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Your Connection to Teen Reads
Updated: 4 hours 28 min ago

YA Books With Bikes in Celebration of National Bike Month

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 07:00

One of life’s major rites of passage for kids is learning to ride a bicycle. Remember learning to ride? Maybe not, but like the saying goes, once you learn how, you never forget. If you’re a teen who doesn’t yet have your driver’s license or who does but can’t afford a car, riding a bicycle may be the only way to get around. There’s nothing like grabbing your bike and cycling away when you want to get away from everyone and everything.

To acknowledge the many benefits of bicycling and to get more people to give it a try, in 1956, The League of American Bicyclists (founded as the League of American Wheelman in 1880) established May as National Bike Month.  The third Friday of May is designated National Bike to Work Day and The National Center for Safe Routes to School hosts National Bike to School Day the second week of May.

So, help celebrate National Bike Month by jumping on your bicycle and getting outside for some exercise! Afterward, relax and check out these YA fiction and nonfiction “books with bikes.”

Maybe you don’t know how to ride a bike? If so, you can relate to Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride (2009) where Auden, about to start college in the fall, decides to escape her control-freak professor mom to spend the summer with her novelist father, his new young wife, and their brand-new baby. Over the course of the summer, Auden tackles many new projects: learning to ride a bike, making real connections with peers, facing the emotional fallout of her parents’ divorce, distancing herself from her mother, and falling in love with Eli, a fellow insomniac bicyclist recovering from his own traumas. Along for the Ride is a 2010 Teens’ Top Ten winner. 


Want a how-to book about bicycling? Try reading Rob Coppolillo’s nonfiction Holy Spokes! A Biking Bible for Everyone (2013). In this complete guide, find out how bikes work, why bikes matter (especially today, when gas is expensive and interest in green living is high), and how readers—whatever their level of experience—can indulge their tastes for mountain trails, competitive racing, city exploration, and just basic transportation from point A to point B. (Summary adapted from the publisher’s description.)


Now that you’ve learned how to ride a bike, maybe you’re interested in the social history of bicycling and how it changed women’s lives? If so, take a look at Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy (2011). Through vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and songs, this lively nonfiction book transports young readers to bygone eras to see how women used the bicycle to improve their lives. Witty in tone and scrapbook-like in presentation, the book deftly covers early (and comical) objections, influence on fashion, and impact on social change inspired by the bicycle, which, according to Susan B. Anthony, “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” (Summary adapted from publisher’s description.)
(However, for women in Afghanistan, riding a bicycle is taboo. According to a April 16, 2014 article from the New York Times, “What is considered appropriate behavior varies from one family and community to the next, but women riding bicycles is ‘generally considered immoral.’” according to Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch)

If historical fiction is more your thing, pick up Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes (2013). In 1944, thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli, his older sister Constanza, and their mother Rosemary struggle to survive the German occupation in their family’s villa outside Florence. Paolo’s nightly bicycle jaunts frighten his mother and sister, and he encounters more than he expects when he runs into Partisans who are determined to thwart the Nazi chokehold on the region. As the Allies approach, each Crivelli must make choices that put them all in danger.

For a book set in the more recent past, read Burning City by Ariel & Joaquín Dorfman (2007). In the sizzling summer of 2001, Heller is the youngest employee of Soft Tidings, a New York City messenger service whose motto is “news with a personal touch.”  At Soft Tidings, a message is not handed over but told to the recipient and the messages, as a rule, are not especially good news. Heller prefers his bike to the mandatory Rollerblades, and he gets away with his maniacal bike riding because he is, hands down, the best deliverer of bad news. This summer will be memorable for Heller as he finds himself drawn into the lives of a wildly diverse cast of characters, accidentally falling in love, and relating to people in a whole new way. (Summary from the publisher’s description.)

Are you looking forward to the end of the school year? Maybe you’d like to read how some teens spent their time between high school graduation and college?  In Janet Nichols Lynch’s Racing California (2012) Evan is conflicted, but willing to miss his Arizona high school graduation when Dash Shipley, a Tour de France winner, recruits him to join his Amgen Tour of California racing team. Even though his parents and girlfriend are against it, Evan accepts the invitation and gains more experience than he ever expected.

Chris and Win have just graduated from high school and decide to cycle their way from West Virginia to Washington State in Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (2008). On the way they have a disagreement and split up. Chris finishes the trek, heads home to West Virginia and begins college. Soon it becomes apparent that Win never made it to Washington nor returned home. The big question is: where did he go?

Are you in the mood for an award winner? Then you’ll enjoy The White Bicycle (2012) by Beverley Brenna. In this 2013 Printz Honor Award winner, Taylor Jane Simon, 19, who has Asperger’s Syndrome travels with her family to the south of France for the summer and struggles with a difficult mother, a confusing job, new family members, and a friendship with a mentor figure. She draws on memories of her past, and a dream about going someplace on a white bicycle, to make sense of the present in this heart-warming and inspiring coming-of-age story.

If you’re a fan of natural disasters/post-apocalyptic novels then Memory Boy by Will Weaver (2001) is for you. Miles Newell, 16, is a normal teen except that he’s nicknamed Memory Boy because of his exceptionally good memory. Two years after the first volcanic eruption devastated the US, his family and Miles are finally forced to flee their home in Minneapolis. They plan to head to their summer cabin but gasoline is scarce. Luckily, Miles is handy with all sorts of tools and constructs a vehicle made out of bicycle and sailboat parts he calls the Ali Princes.

Finally, if you’re looking for a novel noteworthy for its masterful structure, intrigue, theme of innocence caught by corruption that also has a bicycle trip, there’s nothing better than Robert Cormier’s classic I Am the Cheese (1977). Adam Farmer, on a mysterious bicycle journey, searches for the truth about the death of his parents who were under the witness relocation program. The three levels of this complex psychological plot—Adam’s bike ride in first-person present tense, transcripts of tapes with a sinister interrogator named Brint, and third-person omniscient details about the past—come together at the end.

Who knew there were so many books where bicycling plays a part? And, I didn’t even mention any adult books with teen appeal. Luckily, there’s always next year’s National Bike Month!


Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

The Monday Poll: Your Dream Comedian YA Author, Part 2

Sun, 05/18/2014 - 23:59

photo by flickr user CCAC

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked which famous funny lady you’d like to see author a YA book. Someone better start a petition, because it looks like a lot of you want to see Tina Fey’s take on YA! She came in first with 53% of the vote, followed by Mindy Kaling with 29%, and Anna Kendrick with 16%. It was also brought to our attention that a YA book from Margaret Cho would be really awesome, and we agree. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and commented!

And now to round out this poll topic, we’re asking you to weigh in on which funny guy you’d like to see write a YA book. Since we focused on the ladies last week, it’s only fair to give the guys a chance too. Vote in the poll below, or add your suggestions in the comments!

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

2014 Hub Reading Challenge Check-in #15

Sun, 05/18/2014 - 07:00

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since February 3 counts, so sign up now!

