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Book: Carry on by Rainbow Rowell
Genre(s): Fantasy, Alternative Reality
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: 2015
Hardcover: 528 pages

 

I hardly needed inspiration from the title. This book was one that I could not Stop carrying on reading, till I breathlessly reached the end, and looked up, blurry and bemused, wondering what all might have transpired around me for the 3 days it had me in its magical thrall. Did Rainbow Rowell cast a spell on me via the written word, as Baz or Penny might have through speech?

 
Lest I get too cloying with my enthusiasm, let me proceed in a different vein. This book, to me, was everything I wanted the later Harry Potter books (and Lev Grossman’s The Magician) to be but weren’t– a YA book that allowed the reader to fall into a magical yet real world with real complexities and problems, with shades of grey that were real but neither debilitatingly nihilistic (Lev Grossman) nor facilely annoying with its “chosen one” ideology (JK Rowling’s later Harry Potters). I am talking in generalities here because I don’t wish to write down spoilers, although this is a book wherein, if you have already read Fangirl by Rowell, there are inherent spoilers that are already in the back of your head. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of faults with this book too — the main one being the overly hit-you-on-your-head descriptive romantic and physical tension between the main characters. Another one being, why oh why does it seem to be fashionable for well-known white authors to write in an Indian (east) character into their book and call it a day in terms of diversity? Are we the flavor of the year? Did Aziz and Mindy make us cool and likeable? Does inserting Indians (who I would argue have much more inherent privilege than many other ethnic groups) satisfy that itch for color? I would really like to sit down with Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Stead, and E. Lockhart, all authors whose books I love, and yet make me want to tear out hairs from my head in frustration at times, to figure this out, and to give them some guidance: If they insist on writing Indian characters, please Do. The. Research. Like for example, Rebecca, don’t give an Indian family the uber-Gujarati (એકદમ સખડ Gujarati?) last name Patel, and then insist on having the parents follow the custom of Karva Chauth, which is Not a Gujarati Custom. And also, if you are going to gratuitously give a Hindu-observant family’s children French names, PLEASE explain why so your Gujarati Hindu readers don’t drive themselves cross-eyed wondering what was going through your mind. But I digress. And anyway, Rainbow was too smart for me, heading off my would-be criticism, by having Penelope (the Indian-British character in Carry on) herself dare Simon to challenge her on why she shouldn’t have an Indian name. BUT. I digress!

 
Regardless of my rant above, all in all, this is one book that I simply could not, for the life of me, put down. And lately, that’s saying a lot, as even with my favorite books, I seem to (of late) belie my own self-given nickname by being reluctant to pick them up and only too ready to lay them down for any and every distraction. All this blustering is to say, I think many people will enjoy this book. Who, you ask? Who exactly do I think will enjoy it? Well, I will lay it out for you in the next section of this post which is not so much a review as it is a stream of thoughts about this book, in (perhaps) an effort to exorcise its effects from my clouded brain, so that I can get on with my day and with my week. Here goes.

 

To whom will this appeal?~ 
Carry on will appeal to fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Robin McKinley’s Shadows, and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It will also appeal to those looking for books with boy on boy sexual tension, for books written about magic and good and evil in a nondidactic white and black kind of way, for books about love between friends, between family, for books which have amazing vampire characters that don’t make you want to throw up. It will appeal to readers of the usual famously successful white authors of smart books for teens (John Green, Scott Westerfeld, E. Lockhart, David Levithan, etc). (Yeah, I wish it was not just white authors who got this kind of attention, but I’m just calling a spade a spade at the moment.)

 
Mostly, it is funny and insightful in a way that adults will enjoy, but it is definitely a YA book, with teen characters whom (I believe) teens will be able to identify with, and through whom teens will be able to enjoy vicarious magic and love.

 

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As a librarian working with children and teens, I often am asked about what are some of my favorite books for various age groups. The problem is, I have a zillion “favorites!”

But I thought it would be fun to list just a few today, a taste, as it were, of beloved books that come to mind. There are more, but those will have to come another day!

