Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Worldless Wednesday

Skippyjon Jones at the Free Library of Philadelphia!

I was not the only person who was excited.

All images © by Lawral Wornek 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

When You Reach Me - for Tween Tuesday

Tween Tuesday was started over at Green Bean Teen Queen as away to highlight awesome books for the 9-12 yr olds or Tweens. Any book highlighted on Tween Tuesday also counts for the In the Middle Reading Challenge! This week's book is:

Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me. New York: Wendy Lamb Books - Random House Children's Books, 2009. 
[Book cover credit:]

Amazon's Best Books of the Month (July, 2009)
Amazon's Best Books of the Year (2009)
Andre Norton Award Finalist (2009)
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2009)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2010)
ALA Notable Children's Book (2010)
and the grandaddy of middle grade awards:
Newbery Medal (2010)

It's 1979 in New York City. Miranda (named after the rights) is a sixth grade latch-key kid whose favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, whose best friend, Sal - also sixth grade and also latch-key, lives in the apartment downstairs, and whose mom is practicing to be on The $20,000 Pyramid, with the help of her (awesome) boyfriend Richard and Miranda herself.

And then Sal gets punched by a neighborhood kid and the letters start:
This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own.
And then everything changes.

This is a great light mystery (with a bit of sci-fi thrown in) that I think will appeal to a wide variety of readers, including those who would never think of picking up a sci-fi book or a mystery. For most of the book, the story is just a regular story, with a bit of intrigue. No aliens, no men with dark mustaches, just a story about Miranda and how she has to get on when her best friend stops speaking to her for no reason. The relationships that Miranda, who has only ever really been friends with Sal, ends up forming with her classmates are what keep the book light-hearted in spite of the weird notes she keeps receiving. They are what keep everything normal.

At the same time, these relationships also highlight what is different. At school they are all just kids and they, for the most part, make friends easily. Outside of school, though they are still friends, they are very different. Miranda, whose hair is just brown and who gets stuck with hot pink construction paper for self-portraits, is the daughter of a single mom (as is Sal) who sometimes struggles to make ends meet, but they do alright. Annemarie lives in a building with a doorman and has an elevator that opens right to her apartment; her dad is always making her special snacks and her mom is always as work. Marcus receives free dental care at school because his family cannot afford it otherwise (46). Alice Evans is always really close to peeing her pants (she’s not in the “group,” and this is why). Julia travels the world with her parents and describes herself as “cafĂ© au lait” colored with eyes the color of “sixty-percent-cacao-chocolate” (34). We don’t get to learn much about Colin’s home situation because, well, he’s a boy and doesn’t invite Miranda over for a sleepover, nor is it blatantly evident from what happens at school. He’s just a goofy guy who gets along with everyone. Other than talking a lot about rushing rivers in front of Alice, the kids don’t care about any of this, except that Julia is a snob, having picked up her fancy names for light brown and brown (Miranda’s assessment of the situation) while learning about chocolate in Switzerland. Some of the adults, on the other hand, care a lot about this stuff. There is one big confrontation, caused by an adult, which starts out about Julia’s race and ends up being about Miranda’s lack of money. The way that the group handles it, without any intervention or input from the grown-ups, is possibly unrealistic, but it keeps things from getting too preachy. No one ever has to say, “Judging people based on their perceived race or financial status is wrong,” and yet the point is made very clearly.

And, of course, there are the letters and the mystery. I don’t want to say too much or give anything away. A large part of the fun while reading a mystery is trying to figure out whodunit, and When You Reach Me is no exception. There were definitely points when I thought I had something figured out and I was so frustrated with Miranda because she Just. Didn’t. Get. It., but when the end finally rolled around, there was so much more to it than I could have guessed.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Thursday, April 22, 2010


North, Pearl. Libyrinth. New York: Tor Teen, 2009. Print
[Book cover credit:]

"And what about you, Censor?" she asked. "Where does the evil of literacy reside for you?"

