Category Archives: Young adult literature

Currently reading…

I’m not going to write a long post right now, simply because I’m really enjoying the books I’m reading at the moment and want to get back to them (and, Jim is at band practice right now, so this is an excellent time for me to read!).

Here are the books I’m either reading or about to read:

The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan ~ I really do enjoy these books; in fact, I think this is the first time I’ve ever wanted to read the eighth book in a series.

The Cardturner by Louis Sachar ~ I’m anxious to see if this book lives up to the terrific reviews it has received.  If it’s anything like Holes, I’ll be very very happy.

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne-Jones ~ Another book that has gotten excellent reviews; I’m looking forward to reading this one, too.

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean ~ Without a doubt, Ms. McCaughrean is one of my favorite living authors, and I can’t wait to read her latest.  (My teen book group members STILL talk about The White Darkness, three years after we read it for our group.  Granted, they claim to think it’s “weird” and they “don’t like it,” but in my opinion the fact that this book has remained foremost in their consciousness all these years speaks volumes about the book’s impact.)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly ~ This is the summer book group book for the 6th graders.  I purposefully chose a book that I didn’t think this group of excellent readers would find on their own.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl ~ The book choice for the summer meeting of the 5th grade book group.  I can’t wait to read it again!

And that’s it.  How many weeks do you think it will take me to get through all of these books?

Author Visit

You read it here first – it’s official:  T.A. Barron will be visiting the library in which I work in April!!

T.A. Barron is the author of children’s and young adult books, including The Lost Years of Merlin epic and The Great Tree of Avalon trilogy.  He also lived in the town in which I work up through the fifth grade, before moving to Colorado, which will make his visit to the library that much more exciting!  Mr. Barron will be talking about the influence that the town had upon him as a writer, so the program should be particularly fascinating for all town residents.  If you live in town, keep an eye out for the date and time of the program, which will be posted very soon in the children’s room.

Birthday books

So, what books did I get with that very generous gift certificate to the Concord Bookshop that Jim gave me? Here they are:

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner (in paperback)

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Fire by Kristin Cashore

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook by Jacques Pepin [my hero]

Lisa listened to this list, then said, “Abby, you DO know that you can get all of those books here at the library, don’t you?”  Yes, I do know that.  But I’m a book-a-holic, and I LOVE having my own copies of some books.  I baby them, I take very good care of them, and then, sometimes, I take them to the used bookstore and sell them when we start to run out of space in our house.  I love libraries, of course, but there’s nothing quite like having your very own copy of a favorite or much-anticipated book.  It’s the combination of the two, libraries and personal copies, that makes the literary world go ’round.

Thanks again, hun, for the gift certificate!

Mortal Instruments series

Last night, way too late, I finished up the final book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare.  And I went to bed feeling disappointed and a little grumpy that I’d stayed up late to finish a book that left me disappointed.

I loved the pace and feel of the first book, City of Bones.  In this first book, Clare does a great job establishing her characters and creating the urban fantasy world of Shadowhunters, demons, and Downworlders.  Reading the first book was like eating a perfectly sized slice of rich dark chocolate cake: not something I like to do every day, but a great treat.  But of course finishing the first book left me wanting to read the second, City of Ashes, which I promptly took out of the library and devoured in a couple of sittings.  And by the end of City of Ashes I felt like I’d had a piece of slightly stale supermarket birthday cake with super sweet frosting.  City of Ashes isn’t nearly as creative or engrossing as its predecessor, and (like my friend Lisa) I found the brother-sister plotline to be an annoying and gross plot manipulation.  But, of course, I still needed to know what happened next, so I requested City of Glass from the library network and eagerly sat down to read it through as soon as it arrived.  My bakery analogy for City of Glass?  A bit like an overcooked, lardy brownie that kind of cracks your teeth and sits like lead in your stomach.

Here’s why I think City of Glass doesn’t work:  the whole book takes place in the land of Idris, not New York City, removing the urban fantasy setting that made the first book so fresh and hip.  No more punk nightclubs for Clary; no more rundown urban hotels that are infested with vampires.  Just the boring bucolic Shadowhunter country setting.

But it’s more than the lack of urban grit.  Clare’s plot mapping feels too obvious in City of Glass.  While reading, I knew that she needed to take her characters from point A through point B in order for them to end up at point C, the end of the book.  And some things were too obvious to work [plot spoiler here, sorry]: I knew back at the end of the first book that Jace wasn’t Clary’s brother, and frankly it pissed me off that it took the author 1,470 pages to resolve the seemingly incestuous romantic conflict between them.  It would have been better if she had given her audience a little more credit for brains and fixed the brother-sister problem several hundred pages sooner. 

