YA mat class

Oh wow…

So I just glanced at my syllabus for YA Mats to see where I left off in my reviews.  And found new and exciting proof that I am in fact extremely lazy.  Well not so much lazy, I just don’t think I manage my time very well.  Especially at work.  At 8am 4:30pm is so far away.  My final is coming up so it might be a handy exercise to do a one line review with a yah or nah vote for the title.  And hopefully we’ll get back into some serious reading, like the new Percy Jackson.

Genre Fiction

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer – Fun, futuristic, interesting adventure story.  Loved the characters, the action and the humor.  Colfer strikes again, Awesome.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sorry to say, I just couldn’t get into it.  Too slow, too boring, I didn’t finish. Just didn’t float my boat.  Whatevs.

Peeps by Scott Westerfield – Set in NYC which was fun.  A different take on “vampires” which was fun too.  Sharp writing and great scenes.  Awesome.

Multimedia…uh, I didn’t read any of the books and I’ve already read Potter 7 so hearing it was nice, Jim Dale rules but nothing much to report.  My committment to not reading Gossip Girl stands. 


Hitler Youth by Susan Bartoletti – I enjoyed that besides getting general information, Bartoletti decided to follow 6 or 7 teens living in Nazi Germany and went into detail about their lives.  Lots of great resources, pictures and well researches.  Awesome

Fields of Fury: The American Civil War by James McPherson – Although the Civil War is not my favorite war, this book was very well made with tons of good features for kids.  Although not as specific as Hitler Youth, it still had some good stuff.  Cool.

Tree of Life by Peter Sis – A book that looks cooler than it actually is.  Although it gives the basics of Darwin and his work, the art work used in the book is a the real draw, yet not used as efectively as it could be.  Still Cool.

Adult Books for YAs

A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer – A powerful story about an abused child.  So terrible I couldn’t bring myself to read it again.  But would still recommend. Awesome.

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – Liked the writing, like the perspective, but very depressing story about death and families.  Would recommend but was hard going trying to read on an airplane when there’s a strom out your window.  Cool.

Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah – I would have appriciated it more if I didn’t feel the author’s point breathing down my neck so much.  A cautionary tale about drug life, it was sometimes hard to care about the characters. Whatevs.

And finally Mock Printz Award Night

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party by MT Anderson – I liked it, alot.  Very interesting design, story, writing style.  It was made to look like an 18th century book which was fun.  Would have to make sure to give it to the right kid though.  Not an easy read, writing or story.  Awesome.

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher – I heart Crutcher.  As much as I want to be mad at him for his flat, secondary female characters I still love his work.  Whale Talk is one of his best and it holds up considering I read it over 5 years ago and still loved it.  Awesome.

Burned by Ellen Hopkins – I was trying very hard in class to descirbe why I disliked this book.  It wasn’t the sad ending, I don’t mind when things don’t end happily ever after.  I mind though when an author spends over 200 pages setting up a character only to destroy that growth and progress in less than 4 pages.  Why?  I feel betrayed as a reader when I feel lead around only to be punched in the face, and not in a good way.  I really felt the ending was added for total shock value.  Totally unecessary.  Lame.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers – Another book I read 5 years ago that still holds up well.  Told in screenplay format the story is a common one of youth crime but it is so unique when told from Steven’s perspective.  Leaves the reader thinking too, not frustrated and wanting to set fire to the thing.  Awesome.

Woo, so not so hard as I thought.  But we’ll get around to more good things soon.  Like Breaking Dawn.


Feeling neglected?

I’m a bad YA poster.  Almost three weeks with no YA reviews, clever insights, pithy observations.  It does feel like cheating since usually I post my thoughts before I get to class and hear what others think.  But we’ll roll with it.

From Romance and Relationship week

Foreverby Judy Blume

I had never read this.  Apparently growing up it was the dirty book that was hidden under beds and behind desks.  Still is in some places.  It is one of the most challenged books in school libraries, even today.  And I’m not sure why.  Oh, sure I know why.  The main character has sex.  Uncomfortable, awkward, first time, teenage sex.  And sure some may consider the handling of it explicit but I saw it more clinical.  The man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina.  Seriously, it felt that sterile and straightforward.  So I know why, I just don’t understand why.  Subtle.  It is a landmark book being one of the first to tackle teen sex.  But really, you can find worse stuff in alot of other YA books.  Since it is a classic, I won’t rate it but I really can’t see myself handing this to a teen and saying Enjoy!  Honestly, I was reading romance novels by the time I hit high school.  And I wasn’t harmed, much.