Haly has always lived in the Libyrinth, surrounded by books and helping the Libyrarians, part of the Libyrinthian community. But Haly is different than everyone else in the Libyrinth. She can hear the books. They talk to her. She can't tell anyone because, well, they'll think she's nuts, but her ability to hear the written word enables Haly to uncover a plot that could destroy the entire Libyrinth. The willfully illiterate Eradicants, who assert their dominance every year at the sacrifice when they "free" words from the printed page by burning books, are looking for a "weapon" of legend, The Book of the Night, and it is up to Haly, along with her best friend Clauda and the Libyrarian Selene, to stop them.

Yearly book burnings! An Eradicant whose formal title is Censor! The destruction of a library so large it has been etymologically merged with a labyrinth! Aren't you mad? You're supposed to be. The whole premise of this book is set up assuming that we, the readers, will agree that the Libyrarians and their literate allies are right while the Eradicants, who are convinced that even viewing words on a page will blind them, are wrong. But we learn, right along with Haly who is captured by the Eradicants early on, that there are two side to every story. No one, no civilization, is all good or all bad, regardless of how they look to those on the outside. Much of our time with Haly is spent getting to know more about the Eradicant civilization and their interest in Haly. It is definitely tense and intense at times, but the real action is with those Haly left behind.

After Haly is captured, Clauda and Selene are left alone to save her and the Libyrinth. Their only connection, up to this point, is Haly. Clauda is a servant in the kitchen and Haly's best friend; they were children together. Haly is Selene's clerk, and Selene is the near the top of the Libyrinthian hierarchy (Oh, and a princess in her hometown, the only place still left outside of Eradicant control that can lend an army to defend the Libyrinth). She and Clauda practically come from two different worlds, even though they come from the same place. As they try to gather allies to the Libyrinth they uncover plot after plot and intrigue after intrigue. They have to learn to trust each other (because they can hardly trust anyone else) and work together.

Also, and this will be vague to avoid getting too spoiler-y, one of them is queer. There is ogling of hot female soldiers, there is thanking of Theselaides that they come from the Libyrinth where no one bats an eye at two girls or two guys together, and there is some major crushing that may or may not lead to lurv by the end of this story.*

And the books talk to Haly. They talk to her. She doesn't just hear a book start to finish; they offer useful quotes based on conversations in the room or what's going on in Haly's head. There are 10 pages of references for quotes that appear throughout the book. As someone who is constantly writing down and saving quotes from book of all kinds and who has always thought it would be both possible and amazing to tell a story using mostly quotes from other fictions (the soundtrack of a life, only books!), I find this unbelievably cool.

My only problem with Libyrinth is that it's the start of a trilogy. Now, I'm not freaking out because I Need to Know what happens; I'm upset because I don't. The ending was great and really satisfying. I really loved this book and I hope the sequels add to it rather than just dragging it out. Judging by the writing here, I'll also enjoy the next two books, even if I can't imagine where the story could possibly go from here.

Book source: Philly Free Library

*The best part? No one is or becomes friendless as a result of being queer. Our nameless lezzie is still good friends with Haly, among others, and her friends even know she likes girls! Maybe I've been reading the wrong YA (or any) books with lgbtq characters, but they all (save the Rainbow Boys) seem to be about a lone queer guy or girl who might have a friend of the opposite sex, who is possibly also queer, if they have any friends at all. Of my five most recent reviews, not including this one, with an lgbtq tag (Scars, The Midnight Guardian, What Happened to Lani Garver, M+O 4EVR, The Sweet Far Thing) only the last features a queer character with more than one close friend. The queer character in Libyrinth does not have a vast circle of friends that we get to know over the course of the story, but it is clear that if she weren't on the run for so much of the book, she would be surrounded by them. It is great to see a story about a queer character who has friends, multiple, and some of the same sex. And her friend aren't even all also queer! 
If I'm way off base here, and I truly hope that I am, please point me to lgbtq YA books that feature queer kids with friends of both sexes (or varying gender presentation) and/or varying sexualities!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Plain Janes

Castellucci, Cecil and Jim Rugg. The Plain Janes. Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher. New York: Minx - DC Comics, 2007. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

After being injured in a bombing in Metro City, Jane's parents move her out to the 'burbs where it is safe. Trying to come to grips with what she's been through and make a difference at the same time, Jane falls in with a group of misfits. Together Jane (Main Jane), Jayne (Brain Jane), Polly Jane (Sporty Jane), and Jane (Theatre Jane) form P.L.A.I.N., People Loving Art in Neighborhoods. By pooling their talents the PLAIN Janes stage art "attacks" all over their town, engaging their high school and creating the community Jane needs to get over the real attack in Metro City.

This is a really cute, girl power type graphic novel. The Janes really grow together as they learn to accept each others' different quirks and even use them to the advantage of the group. (Main) Jane, being new and from Metro City, is courted by the popular girls, but her insistence on staying loyal to the rest of the Janes, without Mean Girl-ing the popular chicks, is highlighted a few different times. It's her ability to be nice to everyone, even when she's blowing off the popular crowd, that makes the Big Unifying Art Attack possible.

Running underneath this light storyline is (Main) Jane's attempt to cope with the attack she lived through in Metro City. After the attack she grew attached to a John Doe who also survived but has been in a coma ever since. His notebook, full of his admiration of everyday art, is what inspires her to start P.L.A.I.N. She writes him letters, which she sends to the hospital, about the art "attacks" and her new friends. Though this relationship is entirely onesided, it gives Jane the outlet that she needs for her feelings regarding the attack and her parents' newfound fear of Metro City.

The artwork is entirely in black and white, which I found a bit strange at first considering it is a book about public art. The artist uses the black and white drawings to highlight the emotions of (Main) Jane and later of her friends, rather than to highlight the art they create, as color work would do. It lends some levity to the lighter, surface storyline.

Overall, this is a quick and fun read that has a bit more heft and substance to it than you'd guess at first glance. I highly recommend it.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Splendor Falls

Clement-Moore, Rosemary. The Splendor Falls. New York: Delacorte Press - Random House Children's Books, 2009. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

"It's a test," I said. "If I'm crazy, then the power of suggestion will make me see something when I open this door. If there's nothing there, then I am still in control of my senses."

Unless there really was such a thing as ghosts, in which case, my test proved nothing either way.

Ghosts, Sylvie? Really?

No, not really. But it would explain a lot.

"I could stand here all day at this rate." And sooner or later someone was going to come by and wonder why I was standing with my face to the door, talking to myself.


Sylvie might be depressed, she might have PTSD, she might be going crazy, or she might just be a rich spoiled brat with an active imagination. Whatever is the case, she can't be left alone. While her mother enjoys her honeymoon and their New York City apartment stands empty, Sylvie is left to recover from the serious leg break that ended her ballet career just as it was starting. She's been sent to stay with her late father's cousin, in Alabama, in a mansion that her father never mentioned. A mansion that may or may not be filled with ghosts.

Stacked on top of each other, The Splendor Falls and War and Peace (which is finally picking up now that I'm only skimming the War parts...) look about the same size. This kept me from reading The Splendor Falls for quite a little while, even though I knew I would probably love it. It's a paranormal romance about a ballerina in the Deep South! What's not to love? 500+ pages, I always told myself. Do not make the same mistake I did! The Splendor Falls is a wonderful and gripping story that you will fly right through. I read it in two days.

Sylvie is sent to Alabama to deal with the aftermath of a fall that has left her limping, unable to ever dance again. The way that she has to learn to physically, mentally and emotionally deal with this is masterfully woven into the ghost story that is the thrust of this book. For example, she tries to run from what she thinks is a ghost, but has to slowly go down a spiral staircase in reverse, slowing up her escape. The way that she relives the fall seemed painfully realistic to me, and I was glad that the author kept this reminder throughout the story. It's obviously not a common experience, but it kind of kept the whole story grounded in the real world. This had the dual effect of pulling me out of scary moments sometimes and making things that much scarier at others. Sylvie has actual problems that she is dealing with and she is mostly rational, but she still sees ghosts, hears screaming by the river, smells lavender where there is none, etc. Creepy.

Also, there is no shortage of swoon-worthy gentlemen in this story. I was worried for a bit that Sylvie would fall for her new step-brother. Luckily an older British guy, complete with an endearingly bumbling father, and a Southern teenager, who the whole town would love to see paired up with Sylvie because of some old superstition involving both their families, arrive on the scene. They nicely relegate the step-bro into friend territory. The romance part of this paranormal romance is a lot of getting hit on by one guy while lusting after the other, but both guys in this equation take on mythical significance when the real paranormal activity starts in.

That's right. There's a lot more going on here than ghosts.

I don't want to get too spoiler-y and tell you what's going on here (neither does Clement-Moore, for that matter. The more-than-ghosts stuff doesn't make an appearance until the last third of the book at the earliest), just believe me when I say that there is some real magical payout by the end. It is totally worth the wait.

Also, this is a stand-alone book, and I don't mean the start of a series or the suddenly popular trilogy that just happens to stand alone. There is just this one book. No cliffhanger. No waiting to find out what happens. You only need to commit to reading (500+ pages of) a single book to get the whole story. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets

Omololu, C.J. Dirty Little Secrets. New York: Walker and Company, 2010. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

From the outside, Lucy's life looks pretty normal. She's a junior; she babysits the neighborhood kids; she spends a lot of time at her best friend's house; she has a crush on a guy who plays in a band. What Lucy knows, and tries to hide, is a lot less normal. She could never date Josh Lee, his hotness unattainable; she loves her best friend, but she also stays at her house so much because it has a working shower; she needs to make and hide her own money, because her mom never has any money left after buying all her "collectibles." And the worst truth of all, Lucy has two years left before she can move out and start a new life away from her mother's hoarding.

When Lucy's mother dies under a stack of National Geographic's that she was saving "to go through later," Lucy, rather than being sad, sees a chance at salvation, but is she a horrible person if she takes it?

It is so easy to say, "If I found my mother, dead, I would call an ambulance." Clearly, right? Opening all the windows to let in the winter air and postpone decomp is not everyone's immediate response. It's not Lucy's either. She almost dials 9-1-1. When she doesn't, it's really easy to be shocked at Lucy's callousness towards her mother. What Omololu does marvelously is to take us from this extreme opening moment and then work backwards to slowly introduce us to Lucy's life. She makes Lucy's decision make sense.

Because this story, most of which spans 21 very tense hours, is told by Lucy, things that she takes for granted, like the lack of hot water or heat in her house are treated as blasé. She is nervous, beyond belief scared, that people will find out about her home life; she knows it's not normal. At the same time, it is normal for her and treated as such. Her interactions with her surroundings, as well as with her older siblings, one of whom has hoarding tendencies herself and the other who resents their mother for the breakdown of the family, reflect that. It is the honest of Lucy's reactions and reality that make this such an engaging book.

From the beginning you'll want Lucy to have a chance at a normal life, and by the end I think you'll agree with the lengths that she must go to in order to get one.

Book source: Philly Free Library

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Fukuda, Andrew Xia. Crossing. Las Vegas: AmazonEncore, 2010. Print
[Book cover credit:]

Xing, who would love it if you would just call him Kris, has always been an outsider. He's one of two Asian kids in a small-town high school, and unlike Naomi (his fellow non-whitey and best friend) he does not have a magnetic personality, really good grades, or budding hotness to win over his classmates. Most of them don't even think he speaks English, even though they've been sitting in classes together since grade school. Mostly, everyone just ignores Kris, which suits him just fine. When kids at school start disappearing without a trace, everyone in town goes on edge. Everyone, that is, except Kris. He thinks his outsider status will keep him safe; what's the point in kidnapping someone no one would notice is missing? And when his tormentor becomes one of the disappeared, things start going downright well for Kris. Right up until they don't.

There are some books that you stay up all night reading because you just have to know what happens. Then there are books that you stay up all night reading because you really don't want to turn off the lights.* Crossing falls gracefully into both categories.

The whole story, the story behind the disappearances, is told by Kris. We see his classmates, his one friend, the town, through his eyes. Kris kind of goes through the motions of his life, the ultimate observer. It isn't until he starts singing lessons before school that he gains some confidence and things really start happening both to and for him. If it weren't for the missing kids, this would be a very different story, one about an unpopular, unspectacular kid who, with a little adult attention and encouragement, finally comes out of his shell, makes friends, and is recognized by his peers. Well, almost. The disappearances are good for Kris. He's no longer bullied at school, and when the guy he's understudying goes missing, he gets the lead in the school musical. It's easy to see why Kris is the perfect suspect.

The first couple of pages of the book make it seem as though Kris is just that, at the very least: a suspect. For most of the story, however, that's not how it looks like things should go. Other things in his life, his crush on Naomi, the new girl Jan, and his music lessons, are more important than the missing kids. The disappearances are almost peripheral to Kris's story; he's to busy being a freshman for the disappearances, which make his life a little bit more livable, to worry him. When the disappearances, and the rumors surrounding them, come crashing into Kris's life, they are really creepy. Don't turn the lights off creepy. Everyone is paranoid and thinks they are being watched; Kris is chased. They've all "seen" the person watching them; Kris sees no one. He manages to brush these things off, most of the time, but they come back in strange ways.

But Jan, herself, is what creeped me out the most. She is new and an outsider, like Kris, and she eventually clings to him. Her desperation and hopelessness scared me. She is a truly haunting character. She's an important part of the story, in a nuts and bolts kind of way, but she's very much a side character. On one hand I wish there had been more of her in the book, especially in the aftermath part of it, but on the other hand, I don't think it would be the same story if she had been more present in it. The whole point, I think, is that Kris, Jan, and, to some extent, Naomi are kids no one notices. We only see what Kris sees, and even he doesn't really see Jan for a lot of the book.

The ending wasn't really a surprise, but the story did throw me for a few loops getting there. The mystery still exists, even if you think you know who did the deed.

Crossing will be available on April 27th!

Book source: Review copy from publisher.

*It was so much easier to maintain my tough chick facade when all I did was read in private and proclaim, "Scary movies suck; let's rent a drama." Now it seems like all I do is admit that books that include some being you can't see chasing/watching/haunting/whatev-ing someone scares me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I'm baaack...

 (I'm the one gripping the coffee as if my life depended on it)

So Meggan has come and gone. We had an AWESOME week. Awesome. We traipsed through the historic part of Old City, posing with statues like "The Signer," a statue of one of the guys that signed the Declaration of Independence. It's not that I wasn't paying attention and don't know which guy it's supposed to be; the City and National Park Service don't know either. We drove to Baltimore to watch some roller derby. We hung out in the cemetery that The Sixth Sense was filmed in. We went out for cheesesteaks. We had some trouble with Meggan's Cali ID at the tattoo parlor but eventually got Meggan a (parent approved) tattoo. We hung out in the cemetery that the chase scene in National Treasure was filmed in (and got an awesome mini-tour from the historian there!). The girlfriend tried, unsuccessfully, to get Meggan to eat scrapple. We went to Edgar Allan Poe's house. We did a self-guided walking tour of Center City murals. Meggan took her first cab and subway rides. We hung out in the cemetery where John Barry, the father of the US Navy, buried both of his wives. One right on top of the other. We got gelato, water ice and Philly soft pretzels (more firsts for her). I slept for 15 straight hours after she left.

There is a stack of books on my desk waiting to be reviewed, including Incarceron and Dirty Little Secrets. There are also over 100 unread emails in my inbox and all of your blogs to catch up with. I may go back to bed, but rest assured that regular reviewing will start up again very soon.