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Your Connection to Teen Reads
Updated: 22 hours 25 min ago

Tweets of the Week: November 21

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 07:00

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re here to catch you up on what you might have missed on Twitter this week. Lots of good observations from #yalit14!

Books and Reading

Pop Culture, TV, and Movies

Libraries and Librarianship

Just for Fun

-Allison Tran, currently listening to Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi

What Would They Read?: Firefly Part 2

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 07:00

After a slight break to feature various spooky monsters, I’m heading back to the ship “Serenity” to finish off a few more characters.  I promised you all I would not leave you hanging.  Back in September I told you all about the crew of “Serenity.”  The comments section hit on an obvious title that I overlooked so I wanted to make sure that it was added.  Blog reader Shari said that Kaylee would also love Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  After I read that comment, I mentally kicked myself and I’m not ashamed to say it hurt a bit.  Of course Kaylee would love the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer!  Not only is it futuristic, it’s set in a world where Chinese influences run abundantly…just like Kaylee’s world.  Also, with as much as she likes to take apart and fix “Serenity,” she would love a story where cyborgs run freely.  Great suggestion!  I just wish I thought of it first.  :P

Ok, back to the ship.

Inara Serra – Inara is a very proper lady by those viewing her merely for her profession.  A companion is basically a fancy prostitute and Inara holds her head up high at the prestige she gains.  However, we witness every episode a subconscious, or sometimes very conscious, desire for real love.  Her schoolyard relationship with Mal makes the audience cheer for their snarky exteriors to melt away and their true romantic feelings to take the lead.  That is why I believe that Inara would love books that regard strong female characters in a positive light, but still has a bit of romance.  I would recommend The Selection by Kiera Cass to Inara particularly because America stands tall with her convictions instead of following the crowd of wannabee princesses.  The romance is there, but it’s America who decides to whom those romantic tendencies will flourish.  In a similar vein, I would slip Inara Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund.  This title is a bit more romance, but the secrets kept by the main characters definitely taking center stage over the romance from time to time.  And I believe that Inara’s secrets are fairly unmatched.

Shepherd Book – While some might believe that it would be difficult to find a book for Shepherd Book, I completely disagree.  I’ve been sitting on the perfect book for him.  I would definitely give him Godless by Pete Hautman.  In Godless, the main character and his friends explore the meaning of religion and eventually create a religion based on the town water tower.  Shepherd seems like someone who is interested in the meaning behind spirituality, whether it’s his religion or not.  Similarly, I would also recommend There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff.  In this book, God is represented by a teenage boy named Bob.  Shepherd is obviously the spiritual moral compass upon “Serenity” in the same way that Kaylee is the calming demeanor on the ship.  While none of the ship’s inhabitants share the same beliefs as Shepherd, it’s his mere presence that keeps everyone considering their next steps.  I believe that it’s Shepherd’s constant need for understanding that would keep him reaching out for new ideas, particularly those found in these two titles.

Simon Tam - Out of all the inhabitants on “Serenity,” Simon is my least favorite, mainly because his character is created because of his sister River.  There are a few times where we see Simon’s personality, particularly when he gets drunk in Canton and starts flirting with Kaylee.  Other than these rare occurrences,  everything about Simon revolves around River.  He is only thinking about her and it kind of makes him a bit of a one-dimensional character.  I’m expecting disagreements here, so feel free to tell me why I’m wrong.  For this reason, I would recommend him books like The Night my Sister Went Missing by Carol Plum-Ucci.  In this book, Kurt’s sister goes missing and he listens to the details explained by others that piece together what happened to her.  So the recommendation isn’t just a dark thrilling story, I would also give him The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer.  In this story, a boy and his sister are captured by Viking Beserkers and Jack must remedy a spell-gone-wrong or else the queen will kill his sister.  This story is a bit more fun at times than the other title.  Also, it makes me think of Simon dealing with trolls, which is a bit comical.

River  Tam – Finally we come to River Tam.  River is a conundrum of a character.  She adopts whatever persona fits the situation.  Sometimes she acts as an innocent child while other times she takes up weapons and defends the ship and crew.  She knows more than anyone can possibly understand.  Recommending books to River is the equivalent of giving a gift to the guy who has everything.  You could give River anything and she would read it just to gain the knowledge within, whether necessary or not.  I would give River a serious title and a more light-hearted title.  For the serious title, I would give her Ender’s Game by 2008 Edwards Award winner Orson Scott Card and follow it up with the other books in the series.  I find a lot of similarities to River and Ender.  Both were removed from their families at a young age.  Both later discovered that they were training to be a catalyst for a group of untrustworthy adults.  As for a more entertaining read, I would give River Incarnate by Jodi Meadows.  While the description of this book is a bit complicated, full of reincarnation and complex character histories, I believe that River would enjoy reading this title.

