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Black History Month: Experiencing the Harlem Renaissance Today

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 07:00

Photo by Flickr user The Microscopic Giant

As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s reflect on one of the most culturally significant time periods of African American history: the Harlem Renaissance.

I have always been interested in the Harlem Renaissance, stemming from reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston when I was in high school.  I followed that up with reading the beautiful biography by Valerie Boyd, Wrapped Up in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston.  I was so impressed by the life and writing of Hurston, and what it meant for her to be such a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.  Before I knew it, I was exploring more.  Having already been introduced to jazz music in middle school, I knew the genius of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday.  What I didn’t know, however, was the extent of their contribution to the Harlem Renaissance movement and all the other art, music, and writing that was being created during the 1920s and 30s in the cultural epicenter that was Harlem.

If you are looking for some authors, artists, musicians, and other prolific people of the Harlem Renaissance to get you started on your search for learning more about this historic time of rebirth for the African American culture, check out some of my suggestions below.  It’s my humble attempt at a beginner’s guide, so please add your own contributions in the comments!

Authors to Read

Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes is one of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance.  Hughes wrote poetry, short stories, novels, and essays.  To get started with reading Langston Hughes, pick up Knopf’s Collected Works of Langston Hughes or the biographical work, Remember Me to Harlem: the Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964.


Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston is well known for her popular novels, but she also wrote books compiling African American folklore.  Hurston’s research for these collections of folklore resulted in a lasting contribution to the preservation of African American culture.  Until you read more about Hurston’s life, you don’t realize how much of her life was spent recording and preserving folklore–she was just as much an anthropologist as she was an author.  Their Eyes Were Watching God is Hurston’s most famous work, but if you want to read one of her compilations of folklore and anthropological works, check out Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica.


Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen was a prolific poet and another key figure in the Harlem Renaissance.  His first published volume of poetry, Color, included a large number of works primarily focused on the theme of race.  If you want to read a good selection of Cullen’s work, pick up My Soul’s High Song: the Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance.


By James L. Allen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Claude McKay

Another poet and essayist prominent to the Harlem Renaissance, Claude McKay, was born and raised in Jamaica before coming to the United States in his twenties.  There is no one work that you need to start with to read McKay; any collection of his poetry that you can find would be a great place to start.



Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Arna Bontemps

Arma Bontemps, both a teacher and a librarian, produced a vast amount of writing during his lifetime.  From poetry and novels to children’s books and nonfiction, though his writing was vast, Bontemps’ work does not get the recognition it deserves and so it may be hard to track down his work in published books.  You may be able to find his poetry in collected editions, however.



By Photographer unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

James Weldon Johnson

Another key figure in the Harlem Renaissance was James Weldon Johnson.  Johnson’s anonymous publication of The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man was a significant work of its time that examined issues of racial identity.


Modern-day Novels for Tweens and Teens

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes (2003 Best Books for Young Adults, 2003 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and 2007 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Students in a modern-day high school find inspiration from the Harlem Renaissance when creating their own poems to read aloud at their English class open mike sessions every Friday.


Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford (a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults selection)

Becoming Billie Holiday, is a fictional memoir written in verse, that gives a realistic portrayal of Holiday’s early life, and also shows how strong the singer was to overcome all the struggles of her life to achieve her dreams.


Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers

Set in Harlem in 1925, Mark finds himself working for The Crisis, a magazine published by the NAACP.  Mark meets  many key figures of the Harlem Renaissance, while at the same time trying to break into the jazz scene.


Dave at Night by Gail Carson Levine

When Dave’s father dies, he is sent to the Hebrew Home for Boys in Harlem.  It is 1926, and though his life at the Home is hell, it is the times that he can sneak out at night and experience the nightlife of the Harlem Renaissance that allows Dave to keep on living.


Artists to See

By Smithsonian Institution from United States (Street Musicians Uploaded by PDTillman) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Henry Johnson

William Henry Johnson was a painter whose work primarily depicted the urban life of African Americans.  Johnson spent time in Paris, studying post-Impressionism and Expressionism, however most of his life was spent painting and teaching art in New York.


James Van Der Zee

James Van Der Zee, a celebrated American photographer, made a name or himself photographing African American life during the Harlem Renaissance.


Lois Mailou Jones

Lois Mailou Jones worked in the media of painting and textile design.  Jones is an award winning artist who also championed for African and Haitian artists, was a respected professor at Howard University, and is recognized as having an immense impact on the African American experience in art.


Jacob Lawrence

Jacob Lawrence was raised and educated in Harlem.  Eventually owning his own studio in Harlem, Lawrence produced vivid paintings that depicted the life and people of everyday Harlem.



Aaron Douglas

Aaron Douglas was a painter and graphic designer, who found success when he illustrated Alain Leroy Locke’s  The New Negro, a prominent book of the Harlem Renaissance.  This lead to Douglas receiving further book and magazine illustration commissions, however he is also known for his murals depicting the African America experience.


Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage was a prominent sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance.  Her works included busts of important African Americans of her time.  Savage championed for African American artists during her lifetime, especially when it came to providing access to education and instruction for artists.




Musicians to listen to

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington is most famous as a bandleader and composer, but he started out playing ragtime music on his piano as a teen.  Many considered Ellington to be one of the most influential jazz musicians of our time.

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was an innovator of jazz, changing the way in which jazz was to be known and played.  Most famous for his singing and trumpet playing, Armstrong is considered an ambassador of jazz, making it mainstream and even popular for everyone to listen to.

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday lived a hard life from the day she was born to the day she died.  Holiday, however, is one of the most recognized female jazz vocalists of our time.  She made a name for herself singing in Harlem nightclubs, and was able to vocalize the hardships that African Americans were experiencing in the ’20s and ’30s.

Bessie Smith

Most famous as a blues singer, Bessie Smith is known for bringing raw emotion to her signing.  As much a personality on the stage as off, Smith was known for her flamboyant attitude and magnetic stage presence.

Cab Calloway

Much like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway found fame as a bandleader playing clubs in Harlem.  As much a performer as a talented musician, Calloway is most famous for introducing the scat style of singing to the American public.

Ma Rainey

Considered the “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey influenced many of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance.  Believed to be the first to coin the style of singing “the blues,” Rainey often sang of the hardships of the African American people of her time.

-Colleen Seisser, currently reading The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

ALA Midwinter 2014: Best Fiction for Young Adults Teen Feedback Session

Mon, 02/10/2014 - 07:00

For librarians working with young people, the announcement of the Youth Media Awards is the paramount event of ALA’s Midwinter Conference. Hub blogger Chelsea Condren shared her personal account of attending the YMAs in her post on February 5. I think it’s fair to say that the second-most anticipated event for us YALSA folks is the teen feedback session for the Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees. This year, I was there.

The teens only had a few seconds to weigh in on the books they had read. The BFYA nomination list included 175 titles, while the teen feedback session was just two and a half hours long. For a recap, I’ve put together a visual presentation featuring some of the nominated titles coupled with their corresponding teen comments.

