Thanks to the Multnomah County Library’s commitment to bringing authors of children’s literature to local audiences, I got to see Alex Gino, author of George and You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P. at the North Portland Library. Gino is non-binary and uses the pronouns they, them, and their.
Things I learned:
Alex prefers to refer to their book George as Melissa’s Story, because George is a name that Melissa would prefer to never hear again. This had me wondering at the process to pick the book’s title.
There were many questions from the audience, which we submitted on index cards. The audience was at least half young people which might be the cause of Alex’s encouragement to write down questions that begin with something besides “what.” (Although my question What is your favorite part about being an author? also began with “what” so perhaps we all needed that encouragement.)
There was a question about navigating the world as a non-binary person and they said that it is hard, but it used to be harder, namely because there wasn’t a term. They were 19 before they found the term genderqueer.
Their next book Rick is coming in 2020 and they wrote it as a companion book to Melissa’s Story. They cited the reason that they did not write a sequel to Melissa’s Story is that for a book to happen, plot would have to happen and that means that bad things would have to happen to Melissa. They are not about having bad things happen to Melissa. Instead, Rick is a story investigating what it means to be so unsure of yourself that you hang out with the bully.
When asked about Melissa’s Story becoming an OBOB Book (Oregon Battle of the Books) they said that they grew up in a world where being queer on purpose around children wasn’t a thing. There were certainly people who were queer around children, but they had to hide that part of them. For their book to be recognized as literature is phenomenal and it gives them hope that things are moving in a good direction.
This led to a story of the signing event that happened on Sunday in Canby, Oregon. Apparently there were 250 people in attendance. The person sitting next to me was in attendance for the Canby signing and said that attendance was so high because Melissa’s Story was excluded from Canby’s OBOB tournament and the Canby Mayor rejected a proclamation honoring International Transgender Day of Visibility. So people of Canby made themselves visible in support of the author.
They ended their talk by saying that they believed that books saved lives and what their hope is for Melissa’s Story is that someday a trans woman will be walking late at night and someone coming toward her might be a very big guy, who is also drunk, and who recognizes this person as trans. And instead of doing what happens to so many trans people now–harassment or assault–that person will think of Melissa and just walk on by and everyone will get home safe.
It was a month of reading to catch up to the Youth Media Award winners and I found a few gems. Nothing was really terrible.
Middle Grade: Finding Langston Young Adult: A Heart in a Body in the World, I Claudia
Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop Alice Faye Duncan Read for Librarian Book Group
A historical fiction picture book that covers the Memphis sanitation strike of 1964, which also happened to be the cause that Martin Luther King, Jr. was supporting just before he was assassinated.
I was confused while reading this book because at the beginning it says the story is based on a real girl who was at the strike. The main character in the story is a daughter of a sanitation worker. But the woman thanked in the afterward was the daughter of a minister. This threw me into disequilibrium if the book was fiction or nonfiction and ultimately left me feeling very so-so.
All’s Faire in Middle School Victoria Jamieson Read for Family Book Group
This book retained its charm on second reading. Impy is still muddling through middle school as best she can. Her family is still dealing with her muddling as best they can. There is still a lot of fun Renaissance Faire stuff.
As to discussion, the two middle schoolers in the room who had read the book were lukewarm. The three adults (myself included) really loved it.
Finding Langston Lesa Cline-Ransome Read for Librarian Book Group
I need to make a Goodreads shelf for very short books that tell a lot of story in their tiny number of pages. This is one of those books. Finding Langston takes place after World War II in Chicago. Langston and his father have moved north from Alabama trying to escape both the restrictive Jim Crow conditions and their grief over the death of Langston’s mother.
Langston feels out of place in Chicago, he has no friends, and his father is too sad and tired to fill in for his missing mother. But one day, Langston finds a library, and that sets him on the path to finding the charms of Chicago.
I, Claudia Mary McCoy Read for Librarian Book Group
The 1934 book I, Claudius was hanging about in the ether during my formative years. Possibly because there was a TV miniseries in 1976. I had no idea what the story was, but something about the title stuck with me.
Enter I, Claudia, the tale of Claudia McCarthy, daughter of an internet-wealthy family and a reluctant student at Imperial Day Academy, the elite Los Angeles private school unique for its Honor Code, enforced by an eight-member student-led Honor Council, a body with no faculty oversight.
Claudia speaks with a stutter and her legs are two different lengths, and these two things combined mean she is content to be an observer and a cataloger; she calls herself a historian. She plans to get through her time at Imperial Day making as few waves as she can.
But when her older sister Maisie, a junior at Imperial Day, brings Claudia along when her friend group before high school begins, a fortune teller tells Claudia that her plans to get through Imperial Day aren’t going to come to pass.
And so begins our story of power and corruption. It’s a story that would most likely come off as cheesy if television ever got its hands on it. But in book form, Claudia’s reluctant journey to power is thoroughly engrossing.
It’s been a bit of a dry spell of late on the can’t-put-them-down books. Thank goodness for the Printz awards, or I never would have found this.
Sadie Courtney Summers Read for Librarian Book Group
This goes down in my particular reading history as the first book to use a podcast to fuel the narrative. I liked this aspect as many of my weekend hours are spent listening to podcasts. I also didn’t like it because it made me realize that podcasts have a certain style, and that ruined the investigative journalism magic of podcasts for me.
This is also the second of two books in a row where the main character is someone who sometimes stutters.
Sadie is a tough girl who has lived a tough life. She’s incredibly likable in her unlikableness. She’s also missing. We get to hear about her from the people who know her. That’s what the podcast device is for. We also get to know her through Sadie herself, as podcast segments alternate with Sadie’s life.
This podcast/what happened thing manages to work, rather than seeming repetitive.
I’m ambivalent about the ending and hoping that enough people at Librarian Book Group will have read this book to have a decent discussion.
The Vanishing Stair Maureen Johnson
The exquisite torture of starting a trilogy when book one has just been released is that it’s going to be a very long wait to get to the end. Luckily, this is Maureen Johnson we’re talking here, and she shares none of, say, George R. R. Martin’s proclivities. Book one, Truly Devious arrived in January of 2018 and it was so good that I read it twice in a row. Book two (this review) also appeared on schedule, so I know that by January 2020 I will reach the conclusion.
Seconds in a trilogy can be placeholders (Back to the Future II) or they can be the story that makes the series work (The Empire Strikes Back). This was the latter, not the former. We’re back at Ellingham Academy. Astute readers will note that Truly Devious ended with Stevie leaving Ellingham, and I’ll leave it to you to discover how she makes it back to school.
It’s not long after the first book ends, and though Stevie is told to let the Truly Devious mystery go, she is who she is, and she’s got new clues and there’s no way she’s not finding out more.
