Monday, December 19, 2011

Final Four Soaring Eagle nominees

If you are looking for a last-minute gift for your teen, or just something for vacation reading, check out these last four of the fifteen 2011-2012 Soaring Eagle book award nominees:

Fire by Kristin Cashore.  Imagine having the power to read people's minds, and even to bend their will to match yours.  Imagine also having incredible beauty, beauty that inspires all sorts of petty and vile human emotions. Imagine having to hide your power, and your beauty, for fear of being labeled a monster.  This is the life of Fire, a seventeen-year-old girl struggling to learn how to use her power.  Cashore writes Fire as a prequel to Graceling, a Soaring Eagle nominee from last year's list.  Enter the world of the Dells when it was still populated with monsters, rather than gracelings, and watch as Fire strives to live down her father's evil legacy, and to use her power for good.

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.  Another prequel, this is the first in Clare's Infernal Devices series, which sets the stage for her popular urban fantasy novels in the Mortal Instruments series. In Clockwork Angel, we meet 18-year-old Tessa Gray as she embarks on a solitary voyage across the Atlantic to locate her brother, Nate.  What she finds as the ship docks in Victorian London is a world of chaos and pandemonium -- but no brother. Instead, two old women pull up in a carriage and offer to take Tessa to Nate.  She believes them, and trusts them -- though she shouldn't have.  Tessa is held captive by the two old women, who are really warlocks that introduce her to London's Downworld -- a place populated by witches, warlocks, vampires, and other dark creatures.  They tell Tessa that she has a secret power that makes her belong to this world -- and Tessa does not know who she can really trust, what is truth, or even who she, Tessa, really is.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  In this second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, we continue the story of Katniss Everdeen.  She has survived the grueling Hunger Games, but at great cost to her mental and emotional well-being. Now, back home with her family, Katniss is torn among three forces: the desire to protect her mother, sister, and friends; the duty to live under the Capitol's omnipresent eye; and the call to serve as a symbol for those of her country who want to start a second revolution -- and want Katniss to be their symbol.  (For a more complete review of The Hunger Games, see the August 23, 2011 entry in this blog.)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman.  In this futuristic dystopia, the world seems perfect: no body dies of major injuries, catastrophic illness, or genetic defects.  No one dies because there are always spare body parts to replace those lost in accidents, spare genetic material to alter the course of a disease.  Therefore, adults can conceivably live forever.  For children, however, the story is a bit different.  Because of constant conflict over the beginning of life, it has been determined that a human being is not truly alive until age 14.  Therefore, at age 13, a child can be unwound for one of three reasons: because they are an orphan and therefore of no value to society; because they have been tithed by their family; or because their parents are simply tired of raising them.  The children who are unwound have their body parts harvested to maintain others' life, though they don't necessarily die.  When you are sent to be unwound, you can go willingly or not -- but you will go after all.

These last four are definitely other-worldly, whether fantasy or science fiction.  Great imaginative reads -- as well as great material for thinking about reality!  Happy reading.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Soaring Eagle intrigue

I don't know about you, but with the days getting shorter and nights longer, I always feel like spending time with a good mystery or thriller.  This year's Soaring Eagle nomination list has two novels that would appeal to a reader who is looking for some suspense and intrigue -- to go with the dark nights of autumn and early winter.

Football Hero by Tim Green.  Ty Lewis has grown accustomed to a hard life after his parents' death:  he lives with an aunt and uncle who resent his presence, give him only hand-me-down clothes to wear, and even force him to use an outhouse rather than the inside bathroom. Ty's older brother, Thane, can't help him: he is busy starting his professional football career.  Briefly, Ty thinks things are looking up when a friend of his uncle's, a man named Lucy, starts being friendly and asking questions about the other players on Thane's football team.  Ty innocently supplies the information he is asked -- not knowing that Lucy is really his uncle's bookie.  Suddenly, Ty and his brother are enmeshed in a Mafia gambling scheme that could cost Thane's professional career -- and possibly their lives.  Written by a former professional football player, this short novel is a great pick for a sports fan who appreciates a suspenseful story.

Blood on my Hands by Todd Strasser.  Callie has always had a hard time fitting in:  her father has a history of violence, and her brother is away in prison for his own crimes.  Callie's dysfunctional family often handicaps her when it comes to making friends.  She thinks that is all about to change when she is invited to the party of the year.  However, a fight with a friend threatens to destroy her night.  When the friend, Katherine, leaves the party, Callie decides to go looking for her.  She finds Katherine's dead and bloody body -- and a knife laying in the grass.  Just as Callie bends down to pick up the weapon, getting Katherine's blood on her own body, another party-goer steps out from behind a tree and snaps a picture of Callie with his cell phone. Suddenly, Callie is under suspicion for murder; what will she have to do to find the real killer? (This is the second novel in the Wish You Were Dead series by Strasser.)

That makes eleven Soaring Eagle nominees reviewed so far; hope you are enjoying reading them, and plan to vote for your favorite in March!  We will get to the last four in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Real Life Soaring Eagles

Real life seems to have interrupted my great intentions to post every Wednesday until I had covered all fifteen 2011-2012 Soaring Eagle nominees . . . so, let's talk about three of those nominees that present slices of real life!

Glass by Ellen Hopkins. In the first book of this series, Crank, we met Kristina Snow.  Kristina has a promising future ahead of her - until she spends a summer with her estranged father and meets a monster. This isn't a monster like the vampires, werewolves and demons that populate so many Young Adult books. Rather, this as a real-life monster -- the drug crank, or methamphetamine. Hopkins' first book chronicles Kristina's descent into the world of drug addiction, and the downward spiral that her life takes after she meets the monster. Glass, the sequel, continues Kristina's story.  She now has a baby whom she loves very much -- but will she have the strength to fight the monster to be there for her child?  (This is the second in the Kristina Snow trilogy; the third, Fallout, is also available.)

Last Song by Nicholas Sparks.  For the last three years, ever since her parents' divorce, Ronnie has managed to avoid speaking to, or having any contact with, her father. Unfortunately, Ronnie has been making some bad choices, including shoplifting. As a result, her mother decides that it would be in Ronnie's best interest to spend the summer with her dad in his remote North Carolina beach community -- away from the friends and temptations of Ronnie's New York City life.  Can she manage to find peace with a dad she hasn't spoken to in three years? And can she do it before it's too late?

Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin Van Draanen. Evangeline Logan knows exactly what she wants: a kiss. not just a quick peck on the lips, but a heart-stopping, life-altering, earth-shattering KISS. And she is on a quest to live her fantasy, going on kissing missions in her search for perfection, and in her attempt to not deal with the problems at home.  Along the way, she endures bad kisses and her growing bad reputation. Eventually, Evangeline has to do some thinking about what it is she really wants - and start making some grown-up decisions for herself.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Soaring Eagles

Our Soaring Eagle display is looking a bit slim this week -- which is, of course, a good thing.  It means that our patrons are reading, and hopefully enjoying, this year's list of nominees.

The three titles I reviewed last week featured mostly female main characters; let's look at three that are more boy-centered:

Eighth Grade Bites, by Heather Brewer.  Life for a junior high student isn't easy: homework, friends, girlfriends . . . it's all so much to manage. But for Vladimir Tod, life is even more complicated.  Because he is an orphan, Vlad has nobody to teach him how to keep his fangs from extending when he's angry, or how to disguise the blood he brings for his lunch every day.  See, Vlad is a vampire, but he's the only one he knows.  He thinks he is the last of his kind . . .until something sinister begins preying on people Vlad knows. Vlad has to figure it out -- because whatever it is seems to be coming for him.  (This is the first in the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series, which is five books long; Brewer is releasing a new series, Chronicles of the Slayer, this fall.)

