Friday, January 30, 2015

ALA Midwinter 2015 and the YMAs

Today I am off to Chicago for the fun that is the ALA Midwinter meeting. There is so much I'm looking forward to (not the least of which is getting to meet Maureen in person for the first time). If you follow me on Twitter, you will see many tweets about what I'm experiencing including the hilarity and wisdom that comes from the teen feedback session in the BFYA committee.

Of course, what us kidlit enthusiasts are most psyched up for are the announcements of the Youth Media Awards on Monday morning. Here are some of my thoughts on what I hope to see with shiny new stickers on their covers on Monday.

The Big Winner:

This one should come away with more than one sticker. Let's be honest. We're all going to fall over in shock if it doesn't. It should garner a Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery (I'm betting THE Newbery and not an honor), and could even snag a Printz (though that is less likely).

Some other books I would love to see get some Newbery love are:

 I hope Alexander also gets a Coretta Scott King (honor probably).

This seems a shoe-in for the Schneider Award and I'm happy with that (I'm not as convinced as others at its chance for the Newbery, but it would be a nice change of pace if it won-again, thinking honor.):

I also have high hopes that Sheinkin will receive all the stickers that can fit on this one:
Most people seem to prefer, or at least like as much, The Family Romanov and I do not understand why at all. For me Port Chicago 50 is far superior, but I predict The Family Romanov will also come away with its share of awards.

I haven't read all the Morris contenders, but that doesn't stop me from picking a favorite anyway (go fantasy!:

As for the Printz Award.....honestly I can never tell with that committee, and my "serious" YA reading was more lacking this year. (I regret nothing.) I can say that I DO NOT want We Were Liars to win. The more time that's past since my reading it, the less I like it. I can count on one hand with fingers left over how many Printz winners I love though, so clearly I'm out of it when it comes to this award. (Jellicoe Road, American Born Chinese, and.........nope, that's it.) I do harbor hopes that this book will  get something though I think it's a dark horse:


I REALLY want this to win the Geisel. In my opinion, it is the best Elephant & Piggie since We are in a Book, and is heads above everything else for the category this year:

And as picture books are not my area of expertise, I have no thoughts on the Caldecott whatsoever. (Or any other picture book award contenders.)

What are your favorites to win Monday morning? 

If you are going to be at Midwinter and want to meet up, send me a DM or an email!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Unnaturalists

The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent is one of those books that sat on my TBR for a long while that I wished I had read sooner. It is a creative look at a parallel world and such a fun story.

Vespa Nyx loves working on the exhibits in The Museum of Unnatural History where her father is the curator. Unlike most girls her age, Vespa is not at all concerned about making a good marriage. She wants to be a Pendant and study the world around her and all the Unnaturals she can find. There hasn't been a female Pendant since the first Emporer's daughter, Athena, and she is not remembered well. In addition to being a Pendant she was also a witch. She was executed. When Vespa discovers that she too has powerful magic, her entire world is turned upside down and everything she thought she believed in shattered.

In the rail yards on the outskirts of New London, Syrus Reed lives with his family of Tinkers. Closely bound to the magic of the land, the Tinkers are shunned and looked down upon by the residents of New London. But when the Unnatural who is keeping the world's magic in balance demands Syrus bring her a witch, his search leads him to New London, Vespa, and a young man who is a member of a group bent on breaking the Empire's tyranny on the Unnaturals and the world. The three must band together and their choices may save-or break-the world.

The Unnaturalists is told in alternating first and third person perspectives. The first person is from the point of view of Vespa and the third follows the adventures of Syrus. I enjoyed both of them as characters. Vespa is very much trapped by the constraints of her society and the expectations of others, but I like how she managed to work her own will within those restraints. She knows she wants something different than the life planned for her, but also recognizes this is not a part of her reality. She tries to adjust as much as she can, but as her magic begins to make itself known, she is imperiled and has to make rather difficult decisions with little guidance. Syrus is also a wonderful character. A few years younger than Vespa, he is more impetuous. He is also angry. Angry at what is being done to his world and what has happened to his family. These traits cause him to run into a lot of trouble, but he is wily and capable. Vespa and Syrus do not get off to a great start as he steals form her on their first meeting. Eventually the learn to work together and respect each other though, bound together by their mutual respect and friendship with a mysterious wizard who is acting as a Pendant at the museum. (Honestly, Bayne aka. Hal is my favorite character and I would have really liked it if we had some chapters form his perspective too.)