We get a few new characters and a few more clues. I’m enjoying the complexity of this mystery and trust it’s going to continue to unfold in a satisfying way in book three. I also enjoyed the writing in this book, adding several passages to my Goodreads quote page.
For people who would find a cliffhanger ending with no resolution for months torture, I would advise you to hold off reading book two. January 2020 will be here before you know it.
Darius the Great is Not Okay Adib Khorram Read for Librarian Book Group
This book brought the term “fractional Persians” into my realm of knowing, and for that I salute it. I loved the perspective of an American-born fractional Persian visiting Iran for the first time and how Darius struggled with how much he was a part of his extended family’s life when he only saw them through a computer screen.
I also appreciated the author’s attempt to cover run-of-the-mill depression, the kind that isn’t bad enough to put you out of commission, but is bad enough to keep you from fully feeling things.
This book wandered and was very easy to put down. It was character driven and full of characters not quite effervescent enough for me to want to keep reading. I did though. I read the whole thing.
Was there a very subtle gay subplot? I was never really clear if Darius was also dealing with coming out, on top of everything else.
Five Feet Apart Lippencolt et.al.
I read a book during my ’80s childhood about a girl with cystic fibrosis (the name had not yet been shortened to CF). A google search isn’t coughing up the name, but the story made an impression on me. At the time, it was a big deal for people with CF to make it to 16 years old, and things seem to have improved tiny bit in the intervening decades.
In this book about CF, Stella Grant chronicles her CF journey via a YouTube channel, and has developed an app to help CF patients manage their treatment. She’s missing her senior class trip to Cabo because she needs to kick her illness, which means a month in the hospital.
Will is also in the hospital, and he’s just marking time until his 18th birthday when he can check himself out and be done trying to beat the disease.
It’s a great setup for a sick-lit romance, except that CF patients are at high risk for cross infecting each other and must stay six feet apart at all times.
This was a fine book for cluing me in about what CF looks like in the current decade. The story was serviceable, as were the characters. We shall see if the movie version is more dazzling.
A Heart in a Body in the World Deb Caletti Read for Librarian Book Group
Just as The Hate U Give was my zeitgeist book for 2017, so is this the 2019 zeitgeist YA book. (It’s early, but I’m feeling confident.)
It’s the tale of Annabelle who, in lieu of her last few months of high school, is running from Seattle to Washington, D.C. Something is driving her to keep running, and it takes a long time for the “what” to come into focus for the readers. In the meantime, we get the present-day story of the run and memories from her past.
This book does something I rarely see. It highlights the uncomfortable space women live in when a man’s interest isn’t welcome. How to juggle that, “thanks, but no thanks” sentiment while also not hurting feelings is something I struggled with as an adolescent.(Unsuccessfully–I tended to get mean.) I think it’s still something we don’t prepare teenagers for.
So you should read this book. For the zeitgeist-ness of it, for the feelings of not liking the liking, and because the writing is so very good:
“Fear is exhausting, and so is a run like the one she just did. But something else loosens and relaxes her, too. It’s the way the sheets are at first cold and then warm, and it’s the way they smell a little smoky, like camping, a sent that represents both freedom and safety. It’s the way that she has been tucked into her enclosed little bunk-cave. Just outside of it, there are two people completely at ease and satisfied with where they are. So she drifts off and sleeps hard.”
January tends to be a month of free-reading. There’s the tail end of the holidays which affords more time for reading, and in book group we’re mostly to the point of having read all the potential youth awards we are going to read.
This month I had time to squeeze in some Grownup Nonfiction and some Smart Smut. But there are also some really great children’s books that I read this month.
Picture Books: Stop that Yawn Middle Grade: The Season of Styx Malone Young Adult: The Assassination of Bragwain Spurge Grownup Nonfiction: Profit First Smart Smut: Bitter Spirits
Stop That Yawn Caron Levis & LeUyen Pham Read for Librarian Book Group
I tend to like picture books with more things on the page, rather than fewer. All the better to look at during subsequent rereads. There’s also the challenge of stopping that yawn, which I failed at every single time.
Heartbeat Evan Turk Read for Librarian Book Group
Perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for this book. It struck me as something eight-year-olds would make fun of.
Carmela Full of Wishes Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson Read for Librarian Book Group
Carmila is old enough to go to the laundromat with her big brother. She also learns about wishes. Good illustrations, sweet book.
In the Past: From Trilobites to Dinosaurs to Mammoths in More Than 500 Million Years David Elliott and Matthew Truman Read for Librarian Book Group
Dinosaurs! And things that came before them! The illustrations are great, and we learn about the subject matter via amusing short poems such as this:
Dunkleosteus You weren’t picky When it came to diet; if it lived in the ocean, you would try it. Which leads me to raise this delicate question: Your face— the unhappy result of indigestion?
Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World Ashley H. Blake Read for Family Book Group
Ivy Aberdeen’s house blew away in a tornado and now her family lives in a room at a local B&B. Ivy’s got problems. Aside from the lack of a house, her parents are tired from taking care of her baby twin brothers. Sandwiched between them and her older sister, Ivy feels like no one notices her.
And she’s lost her notebook, which is a problem because it’s got drawings that make it obvious that Ivy likes girls. Not only that, but she knows someone has found her notebook because they keep leaving her drawings in her locker.
This book is full of feelings: loss, anger, sadness, hope, worry. Some things happen that seem really unfair. But Ivy’s got some champions: the owner of the B&B and a girl who might be a new friend. Even the person leaving her drawings is encouraging. But who is it?
The Season of Styx Malone Kekla Magoon Read for Librarian Book Group
This book delighted me from the early scene when Caleb and his brother trade a very specific item for a bag of fireworks. They know it’s wrong, and they know they are eventually going to get in trouble, but they just can’t help themselves. It’s a bag of fireworks! Illegal ones!
After getting in trouble with their parents, and being assigned the summer-long punishment of doing chores every day with a kid they don’t like, they meet a different kid: Styx Malone.
It’s interesting to have an age gap of six or so years between the brothers and Styx. When you’re ten years old, sixteen seems very far away. The book also sets up an interesting compare/contrast between Caleb’s home life and Styx’s. And there is a lot of adventuring, while keeping things from parents.
This is a book that manages to hit all the feelings, but it doesn’t feel like it is using a sledgehammer to do so.
Tiger vs. Nightmare Emily Tetri Read for librarian book group
This graphic novel not only includes a futuristic world populated by Tigers (awesome!) but also a monster under the bed with a twist.
Sweep Auxier Read for Librarian Book Group
One of my favorite childhood book is A Little Princess, the tale of Sara Crewe, the most beloved daughter of a wealthy man, reluctantly sent away to a London boarding school. When her father dies, Sara Crewe is plunged into poverty, becoming a servant at her own school.
That book was mentioned in the afterward as one that inspired Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep, along with the Water-babies, which I believe was a book the girls in A Little Princess were reading.
