48HBC Update #2

48HBC update 2Whew! It’s been a fairly disjointed reading day–I had to take breaks for everyday activities like showering and cooking as well as attendance at my school’s commencement ceremony.  However, I did complete another novel and read a couple short stories in Diverse Energies.  

Every year, there are certain books that I start to hear about months in advance of their publication.  When I finally get my hands on these books, I’m both incredibly excited and nervous.  What is the novel doesn’t live up to the hype? So, it’s always incredibly satisfying to read one of these anticipated novels and find that it absolutely lives up to the hype.  Pointe by Brandy Colbert is absolutely one of these novels.

Theo is finally starting to get her life in order again.  Her ballet instructor has singled her out as one of her top students and told her to seriously consider auditioning for specialized summer programs.  She’s eating again, she’s got some great friends, and she might be on the verge of something special with an almost appropriate guy.  Then Donovan Pratt comes back.  Before he disappeared a few years ago, Donovan was Theo’s best friend.  And now Theo has all sorts of long buried memories bubbling back up.

This novel is heart-wrenching, raw, and ultimately hopeful.  Theo is a fabulously complex character; in Theo, Colbert has crafted a truly human protagonist.  The novel explores a range of issues and topics but it never feels melodramatic or disjointed.  Instead, Colbert has illustrated the complicated reality that trauma and healing can affect an individual’s life in many different but interconnected ways.  The secondary characters are also equally sympathetic and three-dimensional.  Additionally, race and social class are acknowledged and explored as natural and significant aspects of Theo’s identity and world.

I might try to write a longer review later but for now, I’ll just say: go out and read Pointe immediately, especially if you are invested in realistic young adult fiction, the creation of complex female characters, and the ongoing cultural conversation about girls, sex, and consent.

5 out of 5 stars

48HBC Stats Update

Hours read: 4.5 hours

Hours blogged: 1.25 hours

Books Read: 2 book + 2 short stories

Pages Read: 602 pages

Total Challenge Hours: 5.75 hours

 

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Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

twoboyskissingcoverIt’s Saturday morning and on the lawn in front of a fairly ordinary high school two boys are kissing.  Their names are Harry and Craig.  They aren’t a couple–although they used to be–and their kiss is no spontaneous expression of affection or lust.  Harry and Craig are trying to break the world record for the longest kiss.  

Peter and Neil are boyfriends, navigating the complexities of being a couple.  When they kiss, it’s a reminder of who they are together.  Avery and Ryan just met.  They haven’t kissed yet but they want to–if only each can get over his fears.  Cooper is alone; he has no one to confide in–let alone someone to kiss.  Worst of all, he doesn’t even care–because he stopped caring about anything quite a while ago.

These boys’ stories are threads, woven together into a tapestry imagining the many forms that love can take–and the power of a single kiss.  

Now, I must put a little disclaimer out there: I am a massive David Levithan fan.  He’s one of the few writers of contemporary YA fiction that I read as a teen–and since I was a selective (and, to be honest, pretty snobby) reader who refused to read fiction set anytime in the last few decades, that’s saying something. So, I might be a little bias in my admiration of this novel.

And for me, this novel is classic David Levithan.  Two Boys Kissing incorporates all the elements integral to Levithan’s best work: poetic prose, a diverse cast of characters, unusual narration, and plot focused on emotional (rather than physical) journeys. And above all, his writing continues to demonstrate respect and care for his teenage readership. This novel in particular feels like a love letter to his readers. It’s a story about being young, about being different, about being LGBTQ-identified–and one told with incredible compassion, sincerity, respect, and love.

As in many of his novels, Levithan juggles a large cast of characters in this novel, shifting between their stories and gently connecting them through shared themes, experiences, and explicit plot events (primarily the record-breaking kiss).  Now, I foresee that some readers might find the large cast of characters and the constant movement between their narratives disconcerting or overwhelming.  However, Levithan takes a premise that could feel sprawling and manages to make the collective narrative feel both seamless and intimate. I love getting to know these characters as we slip in and out of their lives over a two or three day period.  While many of the primary characters appear to fit certain identifiable ‘types’ of gay adolescent males through their situations or relationships, Levithan fleshes each one out into fully formed human characters with unique personalities and motivations, avoiding stale stereotypes.