The world Trent created in The Unnatrualists is a fascinating one in which people traveled from our world into a parallel realm of magic led by Tesla through a portal. Here they recreated much of what they left behind and built up a strict religion around science. All magic is heresy. The original Emperor enslaved the world's magic in order to make himself immortal. Not an original concept of villainy as far as fantasy goes, but that is actually only a small step to explain how the magical forces came under the tyrannical rule of the government. Through her world Trent explores themes of fanaticism, propaganda, the plight and exploitation of the marginalized, and the corrosive power of manufactured fear. She does all this while maintaining a quick pace. The book is hard to put down and is such a fun read. I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel,  The Tinker King.

The Unnatrualists is considered YA and is shelved in the Teen section of my library, but is a book perfect for older MG readers too. (My daughter is reading it now.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TTT: Books I'd Want to Read With a Book Club


This week's TTT topic: Books with a Book Club (In my case this is an imaginary book club as I'm not in one.)

Here are the books I would want to force on everyone else:




Books I would want others to choose because I'm not sure if I will make them a big enough priority otherwise (even though I really do want to read them):



What books would you want to read in a book club?





Monday, January 26, 2015

Beastkeeper

I love "Beauty and the Beast" in all its variations and have a difficult time passing up retellings of it. When I discovered Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen, I was elated that it was not only a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, but also gender swapped. A girl beast. Family secrets. Magical forest. Creepy castle. Check all my favorite things off right there, and Hellisen does some interesting things with her story.

First: Two thumbs way up for the cover designer on this one. It is beautiful.

Sarah has spent her entire life moving. Her mother seems to be running away from cold. Her father seems desperate to keep her mother happy. Until one night when her mother stops running with them and runs away from them. There's nothing her father can do to stop it. In the days that follow Sarah notices  her father turning in more and more, becoming a little wild around the edges. Then he takes her to live with the grandparents she never knew she had and Sarah discovers secrets and lies twisted through her family's history. They are cursed. Cursed to turn into beasts when they fall in love, unless the person they love loves them back. But the curse, born of jealousy and hateful revenge is more twisted than any fairy tale Sarah has ever read. It doubles back on itself and entraps everyone into a hideous future they can't break free from making her realize stories may not always have a happily ever after.

Sarah is so determined. She is determined to help, to fight, to break the curse, to never fall in love, to remain true to herself, to save every member of her family. She tries so hard. She fails at so much of it. Yet she keeps getting back up and trying again and again. Her determination wavers occasionally but it never dies. It drives her. She is the ultimate heroine as a result. Sarah is active in her own story. Many parts of her life are beyond her control, set into motion long before she was born and propelled by forces out of her control. Despite that, she makes her own choices and works within the parameters of the curse to enforce her own will. I loved that so much. I think that it is important to have books where we see a bit of failure but not for lack of trying, and then also get to see how the characters deal with that failure. How they try to make the best of the situation given them. Sarah's relationship with almost every other character in the book is tragic in some way, but she fights for all of them as much as she fights for herself, and it is a beautiful thing to see. I also really enjoyed what Hellisen did with the character who inflicted the curse in the first place. She is a horrible person, but Hellisen gave her depth too. I think the way the situation between her and Sarah resolved was absolutely perfect. I think the conclusion for every person touched by the curse was done exactly right.

Beastkeeper does what the best retellings do and thoroughly twists the tale and adds new dimensions. What Hellisen did with the original story is intriguing and profound. The fear of loving someone beastly, knowing that you are the only thing keeping them from being a hideous shadow of themselves-that's a terrible burden to carry. What might it possibly do to a person? I was throughly impressed with the how intricate Hellisen made the curse, and how completely and utterly it trapped every single person connected to it in the most terrible of ways. I love that she was unafraid to go to the darker places the story required and that it isn't all sunshine, daisies, and happily ever after in the end. There is tragedy. There is uncertainty. But there's also hope.

I loved everything about Beastkeeper and highly recommend it.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., via NetGalley. Beastkeeper is available for purchase on February 3.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper is an engaging and excellent work of historical fiction that perfectly captures the time prior to the beginning of the Civil Rights movements, but that shows its beginnings. It is more than that too. It is a story about community, family, and one girl who dreams by starlight and yearns to make her world bigger and better.