I could go on with small gripes about plotting and lack of character development in City of Glass, but it’s not necessary.  These books are decent young adult fantasy, definitely higher quality than Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and I did enjoy reading them.  I just wish that the last two books of the trilogy didn’t feel as if they were written in a rush, but I suppose that’s more a product of the publishing industry today (churn out the sequels quick while the first one’s hot) than of the author’s inability to complete the series in a way that respects what she accomplished in the first book.  It makes me feel for authors who are put under that kind of pressure and who must surely sacrifice some of their artistic vision while bowing to that pressure.  Ah, if only we could move away from the desperate need for lengthy trilogies, and back to the good ol’ days of stand-alone works of fiction…

T. A. Barron

As mentioned in an earlier post, I had the pleasure of meeting T. A. Barron two weeks ago.  At the time, he was concerned that I had the first and third books in his Great Tree of Avalon trilogy, but not the second, and he asked for my mailing address so that he could send me the second book.  And lo and behold, last Wednesday I received a package from T. A. with a signed hardcover copy of that book, Shadows on the Stars, along with a nice note. 

The thoughtfulness alone is enough to impress, but what really impresses me is that the note is written on a piece of stationery that says “With Compliments of T. A. Barron”; if he has had that stationery printed up, then he must regularly send gifts of books to his fans.  That’s a good, generous person.

And I’ll say, too, that this is a wise marketing decision – I’ve been so impressed by T. A.’s generosity that I’ve made a display of the books that he signed for the library, and have been hand-selling those books to library patrons, telling each of those patrons that T. A. is a great guy as well as a great author…and that he grew up in town, to boot.  Legions of new fans are being born, fans who might not otherwise have found his books.  Which is a good thing.

Twilight, the movie

Alyson and Lisa and I went to see Twilight the movie a little over a week ago, and this past Saturday Lisa hosted a Twilight movie discussion at the library for teens.  So in the past week I’ve been thinking a lot about the movie, and having a lot of conversations with others about the movie.  And my verdict stays the same as when I left the theater: it’s pretty bad.

I’ve read the whole Twilight saga, but I’m not a huge fan of the series.  The books are compelling at times, and also outrageously dull at times, and I was actually pretty relieved when I got to the end of Breaking Dawn and knew that I was DONE.  So I went into the movie without any huge expectations for what I was about to see, and would call myself more objective than someone who loves, loves, loves the books.

For me, then, the movie didn’t fail because of the little details that are different from the books (I couldn’t care less whether the Cullens’ house is white and traditional or brown and modern), but because it’s poorly done and badly acted.  The pace of the film drags, and Edward and Bella have little “chemistry” with each other.  Bella looks perpetually mentally overtaxed, as if it hurts to think, and Edward is stiff and awkward and anything but sexy.  Their scenes together are way too long, and the pauses in their conversations that are meant to be pregnant with meaning are simply overdrawn and deadly boring.

Aside from the problems with Edward and Bella, the film fails in other ways.  The makeup is overdone, most notably the first time we see Carlisle Cullen in the emergency room.  Carlisle’s face is powdered vampire white, but his neck is its natural color – there’s actually a makeup demarkation line along his chin.  And, as one of the teens attending on Saturday noted, Carlisle’s hair is obviously dyed blonde.  “Hello,” the teen commented, “Couldn’t they have found any naturally blonde attractive actors?????”

Other failings:  Lisa noticed a cameraman showing in the scene where Bella is being harrassed by the thugs in the city (and Lisa saw the movie three times); some of the actors are poorly cast (Jasper comes to mind here, as his doofus expression inspired an explosion of laughter amongst my fellow theater-goers); and the plot would be pretty hard to follow if you hadn’t read the books.

I thought the movie sucked (great word to use when describing a vampire movie!), and I was shocked to read David Denby’s review of it in The New Yorker.  I had to read Denby’s review three times to confirm that yes, he liked it.  Huh??  I almost lost faith in my own opinion after reading that review: maybe I’d missed something?  Maybe I’m a lot dumber than Denby and am showing my ignorance by hating the movie?  But then I watched Paul Giamatti in John Adams and felt confident again in my condemnation of Twilight.  I’m no movie critic, but I can tell the difference between a well-done, well-acted film and a C+ vampire flick.