All the Truth That's In Me The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna White Bicycle Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger Etiquette and Espionage The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau The Testing If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan if you could be mine Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle Better Nate The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson Madness Underneath Reality Boy by A.S. King Reality Boy Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner Maggot Moon The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway 39 lives September Girls by Bennet Madison September Girls Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge Coaltown Jesus Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers Dark Triumph Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan Two Boys Kissing Far Far Away by Tom McNeal Far Far Away


Special thanks to the participating teens and their sponsors:  Joyce Ames, St. Stepehen’s & St. Agnes School, Alexandria, VA; Jennifer Hubert Swan, L R E I Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School, New York, NY; Megan England, Atlantic City Free Public Library, Atlantic City, NJ, and Katherine Liss, Metuchen Public Library, Metuchen, NJ.

For a lovely take on this same session, read Vicky Smith’s account. And now that you’ve gotten an idea of the teens’ feedback, be sure to check out the full list of titles that made this year’s BFYA list!

-Diane Colson, currently reading The Night Gardener (advanced reader’s copy) by Jonathan Auxier

The Monday Poll: The YA Lit Couple You’d Change

Sun, 02/09/2014 - 23:37

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we wanted to know which YA lit couple you’re most hoping will make it work. Even though the end of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park was pretty conclusive, it looks like a lot of us are still concerned about this couple’s future– we really want them to make it work! Eleanor & Park pulled in 63% of the vote. In second place was Magnus and Alec from Cassandra Clares Mortal Instruments series, with 12% of the vote. The final book comes out this year, so maybe we’ll get some resolution! We also received a few great suggestions in the comments last week– Shari suggested Perry and Aria from Veronica Rossi’s sci-fi/fantasy Ever Night series, and Jenni wrote in with Harry and Craig from Two Boys Kissing and Liza and Annie from Annie on My Mind. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted and commented!

This week, we’re continuing the romance theme in honor of Valentine’s Day a little early and asking another question about YA lit couples. You may have seen the news that J.K. Rowling expressed that  Harry and Hermione may have been a more compatible couple than Ron and Hermione. Whatever you think about this belated relevation, it opens up an interesting question to ponder: what romantic pairing in YA lit would you go back and change, if you could? In the interest of avoiding spoilers, we’re going to stick to book/series titles, rather than mentioning specific couples’ names. Vote in the poll below, and tell us in the comments if we missed something!

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 #1

Sun, 02/09/2014 - 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!

So, it is officially week 2 of the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge! How are you doing with your new stack of (at least) 25 books? Which book did you read first? Was it one that you have been meaning to read/listen to for a long time or a new discovery that you unearthed after watching the Youth Media Awards? How are you sharing your thoughts on the books you read?

We want to hear all about the books as you finish them, so leave a comment below, share pictures or thoughts on the books on social media using the #hubchallenge hashtag, or join the 2014 Hub Challenge group on Goodreads.

If you haven’t started yet, don’t worry; there is still plenty of time! You have until 11:59PM EST on June 22nd to finish all 25 books. Just be sure to keep track of your progress! We’ll be posting these check-in posts each week so you can talk about the book(s) you read/listen to that week and share links to your reviews online. We can’t wait to hear what you think of all our award winners!

If you are a particularly fast reader and 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: February 7

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 07:00

Here are some tweets you might have missed this week:






Just for Fun:

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading The Offering By Kimberly Derting

Comics That Will Tickle Your Funny Bone!

Fri, 02/07/2014 - 07:00

photo by flickr user Michelle Kiker

I love reading funny books and comics, and who doesn’t?  Getting in a good belly laugh at any and all times of the day is the best!  Unfortunately, it can be kind of difficult finding truly funny books that aren’t something like a “funny mystery” or a “romance with humor elements.”  Luckily, there have been quite a few funny comic books that have come out in the past year or so that definitely have jokes that will keep you in stitches.  Whether you like superheroes, Star Wars, Princesses and/or bubblegum or cursed football team owners, you’ll definitely find something on this list that will come in handy when you are feeling down in the dumps or are just in the mood for a right good laugh.


Darth Vader and Son & Vader’s Little Princess by Jeffrey Brown:  I have enjoyed all of Jeffrey Brown’s comics and graphic novels which he both writes and illustrates.  But, he forever endeared himself to me with his books of little one page vignettes of the exploits of Darth Vader and his kiddos, Luke & Leia – Darth Vader and Son & Vader’s Little Princess.  Brown imagines a world where Darth Vader is actively parenting Luke and Leia through their kid & teen years, and it is hilarious.  Imagine a Vader that has to pretend to love a Father’s Day tie from his son or a Lord Vader counseling a teenage Leia after relationship problems.  For hard-core and casual Star Wars fans, these two books are Jedi approved!

Batman:  Li’l Gotham, Volume 1:  by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs:  As always, I must include an appearance by our favorite Gotham resident, and you might be thinking, “Well, Batman isn’t funny.  He’s very serious.” You’d be right!  Lucky for those of us who’d like to see Batman crack some jokes once in a while, the previously online only comic Li’l Gotham has been collected into a book!  In Li’l Gotham, everything is smaller and cuter and just plain old adorable.  Batman’s a little snarky and a little jokey and everybody in Gotham, while not on their best behavior, are committing crimes that are more funny than felonious.  In this first volume, readers get to visit Batman, his crew and his cronies on all the major holidays.  Imagine the problems that come with fighting crime and supervillains on Halloween – how can you tell who the real villain is?  And, what kind of weird Valentine’s Day is this when Joker is the most sought after bachelor in town!  Wha?!  This book is perfect for those days when you’ve just got to have your Batman, but you could do without his brooding for once.

Adventure Time by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb (a 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection):  Oh my glob, you guys.  If you love Adventure Time as much as I do, then you will love these collections of Adventure Time comics published by the kid and teen friend kaboom! Publishing.  Readers need not be fans or even familiar with the show; these are funny stories just on their own, and they will make a reader of any age clutch their sides in joyful laughter as they follow Finn the human and his best friends Jake the Dog, Princess Bubblegum and others in their whimsical adventures in the land of Ooo.  The one thing I loved the most were the hilarious footnotes at the bottom of each page.  Each volume of the series is made up of 2-3 stories that wrap up within the book; each story provides plenty of high-fives and smiles galore.

Hawkeye:  My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction & David Aja (a 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection):  Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, might be a member of the Avengers, but the man isn’t with them 24/7.  Sometimes a guy needs to take a load off and relax…all the while trying to fight the Russian Mob who’s taking over his apartment building, attempting to shoot a boomerang arrow out of a moving car and finding a soul mate – Pizza Dog.  If you’ve ever wondered what an Avenger did on his day off, this is the book for you.  Clint Barton doesn’t have any “superpowers,” just his bow and arrow and a quick wit that goes a long way fast.  Along with his sidekick, Kate Bishop, a.k.a. Lady Hawkeye, by his side, he’s sure to get in a lot of trouble, but he’s ready with a wink, a smile, and a bad joke to buy him some time.  On first glance, this looks like another old superhero comic, but I assure you, it’s super funny and gives readers a taste of what the regular members of the Avengers do on their off time (hint:  usually hold rooftop BBQs).

