Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

My little sister is flying in tomorrow!

I'm off for a week of roller derby watching, tattoo getting, cheesesteak eating fun!

I'm probably also heading into a week of watching my sister keep in contact with everyone through facebook on my computer, so I probably won't be able to post much. I'll catch up my posts and yours in a week!

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Gleitzman, Morris. Once. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

KOALA, Fiction for years 7-9 (2007)
YABBA, Fiction years 7-9 (2007)
CBCA Honor Book, Younger Readers (2006)

Once there was a boy named Felix who lived at an orphanage in Poland, only he wasn't an orphan. Almost four years ago Felix's secret alive parents left him with Mother Minka, at the orphanage, so they could travel and find out why their bookstore had to close.

Once Nazis came to the orphanage and burned all the Jewish books in the library. Then Felix knew the answer to his parents' problem. See, Felix not only has secret alive parents, he's also secretly Jewish. Maybe if his parents sold more books that the Nazis liked, their bookstore wouldn't have to close.

Armed with this revelation, Felix leaves the orphanage to find his parents. Instead of them helping and protecting him, maybe Felix can save them, just this Once.

Doesn't the whole premise of this book stress you out? It stressed me out. For a book of 163 pages* I had to put it down more than a couple of times because I was just too nervous for Felix. He was so young when his parents left him at the orphanage. This is, presumably, why they didn't tell him why they were really leaving him in the hands of a bunch of nuns, and the nuns certainly didn't tell him either. How could they? How could they explain that to 6 year old Felix when he entered the orphanage? Besides, if Felix didn't pray to God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Pope and Adolf Hitler like the rest of the orphans, he'd stand out.

It was heartbreaking to watch Felix do things like return to his family's home in what used to be a Jewish neighborhood, try to flag down a truckload of soldiers when he needs help, or pray to Adolf Hitler to keep him safe, as he's been taught to do. He really has no idea what is going on in Poland and the rest of Europe. He has no idea that at ten years old he is a hunted man. His realization that it is not Jewish books that the Nazis hate, but Jews themselves, is painfully slow, and yet I never once doubted the authenticity of Felix's thought processes and take on the situation around him. As Felix's naivety lessens to make room for the huge weight of his new knowledge, it is sometimes hard to believe that he is only ten, or even that he is the same boy that I met at the beginning of the book. This is not to say that Felix's voice lost any of its authenticity, he is just aged so much by what he has to go through.

Even given the subject matter, and the violence does get a bit graphic by the end, this is a beautiful book. The stories that Felix makes up for himself and others to get them through the really hard times, the people that help Felix along the way, and the hope and compassion that Felix just never loses make this an (almost) uplifting story. The ending is not horrific or magically happy. It has that Living Dead Girl or The Giver factor (Does he make it to a better place or to a "better place"?) that is a bit open to interpretation. ETA: Except that it isn't. The sequel, Then, is available in the UK and will hopefully be available in the US soon.

Once will be available for purchase in the US on March 30th, next Tuesday!

Book source: Review copy from publisher, via the yalsa-bk listserv.

*This page count is from an uncorrected proof and may not match the published copy.

Spring Reading Thing

Callapidder Days is back with her Spring Reading Challenge!

I kind of failed miserably with the corresponding challenge last fall, so I'm going to be a bit more chill (realistic) about my goals this time around. I'm also going to try to use more books currently sitting on my TBR pile rather than library books. My library is awesome and I'm not going to limit the books that I check out and read from it during this challenge, but I was a little screwed last time by the waits involved for more than a few things.

So without further ado, here is my list of goals:

YA Stuff:
  1. Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
  2. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  3. The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
  4. Ash by Malinda Lo
  5. Impossible by Nancy Werlin
Adult Stuff:
  1. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
  2. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  3. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
  4. Soulless by Gail Carriger
  5. War and Peace by Tolstoy, yes I'm still working on it.

Wish me luck! I wish the same to you!

Monday, March 15, 2010


Rainfield, Cheryl. Scars. Lodi, NJ: WestSide Books, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Kendra is full of secrets. She let one big one out six months ago, when she started to remember and told her parents about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Now she's struggling to keep the rest of her secrets in: she wishes her therapist, her art teacher, almost anyone else, was her real mother; she's been cutting herself to deal with the pain that remembering the abuse has brought on; she has a crush on the toughest girl at school, who also sleeps with boys like it's her job; and the biggest secret of all, one she can't even tell herself, somewhere deep down in her memory, she knows who raped her and she knows that he'll kill her if she tells.