Boy Meets Boyby David Levithan

A more modern love story and also more emotional.  Paul goes to high school the is this wonderful world where drag queens are star quarterbacks, people are tolerant of other’s sexual preference and celebrate people’s differences.  When Paul meets Noah, the perfect boy, things go well until (there is always an until) things go wrong.  My description of Paul’s world might be one spot where class discussion influenced me.  Many of us felt it was a great world, but not a realistic one, more an idealistic one.  But the characters are interesting and moving and the story is charming and sweet without being obnoxious.  Favorite of the week, its pretty Awesome.

Letting Go of Lisaby Lurlene McDaniels

I avoided these books when I was younger.  Why?  The same reason I don’t read dead dog stories (Red Fern, Old Yeller, Marley and Me).  I mean, why put yourself through that?  If I need to cry I’ll watch Extreme Home Makeover or stub my toe.  Why would I want to read about terminal cancer patients or teens with rare neurological diseases?  Why?  But I had to pick one of Lurlene’s 50 so I went with the one with the Harley on the cover.  Didn’t help the story much that the terminally ill teen girl rode a bike but it was worth a try.  Flat characters, predictable storyline, blah, blah, blah.  So although I had preconceived notions walking in, they were justified.  I mean if you want to read about death go get the Little Prince or Looking For Alaska or Harry Potter even.  Lame.  Sorry, I had too.  No reason to put anyone through this, ever.

I’m kinda tired so I’ll finish part 2 tomorrow.  I really liked the next set of books so I want to be fresh, and so clean, clean.

Wednesday Madness…

At my job?  Yeah right.  But it is once again time for the weekly YA round-up.  This week is poetry and short stories and is probably the 1st week I hadn’t previously read anything.  So here’s a look

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

Mr. Ward, new English teacher, begins holding Friday Poetry readings for class.  Through the book each class member “presents.”  I really like the mix of prose with poetry.  The book is set up very similar to Canterbury Tales, each character gets a prose prologue and then their poem and reaction from the class bard Tyronne.  Grimes handles all the different voices wonderfully each one separate and unique.  I hear the audiobook is done using a different teen for each character.  Might be cool to check it out.  Very Awesome.

Red Hot Salsa ed. by Lori Marie Carlson

This is your more traditional collection of poetry written by Latino authors.  The poems are bilingual meaning they have both English and Spanish versions of all the poems.  There is also a helpful glossary for those less skilled Spanish speakers.  Although the collection is targeted to YAers most of the poems are written by established adult authors.  Which is fantastic but…yes the but, it would have been great to see some teen poems mixed it too.  But maybe that another book.  There is also an awesome cover with some cool art work but none on the inside?  There are very small nit-picks.  The poetry is good, maybe not as powerful to me as to someone else but I enjoyed it still.  Gets a Cool

Guys Write for Guys Readed. by Jon Scieszka

A collection of stories, artwork and comics from all the biggest guy writers in YA and kids and beyond.  Maybe the reason I wanted to see art work in Red Hot Salsa was because every other profile in Guyshad a picture or a cartoon or something.  It was really fun to see some of the illistrators’ art work from when they were younger.  Each author also had a Born, Live, Random Fact and Selected Biography which I thought was great too.  I would recognize the name and then put the book to author when I got to the end.  My favorite was Mo Willems cartoon about when he was younger he sent a letter to the Peanuts writer.  So funny, so fun, so Awesome.

The Best American Nonrequired Reading2007 ed. by Dave Eggers.

Interestingly we were told not to read all of this title, only the forward.  Well this edition didn’t have a forward, just a clever little Q&A that did answer the question I think we’ll be about tonight.  That is the Nonrequired Reading series is chosen by a committee high school kids in the San Fransico area.  So that’s cool.  I also picked this year’s because it included a set of funny lists at the beginning and a commencment speech from Conan O’Brien.  So we’ll see what we do with it in class.  So far, so Awesome.

Returns of the Day…

It feels like forever ago that I last updated.  Part of the reason was we had a week off from class because of BookExpo (jealous I couldn’t go).  So I also took a break and read some non-class required reading, AKA 2 romance novels and the new Skulduggery Pleasant.  And yes, I took off the jacket and the feelings of annoyance and aggravation disappeared.  But it is once more Wednesday and here are this week’s LIS 722 picks.