The unusual narrative voice also sets this novel apart.  The omniscient but still achingly human Greek chorus of gay men who died during the height of the American AIDS epidemic tie the novel’s multiple narratives together while also adding a sense of history and cross-generational connection frequently lacking in YA novels.  Additionally, their narration again demonstrates Levithan’s ability to offer incredible insight on the human experience through deceptively simple statements.

In all, I love following these seeming unconnected characters’ lives as they slowly become intertwined through a single, symbolic kiss.  The story illustrates the very powerful defiance & freedom that kiss represents. Even before reading Levithan’s lovely author’s note and acknowledgements, a reader will sense that this particular novel is incredibly personal–and be grateful that Levithan has chosen to write it. Additionally, it can be no mistake that Two Boys Kissing is being published approximately ten years after the appearance of Levithan’s historic debut novel Boy Meets Boy.  Two Boys Kissing feel like a natural companion to that novel. As a reader, I feel honored to be involved in such a personal and universal story–and as a librarian, I am excited to use my signed ARC as a give-away during a (hopefully) repeated resource share with our school’s queer-straight alliance this fall. Watch for the release of Two Boys Kissing on August 27.

5/5 stars for this lovely and loving novel!

*review written based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher at American Library Association’s Annual Conference. 

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

house girlSeparated by over 150 years, two young women struggle to shape their own futures in very different circumstances.  In 1852, seventeen year old house slave Josephine Bell decides to run away from the deteriorating Virginia farm where she acts as nurse and housekeeper for Lu Anne Bell, a sickly amateur artist.  Over a century and a half later in 2004 New York City, ambitious young lawyer Lina Sparrow is handed the case of a lifetime; her boss asks her to find the ideal plaintiff for a monumental class action lawsuit seeking reparations for modern descendants of American slaves.  As she begins her search, Lina’s famous artist father Oscar Sparrow mentions a scandal rocking the art world; evidence has surfaced that renowned Southern antebellum painter Lu Anne Bell’s sympathetic slave portraits might have actually been the work of her house slave Josephine.  Intrigued, Lina dives into research and as she traces Josephine’s long forgotten story through attics and archives, she begins to questions her own family’s secrets–her mother’s mysterious death and her father’s continued silence on the subject.

Moving back and forth between Josephine and Lina’s lives, this layered novel explores  truth, storytelling, and justice through a suspenseful historical art mystery intertwined with intense human drama.  This strong genre-bending debut is filled with three dimensional characters, elegant writing, and a complex plot that gains momentum as it unfolds.  I found  Josephine and Lina’s narratives equally compelling and I was particularly impressed by Conklin’s ability to spin their separate stories into a comprehensive whole, bound together by both plot events and themes.  Additionally, Lina’s search for the truth about Josephine becomes a truly page-turning mystery; Conklin’s pacing and careful construction makes a potential dry history into a thrilling, heart-stopping quest.

As a (currently somewhat rusty) painter, I have always been particularly attracted to fiction featuring visual art.  House Girl explores art from a variety of perspectives, investigating both the power of art in an individual’s life and exploring the ways that art history is human history.  Josephine’s and Oscar’s paintings simultaneously hide and reveal secrets;  their art and their identities as artists directly affect the story’s events.  So it’s disappointing that the novel doesn’t include many scenes explicitly exploring Josephine as a painter from her perspective.  It might be my own background as a painter, but I wanted to hear more about Josephine’s experience as an artist–especially since her painting directly contradicts the dehumanization of slaves enforced by slaveholders, the legal system, and society at large. Creating art is an incredibly human act and one that allows stories to be told across many social and cultural barriers–as this novel ultimately demonstrates.

In all, House Girl is a satisfying and thought-provoking novel likely to attract a range of readers.  While it is published as an adult novel, Tara Conklin’s debut will appeal to both adults and older teens–especially those with an interest in historical fiction and/or art history.  Josephine is a teenager herself and Lina is in her mid-twenties & just beginning her adult life after years of schooling.  Their stories of self-discovery and identity development will resonate with young–and old–readers.  I’m adding The House Girl to my informal list of  2014 Alex Award contenders and look forward to seeing more from Tara Conklin in the future!

A definite 4 out of 5 stars for this lovely debut novel!

The Club Connection: Bringing The Library TO Students!