As always, feel free to add your opinions in the comment section.  It’s possible I missed something here or there.

-Brandi Smits, currently reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

YA Literature Symposium: Reaching Reluctant Readers

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 07:00

On Saturday afternoon at the 2014 YA Literature Symposium, I attended the presentation entitled Reaching Reluctant Readers: from Creation to Circulation. The speakers were Patrick Jones, a librarian and author based in Minnesota, and Zack Moore from the Austin Independent School District in Texas.

The presentation focused on why reluctant readers aren’t reading, qualities of good book recommendations for reluctant readers, how to ease in-library access, examples of what reluctant readers will read, and things that you can do to reach reluctant readers of tomorrow. One point to mention here is that both speakers stressed the importance of remembering that reluctant readers may be aliterate, not illiterate. There is a big difference between approaching a teen who can read, but chooses not to and a teen who cannot read.

I have listed a few examples from each section below. The full presentation can be found here if you wish to read more.

Why They Aren’t Reading

  • By high school, reluctant readers have learned to “equate reading with ridicule, failure or exclusively school-related tasks”
    • It’s important to know that these readers have failed before and help them see that it’s okay to try again
  • It’s difficult for them to sit still long enough to read
  • Teens can be “too self-absorbed and preoccupied with themselves… to make connections between their world and books”
  • “Books are inadequate entertainment” when compared with other options
  • They can’t find “the good books”
    • The library can be a scary place for a reluctant reader if there are too many books

Qualities of Books for Reluctant Readers

  • A strong cover that is catchy, attractive, and action-oriented
  • Print style should be large enough to easily and enjoyably read
  • Artwork should be realistic, enticing, and demonstrate diversity
  • Have a high interest “hook” in the first 10 pages
  • Well-defined characters, but not too many
  • Plot lines that are “developed through dialog and action rather than descriptive text”

Ease In-Library Access

  • Shelve “quick reads” together
  • Give booktalks
  • Be prepared to help reluctant readers
  • Create displays that will appeal to reluctant readers
  • Rethink your reader’s advisory approach
  • Ask about the last thing they liked – not only books, include movies and televisions shows
  • Have them tell you what the book/movie/TV show is about – based on how they describe a story, you will know what it is they liked about it


What Will Reluctant Readers Read?

  • A great place to start is looking at books that appear on both the Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and Best Books for Young Adults lists
  • Series fiction
    • The Spook’s series (Joseph Delaney), Ranger’s Apprentice series (John Flanagan), the Bluford series
  • General nonfiction
    • Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty (Joy Masoff)
  • Anything about pop culture (including biographies)
  • Series informational nonfiction
    • DK/Eyewitness books
  • Graphic novels, collected comics, single-issue comics, manga
    • Simpsons!
  • Magazines
  • Patrick Jones stressed that he tends to write books for reluctant readers in which “people punch each other in the face”

Things to Do to Reach Reluctant Readers of Tomorrow

  • Build relationships
  • Celebrate Teen Read Week
  • Arrange an author visit
  • Get out of the library
  • Keep current
  • Have a non-judgmental attitude
  • Weed the collection

Based on the backgrounds of the presenters, the reluctant readers that they spoke of were either incarcerated teens or students enrolled in alternative schools. As a result, some of the titles that were highlighted may not be the right recommendations for all teens, but I found that the strategies and rationales presented were fairly universal.

For more information, you may check out Connecting with Reluctant Teen Readers: Tips, Titles, and Tools by Patrick Jones, Maureen L. Hartman, and Patricia Taylor (Neal-Schuman, 2006).

– Jessica Lind, currently reading The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days by Lisa Yee

Jukebooks: For What It’s Worth by Janet Tashjian

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 07:00

Quinn is fourteen years old in 1971, living in Laurel Canyon, California. Rock music is just hitting its stride, and Quinn is obsessed. He writes a column, “For What It’s Worth,” that’s filled with rock ‘n roll minutiae. But rock never did exist in a vacuum. Like the blues, it was born of creative and political need, as Quinn begins to realize when a draft dodger shows up at his house.