Bluford High: The Bully by Paul Langan

Bluford High is a series of books based around an urban California high school.  For class we had to pick one, there’s around 13 so I grabbed The Bully.  The theme for this week’s books seemed to be boy outcasts so I thought The Bully would fit better then some of the others about love and relationships.  Also I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that deals this directly with bullying.  So it kills a few birds with one stone which always help when recommending something.  Darrell moves to California with his single mother and starts at Bluford High.  He is a small, shy boy who gets targeted by Tyray, the school bully.  By making new friends, reading Hatchet and joining wrestling, Darrell learns how to change his situation.  Nothing too graphic and some very positive messages about confidence and standing up for oneself.  The story and the characters are simple, meaning there are no deep surprises.  Everyone does what you would expect them too and everything ends up the way you thought it would.  But this book and others in the series rate high on the relatablity and interest scale.  A friend that teaches at an urban school can’t keep these books in her library.  I give it a Cool, even for it’s literary shortcomings.  It’s no Langston Hughes, but it gets the job done.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Another classic.  What can I say, this is my 4th time reading it.  West Side story, just without the Romeo/Juliet storyline.  Including knife fights.  I still think this book is relevant now as when it was originally published which is why it’s still around.  Young men are still living and dying “violent and young and desperate.”  It is beginning to show its age though with some of the references (even though Paul Newman is still hot).  So much that you couldn’t hand this to any kid and say, “you’ll love it.”  This would probably require some front-loading to help a reader get into it.  Plus some schools use this in instruction, which tends to take some of the pleasure out of it.  I’ll say it again, you can’t rate a classic.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I read I Am the Cheese also by Cromier first.  Maybe I wouldn’t have judged this one so harshly if I hadn’t because when I first read it I was a little disappointed.  Not because the book is bad, totally the opposite.  Mostly I was disappointed because it wasn’t as good as I Am the CheeseCheese blew my mind, Chocolate War just made me sad.  Jerry is tagged by a secret society at his all boy Catholic high school to not participate in the school’s chocolate sale.  When the society turns around and tells him to start selling Jerry continues to refuse and defy the society.  What depth was missing in The Bully is more than made up in this books, alienation, societal good v. person will, mob mentality, abuse of authority, resistance is futile (that last one is from X-Files, sorry, couldn’t stop myself).  There’s a lot of ground that Cormier covers so reader beware, this will not be an easy ride.  The book though is showing it’s age but again, the story is strong so it still could work.  Gets a Cool, even though it is a borderline classic.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

See earlier review.  But just to recap, love this book!  Awesome!

And I saved it for last because it’s my favorite in the bunch…

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I just read this book last year so I wasn’t going to re-read the whole thing, skim through and reacquaint myself but that was all.  And the damn thing wouldn’t let me.  This one of those books you fall into.  It wraps you up and doesn’t let go until it’s done with you or you have to off the el.  Great characters, man I love Green’s characters.  Miles Halter, soon to be Pudge leaves Florida to go find “the Great Perhaps” at a boarding school in Alabama.  There he meets the Colonel, his roommate and Alaska, the gorgeous girl down the hall and select other friends.  The first half is about Pudge’s growth in a place that he finally fits in. The second half is the rest of journey he takes to find who he really is.  So moving, so beautiful, so terrible and so great.  I want to write like Green; setting, characters, mood, exceptionally brilliant insights that shame Hallmark and sap everywhere. “That which came together will fall apart imperceptibly slowly and I will forget.”  Man, makes me cry and I don’t cry.  I cried at Titanic and Extreme Home Makeover that that’s it.  But unlike Chocolate Wars where I’m left just feeling sad, after Looking for Alaska I feel healed as well.  And that is powerful.  Just Awesome.

Next week Poetry and Required Nonrequired reading.

Wednesday Roundup…

Wow aren’t we special, two posts in one day!  Just don’t get used to it.  And I’ll make this super fast, gotta jet to class.

Reviews for the weeks YA Mats

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

So I’ve read this before and wasn’t overly impressed but since that was ages ago I felt I should give it another go.  Not so obnoxious this time around and also I was reading it from a different state of mind.  I can totally see why girls go nuts over this book.  Super funny, very sassy and its British.  I hate to say it but foreign stuff is instantly more awesome.  But more so I wasn’t annoyed with Georgia as I was the first time around.  Rennison makes these characters very human and very interesting, you just have to see past the melodramatic “Why me/I hate my parents/school/life” moans and groans that are part of going up.  Gets a Cool for sure.  Probably look at the rest of the series.