For the first five years set, Goodnight, Gorilla and Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman make great read-alouds. I also love Bark, George by Jules Feiffer and Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora. This last one is a riff on the “Old MacDonald” song, and it was a hit at our Día de los Niños celebration!

For upper-elementary kids, one perennial classic that I simply adore is Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I love the fact that even though this book is 50 years old, its themes of friendship, secrets, and betrayal continues to appeal to children today. For this age group, one of my favorite newer fantasy series to recommend is the Wildwood series by Colin Meloy. Set in Portland and its adjacent (fictional) “Impassable Wilderness,” this book captured my heart with its refusal to follow any set stereotypes about heroic characters.

For young teens, I love Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan, in which the voice of the main character immediately engages the reader into wanting to know what will be the fate of this unique teen.  A creepy (but in an awesome way) book that I loved was The Riverman by Aaron Starmer, which is a haunting exploration of coming of age among children just on the cusp of their teen years, with a strong fantasy theme that interplays very well with what it means to come of age.

And last but not least, in this age of Hunger Games and Divergent, one series that I always recommend to all teens – old and young – craving more post-apocalyptic dystopian excitement is the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld, which, with its intrepid female lead characters really gives those other books a run for their money!

So, for today, these are a few of my favorite go-to Children’s and Teen books. What are some of yours?

 

Book: Shadows by Robin McKinley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Alternative Reality
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Publication date: 2013
Hardcover: 368 pages
Other: Chosen as one of Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading 2014 books for Teens
 

 

Shadows by Robin McKinley

Booktalk: Maggie’s story starts off, as she says, “like something out of a fairy tale.” She is a regular 16 year old teen who loves dogs, origami, and her friends and family. Well, except for her weird stepfather. She lives in present day Newworld, a world much like ours, but with these differences:

Magic is real. Magic is dangerous. It is so dangerous, in fact, that it was outlawed a couple of generations ago – in fact, the “magic genes” were removed from any and all families that were known carriers, including Maggie’s own grandmother and her descendants.

In Newworld, where Maggie lives, magic is thought to cause cobeys, slang for “cohesion breaks,” which are huge rips in the universe which threaten the existence of the whole planet, from Newworld to Farworld and everything in between.

Maggie’s stepfather bugs her. Something is way off about him, not just because he is from Oldworld, where magic is actually not only allowed – it is used as a tool to fight cobeys. And it’s not just his odd looks, or accent, nor is it his distinctly weird clothing. It’s the SHADOWS that accompany him everywhere, shadows which it seems only Maggie can see.  From the very first time she meets him, she sees “…something freaky about the shadow of his arm against the wall—a sudden sharp ragged line along the line of his forearm…” Soon these shadows seem to be trying to follow and communicate with her, and she is totally freaked out.

Maggie tries to find solace in the company of her dog Mongo and her part time job at the local animal shelter, and also in her friends Jill and Taks. And there is her origami – a long time ago, Taks taught Maggie how to make kami—origami creatures which are kind of a good luck charm to ward off evil. Although Maggie resolutely doesn’t believe in magic, making kami to ward off Val’s dark creepy shadows can’t hurt, can it?

Lately, though, it seems that things are getting worse and worse. Maggie has a bad feeling that is only heightened when the first cobey in years opens up in a nearby town.  Somehow, she thinks Val may have something to do with all this bad mojo. Maybe he’s brought illegal magic with him. And now there are all these anti-Cobey army units, which also bring bad vibes.

Mixed in with all this bad stuff there’s the welcome distraction of the super-handsome college student Casimir… but he too comes from old world, and seems to think that only magic can help with cobeys. What is right? Who is right? What are those strange sentient shadows that wriggle and wave to Maggie from over Val’s shoulder? What are they trying to tell her? What will happen to her world if cobeys rip it apart? Could it be possible that the anti-cobey patrol units end up causing more harm than good?

Read Robin McKinley’s Shadows to learn all this and more.