Bad Machinery, Volume 1:  The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison (a 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection):  Bad Machinery is an awesome online comic strip that is grouped on its website into solved mysteries.  This mystery, The Case of the Team Spirit, is the first one to be collected into a print book.  Once readers get hooked on the weird and wacky mysteries that define the sleepy little town of Tackleford, England, they can either continue to read them as the books come out (trust me, you won’t be able to wait for the next book) or just jump right in to the online daily comic strips (yes, this is what you’ll end up doing).  In this first story, readers meet the group of teenagers that will be the stars of all the upcoming Bad Machinery stories.  There’s a group of local teenage girls, Shauna, Charlotte and Mildred, who are working together to keep old Mrs. Biscuits in her house in the face of evil industrialism.  Meanwhile, their schoolmates, Jack, Linton and Sonny, are trying to figure out why the owner of their local football team seems to have been cursed.  Little do they know, but their cases might be related, if they’d just quit being embarrassed long enough to talk to each other!  This hilarious collection of John Allison’s daily online comic strips will satisfy even the most discerning sleuth, all the while keeping them in stitches!

Everybody needs a good laugh now and then, and whether you’d like a little mystery, superhero, or Wookie action with your giggles, there are a lot of comics perfect for helping you get your laugh on.

Traci Glass, currently reading The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

Schneider Family Book Award: Rose Under Fire

Thu, 02/06/2014 - 07:00

Last week at ALA Midwinter, the 2014 ALA Youth Media Awards were announced (if you missed the ceremony, you can still watch it online). The Youth Media Awards encompass many different prizes recognizing media created for children and young adults, including the Schneider Family Book Award, which was established by Dr. Katherine Schneider and “honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” This year, in addition to being named one of YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults top ten titles, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein is the the Schneider Family Book Award’s teen award winner.

Though it is a companion to 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor book Code Name Verity and references characters and events from that title, Rose Under Fire focuses on the story of a new character named Rose Justice. An expert pilot, Rose leaves her home in the U.S. to join the war effort in England during World War II. As a female pilot, her jobs are mostly limited to ferrying planes back and forth between England and France, but on one fateful trip she comes into close contact with her German counterparts. Taken captive by the Germans, she is at first afforded some respect as a pilot, but is eventually transferred to the infamous Ravensbrück camp. Throughout the war she has heard rumors about these prison camps, but she never guessed the true horror of them until she is confronted with it first hand. At the camp, her captors initially attempt to force her to work in a factory, but Rose resists any activity that will aid the German war effort.

Eventually her brave refusal to work, even in the face of brutal punishments, leads her to be placed in the same section of the camp that houses the “rabbits.” These Polish political prisoners served as test subjects for Nazi doctors intent on conducting horrifying medical experiments on live subjects. One character in particular, Róża, stands out for her defiant determination to not only survive but to make sure that the world knows about the abuse that they have suffered at the hands of the Nazis and learns the names of the other test subjects who have died. She forces Rose to take up this mantle of remembrance as well, exhorting her to memorize the names of dead prisoners that she had never even met so that their story might one day be shared with the rest of the world.

In Rose Under Fire, Wein has created a book that offers a stark and moving picture of a Nazi prison camp and tells the story of a somewhat unknown aspect of the war, namely the medical experiments that the Nazis conducted on some of their captives. The book also tackles the difficult realities of the lasting scars – both physical and emotional – that plague those who were ultimately freed from the camps. There is no sense in this story that the trauma ends as soon as people leave the camp. Wein movingly portrays the difficult emotions that the prisoners face both at the camp and after their rescue and the ways that the trials of Nazis after the war stirred up these emotions for many of their victims. Woven throughout the books are Rose’s poems which convey this emotion in a way that few novels manage to and offer an insight into her thoughts throughout her ordeals. Beyond this emotional impact, Rose Under Fire also looks unflinchingly at the permanent physical disabilities and disfigurement that some of the prisoners suffered at the hands of their captors, which was undoubtedly a factor in its selection for this prestigious award. Rose Under Fire is a must-read book for those with an interest in learning more about World War II and the Holocaust. It is a deeply moving novel and a worthy companion to the excellent Code Name Verity.

If you are interested in reading other Schneider Family Book Award books, you can find a complete list on the ALA’s website. If you would prefer to read other books on the Holocaust, you can find a selection of them in last week’s post for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

- Carli Spina, currently reading Avalon by Mindee Arnett

ALA Midwinter 2014: Youth Media Awards

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 07:00

The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia had its hands full on Monday, January 28, as a room full of excited librarians, publishers, authors, and other industry professionals breathlessly awaited the start of the annual Youth Media Awards. In fact, by the time I arrived (bleary-eyed and bushy tailed) at the convention center, it was 7:55 AM and there was no official room left for audience members. Instead, I found a seat in a “spillover” room where the awards were being broadcasted live on a screen. By 8:30 AM, the spillover room was entirely full.

My friend who called the YMAs “the librarian Oscars” was pretty spot-on, after all.

It’s hard to describe how incredible it was to witness people applaud, groan, cheer, whisper, and even shed tears over children’s and young adult literature. It’s even harder to describe how it felt to sit next to perfect strangers at 8 AM on a Monday morning knowing that they were just as passionate as you about youth media. Suffice it to say that I have never seen a room full of introverts whoop and holler so loudly before. For those who aren’t “in the know,” I would describe the purpose of the YMAs, in part, as providing “those fancy silver and gold stickers you see on the covers of books.”

But it’s more than fancy stickers, of course.

It’s about celebrating what is groundbreaking, what is earth-shattering, and what is revolutionary each year in the media we read and the media we believe children and teens should read. From the several awards with Corretta Scott King’s name attached, given to African-American authors and illustrators, to the Stonewall Book Award for books for teens that relate the LGBTQ experience, to the prestigious John Newbery Medal for “the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature,” these awards are not just about recognizing art for its own sake, they are about recognizing how fiction changes lives of all ages. And it’s not just fiction–there are also awards that honor children’s videos, audiobooks, illustrators, and nonfiction works. The YMAs teach us that media matters.

I’ve never seen such joy in a room before, and I think that’s maybe what we have on the Oscars. That even if there were “upsets” or “surprises” in this year’s winners, even if something was unexpected, there was no bad blood in the Convention Center that day. The camera never panned to horrified faces of “losers” and there were no million dollar designer gowns (although there were some very stylish bookish individuals). And I guess that’s why I can’t sit here and tell you who “won” this year’s awards. I know it sounds cliche, but you don’t leave an event like that without a sense of renewed purpose in the power of media, without admiration for each and every nominee, from recognized authors like David Levithan (nominated this year for a Stonewall Book Award for Two Boys Kissing) to Kate DiCamillo (this year’s winner of the John Newbery Medal for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures) to newcomers like Stephanie Kuehn (author of the William C. Morris award winning novel Charm and Strange).

Because the thing about the Youth Media Awards is that there are no losers. It’s an old-fashioned celebration in the best sense of the word, and every single person watching felt that energy, whether they were livetweeting it from their couch or, like me, smiling next to strangers.

For a complete list of the 2014 Youth Media Award Nominees and Winners, see the ALA Press Release.