The book is loaded with music. It would be far simpler to make a playlist than to select one song, one musician. But Quinn makes reference to “Club 27,” which has been a theme for Jukebooks lately. It’s a bit prescient for Quinn to speak of Club 27, since it wasn’t really a thing in 1971. (I would know; I was fourteen in 1971.) But it presents an opportunity to write about Brian Jones.

Jones is the Rolling Stone you never hear about. He’s the one who recruited the band members and chose the band’s name. He introduced the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop Festival. Through it all, he took drugs. The descent is sadly familiar: erratic behavior, arrests, fighting with the other band members. In 1969, Jones was asked to leave the band, eventually replaced by Mick Taylor.

Below is a montage of Brian Jones images, accompanied by the Rolling Stones’s “Last Time.” Jones played the guitar riff heard in the recording.

Diane Colson, currently reading Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann.

YA Literature Symposium: Keeping it REALLY weird

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 07:00

I feel very lucky to have been able to attend YALSA’s YA Literature Symposium in Austin this weekend. It was a great weekend full of thought-provoking panels, amazing author interactions, and just a lovely time talking about YA literature!

One of my favorite panels that I got to attend – and sometimes you had to make some hard choices! – was Sunday morning’s “Keeping it REALLY weird (books for the fringe & reluctant readers).” This had a great lineup hosted by Kelly Milner Halls it also included Chris Barton, Andrew Smith, Lisa Yee, Jonathan Auxier, Bruce Coville, and Laurie Ann Thompson. These authors have a reputation for writing about subjects sort of on the fringe compared to other YA books. Their books involve cryptids, unstoppable giant insects, Star Trek geeks, gamers, oddballs who make change, aliens for teachers, and ghost gardeners among other things. But many readers connect strongly to these stories of outsiders and happenings on the edge of what may be normal or accepted. Not only was this a really informative panel but it was also so much fun. Why? Take a look…

See Lisa Yee in the middle? Jonathan Auxier bet her that she wouldn’t come to the panel dressed like Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and said if she did, he would  sing all of his answers to the questions to the tune of “Moon River.” So Lisa dressed up and Jonathan had to sing until he brokered a deal with the audience to do yo-yo tricks for a singing reprieve.

That’s the fun stuff, but what did we talk about? The panelists talked about the weird things they did as a child – Lisa Yee used to pretend she had headgear to fit in with her friends; Chris Barton jumped off a second story roof; Jonathan Auxier, after an obsession with Teen Wolf, tried to convince his mother he was a werewolf – and then moved onto to more serious fair.

Asked whether the publishing industry made it harder or easier for so called “weird” books currently Bruce Coville and others noted that publishers often just want to clone hits like the Hunger Games or Harry Potter. They often are trying to catch up to trends instead of create them. Andrew Smith noted that it was really the author’s fear of ‘going there’ that kept the strangeness out of books.

Jonathan is a not-so-secret yoyo master!

The authors recounted their favorite books – Laurie Ann Thompson’s was the Encyclopedia Britannica which makes sense for a nonfiction writer, and Andrew Smith named Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions as a favorite – then got to talking about the “weird” kids. Many asserted that the kids weren’t really weird, they were just waiting for a book, and friends and peers, to make them feel understood and valued. Bruce Coville said that story is the best way to teach empathy for the odd kids and how to help them out.

Towards the end, Andrew Smith noted that he didn’t really like calling readers “weird” because of the negative connotations and asserted that that reader isn’t weird, “he is one of us.” I think that is the most important take away from the session: have kindness for the teens in your community whose interests and lives might be outside of the typical; we are all a little bit like that and all deserve compassion.

To catch up on what else you missed from the Symposium, stay posted for more dispatches from other attendees and search for #yalit14 on Twitter!

-Anna Tschetter, currently reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre Guide: Westerns for Teens

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 07:00

By Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historic Collection, bought by the National Park Service in 1972 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Traditional western novels denote a sense of the “Old West” as defined as a time period of American history from about the 17th century to the early 20th century where new settlers dealt with the harsh landscape, lawlessness, and/or the loner who exacts vengeance in the name of doing what is right. For westerns that are written for teens, however, they don’t always follow all the typical western tropes, but most commonly some of these themes are paired with the main character or characters coming of age through the story.

