Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Juvie Three by Gordon Korman

Meet three teens who have different stories to tell. Gecko has been trained since he was little to hotwire and be the getaway man. Arjay punched one guy a little too hard and that guy died. Terence comes from the big bad city of Chicago and was part of a big bad gang. All three are in juvenile detention and/or adult prison and are serving their time, hoping their time will come to its end soon.

And it does, in the form of Douglas Healy, who has written a grant to create a halfway house to reform juvenile delinquent. Doug picks these three boys because he sees himself in them, having been a delinquent himself in his earlier days. But more than that, he sees their potential.

And then one night...

they get into a pushing match after an argument between the guys to keep the rules or be sent back. When Healy comes to stop it, he becomes an accidental target and is pushed three stories below, bleeding. The boys have to make a decision...take the money and run or pretend Doug is okay and keep up their obligations for being in this halfway house. That means going to school everyday and keeping up grades, continuing their community service, and going to their scheduled counseling meetings. All until Healy recovers from his concussion and comes back to them.

But it isn't as easy as it looks. Terence wants to follow his dark side and can taste being part of a gang; Gecko falls in love and has to make the decision of truth or lies; and Arjay has the opportunity to be part of a band - something he's a natural talent at. Will their dual lives run parallel to each other or tear them apart? The only options are continue this battle of goodwill or be sent back; embrace their good side or welcome the dark side of what people and/or circumstances have made them.

Gordon Korman has written a range of books for YA. And while some find their shelves in the junior high, others make it to the high school. Interest level is key, and Korman finds them in a world of actuality for teens. I consider this book a gateway for Korman - best at junior high, but interesting enough to be placed in high school. Although the author has pared down realistic language in this book that I have seen in others similar in topic, the characters are fully realized. This isn't a dark book, but one about redemption, both for the situation the boys find themselves in as well as their with their personal demons.
On a personal note, I received a different bookcover than the one displayed here, and thought the other was more appealing...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Identical by Ellen Hopkins

Fridays at school are what I consider my options days. If there is something extremely pressing that needs to be done or if I have a class scheduled, that is my first priority. But if not (and your in-box will always be full) I sit and read or work on book trailers or podcasts. With that being said, I picked up Identical by Ellen Hopkins and read it....

This isn't a tried and true review, but some thoughts mostly. I'll have to post a review later. I don't know if it's because I've read all of her previous novels, but I found this one to be in sync with her later books. There was nothing terribly out of place that truly bothered me - be it situations or language. This book is not only what Kaeleigh's father does to his daughters but so much more. It's about:

1. Siblings first and foremost. To me, the central theme wasn't the abuse Kaeleigh goes through, but the relationship between the two sisters, from disfragmented to unity. Being identical twins can be tough. Finding your own self while others may look at you in the same way is frustrating. Haven't some of use experienced the "I know your sister/brother and expect the same behavior from you?" expectations teachers put on siblings alone? These two characters are so vastly different, especially Raeanne, because of the need for identity as well as perhaps some one upmanship.

2. Dyfunctional families. Mother is absent, father is a drunk, the kids take the brunt of the situation, but they have to keep it all together because of job and community status. How sad...and how many times does that happen to teens? Classic example: preachers and teachers. This is akin to that but on a jurisdictional and governmental level. Mom, WAKE UP!!!

3. Friendship and honesty. With others, including the views of relationships with guys as well as with each girl and to each other. I asked myself, "Why didn't Raeanne help sooner?" But as the story progresses, so does the involvement.

4. And what about the abuse? To me, it wasn't so graphic in nature that I was repelled by it. It was just plain wrong and sad and too too terrible. In the beginning, both twins succumbed to it (psychologically for one, physically for the other) and the story could have taken a different ending, but they found their strength, little by little...it was an encompassing ordeal, but ultimately, they were survivors in their own right.

And as always, I am absolutely blown away by the stylistic writing of Ms. Hopkins. It takes an intuitive and creative mind to create a book like that, especially free verse. Kudos!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dark horse books

Haven't read Identical by Hopkins but it's in my office right now. Finished reading Living Dead Girl by Scott last week. These two have been books that my teen readers (I haven't put it on the shelf yet) have said that they are heavy duty. My verdict, as well as the terror of having my first challenge since I became a librarian, is making me think second about these. I know, I know....don't need to preach to the choir about that. They might be "office books," if you know what I mean.
So, with that said, I'm changing tack slightly. I think that sometimes adult books for teen readers are often left in the dust. Just finished Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff because it was on the nomination list for YALSA. LOVED IT!!!! Adult science fiction meets psychological thriller meets mystery. It's the one saving grace of being a YA librarian - adult books are not off limits! YIPPEE!!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The power of booktalking

So....last week I booktalked about 20 titles in a 45 minute time period, and hands down, the book girls wanted the most was Breaking Up is Hard to Do. I promised I'd go down to the local bookseller to get three more copies.
A week later (today, to be exact) lo and behold! They were completely out of stock of that title and the nearestbookseller that had it in stock was about 40 miles away. There was a rush on this book last week.
Power to the booktalkers of every school in America!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

I just got this in the mail and didn't even read the summary - I focused on the reviews by authors such as Ellen Hopkins and Chris Crutcher. And they're comments were right on....far beyond...oh man....

Alice was ten years old when she was abducted by a man who wanted to teach her how he loves and cares for little girls. What started out as a field trip to see her favorite animal at the aquarium turns into a nightmare immediately and stays that way for the next five years.