Stella's world is changed one night when her brother wakes her up to show her a scary sight. Across the pond they can see the eerie light of a cross on fire. This can mean only one thing. The Klan is again active in their town of Bumblebee. Fear makes its way across the black community and Stella is questioning all the injustices around her. Why do she and her friends go to a smaller different school? Why do they have less books and older supplies? Why do they all have to live in fear and keep their heads down? But things are changing. The Depression has started and people are longing for a change. Three of the men, including Stella's father, want to vote for that change and go to register. They pass their test on the Constitution and this brings consequences to the community. Stella can still see hope though in the way the people around her along with many of the white residents in her town come together to make things better for those who are hurt. Stella longs to put the things she is in the world around her into words like a true reporter if she could only find the right ones.

Stella is such a great heroine. She is smart, but struggles with writing and needs to work hard. She questions everything. Her enthusiasm to learn as much about life as she can is contagious. Her vulnerability and fear is heartbreaking. She is the sort of character who makes the reader feel all of her triumphs and defeats. The narrative is broken up with examples of Stella's writing, which she is trying desperately to improve, including all her mistakes and corrections. This is a brilliant move because it shows readers what a struggle good writing really is and how much work and thought goes into it. Revision is hard.

The story Stella is telling and living is a gripping one. This is a snapshot of one small community in one part of the country. I liked how Draper showed all the nuances of that community too. There are terrible small people living in her town. There are also generous helpful good-hearted people who know right from wrong.

Stella by Starlight is a wonderful and crucial addition to any library, classroom, and home. Buy it for the young readers in your life.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Moonpenny Island

Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb is a book about family and friendship that is perfect for MG readers who enjoy quiet introspective reads.

Flor and Sylvie have lived on Moonpenny Island all of their lives and are the best of friends. Living on a small island in the middle of a great lake, the girls are really each other's only option for friends. The summer people come and they go and there are not that many island residences. But they have a deep and strong friendship bonded by more than just convenience. Everything is about to change for the girls as Sylvie is being sent to the mainland to live with her aunt and uncle so she has better opportunities at school. Flor is devastated. Before her world can right itself, Flor's mother then leaves to help take care of her sick mother. But is that just an excuse? Flor knows how bad things are between her parents. They are always fighting. Flor is determined nothing else in her world will change and focuses on keeping her teenage sister, who is acting odd, from doing anything stupid and leaving too. In the midst of all this turmoil, a geologist and his daughter come to the island and Flor discovers that it is possible to allow for new and different people into her heart and life.

Flor's story is one that many MG readers will be able to identify it. Despite the almost magical setting of the small island which most readers won't relate to, the other aspects of the story are universal. Flor's search for stability and her fierce opposition to change despite it being the best thing for those involved is one that will resonate. Readers who have ever feared their parents' separating or have experienced it will find much in this book to identify with. Anyone who has ever lost a friend to a move will likewise be able to understand and feel Flor's pain. I enjoyed the developing friendships Flor discovers once Sylvie leaves and the community of the small island. I think that Springstubb did a great job bringing all the characters to life and making the island feel real. I particularly enjoyed the the tension and relationship between Sylvie's older brother and everyone else on the island. There was a lot of nuance and depth to that whole storyline that is incredibly well done. Exactly enough to show the complexities of it, but without so much detail that it will confuse young readers.

Moonpenny Island is fairly typical realistic MG fiction. It's about a bookish girl who has to come to terms with changes in her family and friendships. It will be a familiar set-up to anyone who reads a lot in the category. There isn't really anything in it that will surprise those readers. but it may hit exactly the right sort of mark because of this familiarity and predictability. There is comfort in the known. These books aren't exactly my favorites, but I recognize that those who love these sorts of books will also love this one. It is deserving of it. One quibble I have is in the narrative voice. The narration is third person, but it is so limited to Flor and sounds so much like her that it is easy to slip into believing it's first. It happened to me. Then the narrator would refer to Flor in third person and it was so disruptive that it pulled me out of the story every time. Eventually it really started to annoy me and had me convinced it would have been so much better in first person.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Moonpenny Island goes on sale February 10.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

TTT Favorite Series


This week's TTT topic: This week's topic is a freebie and I chose Favorite Series

(In no particular oder)


The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

Faery Rebels (Including Ivy's Books) by R.J. Anderson


The Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall


The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Harry Pottter by J.K. Rowling 


Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery


The Lion Hunters by Elizabeth Wein

Murry Family Books by Madeleine L'Engle

What are your favorite series of all time? 