Authors to Know

There aren’t many authors who are well-known for writing westerns for teens, however here are some of the more well-known western authors:

  • Loius L’Amour
  • Zane Grey
  • Larry McMurtry
  • Cormac McCarthy


The setting of western novels usually deem that they be set in western America.  However, westerns can take place in other geographical settings where the landscape may mimic that of the “Old West.”  So, it can be a landscape where there is a search for a valuable mineral or material, or there are desolate conditions that are hard to survive, or it is a new land that settlers must figure out how to tame.  Whatever the case, a richly detailed landscape is one of the main characteristics of a western novel.  Also, a civilized society does not exist in most western novels, usually because the land has been uninhabited and it has yet to be developed. Traditionally, western novels are set in the time period of the “Old West,” but when it comes to western novels written for teens, they do not need to be set in a historically accurate time.  They can be set in the past, alternate past, present, and even future.

Main characters of western novels are typically male.  If there is a female main character, she is usually a strong one.  The main characters are traditionally the heroes of the story, and you are not always sure that they will survive until the end of the book.  Plots of western novels for teens can include a lone character seeking justice, a type of good guy versus bad guy standoff, or even land disputes and lawlessness.  Additionally, though not always common, westerns for teens can include the genres of romance and dystopia.  One thing is for sure, though, action and adventure are a must and there is always an ultimate showdown in the end!

Appeal and Readers

The appeal of westerns to teen readers is not as wide as other genres.  Generally, a teen can be sold on a western if they are looking for a story with lots of action and adventure and/or a story where the good guy prevails and justice is carried out.  Westerns can appeal to both male and female readers, though the more traditional western novels appeal more to male readers.


Trends for westerns written for teens include setting the western in a future dystopian society.  A prime example of this is Moira Young’s Dustlands series.  In Young’s future world, the land has been ravaged and Saba and her family scavenge to survive.  Saba’s brother is kidnapped and in order to save him, Saba must fight for her life in a violent city ruled by an evil King.


Reference Books

Read the High Country: a Guide to Western Books and Film by John Mort (Libraries Unlimited, 2006)

A Few Good Books: Using Contemporary Readers Advisory Strategies to Connect Readers with Books by Stephanie L. Maatta (Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2010)

The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction by Joyce G. Saricks (American Library Association, 2009)


Most publishers for teens will publish westerns, though there are not a high number of traditional western novels being published for teens at this time.


The Spur Awards have Juvenile Fiction and Nonfiction categories.
The Willa Awards have a Children’s/Young Adult Fiction & Nonfiction category.
There are also the Western Heritage Awards which have a Juvenile Category.

Recommended Titles

— Colleen Seisser, currently reading Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

When Friends Become Family

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 07:00

As we draw close to Thanskgiving, we often turn our thoughts and plans to family. While there are YA characters who have strong families, as Jessica’s 2012 post  and Kelly’s post from last week shows, there are also lots of YA books where the protagonists have either lost family members, been separated from them, or never had a proper family to begin with. This doesn’t mean these characters have no family relationships, though. Lots of YA characters, when faced with a lack of a regular family, create their own. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ellie and her friends in the Tomorrow series by John Marsden (the movie version was chosen as a Fabulous Film for Young Adults 2013). This action packed series, which starts with Tomorrow, When the War Began follows a group of Australian teenagers who go away for a camping trip and come back to find their country has been invaded. As the plot unfolds, the friends rely on each other more and more to be both fellow soldiers determined to take back their homes and a family that both provides emotional support and takes on the everyday tasks of making a place to live. I especially like that the last book in the series, The Other Side of Dawn, deals with the difficulty of reintegrating with their parents after the enforced separation and self-sufficiency, and the companion series, The Ellie Chronicles, continues to explore the toll that war takes on families, both given and self-made. Although I haven’t yet read them, I think Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14 series (2014 Teens’ Top Ten) covers some of the same ground in terms of a family forged out of necessity. 
  • Similarly, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch form a family over the course of the Hunger Games trilogy (2009 Best Books for Young Adults and Ultimate YA Bookshelf). While Katniss still has her birth family, the experiences of the arena form a connection between her and her fellow champions that is different, and in some ways, deeper, than with her own family. Particularly in Catching Fire, Peeta’s galvanization of the other two to prepare adequately for the Quarter Quell games serves to draw the three together tightly.
  • In less dire circumstances, Alice McKinley and her friends Elizabeth, Pamela, and Gwen from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series form the kind of family ties that many teens share with their friends. Alice is lucky to have a supportive family backing her up, but even they can’t always provide everything she needs, and she turns to her friends. Pamela in particular faces lots of challenges from her own family, so her friends support her when family falls short.
  • And finally, it may be cliche, but I can’t help but mention Harry Potter. While the most obvious instance of family this series is the tight-knit Weasley family, and the fact that they essentially adopt Harry as one of them makes a huge difference in Harry’s life. But beyond joining the Weasleys, Harry also builds up his own wider family: first, with his tight friendship with Ron and Hermione, and support from those adults like Hagrid and Professor Dumbledore who are looking out for him. Later, his ability to draw a wider circle of friends through “Dumbledore’s Army” proves important in Harry’s quest to finish Voldemort.