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner. Thomas wakes up in a cylindrical elevator, moving upwards. He has no idea where is he, who put him there, or where he came from. When he emerges, he is in a lush, green area surrounded by only boys his age: no children, no adults, no girls.  He finds out that he is in the Glade; all of the boys there have no idea who created the Glade or who put them there, and no memory of their lives before arriving. The boys have set up a rudimentary society, dividing themselves into groups responsible for the farming, the building, the cleaning, the cooking.  Some of the boys are called Maze Runners.  The glade is surrounded by tall stone walls, with four gates; outside the wall is a labyrinth of tall hedges and trees.  Again, the boys have no idea who created the Maze -- but they believe that if they could only solve it, they could return to their past lives. The Maze Runners -- including Thomas -- leave each morning to run and run through the Maze, returning before the gates close in the evening to map the part of the Maze they ran through. They must return before the gates close: inside the Maze are monstrous creatures called Grievers -- huge, slug-like beings with sharp appendages and appetites for boys. If any of the Gladers are out in the Maze at night, they will not return in the morning.   (This is the first book in a trilogy, followed by The Scorch Trials  and The Death Cure.)

Halt's Peril by John Flanagan.  I've reviewed Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series before (see my November 2010 post), so I won't spend a lot of time setting up this novel. By this stage in the series, Halt and Will have evolved from teacher/student to friends and partners. They are on a mission to track down a religious cult that has been terrorizing the countryside, stealing food, burning buildings, and tricking people out of their money.  They plan to bring down the leader of the cult, knowing that the entire organization will collapse if there is no leader. Unfortunately, the cult leader knows they are following him, and sends two hired assassins to do away with Will and Halt.  One of the assassins' arrows meets its mark; can Will save his friend and mentor before it is too late?

Enjoy these high-action titles!  Next time, more realistic fiction.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Soaring Eagle nominees - 2011

One of my favorite parts of my library job is the opportunity to visit our local schools to "booktalk" the year's Soaring Eagle book award nominees.  A booktalk is just what it sounds like -- a short talk about a book, intended not to reveal the whole content, but to entice listeners to read that title. I've just returned to the library from two days at one of our junior high schools, booktalking to eight groups of seventh graders.

The Soaring Eagle book award is a program run tandemly by the Wyoming LIbrary Association and the Wyoming Reading Council.  It is a youth book award program:  all nominations come from youth in the state, and the youth do all the voting.  Each year, a committee of teachers and librarians works to tally the votes and nominations, determine the current year's winners, and narrow down the list of nominees for the following year's award.

This year there are fifteen Young Adult fiction titles nominated for the Soaring Eagle book award.  Students who read three of the fifteen will be able to vote for their favorite in March. The list is heavy on the paranormal, and on dystopian literature; these seem to be perennially popular genres for young adults.

Let's start through the list by taking a look at three nominees that focus on the paranormal, or supernatural, that is so fascinating to teens:

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White.  Evie thinks of herself as a fairly normal teenager: she has a favorite TV series, hates doing homework, and loves to shop.  She does, however, have a very unusual job. She works for the International Paranormal Detection Agency, because Evie has the power to see through "glamours" to the paranormal creature disguised beneath.  In her work, she identifies and helps to tag various paranormals -- vampires, werewolves, hags, and the like -- so they can be tracked, preventing them from preying on unsuspecting humans. Things change for Evie when she starts finding paranormals who have been brutally murdered. Something is hunting the paras -- and it seems to also be targeting Evie.  Perhaps Evie is not as "normal" as she thinks she is.  (The sequel to Paranormalcy has just been released; the second book is titled Supernaturally.)

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa. Meghan Chase's life has never been ordinary, not since her father disappeared right in front of her when she was six.  It's nearly ten years later, and Meghan's mom has remarried.  Meghan has a hard time fitting in at high school:  she doesn't have the latest technology; she lives quite a distance from town; and she mostly wears second-hand clothing.  She's used to not having a normal life.  Still, the day before her sixteenth birthday, even stranger things begin to happen. In the computer lab at school, words begin scrolling across her screen: "Meghan Chase, we know where you are. We're coming for you." Then her half-brother, a sweet little boy whom she adores, acts terrified of a monster in his closet. When her sweet stepbrother causes her mother to fall and hit her head, and then attacks Meghan and bites her leg, she knows things are definitely not right. Her good friend, Robin Goodfellow, confesses the truth: Meghan's brother has been stolen by the fey and replaced by a changeling. If Meghan wants her brother back, she must enter the dangerous world of the Unseelie court, and find him.  (This is the first book in the Iron Fey series; sequels are The Iron Daughter and The Iron Queen.)

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. This paranormal romance is told in alternating points of view by the two main characters.  16-year-old Grace was attacked by a pack of wolves in the forest near her northern Minnesota home when she was 11.  She didn't die, and has since watched the pack, not with fear, but with fascination. She particularly feels a kinship with a peculiar yellow-eyed wolf: her wolf.

Sam has been a wolf since he was 8.  He has watched Grace for years from the woods, protecting her from his pack. He wants Grace to know the real Sam -- not the wolf Sam. But he knows that, with the cold of winter, his chances of showing Grace his real self grow fewer and fewer; with each shiver, he comes closer to losing himself for good.  (This is the Wolves of Mercy Falls series; Shiver's sequels are Linger and Forever.)

There are three to start through the list; more next time!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Road Trip

It's mid-August already, and the teens in our town have begun the work of getting ready to go back to school: shopping for supplies, starting sports and marching band practices, doing the reading assignments they've put off all summer. . .  Hopefully, though, some of them will have time for a few last summer memories.  One of my favorite summer activities is taking a road trip, whether planned or impromptu.  I actually get to leave town for a few days tomorrow! With that on my mind, I'm noticing lots of "road-trip" novels on our Teen Room shelves.  Even if you can't get out of town for an end-of-summer trip, you can always escape through a good story.

Here are a few new (and old) YA novels to try. (You can always find more detailed descriptions on the Campbell County Public Library website,

The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner (Farrar, Strous & Giroux, 2011)  While Nick Gardner's family is falling apart, his best friend, Scooter, is dying from a freak disease. The Scoot's final wish is that Nick and their quirky classmate, Jaycee Amato, deliver a prized first-edition copy of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men to the Scoot's father. There's just one problem: the Scoot's father walked out years ago and hasn't been heard from since. So, guided by Steinbeck's life lessons, and with only the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee hop on a bus, and set off to find him.

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd  (David Fickling Books, 2009)  Memories of mum are the only thing that make Holly Hogan happy. She hates her foster family with their too-nice ways and their false sympathy. And she hates her life, her stupid school, and the way everyone is always at her. Then she finds the wig, and everything changes. Wearing the long, flowing blond locks she feels transformed. She’s not Holly anymore, she’s Solace: the girl with the slinkster walk and the supersharp talk. She’s older, more confident-the kind of girl who can walk right out of her humdrum life, hitchhike to Ireland, and find her mum. (Some mature content)

The Heart Is Not a Size by Beth Kephart (Harper Teen, 2010) Seventeen-year-old best friends Georgia and Riley plan to make a difference in the world their junior year by joining the GoodWorks team, a group of teenagers heading to Mexico to do community service. In Anapra, a small village outside Juarez, the girls find the heat nearly unbearable and the work -- building a public bathroom for villagers -- grueling. Observant, reliable Georgia is able to find beauty in the landscape and in the people she meets; however, she worries that Riley, who refuses to eat and is already "thin as a sunbeam," suffers from anorexia, which drives a wedge between the girls. 