To whom will this appeal?~
The ideal reader of this book would love:
  • Animals, especially dogs
  • Magic
  • Origami
  • Fantasy set in a modern setting, replete with pizza, cars, and high school
  • Adventure wherein a female character and her friends come into their own just in time to help save their world

I would give this book to people who like to read about the juxtaposition of Magic and Science in a modern day setting, books like Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time, the Rithmatist or even White Cat by Holly Black…  The reason that I chose Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time as two of the readalikes for this book is that, like these books, Shadows reads a little on the younger YA side…

Except for the romantic bits closer to the end, of course. Ahem.

 

So, I decided to follow in my friend Joy’s footsteps and join this weekly meme, begun by Sheila, of the Bookjourney blog. 

Here’s what I’m reading, currently:

Book: Tell Us We’re Home by Marina Budhos

Genre: Contemporary Realistic Young Adult fiction
Publisher: Atheneum
Publication date: May 2010
Paperback: 297 pages

Right now I’m on page 94…. and am loving it so far. The following is just a short something about the book, and not meant to be a review or even a complete musing. The setting is a richy-rich suburban town in NJ, and the main characters are not, like in most YA fiction set in such towns, bitchy rich girls, but rather, they are the three daughters of women who work as nannies and housekeepers for the families of the rich girls. While such a book might strike fear into the hearts of those who disdain didactic fiction, be not afraid! This book (so far) does no such thing. There are such nuances! Such perspicacity! Such heart!

Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory is targeted toward the librarian who is motivated to help teens find the books and materials they really need and want. It is laid out in five main parts, as follows:

  1. What do we do and why do we do it? (covers the history of RA, teens in the library)
  2. Foundations (Why is RA for teens different; tips for the generalist librarian who may not already be familiar with teens and/or YA lit)
  3. Taking Action (How to get the RA interview started, how to talk about appeal with teens)
  4. Special Circumstances (How to deal with situations where the teen in question is not present or when you’re helping the teen with an assignment book)
  5. Resources (how to move beyond lists of award winners, how to create meaningful resources to be used in-house, and an intriguing section on indirect RA / Marketing)

Following these, an Appendix section is chock-full of useful lists: (popular authors, “sure bets,” and teen-selected book awards).

The section that is of most interest to me is Part 3, as I feel that I already have a basic understanding of the foundations of RA and also of how and why teens use the library. Below I have laid out a few of the tidbits that one can glean from a careful reading and reading of this section.

Part 3 – Taking Action

This section has three chapters, entitled Opening the RA interview, Detecting Interest, and Articulating Appeal. As I read the first, I found myself nodding in agreement as Booth describes ways to convey that one is open and interested in helping the teens, but without being too forceful. She also makes an excellent point when she points out that we as adults tend to monitor the teen area when we think something is going wrong, but that “it is imperative to be a positive, proactive presence as well if we hope to have positive interactions.” (p. 49) This is a strategy that I take to heart: although I believe I already practice this, I find myself thinking I should keep this in mind as a “best practice” and endeavor to keep this in mind every day.

Booth also provides a short list of conversation starters to use when trying to connect with teens while at the shelves. I won’t list them all here, but they include statements like “Have you read this one? I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about it,” and “Looking for something for fun or for school?” All of these are excellent suggestions and should help the librarian who is a bit nervous about jumping in!

In the Detecting Interest chapter Booth gives wonderful advice, in the form of four questions that we can ask teens as a part of the RA interview. These are:

  1. Do you read a lot or not so much?
  2. Are you looking for a specific book that you know of?
  3. Can you think of a book that you’ve liked recently?
  4. Have you read anything recently that you really hated?  (pp. 54-58)

Below each of these, she gives a rationale for the question and explains how one can read the answer to provide better RA service to teens. It’s brilliant advice, and I intend to reread this chapter several times, in an effort to make this a more intuitive part of my current RA interview strategy.

In the last chapter of this section, Booth covers the art of how to pitch books to teens — watching one’s language so that it is neither too erudite, nor dumbing it down (teens, as all of us, hate condescension.) She also has excellent advice about how to “form your pitch,” meaning how to couch the book talk that you may do with teens about a particular book. She explains, for example, that the same book can be pitched in widely varying ways to emphasize different appeal factors for different types of readers. She gives the example of the book I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, and provides three different “book talk pitches,” each one emphasizing a different appeal factor.