Monday, January 19, 2015

This Side of Home

What attracted me to This Side of Home by Renee Watson was the cover. The story hooked my interest. The characters made me fall in love.

Maya has lived her entire life in the same neighborhood in Portland hanging out with the same group of friends: her twin sister Nikki, their best friend Essence, and Ronnie, Malachi, and Devin-three boys her father mentors. They have plans for the future that involve each other: prom, college, life. But things in their neighborhood are changing. People are moving in and starting new businesses. Property values are going up as a result. In addition to change, this is also causing trouble. Essence has to move out of her  house when the owner decides he can make more money selling it than renting it. The racial demographics of the school, which has been mostly African American, is shifting. This presents new challenges and choices for Maya and her friends. It brings new people into their lives at the same time. Maya has to figure out how-and if-she wants to adjust her world to fit these new opportunities and relationships as the friendships she's held close for so many years are also starting to change.

Maya's voice is so perfect. Yes, that's the word I'm going to use. Perfect. Her narrative skips a lot. There are some giant leaps in time, and yet the story has a natural flow and rhythm. (It is divided seasonally so this makes sense, but Watson executes it particularly well.) Maya is faced with so many challenges and things she doesn't like during her senior year. The new principal is one of those educators who, I think, means well but just has his head up his arse. (I've worked with many such people.) There are new people on the student council who are trying to change the culture of the school. There are the new businesses and so many white faces they've brought with them. Her sister is hanging out with the new girl who moved into their old best friend's house. And then there's the good looking boy who also lives in that house. Tony is not who a girl like Maya ought to be with-so she thinks. But he makes her heart flutter when her boyfriend Devin doesn't. Maya's struggle is one that most seniors have. Things are changing-too many things too fast sometimes. In many ways her figuring out how to reconcile conflicting desires and objectives in her life is a common one. What is uncommon is that its set against a backdrop of gentrification and racial tension that many readers may not ever experience or even realize happens. I loved experiencing her journey from the beginning of the story to the end. She makes adjustments to fit the changing world into her worldview, but she changes things around her too. It's a wonderful story. It's full of hope without being cheesy. I also liked how the supporting characters are all given nuance. There is no relying on stereotypes. There are a lot of characters in the book, but it's easy to tell them all apart. And I just love so many of them besides Maya. (Tony, Nikki, Charles, Essence, Mrs. Armstrong, Star) Even Cynthie, who is set up as Maya's rival of sorts, has more to her. The reader can see it there even if Maya can't.

The fantastic characters in This Side of Home give the world a story that is full of tension and hard truths about urban living, gentrification, and the resources allotted to public schools. It's a look at how  a variety of people live and how a variety of people think-all filtered through the lens of one 17 year old girl. That filter helps to bring the injustices and gray areas of it all a sharper relief. Maya isn't right about everything from the start, but the way she sees the world helps to bring many important issues into the light. This is a great book to spark thoughts on what defines a person. Is it race? Is it culture? Is it where you're from? Who you date? Where you go to school? Your address? How do we take all those things others use to judge us and make it a part of our own identity? Or not. I enjoyed the way Watson presented these questions through the story, how they were debated, and how many characters arrive at differing conclusions.

This Side of Home is a book that will be added to my shelves and recommend to any who will listen to me talk about.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children's USA, via NetGalley. This Side of Home goes on sale February 3rd.

Friday, January 16, 2015

All the Answers

Whether or not I would read All the Answers wasn't even up for debate. It's a new Kate Messner MG and those are always a popular commodity among the kids I work with. I always enjoy them myself too.

Ava has a math test and needs a pencil. Grabbing one old blue one from a junk drawer, she is on her way and can focus on worrying about how she always forgets what she needs when taking a test no matter how much she studies. But a strange thing happens when she takes the test. She writes down a question and a voice answers. Soon Ava realizes the voice is coming from the pencil itself, but only the person holding the pencil can hear it. With her best friend Sophie, Ava begins to explore exactly what the pencil knows and what it can do. The girls decide to use the pencils powers to help others like the people who live with Ava's grandfather at the nursing home. Ava's worries about her family soon begin to consume her and she uses the pencil as a way to address them and soon learns things she rather wished she didn't know.