Going Bovine by LIbba Bray (Delacorte Press, 2009) Can Cameron find what he's looking for? All 16-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school-and life in general-with a minimum of effort. It's not a lot to ask. But that's before he's given some bad news: he's sick and he's going to die. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel/possible hallucination with a bad sugar habit. She tells Cam there is a cure-if he's willing to go in search of it. With the help of a death-obsessed, video-gaming dwarf and a yard gnome, Cam sets off on the mother-of-all-road-trips through a twisted America into the heart of what matters most. (Some mature language and content)

Riding Invisible by Sandra Alonzo, illustrated by Nathan Huang (Hyperion, 2010)  "Everyone has to know the truth in case I get killed on the trail. It’ll be My Escape all written and drawn WHILE IT HAPPENS. Could be a little raw. I’m a little raw. I’m going to lay low, still and quiet, blend in, harmonize with the world out there. It’s not an easy thing to be, a boy on a horse...riding invisible."  So begins 15-year-old Yancy Aparicio's adventure journal. Tormented and abused by his older brother Will, Yancy runs away from home on the night that his brother viciously attacks his horse, Shy. With just a backpack, a flashlight, his horse, and a journal, Yancy takes to the California desert.  Combining text and cartooning in the style of Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alonzo and Huang team up to present a teenaged boy's attempt to understand his life, and himself. (Some mature content)

Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1998)  Meet Jenna Boller, star employee at Gladstone's Shoe Store in Chicago. Standing a gawky 5'11'' at 16 years old, Jenna is the kind of girl most likely to stand out in the crowd for all the wrong reasons. But that doesn't stop Madeline Gladstone, the president of Gladstone's Shoes' 176 outlets in 37 states, from hiring Jenna to drive her cross country in a last ditch effort to stop Elden Gladstone from taking over his mother's company and turning a quality business into a shop-and-schlock empire. Now Jenna Boller, shoe salesperson, is about to become a shoe-store spy as she joins her crusty old employer for an eye-opening adventure that will teach them both the rules of the road and the rules of life.  

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (Simon & Schuster, 2010)  Amy Curry thinks her life sucks. Her mom decides to move from California to Connecticut to start anew--just in time for Amy's senior year. Her dad recently died in a car accident. So Amy embarks on a road trip to escape from it all, driving cross-country from the home she's always known toward her new life. Joining Amy on the road trip is Roger, the son of Amy's mother's old friend. Amy hasn't seen him in years, and she is less than thrilled to be driving across the country with a guy she barely knows. So she's surprised to find that she is developing a crush on him. At the same time, she's coming to terms with her father's death and how to put her own life back together after the accident. (Some mature content)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

End of Summer Reading Suggestions

We are nearing the end of the Campbell County Teen summer reading program; teens will finish their reading pages by Saturday, and we will be drawaing for grand prizes on August 10.  Last week we featured activities from Western Europe -- a Celtic knot stationery craft, Scottish language trivia, time zone travels.  This week, our afternoon activities center around Japan; teens are decorating flip-flops (slippers) and sampling wasabi peas, pocky, and green tea. 

As I have been away from the computer much of the last two weeks, I haven't blogged about any literature selections.  What follows is a list of a variety of teen books, chosen for locations that fit with our most recent themes. Any of these would be great reading selections for the month between the end of summer reading and the start of the school year.

Books set in Europe (in general):
A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson

The Prince of Mist  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Books set in England:
In the Shadow of the Lamp by Susanne Dunlap

A Spy in the House and The Body at the Tower by Ying S. Lee (The Agency series)

The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

Montmorency: Thief, Liar or Gentleman? and sequels by Eleanor Updale

Books set in Ireland:
Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Betraying Season by Marissa Doyle

The Fire Opal by Regina McBride

The New Policeman trilogy by Kate Thompson

Books set in Scotland:
Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer

Prophecy of Days by Christy Raedeke

Books set in France:
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Troubadour by Mary Hoffman

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Sovay by Celia Rees

Books set in Germany:
Ashes by Kathryn Lasky

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Books set in Japan:
Young Samurai trilogy by Chris Bradford

The Five Ancestors series by Jeff Stone

Also, if you are interested in Japanese culture, you should investigate our growing collection of manga series.  "Manga" is a Japanese form of the graphic novel, and is unique to that culture.  We have over twenty series, and continue to develop this collection, to come in for a sample of something new.

Research more about any of these titles on our web page,  Hope to see you for the rest of the summer vacation at your library!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hogwarts Week

Shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone first came out, I began reading it to my three older daughters during their summer storytime each day.  Slowly we made our way through the series, although I quit reading the books aloud after number four, as they were old enough to pursue them on their own. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book 7) came out, I bought one copy of the book while we were on vacation: my two older daughters and I took turns with it in the car, each promising to read only one chapter before passing it to another.  There were numerous loud discussions about who was being honest with their turn, and who was reading ahead. (Never Mom, though!)

This week, in anticipation of the release of the last half of the seventh Harry Potter movie, we are "visiting" Hogwarts in the Teen Room. Our activities have allowed us teen librarians to recycle some of our better ideas from past Harry Potter-themed programs:  searching for snitches, eating cockroach clusters and drinking butterbeer, and completing several trivia contests. (Harry Potter fans are trivia nuts, in case you didn't know.)

Of course, if you haven't yet read the Harry Potter series, you should, if for no other reason than to be culturally literate.  In other words, if you read the title of this blog and didn't know where Hogwarts even was, you might want to add  a few Harry-Potter references to your lexicon. There are seven books in the series, beginning with Harry's first year at Hogwarts Academy, and ending with the year that he leaves the school in pursuit of other, darker, goals.

If you've read the series and are ready to branch out to other wonderful Young Adult fantasy, come visit us at the library.  Since J. K. Rowling first began writing the Harry Potter series, there has been a resurgence of interest in classic high fantasy, as well as an abundance of new fantasy writing published.  We are sure to find a series that works as a next step.

However, if you just can't get enough Harry Potter, you might enjoy these books from the CCPL Young Adult nonfiction collection:

Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter by Galadriel Waters.  There are three of these guides in our collection: one analyzing Books 1 through 4, one for Book 5, and one for Book 6.  While the series is typically classified as fantasy, what keeps readers reading are the intricate mysteries throughout. This nonfiction collection dissects the books, chapter by chapter, establishing both the mysteries, and the hidden clues that  J. K. Rowling uses so well. These guides are not books to be read in one sitting, but would be interesting companion reads while going through the series, whether for the first or the fifth time.

The Sorcerer's Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter, by Allan Zola Kronzek & Elizabeth Kronzek.  While J. K. Rowling is a highly-imaginative writer, she did not invent all the creatures, objects, and characters in the Harry Potter series. Indeed, many entities used by Rowling have long histories in folklore, legend, and occasionally real-life.  This compendium alphabetizes over 50 magical creatures, characters, and practices from the books, and provides research into the background of each.

Once you've finished The Sorcerer's Companion, pick up The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: Treasury of Myths, Legends, and Fascinating Facts by David Colbert as well as Fact, Fiction and Folklore in Harry Potter's World: An Unofficial Guide by George Beahm, for more of the same.  Colbert and Beahm have researched even more of the magical practices and histories, so the two books together provide interesting background for the fiction series.