Gift certificate

M. gave me a $25.00 gift certificate to the Concord Bookshop, and I decided to use it on Friday.  I was going to be good and buy something erudite and grownup, but when I got to the store there was only one book that I wanted:  Rumors: A Luxe Novel by Anna Godbersen.  Total trash, I admit it, but who can resist the flowing red dress on the cover? 

And then with the rest of the gift certificate I got a book by one of my all-time favorite authors:  A Thief in the House of Memory by Tim Wynne-Jones.

Once I read them, I’ll be sure to post my opiniated opinions about them.  For now, I’m being distracted by a certain husband playing “Maurice” on the bass.  Time to stop writing for today.

The Golden Compass

As I mentioned yesterday, the teen book group discussion of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass took place last Tuesday.  Though only three teens attended, we had a great conversation about the book, and all of us walked away with a far better understanding of this contemporary classic.

It’s a tough book, so deep and intricate that the reader really needs to work hard to understand it.  Add to that the current controversy about Pullman’s religious beliefs, and there is a lot to digest when reading The Golden Compass.  I had questions about Dust, the alethiometer, and daemons coming into Tuesday’s discussion, and the fact that I had these questions really irked me.  I like to know and really understand a book before sitting down at a book group meeting – I like to have a definitive lock on my own opinions before sharing with others. 

It turned out that the teens at the meeting had similar questions, though, and so we together teased out a deeper understanding of the book.  At various points in the discussion, one or all of us had “a-ha!” moments:  for me, my biggest “a-ha!” was about the daemons; for B., it was to do with the ending of the trilogy (she’s the only one of us who had read all three books, and had initially said that the trilogy’s finale didn’t make sense to her); for K. and I., the “a-ha!” was to do with Dust and the church/book controversy.

I wish I’d had a tape recorder running to capture our conclusions, and thus to share them here, but I’ll have to rely on my memory to sum up our thoughts:  Dust is the residue of original sin, and a human cannot live without some amount of sin in them.  The daemons are an outward manifestation of the human soul, and the two have a sort of yin and yang relationship; separate the human from his daemon, and there is no Dust – no sin – but the human will die.  As for the controversy, we decided a couple of things: younger readers won’t “get” the layers of meaning within the text, and most likely will read the book for the fantasy and not the theology; and, though Pullman obviously possesses some amount of bitterness towards the Catholic church, he’s also presenting a theoretical church, one in an alternate universe, one that has no Pope, one that has become corrupt.  Does he hate God?  Based upon the first book alone, we couldn’t determine that.  Nor did it seem relevant to our discussion.  It’s an intelligent book, not a hateful one, and masterfully written.  It raises questions, certainly, but it doesn’t brainwash its readers. 

Without a doubt, this was the best book group yet, since we all left the meeting with new thoughts and a better understanding of a complex text.  In fact, I personally like the book much more after our discussion than I did before, and feel inspired to delve a bit deeper into the controversy that surrounds it, and to read its two sequels. 

A laugh

At the teen book group meeting last Tuesday, about mid-way through our conversation on Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, I said to the girls attending, “So, did you guys hear which book won the award for best young adult book of the year?”  Then I indulged in a big, mischievous grin, and they collectively gasped and said, “Ack!  Not that Antarctica book!!!!”  When I nodded, all three girls (the three who posted their thoughts on The White Darkness here a few months ago) burst into unrestrained laughter.

I still love the book, though.  🙂

The Printz Award

I couldn’t be more pleased with this year’s winner of the Michael Printz award for young adult literature:  Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness.  I love, love, love, LOVE this book, but I was beginning to feel like some sort of oddity who has terrible taste in literature; like I had lost my touch for recognizing the great books.  The teen book group regularly refers to “that book,” and they all laugh at how they felt forced to be kind when writing their opinions on the book for this blog, since they knew that Geraldine McCaughrean would be reading their opinions and they didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  And then I recommended The White Darkness to one of my coworkers (whom I respect greatly), and she came back to me a few days later and stuck her tongue out and said, “Yuck!  I hated that book!  I couldn’t even finish it!!”

The book is a bit dark, a bit odd, and definitely unique.  Perhaps it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but to my mind it is a contemporary classic that will stand the test of time, and its selection as this year’s winner of the Printz award makes complete and total sense to this reader.  (And now I feel rather virtuous about the three extra copies of the book in my library’s collection, which I had to purchase for the book group.  Solid evidence that I know good stuff when I read it.  Because it’s all about me, of course.  :)  )