So, what are you favorite YA characters whose friendships forge them into a family? Which YA characters would you like to adopt into your family?

-Libby Gorman, currently rereading the Harry Potter series and reading The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

How To Read: Step by Step Instructions to Pleasure Reading

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 07:00

Reading for your own enjoyment takes practice. I know it sounds a little crazy– but folks practice their hobbies all the time and why should recreational reading be any different? It can be hard today to turn off distractions and just read. So here is a practical guide; follow it and you will soon find yourself enjoying reading. And for those of you reading this post who don’t need any help in this regard, I invite you to share your tips for happy reading.

Step 1: Pick book.

This is one of the hardest steps of the process. But fear not, you can handle it. There are so many ways to choose a book: pretty cover, friend recommendation, favorite author, saw the movie, library/book store display, read about it somewhere (twitter, instagram, facebook, tumblr, pinterest), heard about it somewhere, random browsing, librarian recommendation, teacher recommendation, it’s your favorite book and you want to read it for the tenth time darn it, read a review, literary awards, found it (in a rental vacation house and in the plane seat flap next to the barf bag perhaps), it’s a classic you’ve been meaning to read, and so on… Point being, any reason to pick a book is a good one if it works for you.  Some other resources that are helpful in finding books:

As you are selecting books, keep an open mind (even on books you did not like in the past.)

It may also be helpful decide what you want to get from your reading experience. According to research most people who read for pleasure to do for one of three reasons.

  1.  to check reality
  2.  to escape
  3.  to learn specific skills or information

Recommendations by reading types:

Reality Check:



  • The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (2014 Nonfiction Award Winner)
  • Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal (2011 Reader’s Choice Nomination)
  • Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone
  • Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (2013 Nonfiction Book Award Winner)
  • The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming



Of course, any good book should and will fit into more than one category!

Step 2: Obtain Book(s)

I recommend you get at least five books to choose from (ideally from your public library.)  Be sure to check your library’s online catalog (it will be on the library website) if you have specific titles in mind– you may have to put something on hold. Get books for free as much as possible! If you have luck like mine, you will put ten books on hold at the library and they will all come in at the same time when you cannot possibly finish them all in time. Fear not! They can be returned and checked out again and renewed. This is all permissible. If you really need to own books check out discount sites and/or consider buying used books to save money.

Step 3: Prepare to Read

Look at your pile of five books. Smile. Choose one to start with– don’t overthink it. Make your distractions go away. Go to the bathroom. If you are hungry bring a light snack, try not to spill it on your book. Brew a cup a tea or coffee if you like. Find a comfy seat (inside or outside, upstairs or downstairs). Adjust temperature as needed (bring a blanket if you tend to get chilly).

Step 4: Read.

Begin book. If you are enjoying it, great! Continue on. When you done with your book repeat steps 1 through 4. If you are not sure about the book –use your best judgment to decide when to throw in the towel. Read as many pages as you think gives you a good enough idea if you will enjoy this book. For me this has been as few as 7 and as many as 315 pages. Some books are great right off the bat, but some take several chapters to build up to the good stuff. If you aren’t enjoying the book after a reasonable amount of pages- put it down and move on to the next one in your pile. Go ahead, it’s OK.  The book doesn’t have any feelings to hurt. Repeat above steps.

Stuff to Avoid

Forgetting about your Life

Finals coming up? Just start a new job? Got a new puppy? Running a marathon next week? None of these life events means you shouldn’t read for fun. In fact, stressful times call for an enjoyable read even more! But know yourself and your limits. Is this the time to tackle something really heavy ? Or is it more of a fun light reading kind of time in your life?