Ava is a worrier. She worries excessively. She worries so much has turned it into an art form where she is able to dodge any activity that scares her too much. What Messner has created with Ava is a picture of what anxiety looks like in a young person and I think it is one that many readers will understand and relate to. Because a lot of the things Ava spends her time obsessing over are at least passing worries for most kids her age: parents' marriage, parents' health, money issues, friend issues, school issues, fear of failure. This book touches on all of these and does so with exactly the right touch. Ava is such a real person and I truly felt everything she was feeling as I read the book. Her relationships with other people bring out crucial parts of her character. Messner does an excellent job of portraying intergenerational family life and the everyday squabbles, victories, joys, and defeats a family shares together. Ava's journey with pencil and what she discovers is realistic and I loved what happens to her when she goes on her adventure field trip.

Most especially, I love the idea of the pencil itself. It's the perfect hook for a book. Who wouldn't want a pencil who would give them answers to life's questions? How would you use it? What would you ask? The mechanics of the pencil and all the things the girls attempt to do with it make for a quick paced story with plenty of pitfalls and highlights. The pencil teaches Ava, but only because she is willing to learn and grow. She learns just as much from opening her eyes and seeing what is around her. It's a really great journey.

All the Answers is a story about family, love, and learning to take risks. It has some twists. It contains laughter and tears. Like all of Messner's books, I suspect it is one that will be read often. (At least in this house-my daughter loves all her books.)

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Bloomsbury, via NetGalley. All the Answers goes on sale January 27th.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

TTT: 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get To


This week's TTT topic: 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get To

Some fiction, some non-fiction, some MG, some YA: These are the seven books from 2014 still high on my priority list.








Monday, January 12, 2015

Love, Lucy

Love, Lucy by April Lindner is a book I was equal parts nervous and excited about reading. I heard good things about Lindner's first two novel retellings (though I never read them as I don't like the original novels). Love, Lucy however, is a retelling of a novel I do like, A Room with a View. While I always am excited about reworkings of old favorites, I'm also wary because reworking a classic into a modern tale is not as easy as it sounds. It isn't just about transferring a story into the present. I think Love, Lucy does the reworking part well. It may fall short in some areas for readers who have never read A Room with a View though.

Note on cover: Who is that girl???? That is not how Lucy is described in the book.

Lucy Sommersworth is on a backpacking tour of Europe following her senior year of high school. This is the trip she got from her father for her agreement to give up acting and major in business. The part of the trip Lucy is most excited about is Italy. Upon arriving in Florence, Lucy meets Jesse, an American boy who travels, busks, and works odd jobs wherever he ends up. Lucy and Jesse have an almost instant connection and their relationship grows quickly as he shows her around Florence and then they travel together to Rome. But Rome is the end of Lucy's trip and soon she is back in the US at her new college with a heart that misses both Jesse and theater. Lucy is determined to get on with her life though and begins dating someone new. She also defies her father and auditions for a part in the musical Rent. When Jesse shows up unexpectedly and her father demands she quit the play or he won't pay her tuition, Lucy has some serious decisions to make about who she is and what she wants out of life. Does she go the safe route or risk everything for what she truly wants?

Lucy's story is one that anyone can relate to. She is caught in that place where she is still learning who she is and what she wants to do with that. Her father wants her to follow the path he thinks is best, but Lucy's talents and passion don't fit that plan. She grows and changes as the story unfolds: finding her voice, making mistakes, learning to atone, and finding happiness. This doesn't come without its share of drama.

The first half of Lucy's story is a fun travel book which paints a beautiful picture of Florence and Rome with nods to both Forrester's original novel and the movie Roman Holiday. In this section Lucy is learning how to state her own opinions and desires and go after what she wants. Her relationship with Jesse develops at a fast pace, but in a realistic way that didn't leave me disbelieving its genuineness. Jesse himself is not that nuanced of a character. He's charming. He's fun. He's artistic. It's easy to see how Lucy falls for him. There isn't much more to him than that. As a fun travel story, this part of the book excels.