This book is wonderful and powerful. It is a book I read in a day and then took two days to digest. I highly recommend it. That said, this is a book about prolonged sexual abuse and self-injury, in addition to being a book about a girl whose mother is not happy about her daughter's new girlfriend. It is not for everyone, but it will undoubtedly be really important for more than a few someones.

Throughout the course of the book, the bulk of which spans what feels like only a week, Kendra relives her abuse, through flashbacks that hit her out of (almost) nowhere and with her therapist, as she tries to remember the identity of her abuser. She also cuts herself, repeatedly, to cope with the pain and the panic that these memories bring on. Rainfield portrays all of this realistically and sensitively. She lets us inside Kendra's head to see her pain, shame, insecurities, fear and more. More importantly, she shows how much Kendra appreciates and depends on those who support her, even if Kendra doesn't always show it herself. It is Kendra's chosen family, her therapist, her art teacher, her mentor, and her girlfriend, that make it possible for her to face her abuse and ultimately her abuser.

There were some moments in the book when the dialog seemed less than authentic. Using Carolyn, Kendra's therapist, Rainfield can realistically work phrases like "you're not the one who deserves to be hurt, Kendra. He is," into a conversation about Kendra's self-injury. Instead when Meghan, Kendra's girlfriend of a day, says it, it can be a bit jarring (139)*. However, it is the right things to say and important for readers to, well, read. While the few exchanges like this between Kendra and Meghan pulled me momentarily out of the story, they are easily outweighed by the cute wow-you're-pretty moments that these two more often share. Their budding relationship adds the happiness that Kendra so desperately needs and the normalcy that the average reader will need in order to relate to all the Kendra is going through.

Cheryl Rainfield has also included an annotated bibliography of web resources, help lines and crisis support, books, articles, and videos for victims of sexual and ritual abuse, those who self-harm, teens thinking about suicide, and teens in the process of coming out or dealing with homophobia. She also highlights resources specifically for friends, family, and other vital supporters of people dealing with these issues.

To read more about Scars, including a statement from the author and blurbs from some very well-known authors, check out the Cheryl Rainfield's website. Scars will be out and available to purchase March 24th.

Book source: Review copy from publisher.

*All quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof. Exact wording and page numbers may not match the final copy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation

Bradbury, Ray. Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation. Illustrations and letters by Tim Hamilton. Introduction by Ray Bradbury. New York: Hill and Wang - Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

"It's fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan."

In a world of fire-proof buildings, all that's left for firemen to do is burn. They hunt down the owners of personal libraries and burn their books. Without books, society watches the walls, parlour walls that show passive and faux interactive programming all day. Everyone watches the same shows, everyone has the same opinions, everyone falls in line.

I have a confession to make. I've never read Faherenheit 451. I know that makes me a bad book lover, bad librarian, and possibly even a bad person. I've known this for a while, and still I haven't read it. Maybe if I had, I would have liked this graphic novel adaptation better.

For a sparse book to become a graphic novel, with even less text, things must be cut. Unfortunately, the lack of dialog between the characters was coupled with really dark illustrations that didn't exactly show everything that was being left out in the text. Don't get me wrong, the illustrations were amazing. They were mostly in shades of blacks and grays with bright splashes of orange; the threat of fire was always present. The only frames that were free of the darkness and the orange flames were those picturing Montag and Clarisse. Unfortunately their interactions were so brief and curt that I didn't particularly care that she was, clearly, Montag's way out of the life he had built for himself. Worse than that, I couldn't understand why her death affected him so much. This lack of understanding or empathy made it hard for me to follow him through his life-altering decisions thereafter.

The one big highlight for me was Bradbury's introduction. It was beautiful, moving, and reminded us all to pick one book to memorize should books become contraband. His writing at the opening of this graphic novel has inspired me to go find a copy of the original novel. His writing style seems more to my taste. Maybe once I've (finally) read it, I'll appreciate the graphic novel adaptation more.

For some positive thoughts on this book see Natalie's review at This Purple Crayon.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

So it's really little and way too close to the edge of the pot,
but check out the first thing to sprout at my house this spring!

And it's from plantable paper that came with an Old Navy coupon.
That'll teach me to buy fancy seeds all winter.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"A Manifesto of Imaginative Literature" - Justin Allen

Justin Allen, author of a YA fantasy/Western with characters that hail from many backgrounds that have their own sections in bookstores, has written an essay about bookshelving, genres, and what all of that means. Here's the start:

For the Love of Pete, Don’t Mix Your Genres;
Or… The New York Times Book Review Hates YOU, but I Don’t;
Or… Why Where Your Book Gets Shelved Determines Your Intelligence,
Work-Ethic and Value to Society

That’s a longish title I’ll admit, and while I generally don’t go in for such larded vessels, in this case I’m willing to make an exception.