Pushy People

It can happen that someone in your life insists you read something. Hey, now folks–don’t be pushy. No one should strong-arm you into reading anything– and (unless it’s an assignment) you should never keep reading a book you are not enjoying at all. Just because Aunt Judy loved that book, doesn’t mean you will–or won’t. When faced with a pushy reader: listen politely, smile, and jot down the title. Make no promises. Just because someone loans you a book does not mean you are obliged to read it.


Avoiding a book because you are too embarrassed to be seen reading it.  The only one who should judge your book is you. If somebody else is so interested chances are they aren’t reading anything (otherwise why would they be looking at your book?)   You can always read on an e-reader (such as a kindle or nook) which does not show the cover (ask your local public librarian to show you how  you can borrow e-books from the library.)  This advice comes to you from a woman who shamelessly read Captain Underpants on the New York City subway while six months pregnant.

“But I don’t have time to read!”

You’ve heard this before. Maybe you’ve said it. But I say there is always some time you can find to read. Yes there is. Watch one less sitcom in the evening and read for half an hour instead. Wake up early and read over your first cup of coffee. Waiting anywhere is an ideal time to crack open your book (bring it with you wherever you go and you will find yourself not minding waiting at the doctors, post office, or on that long like at the store.)  Read on your lunch hour.  Commuters: read on the train or bus. And don’t forget audiobooks! Listen to books while driving, exercising, doing dishes, cooking, cleaning, organizing, getting dressed, cleaning the attic, etc. It’s a great way to multitask and enjoy (otherwise) mundane activities.

Ready? OK, go!


-Tara Kehoe, currently reading Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

The Monday Poll: Most Believable Post-Apocalyptic YA Lit

Sun, 11/16/2014 - 23:48

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, in honor of Veteran’s Day, we asked for your favorite YA book depicting the the veteran experience. The top pick, with 44% of the vote, was Laurie Halse Anderson’s most recent release, The Impossible Knife of Memory. It was followed by Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay For Now, with 23% of the vote. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted!

This week, on a totally different note, we want to know which version of a post-apocalyptic world in YA lit you think is the most believable. Do you think society will crumble and stay that way? Will it be rebuilt as a dystopia with an evil leader? Will people be able to breathe the air outside after the big event happens? Will there be zombies? Vote in the poll below, or add your choice in the comments if we missed it.

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

We Need Diverse Books: Spotlight on Benjamin Alire Saenz

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 07:00

Last month, I began a series devoted to highlighting diversity within YA literature in an effort to support the We Need Diverse Books campaign–check out my first post in the series for more information and to read about Sara Farizan’s novels. This month, I thought I’d focus on another critically acclaimed YA writer, Benjamin Alire Saenz, an award-winning author (2013 Printz Honor!) and poet.

A remarkably unique voice in YA literature, Saenz draws heavily from his own experiences as a young Chicano boy growing up on the Mexico/New Mexico border in the 1960s. His work also often deals with sexuality and homophobia, a result of Saenz’ own struggles with coming out which he did quite late in life. His intersecting themes of race, culture, class, and sexuality certainly make his novels stand out amongst the YA canon but it is not this alone that makes him so noteworthy.

To put it simply, Saenz is a master craftsman. He writes prose imbued with such soulful, heart-aching lyricism that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the layered lives he depicts. Consider the opening passage from his novel Last Night I Sang to the Monster (2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults):

I want to gather up all the words in the world and write them down on little pieces of paper–then throw them in the air. They would look like tiny sparrows flying toward the sun. Without all those words, the sky would be clear and perfect and blue. The deafening world would be beautiful in all that silence.

The novel is about a teenage boy, Zach, who finds himself in a rehab center for reasons he can’t exactly remember. The story unfolds in bits and pieces as he tries to unravel his past and make peace with the tragic events leading up to his present circumstances. Given the fact that the book deals with issues as varied as child sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, and suicide, it may come as a surprise that it is also breathtakingly beautiful. Indeed, the passage above captures some of the poetic sensibility that is inherent in all of Saenz’ works and that elevates his books from mere stories to magic. It’s no surprise that Saenz is also an award-winning poet, a fact that explain why when I read his novels, I find myself so often pausing to savor a particular phrase or paragraph for its seemingly effortless eloquence.

In fact, it’s the combination of effortlessness and eloquence that makes his novels both immensely readable and accessible to teens and adults alike. His lyricism, although clearly well-crafted, never feels contrived or overwrought. Perhaps, more importantly–given that his novels tend to be in first-person narration–it also doesn’t feel unbelievable that a teenage boy would be speaking in such a way. Take 17-year-old Sammy Santos, in Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood (2005 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults), a young man who finds himself desperately in love with Juliana, a girl from his barrio, in 1969. His voice is an appealing blend of minimalism and elegance that somehow captures the tone and spirit of a boy on the brink of manhood at a time rife with upheaval, injustice, and hope.