Hey, readers! How many more of you have finished the challenge?  I know there is at least person who conquered this challenge and read everything!  That is some amazing reading! If you have finished, I will be sending you emails soon with your badges.  Those of you still reading, keep at it! You have plenty of time to finish before June 22.

I am going on vacation this coming weekend and was thinking of reading ONE book from this year’s challenge.  What should I read?  I was looking at Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.  Thoughts? Let me know what I should read in the comments!

As I said before, I’m not participating in the challenge this year, but I have been following along on social media by checking the Goodreads 2014 Hub Challenge Group and the #hubchallenge hashtag. We’ve collected some tweets from your fellow participants– join the conversation if you haven’t already!

[View the story "The 2014 #hubchallenge" on Storify]

Keep reading, and remember, you have plenty of time to get through this challenge; it ends at 11:59PM EST on June 22nd. Please keep reading and tracking your progress and check back here each Sunday to let us know how you are doing and to see how other folks are doing.

If you are have already completed the challenge by reading or listening to 25 titles from the list of eligible books, be sure to fill out the form below so we can send you your Challenge Finisher badge, get in touch to coordinate your reader’s response and, perhaps best of all, to notify you if you win our exciting grand prize drawing! Be sure to use an email you check frequently and do not fill out this form until you have completed the challenge by reading 25 titles.

Tweets of the Week: May 16

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 07:00

Some bookish news from this week…





Just for Fun:

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading The One by Kiera Cass

Forecast clear? Hit the Road and Read!

Fri, 05/16/2014 - 07:00

photo by flickr user seanrnicholson

There are many kinds of road trips; you’ve got your epic cross-country odyssey, your basic weekend escape destination, your communing-with-nature car-camping expedition, your established scenic byway (Route 66, Blue Ridge Parkway, California’s coastal 101…) but when the weather (finally!) takes a turn towards sunny and warm, any and all kinds of travel on our myriad motorways start to call to me, and I love to see the same “hit-the-road” enthusiasm reflected in my reading.

Reading about a road trip gives me that vicarious travel thrill, and sometimes (usually) even inspires me to plan an adventure of my own when I’ve put the book down, even if all I can realistically manage is an afternoon picnic to the other side of town.

Below are three novels that take their road trip credentials seriously while simultaneously delivering believable characters and engaging plots.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson (2011 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Sometimes when you pack up a car and hitthe road, it’s a one-way trip. Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is about the kind of road trip you embark on when you’re really leaving something behind, not just for a brief adventure or a temporary escape, but to actually start over again, geographically and emotionally. Amy has been tasked with getting her mother’s Jeep from southern California to Connecticut, where her mother waits with a new house and a new life for them both. But there’s a small problem; Amy hasn’t driven at all since her father died in a car accident months before, and the very thought of getting behind the wheel sets her on edge.

Enter Roger, son of an old family friend and designated chauffeur, who happens to be game for some minor (and not-so-minor) itinerary adjustments. This makes a seriously satisfying road trip read because of all the quintessential car travel details like snacks, tunes (character-built playlists are included as Amy and Roger take turns queuing up the iPod), and ephemera; snapshots, receipts, ticket stubs, and local interest brochures are included in the “scrapbook” pages at each new chapter. The story itself capitalizes on the premise of a transformational journey to great effect, offering up emotionally resonant plotting alongside some choice road-trip detours.

Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

If you’re ready to take your road-trip reading to next level (or if perhaps you’re waiting for that magical 25th birthday, when the final road barrier is lifted as the wonderful world of car rentals opens up to you), may I recommend this excellently-executed mystery about two friends taking the ultimate post-graduation adventure; a cross-country exploration by bicycle. A road trip in the technical sense that Chris and Win are, in fact, traveling across the country on the nation’s roads, but the stakes are raised here by both the physical endurance test of, y’know, riding a bike 3,000 miles, and by the fallout of a fight which causes the guys to separate before the end of the trip. Then Win falls entirely off the grid, and everyone assumes Chris knows where he is. The FBI gets involved and everything.

Many of the beloved details of car travel must necessarily fall by the proverbial wayside here, as there’s no shuffling of driving or radio duties when everyone’s on their own vehicular transport. But what Shift lacks in classic car-trip points, it more than makes up for in dynamic characterizations and plotting; Chris and Win have a realistic and varied friendship with a lot of history, and they are embarking on a meticulously-planned, much-hyped, physically-taxing trip designed to mark their transition away from high school. Inevitably, the road does not always run smoothly (har har), but the reading flies by.

How to be Bad by Lauren Myracle, Sarah Mlynowski and E. Lockhart

Told in alternating chapters by three distinct characters, with each character written by one of the authors, this is an easy-reading ride through sunny (and strange) Florida over a weekend. Jesse and Vicks are already friends, and Mel is the new girl at their waffle-joint job that no one’s quite sure of. When Jesse, in an attempt to avoid new realities at home, proposes they drive the nine hours south to Miami to visit Vicks’ recently-relocated-for-college boyfriend, Mel offers to pay for gas, and suddenly the three girls are a team, if a slightly uneasy one, with a mission.

Questionable roadside eating establishments, a massive weather system, and the requisite Florida gators (both stuffed and live) all make appearances, keeping the road travel just this side of misadventure. The three distinct voices help the emotional arcs to keep pace with the miles logged, and it’s fun to read a team effort from authors who have each written very successful novels on their own. Plus, I love a road-trip story that can demonstrate so entertainingly that all the quirky pit-stops, navigational detours, and personal discoveries of a major, multi-week excursion can be equally accessible without crossing state borders, at least with the right attitude.

There are so many great road trip reads out there; I’d love to hear from you in the comments about what you read to get amped up to hit the road!

-Carly Pansulla

Is This the Real Life? Diversity

Thu, 05/15/2014 - 07:00

Diversity in youth literature has been a big topic of late. So, for this month’s contemporary YA lit book list, I am going to highlight some titles with various aspects of diversity in them (including a book that includes financial struggle). I know I will miss some, but these are the titles that popped into my head and I want you all to tell me of more titles!

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson
Laila’s father was killed in a coup, and her family has been exiled to the United States from the Middle East. While she’s trying to adjust to a new life and culture, her mom is conspiring to get the family throne back.

I’m Just Me by M.G. Higgins
Nasreen and Mia are two very different girls who stand out at their school, making them targets for bullying and racial slurs, both at school and online. So the girls come together and hatch a plan for revenge.

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Frenchie Garcia can’t come to grips with the death of a classmate. No one can figure out why its bothering her so much, but she hasn’t told anyone she was with him the night he died. So she sets out to recreate his last night and figure out what went wrong.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Sixteen-year-old Amal has decided to wear a hijab full time. She didn’t think a piece of cloth would be such a big deal, but it changes everything.

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (2014 Pura Belpré Award and 2014 YALSA Top Ten Quick Picks)
This is what Piddy Sanchez is told upon her arrival at school. Problem is, Piddy doesn’t even know who Yaqui Delgado is or what she could possibly have done to make her mad, since she’s the new kid at school.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2014 Odyssey Honor Book and 2014 Printz Honor Book)
Eleanor doesn’t wear the right clothes or do the right things. She can’t afford to, but when she meets Park, her whole world changes and she has hope.