Sweep takes place in Sara Crewe’s London, and the main character is a chimney sweep named Nan Sparrow. The book is clear about the difficulties of her life. Since the man (called the Sweep) who was taking care of her disappeared, she’s been working for a harsh master. The Sweep didn’t leave her much, but he did leave her a tiny glowing bit of coal that keeps her warm.
When her life is in peril, the bit of coal grows into a monster, sent to protect her.
I’m a great fan of golem stories, and the relationship between Nan and the monster is a sweet one. But even with a monster to protect her, danger still lurks at every turn, making for tense, engrossing reading.
The Assassination of Bragwain Spurge Anderson/Yelchin Read for Librarian Book Group
As a reader who only likes fantasy if it is set in the present and could happen to me, I wasn’t eager to dive into this book. A goblin hosting an elf visitor after a great war? Ugh! No!
And then, the goblin was so eager to be an excellent host, so excited about trading goblin/elfin histories that when the elf showed up and was a terrible guest, I couldn’t help but love this book.
Not to mention that it has illustrations that are gorgeous and add a completely different dimension to the story.
If you’ve ever had an unpleasant visitor, or if you’ve ever been an unpleasant visitor, this is a book for you.
The Soul of Money Lynne Twist
The Soul of Money provides a different way of looking at money and a different way of looking at wealthy people. Frankly, the second thing is what I needed right now.
There is a big call to action in this book. Lynne Twist wants society to move away from accumulation of things and hording of money. It’s a sentiment I agree with, and I feel like it was something that we were moving toward when the book was published in 2003 but that it is something we’ve gone away from now.
Profit First Mike Michalowicz
I’m starting my own business (Keen Eye Copyediting & Beta Reading, 3SMReviews.com) and there is so much to learn. Among the many things I have low-grade anxiety about: where should the money go?
How to ensure that I have enough put by for taxes, for expenses, and to allocate for my own pay for my work?
Mike Michalowicz has a plan. He wants all small business owners to put profit first. This book provides a solid framework for the financial architecture of your business. If you are starting a new business, it should be on your reading list. If you have a business, but feel like you never make any money, this book should be on your reading list. Or maybe you should start reading it. Today.
Also, if you already use YNAB, you will have a basic understanding of the Profit First system. And also probably enough skills that will let you skip opening all the bank accounts.
Bitter Spirits Jenn Bennett
Last year I discovered and read all three of Jenn Bennett’s YA novels. They were great! Even the one that had what I considered to be a major flaw, I read twice in a row because I liked the characters so much. (And also to decide if I was right about the major flaw.)
And now I see why she is so good a crafting interesting characters and situations combined with female-focused, sex-positive hankypanky. It’s because she cut her teeth writing what I refer to as Smart Smut.
Bitter Spirits is the first in a three-book series focused on a wealthy family living in 1920s San Francisco. This story focuses on Aida, a spirit medium who is in town performing her act at a speakeasy. She runs into Winter Magnusson, a wealthy crab fisherman and bootlegger. Sparks fly. And also, someone is trying to kill Winter.
While the characters seemed like modern people dropped into the 1920s, the plot–involving ghosts and murder–was interesting and Ms. Bennett knows her way around a variety of good sex scenes.
I’m liking the pivot Jenn Bennett has made to YA. And I’m also looking forward to reading the rest of this series, plus another four-book series she’s also written.
Grim Shadows Jenn Bennett
We continue on with the family and setting established in Bitter Spirits: 1920s San Francisco and the Magnusson family. This book focuses on Winter’s younger brother Lowe Magnusson, headed home from an archaeological dig in Egypt. On the way he meets Hadly Bacall, the daughter of a San Francisco museum curator and a woman who would like to be an archaeologist and curator herself. If only men would stop getting in her way.
Lowe’s not just an archaeologist, he’s also a swindler. Hadly isn’t just a thwarted archaeologist and scholar, she’s also got this curse where if she gets too mad creatures destroy things. (It’s kind of cool, but would be a pain to live with.)
The two must solve a variety of clues left by Hadley’s dead mother to recover pieces of an object that were hidden around San Francisco. While doing that, things get complicated, relationship-wise, and there is much carnal knowledge in a variety of settings.
I found a few plot points to be predictable, but I was into the conundrum of the destroying creatures being tied to anger.
The ALA conference was in Seattle this year, so I got to hear the Youth Media awards announced in the same time zone in which I live. This meant listening at work, but they were fine with it.
I also had the library catalog open and ready to place holds.
It was a special year this year because I knew someone on the committee that chose the Printz Award (it’s like the Newberry, but for YA books.)
I had no idea what she was gunning for, but I’m pleased with the Printz award winner, The Poet X. Also pictured on the other screen with Multnomah County’s website, Printz honor book I, Claudia, which future me can tell you is very good.
There’s Danielle’s name, right there on the screen! I’ll never be on the Printz Award Committee, but I can be excited when my friends get to be.
December was another light reading month. Eventually I will return to reading more.
Middle Grade: The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle Young Adult: None this month Young Nonfiction: March Forward, Girl Adult Nonfiction: 168 Hours, You Have More Time Than You Think.
The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle Connor Read for Librarian Book Group
Mason is the reason to read this book because Mason is an overly large, overly sweaty kid who can’t read and is a little slow to put things together. He’s got a good heart, though, and is trying to make the best of his life, which, frankly, hasn’t gone very well lately.
I figured out what was really going on long before Mason did, and I suspect most readers will do the same, but I think that’s okay. It’s fun to see Mason’s love for Moonie the dog, plus his caring for friends old and new.
Always Never Yours Emily Wibberly and Austin Siegmund-Broka
I was feeling tired from Christmas prep and thus picked up this frippery of a teen romance. It was solid entry into the genre, providing some Shakespeare, a female character who knows what she wants, and a general PG-rated sex-positive story. (20 years ago the number of boyfriends Megan had, plus her general lack of apology as to enjoying physical activities with those boyfriends, would have cast Megan in a different light.) It was also set in a mystery town outside of Ashland, Oregon, so the Oregon connection was fun. (Though I’m not sure skinny dipping in October would have been a comfortable activity.)
This book was extremely predictable; it is a first novel that hits all it’s marks exactly when they should be hit. But when I’m overly tired from Christmas prep, I’m fine with predictable.
I am Alfonso Jones Tony Medina Read for Family Book Group
This book did not go over well in Family Book Group. None of us liked it. We had problems with the number of characters and they way they were drawn made it difficult to determine who was who. This was due mostly to inconsistent depictions.
The story device was good: Jones is killed in a department store by an off-duty policeman and must ride the train with other people who have also died due to police violence. In the book we see the current story playing out, both before and after Alfonso’s death and we also see the stories of the others on the train and how they died. Unfortunately, there aren’t many indicators to let us know if we are in present day, or recounting someone’s death. It was hard to follow what was going on.