Now at fifteen, Alice is deprived of food in order to stay under 100 pounds. She keeps her head down and herself unnoticed and people who live around her and Ray thinks he is doing a fine job raising his "daughter." But they have no idea of the horrors that go on behind a closed door with three locks.

Alice feels dead in her skin, and nothing can make her feel any different. Not the princess sheets she lays on, or the yogurt she's fed....and especially not the twisted and demented love Ray shows her on a daily basis. But she's about to find her escape. Alice knows that she's nearly outgrown her attraction as a child for Ray, and begins to find his new Alice - someone who can take her place where Ray can teach the new Alice how he can care and love for a little girl - and Alice can be free...

Chapter 12 - Never grow up....Try saying it while a hot heavy hand pinches, testing to make sure you're still child enough. Try saying it when you can't grow, when you're forever trapped where someone else wants you to be.

This has got to be the most intense YA book I have ever in my life read. The horrors of what a man like Ray can do to someone like Alice is beyond my safe comfortable scope of perspective. Teens will shudder at what happens and cry for Alice, hoping that maybe what she ultimately wants is the best answer to her impossible dilemma. It's one of those books that cannot be put down until the final denouement at the end. Rage, anger, horror...hope, compassion, protection...those are the range of emotions readers will have when finished with this book. Along the lines of "When Jeff Comes Home by Catherine Atkins, this one is more raw, more in-depth and one where the reader will live through everything Alice does; the only difference is that we can close the book - she can't.

Answers to that pesky junior high question....

I conducted a workshop with Grand Prairie and Irving ISD librarians and a question came up that I wasn't so sure I could answer. First, I should say that I have worked in a library that was both junior high and high school, but it was a 1-A school, so I knew all the kids. It's different in a bigger school.
The question? How do you keep the books that eighth graders from getting into the hands of the sixth graders where a possible censorship case could develop? Well, after thinking about it, I knew this was a difficult question. We as librarians should not censor, but then again, as educators, we have to make the best possible choices for our students. So my answer to them was, "I'm not really sure. But here are some possible solutions."
1. Booktalk specific books just for sixth graders. They're coming out of a reading environment filled with series books, and if you find some really good books from authors they'd enjoy in sixth grade, the possibility of them checking out books by those same authors are bound to follow, even if they aren't series books.
2. Create and excel spreadsheet of books that are amazing for sixth grade and throw these around the library - on the top of shelves, on the magazine rack, on the circ desk. I do this at my high school and it's amazing what kinds of little notes are put on them by the end of the year. It's quite fun and I can see student recommendations of which books they've loved.
3. Do NOT think that lists, either state or national, will be the perfect fit for this age group! They are there as recommendations only - and you must tailor them to fit.
4. And someone mentioned putting YA stickers on the books that are more appropriate for older readers so that you can gauge whether or not a sixth grader coming fresh out of elementary might enjoy and which may be beyond their maturity level. Excellent idea!

So, anything else out there I may have missed since I've been in the high school for the last eight years? I will say two things before signing off of this -
1. I still believe elementary librarians are the hardest working librarians in the public school system bar none; and
2. Junior high librarians are a very unique group I have high respect for because of what they may have to go through and the compromising they see everyday.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Booktrailer - Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfours

I see and make so many books about serious or suspenseful storylines, it's nice once in awhile to make a happy, romantic one! Enjoy : )

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

The Past:

They say that guys and girls can never just be friends....but tell that to little Jennifer and Cameron. From the third to fifth grade, they are best friends, driven together by being the social outcasts. From low-income families, Cameron and Jennifer are made fun. Jennifer feels the brunt of it and the nickname from the kids? Fattifer....but she has Cameron, who defends her and is always there for her.

On her birthday during their fifth grade year, Jennifer goes to Cameron's house to receive her present because it is too heavy for Cameron to bring to school. And what happens that day will forever alter her perception of life...

The following day, Cameron isn't at school; nor the next or the next day. The kids tell her that Cameron moved to California and died and Jennifer's mother, without saying it, tells her to take two days from school. At that moment, Jennifer silently puts Cameron in a coffin in her mind as well as Jennifer.

The Present:

Jenna Vaughn is beautiful, popular and witty. She has an amazing looking boyfriend Ethan and life is good, except the day of her birthday. Jenna still constantly struggles to keep Jennifer in the past and on this day, she knows she can do it once again. But when she gets home after school, she finds a note from Cameron. Her past has met her future.

Jenna and Cameron, now 6'2 and muscular, begin where they left off. But Cameron wants something from Jenna...he wants to revisit the past. And she isn't sure that is where she'd like to go. When he asks her to go back to their old neighborhood, the nightmares of her fifth grade birthday and what happened at his house come back and Jenna's identity begins to slip. She is still Jennifer or Jenna? Who is she really?

Jenna and Cameron's relationship has changed. There may be something more there that they want, but to act on it? Will their past bring together two lost innocent children or their present bring together two beautiful teens who have become stronger from their experiences?

Sara Zarr writes this story authentically and poignantly. It has power....from a glimpse into their childhood to what they have and will become. Jenna begins to see her inner strength while Cameron quietly holds those who love him with his own. Readers will not be able to put this one down because they get caught up in the character's worlds and what will ultimately happen. Zarr creates the perfect balance about relationships and how people affect how and who one becomes as well as how to let go....Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Share with ya'll

Last year I finally created a delicious account, and have some good stuff in it. If you'd like to take a look, please do! It has:

library-based research
technology and web 2.0
book blogs
YA research

and a whole lot more!

Just click on the icon right over your right hand...on the screen : )

Remember, sharing is caring! If you have a great delicious, let's network! Leave your delicious address too. And have a delicious day!