This post represents a category of content that has been fairly rare on my blog so far: writing about library programming.   I have yet to blog much about library programming, lesson development, or other library activities for several reasons.  Mostly, as a young rookie librarian, I find the amazing, creative programming blogged about by my more experienced peers a bit intimidating. However, I hope the use this summer to change this pattern!  Especially since I believe that offering a break down of my tentative programming will encourage other newbie librarians.  After all, one of the biggest lessons I learned during the last few years as first a library intern and now a full-time librarian is the value of accepting and embracing failure–especially the failure of new activities or programs.  A program or a lesson won’t always work the way you hoped–or work at all.  But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable.

Today, however, I’d like to share a couple of library activities I developed this past year that were actually successful.  These two particular activities were especially successful in connecting specific groups of students with the library and reminding them how the library can be a source for information & support outside their academic needs.  It’s not a particularly new idea but I want to write about the great value in using pre-existing teen groups (such as school clubs) to connect young adults with the libraries in their lives.

My collaborations with student groups this past year represent two different methods for the creation of such events: the ‘active search & approach by librarian’ method and the ‘eager seizure of an unexpected opportunity’ method.  The first collaboration came about when I initiated contact with a student leader of a club and made a direct proposal. After spending the last week of June 2012 attending a wonderful conference of multicultural education–The Georgetown Day School’s Equity Collaborative, I began the school year  determined to find new ways within my particular sphere of influence to make our school a more explicitly supportive, inclusive, and safe environment.  One fairly simple act was to quietly reach out to our Queer-Straight Alliance and offer to share some LGBTQ-specific resources available in our library.    Initially my offer was, in fact, too quiet and it was lost in the bustle of the new school year.  However, I tried again in the spring and was able to make a connection.  Through quick conversations with our QSA’s president, it was decided that I would come and visit their next meeting to share a list of resources relevant and interesting to LGBTQ youth.  I spent just over a week pulling together a resource list that included a diverse group of YA fiction featuring young, LGBTQ protagonists, a few key nonfiction titles, and a couple of good websites.  I also put together a quick Power Point presentation that allowed me to give an overview of the list’s contents.  My goals were: to show them rich diversity of currently available fiction and nonfiction for & about LBGTQ youth, to explain explicitly where they could find these resources and get good information, and to demonstrate that their library is safe place where they have adult allies.

Now, as I stated at the beginning, this simple activity is neither revolutionary nor extraordinary.  However, I am very proud of it because it accomplished a rare feat:  I actually achieved all my initial goals and it will likely be a repeatable activity! Students who attended checked some books out right away and some came back & asked for more later.  The president of the club requested a digital copy of the resource list to share with club members unable to attend the meeting and the group’s faculty advisor was enthusiastic about the idea of repeating this event early next fall.

Here are my presentation and resource list, both of which I plan to update slightly over the summer 🙂

The second collaboration with a student group came about through pure chance and, even more excitingly, a direct approach from a student.  This year my newborn Student Library Advisory Board (SLAB, as its members like to call the group) and I planned & ran two very fun movie nights in the library.  Our second movie night was a Valentine’s Day theme and had around 25 students in attendance–which is awesome, especially considering the relatively small size of our school, the many other options for Friday night activities, and the geographic spread of our student body.  Afterwards, a student that attended this movie night emailed me, saying how much she enjoyed the event and that she was interested in doing a movie night event for a student group she had recently helped begin on campus. She asked if I could give her some tips about setting up such an event.  I happily responded, offering to help her plan the event.  The group is focused on spreading awareness about various issues related to adolescent health and the members wanted to do a movie night as a fun way to begin a discussion about adolescent mental health issues.

I was thrilled to be asked and so we worked together to plan a small Friday evening event during which we would show the recent film adaption of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of A Funny Story.  Both the student leader and I connected with a member of our school’s awesome counseling department and she agreed to open the event with a informational discussion about adolescent mental health and mental illness.  Meanwhile, I, of course, offered to create a resource list of websites (based on suggested from our wonderful counselor) and fiction dealing with adolescent mental health issues.  To create this list, I made use of one of the best resources out there: other librarians!  I sent out a request for fiction titles related to adolescent mental health to the yalsa_bk listserv.  In response I received an amazing wealth of titles! So again, thank you to the wonderful subscribers of the yalsa_bk listserv!  The event went wonderfully–the opening discussion was really informative,  the movie touching and funny, and the resource list well received–with a digital copy requested to be emailed out to friends 🙂

Here is the resource list I created with the help of our wonderful counseling department and the awesome subscribers of the yalsa_bk listserv.

