Tag Archives: YA

Winger: Top of the library pile

11 Jul

Because I spent 10 days focused on knitting the “Kiss Me, Hardy” Pullover, I now have a giant stack of library books and a great dilemma. Which do I read first?  Since I am mostly a logical person, I have sorted them by due date and Winger by Andrew Smith, rose to the top.


Ryan Dean West is a 14-year-old ruby-playing junior at a private school. He plays rugby and has bait of  a potty mouth. We meet him at the beginning of the story, as two football players are attempting to dunk his head in a toilet. I’d heard a bit of a buzz about this book, so although it began with typical teenage boy dialogue and hijinx, I suspected it would be worth reading. Ryan Dean is really likable and I couldn’t put the book down. Andrew Smith lets us see into the mind of a teenage boy. What’s there is disgusting, funny and sensitive. Like all of us, Ryan Dean is trying to fit in and figure out the world, It is rare that I laugh out loud and cry at a book, but I did both with this one. By the end, all  could say was “WOW”!

I don’t want to give too many details & spoil it, but you should read this one. It reminded me of Spud by John Van de Ruit,


which came out 5 or 6 years ago, and which left me feeling the same way. If you haven’t read that one, it is also worth your while.


Breaking up is hard to do

30 Jun

I’m currently reading one break up  book  ( Going Vintage by Lindsay Leavitt )


and  listening to  another in the car ( An Abundance of Katherines by John Green).

In  Going Vintage, sixteen-year-old Mallory learns that her boyfriend is cheating on her with his cyber “wife”. As she looks through some of her grandmother’s things, she decides life was simpler in the past. She rebels against technology by following her grandmother’s list of goals from 1962, with help from her younger sister, Ginnie.

In  An Abundance of Katherines, recent high school graduate and former child prodigy, Colin has been dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine. He sets off on a road trip with his hirsute and Lebanese  best friend,  to try to find some new direction in life while also trying to create a mathematical formula to explain his relationships.

Both are funny and poignant. Both make me think about what I was like as a teen. Both are worth reading.

Summer Beach Reads #1: Lite fare for the thinking girl

28 Jun

OK, so I haven’t gone to the beach yet and probably won’t, although I’m rather likely to sit under a shady tree in Laurelhurst Park with a book. In summer I long for lighter fare; a ripping good yarn that is a fast & fun read. Here’s the first qualifier I’ve read.


If I were a teen, I think I’d want to drop out of school & become a thief after reading  Heist Society  by Ally Carter. Kat Bishop is trying to leave the family business (theft) but gets drawn back in when her father is framed for an art theft he didn’t commit. Exotic locations, art, history, wealth, a little romance and very likable characters make this a wonderful summer read. Lite fare for the thinking girl. I have the second book in the series on hold at the library and can’t wait to get it.

The Families We Make: 2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #18

8 Jun

This afternoon I’m taking Leroy to the vet to update his shots and get a microchip. We do that for all our dogs.

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Leroy has been on a home stay with John, who will soon sign the papers to officially adopt him. John is 79 and has been adopted by his neighbors who keep an eye on him. In fact, it was because of them that he ended up with Leroy, who, at 10, is also a senior gentleman.

A lot of  YA distopian fiction involves characters, separated from their families, creating new “families” of those they meet along the way. I just started  After the Snow by S. D. Crockett, set in a snow covered world after the oceans stop working.


It tells the story of Willo, who was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family.But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone — he doesn’t have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl — but Willo just can’t do it. And so, they become a sort of family, relying on each other.

All this has me thinking about my friend, Alemash Ambaye, who died December 16th, 2010 at the age of  78.


Her life was distopian. Her husband, a general in the Ethiopian army, was executed and she spent 7 years in an Ethiopian prison. For those 7 years she had no idea where most of her children were. One daughter was in college in the United States but the whereabouts of the other 6 were unknown.  Once released, she eventually found them through the Red Cross and most came to the United States. In spite of these years of hardship she was gentle and kind. She rarely spoke of her experiences, but when she did she always mentioned how her faith kept her strong. We became acquainted because she needed a ride to church. Over time we became friends and she often referred to me as her other daughter. I think she worried about me because I was a single woman and would sometime send me home with injera and her excellent chicken stew (doro wat). I sometimes think I’d like to write a book about her. And I might do so someday.