The second half of the story takes place at Lucy's new school (Forsythe) and is filled with quite a bit more angst and drama. Lucy misses Jesse. His emails are rare and she soon figures he's moved on. When an email she writes him comes back saying his address is invalid, she knows its time to move on. She is dating someone else and working on her role as Maureen in Rent when Jesse shows back up in her life. This whole section finds Lucy making some less than wise decisions that hurt more than one person, including herself. Lucy learns much about who she is and what she wants, but it's not a pain free journey. When is it ever?

The trickiest part about a modern retelling that's original relies so much on the importance of marriage in a girl's life is translating that idea into modern terms. I think Lindner does that well. Lucy's struggle is more about choosing between the safe business road her father wants her to take, and the more artistic route she is more comfortable with. The two romantic interests in this book reflect that struggle. One boy is safe. The other boy is an adventure. One boy has a lot in common with her own struggle with her father. The other is more rebellious and wants to make his own rules. In cutting down the cast of characters and recreating the most crucial elements of the plot, Lindner does credit to A Room with a View. (I do prefer the original novel.)

For those who haven't read A Room with a View, this book may seem high on the romantic angst and low on actual character development. Even Lucy is rather shallowly developed at points. I think there is a chance that this book will be compared to Gayle Forman's Just One Day more than it will the original work it is imitating. There are many similarities between this and Forman's book, and I feel Forman handles the same themes and character development better. However, Love, Lucy has its own charm too. I enjoyed the time I spent reading it and will certainly pick up more of Lindner's work in the future.

Love, Lucy is a fun read for those who like stories of travel and romance.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Poppy, via Edelweiss. Love Lucy goes on sale January 27th.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Perfect Couple

Last year's Biggest Flirts was the book that introduced me to Jennifer Echols. I've read a lot of her books this year and have come to the conclusion that she doesn't get nearly enough credit for how good she is. I've been continuously struck book after book by her characters' diverse voices and their genuine teen experiences that are as diverse as they are. Perfect Couple, the first of two 2015 releases by Echols and the second book in her Superlatives series, is actually my favorite yet.

Harper is her yearbook's photographer. With dreams of going to art school and maybe being a photojournalist someday, she is focused on her future but has always given careful attention to her artistic side as well. She designs and makes her own clothes to fit a retro style she came up with all on her own. Her boyfriend is the kind of guy who fits her image. He is also artsy, enjoys indie films, and talks about social consciousness a lot. There is no great chemistry or romance between them, but she's different from her two best friends when it comes to relationships. Unlike Tia, she's never been interested in sex for the sake of good sex. It's never mattered. And unlike Kay, she hasn't had a long term serious relationship to capture her heart and attention. Harper is content in the invisible artistic bubble she's created for herself until the senior class votes her Perfect Couple That Never Was with gorgeous star football quarterback Brody. She thinks the senior class has lost its collective mind. But as the days pass and she gets more fed up with the superior attitude of her boyfriend, Harper begins to wonder if she's missing out on something, not just with Brody, but by allowing herself to be only one thing in the artistic niche she's created for herself. What would happen if she switched some things up a bit and made some different choices? It doesn't hurt that Brody is paying her attention and making her realize exactly what she's been missing out on when it comes to intense make-out sessions.

Harper is my favorite of Echols's heroines, which is a major reason this book is my favorite. I do find her more relatable than I have found some of the others, but more than that I just really like her vulnerability and curiosity. Senior year is a tough time for some, and Harper is one who begins to wonder about who she is and whether or not that is who she wants to be. As Harper begins to question why she has made some of the choices she's made, she makes some conscious decisions to change some stuff about herself. She does start dressing a little more like her peers and wearing contacts. Some of this is because she wants Brody's attention, but it's also combined with her frustration with herself and where her life currently is. I liked the complexity of this. One could argue Harper is changing herself for a boy and she should know better, but it's far more nuanced than that. Also real as teenage girls have been known to dress a certain way to attract the attention of a boy. Adult women do it too. What I really like is that Harper maintains a firm hold on the basics of who she is even as she questions some of her decisions in life. She makes some mistakes over the course of the story, but they are understandable ones and she works hard to correct them as quickly as she can.