-Faythe Arredondo

Jukebooks: This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 07:00

David’s family is still recovering from the trauma of the death of his older brother, John, who died while serving in the military. For David, baseball and religious faith have been essential in rebuilding his life. Then he meets Bailey, and despite their different beliefs, he falls deeply in love. All seems to be on track until David tells his family about a preacher who predicts the Rapture will occur on May 11, at 3:00 am. Far from reacting with the expected laughs, David’s parents are intrigued. And then, after meeting the preacher, they become true believers. David’s parents begin to prepare for the end of the world.

David and Bailey listen to the Grammy Award winning band, Arcade Fire. In her author’s note, Smith-Ready writes about her own love for the band, particularly Arcade Fire’s second album, Neon Bible. She explains, ” …Neon Bible is about adolescence, when many of us first learn that the world can hurt us. Neon Bible and this novel both chronicle the struggle to retain hope in the face of this revelation.” A single on this album, “Intervention,” speaks of revolution, violent separation from misguided rulers. The music video sets the powerful lyrics against scenes from a 1925 silent movie, Battleship Potemkin, now considered a prime example of revolutionary propaganda. The combination is chilling.

Because of copyright issues, the music video has to be played directly on YouTube. But it’s worth the extra click.

-Diane Colson, currently reading A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War on Slavery by Albert Marrin

Reading for the Fun of It

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 07:00

May 11-17 is “Reading is Fun Week,” run by Reading Is Fundamental , an organization that works to get books into the hands of children so that they can discover the joys of reading. As a youth services librarian, I often tell parents that their child will be a better reader if they read more, and a key to this is to make sure they are reading for fun.  This doesn’t just apply to elementary school kids, though. Young adults and adults should be reading for fun, too. Now  this got me wondering…do teens read for fun? Come to think of it…do I read for fun?

One thing I do not remember doing much of when I was in high school was reading for the fun of it. In fact, it took a while for me to remember reading anything other than what was assigned to me in school. I really had to think about it for a while before remembering that I actually read a lot of books for fun when I was a teen.  I read R.L. Stine and fantasy books, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and I started to get more into adult fiction because there just weren’t as many Young Adult books and authors back in those days. Today, publishers and authors have tapped into the Young Adult market in a way I wish they had when I was in high school.

Many of the titles that come out for young adults these days seem to be too heavy for me, though. What I mean by “heavy” is that so many of the books are dark, or have deep themes, or can require a lot of thinking to really understand. Dystopian novels often showcase the possibilities of what could be if society takes a dark turn, post-apocalyptic novels get people thinking about how they would handle life after a similar event, and there are scores of true life books dealing with issues from rape to anorexia to bullying. I’m not saying that these books shouldn’t be written or read- on the contrary, they are incredibly important and I am pleased to see that they are voraciously read by all ages. What I’m saying is they aren’t the first things that come to mind when I’m looking for something light hearted that will make me laugh.

This brings me back to the fact that I really had to think hard to remember what I read as a teen when I just wanted something fun to read. The books I easily remember reading were the dark, thought provoking class assignments. I think, maybe, that even though we need the light-hearted stuff, it doesn’t stick in our minds as well as the books we have to think about, which isn’t fair to the books that I read and liked so much because they were exactly the opposite! Could it be that the lighter the book, the easier it is for it to float right out of our consciousness?

I am aware that what I consider fun may not be fun for others, and vice versa. When I really sit down and think about it, fun is quite subjective. What follows are some of my favorite fun YA reads- some of which I had to go browse my Goodreads list to remember!


My Most Excellent Year: A novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park (which I’ve mentioned before but love so much I’m using it again) by Steve Kluger- Told in essays, memos and emails this book has a little bit of everything in it- baseball, musicals, political activism and sneaking backstage to meet Mary Poppins included.  While many of the plot details are serious subjects, such as Alé wanting to do musical theatre against her parents’ wishes, Augie coming out to himself since everyone around him already knows, and T.C. trying to reach the deaf boy who keeps discreetly telling him the next pitch, they are dealt with in such a positive manner that the whole book has an overall great vibe. And since it takes place in Boston, my favorite city in the world, I only love it more.


Who Done It?  edited by Jon Scieszka contains short alibis from many suspects- that is, YA authors- including John Green, Libba Bray, David Levithan and Lauren Oliver. They’ve all been invited to a gathering thrown by their enemy- that is, editor- Herman P. Mildew…and he just happens to be dead on arrival. So who did it? It certainly seems like everyone there had a reason to commit murder, and some of those alibis are a little on the flimsy side. For fans of mystery this should be a hit, but as a non-mystery fan I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It introduced me to several authors I’d not read before and it was definitely funny, as well as strangely informative about pickles.


This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith is a fun romance set in a New England  beach town that is overrun with a movie production because the teen male lead wants to meet the girl he’s been talking to online. It starts with an accidental email exchange between movie star Graham Larkin and small town ice cream store clerk Ellie O’Neil, briefly turns into a case of mistaken identity, and even amidst secrets on both sides and Hollywood disillusionment ends quite satisfactorily. While the premise of a famous celebrity accidentally emailing and then falling for you is unlikely, it’s not impossible, and I couldn’t help but pull for them through the whole novel.


The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare is actually kind of dark, now that I think about it– but it’s so much fun to read. It has action, romance, and I admit that I cried and cried at the end of the trilogy, which I thought ended in the best possible way and in a way I totally didn’t anticipate.  In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. What I liked so much about Infernal Devices was that it’s a combination of steampunk, historical fiction, action, romance, and science fiction. Starting with 2011 Teens’ Top Ten winning title Clockwork Angel, this series has little elements of so many different genres that I never got bored with it and I liked it even more than the one that follows it chronologically.


Now I want to hear what you consider a fun read. Did you have to wrack your brain for it, or did it just come to you? Fill the comments up with titles that just made you feel good or made you laugh!

-Carla Land, currently reading Strobe Edge volume 2 by Io Sakisaka


Young Adult-Picture Book Pairings: Happy Mothers’ Day!

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 07:00

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day!

It’s always a tight-rope to talk about mothers in kids’ books or YA books. On the one hand, there are lots of mothers, good, bad, and indifferent, who make appearances in books for young people. However, since kids’ books are supposed to be about the kids, and YA books about the teens, the mothers often have to be shuffled into the background. It seems like a disproportionate number of YA protagonists have mothers who are dead or absent, while picture book mothers are often too perfect, since the protagonist kids need to have their adventures against a relatively safe background.

With that said, here are some picture book and YA mothers who have stuck out to me. I know I can’t begin to cover all of them, so please add your favorites (or least favorites!) in the comments, and check out Wendy Daughdrill’s post that celebrates mothers in YA lit.