In one of my favorite passages from the book, Sammy is sitting with friends discussing what they would do when (more likely if) they leave the dirt-poor barrio they call ‘Hollywood’. Pifas has just announced that he’s enlisted in the Army, essentially a death sentence for a poor Chicano boy at the height of the Vietnam War.  Their friend Gigi announces she’d like to sing to everyone’s surprise. Sammy’s description of her singing sheds light on both his character as well as illustrates Saenz’ lovely use of description:

God, she could sing. And in the moonlight, she didn’t seem like a girl at all. She was a woman with a voice. Any man would die just to hear that voice. I swear–just to hear it. I thought the world had stopped to listen to Gigi–Gigi Carmona from Hollywood. I could see tears rolling down Pifas’ face. As pure as Gigi’s voice. I could feel those wings inside me again–like they were coming back to life, like all they needed was just one beautiful song for them to get up and beating again….Maybe this was the way the world should end. Not with me and my own thoughts, not with high school boys using their fists on each other, not with Pifas going off to war–but with the tears of boys falling to the beat of a woman’s song, the sounds of guns and bombs and fists against flesh disappearing. This is the way the world should end: with boys turning into men as they listen to a woman sing.

If you read all of Saenz’ YA books (which I highly recommend), a few similarities become readily apparent. For one, there is a powerful poignancy, even melancholy, that underlies all of his work. His characters are outsiders, introverts, alone within worlds of pain that they must come to understand before they can find some measure of peace and happiness. In all cases, it is language that enables them to find redemption from the pain of loss, the cruelty of discrimination, and the relentless pressures of growing up other. Fundamentally, though, Saenz’s novels are about love. Love in the broadest sense–from love of family to first love to love of place–each book revolves around the varied forms of love and the weight of it in our lives.

Love, in all its complexity, is at the heart of Saenz’s most recent and arguably most famous novel, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (2013 Printz Honor Book, 2013 Stonewall Award Winner). On the surface, it is the story of friendship between two very different Mexican-American teenage boys, Ari and Dante. At its core, though, the novel is about learning how to love; a theme that resonates throughout all of Saenz’s novels. It is clear that the protagonists of all his books are lost, often angry, always afraid and, given their circumstances, it makes sense that they feel this way. To come back to the idea of diversity and discrimination, it is difficult to both give and receive love in a world that alternately disdains and dismisses you. To love in the face of violence, self-doubt, helplessness, and prejudice is an act of great courage.

Ari’s journey in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is one of self-discovery, as he navigates how to love and be loved. At one point in the book, he says, “And I knew that there was something about me that Mrs. Quintana saw and loved. And even though I felt it was a beautiful thing, I also felt it was a weight. Not that she meant it to be a weight. But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.” As Ari shows us throughout the course of the novel, it takes courage to carry that weight, to embrace it not as a burden but a blessing. Ari comes to realize that the act of loving is a kind of freedom, even a revolution, despite all that society might tell you to the contrary.

I hope you take the time to read one of Benjamin Alire Saenz’s compelling works as you will walk away with a feeling both of weight and wonder at the power of his words. Thanks for reading!

~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Time’s Edge by Rysa Walker

Tweets of the Week: November 14

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 07:00

Are you attending the YA Lit Symposium this weekend? Be sure to tweet all about it with hashtag #yalit14!  Here’s the latest happenings this week on Twitter…

Books and Reading

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Just for Fun

We Are Family: Sibling Stories in YA Lit

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 07:00

I did not begin my career as an older sister on a very positive note. In fact, it is difficult to find an video of my brother’s infant years without having the footage interrupted by a bouncing three-year-old who springs into the frame to sing out some variation of “Look at me!”

Happily, despite some rough patches, my relationship with my brother is one of the most stable and significant aspects of my life.  He’s my friend, fellow sci-fi television & folk music fan, joint owner of favorite childhood books, cooking idol, and one of my all around favorite people on the planet. Consequently, I have a soft spot for stories featuring siblings.  Just as there are many different kinds of families and individuals, so too are there many different kinds of sibling relationships and all are complex & fascinating.