Monstrous though it may seem (and most assuredly is), the above title sums up pretty much everything I have to say on the subjects of writing and publishing. The first line ought to be read as a word of warning to struggling writers. The second explains - in as much as an explanation of the unintelligible is even possible - why the publishing industry behaves as it does. And the third highlights our common enemy, which turns out to be ourselves.

Really - if I must say so myself - that title is a wonder of economy, precision and restraint. But maybe you’d like me to elaborate? Normally I’d refuse - principally on the grounds that my arguments tend to be weakened by exploration - but as I have been contracted to provide a minimum of fifteen minutes of reading diversion, I will betray myself and attempt to explain…

To read the rest, go to SF Signal:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Year of the Horse

Allen, Justin. Year of the Horse: A Novel. New York: The Overlook Press, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Every boy in St. Francis knows who Jack Straw is. Every boy in the country probably knows who Jack Straw is. He's the fastest gunslinger in the West. When he shows up at Lu's family's shop to visit with Lu's grandfather, Lu naturally eavesdrops so he'll have stories to tell his friends at school the next day. Instead, he's woken up early the next morning to leave with Jack as his explosives expert, a title that both this grandfather and late father each held, but that Lu himself does not identify with and feels he can't live up to.

Lu, the child of Chinese immigrants; Henry, first a slave then a Union soldier and now free; Chino, once just a Californian and now a Mexican with no homeland; and of course Jack Straw, also a former Union soldier and now a privateer of sorts; are all hired by John MacLemore, former Confederate loyalist, and his daughter Sadie to get their gold mine and homestead back from the man who murdered Sadie's mother. They travel across mountains, canyons, plains, and deserts. They also deal with Mormons (one of whom really wants to make Sadie one of his wives), dwindling supplies (Oregon Trail style), fatal weather, Confederate soldiers, many forms of racism, and, of course, actual demons.

That's right. This is a Western/fantasy, and as such, it's pretty unique.

I'll be honest, the first half, almost pure Western, was a bit slow for me. I liked getting to know the large cast of characters and found their trials pretty interesting, but I wasn't truly hooked until the fantasy set in. When it did, I felt the need to devour the second half of the book to find out what would happen to everyone. At the expense of my beauty sleep. The forgotten journal of a man no one remembers that is covered with Lu's grandfather's Chinese writing, ghost-riders that pretend to be shooting stars, were-coyotes in the middle of an unlivable desert. And none of that even begins to encompass what Lu, et al. are really up against. It's good stuff. I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers who are sick of paranormal romances taking up all of the magic in young adult lit right now and for adventure readings who might be willing to let the truth stretch a little. Neither group will regret the small step outside of their comfort zones.

Now on to the serious stuff. One of the greatest things about this book is the large cast of multicultural characters. We are also given main characters that hail from both sides of the recently ended Civil War, in addition to soldiers in saloons with differing loyalties. This book does NOT use the /fantasy part of its description to make all of these people live together harmoniously. From the author's note:
"Not all of the characters in this book are to be admired, however. History, as it turns out, is littered with men and women (and boys and girls!) possessed of vile, even shocking beliefs, language and manners. As your narrator I will admit having felt tempted to censor the more disturbing bits of racism from the nineteenth century folk that people these tales. But as fact is my watch-word, I have resisted that temptation."
And it's true, Allen doesn't remove the racism from the story. I don't think the n-word makes an appearance (not that Henry is called by his name by anyone outside the group), but Lu gets called a chink often (not within the group), or better yet, referred to as "Jack's chink." What Allen does, instead of removing the racism from the book, is take all of these characters beyond their stereotypes for the readers. Yes, Lu starts out as the explosion expert because, genetically, he must know how it's done, right? He is Chinese, after all. But then we also see Jack teaching Lu how to blow up a boulder early on in the trip. All of the other characters similarly move beyond their stereotypes: the rich Confederate and his wild-child daughter, the religious former slave and the nature-conscious Mexican, a variety of mystic and/or violent American Indians and the wife-hunting Mormons. It's all very Breakfast Club, except without the all-white cast.

Book source: Philly Free Library

This book fulfills the Bad Blogger category of the 2010 Challenge; I heard about it during the Unsung YA Blogger Blitz.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010