This was a good premise, but a flawed final product.
March Forward, Girl Melba Pattillo Beals Read for Librarian Book Group
I was assigned to read Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir Warriors Don’t Cry in college and it has stuck with me. This book does not focus on her role in integrating Central High School, instead, it is her memories of growing up in Jim Crow-era Arkansas.
I appreciated how Pattillo Beals grounded her experiences with discrimination and terror in her body. As she illustrates example after example of being deemed lesser than, she talks about where she felt her feelings.
This book has some scary scenes. There’s a lynching in a church and a near rape. It’s frustrating to see Melba and her family have to maneuver to survive. But this is a story I’m glad she told because as a white person it’s easy to distance myself from the everyday indignities of that time period.
It’s also a story of where she thrived and the people who supported her.
Unfortunately, the illustrations are not a good fit for this book. Other than that, this is a worthy read.
The Bullet Journal Method Ryder Carroll A concise guide to getting started with a Bullet Journal. I learned that the daily logs aren’t logged in the index. Also, the layout is very pretty.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think Laura Vanderkam
This book is heftier than your average productivity book. It will take you longer than 90 minutes to read it, and the margins aren’t large.
I’m not blown away–as the author is–that there are 168 hours in a week. That doesn’t sound like a ton to me. However, I did like her focus on figuring out your core competencies, figuring out 100 things you want to do and then start paying attention to how you spend your time. She also writes about split shifts and calls into question how much time we really spend at work. 60 hours? She doubts it.
I stopped watching TV in real time when the West Wing was in season three, so I’ve reaped the oodles of time rewards for at least 15 years, but for some people they may be amazed at how much time goes to television.
Overall, this was well worth some of my 168 hours.
This is month two of my 60 minutes per day for 30 days, plus I’m still restricting my sleep which means I didn’t read a ton this month. But it was good reading, what I did read.
Picture Books: A Big Mooncake for Little Star Young Adult: Dry is my top recommendation, though they were all good this month. Grownup Nonfiction: Anything You Want
Imagine Juan Filipe Herrera Read for Librarian Book Group
This is a good story from a migrant’s perspective and an inspiring story for anyone. I didn’t personally connect with the illustrations, but they were good.
Unfortunately, this picture book did not work for me. At first there seemed to be a scheme for how things would go. There were four pages ending with “Imagine” and then one page with “Imagine what you could do too.” I assumed this would continue through the book and when it didn’t, there was a tension built that I found off putting.
There was also one page I didn’t understand what was being said.
The Field Paul/Alcantara Read for Librarian Book Group
A picture book with many short sentences, this aptly conveys the excitement of a neighborhood game with great use color. Plus a nice author’s note.
A Big Moon Cake for Little Star Grace Lin
Delightfully limited color scheme and a great origin story of the phases of the moon.
The Lady’s Guide to Pirates and Petticoats Mackenzi Lee Read for Librarian Book Group
Mackenzi Lee continues the story started in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, this time telling the tale of Monty’s sister Felicity, who longs to be a doctor in a time when women are most decidedly NOT supposed to be doctors. Her quest to become one has her throwing her lot in with a pirate (the daughter of a pirate king) and traveling all around Europe.
This book is chock full of women things: adventure, friendship, and an examination of women’s place in the world. It’s full of great quotes about friendship, and work, and making decisions.
The author also includes a very good note at the end addressing the historical fiction charge of “modern-day character, set in the past.” She includes a list of women in history who inspired this story.
Long Way Down Jason Reynolds Read for Family Book Group
This was very well received by the Family Book Group; the kids gave it an 8.833 and the adults a 9.281 for an average of 9.089.
In addition, the novel-in-verse format worked very well for discussion as we could flip through and find things to discuss that caught our eye. That, combined with the gripping plot, made this a great book for discussion.
Dry Shusterman & Shusterman Read for Librarian Book Group
Southern California, after years of drought. One day, the water is shut off. The taps are dry.
So begins our story, which follows several people: Alyssia, the soccer-playing regular girl; Garrett, her little brother; their neighbor Kelton, the son of a “prepper,” a man who has been waiting his entire life for the moment the world devolves into crisis and he and his family can survive.
As people become thirsty, they also become desperate. And desperate people make life dangerous.
This book has incredible pacing, does a great job with separating the kids from the adults in an organic way, and I never could predict the twists and turns. My one problem with the book was that I was regularly confused about who was talking due to lack of distinct voices, but that was a minor quibble.
Neil and Jarrod Shusterman have written a taut novel with high stakes that will have you turning pages, and also heading to the store to make sure you have your emergency supply of water.
Hey Kiddo Jarrett J. Krosoczka Read for Librarian Book Group
A graphic novel of Krosoczka’s growing up years living with his grandparents due to his mother’s drug addition. I enjoyed his story, especially the way he pointed out the differences in your life when your grandparents are your parents. The color palette was great even before I read the note at the end that explained the inspiration and that same note had a good plug for counseling/therapy.
The grandmother was the one so-so part of the story. Krosoczka seemed to give her a pass for her (mostly) functioning alcoholism. Perhaps the love that’s apparent on every page blunted some of her behaviors for him. They were plenty unsettling for me, though.
If You Come Softly Jacqueline Woodson Read for Life’s Library
I tend to prefer books with a romantic plot be told from one person’s point of view because it’s more interesting to me to have a limited perspective and wonder along with the character what the heck is going on with the other person. Woodson uses two narrators, but uses different points of view for each of them. We learn about Ellie’s story directly from her, and Miah’s narrative comes in third person. This was very interesting.
I loved how spare the writing is. Jacqueline Woodson is a master at painting a mural with a handful of words. The book also is a sweet romance, and captures the tentativeness and awkwardness of adolescent love. There’s some good stuff about dating outside of your race and general hazards of being black in America.
This is a short, calm, quietly beautiful book that is worth reading.
Anthing you Want Derek Sivers
This book was designed to be read in about an hour and delivers on that promise. It’s the story of CD Baby, an online music store that gets the music of independent musicians to fans that want to buy it.
Derek Sivers is not your standard entrepreneur which makes reading about his business–now former business–very interesting. He’s a man who knows what he wants, and is willing to go about getting it in unique ways. It’s also a story of what not to do once your business gets successful.
It was a month of doing a lot of things that aren’t reading. Two things have contributed to this. My continued sleep restriction, which leaves me staying up later than usual to reset my sleep schedule. This means that when I sit down to read, I almost always want to fall asleep. This means I’m reading less. Also, I’m doing this whole thing with starting side jobs? That’s cutting into the reading time too.
Picture book: We are Grateful Middle grade: The Parker Inheritance Young adult: Damsel Young nonfiction: Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees
So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom Schmidt/Minter Read for Librarian Book Group
This book had a ton of things wrong with it.