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Um…so I think I like this.  At first I was resistant, but I can’t really put my finger on why.  It’s an interesting subject, girl’s uncle takes her on an adventure to Antartica.  Girl survives ordeal by taking to a dead Polar explorer named Titus.  For all of it’s odd and scifi like elements, it was still very much a realistic book.  Which might be the reason for the conflicting thoughts.  For not meant as fantasy it was very fantastic.  And not that books need to fall into one slot or genre but it makes it harder then to place the book in someone’s hand.  I can’t just say White Darkness is about this… The best parts are oddly when the main character is talking to her “imaginary friend.”  It seems more real than the real events that she goes through.  A very icey Cool.

A Step From Heavan by An Na

Well, this was the most boring of the 3. I mean that mostly in a good way.  There is really only two ways to do the “immigrant coping in a new culture with family issues” story.  Straight and poinant or funny and amusing.  This was the former.  A well done former for sure.  I like that the book encompassed her whole story 4-18 and didn’t focus too closely on one part.  And the 1st person voice changes as our girl Young Le develops and grows.  Sentences are longer and more complex, implying that her thinking and emotions are changing similarly.  So a Cool as well. 

Threefer Wednesday…

Not as catchy as last weeks huh?  Oh well, three’s all I got!

This week begins my summer of YA marathon reading.  Yes, the start of my YA Materials class is here.  So now this blog will have a useful purpose besides just passing time.  The plan is to get a few lines down about each book I read so I’ll have a handy archive to look back on at the end.  So although I have five books this week to read at the press time (always wanted to use that) I’ve only read three.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

And yes, I have read the classic YA text from before there was even such a thing as YA.  But it was all the way back in high school so I needed a refresher.  I recalled the book, messed up kid wandering around 1950’s New York after being kicked out of a preppy boys full of phonies.  I remember thinking that it was very moving and spoke to me on some level.  It must be that teenage, no one could possibly understand the lonely-life-questioning-feelings I’m having. Oh woe.  Not to say I’m old and all, but I am older and I saw things differently this time.  I felt sorry for Holden more than I identified with him. I felt like he needed a hug and a good friend to talk to.  That’s really all he’s doing the whole time, trying to find people to connect to.  I one time had a conversation with some other book readers about Kerouac’s On the Road and how you had to be at a certain age in your life to really get into that book.  The same here with Catcher, some people are at a time that they are moved by Holden’s story.  I also keep thinking of the Catcher Cult from Frank Portman’s King Dork and how that character hated the book.  Perspective I guess.  No rating, can’t rate a classic.

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Another book I felt needs to be read at a certain time, although I don’t feel its shelf life is as limited.  Weetzie Bat lives in a wonderland of LA that is filled with free-spirits, liberal lifestyles and LA-centric sites and sounds.  Not to say I didn’t like that, but being a thoroughly Midwest gal I felt like a visitor, an alien studying another species.  But part of this might be intentional on the writer’s part.  The story is at its core about love and overcoming fear.  It’s also about acceptance of others as they are, faults and all.  That’s the story that is the hardest to understand.  So often we want black and white in our fiction, good characters win and get what they want, bad characters lose and get what they deserve.  True Weetzie Bat gets her happy ending, but she also gets dusted up a but.  I’ll say a Cool.  

ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool by Elisha Cooper

Author Elisha Cooper followed a set of Peyton HS seniors around for a year and chronicled their lives.  I like the tone, like this book could be a newspaper report.  These kids have more than enough drama in their lives that any fictionalization would be overkill.  The straightforward reporting style works incredibly well in telling the separate but connected stories.  It was also fun to read because its a Chicago book.  I was student teaching when the author was at Peyton, in fact I had a friend teaching there.  The little illustrations were a great style add to the story.  What kills me about high school accounts is how similar they are to other accounts of high school.  As much as times change, I have a feeling, high school never will.  This too gets a Cool.  It almost got an Awesome but that would have been based solely on it being a Chicago book.

As for the other two, Martyn Pig which I’ll devote some quality time to at lunch and the What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls, which I’ve read.  Well not so much as read as flipped through when I was 12 and giggled with my friends at the pictures.  I remember in high school my friends were at my house and were stunned we had that book.  Yeah, my mom’s kinda liberal like that.