Finally, if you have aspirations of becoming a wizard yourself (and who doesn't?), you might enjoy The Whimsic Alley Book of Spells: Mythical Incantations for Wizards of All Ages, edited by George Beahm and Stan Goldin. Written entirely tongue-in-cheek, this humorous guide proposes spells for all life's tricky situations.  I plan to teach my children the "Cleaning Spell" as soon as I get home tonight, and to perfect the "Meal-Preparation Spell" myself. Students might want to master the "Learn While You Sleep Spell" or the "Easy Writing Spell."  In my opinion, however, the most important spell in the book -- particularly in the Teen Room on these hot summer days -- is the  "Air-Freshener Spell."  Enough said.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

G'Day, Mate!

It's been a short week in the Teen Room with the Fourth of July holiday on Monday, but we have had some good participation in our You Are Here -- Australia activities.  Probably the most popular item has been our Australian slang quiz; the teens have enjoyed matching the Australian terms to their American counterparts.

A teen reader can find plenty of Australian lingo in some of the following novels: all are set there, or in nearby New Zealand.  Try one of the following for a taste of the land down under:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta:  This book was a Printz award winner; the Michael Printz award, you may remember, honors high-quality Young Adult literature.  In this story, a young woman who attends an Australian boarding school on Jellicoe Road finds herself trying to piece together her story. Taylor Markam is tough, and doesn't let anyone get too close; but she discovers that the people who she values most may know more about her past than she does. Marchetta is a masterful storyteller, weaving together seemingly unrelated events until reaching a satisfying, yet surprising, conclusion. This is a rather advanced book for teens, so will require a patient, thoughtful reader.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher: This is the tale of a parent's nightmare. 16-year-old Gemma is drugged and kidnapped from the Bangkok airport, smuggled through security, and taken away to the outback of Australia. Coming back to consciousness in a rustic cabin miles from civilization, Gemma gradually realizes that escape is impossible.  There is no form of communication, no way of tracking where she is. Even more disturbing is the fact that her captor, Ty, has been watching her and planning to steal her for years.  The story, written as a letter from Gemma to Ty, depicts the psychological effects of kidnapping, extreme isolation, even dependence on a captor. Though the ending is somewhat disconnected from the events of the story, the sense of place and suspense of the novel make it a worthwhile read.

The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke:  Set in 1950's Australia, this story of two cousins who meet one memorable summer. Clementine thinks her cousin Fan is everything that she could never be: beautiful, imaginative, wild. The girls promise to be best friends and sisters after the summer is over, but Clementine’s life in the city is different from Fan’s life in dusty Lake Conapaira. And Fan is looking for something, though neither she nor Clementine understands what it is. Printz Honor Winner Judith Clarke delivers a compassionate, compelling novel with the story of a friendship between two young women, and of the small tragedies that tear them apart from each other, and from themselves.

Jasper Jones: A Novel by Craig Silvey:   Charlie Bucktin is startled one summer night by an urgent knock on his bedroom window. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in their small mining town, and he has come to ask for Charlie's help. Terribly afraid but desperate to impress, Charlie follows him into the night. Jasper takes him to his secret glade, where Charlie witnesses Jasper's horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.

In addition to these titles, all set in Australia, there are many award-winning authors from that continent.  Two of the most prominent in Young Adult fiction are John Flanagan, author of the wildly popular Ranger's Apprentice series, and Allison Croggon, who writes the well-respected Pellinor fantasy series. Visit the library for any of these novels; or, we would be happy to suggest several more!


Monday, July 4, 2011

Out of Africa

I am late in posting this entry; our Africa week in the Teen Room actually happened last week, but I was too busy with end-of-month activities to write this.  We enjoyed our summer reading activities, however: the teens made interesting African masks, participated in an African geography game and "weird foods" trivia find, played several rounds of mancala, and tasted harissa, mangoes, peanuts and black-eyed peas.  Choosing the activities -- particularly the foods -- really challenged us, as Africa is such a vast and diverse continent!

Likewise, choosing books from the Young Adult collection to feature presented another challenge. We discovered that not much contemporary Young Adult fiction is actually set in Africa, but that there is much that deals with African-American issues.  So, this is the direction we took; we looked at award-winning African American authors, whose work primarily looks at the problems and perspectives of Negro teens living in America.  For this blog, I am only focusing on two: Walter Dean Myers and Sharon Draper.

No discussion of important African-American authors writing for teens would be complete without mention of Walter Dean Myers.  Award-winning author Myers writes about African American life - particularly adolescence - in multiple, varied voices.  Some of his best work includes the following novels:

The Beast:  This short, dramatic novel recounts the experiences of high school senior Anthony "Spoon" Witherspoon, who comes home from prep school to discover that his girlfriend, Gabi, has changed in ways so extreme he no longer recognizes her. He discovers that Gabi has fallen into drug addiction, and what follows is the story of his attempt to understand, to find hope, and to help the girl he loves. Through it all, Spoon discovers a disturbing truth: drugs touch everybody, and sometimes the people you think will never fall, actually do.

Kick:  In Myers' most recent novel, he ventures into new territory, even for a veteran writer like him: he co-authors this novel with a teenage boy he met through a fan e-mail.  Together with Ross Workman, Myers writes a novel about a soccer player who runs into trouble helping a friend. Veteran police sergeant Jerry Brown is asked to look into the case of a 13-year-old boy who crashed a car belonging to his friend's father. Brown takes a special interest in the case when he is informed that the boy, Kevin Johnson, is the son of an officer who was killed in the line of duty. As Brown delves more deeply, he begins to suspect that the friend's family has something to hide. He also develops a bond with Kevin, who, although angry and troubled, is basically kindhearted and well-intentioned.

Fallen Angels and Sunrise over Fallujah:   These books can be read separately, but enrich each other when read together.  Fallen Angels is the story of  seventeen-year-old Richie Perry. Just out of his Harlem high school, Perry enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967 and spends a devastating year on active duty in Vietnam. Myers portrayal of Perry, as well as his comrades in this poignant novel, earned him a Coretta Scott King award for African American literature in 1989.  The second novel, Sunrise over Fallujah, goes back to the Perry family: this time, Richie's nephew, Robin, leaves Harlem and joins the army to stand up for his country after 9/11. While stationed in Iraq with a war looming that he hopes will be averted, he begins writing letters home to his parents and to his Uncle Richie). Robin finds himself in a diverse Civil Affairs unit of both men and women, with a mission to serve as a buffer between winning over the Iraqi people and concurrent military operations. As the war unfolds, the military angle of Robin's job escalates, and he experiences increasing horrors of violence, death, destruction, insecurity, sorrow, and extreme fear. Ultimately, he comprehends the reasons Uncle Richie never wanted to talk to their family about what happened in Vietnam.

Another perennial contributor to the body of Young Adult African American literature is Sharon Draper. Her works explore both the male and female points of view; a good counter-balance, as Myers' main characters tend to be male.  Consider these works by Draper:

Double Dutch: This novel  follows a brief time in the lives of middle school students who are training for a major double dutch competition. With this backdrop, the complex personal lives of several major characters are explored, such as Delia, who can't read; Randy, who's father is missing; Yolanda, who embellishes and outright lies to impress others; and the Tolliver twins, the enigmatic tough guys. Their lives intermingle and overlap daily in and out of school as they each try to discover themselves and reconcile their multitude of problems.