The layout. There is an intermittent poem (?) that appears on certain left-hand pages. It always ended with a comma and I was always confused by that comma. Halfway through I poked around to see if it’s appearance would ever end with a period. The answer was no. What was that interlude? I should not be asking that question.
The text is awkward and didn’t flow well. There was context that was missing that confused me. I was not aware that Sojourner Truth was a slave in New York state before slavery was made illegal there and thus I had some dissonance reconciling “slavery” and “New York.” The information could have been introduced more smoothly.
Also, the illustrations were not my style.
Imagine! Raul Colon Read for Librarian Book Group
I enjoyed the setup: a boy skateboards over a bridge (that I’m too lazy to look up to see which New York City bridge it was) to go to the Guggenheim. Once there, he has adventures with paintings. Because the people in the paintings come to life and hang out with him. You know, like they do. There were some amusing situations with the boy and the characters in the paintings.
The illustrations were nice, in that blurry way. I didn’t love the boy’s face. It looked fairly plastic and was distracting to me. But overall, I enjoyed the message about art.
The Party Sergio Ruzzier Read for Librarian Book Group
This book is three short stories that are laid out like a graphic novel for the beginning reader set. Both Fox and Chick cut fine figures, though in the latter case, Chick is fun in annoying ways. I thought the size of the text benefited the book, and while the illustrations were not my style, they were clear, which is always a good thing.
We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga Sorell/Lessac Read for Librarian Book Group
The biggest win as far as I’m concerned is that the Cherokee words that are used are DEFINED ON THE VERY SAME PAGE! I’m not sure why it’s taken this long to get to this point in picture book layouts.
No need to wonder if there was a glossary in the back. No need to decide if I’m going to exert the effort to turn to the glossary. Instead, there was the word’s definition, right there on the same page. Picture books have so much space I think this should be a regular practice.
Aside from that innovation, this was a nice intro to Cherokee culture and had great use of color.
Dreamers Yuyi Morales Read for Librarian Book Group
Yuyi Morales’s illustrations are always so wonderful and this book is worth reading just to see them.
That said, I’m not quite sure who this book is for. The vocabulary was sometimes pretty advanced (suspicious, improbably.) Also, the Spanish went undefined, which is a choice an author can make. It’s hard for me, though when I can’t pick up the word from context and it increased my distance from the words.
The Parker Inheritance Read for Family Book Group
It’s always interesting when a book I greatly enjoyed is not enjoyed by other people. So was it for the members of the Family Book Group, who were lukewarm on this story, that I think is one of the best of the year.
There was a call for a better puzzle, one that unfolded throughout the story a la the Westing Game, rather than four clues that carry you through the book.
I realized, on further reflection, that this book is a little of a bait and switch. There’s a puzzle/mystery to keep the contemporary plot going, but a lot of the book is a historical fiction story. If you love historical fiction (and I do!) then this is a delightful development. If not (I suspect many of the members of this reading group do not) then it’s not the greatest thing.
The Summer I Turned Pretty Jenny Han
A middling effort. This book lacks a strong sense of place. Its setting is a beach community, sure, and there are enough place references that I know it’s an East Coast beach community, but which one? The beach in Florida is different from Virginia, which is different than New Jersey and all the places in between.
The stakes never felt very high. She’s been in love with the son of family friends she’d lived with every summer. Aside from the fact that she’d “turned pretty” and was getting interest from other boys, not much seemed different. This book also has an ending designed to entice you to start immediately on the second book. Which is to say it had no ending.
I did feel the characters were fully formed in a way the setting and the plot weren’t. And I love stories of girls who live among guys. That was clearly explored.
Will I read the second book? Time will tell.
Damsel Elana K. Arnold Read for Librarian Book Group
Elana K. Arnold’s What Girls are Made Of was an uncomfortable read for me. I hurried through it. Then I gave it four stars and have thought of it often. In that book Arnold was a master at shining a light on that dark underbelly of being a woman: the girl who desires only to be the object of interest to a boy.
Plus, she writes very honestly (and fairly graphically for a YA book) about sex.
Damsel is a fairy tale. It begins with Prince Emory on his quest to slay a dragon. After the dragon is slain and the damsel is rescued, we switch to the damsel Ama’s perspective for the remainder of the story. Again, I was uncomfortable, and again I read quickly. Arnold doesn’t shy away from all the humiliations felt by women as they are subjugated.
Ama is a compelling character. As I was reading, I wanted her to–I’m not sure what. Escape? Win?
It’s not a fun book, but it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. Two things keep it from being the ne plus ultra of YA novels: I figured something out very early on (and I’m not someone who figures things out very often) and the book ended much too quickly.
Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees Dan Brown Read for Librarian Book Group
Great content and the bibliography at the end points to a lot of good source material that was consulted. Dan Brown also chose to focus his story on “children,” “men,” “women,” etc. rather than “Sunnis,” “Muslims” etc.
The refugees’ plight is plainly illustrated and he makes sure to provide context for how big or how far away things are. The book also calls out those doing nothing while the people suffer—like the United States of America.
Unlike the two other Dan Brown books I’ve read, I found the illustration style did not work well here. Was it looser than usual? The effect seemed to me to make the people he was attempting to humanize more anonymous and distant from us.
Educated Tara Westover
I mean no disrespect to Tara Westover, but I’ve read this book before. Most recently, it was the Glass Castle. The fiction version of this story is Barbara Kingsolver’s the Poisonwood Bible. The story of a young woman having her life shaped by an eccentric or insane father is–tragically–common. It’s also a story I don’t have very much head space for right now, while I’m trying to work through society’s reaction to the current leader of the country and his views about woman (among many other things.)
What you’re in for with this version of the story: a homeschooled Mormon family, although in this case, you’d best put some quotes around the word homeschool to properly place the amount of teaching the children received. You also get a lot of descriptions of family members in physical danger and also pain. There’s also physical and mental abuse. Plus the pain of your family turning away when you call out your abuser. There’s even a brutal killing of a family pet.
The writing is good, and if you haven’t already been steeped in this story, this is a good entry into the cannon. My takeaways? The uber-patriarchal nature of mainstream Mormonism combined with bipolar disorder/schizophrenia in the family patriarch do not bode well for the people in the family. And also, homeschooling in Idaho should have a hell of a lot more oversight.
It took me a while to notice how awesome the cover of this book is. It’s very subtle. Kudos to the designer.
September reading brought a cornucopia of books, the kind that can only be achieved by take a week-long vacation. (Or perhaps suffering from a bout of unemployment, though thankfully that wasn’t the case for me.) There were a lot of really good books this month, so much so that I’m going to call out more than one in each category.