As Harper is my favorite Echols heroine, Brody is definitely my favorite hero to date. He is an interesting mix of confidence and vulnerability. He's an amazing friend as is evidenced by his never wavering support of his best friend Noah who has recently come out as gay. Even though this book is first person from Harper's point of view, some of my favorite moments were watching Brody's interactions with Noah, Sawyer, and Will. I think one of Echols's real strengths is being able to write boys who make great romantic heroes but are still genuine teens and behave as such. I also loved how Brody's attraction to Harper transcends her "look". He thought she was hot whichever way she dressed. It wasn't her change of attire that caught his attention. It was the superlative announcement and her noted interest. Together they are great. I enjoyed their friendship, banter, and they way they worked through the hurdles in their way to a good relationship.

Another aspect of Perfect Couple I thoroughly enjoyed was the seeing more of the friendship between Tia, Harper, and Kay. This was part of Biggest Flirts too, but I feel like their connection and the reason for it was more fleshed out and fluid in this book than in the first. I love how strongly these three have each others' backs despite how very different they all are. It is so nice to see girls in YA romance have strong friendships.

The little glimpses of Tia and Will are a nice little addition for those who have read Biggest Flirts,  but you don't need to read that book to love this one. The building of the drama between Kay and Sawyer in this book was well done too. There is just enough there to set up the tension for Most Likely to Succeed (coming out in September), but not so much that it ever overshadows Harper and Brody. I have to say I can not wait to read that one though and I really wish the series would continue after their story. I really like this group of friends.

Content Heads-Up: references to underage alcohol use, some strong language, discussion of sex, some steamy make out scenes

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Simon Pulse, via Edelweiss. Perfect Couple goes on sale January 13th.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Honey

Early evidence indicates that 2015 will be a good year for realistic MG. I'm hoping. Honey by Sarah Weeks is certainly an excellent indication of things to come.

Melody is fairly happy with her life the way it is. She has security and knows her father loves her. Melody's mother died in childbirth, and the one things she wishes she could add to her family is a mom for her and a wife for her dad. She has wished it on too many birthdays to count. When her dad begins singing, smiling secretly to himself, and becomes more absent minded than normal, Melody knows something is up. Then she overhears him call someone "honey" on the phone and realizes he must be in love. Melody is thrilled until she starts to think about all the reasons her father has kept this from her. Is it because he's fallen for someone he knows she won't like? Someone like her awful hateful teacher? Melody and her best friend embark on an investigation that leads to more discoveries than Melody imagined.

Honey has so much going for it. It is short. It will have wide appeal for kids looking for realistic fiction. It is a book that is accessible to the younger side of the MG reader spectrum. While not the type of story I'm particularly drawn to, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I typically do not enjoy small town stories with quirky characters, but Weeks skates a fine line here making her characters unique without them being caricatures. She also did a fantastic job setting up the mystery who has captured Melody's dad's heart and putting all those pieces together in the end. I just loved how organic and real the story felt. Even the super happy ending where everything works out perfectly for Melody-and everyone else-worked for me.

Melody is a great heroine. Her voice is genuine fifth grade girl. I loved the games she and her dad played with words and they all fit into the story being told and their characters. It didn't feel like an awkward vocabulary exercise hidden in a novel. (Which is far too often done and done poorly.) Here it works for the story. Melody's best friend, Nick Woo, is also a wonderful character. He and Melody have an easy friendship and camaraderie that many kids will be able to understand. They both reminded me of students I've taught over the years. Teeny, the obnoxious six year old next door neighbor, also strikes exactly the perfect note. Melody's frustration with and care for her are equally balanced and nicely portrayed. I really enjoyed all of the relationships in this book. Neighbors, old friends, new friends, grandparent/grandchild, parent/child, teacher/child-they are so well done.

Here is absolute proof that you can write a good novel with great characters, all sorts of relationships, humor, and heart, and keep it under 200 pages. Sarah Weeks, my hat goes off to you for this.

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Scholastic, via Edelweiss. Honey goes on sale January 27.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Cybils Shortlists and The Ones That Got Away

The Cybils Finalists were announced yesterday bringing Round One to an end. Now it's all in the hands of the Round Two panelists. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as Round One panelist for a second year. Being involved in this process and such a great award is a true privilege.

I was a panelist for  MG Speculative Fiction and am rather proud of the finalists we ended with:



 


Here are some of the books that were nominated that I really enjoyed (and some of them I LOVE), but which didn't make in on the final list for various reasons.