Personal Effects – E.M. Kokie (2013 Best Fiction For Young Adults; 2013 Rainbow List)

Since his beloved big brother T.J. was killed in action in Iraq, Matt has been moving through his quickly collapsing life in a daze.  Between failing classes, getting in fights at school, and trying to avoid his dad’s anger and disappointment, Matt feels like his purpose disappeared with T.J.  But when his brother’s personal effects are finally delivered, Matt is convinced that he might finally be able to understand T.J.’s death.  But T.J.’s possessions contain certain shocking revelations that force Matt to wonder how well he really knew his brother.

Imaginary Girls – Nova Ren Suma (2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound)

It isn’t uncommon for younger siblings to believe that their elder sisters are extraordinary, but Chloe knows she’s far from the only person to recognize that her sister Ruby’s someone special. Ruby is the girl that everyone longs to touch–the girl everyone wants to be.  When Ruby wants something to happen, it does.  She’s untamable, unpredictable, and almost unbelievable.  But after a night out with Ruby & her friends went horribly wrong, Chloe was sent away. Now, two years later, they’re reunited–but Chloe can’t help wondering exactly how far Ruby was willing to go to get her back. 

I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

At age thirteen, twins Noah and Jude were inseparable.  But as introverted Noah was sketching furiously and falling in  love with the boy next door and daring Jude was surfing & testing their mother’s patience with her fashion choices, something began to shift–and then everything fell apart. Three years later, they barely speak to each other.  Noah doesn’t draw or daydream anymore while Jude attempts to become invisible.  Can unexpected encounters with a heart-broken sculptor and a cocky, damaged photographer finally force Jude & Noah to confront the painful secrets they’ve been hiding from each other?

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Lara Jean loves being one of the Song sisters.  Sandwiched between the dependable Margot and mischievous Kitty, Lara Jean feels secure playing the supporting role of shy & quirky middle sister.  But now Margot is heading off to Scotland for college and Lara Jean must try to become the family caretaker.  Then Lara Jean’s secret stash of letters composed to past crushes are mistakenly mailed out.  Suddenly, Lara Jean must also navigate her shifting relationships with the first boy she kissed, the boy next door (who’s also Margot’s ex-boyfriend), and her beloved sisters.

Summer of the Mariposas – Guadalupe Garcia McCall (2013 Amelia Bloomer List)

Odilia and her four sisters find a dead man floating in their favorite swimming spot in the Rio Grande, they immediately begin to debate their best course of action.  Call the police? Plan for their inevitable television appearances? They decide to return the man’s body to his family in Mexico–and perhaps see their grandmother, who might know where their father has gone since leaving their family behind almost a year ago.  Assisted by the ghostly La Llorona, the sisters embark on an epic journey and face supernatural dangers including witches, warlocks, and even chupacabras.

See You At Harry’s – Jo Knowles (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults2013 Rainbow List)

Fern is sick and tired of her overcrowded and exhausting family. Between grumpy eighteen year old Sara stuck helping at the family restaurant Harry’s, unhappy Holden starting high school with new secrets, and annoying three year old Charlie, Fern mostly feels like she’s invisible. To make things worse, her dad starts his newest deeply embarrassing marketing campaign for Harry’s just weeks before Fern starts seventh grade. However, when a tragedy turns all of their lives upside down, Fern must find her place in a world that will never be the same and within family that’s falling apart.

Sisters – Raina Telgemeier

When she first learned she was going to be a big sister, Raina was thrilled.  But from the first time her parents bring infant Amara home, Raina finds her high expectations for sisterhood difficult to meet, especially when Amara grows from a grouchy baby into a particular toddler who prefers to play alone.  Several years and one younger brother later, their relationship hasn’t gotten much better but as they head out for a family road trip with the sense that something strange is going on between their parents, Raina & Amara slowly realize that they have more in common than they think.

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie – Jordan Sonnenblick (2005 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten)

Thirteen year old Steven lives a fairly ordinary but generally contented life.  He plays drums, he has a crush on the most popular girl in eighth grade, and he is constantly trying to negotiate life with his adorable but occasionally embarrassing five year old brother Jeffery.  Then Jeffery is diagnosed with leukemia and everything about Steven’s life becomes the opposite of ordinary. Overwhelmed by the terrifying reality of Jeffery’s illness, his parents’ very different reactions to the situation, and his own constantly shifting cycle of emotions, Steven struggles to remain the good older brother he’s always tried to be.

-Kelly Dickinson, currently reading The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon and Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins