Monday, March 28, 2011

Girl Talk with God

This book is amazing.  It just came in to the library, and at first I assumed that it was sort of a prayer guide or prayer prompt sort of thing.  But no:  it is a 230-page dialog between God/Jesus and Some Girl. A couple of excerpts, for your reading enjoyment.

God: Now take a moment to think this through.  What does the Cross mean?
Girl: Well . . . it means I should have been the one beaten beyond humanness.  And I should have been the one who was tortured, disfigured, and killed.  But You love me so much, You took my place.
God:  Right.

Girl: You know, Father, I hear the word hell a lot.  I mean, kids at school toss it around so casually.  Is that right?*
God: No.  They're using it as a cuss word.  They've reduced an actual place to a mere slang term.  And you're right, it's a word you hear often--on TV, in the hallways, at work--but again, remember the truth.  Hell is not simply an expression to use when you're angry.  It's an actualy place where people who don't know me will spend eternity.
Girl: Whew! That's strong.
God: Yes. Hell is heavy.

Girl talk is fun!

*Suck up.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

You be the librarian

I need something to read.  My hot streak of good books is sputtering and dying. 

Be a dear, won't you, and leave me a book recommendation in the comments section?  I'm up for just about anything--Nancy Pearl says we must strive to read outside of our comfort zone, so give me your best shot.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pink, by Lili Wilkinson

"When I first told my parents I was a lesbian, they threw me a coming-out party.  Seriously.  We had champagne and everything.  It was the most embarrassing thing that'd ever happened to me."

Ava is tired of being the best student at her crumby public school, wearing all black all the time, and being a Sophisticated Lesbian.  So she's made the case to her parents to let her attend a chi-chi private school, and has secretly purchased a pink cashmere sweater.  Her intellectual parents and her insanely sophisticated girlfriend, Chloe, are not sure what to make of all this.  Secretly, Ava is hoping to date boys.

This book is Australian, but I think the publishing housed washed all of the Aussie stuff out of it to make it go down smooth for the North American audience.  It could be anywhere.

  • Does a good job of accounting for the fluidity of sexuality and sexual orientation without stooping to writing homosexuality off as "a phase" or "experimenting."
  • Sometimes funny.  Not John Green or E. Lockhart funny, but a mild chuckle here and there.
  • Spoiler alert.  See below if you don't mind spoilage.*
  • The characters didn't feel real to me.  Except for Ava, pretty much everyone is a placeholder--the Too Cool For School Lesbian, The Perky Blonde Popular Girl, etc.  Also, some of them pull some crazy hairpin turns, not just in mood but in personality.  It was jarring.
Recommended for: Hmm.  It is nice to have a book that deals fairly honestly with the messiness of sexual orientation.  I just wish it were a tiny bit better.  Still, I can imagine recommending this book to a teen who is questioning their sexuality, or adding it to a LGBTQ list.

*She doesn't end up dating the dude, as I had assumed from the beginning that she would.  Instead it was a more "things are messy and I'm just not sure who I am yet" kind of conclusion, which seems more realistic, if perhaps less satisfying to some teen readers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mercury, by Hope Larson

Mercury is a graphic novel that combines two interwoven stories about young girls in small town Nova Scotia.  The first takes place in 1859, and involves a girl who falls in love with a possibly shady character who wants to dig gold with her father.  The second is contemporary, about a girl whose house recently burned down.  How are they connected?  A magical necklace!

I liked this.  I think I'm a little disappointed because I thought I would looooooooove it.  I just like it.

Pros: I do love the art. 

Cons:  I was a little bit confused by the ending of the historical story.  If you've read it please help a sister out.

Recommended for: Teen girls and grown-ups who read graphic novels.  The switching back and forth could be confusing for a beginning reader of graphic novels.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grace, by Elizabeth Scott

So you know, there's this future world.  And it's bad.  There's an evil authoritarian dictator who rules with fear and puts his face on cigarette packs.  Grace is a young girl who was raised by The People to be an Angel--a suicide bomber. Only she decided she didn't want to die.  And now she's on this train.

Pros:  Short chapters, short sentences, short book.  One review I read said something like, "If you found The Hunger Games overly light and cheerful, this is the book for you."  So it's got that going for it.

  • The beginning is really confusing.  I like books that just plop you down in a new world, but give me a compass or something. 
  • It's told in flashback, which can be really suspenseful, but here just isn't.  I think because Scott doesn't do a great job of putting you in the action those flashbacks refer to--Grace just tells you about stuff.
  • I never connected with the characters at all.  Not that they weren't likeable or pitiable or whatever, I just didn't know them well enough to care.  The "real time" action of the story takes place on one train ride, and despite all the flashbacks, I felt like I got to know the characters about as well as I'd know anyone I'd ridden a train with. I wished them well, but whatever.
Recommended for:
  • Honestly, I probably won't recommend this much except for the die-hard dystopia fans who must read them all.  I was hoping that the short chapters and stuff would make it a good sci fi pick for reluctant readers, but it's too confusing for them.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

They picked a Hunger Games actress

but I don't know her.  Anybody see Winter's Bone?  Thoughts?  I guess I should be grateful it's not Miley Cyrus.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Infographic: Books Everyone Should Read

Look at the size of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!  A victory for nerds everywhere. 