This is another section I would like to keep bookmarked, for rereading. In fact, it would be a great activity, in a YA services meeting, to have several YA librarians get together and practice writing out pitches for the same book, to hit on the various appeal factors in a collective setting.

In this entry, I have only covered one section of Booth’s book; but even in this one slim section, this book proves its mettle, and I believe it’s worthy of the YA librarian’s hard-earned dollar. While the copy I’ve been perusing is an ILL book, I plan on buying my own copy!

Book: Ash by Malinda Lo
Genre(s): Fantasy, Fairy tale, Retelling, GLBTQ
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 272 pages
Other:
Finalist for the 2010 William C. Morris YA Debut Award

Ash coverSummary: Aisling (Ash) lives on the edge of the forest with her much loved mother and father. But her life changes when her magical mother dies, and her father is kept away for months at a time on the King’s business. When her father remarries, she somehow adjusts to a new stepmother and sisters. However, when even her father dies, she starts to wish that the fairies would steal her away, as they did in her mother’s stories. Her wish seems to be on the verge of being fulfilled when she starts to fall in love with the dark, brooding, and possessive Sidhean, a fairy from the forest. But just when it seems that she may indeed succumb to him, another possibility dawns in the shape of Kaisa, the King’s Huntress. Whom will Ash choose?

To whom will this appeal?: Those who love gorgeous, lush, bewitching prose will be drawn into the dark and magical mood created by this book. The pace is unhurried and the story slowly unfolds, as the retelling diverges from the original tale. Older teens and adults alike will enjoy this book if they are drawn to retellings; also they must be comfortable with unconventional endings as well as GLBTQ love.

Book: The Clearing by Heather Davis
Genre(s): Young Adult Light Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 2010
Paperback: 212 pages
Other:

Summary: Amy, a high school senior who’s starting fresh in a new town in the countryside, is having a tough time fitting into the different culture of her new school, and would much rather wander around in the woods behind her Great Aunt Mae’s trailer than hang out with kids in this odd town. On one of her rambles, she finds a mysterious, misty clearing in the woods. When she crosses the mist and meets Henry, she changes his (and her own) life forever. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that there is something supernatural about the mist and it is instrumental in helping  a sweet romance to sprout–a romance with unintended consequences for all in the story.

To whom will this appeal?: Lovers of romance will flock to this book. While intended for a teen readership, both teen and adult readers will enjoy this book if they like books where the plot unfolds slowly, with a touch of magic, a swirl of romance, and a tinge of bittersweet happy-sadness.

Book: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Multicultural
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 2009
Hardcover: 225 pages
Other: 
 
Secret Keeper coverSummary: Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins is the story of Asha and Reet, two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Reet is beautiful, feminine, curvy, sweet and patient (everything that was expected from a teenage girl in 1974 India) her sister Asha is everything a girl is NOT supposed to be in that time and place – a skinny tomboy, athletic, argumentative, and competitive. But somehow their differences knit them together, and they are part of a happy family.
 
Things change drastically when their dad loses his job, and cannot find work as an engineer in India. When he makes the tough decision to leave India to search for a job in the U.S., suddenly their lives change. The girls and their mom have to leave their home in fun, modern Delhi and go stay with Baba’s relatives in claustrophobic, strict, old-fashioned Calcutta. 
 
Suddenly Asha is no longer allowed to play cricket, or football, or even to take an unaccompanied walk. Her gorgeous sister is attracting way too much boy attention. There isn’t enough money to send the girls to school.  And her mom is so depressed; she’s not much help either. The girls have a nickname for her depression – The Jailor.
 
Asha’s only refuge is the wide, flat roof, where she disappears for hours with her secret keeper – her diary. But soon, she realizes that she’s not alone up there. There is a boy next door, watching her. When they strike up a forbidden friendship with hints of something deeper underneath the surface, Asha is amazed that a boy would be interested in her rather than in her beautiful sister. Between her new secret friendship, protecting her mother from The Jailor, and scheming with her sister and cousin on how to prevent Aunti and Uncle from marrying Reet off to some Lusting Idiot, Asha has her hands full.
 