Picture Books–Grace for Gus Middle Grade–Harbor Me, Taking Care of Terrific Young Adult–The Sun is Also a Star, My Plain Jane Young Nonfiction–Bonnie & Clyde: The Making of a Legend Grownup Nonfiction–How to Instant Pot Adult Fiction–Dietland, Swing Time
Jerome by Heart Scotto/Tallec Read for Librarian Book Group
This books wins on two fronts. I don’t often come across depictions of love between two elementary-aged boys. As someone who did recess duty for nine years, I’ve seen boys become infatuated with each other and the best of friends. I also enjoyed the color scheme (muddy ocher?) and the illustrations which reminded me of Madeline, but in a blurry way.
What didn’t work for me was the lack of context, which set the whole book on the defensive and made it seem like the love the boys felt was wrong. Since the book was going for the opposite message, I would say this was not a successful book.
Mabel and Sam at Home Urban/Hooper Read for Librarian Book Group
A series of adventures Mabel and Sam have while moving into a new house. I loved the sister/brother relationship, especially the take-charge nature of the older sister. The 50s-style drawings were delightful and it was fun to see what the pets were up to while the children played.
Grace for Gus Harry Bliss Read for Librarian Book Group
Grace sneaks out of the house one night to raise some money to support Gus, the class pet. Over the course of the night, Grace partakes in a number of money-raising activities.
I loved Grace’s various money making schemes and I would have been very excited to read this book as a young child. The illustrations are fun, there’s Grace, who is appealing, and there are many details in the illustrations to look at such as headlines, signs and such.
As an “exact words” sort of person I was vaguely troubled trying to figure out if this was a real thing or some sort of extended dream fantasy sequence. But the book itself was so delightful that part doesn’t matter much.
Harbor Me Jacqueline Woodson Read for Librarian Book Group
A very short, beautifully written book about a small group of students who spend the last hour of the week alone in a room talking to each other. As I type the phase “alone in a room” I realize that this would not happen in real life, due to the potential litigation factors of a teacher in the US leaving her students alone in a room together.
Regardless, these students tell their stories as the year progresses. One of the six is dealing with the aftermath of his father being arrested and held for deportation and the tension is built around that situation, but other stories are shared as well. The kids come from different backgrounds and their bonds grow the more they open up to each other.
Also, I like the cover, while also wondering if it leans a little too far to the schmaltzy side of things.
Dead Weight: Murder at Camp Bloom Blas/Muldoon/Seely
A group of campers at a weight loss camp for teenagers finds themselves embroiled in a murder and a mystery. This graphic novel had many different kinds of characters and both the art and the campers’ expressions were enjoyable. I found the mystery wrapped up very quickly in a rather unsatisfying way, but I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters come back together for another book.
Taking Care of Terrific Lois Lowry
I read this book multiple times as a child. It was the first book I voted for for the Young Reader’s Choice Award, one of my many lightbulb memories of reading. I did a re-read to see how it holds up thirty-five years later.
The book is dated in a few ways. There are many early 1980s references that will make no sense to the kids of today and some terms are out of date: namely “transvestites” and “bag ladies”
But man, after this rereading, I think think this book really got under my skin. Was this the reason I moved to Boston after college? Was this the reason I see “bag ladies” as people with complex problems and not an annoyance to society? Was this the reason I love the song “Stardust” when I heard it years later?
The fact that Lois Lowry is a talented and intelligent author is not in dispute, and her skills are on full display here. The primary theme is identity formation. Enid hates her name, pointing out it rhymes with such words as “putrid” and “stupid.” It’s also about making your own decisions about rules. As the summer babysitter of a four-year-old boy she discards many of what she sees as ridiculous rules imposed by the child’s mother.
As Cynthia (the name Enid has chosen for herself) and Tom Terrific (her babysitting charge) spend the summer in the bucolic setting of the Boston Public Garden, there are protests over root beer popsicles, a better understanding of the bag ladies who live in the park, and even some racial justice commentary. That this is all carried out while our characters are busy performing an illegal act makes this story that much more marvelous, though I wonder how parents today would receive its messages.
Burn for Burn Han/Vivian
Hoo boy, this book was so badly written, I started taking notes. It read like the editor had the thought: “these two women have published books individually before, so I need to do no editing for this story.”
This may be a function of two people writing the book, but many details didn’t jibe. For instance, the island has 1000 people who live permanently on it. And there are four middle schools and a high school. This is not statistically possible. According to some quick googling, children make up 24% of our population, which means there are about 250 children on the island. Breaking them down into age cohorts, that’s not even enough to have one middle school, much less four.
Then there was the ferry, whose schedule ran at the convenience of the plot. It ran until 11pm on weeknights. Would a ferry serving an island of 1000 people run that late? The after school ferry is said to arrive at 3:00 and 3:30 in one part of the book, and at 3:00, 3:20, 3:40 and 4:00 in another.
Another inconsistency? The lockers at school have no locks because the island is so safe, but one of the characters lives in a condo complex that has suffered an increasing amount of burglaries.
There were also sentences like this one: “I pinch my hand hard, the web of skin between my thumb and ring finger, just to make sure I’m not dreaming.” The ring finger is the fourth finger, separated from the thumb by the index and middle fingers.
Moving on to the people who populate the book, the characters weren’t very believable, many were not sympathetic or interesting, and at least one of them was terribly unpleasant. There was also some hinting at some supernatural abilities that I couldn’t decide was intentional or accidental. And I don’t buy that the character with the single mother who isn’t very financially successful had a nose job at 16. Where did that money come from?
Finally, and this is the real reason not to read this book, THERE IS NO ENDING. The characters are wondering how things are going to work out on the final page. Presumably, how things work out is explored more in the following books, but I hold firmly to my belief that authors should wrap up one book as they are sowing the seeds of the next one.
The Sun is Also a Star Nicola Yoon Read aloud
This makes for a great read aloud. The short passages, the many side stories, the immediacy of their day keep the words flowing and the pages turning.
Matt was drawn in immediately and was very invested. I enjoyed hearing it a second time.
My Plain Jane Head/Ashton/Meadows Read for Librarian Book Group
The authors who brought us alterna-history of Lady Jane Grey have returned with an alterna-retelling of Jane Eyre. And it was so much fun!
The resulting book is a great mix of the Jane Eyre story layered with a new story. In this one Charlotte Bronte is a student at the same academy where Jane Eyer attends. And also, Jane Eyre can see ghosts.
I admire the world building and the book is quite amusing. They also speak in asides from time to time, just as Bronte did. Here’s a great one:
Reader, your narrators understand Jane has fallen for Mr. Rochester rather quickly. The reasons for this could be threefold: first, it was pre-Victorian England, and courtships could last the length of an egg timer. Second, Jane’s lack of experience with men. And third, Jane’s perception of men, which was gleaned mostly from books that tended to glorify tall, dark, and brooding ones. The broodier the better. And Mr. Rochester was among the broodiest.
There were a few details missed here and there, but overall, this was a great book.
Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones Ann Head
Someone made an offhand reference to this book in a blog post on the internet and the title, combined with the subject matter, was enough for me to see if they library had it. They did.
The story of couple July and Bo Jo’s accidental pregnancy was contemporary for it’s 1967 publication date and thus, it was a fascinating time capsule of what might happen if a girl got “in trouble” 50 years ago.
In this case, as the title implies, the couple snuck off and got married. The story that follows is one of a young marriage and two people who didn’t really know each other very well before they wed. There are also class differences, which were very interesting. It’s also interesting to see how men and women interact as a couple before the third wave of feminism took hold. My favorite example was Bo Jo saying, “July will get you some coffee” to a friend who stopped by. Nothing makes a marriage happy like commanding your wife to do things.
I found the writing rather staid, but the story was interesting and it read well. It also came with buckram binding, which is rare library treat.
What I Leave Behind Alison McGhee Read for Librarian Book Group
Very, very, very, short book with a male protagonist that explores weighty issues and has a lot of details for having so few words. It’s a good depiction of a character who feels there is little he can do, and who wants to do something.
This was the second book I’ve read in 2018 that heavily references David Bowie. (The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic was the first) Given that Bowie died in 2016 and Tom Petty died in 2017, can we expect a lot of Tom Petty references coming in 2019?
Bonnie & Clyde: The Making of a Legend Karen Blumenthal Read for Librarian Book Group
A great example of why people of all ages should be reading nonfiction books written for a young adult audience. From the first first sentence, this book is readable and engaging. I loved how it translated things of yesterday into today’s terms. This happens most often with prices of things, but also now I know that a Model A car was approximately the same width as a Ford Focus.
Bluemnthal carefully illustrates the outlaws’ story from different angles, taking time to pick through what details probably stem from legend rather than truth. The book also takes time to recognize the people who were murdered during Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree and they present their story as a complex one, rather than just a tale of bad criminals.
One small quibble. Given the attention to translating early-20th century things into modern day, I would have expected Bluemnthal to do the same thing when she mentions people’s weight. Bonnie, Clyde, and their associates all grew up in extreme poverty at a time when Americans were smaller from birth to death. Currently, there is a lot of pressure for women and girls to obtain an extremely low body weight, so some context of why a historical figure weighed 81 pounds, and why that would not be the case today, would have been welcome.
Aside from that, this was another great example of the golden age of children’s nonfiction we are living in.
Seeing Into Tomorrow Wright/Curtis Read for Librarian Book Group
Back in the day Richard Wright wrote a lot of haiku. Nina Curtis illustrates those haiku with repeating photos that are assembled into a bigger picture. All of the haikus feature photos of contemporary Black boys, which is great, as photo representations of elementary-school-aged boys tend to be lacking in picture books.
Dietland Sarai Walker
This book succeeds on so many levels: what it’s like to move through the world with a larger-than-“normal”-sized body; what it’s like to be perpetually on a diet; a scathing sendup of women’s place in American culture; a brilliant satire. It’s also amusing throughout.
Just as part of me responded to the false world created in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club so did I respond to the feminist terrorist organization called Jennifer. When an author gets this much right with her first novel, I can’t wait for her next book.
Swing Time Zadie Smith
Something about Zadie Smith’s writing makes me want to curl up and not stop reading until all the many pages of the novel have been read. It doesn’t even matter who the characters are. So it was with this book.
How to Instant Pot Daniel Shumski Shumski discards the usual cookbook setup (Appetizers, Soups, Main Dishes, etc.) and instead arranges recipes by Instant Pot function. As there is a learning curve with the appliance, this is appreciated.
I also enjoyed his humor and the fact that he did not have a lengthy list of desserts which could be made in the Instant Pot, but which no one will ever make. I’m buying this cookbook, which is a rare move for me. Well done Mr. Shumski!
Mr. and Mrs Bo Jo Jones was a good read made better by the physical copy of the book I was reading. Some of the fun features:
Buckram! That’s that hard wrapping that used to be put on all books when I was growing up. This was before it became standard practice to retain the book cover, but fortify it with plastic. I prefer the new method, but the texture of buckram is something I enjoy.
This book also has an older style barcode. The barcode is only a backup measure. The book is checked out using RFID, which is a small chip placed inside the front cover of the book.
It’s also got an old-style sticker on the spine and a highlight on that old-style sticker. I’m guessing the highlight has something to do with how the book is stored at the library.
The paper was thick and stiff, much more so than books I read today. It made the pages easier to turn and the relative heft was appreciated.
And inside was the best treat of all: the old checkout pocket. I was sad when these were eliminated, because I liked to look back and see how often a book was checked out. Also note that at one time this was a 28 day book with no renewals. Now books are checked out for 21 days with unlimited renewals.
The second page in the pocket tells us that the book was checked out infrequently over three decades and was shelved in the “Young Peoples” section. The author of this book wrote it for adults, though it has been categorized as “for teens” since the 60s.
And on the front page, a stamp identifying the Multnomah County Library. I’m not sure why the library association is listed in parenthetical, but I’m sure there was a committee brought together to decide that.
Hello YA-centric August. Brought to you by Jenny Han. It started with the Netflix movie and led to three days of frantic reading, and the purchase of all three novels in the trilogy. I also read some other good things. And some so-so things. So it goes.
Young Adult: Finding Yvonne. Also the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series Young Nonfiction: Otis and Will Discover the Deep
Pink is for Boys Pearlman/Kaban Read for Librarian Book Group I was not a fan of this book and I can’t really put my finger on why. Part of me is probably resistant because I find the idea that colors are associated with genders ridiculous and something that should probably go extinct and something about this book makes me think it’s not helping. I enjoyed the style of the illustrations, but I found the text to be choppy.
Cardboard Kingdom Chad Sell (and others) Read for Librarian Book Group
The antics of many different neighborhood children are depicted by Chad Sell and other authors who helped shape the narrative. This neighborhood includes many different types of children, all around the same age. Colors are bright and panels are clear. Words are minimal. I enjoyed the different types of play the children engaged in and would have liked to live in such a neighborhood when I was growing up.
The Brightsiders Jen Wilde
More of the “famous” genre. In this case, the story of a trio of teenagers who have managed to become a massively famous band before the drummer turns 18.
The writing plunged headlong into plot, and at times seemed a breathless and relentless pounding of words, with not much time for reflection or even backstory. I had many questions as to how the band was formed, and how they gained stardom so fast. None of these were answered. The story itself was so present focused it was overwhelmingly underwhelming.
However, the reason to read this book is how normally so many different gender identities are present. While many more gender identities are appearing in the YA books I read, this is the first book I’ve read that wholeheartedly embraced the “no big deal” aspect of how people identify and who likes whom. Characters had problems due to outsider’s reactions, but within the friend group, there was a take-all-comers attitude.