I somewhat stumbled into this method of library outreach over the past year but I’m very excited about these small successes since they were fairly simple to implement but powerful in their impact.  As a result, I’ve created relationships with more students and I’ve found ways to share the library’s resources in targeted doses to interested audiences.  I’m hoping to continue this type of outreach next year by repeating events like the QSA resource share and by seeking out other student groups who might be open to collaboration.

How have you used pre-existing student/youth organizations or clubs to connect teens to YOUR library?  I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments!

48HBC Update #3

48hbc_newWhew! I’m nearing the last several hours of Day 1!  And while I’ve spent about 3.75 hours of the time since my last update attending the graduation ceremony at my school and it was a lovely break and a great chance to see off our great seniors.  But now I’m back and I’ve finished another fabulous book!

white catWhite Cat – Holly Black

I’ve been meaning to start reading Holly Black’s The Curse Workers series for a couple years now and I’m so glad that I used the Challenge as an excuse to grab a copy and read it.  This is a sharp, sexy genre-blender of a novel.  White Cat mixes classic noir, mob mystery, and urban fantasy–and the result is a dark, twisting thriller that plays with questions of family, identity, power, and morality.  Cassel is fascinating protagonist and narrator and his friends & family are equally interesting characters.  I’m definitely planning to pick up the rest of the series this summer!  A criminally good 4/5 stars from me and a full review to come!

Challenge Update:

Hours Read: 7.25 hours

Hours Blogged: 2 hours

Social Networking: .5 hours

48HBC Hours Current Total: 9.75 hours

Books Read: 3.25 books

Pages Read: 1,225 pages

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills

beautiful music for ugly childrenGabe might have been born Elizabeth but he’s knows that he’s truly a boy.  And now, after years of living as Elizabeth, he’s decided to start living as Gabe–outside his room.  His family still isn’t sure how to react to Gabe’s decision and his apparently supportive best friend Paige keeps sending him mixed signals.  But through his new gig as a DJ on the local radio, Gabe starts to find his voice, connect with a surprisingly large group of late night listeners, and walk the difficult path towards acceptance & survival.

Whew! What a fresh, authentic, and, yes, truly beautiful novel about finding the courage to stand up for yourself, to seek out your passions, and to pursue your dreams–even in the face of hatred and fear.

Cronn-Mills adds an exciting new voice to young adult fiction through her marvelous protagonist Gabe. He’s worried about transitioning from his past life as Elizabeth and he longs for the freedom to be himself (and for his best friend Paige to notice him as more than a friend).  However, somehow Gabe maintains a sense of humor as he tells his story–a fact that makes his emotional moments all the more powerful.  Gabe is sarcastic, vulnerable, shy, funny, passionate, and caring; his love of music, his dreams of becoming a DJ, and his close, complicated relationships with his best friend Paige, his neighbor and mentor John, and his family all make him an incredibly appealing, relatable character.

This tender and thoughtful coming of age story explores Gabe’s senior year, describing  both simple (and not so simple) everyday incidents and well-placed moments of intense action & nail-biting tension.   While certain events might be a little too serendipitous and the conclusion a bit too quick, the plot overall is well paced and the story refreshingly combines the harsh realities faced by trans youth (including harassment, threats, physical attacks, etc.) with positive relationships & well-earned triumphant moments.  I love the way Cronn-Mills uses Gabe’s passion for DJ-ing and music to guide his journey and structure the story.   Additionally, as I’ve already indicated, the supporting cast of characters is first rate.  Between his conflicted but supportive best friend Paige, his cool, kind neighbor John, his quirky boss, his confused yet loving family, and the strange collective of fans that emerges from his radio show, every character add something important to the reader’s understanding of Gabe’s story–and of Gabe himself.

A welcome addition to a growing group of excellent novels focused on trans youth–especially because Gabe is fully fleshed out character, with passions and interests and problems beyond his identity as a young trans man.  Beautiful Music For Ugly Children is a lovely, quirky, and hopeful coming of age story that will appeal to anyone who’s ever felt trapped or invisible under the pressure of other people’s expectations.  The concluding author’s note featuring information about trans identity and resources for trans youth & their family and friends is a great bonus.