I can't believe 100 Years of Solitude is so huge.  I'm a fan of Love in the Time of Cholera, but 100 Years is so confusing, what with the multiple generations of people with the same name.  Of course, I think I was 20 the last time I tried to read it, and I was kind of a dumbass at 20.  (Who isn't?)  I guess I could give it another go.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Good to be bad, etc.

I have been meaning to write a post about all of the YA Mafia hubbub, but as it turns out, I can't care quiiite enough to go to the trouble of creating a thorough recap for you.  Should you care, you can follow the link above, which links to about seven thousand other posts/comments/plaintive wails on this topic. 

Basically, I guess this madness all started because a YA author or two were blogging things like, "If you review books, and you ever hope to publish one yourself, you should never, ever write a negative book review.  Because you will never get an agent or a publisher, and authors will scorn you forever.  Plus, we will more than likely kill you in your sleep."  Or something like that.  I'm paraphrasing.

To her credit, Justine Larabalestiaejiraieryasder wrote a pretty awesome blog post in response, called I Love Bad Reviews.  My favorite part:
I think it’s inappropriate for an author to go to someone’s blog and argue over a review, especially when the author brings hordes of their friends and fans with them. The best response to bad reviews is to ignore them, not to attack or threaten the reviewer. Get over yourself already. Your book is not your child. You are not the boss of the internets.
Seriously.  Every time I see an author fighting with readers on Goodreads, my first and only thought is, "You, Author, are a giant tool."  I myself have been attacked by an author, and in my humble opinion, the author in question came off looking not so great. (You don't get the full story from that link. Goodreads removed her further comments that were personal, ad hominem attacks on me and my profession.  GR also had to remove the dozens of glowing reviews that the author had written of her own book from fake accounts. What a loser, right?) 

Of course, professional reviews are a little bit different.  I review for School Library Journal, and I think it's fair to say that I'm one of their meaner (more critical?  less kid-glove-y?) reviewers.  In some cases, I have felt bad about the possibility that I might be crushing an author's dreams with my review.  In others, I might have wished that the dreams of the author in question would be crushed, but I knew for sure that the support of a huge publicity machine meant that no review of mine could do much damage. 

When reviewing for SLJ, I feel like my first ethical responsibility is to the librarian reader of my reviews, who may have very limited funds to buy books for his or her library.  If I were that librarian, I would want brutally honest reviews so that I'd know exactly how to spend my money.  And of course, as just a regular old book reader and avid consumer of reviews, I want and expect real reviews, not bland pablum, from reviewers. 

Don't sugar coat it, baby.  Give it to me straight.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

That is correct, I am a superhero

Just had a teen request a book I'd had on display . . . sometime last year.  And I figured out what book it was!  Please, no autographs.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick

So, if the weather has got you down?  And you've got cabin fever and you want a book that will take you away to a magical imaginary wonderland of the mind?  This might not be the book for you.

On the other hand, no matter how bad your life sucks right now, there is no effing way it sucks as bad as it does for North Koreans. 

Pros:  It may be a bit of a bummer, but this book is fascinating. 

For example: 
  • North Koreans are required to have two state-issued portraits on their walls, one of Kim Jong-il (the crazy guy currently in charge) and one of Kim Il-Sung (his crazy dead dad).  No other wall hangings are allowed.  Also issued by the state is a special dusting cloth for use on the portraits each day.  Dusting police come by periodically to make sure you're not slacking on your portrait tidiness.
  • Doctors are expected to donate their own blood and skin to their patients.  And they do.
  • There is no electricity.  At all.  They still have the aging infrastructure, and they turn on the lights when visitors come to Pyongyang (the only place visitors are ever allowed to see).  But nighttime satellite photos show a totally black void over the whole country.  They can't afford power.
I could go on and on.  You guys.  It's crazy.

Cons:  It's just so sad.  1984 does not have a patch on North Korea.  It's been a while since I read that book, but as I recall Big Brother at least provided the spied upon with enough food to eat.  The Dear Leader has let MILLIONS of North Koreans starve to death. 

Each person profiled in the book tells their story in chronological order, but you know all along that they've managed to defect (otherwise, Demick wouldn't be able to talk to them).  You hope that they are now living in a land of unicorns and rainbows, but that's not exactly the case.  As Demick points out, it's hard for most of us to figure out what to wear every day, and what to be when we grow up.  It's a hell of a lot harder when you're an adult who never even imagined the possibility of being allowed to make those decisions.

Recommended for: I'm really interested to hear what fans of dystopic science fiction think of the real thing.  I'd talk it up to high school students.