The Battle for Jericho and November Blues:  Sixteen-year-old Jericho is psyched when he and his cousin and best friend, Josh, are invited to pledge for the Warriors of Distinction, the oldest and most exclusive club in school. Just being a pledge wins him the attention of Arielle, one of the hottest girls in his class, whom he's been too shy even to talk to before now. But as the secret initiation rites grow increasingly humiliating and force Jericho to make painful choices, he starts to question whether membership in the Warriors of Distinction is worth it. The hazing ritual finally becomes devastating beyond Jericho's imagination.  In a follow-up novel, Draper picks up the story with November, the girlfriend of Jericho's cousin Josh.  November and Josh have sex the night before he dies in a freak accident -- the result of the hazing rituals -- and now November must face an unplanned pregnancy and the destruction of her dreams of a college scholarship.

Copper Sun: One of few YA novels actually set in Africa, this story follows the journey of 15-year-old Amari from her African village to the Americas.  Amari's life was once perfect. Engaged to the handsomest man in her tribe, adored by her family, and living in a beautiful village, she could not have imagined everything could be taken away from her in an instant. But when slave traders invade her village and brutally murder her entire family, Amari finds herself dragged away to a slave ship headed to the Carolinas.  Readers of this novel may also appreciate Sold by Patricia McCormick. 

As mentioned, there are many other good authors who do an excellent job of portraying both historic and modern problems and perspectives of African American teens. A visit to the library will introduce you to the works of both Myers and Draper, as well as several others.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Americas

This week in the Teen Room, we've been visiting The Americas: primarily Canada, the United States, and Mexico.  We've eaten hot dogs and maple cookies, voted for our favorite hot salsa, and created duct-tape luggage tags, to name a few activities.

The Young Adult collection is, of course, filled with novels that take place in the United States. Here, however, are some that highlight unique cultural or geographic aspects of American culture:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie:  In this award-winning book, Alexie writes about the struggles of Arnold Spirit, Jr., to maintain ties to his Indian tribe while still pursuing his own hopes and dreams. When Arnold chooses to leave the reservation for a chance to attend a better school, will he be alone forever?

Phantoms in the Snow, by Kathleen Benner Duble:  In 1944, a 15-year-old orphan boy has few options for survival. Noah has been raised a pacifist, but his only family is an uncle who lives in a remote U. S. Army camp in Colorado.  Forced to live there, Noah must reconcile his upbringing with his current situation, and train to be part of an elite corps of winter soldier known as the Phantoms.

Countdown, by Deborah Wiles:  It's 1962 and it seems that everyone is living in fear. Eleven-year-old Franny Chapman lives with her family in Washington, DC, and can feel the fear of the nation in the days surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. Amid the pervading threat of nuclear war, Franny must face the tension between herself and her younger brother, figure out where she fits into her family, and learn to look beyond outward appearance. 

Love is the Higher Law, by David Levithan: Three New York City teenagers struggle to come of age amid the chaos and aftermath of September 11. Peter's, Claire's, and Jasper's lives weave together as they come to terms with a new reality. 

We also have an abundance of titles set in Central or South America.  Although the main focus is on the  stories, these novels also give the reader a slice of culture and philosophy:

The Queen of Water, by Laura Resau: Living in a village in Ecuador, a Quechua Indian girl is sent to work as an indentured servant for an upper class "mestizo" family.  

Finding Miracles, by Julia Alvarez: Milly Kaufman is an ordinary American teenager living in Vermont-until she meets Pablo, a new student at her high school. His exotic accent, strange fashion sense, and intense interest in Milly force her to confront her identity as an adopted child from Pablo’s native country. 

Muchacho, by Louanne Johnson:  Eddie Corazon is angry. He's also very smart. But he's working pretty hard at being a juvenile delinquent. He blows off school, even though he's a secret reader. He hangs with his cousins, who will always back him up -- when they aren't in jail. Then along comes Lupe, who makes his blood race. She sees something in Eddie that he doesn't even see in himself.  

Finally, try one of these titles, both set in Canada:

Half-Brother, by Kenneth Oppel:  Oppel deviates from his usual fantasy fiction in this tale. The main character, Ben, is less than thrilled that his 13th birthday includes moving across Canada and getting a new "half brother"-a baby chimpanzee named Zan that Ben's father, a behavioral psychologist, will be raising like a human to determine if chimps can learn sign language. Gradually, Ben comes around, learning more about Zan and chimps, but he still struggles with his social life in his new school, his parents' high expectations, and Zan's role in their lives-is he family or just an "animal test subject?"

Blink and Caution, by Tim Wynne-Jones:  Blink and Caution are two teenage runaways in Toronto. Blink is getting by day to day by stealing breakfast leftovers from room-service trays in a fancy hotel when he accidentally observes a faked kidnapping of a wealthy CEO. Caution is on the run from an abusive and possessive drug-dealer boyfriend when she meets Blink. She falls in with him at first because she thinks he will be an easy mark, but finds herself strangely drawn to him. Blink, however, is obsessed with the kidnapping he witnessed, and the media storm surrounding it. 

As I stated, there are many, many YA titles set in the Americas -- too many to list here.  Try one of these, or come to the library so we can help you find one that suits you.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Greek Week

It's summer reading time here in the Campbell County Library Teen Room -- easily our busiest time of the year.  If you have a teen, or are a teen, come by to pick up a summer reading log and start earning prizes for reading.  Our theme this summer is "You Are Here."  Since it's summer, we thought it would be fun to take a little vacation, at least in our imaginations.  So, "Here" will be a different location each week.  Every weekday afternoon,  teens can stop by to "visit" another locale:  we will offer trivia contests, crafts, games and, of course, food from each place.

This week has been Greek Week, and we've had a good time pretending to be in Ancient Greece every afternoon.  Teens have demonstrated their knowledge of Greek mythology (or their research skills about Greek mythology); created a "Trojan Horse" craft; learned how to tie a toga; and tasted new-to-them foods such as hummus, feta cheese, and kalamata olives.

And, of course, we have been featuring books about Greek mythology.  If you or your teen has not been able to stop in, we probably won't be able to offer them any hummus, but we can still offer these great Greek books to read:

If you haven't heard of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series yet, perhaps you've been trapped in Polyphemus' cave for the last few years? Rick Riordan can be credited with a large resurgence in teens' interest in mythology, simply through this series.  In it, we meet Percy, one of those kids who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and always getting into trouble. When there is a major incident at his school, he discovers that the reason for his trouble is not his dyslexia, his bad luck, or his reputation: rather, it's his heritage.  His mother is mortal, but his father just happens to be Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. This fact makes Percy a demigod, and also a target for the wrath of assorted other gods and creatures.  Thus begin Percy's adventures, starting with The Lightning Thief and continuing through five books.  The books have been so popular that Riordan is now working on two other series: the Lost Heroes of Olympus series follows some of the lesser characters in the Percy Jackson books; and the Kane Chronicles series focuses on Egyptian, rather than Greek, mythology.

Before Riordan, however, other authors were re-telling the ancient tales of Greek mythology for teens. One older book featured this week is Voyage with Jason by Ken Catran, copyright 2006.  It the story of the quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. The original version of the story is not accessible to some teen readers: told as an epic poem, it features archaic language and structures that can be confusing.  Catran's version retells the story in first-person narrative, more easily comprehensible for an average teen reader; yet it retains the elements of the story that have cultural and literary significance.

Another retelling of ancient stories comes from Adele Geras, in her novels Troy and Ithaka. Both novels tell traditional stories -- that of the Trojan War and of Odysseus' long voyage back to Ithaka -- but through the eyes of the women involved in the stories rather than the men.  This is a major departure from Homer's original oral versions of the epics; few women, other than the goddess Athena, played a major role there.  Still, Geras manages to maintain enough literacy authenticity that a reader of these novels still comes away with an understanding of the original stories.