Picture Books

The Berenstein Bears and Mama’s New Job by Stan and Jan Berenstein. The Berenstein Bears are one of those picture book families in which the mother sometimes seems a little too perfect. I feel like this tendency is more pronounced in later books in the series, especially in the ones where poor Papa Bear becomes the bad example time and again. However, the series also has a lot of good, realistic parenting moments (maternal and paternal), and I think Mama’s New Job is one of these. It shows the process of Mama going from a stay-at-home bear to a working woman and how the whole family makes the adjustment and helps her along the way.

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild by Mem Fox, illustrated by Marla Frazee. I, as a mother, love this book because Harriet’s mom is not perfect. She tries and tries not to yell, while Harriet tries and tries not to get in trouble, but in the end, Harriet’s mom just loses it and starts yelling. All turns out ok, and Harriet and her mom both learn about apologizing and trying again.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw. Ah, the book that parents love to hate. I’ve heard about people who love this book and people who hate it, but not a whole lot of middle ground. In it, a mother sings the same lullaby to her son as he grows older, and older, and older (including into adulthood), and people seem to see it as either a testament to maternal love’s endurance or an example of maternal overprotectiveness. I remember listening to this book as a kid, and I always though the scene where the mother drives across town to rock her adult son to be funny and charming–of course, I thought, no real mother would do that, but lots of mothers probably feel like they could. Love it or hate it, Love You Forever is a classic “mother” picture book.

Yoko Learns to Read by Rosemary Wells. Yoko is a Japanese American cat for whom learning to read in English becomes much quicker after she discovers the library, because she and her mother have only three (Japanese) books at home. I like the Yoko stories because they show how Yoko’s mother helps Yoko even while she navigates her own difficulties in a new culture–in this case, she doesn’t want to tell the teacher that she herself can not read English. Yoko is both supported by her mother and has the chance to teach her in return.

Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood. This is a book I remember loving in early elementary school, and it’s one my kids check out over and over again from the library. While a witch who turns seven kids into food is certainly the attention-grabbing character in the story, it’s the kids’ mother who turns out to be the star. She follows the witch to her hut in the woods, demands to be admitted until she’s successful, and correctly guesses which child has been turned into which food to save them all from the curse. At the end of the story, she ensures that the witch will never bother her family again.

YA Books

The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna (2013 Printz Honor Book, 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults). Taylor Jane Simon is nineteen years old and has a summer job in France, but her mother, Penny, insists on tagging along. Taylor has Asperger’s Syndrome, and as the story progresses, Taylor’s narration lays out the ways in which Penny is overprotective and “often wrong.” I find this book interesting because, given Taylor’s unique point of view (I wouldn’t go so far as to call her an unreliable narrator), the reader can see both the ways that Penny is overprotective and some of the reasons why. The summer’s experiences, however, give Taylor the determination to demand her own independence, and start to prepare Penny for giving it to her.

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson (2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee). Her father’s death in a violent coup has forced Laila, her mother, and her younger brother to flee to suburban Washington, D.C. from their Middle Eastern country. While Laila tries to figure out the truth behind who her father was and reconcile this with her memories, her mother stays busy pretending that their life is still under control and desperately trying to negotiate with the CIA about how the current civil war back home should be managed. The struggles of a family who have far bigger issues on their minds while still getting through daily life prove a fascinating read.

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli (2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults). In this retelling of the fairy tale Rapunzel, Napoli gives three viewpoints on the events: Zel’s, her love Konrad’s, and the “witch’s,” known only in the story as “Mother.” In telling Mother’s side of the story, Napoli provides a fascinating examination into what factors would make a woman steal a baby to raise as her own, and then imprison the young woman she professes to love so much.

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Phillipe Lardy (2006 Printz Honor Book, 2006 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book). Unlike the other books in this list, A Wreath for Emmett Till is neither fiction nor narrative, but a collection of poems (a “heroic crown of sonnets,” to be exact) commemorating the life of the young boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. It includes two poems that focus on his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, one that likens her to Mary, mother of Jesus. The afterword notes that Till Mobley dedicated the rest of her life to civil rights activism.

Imani All Mine by Connie Porter (2000 Alex Award Winner, 2000 Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults). This is this only YA book I know of (and now I expect to get a flood of others!) where the protagonist is a mother herself. Tasha is a fifteen year old mother who still likes to do the normal teenager things (watch TV, hang out with her friends), but is deeply devoted to her baby Imani and to being a good mother. She also has to deal with the violence in her neighborhood, and her fear of the man who raped her. Porter examines not just Tasha’s motherhood, but also her relationship with her own mother and the difficulty that poverty brings to being a mother of any age.

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan (2006 Best Books for Young Adults). While Percy Jackson’s mom takes more of a back seat than the other moms in this list, she is certainly an interesting character in her own right. She stays married to an abusive and (literally) smelly man, but stands up to him by finding blue food to eat. She seems blind to all of Percy’s failings, but continues to send him away to boarding school. As the book progresses, both Percy and the reader slowly learn why his mom makes the choices she does, and her own brand of heroism shines through even while the book is focused on Percy’s hero’s journey.

-Libby Gorman, currently (still) reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

My Mom Made Me a Reader

Mon, 05/12/2014 - 07:00

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother’s Day. Truthfully the holiday is bittersweet for me, since my mom passed away nine years ago this month. But I do have happy memories of her, and many of them are connected to books and to reading. She was a voracious reader who passed that love of books on to me. I’d rather read than do almost anything else. (This is why my house looks like it does.)

When I was small, she read to me daily. We shared Pauline Palmer’s The Just Alike Princes, No Flying in the House by Betty Brock, Margery Clark’s Poppy Seed Cakes, and many, many fairy tales and fables. As soon as I could read on my own, she let me have free rein in the public library. While she checked on what I was reading, she never stopped me from reading anything. This led me to discover The Bobbsey Twins, Harriet the Spy, and every word Judy Blume ever wrote.

My mom’s favorite genre was Science Fiction. She loved Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? When the movie Blade Runner came out (it was based on Do Androids Dream…) mom and I eagerly went to the cinema together to see how the adaptation worked.

This love of SF led me to read everything from Asimov’s I, Robot to Frank Herbert’s Dune to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series to novelizations of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars to Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

My mom was also fond of nonfiction, specifically biographies. Her influence may have made me the only twelve year old on the planet who read both Lauren Bacall’s By Myself and Long Live the King: A Biography of Clark Gable by Lyn Tornabene.

Mom’s dementia stopped her from reading for a good couple of years before her death, but I just know she would have loved Harry Potter and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. Whenever I sit down with a new book, I am always grateful for the rock-solid reading foundation she built for me.

How did your mother shape you as a reader? Do you have a memory of your mom and books? Please share your experiences in the comments.

~ Geri Diorio, currently listening to Project Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson

The Monday Poll: Your Dream Comedian YA Author

Sun, 05/11/2014 - 23:43

photo by flickr user abee5

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked you to choose the coolest pet in YA lit– and got thoroughly schooled because we neglected to include Angus from Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson books. What were we thinking?! We love Angus! That aside, Bumbersnoot from Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage came in first with 52% of the vote, followed by Church from Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones (and other books) with 19%. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and weighed in with comments!