The Disturbed Girl’s Dictionary NoNieqa Ramos Read for Librarian Book Group
When people talk “voice” this is what they are talking about. I loved reading Macy’s dictionary, her asides to the reader, and her honest reflection of her life.
Macy’s life is tough and because I cared about Macy, it made it very hard to keep reading this book. In fact, I read two other books while on break from this one. Macy regularly encounters relentless poverty, neglect, discrimination, prostitution, family incarceration, a sibling absent due to removal by Child Protective Services and a sub-par schooling experience, with the exception of one teacher.
This book is worth reading, so I suggest you press on through any discomfort you might feel. And when you finish reading you might have to convince someone else to read this too, because you’ll want to discuss the ending.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Jenny Han When I was in high school, sometimes my feelings about a boy would overwhelm me and I’d write a letter to that boy, then hide it away among the books in my bookshelf. I still have those letters, but I still can’t bring myself to read them because the feelings are too much.
Lara Jean also writes letters to boys when the feelings are too much, but she puts them in envelopes and addresses them. Somehow, those letters she wrote are mailed to the boys in question and thus begins the conundrum of the story.
This novel could have happily settled itself in the quirky, fun YA category, because all sorts of plot shenanigans can happen when you and a boy pretend to be a couple. However, Han takes the story up a few notches and we get really interesting sisters and family relationships as well as a good exploration of how to navigate the early stages of romantic relationship. Or, in this case, the early stages of pretending to be in a romantic relationship.
Finding Yvonne Brandy Colbert Let’s talk about the slight flaw in this book first and get it out of the way. Yvonne plays the violin, and her changing feelings about the violin take up a lot of the story. Her feelings of love and confusion regarding her instrument were clear. However, many aspects of the violin story were unclear. She was still playing in the school orchestra, so presumably she was still bringing her violin back and forth to school and practicing. But there were laments in the story about how she used to have her violin with her all the time at school and now it gathers dust. How can both those things be true? This was a very small part of the book, but it showed up enough to become the one quibble I had.
Now, on to what I liked.
I loved so many things about this book. It depicted what dating culture looks like when two people are interested but aren’t committed. I rarely see that in YA books. I loved the portrayal of the dad who was very much a “so-so” dad meaning that he was great at providing Yvonne a home and clearly loved her but was not really emotionally available. Both race and class issues were present. There were friendship issues around judgement about who and how many people one chooses to have sex with and there was also a contemporary issue that I feel doesn’t get discussed enough.
I also love books about teenagers where the main character has no friggin idea what they want to do with their lives.
P.S. I Still Love You Jenny Han Lara Jean’s story continues in this book. Aside from continuing to mark the ways a family changes as the children age and mature, this book also includes several main characters playing a game. I love books where the characters play games! In this case it’s Assassins, a long-form game that was one of the things the then-friends used to do in middle school. The game added a lot of verve to the plot, as did the confusion and elation that comes with liking two boys at the same time.
This book also takes time to examine how friendships change from middle school to high school and the ramifications what is and isn’t left over.
Han is also great at marking the small losses in adolescence as in this quote:
I’m lying down on my back in the tree house, looking out the window. The moon is carved so thin it’s a thumbnail clipping in the sky. Tomorrow, no more tree house. I’ve barely thought about this place, and now that it’s disappearing, I’m sad. It’s like all childhood toys, I suppose. It doesn’t become important until you don’t have it anymore. But it’s more than just a tree house. It’s goodbye and it feels like the end of everything.
The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic David Arnold Read for Librarian Book Group This was–disappointingly–not a very good book. It started out strong, with interesting characters with some good things to overcome. But a shift happens and the bulk of the book’s execution heads in a different direction than the beginning of the book. While reading through that section I felt adrift, unsettled, and grumpy that there had been a bait and switch. In the last bit the book shifts back and an unnecessary additional thing is piled on to that part of the plot.
The kicker is that the writing is quite good. I leave you with a number of delightful quotes I flagged.
Iverton, Illinois, is the personification of its resident youth: someone gave it the keys, a credit card, and no curfew, and now it thinks its shit doesn’t stink. The suburb is populated by these gaudy, homogeneous brick houses, each a clone of the one next to it; driveways and garages are stocked with a variety of shiny SUVs, lawns are pushed to the greenest of greens, and trees grow in suspiciously symmetrical fashion.
Will and Jake Longmire felt out of the douche tree and hit every nozzle on the way down. Also, and not entirely unrelated, they’re really good looking, but in the same way Lochte or the Hemsworth brothers might be called good looking, by which I mean, when one sees them, one senses the overwhelming urge to punch them in the face.
Pontius Pilot is a Chicago-based recording artist who performed in the Iverton High School auditorium last year as a reward for our junior class having a decent magazine fundraiser. Nothing takes the wind out of a concert’s sails like a Tuesday morning billing; even so, the student council dubbed the event Magazine Mega Gala, and, like that, Pontius Pilot became a legend. Though collectively, the Iverton High populace felt about his music the way one feels about their fourth-grade soccer trophy, or the crinkle-cut fries in the cafeteria: it’s a nostalgic love, weak at the root.
Sometimes talking with a sibling is like hiking in a foreign country only to round a corner and find your house. Penny and I are so different in so many ways–and yet, I know this place well.
One final note. I very much appreciate this movie for calling out the horrible racism present, via Micky Rooney’s character, in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The more people can get the word out, the fewer people will have to experience the slack-jawed discomfort I did.
Always and Forever Lara Jean Jenny Han
Taken together, these three books encompass a picture of the many changes that happen during the final two years of high school. Relationships are formed and dissolved, people mature, families morph and change, and then there’s the question of what to do when it’s time for college.
In this final book Lara Jean works through the last few months of high school, which means navigating the college admissions acceptance and rejection, figuring out what is going to happen with her boyfriend, and helping her family to combine to accept a new member.
This is a new side to Daddy–bickering, losing his patience just barely. Trina brings it out in him, and I know it sounds strange, but I’m glad for it. It’s something I never realized was gone in him. There’s making do, living a pleasant life, no big ups or downs, and there’s all the friction and fire that come with being in love with someone. She takes forever to get ready, which drives him crazy, and she makes fun of his hobbies, like bird-watching and documentaries. But they fit.
Otis & Will Discover the Deep Rosenstock/Roy Read for librarian book group
A short illustrated nonfiction story of two scientists/adventurers who take a very small vessel very far into the deep depths of the ocean. The illustrations capture both the curious spirit of Otis and Will, the claustrophobic confines of their deep sea vessel and the wonder of what they found in the deep water. The words capture the excitement and trepidation.
The one thing missing from this book was a clearer setting in time. I couldn’t tell from the illustrations or the text what year the deep sea dive was. The excellent back matter divulged that information, but it was distracting while reading the book.