Pig Tales from Portland

29 May

I don’t really think this is a trend, but I have come across two novels by Portland authors that feature porcine characters. One is for young adults, one is for younger readers. Both are worth reading.


Poison, by Bridget Zinn, is funny. As I was reading it, I thought about how few YA fantasy novels are funny. The heroine, Kyra, keeps coming to the wrong conclusion. Her pig, Rosie, just smiles dreamily at her and loves to snuggle, when she’s not following the scent she’s supposed to be tracking. The Princess and heir to the throne is outspoken. On top of all this good stuff, Zinn creates a world of potioners and poisoners, people who fight with chemistry. As I finished the book, I was thinking that, although the problem came to a conclusion, it would be great to read more about this world Zinn created. But I can’t, because Bridget Zinn passed away two years ago of colon cancer at the age of 33.

On a happier note, the main character of  The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz, is Flora, a piglet on a mission.


She is not content wallowing on the farm and longs for adventure. when she escapes from her pen, she discovers the world of sled dogs and decides it is her destiny. When Fate lands her aboard a ship bound for the South pole, she assumes she is to be a sled pig, although he reader quickly realizes that Flora has come to the wrong conclusion.When the ship  is wrecked and all seems hopeless, an unexpected heroine emerges. Can you guess who it is?  Young readers will love this tale of adventure and reaching for your dreams.

A day, a year: Denmark, Paris, Amsterdam

28 May

In 1982, at the age of 17, I left Canada to spend a year in Denmark as a Rotary exchange student. I lived  with three families in Rudkøbing, Nordenbro  and Tryggelev on the island of Langeland. It was an amazing year lived in a truly idyllic countryside. I started with my first family on a large, traditional farm, Nordenbrogård.

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Here’s a picture I found of my “counselor’s”farm and one of my friend Else’s family home & orchard.

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My last house was in Tryggelev, just south of Humble.

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My bus to school, crossed over three bridges and went past the place where Elvira Madigan  is buried on Tåsinge.


I had other exchange student friends in Odense (home of Hans Christian Andersen) that I visited often. Because they didn’t want us getting Eurail passes and traveling on our own, the Danish Rotary club arranged an end of the year bus tour of Europe for us. We looped down through Germany and Austria, went across Italy Into France, then drove up to Paris, from which we went to Brussels & Amsterdam before retiring “home”. I have very fond memories of that year and that trip. Our “leaders”, Annie & Tommy, pretty much let us go where we wanted when a group activity was not planned,  and trusted us to make reasonable decisions.They were nothing like Ms. Foley, the leader of Allyson’s trip in Gayle Forman’s  Just One Day.


I loved so much about this book.  It was like reliving my youth to some extent and I had actual pictures from my memory as Allyson went places with Willem, and looking for Willem. Forman creates a great story that captures the two characters and the places they visit.I must admit I read this in one day, I was so obsessed with the story.

The first half of the book tells about Allyson, who  is on the final leg of her graduation present from her parents; a teen tour of Europe. She is a careful girl, never deviating from the program, on this trip as well as in life. But everything changes in London. She meets a young man who convinces her to go to Paris where they share an amazing day. and then he leaves her. Devastated. How she rises from the devastation is the subject of the second half of the book.And I was right there with her all the way. To Paris & Amsterdam, all over again.

If you liked John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (especially because of the trip to Amsterdam), or  the movie Before Sunrise, saw Before Sunset and plan to see  Before Midnight, just out now, you will love this book.

Child Soldiers

22 May

I disagree with many of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas. He’s the guy that  coined the term global village. (He’s Canadian, too!) The idea was that all of our interconnectedness through media brings us closer together because we know more about what’s going on. I believe that we know more, but we have no, or very little, real connection to what’s going on globally. It doesn’t get me out there acting on the outrages I see, at home or abroad.