Or to watch a full video of the awards, see this year’s ALA Youth Media Awards video on YouTube.

-Chelsea Condren, currently reading an advanced galley of Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Jukebooks: The Book of Love by Lynn Weingarten

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 07:00

This was how it happened in The Secret Sisterhood of the Heartbreakers: Lucy’s heart had been broken, and within seven days she broke the heart of Tristan, a boy who loved her. Lucy brought the brokenhearted tear to The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers, who used the magical power of the tear to make Lucy part of the Sisterhood. Lucy will never be brokenhearted again.

Too bad that same is not true for Tristan.

In Book Two of the series, the SSH is competing for a chance to win The Book of Love, which contains wisdom and magic dating back centuries. Lucy finds herself hoping that the book will show her the way to help Tristan, but instead it reveals so much more.

There is an old song, originally released in 1957, called Who Wrote the Book of Love. It was written by three members of “The Monotones,” a doo-wop vocal group from Newark, New Jersey. If you haven’t heard of the group, it’s because Book of Love was their only hit. Here they are performing on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beech Nut Show, lip-syncing and nervously working out their dance moves:

-Diane Colson, currently reading The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

YA Reads For Perfecting Your Triple Toe Loop

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 07:00

photo by flickr user Richard Bowen

The figure skating competition for the 2014 Winter Olympics is just a few days away. It’s always been my favorite part of the Winter Olympics. Gracie Gold, 18, seems to be able to capture hearts with her smile and her sheer talent.  Polina Edwards at 15 seems so excited and shows so much love for the sport. Her enthusiasm is contagious. Ashley Wagner at 22 seems determined to make this her year. Her strength dominates the ice when she’s out there.

With these three amazing athletes, is it any wonder I find myself wishing to be able to skate? In their honor, we’re gearing up with a fun book list and some entertaining movies.

Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill
When Sloane Emily Jacobs, a socialite who fell from grace at the junior nationals, bumps into Sloane Devon Jacobs, a hockey player with a little too much aggression, both girls see this meeting for the opportunity it is. They decide to switch places for the summer in hopes of relieving the stress and pressure from their respective sports. Do they have what it takes to skate a mile in the other’s skates?

Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler
Hudson intentionally threw her last figure skating competition after learning a secret about her father. She hasn’t skated since that secret tore her life apart. Three years later, she’s earned the nickname the Cupcake Queen helping her mother and brother at their family diner.  Hudson hasn’t given up on her dream though and she might have a new way to achieve it.

Double Twist by Donna King
Laura and her partner hope to medal in an ice-dancing championship in Montreal. Their excitement overpowers the strenuous workouts, until an accident ruins their plans. When Patrick goes down, his knee injury prevents him from the competition. Laura sinks into depression, until she thinks of a brilliant plan to stay in the competition. She finds a boy who might work as a quick substitute- if only she can convince him to dance with her.

Better Latte Than Never (Originally titled Frozen Rodeo) by Catherine Clark
Peggy Flemming Farrell prefers to be called Flemming and desperately hopes to escape Lindville.  Unfortunately, she’s stuck working in a coffee shop to pay her parents back for crashing their station wagon  while  babysitting her siblings, helping around the house and watching her father trying to make a comeback in ice skating. When she befriends another girl, forms a friendship with the boys she works with, and makes out with a new guy, her summer could be looking up?

Gold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas
After Esperanza Flores stole the silver medal at Nationals, she’s on her way to the Olympics. Her teammates aren’t happy to be sharing the trip with a nobody. It seems that everyone wants  something different from her- including a few boys. Will Esperanza let all the attention distract her or will she stay true to skating?

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (2007 Best Books for Young Adults, 2007 Teens’ Top Ten)
Miranda loves ice skating. Skating is a relief from the drastic world she lives in after a meteor hit the moon pulling it closer to Earth and causing devastating effects. She even has a moment with a favorite for Olympic gold.

Murder On Ice by Alina Adams
Bex works as a researcher for the 24/7 network. She’s helping cover the World Figure Skating Championships. The announcers argue over the winners –even going so far as to say someone bribed a judge. When the judge turns up murdered the next morning, the police believe it to be an accident, but with the accusation of bribery, Bex isn’t convinced. After a little digging, she’s  sure it’s murder. If she wants to keep her job, Bex needs to solve this crime and fast.

Sugar and Ice by Kate Messner
In this middle grade title, Claire has so much going on in her life– but one day, all that changes when a famous Russian coach sees her skate at the annual Maple Show. She lands a double toe loop, impressing him greatly. He offers her a scholarship to skate at the school in Lake Placid for the summer. She almost doesn’t take it; the drive is long, and the maple sap is just starting to run, making it the busiest time of year on the farm.  Plus, she’s terrified of competing.  But Claire can’t let fear dominate her life. Claire’s not expecting the crazy intense schedule, sabotage from her teammates or all the pressure from her coach. Can she overcome all the odds and prove herself to everyone that she belongs on the ice?

Undercover by Beth Kephart
Elisa knows that boys need a little help, so she ghostwrites their love letters. Now, she has her sights set on one particular boy, but he has his eye on a beautiful girl. Elisa knows her looks aren’t her strong suit. She takes comfort in the freedom of skating on the pond by her house. Will anyone see her for herself and just what’s on the outside?

Vera Wang by Katherine E. Krohn
Vera Wang skated competitively. When she failed to make the 1968 Olympic team, she turned to fashion. She also designed skating costumes for Michelle Kwan and Nancy Kerrigan.

Blades of Glory

Cutting Edge

Ice Princess

~ Jennifer Rummel, currently reading Vitro by Jessica Khoury

YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge Begins!

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 09:23

It’s now February 3rd, so we are kicking off YALSA’s 2014 Hub Reading Challenge! We hope this challenge will encourage you to read/listen to more great books than you might have otherwise – and to discover something new in a genre or category you might not have tried.

Challenge objective Read/listen to 25 of the titles on our list of eligible titles [pdf] to finish the challenge. The list includes YA novels, audiobooks, graphic novels, and books for adults, so there’s plenty to choose from. Bonus objective: read/listen to all eligible titles to conquer the challenge!

Challenge rewards Beyond experiencing the best of the best that YA lit has to offer, everyone who finishes the challenge will be invited to submit a response to a book they read for the challenge. The response can be text, graphics, audio, video and will be published on The Hub. Furthermore, everyone who finishes the challenge will be entered into a random drawing for our grand prize: a YALSA tote bag full of 2013 and 2014 YA lit! (If the winner is a teacher or librarian or something similar, we’ll also include a few professional development titles.)

Challenge conquerors will receive an elite digital badge to show off how well-read they are. (And don’t forget major bragging rights and the undying awe and respect of everyone, everywhere.)