For this week’s poll, we want to address the fact YA lit still has a reputation as being dark and issue-laden. Anyone who’s read even a small sampling of YA books knows that’s not universally true, but we think some celebrity power might go a long way in counteracting the stereotype. So, which funny lady would you like to see author a YA book? (Don’t fret, we’ll poll you about funny guys next week.) Vote in the poll below, or add your suggestions in the comments!

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

2014 Hub Reading Challenge Check In #14

Sun, 05/11/2014 - 07:00

Not signed up for YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge? Read the official rules and sign up on the original post. Anything you’ve read since February 3 counts, so sign up now!

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there. If you are a mom, how on earth do you have time to read?  Well done, you!  If you have a mom, thank her for helping you learn to read, because I bet she was there for you, starting with singing the ABC song.

In other news:  There are 42* days left in the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge. Don’t Panic!**  That is plenty of time to finish 25 books. And I know many of you fine folks have already read some of the titles on the list, so you don’t even have to try and read .595 books per day to hit 25 on the 22nd.

I just finished The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks and thought it was delightful!  I am not a fan of super hero comics, but you totally don’t have to be to appreciate Superhero Girl and her battles with day-to-day things. (Who hasn’t had a run-in with Skeptical Guy that just ruins your day?) What challenge book have you just finished?

* Ah, the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

** Since I started with a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference, I figured I should continue.

The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge will run until 11:59PM EST on June 22nd. Keep track of what you are reading/listening to as you go along. Every Sunday we’ll have one of these check-in posts so you can share your thoughts about the book(s) you read/listened to that week, and share links to any reviews you post online. You can also share your thoughts via social media using the #hubchallenge hashtag, or join the 2014 Hub Challenge group on Goodreads. We will be compiling posts from various places online into a Storify collection. You can see the social media conversation below!

If you have already completed the challenge by reading or listening to 25 titles from the list of eligible books, be sure to fill out the form below so we can send you your Challenge Finisher badge, get in touch to coordinate your reader’s response, and, perhaps best of all, notify you if you win our exciting grand prize drawing! Be sure to use an email you check frequently and do not fill out this form until you have completed the challenge by reading/listening to 25 titles. 

Super MOOC Mania! Part Two – The Environment in Comics

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 07:00

Hello, again, friends!  I’m back with part two of my ongoing SuperMOOC Mania series where I tell you all about the comics I’m reading that are a part of the Super Massive Open Online Course I’m taking – Social Issues through Comic Books.  If you didn’t catch the first installment of my series, please be sure to check out my post spotlighting comics that deal with addiction from last month.

Today, we’re moving on to the next module & topic in my class – comics dealing with the environment.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with such a big, complicated topic, but, I was happy to discover a couple of new ones that dealt with the subject as well as a couple of old favorites that fit the bill, as well.  Each book that I’m featuring this week takes a really different look at the environment, be it from the future where environmentalists are questioning their purpose in life to how the effects of massive flooding, like from Hurricane Katrina, can bring out the best and worst in people, and much more.  So, join me, won’t you?  As always, we start with Batman…well, not exactly Batman, but he is part of the story, even if he is some kind of zombie Batman…

Swamp Thing, Volume 3 – Rotworld:  The Green Kingdom by Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette, and Jeff Lemire:  The new version of Swamp Thing written by current Batman scribe, Scott Snyder, is one of my new favorite series since DC rebooted all of their comics back to issue #1.  Swamp Thing’s story is basically the same – Dr. Alec Holland a.k.a. Swamp Thing is the life force of everything green, Animal Man a.k.a. Buddy Baker is the life force of everything red, and the Arcane family (specifically creepy and gross Anton Arcane) is the “life” force of the rot.  When they all work together, we have an ecosystem that is functioning perfectly.  But, the Rot, as led by Anton, is constantly trying to take over the planet and kill off the red (humans and animals) and the green (plants, etc.).  In this 3rd volume of the series, Anton has finally gotten his way – the rot has taken over everything but a very small piece of the Earth that Poison Ivy and Swamp Thing are trying to keep intact.  However, when their secret sanctuary is attacked by the horrible zombified, rot-controlled people and animals of the Earth, Swamp Thing knows he must fight with all his might (and with a little help from Batman from the past – it’ll make sense if you read it, trust me) to put the world back to right.  There’s some scary stuff going on in this book, so it might be more appropriate for older readers.

The Massive:  Black Pacific by Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown & Dave Stewart:  Ever wonder what would happen to environmentalists and their mission if the world had metaphorically and kind of literally collapsed?  That’s the story that Brian Wood brings to readers in this first volume of his awesome series, The Massive.  Planet Earth is not what it used to be after the enormous environmental and societal downfalls have occurred around the globe.  But the members of the environmental group Ninth Wave are still searching the seas in their ship, Kapital.  The problem is that they are no longer looking for whalers; they are looking for their lost sister ship, The Massive, that carries the other members of their group, but from whom they have been separated.  Led by Captain Callum Israel, the Kapital is roaming seas full of others who are determined to kill anyone who gets in their way.  And Captain Israel is wondering if they’ll ever find their mates or The Massive.  A great sci-fi dystopian story that imagines what happens when the world is already lost and there’s no more saving to do.

Hawkeye:  Little Hits by Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber & Jesse Hamm:  From this collection, we read issue #7 which deals with hurricanes, floods and human nature – but, readers will enjoy the whole book, as I noted in my Funny Comics post – and, yes, it was about the first volume of the series, but this second volume is just as funny, trust me.  Anyways, when Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, isn’t helping out the Avengers, he’s helping his friend, Grills, get Grills’ dad out of his house on Rockaway Beach since the storm is certain to wash him out.  And, we also get a little Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye (yes, they are both Hawkeyes, don’t even ask how that’s possible – it’s comics, so anything’s possible) as she goes to a wedding in New Jersey and sees how human nature can be a bit more dangerous than she expected.  A great story that shows true friendship and the lengths humans will go to help not only their friends, but people they don’t even know.  Plus, it’s funny.  And who doesn’t love Hawkeye – he’s hilarious (and a bit of a jerk, but more hilarious than jerk)! (a 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection).

Well, that’s it for this week.  As with the last post, we did read one other book that I liked, but again, it was labeled as being for mature readers only – too bad.  I hope you enjoyed this look at comics that deal with the environment – and, sending out a hope that you’ll join me next month when I cover comics that deal with Social Inequality.  See you then – Same Bat Time (approximately), Same Bat Channel (or website).

-Traci Glass, currently reading We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Librarians Love: Fantasy & Sci-Fi Without Romance

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 07:00

by Stephen Poff

YALSA-bk is a listserv with lively discussions among librarians, educators, and beyond about all things YA lit. Sometimes one listserv member will ask for help finding books around a certain theme or readalikes for a particular title. This post is a compilation of responses for one such request.

