you can see how someone could make that error, but really, if they thought about it for a moment longer they’d have figured out that Glory O’Brien is not the author.

I made it halfway through last night. I could have finished it, but I need my beauty rest in order to teach well.  So far, I ma not disappointed. On the eve of her high school graduation, Glory O’Brien develops the ability to look at a person and see their history (going back many generations) and their future (going forward several generations). The future she sees is a disturbing one in which second American Civil War occurs and half the country takes away a woman’s right to work.  She is also trying to discover details about her mother, who committed suicide when Glory was 4.  I can’t wait to get home tonight and finish it and I will stay up as late as I have to in order to do so. I never exactly know where an A. S. King novel will take me, but I know Glory is going to have to do something with the information she’s been given.




Like Harry Potter, but darker

16 Jun


Imagine a world in which non-witches are unaware of witches in England. J. K. Rowling took one look at it in her Harry potter series. But Sally Green is onto something infinitely darker in Half Bad, the first in a trilogy about warring witches. White witches are good; black witches are bad. Nathan is a half-breed: his mother was a white witch and his father was the most notorious black witch. Persecuted and abused, Nathan is confined by the White witches council, who treat him cruelly. He escapes in an attempt to find his father before his seventeenth birthday. If he can do so, his father will give him three gifts and come into his own as a witch. If he does not, he will die.

It seems that people either really love or really hate this book. I really loved it. I think one of the problems some people might have is that the author shifts between first person and second person narration. I think people expecting a lot of magic will also be disappointed. Nathan doesn’t do magic yet because he hasn’t turned 17 and received his gift yet.

I really feel that Sally Green has raised some interesting questions about tolerance and persecution. There is quite a bit of graphic violence, too. Green has also created a gritty, alternative modern England, which isn’t the one I fantasize about visiting, but it certainly interesting to read about.

2014 Hub Reading Challenge Week # 10

12 Apr

Every language seems to have a word for it:

So so

comme ci comme ça

έτσι κι έτσι
(étsi ki étsi)
así así
så som så
mar sin-sin
I’m sharing this because many times I read a book and think it’s pretty good, so so, worth the time to read. And every once in a while something knocks my socks off. This week, I read two books for the HUB Reading Challenge
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and one really knocked my socks off and I highly recommend that you read it.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence was an Alex Award winner. Here is the Goodreads summary:
A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world. 
That doesn’t really do it justice. It’s about Kurt Vonnegut, friendship, ethical and existential questions.I highly encourage you to read it. I will admit that I’ve never read any Kurt Vonnegut, but I’m thinking now that maybe I should. 

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