Those original stories are adapted for even more accessibility in two graphic novels that we featured this week: The Iliad, adapted by Roy Thomas and Miguel Angel Sepulveda, and The Odyssey, adapted by Gareth Hinds. I've written and spoken before in favor of these illustrated versions of classic stories: they offer a framework to shape readers' understanding of the classics. Usually, these adaptations are shorter, but retain enough of the original story to be authentic. Both the Thomas and the Hinds adaptations do re-write Homer's original poetic language; while I prefer the original, I would have loved to have these versions as teaching resources when my students struggled to understand Homer. If nothing else, readers could gain enough of the original stories to develop a cultural intelligence about them; and perhaps some will even be inspired to attempt the originals.

The final two books featured during Greek Week are perhaps my own favorites: Nobody's Princess and its sequel, Nobody's Prize by Esther Friesner.  In these two novels, Friesner weaves history, mythology, and a lot of imagination to create a story about Helen, the girl destined to spark the infamous Trojan War.  We might see Helen of Troy as fickle, shrinking, weak . . . but Friesner paints an entirely different picture of a young woman who is independent and strong.  The story becomes an interesting perception of a cultural legend.  Following Riordan's lead, Friesner has authored two newer books about an Egyptian heroine: Sphinx's Princess and Sphinx's Queen, about the legendary Nefertiti.

So, grab a great YA novel and brush up on your remembering of Greek mythology.  It's a fun way to pass a summer day!  Next week, we return home to visit the Americas -- look for more great books then.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


A friend of mine was commenting recently about the way libraries have evolved since we were teenagers; she isn't a frequent library patron, so was a little surprised at some of the changes!  For fun, here's our list of top five modifications that, if you haven't visited a library in a while, might shock you.  To follow, as always, a booklist . . .

5.  Teens can eat in the library.  We actually have a vending machine in the teen room, serve snacks at events and meetings, and allow our teen patrons to order in pizza . . . as long as they share!

4. Comic books -- in the forms of graphic novels and manga -- are considered literature, and are allotted part of our purchasing budget.

3. Teens come to the library not only to study and find books to read, but also to game, facebook, email, watch TV,  and hang out.

2. Teens don't know what the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature is; but they are learning, we hope, what electronic databases are.

1.  "Hush" is no longer something a librarian says to a patron.  It is, however, the title of several interesting teen novels.  (Nice segue, don't you think?)

Hush by Jacqueline Woodson (2002, G. H. Putnam's Sons) 

Coretta Scott King award-winner Woodson tells the story of a young African-American girl whose family enters a witness-protection program after her father testifies in a police brutality case. Once Toswiah Green, Evie Thomas now has to adjust to a new name, a new town, and in many ways, a new family.  Her father slumps into depression; her mother embraces a newfound religious fervor; and her older sister hides secrets from Evie and her parents.  And Evie, who is not allowed to discuss her past or the people she left behind, now wonders who she is.

Batman: Hush (Vols. I & II) by Jeph Loeb (DC Comics, 2003)

In this saga of murder, mystery, and manipulation, Batman sets out on a simple mission to discover the identity of the mysterious character wreaking havoc in his life. Using the Dark Knight's deadliest foes as his own private pawns, the enigmatic man known only as Hush makes Batman and his allies endure a series of torturous mental and physical attacks. But it is not until Batman learns his mysterious assailant's true identity that he suffers his greatest defeat and betrayal.

Hush: An Irish Princess' Tale by Donna Jo Napoli (2008, Simon Pulse)

In this haunting work, Napoli invents a backstory for Melkorka, a character in an ancient Icelandic saga.  Melkorka and her sister, Brigid, daughters of a king in 10th-century Ireland, go into hiding while their father plans to avenge a brutal Viking attack on his lands. Instead of reaching sanctuary, the girls are captured by Russian river pirates, who take women and children to sell as slaves. Melkorka, who once disdained the slaves on her father's property, now becomes one herself, and is faced with the brutal, animalistic society of slave-traders.  She descends into silence, both out of horror at her situation, and in an effort to conceal her true identity.  Even mute, however, Melkorka has a voice: her actions of compassion and integrity towards her fellow slaves mark her as unique in a cruel world, and eventually save her life. 

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick (2010, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Note:  I reviewed this novel in my February 26 post in this blog, as part of a list of nominees for the 2011 Soaring Eagle Book Award.  Since then, vote tallies show that Hush, Hush tied for 2nd runner-up in the Wyoming competition.  The following is the blog review from February:

In this debut novel, we meet Nora Grey, a star student who is focused on getting good grades and staying out of trouble, so that she can earn enough scholarships to take her to a good school.  She and her friend, Vee, have always shared the same goals and priorities. . . until the day Nora is assigned a new lab partner.  Patch is a bad boy, and he says things that really get under Nora's skin.  Is she attracted to him?  What is it about Patch that seems so other-worldly, anyway?  And why is Vee spending so much time with Elliott, Patch's stoic, silent friend?  The sequel, Crescendo,  was released last fall; both books have been immensely popular.

Hush by Eishes Chayil (2010, Walker)

Inside the closed community of Borough Park, where most of Brooklyn's Chassidim live, the rules of life are very clear, determined by an ancient script written thousands of years before down to the last detail—and abuse has never been a part of it. But when thirteen-year-old Gittel learns of the abuse her best friend has suffered at the hands of her own family member, the adults in her community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. Forced to remain silent, Gittel begins to question everything she was raised to believe. A non-judgemental, detailed book that reveals a complex, yet deeply misunderstood society. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Strong Girls, Strong Women

March marks Women's History Month -- a time to celebrate women who have struggled to overcome various social inequalities.  Young Adult literature features a variety of strong female characters, in every genre: share some of these with a girl or teen in your own life to inspire her to grow into a strong woman.

Trickster's Girl by Hilari Bell. Kelsa, dealing with the death of her father, does not seek out the mysterious stranger who shows up at her private burial ceremony; he seeks her. And he then tells her one of the most far-fetched stories she's ever heard: that the plague that is killing trees across the earth is connected to her father's cancer, and that she is the only human who can heal the planet.   Despite her skepticism, Kelsa senses something real about this stranger and his story. She was looking for a reason not to spend the summer with her mother, anyway. Demonstrating savvy and bravery, Kelsa devises a way to disappear from her high-tech, high security world, and to begin the work of healing earth at its most crucial points: the ley lines that transverse sacred locations, such as Arches National Park and Flathead Lake. Regional readers will enjoy following Kelsa's adventures through territory that is familiar to them; all will be surprised by Kelsa's final choice at the end of the novel.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.  In this historical fiction novel set in the period of affluence just after World War II, we learn that everything is not as it seems. Evie Spooner lives with her mom, stepdad, and grandmother in Brooklyn, trusting in Joe's business sense, her mother's love, and her best friend's guidance to make her life run smoothly. A sudden vacation to Palm Springs, a budding romance with an older man, and a murder mystery throw Evie's carefully constructed life off its foundations. Suddenly, she doesn't know who she can trust, other than herself. An interesting novel in which the heroine doesn't realize she is the star of her own story until the very end.