Readalikes:  This novel could be matched with readers via a few different routes.   It might be passed on to students expressing an interest in reading contemporary coming of age stories about LGBTQ teens (recent examples include The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd & Ask The Passengers by A.S. King). It could also be paired up with other stories about trans youth (such as I Am J by Cris Beam, Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger, or Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher).  However, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children could also fit wonderfully with a collection of other quirky musical novels such as Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman, or The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour.

A strong 4/5 stars!

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

just one day

Allyson Healey has always followed the rules, living according to her parents’ carefully constructed plans.  But while on a European tour after her high school graduation, Allyson meets Willem, a Dutch actor in an underground Shakespeare performance troupe.  In a moment of unprecedented daring, Allyson joins Willem on a trip to Paris for a single day.  But after a thrilling romantic adventure, Allyson wakes up the next morning–alone.  She returns to her dutiful life, drifting through her first semester of college depressed and uninterested.  Unable to shake the memory of her day with Willem—and of the bolder, more vibrant person she became in his company—Allyson returns to Paris determined to find him.  Along the way, she discovers dreams outside her parents’ expectations and falls in love with life in whole new way.

From its basic summary Gayle Forman’s newest novel might sound like than a simple European travel adventure or a tale of whirlwind romance.  However, it is in fact more complicated–and satisfying–because it both combines aspects and defies expectations of both.  Just One Day is a delightful novel chronicling a young woman’s journey of self-discovery and coming of age–through Shakespeare, madeleines, youth hostels, guidance counselors, and new, unexpected friendships.

Just One Day stands out among recent publications for a variety of reasons. First, it’s a great example of books that might fall into this nebulous, new category of ‘new adult fiction’–stories about young adults in that strange transitional world after high school, sometimes in college and sometimes just beyond college. As many of my older high school students are fast approaching this next threshold in their lives, novels focusing on that transition are especially appealing to them.

Second, the characters (especially our protagonist Allyson) are dynamic and complex; they show substantial but believable growth in the narrative. Allyson is, rightfully, the character that changes and develops most substantially here; she grows from a obedient and somewhat passionless daughter and student into a confident and adventurous young woman. In the process, she is alternatively prickly, vulnerable, depressed, self-absorbed, confused, brave, and unsure. The reader might not always like Allyson but I found myself loving and sympathizing with her the whole journey. I also enjoyed the great cast of supporting characters, especially Allyson’s old and new friends.  Many of the supporting characters (especially adults like Allyson’s parents) revealed their three dimensionality and humanity as the narrative progressed; as Allyson learned to understand herself better, she began to understand others (like her overbearing mother) more complexly.

Willem remains the most mysterious and least developed character int he novel–for good reason, I think. Allyson catches glimpses of his unhappiness or loneliness underneath his charming demeanor during their day together; during her search for him, she also begins to piece together more information about him as a real, flawed human (rather than a romantic idea). However, when the novel ends, Allyson and the reader are still mostly in the dark about Willem. Since this book is the first of a duo (with the second focusing on Willem’s story), I felt intrigued rather than dissatisfied by this state of his character at the conclusion of the novel.

This third reason is very simple and based on a personal bias: I ‘m a total sucker for a good ‘rule-following girl goes to Europe and discovers her passions and true self’ story. There’s a reason this narrative is a bit of a trope in fiction. And in Just One Day, Forman uses this idea perfectly. On her first trip to Europe, Allyson meets the charming, free-spirited Willem and their one-day romance throws her whole, organized world off balance. While it appears that Allyson’s ensuing depression and disinterest in her new college life might be due to a broken heart, she soon realizes that while she can’t deny her strong emotions regarding Willem as a person, she’s really in love with the way she felt and acted during their day together. While finding Willem again might be her more concrete motivation in the second half of the novel, Allyson is truly searching for a more adventurous and authentic version of herself. And I was thrilled to go on that journey with her!

Finally, who doesn’t love a book promoting the magic of Shakespeare, the thrill of travel, and the power of following your interests to find your passion? I can’t wait to read Willem’s side of the story when the companion Just One Year comes out this fall!

Readalikes:  I would hand Just One Day off to readers who enjoy realistic fiction, especially romances and travel stories; its wealth of historical and literary references would make it a good match for a bookish reader–especially one who usually prefers classics like A Room With A View or loves Shakespeare but frequently avoids contemporary realistic fiction.  Additionally, it might pair up well with travel stories such as 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson and Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.  Fan of other post-high school graduation tales of discovery (and sometimes romance) like Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen or The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour might also be targets for this novel.

A definite 5/5 stars for me!