She can hardly wait for the much-wished-for telegram from America, which she hopes will say, “Job Found! Sending plane tickets. Come quickly!”
 
***Spoiler alert!***
 
 But before that day comes, Asha’s mettle will be tested. Can she bring herself to sacrifice her first love in order to save her sister from an unwanted arranged marriage?

To whom will this appeal?: Fans of Little Women will love this sweet, gentle and yet strong literary historical novel. The characters are well-developed, down to the grandmother, who may not have many lines, but makes her perspective clear! The pace is relaxed and the story unfolds slowly. There is some sweet, understated romance — in keeping with the era and place where the story is set. Those who like to read about strong female protagonists struggling with society’s cultural expectations will be fascinated.

Book: White Cat by Holly Black (first of the Curse Workers series)
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Supernatural, Horror
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Publication date: 2010
Hardcover: 320 pages
Other:
White Cat is on many Mock-Printz award long lists

White Cat cover imageSummary: Smart, cynical and world-weary at the age of 16, Cassel Sharpe is trying to keep a low profile at his snooty, prestigious boarding school. He must, as his status of coming from a “curse working” family makes him a not-so-palatable member of society. It’s a double curse, then, that not only is he the only unmagical member of his family, but a nightmare sleep-walking incident almost causes him to jump off the roof of his dorm. Temporarily kicked out of school until a doctor can certify that he is mentally stable enough to come back, Cassel becomes motivated to try to unravel all the secrets of his strange family. To tell you more than this would be to ruin the beauty of the twisted yet exciting world that Holly Black has created.

To whom will this appeal?: White Cat will appeal to the teen and adult lover of urban fantasy, especially those who like twists and turns in the plot that will keep them on their toes as they try to figure out what is going on. Holly Black is great at creating a gritty, true-sounding, alternative world in which the rules of society become apparent without needing to be made explicit in some sort of rule book. The dark tone is balanced by the protagonist’s sarcastic and understated humor. One must be comfortable with a certain level of violence and suspense to truly enjoy the book. If you liked the dark sardonic tone of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, you might like this, although it’s not quite a read-alike. (Maybe it’s a read-along?)

Book: ttyl by Lauren Myracle
Genre(s): Realistic Contemporary Fiction, Series
Publisher: Lee and Low Books
Publication date: 2004
Hardcover: 224 pages
Other:
first of the Internet Girls series

ttyl coverSummary: Told entirely via instant messages, this is the story of the trials and tribulations of three high school sophomore girls who are best friends — they call themselves the “Winsome Threesome.” Myracle uses “texting spelling” and internet slang (“ttyl” for “talk to you later,” “u r” for “you are,” “g2g” for “got to go,” “laffing” for “laughing,” “byeas” for “bye-bye,” for example) to recreate the way contemporary teens actually communicate. The story unfolds via these chat messages, and through their online dialogue we learn that each of the girls has challenges to overcome as they navigate the social perils of high school life. Angela is a bit boy crazy and has trouble keeping her crushes in perspective. Maddie is moody and can at times not be the best judge of how to act. Zoe is quiet and shy, the “good girl” who nevertheless (literally) lands in hot water. It is a pleasure to read over their shoulders as these loyal friends cheer each other on, providing solid advice to each other, without sounding like they are the puppets of an adult agenda. Their genuine voices and the ways they deal with their problems will be inspiring to many a teen or tween girl who is dealing with similar issues.

To whom will this appeal?: First and foremost, the potential reader of this book will want to be familiar with (or patient enough to look up) internet slang. Combine the slang with the computer-screen style layout, and you have a particular format that will be highly appreciated by many teens and tweens who are excited to see their daily life reflected in their reading matter. The tone of the book is conversational, and the characters are well-developed, but one must be able and willing to extrapolate a lot from the conversations, as all of the action is only described via chat conversation. This may be disconcerting to the reader seeking continuity, but will be a boon for those who revel in unusual and innovative formats. While serious issues (as well as mundane high school angst) are discussed, and problems must be overcome, overall the tone is upbeat and positive and sends the message that strong friendships can help you overcome anything life throws at you.