The original request
I’m looking for fantasy and science fiction books that have little to no romance. I know this was discussed recently, but I’m having trouble searching the archive.

Suggested titles

  • Pure by Julianna Baggott (but not the rest of the series)
  • The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
  • Exodus by Julie Bertagna (but not the rest of the series)
  • White Cat by Holly Black
  • The Gardener by S.A. Bodeen
  • The Sword Shannara series by Terry Brooks
  • Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
  • Eye of Minds by James Dashner
  • The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
  • Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  • Dangerous by Shannon Hale
  • The Cadet of Tildor by Alex Lidell
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Thief’s Covenant by ari Marmell
  • Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
  • The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness
  • The Wind on Fire trilogy by William Nicholson
  • Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien
  • Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce
  • Terrier by Tamora Pierce
  • Tris’s Book by Tamora Pierce
  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman
  • The Bartimeous Sequence by Jonathon Stroud
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Suggested authors

  • Isaac Asimov
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Terry Pratchett

Have more titles you think should belong on these lists? Add them on the YALSA wiki or leave a comment! Looking for more compiled booklists? Check out the YALSA wiki or other booklists here at The Hub.

– Gretchen Kolderup, currently reading The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Tweets of the Week: May 9th

Fri, 05/09/2014 - 06:30

As usual, Twitter has been busy this week with YA related news, events, giveaways and more. Here are some of the highlights, in case you missed anything…

Contests and Giveaways

New Releases

News and Events

- Whitney Etchison, currently reading The Rock of Ivanore by Laurisa White Reyes

Love and Loss: Remembering Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Part 2

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 07:00

“If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you, and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.” ~Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I’ve cried twice in my life at the news of an author’s death. The first time was when I was in high school and a friend walked up to me and said, “That author you like just died.” When I realized she meant Isaac Asimov, I started crying right there, in the middle of lunch, in front of hundreds of uncaring classmates (a fact that did little to make my misunderstood soul any more understood by my peers.)

The second time is just over two weeks ago when I woke from a restless night to read that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died. The cover of Love in the Time of Cholera still conjures a clear memory of me perched in my studio apartment devouring the novel over the course of two sun-drenched summer days, the rising heat lending a dreamy quality to the passing hours. I remember reading that famous last line, “Forever, he said” and feeling that I was quite simply drunk on love, on language, on the bittersweet beauty of human experience. I immediately immersed myself in everything that Marquez had written, glorying in the sheer sensuality and song that underlies all his work.

It’s been twenty some years since that first fateful encounter and, even as an avid reader, I have yet to encounter another author who can elicit that same heady blend of euphoria, grief, and breathtaking beauty. To read Marquez is to enter into a dream, both haunting and lovely, a world bordering on the impossible and brimming with promise. His titles alone—One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Of Love and Other Demons—are stories unto themselves evoking both the fantastical and the real while hinting at the profound themes explored within.

I am, of course, not alone in my adoration of Marquez’ works and news of his death was accompanied by tears the world over. Indeed, his influence on not only readers but also other writers can be seen far and wide—a fact that led me to think about those YA authors whose work captures the spirit of Marquez’s magical realism.

I’ll start with Ray Bradbury’s ode to childhood, the 1957 classic Dandelion Wine. The novel consists of a series of linked vignettes that revolve around one summer in the life of 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding. Like Marquez, Bradbury was deeply inspired by his boyhood home and a similar intoxicating nostalgia pervades both their works. In particular, Bradbury’s quiet combination of vivid details, poetic language, and a touch of the fantastic makes this lyrical read a clear companion to Marquez’ works.

Weetzie Bat, by 2005 Edwards Award winner Francesca Lia Block, is the pop-culture, minimalist, urban counterpart to Marquez’s mythical, sweeping, rural brand of magical realism. Set in Los Angeles, this slim volume follows the adventures in love and life of the inimitable Weetzie Bat and her coterie of misfit friends. Although vastly different than Marquez in tone, Weetzie Bat nevertheless embodies so many of the characteristics that make Marquez’s novels appealing: dream-like settings that transcend the everyday, a focus on real-life issues made more accessible by the fantastical filter from which they’re seen, and most importantly, a wildly passionate, life-affirming belief in love.

Katherine Catmull’s debut novel, Summer and Bird, leans more towards the magical than the realistic but still falls within the spirit of Marquez’s work. It is the story of two sisters who wake up to find their parents missing and must embark upon a quest to find them in a land called Down. While the setting and fairy-tale motifs clearly belong to the fantasy genre, the content and character development is poignantly realistic. Indeed, what reminded me most of Marquez is Catmull’s adept exploration of grief and loss and a specific melancholy so reminiscent of Marquez’ early novels. That coupled with the exquisite prose makes this a great middle-grade introduction to the world of magical realism.

I want to end with a book I just finished, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Of all the books reviewed, it reminded me the most of Marquez’s style, in general, and Love in a Time of Cholera, specifically. A sweeping family saga, the novel focuses on Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings into a family of women plagued by the consequences of tragic love. This is magical realism at its finest and a truly remarkable debut novel. The sumptuous prose, the entwined themes of love and loss, and the masterful use of both the mystical and the metaphorical, makes this novel a worthy successor to Marquez’s canon.

If you’ve never read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, you may question why I would cry at a stranger’s death. I would answer that I mourn the loss of such a brilliant mind and compassionate heart, I mourn the thought of never reading another new work penned by him, and I mourn the end of a literary era. At the same time, I am so grateful to have read his work, for like all great authors, reading Marquez has enabled me to understand my own self in profound ways. That said, each of the works above have had similar effects, and I hope that they prove equally compelling to you…

~Alegria Barclay, currently reading Dorothy Must Die


Give Mom the Gift of YA Lit

Thu, 05/08/2014 - 07:00

Photo by Flickr user HK Colin

If you are hanging around The Hub, chances are you’re a reader. And if you love to read, statistically speaking, you probably had a mom, or some other motherly figure, who read to you when you were small. (I know, I know, lots of you are screaming that it was your dad. This is Mother’s Day. Wait your turn.) So if you are still looking for a last-minute Mother’s Day gift, why not show your appreciation by introducing her to a YA mom as fabulous as she is? Just match Mom’s style to one of the titles below, each with one of the best mothers in YA and plenty of adult appeal. You may need to include a box of tissues!

For the Mess-with-My-Kid-and-I’ll-Take-You-Down momDivergent by Veronica Roth (2012 Teens’ Top Ten winner). It’s no secret that adults everywhere are devouring this series, especially since the movie came out, but fierce mothers will have a particular appreciation for Natalie Prior. But…but…Tris’s mom is Abnegation, isn’t she? The picture of selflessness, she supports her children’s choices and wants what is best for them, even if it means watching them walk out of her life. But threaten one of her kids, and…let’s just say a whole other side of her comes out.

 For the Quiet-Strength momBetween Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (2012 Morris Award finalist). There are so many things to love about this book, not the least of which is Lina’s mother. Elena Vilkas is one of my favorite moms in all of YA. When she and her children are taken from their home in the middle of the night and deported, her example gives Lina the will to survive the horrors of a Siberian work camp—and eventually the grace to see good in the world again. Moms will love this beautiful historical novel that shines a light on the often-overlooked tragedy of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

For the Awesome Adoptive MomHope was Here by Joan Bauer. Some of the best moms in YA aren’t even “real” moms. Being abandoned at birth was the best thing that ever happened to Hope—whose biological mom named her Tulip, of all things—because that meant she got to be raised by her Aunt Addie, the “number-one constant” in Hope’s life. A no-nonsense businesswoman and a brilliant cook, Addie travels the country rescuing diners that are about to go under. Equal parts funny and sweet, this is one of those books that made me laugh and cry at the same time. Added bonus for moms: Aunt Addie gets her own romance!

For the Unconventional MomThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (2013 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2013 Teens’ Top Ten winner). Most of us have probably suspected our mom of having eyes in the back of her head, but try being Blue Sargent. Her mom is psychic– literally. Warm, quirky, and wonderful, Maura Sargent exudes girl power. And you’ve got to love the way she trusts her daughter to be the person she raised her to be. Stiefvater has serious crossover potential anyway, but this series will especially appeal to tough, smart ladies who love a strong heroine and a healthy dose of magic.

For the Mom who Knows How to Hold on and When to Let GoThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012 Teens’ Top Ten winner). This is the other book this year that I am so glad has found a wider adult audience due to  all the movie buzz. Yet, I almost did not put it on this list because A) Hasn’t everyone on the planet read it already?  and B) As much as I adore this book, I have to turn off the mom part of my brain to be able to think about it without throwing up. Because no mom wants to even entertain the idea of being in Hazel’s mom’s shoes. And ultimately that is why I ended up including it, because Hazel’s mom deserves to be on this list. Does she cringe at the thought of taking a kid with cancer on a plane to Amsterdam, thousands of miles from her doctors? Of course she does. She’s a mom. Yet she goes for it because she knows it’s what Hazel needs. That is what makes her a great mom.

For the Mom who Accepts Her Kids Just Like They AreAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2013 Printz Honor book). Ari’s mom is the mother I wish more kids had. She knows her son better than he knows himself and is always right there with unconditional love and support. Actually, all the parents in this books are pretty great, and the writing has a poetic simplicity to it that will appeal to gentle-spirited moms.

For the Mom who Is Everyone’s Mom—Boxed set of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I think we all have a Molly Weasley in our lives, that mom who is not only the ultimate mom to her own kids, but also compulsively mothers every stray who walks through her door. If yours is as awesome as mine, spring for the special edition hardcovers in the trunk thingy. She deserves it.

For the Perfectly Imperfect MomThe Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (2005 Teens’ Top Ten winner). Macy’s mom is…human. After her husband’s death, she copes with her grief by burying herself so deep in her job that she does not notice what her daughter is going through. She even alienates Macy from the new friends who are teaching her to open her heart again. Basically, she makes a lot of mistakes, like all of us real-life moms. But ultimately she recognizes those mistakes and has the opportunity to forge a new relationship with her daughter. This book landed on the list partly because it is my mom’s favorite YA!

Happy Mother’s Day and happy reading!

—Wendy Daughdrill, currently re-reading the Harry Potter series. I’m on Prisoner of Azkaban.


Celebrating Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month: The Indian-American Experience in YA Lit

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 07:00

Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), Chicago Institute of Art. Photograph taken by L. Nataraj

A few weeks ago, I was lamenting the closing down of one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how choked up it made me feel, but hear me out: This particularly eatery was so important to me because 1) It was the only place nearby that served the authentic South Indian cuisine I grew up eating and, 2) It’s where my husband and I grabbed lunch after our courthouse wedding nine years ago.

For years, my husband and I made the 30-minute drive to Madras Cafe – it would usually be packed with Indian families (many of whom were South Indian like mine). While perusing the menu, I would take comfort in being surrounded by the familiar strains of Tamil or Telugu – the languages spoken by my father and mother, respectively. The walls were also plastered with faded photographs of temples in the southern part of India, and food was served on traditional stainless steel dinnerware.

Because my parents live in Northern California, this place was the closest I could come to my mother’s home cooked meals. More than all of this, this restaurant represented a space where I belonged, and where I was not an outsider. This sense of belonging also applies to my feelings about diversity in literature – I continue to search for books in which I find my personal cultural experiences accurately mirrored. Discovering a story where the characters eat the same food as I do, pepper their English-dialogue with Indian language, and express the frustration of straddling two cultures elicits an internal sigh, like, “Finally! Someone else gets it!”

The month of May marks Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and I’m excited to share a few YA literature titles that focus on the Indian-American experience and/or Indian culture. 

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman: I picked up this book from Penguin’s booth in January during ALA Midwinter because I was pleasantly surprised to see a mainstream publisher releasing a novel about bharatanatyam (South Indian classical dance). Growing up, my family and I watched a lot of Bollywood cinema which fuses Western and classical dance techniques; I also attended a few arangetrams (debut performances) with my parents. Even though Venkatraman’s book is set in India, it’s sure to resonate with the Indian diaspora.

Veda lives to be a bharatanatyam dancer, but when she tragically loses her right leg in an accident, she must overcome formidable challenges to keep her dream of dancing alive. Once she is fitted with a prosthetic leg, Veda proceeds, with the support of her family and a patient teacher, to dance again. Told in luminous, spare verse, Veda’s story packs an emotional punch.

Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal (2010 Lambda Literary Award Winner): Adult fiction with definite YA appeal, Satyal’s hilarious and heartwrenching story gave me all the feels. Set in Cincinnati, Ohio, during the early 1990s, Blue Boy is the story of tweenaged Kiran Sharma, who loves music, ballet dancing, and playing with Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Unfortunately, all of these things mark him as an outsider among his closed-minded peers at school. The Indian children of his parents’ friends hardly accept him, either. When his mother catches him wearing her make-up one day, the inventive tween pretends that he’s divinely inspired by the Hindu blue deity, Krishna. Initially an excuse to throw his mom off, Kiran’s imitation of Krishna becomes an all-consuming pursuit of personal truths and individuality.

Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins (2008 Popular Paperbacks) “Jasmine “Jazz” Gardner heads off to India during the monsoon season. The family trip is her mother’s doing: Mrs. Gardner wants to volunteer at the orphanage that cared for her when she was young. But going to India isn’t Jazz’s idea of a great summer vacation. She wants no part of her mother’s do-gooder endeavors.