 Brooklyn Rose by Ann Rinaldi.  Another historical fiction piece set in Brooklyn, this novel by storyteller Ann Rinaldi introduces us to Rose Hampton, a 15-year-old girl living on her parent's South Carolina plantation at the turn of the 20th century.  Rose thinks she will never leave St. Helena's Island, or her beloved horses; but a marriage proposal that promises financial security for her family changes her mind. Within a month of her older sister's wedding, Rose is choosing to marry a man she barely knows, move with him to Brooklyn, and assume a new life there as a woman, not a teenage girl.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher.  A parent's nightmare: 15-year-old Gemma is drugged and kidnapped in an international airport, the crime crafted so carefully that her kidnapper is able to pass her off as his girlfriend. It takes Gemma days to realize that she has been taken to the middle of the Australian outback, to a place so remote and oppressive that she will not be found. This is a story of a victim becoming a hero: Gemma fights, with whatever limited means she has, to resist her captor's elaborate, twisted plan, and to take back the life he has stolen from her.

A Curse Dark as Gold  by Elizabeth C. Bunce.  When her father dies, there is no son in the Miller family to inherit his wool mill; instead, 18-year-old Charlotte and her sister Rosie assume leadership. Not only are they responsible for the operation of the mill, but also for the employment and security of all their employees and employees' families.  It's a lot for a young girl, but Charlotte is up to it: at least she is until the mill is threatened by financial strain, inexplicable accidents, and rumors of a powerful curse. A long-lost uncle shows up to care for Charlotte and Rosie, but offers no help with the mill. Instead, Charlotte finds herself turning to a strange man, Jack Spinner, who offers her a miracle . . . but at what price?  A masterful re-telling of the Rumplestiltskin legend, this novel offers us a glimpse at a society that still believed in curses, fairies, and family, and at young woman who only believes in herself.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Soaring Eagle voting closes March 15.

In Wyoming, school-age youth are able to participate in three book award programs, each  co-sponsored by the Wyoming Library Association and the Wyoming Reading Council.  For children in kindergarten through grade 3, the "Buckaroo" award introduces them to wonderful children's literature; youth in grades 4 through 6 can read and vote for their pick for the "Indian Paintbrush" award, targeted at juvenile literature. And for the teenage audience, the Soaring Eagle nomination list is a good way to expose teen readers -- and their parents -- to a variety of young adult fiction.

One way Wyoming's program is somewhat unique from other states' is that the teens actually do all the nominating and voting; adults are involved in tallying numbers and determining the final results, but not in choosing the winning books.  Each spring, after having read at least three books from that year's list of fifteen, students are invited to vote for their favorite, and to nominate a book that they think should be on the following year's list.  From those nominations, 15 more books are selected to be the nominees for the next year's award.

It is that time of year again; voting for the Soaring Eagle award is open, and will close on March 15.  It's not too late to encourage your teen to read from the following list of nominations; and of course, adults will find several titles to entice them, as well.

*** First, there are four books that are installments in young adult series that have appeared on the list before:

Erak's Ransom by John Flanagan (Ranger's Apprentice series, #7).  This series, reviewed in this blog in November of 2010, continues to fly off the shelves of the CCPL Teen Room collection. We met Will in the first book of the series, The Ruins of Gorlan; he had just been apprenticed to be part of the Ranger corp of the kingdom of Araluen -- an apprenticeship Will is not happy about.  In this installment, Will and his comrades travel to the deserts of northern Africa to ransom their friend Erak, a Skandian who is being held hostage there. Does Will, accustomed to the forests and hills of northern Europe and Britain, have the skills to survive and find his friend in the desert?

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #5).  If you've seen the movie about the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, you know that Riordan has taken the gods and creatures of traditional Greek mythology and transplanted them to modern-day America.  Percy, one of those boys who seems to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, discovers that the reason behind his troubles is not his learning disability or dysfunctional family situation: it is that he is a demi-god.  His mother is a mortal, but his father is actually Poseidon, god of the sea. Percy discovers that the gods and goddesses of Olympus continue to meddle in human affairs -- as they have since ancient times -- and that it is up to him and his friends to appease them and battle to save humankind.

Tentacles by Roland Smith.  Not actually a series, this book is the sequel to an earlier Soaring Eagle nominee, Cryptid Hunters.  In that book, we met Grace and Marty, who had been sent to live with their Uncle Wolf after their parents' plane disappeared over the Amazon jungle. They discovered that Uncle Wolf has a very unusual -- and cool -- occupation: he searches for cryptids, mysterious creatures that are rumored to exist, but have not been scientifically documented.  Besides having a dangerous and exciting occupation, Wolf has an arch-enemy: Dr. Blackwood.  Grace, Marty, Uncle Wolf reappear in Tentacles, this time racing to prove the existence of a giant sea-squid before Dr. Blackwood is able to capture it. 

Ghost of Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  Again, this is a sequel to an earlier SE nominee, Touching Spirit Bear. In that book, a very angry young man named Cole is sent to live alone in the wilderness as punishment for beating a boy named Peter to the point of disability.  While in the wilderness, Cole has experiences that force him to deal with his anger and find ways to make amends for his wrongs. Now, Cole and Peter have to return to a different type of wilderness: a tough, inner-city high school, with drugs, gangs, and violence in every hallway.  Has Cole learned how to control his anger, or will he explode again?

*** Several new series appear on this year's list; expect to see further installments in subsequent years.  Many of these series emphasize the continued popularity of the super-natural as subjects for young adult fiction.:

Marked by P. C. Cast and Kristin Cast (House of Night, #1).  For Zoey Redbird, high school life is filled with normal high school problems: a stepdad she can't relate to, a best friend who might be lying to her, and a boyfriend who is making some very poor choices.  Zoey has her hands full just dealing with regular life . . .until the day she is Marked.  From that point, a new set of problems fills Zoey's world:  she has been selected to "turn" into a vampyre and needs to transfer to the House of Night, the high school for teenagers like her. At the House of Night, Zoey will learn about becoming a vampyre, hoping that her body doesn't reject the change and die in the process. However, for Zoey, the House of Night becomes more than a high school for vampyres; it's a place of very dark and sinister dealings that threaten both Zoey and her newfound friends. This series is currently up to its eighth installment.

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy, #1).  This series takes another look at a vampire high school, but while the House of Night is known and familiar to the non-vampyres around it, St. Vladimir's Academy is hidden away deep in the forests of northwestern Montana.  There, we learn, there is a hierarchy of vampires:  the moiri, who are the vampire princes an princesses, and various servant classes.  We enter the story as runaways Lissa, a moiri princess, and Rose, her dhampir bodyguard and best friend, have been captured and returned to St. Vladimir's.  Their runaway experience was not some high school prank, however; something evil lurks at St. Vladimir's, endangering Lissa, Rose and their friendship. (For older readers -- some mature content)

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick.  In this debut novel, we meet Nora Grey, a star student who is focused on getting good grades and staying out of trouble, so that she can earn enough scholarships to take her to a good school.  She and her friend, Vee, have always shared the same goals and priorities. . . until the day Nora is assigned a new lab partner.  Patch is a bad boy, and he says things that really get under Nora's skin.  Is she attracted to him?  What is it about Patch that seems so other-worldly, anyway?  And why is Vee spending so much time with Elliott, Patch's stoic, silent friend?  The sequel, Crescendo,  was released last fall; both books have been immensely popular.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  Cashore has created a fantasy world in which people who are "graced" -- meaning who have special talents -- are marked by two different-colored eyes.  Some graces are good talents to have: a talent for farming, or a talent for diplomacy.  For Katsa, however, being graced is something like being cursed; her grace is that she cannot be defeated in battle, and because of her grace, she is feared and avoided by most of the people in her world. It doesn't help that her uncle uses her to enforce his cruel policies throughout the kingdom: Katsa is often sent on missions that involve torturing people who have defied her uncle's authority.  Katsa, tired of using her grace for harm, embarks on a quest to rescue a kidnapped King, to find friendship, and to discover how to turn her grace into a gift.  A companion novel, Fire, is already out; a sequel to Graceling  will be released this spring.
(For older readers -- some mature content)

Football Genius by Tim Green.  This story, reviewed here in September 2010,  takes us behind the scenes of professional sports, through the eyes of 12-year-old Troy.  Troy and his mom have always been poor, just getting by after his dad left years ago. Things start to change when his mom lands a job as a publicist with the Atlanta Falcons football team; but for Troy, they don't change quickly enough.  Troy has a gift:  he is able to see patterns develop in the course of a football game and then to predict, with uncanny accuracy, what will happen next.  It's a kind of "football ESP", and he thinks his mom ought to introduce him to the coaching staff of the Falcons so he can show them his talent. Mom says no; but Troy's never been very good at taking "no" for an answer. Will he ruin everything his mom has worked for? Other titles by Green are Football Champ  and Football Hero.

Secrets, Lies and Algebra by Wendy Lichtman (Do the Math, #1) Tess likes life to be black and white; that's why she's always loved math.  In math, if you just do the calculations correctly, you'll end up with the definite answer, right?  That is, until the eighth grade, when Tess discovers equations for which the answer is "does not exist".  Suddenly, easy answers do not exist anywhere for Tess.  Should she turn in the popular boy that she suspects is cheating?  Is her best friend involved in the cheating?  Worse, is her mother hiding information about a possible murder?  Tess has always used math to help her figure out life; will she be able to now?  The author does a great job of using math concepts as part of the story, without making the reader feel like she's in math class.  The sequel, Writing on the Wall, is already out.

*** Finally, there are a few books on this year's list of nominations that are stand-alone novels.:

The Host, by Stephenie Meyer. Lots of readers pick up a Stephenie Meyer book ready to read about vampires.  Instead of vampires in this written-for-adults novel, imagine alien parasites that implant themselves into human brains in order to control the human race.  That's the premise for Meyer's first venture into science fiction:  human beings have made a mess of Earth, and alien intelligence has decided to perfect the planet by controlling humanity. Not every human being is so easily controlled, however; there is a faction of survivalist rebels who are living off the grid, attempting to avoid implantation. One of these, Melanie Stryder, may be the toughest subject the aliens have ever tried to possess.  Will she succeed in holding on to her independence?   (For older readers -- some mature content)

Impulse, by Ellen Hopkins.  Hopkins has won the Soaring Eagle award before for Crank, her exploration of methamphetamine addiction.  In this novel, not related to the Crank (Kristina Snow) series, Hopkins takes us inside the walls of a psychiatric ward for teenagers who have attempted suicide. There we meet three teens, and through Hopkins' verse-prose, explore their thoughts and emotions.  Will they all heal? Will they learn to deal with the problems that led to their first attempts, or will they try to take their own lives again? (For older readers -- some mature content)

After, by Amy Efaw. We meet Devon Davenport in this debut novel.  Devon's life before is an endless round of studying and soccer practice -- anything to get into a good school and not end up like her mother.  Devon's life after finds her in juvie, awaiting trial for the attempted murder of her own baby. But Devon doesn't remember having a baby -- doesn't even remember being pregnant.  How could good-girl Devon have done something like this?

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam: Cracker is a beautiful German Shepherd who has a good life with her owner, Willie, until Willie's dad gets laid off and they have to leave their house.  They live in a tiny apartment now, and Willie has to find another home for Cracker. But it's the late 1960's; the Vietnam War is going on; and money is scarce. Nobody wants to take in a 100-pound German Shepherd dog.  Nobody, that is, but the U. S. Army; the Army is adopting large-breed dogs, particularly German Shepherds, for the dog corps, man-dog teams that were trained to sniff out booby traps and snipers in the Vietnamese jungles. Cracker is adopted into the Army, and given to a new owner, Rick.  But Rick and Cracker can't get along, even in training; will they be able to depend on each other in a life-or-death situation?

The Roar, by Emma Clayton.  Now, imagine a world in which there is no animal life:  all animals were exterminated after the "animal plague" caused them to go crazy and attack humans.  At least, that's what the government says happened.  After the extermination, a massive wall was built around the civilized world, and all human population lives behind that wall, stacked upon each other in layers of buildings.  This is the dystopian future Emma Clayton has created in The Roar.  We meet Mika and Ellie, 13-year-old twins who live with their parents in a fold-down apartment in the darkest, dampest part of the City.  Ellie, unfortunately, has disappeared; her parents have been told she's drowned in the river. Mika refuses to believe what he's been told, and sets out through his oppressive, dismal world to find her -- and to find out just how many other things that he should not believe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Great Equality Day read

I'm almost embarrassed to be posting about this title today, given that it's been on the NYT bestseller list for most of the last year. However, as a teen librarian, my reading focuses on young adult literature; as a nonfiction writer, any other reading I do centers on what's new in nonfiction/memoir for adults.  Adult fiction novels tend to fall to the bottom of my "to-read" list, no matter how good my intentions are.

Late or not, I can't let today -- Equality Day -- go by without posting about Kathyrn Stockett's beautifully-written novel, The Help.  The novel -- besides simply being a great story about a white woman's efforts to record the experiences of black maids in Jackson, Mississippi in the pre-civil rights South -- also offers a reflection on the day-to-day realities that prompted the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights activists. I know the novel is fictional; but like any great work of fiction, the events, characters and tone ring true; our collective wisdom about equality recognizes that this novel is awfully close to nonfiction.

What compelled me to finish this book, once I finally began, was the story of the women of the time -- both black and white, but all repressed by societal dictations -- who nonetheless found ways to advance the cause of civil rights through their day-to-day choices.  The daily courage of some of these characters, and the daily cowardice of others, present a snapshot of the entire civil rights movement: not the large, public events and speeches that we remember today, but the small, private happenings that shaped an entire generation of change. Miss Skeeter, Minny, Celia, Lou Ann, and especially Aibileen -- these women could be any woman; though characters, they will live in my memory indefinitely.

Read this book, whether or not you would be interested in the civil rights theme.  The rich, varied characterizations alone rank it as one of the best novels of American literature to come out of recent years.
If, like me, you appreciate linguistics, you will particularly enjoy Stoddard's exquisite rendering of authentic Southern dialect, both Negro and Caucasian, educated and non-educated, rich and poor.

The dialect might pose a stumbling block for a less-advanced reader; though Stockett has written dialectal speech better than most writers since Twain, teen readers may lack the reading skill to understand what is being said. (Having taught The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to juniors in high school, I know some readers simply have not developed the "inner ear" that lets them decipher dialogue that is written exactly as people speak.) However, a more advanced teenage reader will be able to comprehend; I would have no problem handing this novel to my older two daughters, who read at approximately high-school senior and college levels.

Of course, the English teacher in me cannot resist making the obvious curricular connections to other great works of literature in this genre, particularly Huck Finn and To Kill a MockingbirdThe Help offers us a picture of life as a Negro in America as well, but from the perspective of women living 100 years after slaves were freed, after World War I and II, in a time when American whites were living a period of prosperity as yet unprecedented.

Read The Help.  If you have an older teenager who can decipher the dialect, and who has the maturity to handle some mild sexual innuendo and one or two PG-13 scenes, read it with them. Discuss how they feel toward people of other colors. Discuss what they know, and don't know, about this period in our American history. Discuss the bravery of the civil rights pioneers -- both Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we commemorate today, and those quiet leaders about whom we may never know.