Having said that, I was deeply moved by War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance.


They are both Canadian, too, but they have managed to bring me to an understanding of the plight of child soldiers in a way CNN and other media outlets have not.

It is a fictionalized account of the abduction of a group of Ugandan schoolboys and their forced induction into the Lord’s Resistance Army. It begins with a letter from the main character, Jacob, who says he understands if, after reading the letter, the reader closes the book because what he has to say isn’t pretty. And it is not. It is based on reality, which, in this circumstance is very ugly. McKay & LaFrance manage to portray the horrific circumstances these children encounter with great sensitivity and convey the idea of the horrors without overtly showing them.  They also effectively convey the impact on the children of what they are forced to endure.

When I was a kid I kept a notebook of quotes and I remember one from E. M. Forster that said,  “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”. The children in  War Brothers  are forced to make that decision. This is a worthy read.

Resistance is NOT futile!

20 May

I make no secret that I like to read books about young people during the Second World War. I have openly stated that my favorite book last year ( and maybe one of my tops ever) was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.  I’ve written about the The Montmaray Journals series by Michelle Cooper, which I highly recommend. Having lived in Denmark in the 80’s, where memories of occupation were still strong, I loved Number the Stars  by Lois Lowry and  The Boys of St. Petri by Bjarne B. Reuter. And I recommended The Berlin Boxing Club  by Rob Sharenow which is a 2014 ORCA nominee.  But most of the books about WWII are set in England, France, Denmark and Germany.

So it was refreshing to pick up Hero ona Bicycle by Shirley Hughes, which is set in Florence,  just  as the Allies are working their way up the boot of Italy.


The main character, Paolo, loves riding his bike at night when he feels free from constraints of Nazi Occupation and being a 13-year-old boy surrounded by girls and women. On one of his nightly forays into the Italian countryside, Paolo encounters the partisans and becomes involved with them. The book does a great job helping readers understand the dangers of resistance work and its impact on family members. Although the language might be challenging for 4th & 5th graders, I think they would really enjoy the story. And I hope you do too.

2013 Hub Reading Challenge check-in #14

11 May

I am concentrating on reading the Alex and Morris winners.  Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The William C. Morris YA Debut Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. If you are looking for something really good to read, these are two lists to help in your pursuit.

I only finished one Challenge book this week, Where’d You Go, Bernadette  by Maria Semple.


Oh, so funny, and not just because I am a Canadian  or because I am living in the Pacific Northwest. Semple’s Bernadette lampoons both these in such an amusing way. It has family drama and heart-break, but doesn’t get you down because it is wrapped in delightful, satirical writing. I have recommended this to several adults and hope you take the time to read it, too.

Yoko Ono is not my mother

8 May

My mother was born in 1931 and grew up poor & French-Canadian in a mining town. She ran away from home at 15 to escape the life she could foresee if she stayed. She was married, became a mother and was widowed before she was 20. She remarried and lived an average life.

Yoko Ono was born in 1933 and grew up wealthy in Tokyo and San Francisco. She was evacuated to the countryside during the war and suffered some hardships. After the war, she returned to Tokyo and her privileged life, on her way to becoming the Yoko Ono we know.

I got to thinking about the great differences between my Mom and Yoko Ono while reading  Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky, out this year from Amulet Books. It is a beautiful book and well worth the read.


I must admit I didn’t really know anything about Yoko Ono beyond the John Lennon years. My sister had their  Double Fantasy album when we were kids, but I just thought she was a kook, riding on John Lennon’s coattails. But reading this book, I have learned about the artist and musician she was in her own right. She was so much more than what I thought.

The text is well written and well-organized, breaking her life up into its significant eras.The book is full of pictures from all parts of her life and really helps build the well-rounded view of Yoko Ono the text is creates.

This is a must read for everyone of my generation or older, who might have blamed Yoko for the break-up of the Beatles, and for younger readers who can learn about the wonders and possibilities of a life in the arts.

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