What’s more, Jazz is heartsick. She’s leaving the business she and her best friend, Steve Morales, started—as well as Steve himself. Jazz is crazy in love with the guy. If only he knew! Only when Jazz reluctantly befriends Danita, a girl who cooks for her family, and who faces a tough dilemma, does Jazz begin to see how she can make a difference—to her own family, to Danita, to the children at the orphanage, even to Steve.” (Description from


For additional suggestions on fantastic South Asian lit, check out these other posts on The Hub:

India Independence Day

Happy Independence Day (In India)

- Lalitha Nataraj, currently reading The Pomegranate King by Nishta Mehra


Jukebooks: Going Over by Beth Kephart

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 07:00

Vivacious Ada lives in West Berlin. Her life isn’t easy by any means, but at least she is free to live it as she pleases. Ada is in love with Stefan, who also lives in Berlin, not so far from Ada. But they might as well be thousands of miles apart, because Stefan lives beyond the Wall, in East Berlin. Residents of East Berlin cannot leave. Like prisoners, they risk death if they try to go over the Wall. It sounds like the plot of a fictional dystopian world, but it is not.

Although the communist Soviet Union had allied itself with capitalistic nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and France during World War II, it emerged as an inimical force in determining Germany’s post-war fate. Germany was divided into sectors, with each of the Allied Powers governing one sector. The portion of Germany under Soviet rule became known as East Germany, and was developed into a Soviet satellite. Everything, from the home East Germans could life in to the jobs they could work, was determined by the government.

Two mothers can only wave to their children and grandchildren in the Soviet sector of Berlin from across the Berlin wall. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images). 1961

The capital city of Berlin happened to be in East Germany. Again, the victorious nations divided Berlin itself into sectors, with easternmost area under the rule of the Soviets. In 1961, the East German government began constructing a wall around its sector, allegedly because the West German government was a corruptive influence. In truth, it was to contain the thousands of East Berliners who were fleeing the constrictive Soviet government.

Once the Wall was built, it was guarded as Stefan and Ada describe. You could be shot and killed for trying to cross into West Berlin.

In the book, Ada falls into a fevered state, and while she is ill she hears the song 99 Luftballons by a German band called Nena. The presence of this song in the story is telling. Balloons sent into the air are perceived as a military threat, resulting in a war that destroys civilization.

-Diane Colson, currently reading This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready

We’ll Always Have Macondo: Remembering Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Part 1

Wed, 05/07/2014 - 07:00

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.  At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe house, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.  The world was so recent that many things lacked names and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Like so many others, I remember the day I cracked open a used copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and read the startling opening lines.  It was the summer between high school and college, and I was tucked into my dim bedroom, attempting to escape the heat, feeling slightly intimidated but also quite sophisticated as I flipped through to the first page of this literary juggernaut.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I remember reading the book in one huge gulp, though of course that’s not true.  What is true is that what I remember of the days that followed is reading the book, and very little else.

“Both described at the same time how it was always March there and always Monday, and then they understood that José Arcadio Buendía was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.”

I remember jotting down a short quote–“There is always something left to love”–and feeling like it meant something important.  And I remember hazily nearing the end and wondering what in the world I would do when I had to close the book, and then reaching the last page and the “fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble” swept through Macondo, wiping out the city and exiling it from the memory of men, but of course not really.  Not from our memories.  Instead, those final lines sent me searching for more more more more and I stumbled from Márquez to Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, José Saramago, and my favorites,  Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes.  I immersed myself in el realismo mágico, despite my inability to read or speak Spanish, pushing the Interlibrary Loan system of the early 90s to its outer limits.  I started a small literary magazine–which I edited for almost a decade before it imploded in truly spectacular fashion—with the idea of cultivating and promoting North American magic realism.

And when Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez died on April 17 all of this came tumbling out of the past and into the present and without thinking I cracked open One Hundred Years of Solitude, again but as always, for the first time.  The tributes started rolling in immediately, of course, numerous obituaries and remembrances, all with the same basic facts but different spins, depending on how much attention was paid to his politics rather than his writing.  A fair amount of ink (or pixels, I guess) was spent defining the term magic realism, despite the fact that Márquez himself eschewed definitions, famously insisting that his work was not fantastic and that everything in his books had happened to himself or an acquaintance.

I like the way Salman Rushdie described it, in his New York Times column on Marquez: “The trouble with the term ‘magic realism,’ el realismo mágico, is that when people say or hear it they are really hearing or saying only half of it, ‘magic,’ without paying attention to the other half, ‘realism.’ But if magic realism were just magic, it wouldn’t matter. It would be mere whimsy — writing in which, because anything can happen, nothing has effect. It’s because the magic in magic realism has deep roots in the real, because it grows out of the real and illuminates it in beautiful and unexpected ways, that it works.”

With that in mind, and with my battered copy of Solitude beside me, I scanned my shelves for books where that happens, where magic illuminates something real and true.  Here’s what I came with:








  • City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Alex and his new friend Nadia are accompanying his intrepid grandmother on an Amazonian expedition in search of the Beast when they are kidnapped by the People of the Mist, a mysterious tribe with remarkable powers.

Michael, struggling to adjust to a new house and a new neighborhood while worrying about his seriously ill baby sister, discovers the enigmatic Skellig hiding in a decaying garage and enlists Mina, the girl next door and the one person he can confide in, to help nurse the strange creature back to health.

  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Antonio Marez is only six years old when Ultima, a curandera with the power to heal, moves in with his family, offering Tony guidance and protection as he navigates the demands of conflicting cultures and spiritual traditions.

  • Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

Left alone when the city across the river is destroyed and her family lost, Green withdraws into a devastated land where nothing grows, until a strange boy encourages her to connect with other survivors and replant her garden.

Lucky’s secret dream life competes with the brutal reality of a dysfunctional family and persistent bullying, but even the jungles of Laos can’t save him from the dealing with his troubles forever.

Haunted by her ex-best friend Charlie after his death, Vera struggles to decide whether to help clear his name despite the fact that he betrayed her, while maintaining the lowest of low profiles, keeping her grades up, delivering pizza’s, and pursuing a complicated relationship with an older coworker.

For as long as A remembers, each day has begun with A waking in a different 16 year old body, and A is good at living day to day and leaving no trace.  But when A meets Rhiannon and experiences a real connection for the first time, the urge to form a relationship despite the obvious obstacles becomes overwhelming.

Conor’s nightmares, triggered by his mother’s cancer treatment, show him a very different monster than the one that appears outside his bedroom window, but the stories told and demands made by the real monster finally persuade Conor to reveal his own great and terrible secret.

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

When Haroun’s contempt for fanciful stories shatter’s his father Rashid’s ability to spin a tale, Haroun  embarks on an epic quest to find and free the Sea of Stories, the source of inspiration and magic for all storytellers.

  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Uncannily charismatic Ruby, Chloe’s older sister, seems to have the entire town in the palm of her hand, but after a disastrous and ill-conceived swim uncovers a dead body, even Ruby can’t prevent Chloe being sent away, nor can she prevent Chloe from discovering the truth about that night when she returns two years later.

Underachieving Ed Kennedy is fully content to drift through life playing cards, hanging with his dog, and secretly loving his best friend Audrey, until the day he foils a bank robbery and starts receiving anonymous and vaguely threatening messages that force him to get involved in the lives of those around him.






Cheers, Gabo!

–Julie Bartel, currently reading Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick