Thursday, February 28, 2013

Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman

2013 Alex Award Winner!

This is book is creepy on so many levels. It's not a joy to read--you'll be glad when it's over!

Lynn and Dani are two teen girls with too much time on their hands. They are poster children for child molesters--spend unsupervised time online, have access to webcams, drink underage, and are just surrounded by people who don't care too much about them. When Lynn meets a 25-year-old man online, they two agree to meet, and, of course, get along.  I kept waiting for him to molest/steal/rape her, but it didn't happen.  I can't exactly tell you what happens, but let's just say it's twisted and leave it at that.  Seriously twisted.

I totally understand why this won an Alex Award--loads of teen appeal, a paperback original, and teen characters who need help. Give this to fans of Gail Giles and other twisted dark realistic tales.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

If You Asked Me (And of Course You Won't) by Betty White, read by the author

This was a quick little listen--only 2 CDs and it wasn't really worth it. I was expecting to laugh, and I didn't at all!  She did explain that this is her 6th book, so maybe she has nothing left to write about? All she did was have some short chapters about various topics--the Snickers commercial, the awards ceremony, her SNL appearance, the loss of her husband, her awesome agent, etc. I really wanted to laugh. :(

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson, Read by the Author

Followers of my blog know that I've been on a Joshilyn Jackson kick lately. And this book is an example of why.  Laurel is a typical happy housewife, but when a young girl ends up floating in her backyard pool, she must notice what's really going on in her life. Who is responsible for her daughter's friend's death? Does her own daughter have something to do with it? or the creepy slick man who lives down the road? Laurel does know that she needs help to deal with the drama, and that means she is going to call in her sister, Thalia.

The plot is secondary here to the relationships between Laurel and her sister, her mother, and her husband. I appreciate the insight into those relationships and that's what really drew me into the tale. Once again, the setting plays a huge role in this Jackson book--the deep South, where poor children can slip out from under Child Protection Services and tin roofs leak.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

2012 National Book Award Winner!

2013 Alex Award Winner!

I'm too busy to look up statistics, but I bet it's rare for a National Book Award winner to also receive an Alex Award, which is given for adult books that are good for teens. This is one that I'm not sure about--it's good for a few teens, but they have to be darn good readers.

It's 1988 and Joe's life is traumatically changed when his mother is beaten and abused. She isn't a talker, and life on the reservation is dramatically changed. Where did the attack happen? Was it a white man? an Indian man? Joe's father is a judge on the Indian reservation and why can't he help? Joe struggles with the slow wheels of justice, even more so when his mother's accused attacker is let go. The pace is slow and the mystery slowly unfolds, but the beautifully written story is a good one. The last few chapters are real kickers, and, even though I wasn't thrilled with the ending, I felt like the conflict resolved. Ironically, I am listening to a similar tale of unresolved justice in the car right now--The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. I understand why this one has literary merit, but, boy, I can't wait to read a YA book now....

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Read by Kathleen Wilhoite.

2013 Alex Award Winner!

Bee is on the hunt for her mother. Bernadette has disappeared in Antarctica--did she commit suicide? Run away? Who can figure it out? Told through a collection of emails, faxes, letters and other documents, we trace the history of Bernadette and her connections with other Seattle-ites. Why did Bernadette stop building things after winning a prestigious architect award in LA? Why does she hate all things Canadian and hate to leave her house? This tale is funny--the private school moms, the Microsoft details, the blackberry bushes! And now I want to go to Antarctica.

Since I was just in Seattle, I loved the setting details--lots of familiar neighborhoods and landmarks.

I loved the book, but do not recommend the audiobook. I had to keep fiddling with the volume knob in my car. My car volume only goes up to 50, and I had to switch it between 25-40 at various times in the narrative. Some of the female voices were grating and very, very loud. Then Bernadette's husband would speak and the voice would be so low that I would have to turn it up. While I admire the narrator's different voices, I think the producers could have improved the volume before final production.

Friday, February 1, 2013

2013 Printz Award Committee Experience

Those ladies below were in constant contact with me over the past year. Why? Because we served on the 2013 Printz Award Committee for the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association.
Back row: Sharon Rawlins, Francisca Goldsmith, me, Krista McKenzie, Sarah Bean -Thompson, Assitant Laurie Bartz
Front row: Meghan Cirrito, Louise Brueggemann, Chair Sharon Grover
Not Pictured: Lexi Henshel , Booklist Consultant Dan Kraus

This committee has been a dream of mine since I learned about it back in library school at its creation in 2002. What? An award given to the best darn books in young adult literature? Let me at it!  

I've been reading young adult books since I was a young adult. In the late 1980's, I was lucky to see a shelf of teen titles at the Waldenbooks in my local mall, but at least I had a mother who bought "good" young adult books for her high school library. So even though my high school library was full of Michener and adult historical romances, I was able to get my hands on the good stuff. 

So, what's the purpose of the Printz and why was I so excited to be selected to serve on the committee? Because it's the top committee of YALSA's book awards--it's the Newbery of middle grade lit and the Caldecott of picture books. It's the one that people will be talking about--adults and young adults. It's an award that causes a book like The White Bicycle to jump from #896,262 on the Amazon sales list before the awards ceremony to #1,471 on the day after the ceremony. This award is important to school libraries and public libraries--it guides our purchasing and helps us shape our collection. Sure, we have the "popular" books like vampire romances and sports biographies, but this award assures us that we have books for our teen (and adult) readers who love a challenge. 

In this year's case, readers of In Darkness will be horrified at the brutal setting of the slums of Haiti, but incredibly moved by the gifted intertwining of historical fiction and contemporary ghetto. Honor winner The White Bicycle is a sweet tale of a 19-year-old with Asperger's Syndrome trying to become more independent. The simple narrative is more complicated than you may think on first read. Code Name Verity needs no introduction--it's a kick-ass World War II spine-tingler with female spies, friendship, and an ending that will make you cry. Dodger is a Dickensian tale of a street rat turned hero--think Aladdin without the Disney.    Aristotle and Dante Discover the Meaning of the Universe is a poetic tale of self-discovery for two Hispanic teens. This book is so awesome that it also won the Stonewall Book Award and the Pura Belpre Award

The Printz committee members aren't allowed to discuss what other books we looked at or what led us to create the list described above.  The paragraph above doesn't explain why the books won the award--it's just my descriptions of the books.   This year I read hundreds of books and hundreds of parts of books. For the first time since college, I read a novel with a critical eye--noting passages, quotes, and questions that I had as reading. I read books and re-read books. It was a lot of work, but so, so worth it. I feel like I'm going to have a difficult time turning off the "Printz critical eye" as I go back to just reading adult and young adult books for fun.  

There's been a lot of discussion this year about whether Printz should have teen appeal as a factor in its charge.  The word "popular isn't listed in the charge, but the term "literary merit" is.  That, my friends, is the whole purpose of the Printz Award.  There are plenty of other lists out there like Best Fiction for YAs, Popular Paperbacks for YA, etc., that help people find good, popular books for teens.  But the Printz is one-of-a-kind. You might not love some of the Printz books, but, if you read them, you'll have plenty to discuss with other readers. And that's the whole point.  These books should make you feel, think, dream, want--and that's why I'll always read quality young adult literature.