Challenge guidelines

  • The challenge begins at 12:01AM EST on February 3 and ends at 11:59PM EST on June 22.
  • Eligible books are the YA titles that were named winners or honor titles for the Schneider Family Book Award and the Stonewall Book Award and those on YALSA’s 2014 Best of the Best list (2014 winners and honor books for the Alex Award, Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, Margaret A. Edwards Award, Michael L. Printz Award, Odyssey Award, and William C. Morris Award, as well as the 2014 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks, Best Fiction, Great Graphic Novels, Popular Paperbacks, and Quick Picks.) Middle grade titles recognized by these lists and awards are not included in the list of eligible titles for this challenge. (Please note that the 2014 Quick Picks list had yet to be released at the time of this posting; the Quick Picks list is now live, and our printable list of eligible reading challenge titles will be updated as soon as possible to reflect this exciting update.)
  • Format matters: a title that has been recognized for both the print version and the audiobook version can be both read and listened to and count as two books, but a book that has won multiple awards or appears on multiple lists in the same format only counts as one title. If a book was recognized as a print version, listening to the audiobook does not count.
  • Books must be read/listened to (both begun and finished) within the challenge time period. If you’ve already read/listened to a title, you must re-read/listen to it for it to count. The only exception is for titles you read for the Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge; whether or not you finished that challenge, you may count that reading toward your 25 titles.
  • Just about everyone who doesn’t work for ALA is eligible to participate. Non-ALA/YALSA members are eligible. Teens are eligible. Non-US residents/citizens are eligible. (More eligibility questions? Leave a comment or email us.)
  • Once you finish the challenge, we’ll contact you with details about creating and publishing your response.
  • The grand prize winner will be selected by 11:59pm EST on June 25. The winner will be notified via email.

How to participate

  • Comment here announcing your intention to participate. If you’re going to be tracking what you read/listen to on your blog or on Goodreads, LibraryThing, YouTube or some other site, include a link to your blog/shelf/channel/profile in your comment. If you’re not tracking your reading online, keep a list some other way.
  • You may register for the challenge by leaving a comment here and starting your reading any time during the challenge period.
  • Make it a social experience! Share your challenge progress and get to know other participants by using the hashtag #hubchallenge on Twitter. If you’re on Goodreads, join the 2014 Hub Challenge group.
  • Every Sunday, we’ll publish a check-in post. Leave a comment with everything you’ve read/listened to since the last check-in post. If you’ve reviewed those titles somewhere online, include links to those reviews! Otherwise, let us know what you thought of the books in the comments.
  • If you’ve finished the challenge since the last check-in post, fill out the embedded form with your name and contact information. This is how you’ll receive your Finisher’s Badge, how you’ll be contacted about your reader’s response, and how you’ll be entered into the drawing for our grand prize. Please fill out the form only once.
  • If you’ve conquered the challenge, let us know in the comments and we’ll send you your Conqueror’s Badge.

Sound good? If you have any questions or problems, let us know in the comments or via email. Otherwise, grab this Participant’s Badge, put it on your blog or in your email signature, and start reading!

Black History Month: Interracial Teens in Historical Fiction

Mon, 02/03/2014 - 07:00

What’s in a color?

For many Americans, it’s an identity.  It speaks of ancestors from nations unknown, of a history both terrible and proud. The irony is that skin color can hide a past as easily as reveal. Over the long course of American history, countless children have been born to parents of different races, sometimes different skin colors. What race, then, are those children? The deciding factor is often the color of their skin.

To think that Black History is pertinent only to the present generation of African Americans is to miss this long intermingling of black and white Americans. These mixed race children have had to work out their place in society for hundreds of years. The books listed below focus on the choices available to teens of mixed white and black heritage.


Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

It was known, even in 1790, that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with his mixed race slave, Sally Hemings. But this truth was disputed  for over two hundred years, until DNA testing provided a credible link in the Jefferson-Hemings lineage. In this novel, Bradley explores the feelings of Jefferson’s fair-skinned slave children who were denied a relationship with their father. How did it feel, to be the son of one of the greatest men of the time, and yet have no one to call, “Papa?”


Hazel: a novel by Julie Hearn

In 1913, Hazel gets herself involved in the women’s suffrage movement and it leads her to big trouble. As a consequences, she is sent to her grandfather’s sugar plantation in the Caribbean. Hazel is surprised at the different attitudes she discovers in plantation life, where the rise of “darkies” threaten the established order. But she is truly horrified when she discovers the secrets kept by her own family members, secrets that have ruined the lives of their closest relations.

Riot by Walter Dean Myers (Myers is the 1994 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner)

During the Civil War, a draft law was passed that recruited heavily from freshly naturalized immigrants. In New York City, this meant that the Irish immigrants, already poor and competing with free blacks for the lowest paying jobs, were disproportionately selected to fight. Richer white men could pay others to fight in their place; black men were not yet citizens. In a thrilling, screenplay format, Myers recounts the days when angry draftees attacked black residents. In the middle of the violence is Claire, half-black and half-Irish, who must now define her loyalties.


The River Between Us by Richard Peck (Peck is the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner)

It’s 1861, and Tilly is worried that her brother may enlist in the Army. Then a steamboat stops at their tiny settlement on the Mississippi River, bearing the most exotic women Tilly has ever seen. The mysterious ladies, who hail from New Orleans, move in as boarders. Tilly is both fascinated and wary, because it is clear to her that these women are keeping a big secret.


The Land by Mildred Taylor (2002 Best Books for Young Adults top ten)

In this prequel to Taylor’s outstanding Logan family novels, readers are introduced to Paul-Edward Logan, child of a white landowner and a former slave. As a teen, he realizes that there is really no acceptable place for him in society. Whites look down on him because of his black mother, whiles black distrust his relationship to a powerful white man. Paul-Edward decides that he must make his own unique way in the world to fulfill his ambition of owning land.

-Diane Colson, currently reading The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher.

The Monday Poll: YA Lit Couple You’re Pulling For

Sun, 02/02/2014 - 23:03

photo by flickr user PV KS

Good morning, Hub readers!

Last week, we asked you to choose the most lovable vehicle in YA lit. Arthur Weasley’s flying Ford Anglia from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling was clearly the favorite with 64% of your vote. Gansey’s Camaro (“The Pig”) from The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater came in second with 23%, and Hub reader Lucie wrote with the suggestion of Ari’s red truck in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. You can see detailed results for all of our previous polls in the Polls Archive. Thanks to all of you who voted in the poll!

This week, we’re going to start celebrating Valentine’s Day a little early and ask you to weigh in on which couple from YA lit you’re most hoping will make it work. Whether they’re starcrossed or MFEO, these crazy kids have gotta find a way, right? Vote in the poll below, and tell us in the comments if we missed your favorite lovebirds!

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

LGBTQ Parents in YA Novels

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 07:00

A much-needed discussion about the representation of the LGBTQ community is growing in the YA world. Author Malindo Lo does an amazing job of putting a spotlight on the issue by creating a yearly list of published LGBT YA titles and The Hub’s own Molly Wetta put together an impressive guide last year of YA novels with LGBTQ characters. This building conversation and one Stephanie Perkins book later left me wondering where the LGBTQ parents were hiding in the YA world.

Courtesy of Flickr user lewishamdreamer

Family relationships are a huge part of young adult literature because of what an important part they are to teens’ lives. Your parents (or lack their of) and the struggle to come to terms with their flaws is a major part of growing up. Parents are pretty much the anchors of your universe, so seeing these relationships and familial conflicts play out in a YA novel is necessary, needed, and in no way restricted to families with heterosexual parents.

So where are the LGBTQ parents in our YA books? With over 7 million LGBTQ parents that have school-aged children in the United States , it’s a question I hope more people will be asking our YA literature community soon, because right now there are too few titles out there representing these families.

This list is by no means comprehensive and did take the full force of my fellow Hub bloggers to help me put together. I tried to stick to books where the parents seemed like more fully-formed characters in the story, as opposed to purely background players. Read on for our guide to main characters in YA novels with LGBTQ parents:

  • Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (2012 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults): Lola is a one-of-a-kind girl who never wears the same outfit twice. She’s over the top and completely lovable as she stumbles her way through the feelings she has for the boy next door, Cricket. Equally lovable are her two dads, who might just be my favorite parents ever in a YA novel. They are fully-formed characters who at times are frustrating and others outright hilarious.
  • The Popularity Papers series by Amy Ignatow: I’ve only read the first book in the series, but it had me laughing out loud. Two friends in elementary school, Lydia and Julie, set out to observe “the popular girls” so that they can learn how to become one of them by middle school. It’s definitely more a middle grade book and kind of like a graphic novel mashed together with a Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It’s truly a fun read, and Julie has two dads: Dad and Papa Dad. They are pretty much in the background for this first one, but their characters are more drawn-out as the series continue.
  • My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari: Another middle grade title, this one is about a girl who likes to make pies and whose family could be in trouble over their state’s backlash to a civil union law.
  • Between Mom and Jo by Julie Anne Peters: Nick loves his family and his life. He has two moms that love him, but struggles when his birth mother and her wife Jo begin to have marital problems.
  • The Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon (2009 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults): Ben begins lashing out at his father after his dad comes out. This gets Ben a one-way ticket out of his city life to Montana where his dad’s boyfriend lives. Ben struggles to find his own identity in a new strange place.
  • From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jaqueline Woodson (2006 YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults and 2006 Margaret A. Edwards Winner):  Probably the oldest title on this list, which really only makes me respect Jacqueline Woodson even more than I already did (if possible)! Melanin Sun struggles to accept his mother after she comes out to her family as a lesbian.
  • Happy Families by Tanita S. Davis: Twins Ysabel and Justin discover and struggle with their father’s identity as a transgender trying to decide whether or not to transition.
  • In Your Room by Jordanna Fraiberg: This is a sweet romance between a teen boy and girl who have never met but end up spending the summer in the other’s room when their parents’ swap houses. The boy was conceived through donor insemination and raised by two moms.
  • My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi: A novel about Lucy was adopted by two dads and is dealing with her HIV diagnosis.

What do you think, readers? Any books that you would like to add to the list above?

- Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading The Elite by Kiera Cass

YALSA’s 2014 Morris/Nonfiction Award Program & Presentation

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 07:00

The morning of Monday, January 28th, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia was filled with excitement. Right on the heels of the ALA Youth Media Awards came YALSA’s Morris/Nonfiction Program & Presentation, and the whole room was abuzz to celebrate this year’s finalists and winners of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Award for Excellent in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

Emceed by YALSA President Shannon Peterson, the program began with the Morris Award winner and finalists, introduced by Dorcas Wong, 2014 Morris Award Committee Chair.

Carrie Mesrobian, author of Morris finalist Sex and Violence, gave a heartfelt speech recounting the significance of libraries in her formative years. She was an avid library user during her youth, but never interacted with librarians as a teen. Despite this, she said, “No matter that I never spoke to a single librarian, the librarians kept the shelves stocked… Librarians regularly and reliably provided me with the books I needed.” And for that, she said, she is “forever grateful.”

Evan Roskos, author of Morris finalist Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, had everyone in stitches by observing that being honored for the Morris is a truly a once in a lifetime opportunity because, well… he can only debut once. He then told a story about how his book empowered a teen reader to get help for their mental health concerns. Of course, the inspiring nature of this anecdote turned to hilarity as he observed that “Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets actually caused someone to seek therapy.” He concluded by sharing his four-year-old son’s reaction to seeing his book cover. “Daddy, YOU wrote Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus?” This author is just as hilarious and thoughtful as his book.

Elizabeth Ross, author of Morris finalist Belle Époque opened by sharing what she called “a terrible little secret” and admitted that she was not an avid reader as a child. She went on to explain that she came to reading and writing later in the life. Before her beginning her career as a writer, she was a filmmaker– and she noted that because filmmaking is a collaborative art, the individual voice can be lost. In need of a solo creative outlet, she turned to writing. Relating her early experiences as a non-reader, she said, “Children that have some shame in regard to reading need librarians.” Librarians have the power to take away that shame.

Cat Winters, author of Morris finalist In the Shadow of Blackbirds, shared a fact that delighted me as a resident of Orange County, California– she frequented Orange County’s beachside Dana Point Library in her youth. Winters went on to discuss her love of words, and her gratitude to librarians for helping her book gain success that it did, and closed with a brief reading from her novel.

Stephanie Kuehn, author of Morris Award winner Charm & Strange started out by saying, “Being here is one of the most humbling and thrilling experiences of my life.” She talked about attending the ALA Annual Conference last summer and feeling too shy to talk about her book that had just come out– and how being quiet gave her the opportunity to observe the passionate and hard work done by librarians. Observing that it takes many people to make a book, she drew a powerful parallel between one of the prominent themes in her book- togetherness, love, and support- to the process of getting her book published and into the hands of readers.


The Morris authors were followed by Excellence in Nonfiction Award authors, introduced by Jamison Head, chair of the 2014 Nonfiction Award committee.

Chip Kidd, author of Nonfiction finalist Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, opened with story of how an editor at Workman approached him with the idea of Go because nobody had ever done a book to teach graphic design to kids. Kidd quipped that he reacted to this suggestion with shock because he doesn’t know kids, have kids, relate to kids, or even like kids– but he said… sure! He went on to say, in all seriousness, that kids are creating graphic design already, even without a guide; once they can read and write, they’re making design. So he wanted to make kids aware of design, observing, “It’s about analyzing who you are, and how you want to represent that to the rest of the world.”

Martin Sandler, author of Nonfiction finalist Imprisoned, couldn’t be at the program in person, but Emily Easton from Walker Books for Young Readers accepted on his behalf.  Noting that he’s still producing amazing works of nonfiction at 80 years of age, she talked about his passion for the very important topic of his book, the injustice of the Japanese-American incarceration during WWII, and said that it “means the world to him” that this committee recognized him for this work.

Tanya Lee Stone, author of Nonfiction finalist Courage Has No Color, described her young self as “that kid with the pile of books coming out of the library every Saturday.” She spoke fondly of Walter Morris with whom she worked closely to tell the story of the Triple Nickles in this book, and who passed away recently. She discussed her research process for this work, which sometimes felt daunting because the story was mostly unarchived. It is her feeling that the Triple Nickles should be as well known as Tuskeegee Airmen, and hopes her book plays a part in raising awareness.

James L. Swanson, author of Nonfiction finalist The President Has Been Shot, talked about where he was when John F. Kennedy was shot. He was four years old and has no memory of it- but he did remember the neighbor girls coming over to watch funeral on television a few days later. Swanson described being mesmerized later by his mom’s “morgue” of newspaper clippings about the assassination she kept, and how this collection informed his writing of this book. He takes the position that children don’t want a sanitized version of history. They want the truth– so he wrote this book for a younger version of himself.

Neal Bascomb, author of Nonfiction Award winner The Nazi Hunters, recounted memories of gathering information for the book, and revealed that the most emotional part of the story for the Mossad agents he interviewed was the act of getting former Nazi Eichmann onto a plane to transport him from his hiding place in Argentina to Israel, where he would be brought to justice. Bascomb had the crowd riveted with this suspenseful part of the narrative. He said he admired the bravery of those who were a part of the effort to bring Eichmann to justice, and said that’s why he was compelled to tell their story– especially to young people.

The Morris/Nonfiction Program and Presentation was a highlight of my ALA Midwinter experience. If you have the opportunity to attend this program in the future, I wholeheartedly recommend it!

-Allison Tran, currently reading A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

Celebrating the Lunar New Year: Books About the Vietnamese Diaspora

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 07:00

photo by flickr user kennymatic

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!  Or Happy Lunar New Year!  Today marks the beginning of Tết —the most important Vietnamese holiday of the year.  As the child of a Vietnamese mother and an American father, I have fond memories of this time of year.  The red envelopes full of money, the bustle of families coming together, the sticky sweet smell of incense, heaps of steaming food, all accompanied by the sound of fireworks.  Growing up mixed race, it was one of the few times a year where I got a glimpse of my mother’s culture and the lives she and my extended family once lived before the Vietnam War made refugees and immigrants of them all.  As such, Tet sometimes seemed to be both a celebration of things past as well as the hope of things better to come.  Both buoyant and bittersweet, the holiday is symbolic of the ways in which immigrant communities across America weave the old in with the new creating patterns inspired by tales of survival, loss, and the constant dreams of a better life.

As I thought about which books to include in this post, I realized I wanted to highlight books that spoke to this balance of past and present, of love and loss, of hope and despair.  All the books below explore the Vietnamese immigrant experience and will hopefully help readers get a glimpse into the lives of the people in this community.

For younger teens and tweens, two novels in verse that complement each other beautifully are Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg.   Inside Out and Back Again, a National Book Award Winner, follows ten-year-old Hà  as she and her family flee from Vietnam after Saigon falls and find themselves in Alabama.  The novel unfolds in a series of vignettes that capture the beauty of Vietnam, the utter foreignness of America, and the moments of beauty in between.

Ann E. Burg’s All the Broken Pieces  (2010 Best Book for Young Adults) recounts the life of a refugee child, in this case a 12-year-old mixed race boy named Matt who after being airlifted out of Vietnam is adopted by an loving American family.  His memories of war haunt him as they do Hà  in Inside Out and Back Again, although Matt is more alone in his grief as his Vietnamese mother and brother were left behind.  He must grapple with both the loss of his family , as well as the challenges of fitting into a world that is at times hostile to his presence.  The combination of minimalist prose, strong imagery, and a compelling main character makes this a wonderful read.

For older teens and adults, there are obviously many books that deal with the Vietnam War and its aftermath.  In deciding which ones to review, I opted for three books that approach the topic from a unique standpoint, whether it be distinctive style, format, or voice.  I’ll start with GB Tran’s excellent memoir Vietnamerica.  This graphic novel explores the consequences of war and   its effect on family, identity and  memory. GB Tran was born a year after the war ended and as the youngest child had little understanding of what his parents and older siblings left behind.  The death of two of his grandparents  is a catalyst for his own transformation as he begins to delve deep into the memories and generational stories of his family.  His journey back in time plays out in vivid and unusual images that underscore the power of his narration.

Kim Thúy ’s Ru is neither poetry nor prose, memoir nor fiction,  it transcends both genre and form and is

quite simply an remarkably moving and exquisitely written account of one Vietnamese woman’s struggle  to make meaning of her past and present, while building a future for her family.  Although, the book centers on common occurrences in the immigrant experience, the language transports us into each jewel of a memory providing new insights.  A beautiful book on the power of love and the possibility of renewal.

I’ll end with my arguably my favorite memoir ever written, Andrew X. Pham’s Catfish and Mandala.  It is the story of Pham’s year-long bicycle trip throughout the world after his sister’s suicide.  His  journey  eventually takes him back to  Vietnam, a country he fled when he was 10.    Although the book can be read  in many different ways, I was drawn to Pham’s depiction of his fragmented identity and the ways in which the immigrant experience makes it difficult to define not only oneself but also what one considers to be home.

Although many of the books featured here deal with heavy topics, they all in their own way illuminate some of the aspects of Vietnamese culture that I find most beautiful and pay tribute to the struggles and universality of the immigrant experience.  I hope you enjoy  reading them as much as I did!

-Alegria Barclay, currently reading Hero by Alethea Kontis

Tweets of the Week: January 31

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 06:00

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

Just for Fun

- Whitney Etchison, currently reading a matter of days by Amber Kizer


One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with A.S. King

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 07:00

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

Just a week ago I was trying to describe A.S. King to a friend of mine, an adult science fiction and fantasy writer not familiar with her work but always eager to discover new authors.  I tried to describe my own first encounter with her, reading The Dust of 100 Dogs after one of my best friends suggested it, but could tell I was completely failing to convey the utter originality, the compelling absurdity of the plot, the rare collision of joyful weirdness and kinship I experienced while reading.   I scrabbled around, trying to compare Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Ask the Passengers to other comparable titles (yeah, right!); to explain how it was sort of magic realism, but sort of not; to somehow describe King’s uncompromising depictions of life, especially teen life, and how all my expectations would go sideways no matter which way I was expecting the story to turn, but how there was always hope.  I told her about the ants, and about Gerald.  And then I finally just said, you know how Vonnegut is just himself and no one else is really like him?  A. S. King is like that.  Go read everything she’s written and then come back so we can talk about it.

I kind of feel the same way about this particular interview, like I just want to get out of the way and let you have at it.  I think you’ll see why right away.

But I do want to throw out a huge thank you to A.S. King for being patient and wildly understanding, for general awesomeness, and especially for giving us a little glimpse of the rest of the iceberg.  Thank you.

Always Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.
Confused and confident. A good athlete and talented smoker. A smart kid with D’s on her report card. An all-around walking contradiction. Mullet at times. Owned a boss Blondie t-shirt and wore Chucks with spikes screwed into the eyelets. Loved Prince.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
As a young kid, I really thought I wanted to be a heart surgeon. I have no idea why, but I was obsessed with the circulatory system. At 14, I got a glimpse of wanting to be a writer after overdosing on Paul Zindel novels, but when I told adults in my life, the suggestion that journalism was my only path to being a writer pretty much killed the idea for me. (No offense meant to journalists. It just wasn’t my bag.)

As a teenager, I had no idea what I wanted to be. I was a peer helper at school, so I was really into psychology and counseling. I wanted to help fellow students work stuff out. But I ended up going to college to be a forest ranger at first. I left that college soon after realizing I still didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Then I went to art school, which again wasn’t quite what I wanted to do but it was close. I got my degree in photography about two years before digital photography came along and made me, a darkroom printer, pretty much obsolete…which was fine because I then moved 3000 miles away and started writing novels.

What were your high school years like?
I was born and raised just outside Reading, PA. High school was interesting. I was still getting poor grades, which was a habit I’d picked up in junior high school— 7th grade when a certain teacher was particularly negative toward girls. I only managed to keep my GPA high enough to play basketball. I used to play field hockey, but my hockey coach didn’t really like me and the feeling was mutual, so I quit. Same went for band. And orchestra. I liked hanging out with the drama club students, but I had stage fright, so I was a stage hand. Like I said before, I was a peer helper, which was a group of teens who worked out of the guidance office and talked to teens about any problems they might be having.

Outside of school, I was working since I could get working papers. I started as a bus girl at a diner and moved into fast food worker and then a catering company worker and then a camp counselor (where I met my future husband who was an exchange counselor from Ireland) and then a pizza delivery driver. I loved those jobs. They got me out into the world and meeting other people.

The teachers who influenced me most positively were too late to save my grades because I’d met a few teachers early on who helped me give up on school completely. But those teachers who did influence me positively did so by letting me write my first-person-POV project story from the POV of a can of succotash, write a career paper on being a superhero, and started me writing in journals. Those three teachers saved me, really, even if they didn’t know it then. To be encouraged as a creative-yet-bored-and-underachieving student is a rare thing and it was very appreciated. I got to thank them by name when I was inducted into my high school’s academic hall of fame in 2011. (I am living proof that one can graduate in the bottom third of one’s high school class and still be inducted into the same school’s academic hall of fame.)

What were some of your passions during that time?
Much of my life revolved around smoking. I know this sounds weird, but when you are a teenage smoker, you are planning every minute and everything you do around your next cigarette. This is where I say: If you are a teen smoker and you are reading this interview, please believe me when I say that it is a lot easier to quit now while you are young than it is to quit when you are older. I regret not quitting when I was a teenager. I ended up quitting for good far too late in life and it is probably my only regret. (Seriously. I don’t even regret my few loser boyfriends because I figure they taught me something. Smoking taught me nothing.)

Anyway, I was always a lover of music. I grew up in a musical house and I was really lucky to get to a lot of jazz shows and other concerts before I ever got to high school. Music is still a large passion of mine and you’ll usually find lyrics in my books’ epigraphs because I am very inspired by the music I listen to. I’ve been a Jimi Hendrix fanatic since my sister gave me my first Hendrix album when I was 11. In my junior and senior years I really loved Bob Marley and the Wailers. I still play bass guitar and Mr. King plays drums. My kid plays a wicked good jazz saxophone and my littlest one will one day pick something up, I’m sure. We will be the family von King. I will totally sew us play clothes out of the curtains.

From the minute it came out when I was fourteen, I loved the movie Amadeus. It is still one of my all-time favorite movies and the book I am writing for 2015 has been influenced by it greatly. Outside of that, I remember no other movies from high school. I remember lying about going to the midnight movies and going out dancing at a local club instead. (Mom and Dad, if you are reading this, I’m sorry about that. I was never by myself or unsafe, but I did lie to you every single time I said I was going to the midnight movies. I think you may have known this because I never remembered the movie I’d seen the night before.) I loved older movies, really, which were only available when the TV aired them back then in my house. (We didn’t have a VCR until my junior year, or maybe my senior year.) My favorite was probably The Shining. Around my junior year, my dad and I watched Deer Hunter together and it remains one of my favorites. As do The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz. I think those are standards for my generation.

Though I loved basketball and I played pretty well, my only real passion at the time was getting the hell out of high school. No offense meant to the place, but it wasn’t for me. Too many boxes. Too many rumors and immature people. Too much bullshit. I just wanted out.

Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?
When I was fifteen, my mother became very ill one night and went to the hospital. The next morning after basketball practice, my father and I went to visit her. Something was very wrong with her, but they didn’t know what. As my father and I stood in the room, we watched her fall asleep—or so we thought. But she wasn’t sleeping. She’d died. Luckily, a nurse arrived to bring my mother some juice and behind her came a doctor who needed to see my mother right that minute, so thank the gods for them because them not arriving at that moment would have changed the ending to this story as well as my life. When the nurse couldn’t wake my mother up, she did all that stuff they do in a hospital if someone has died. Oxygen tanks. Recessed lights, the shock paddles came out and we were asked to leave the room. She was resuscitated and she is still alive and well today even though she’s pulled this dying stunt a few more times since. (See how we joke? Joking helps.) I had at least one doctor tell me she wouldn’t live another 6 months.

This was a very difficult experience because I was completely by myself, really. My dad was there, but this was his wife you know? And my sisters were older and I had to call them on the pay phone in the hall in ICU and tell them to get home ASAP and they didn’t really understand what I’d seen. I’m still not sure if they really understand it. But let me tell you: I grew up very quickly that day. Very very quickly. I changed instantly—I became… more forgiving and helpful and I hugged more often. I was scared, but I felt brave, too. From that day forward, I felt I related a little less to all those other kids in school. They were still all so concerned with the high school stuff and I was just hoping my mom would be alive when I got home or would make it to my graduation.

What about a positive experience or accomplishment that had an impact on your adult self?
Since I already mentioned my English teachers who influenced me greatly with their encouragement, I think now is the time to say that being a camp counselor was probably the coolest thing I ever did. I did it for two years and got paid peanuts and yet it didn’t matter. It was a job like no other and it taught me a lot of great skills. (For the record, if there is ever a zombie apocalypse, you want to be with me and Mr. King. Our outdoor survival skills are pretty impressive.)

And I can’t bring up being a camp counselor without saying that the impact that meeting Mr. King had on my future adult self was more than profound. I mean, wow. Meeting one’s soul mate at 17 is rare. Few adults understood it and most underestimated it. We wrote letters to each other and we talked on the phone (briefly—it was very expensive) during our four and a half years apart. When I graduated college, the first thing I did was get on a plane for Ireland and the minute we saw each other in Dublin airport, we knew we would be together forever. Having Topher in my life—even when we were apart—gave me confidence. Stopped me from going too nuts over boys and wasting my time caring about what I was wearing or how I looked. I’d already found the person who would find me beautiful for the rest of my life, you know?

So, without the sappy love part, being a camp counselor was such a cool experience, I’d do it again if I had time or they paid me enough.

What advice, if any, would you give your teen self?  Would your teen self have listened?
There is no way my teen self would listen to any advice, but I’d have told her to skip the mullet. And, as mentioned before, I’d have told her to quit smoking.

Do you have any regrets about your teen years?
I don’t really do regrets because I really believe that everything we do lands us where we are. But, since you’re asking, yeah, I wish I would have applied myself and been a kickass student. I was smart. I LOVE learning. That one teacher in  7th grade just made me so mad and no one cared that he was being such a bad teacher and my giving up on school to prove it didn’t hurt anyone but me. I would have loved to have learned calculus. And a lot more history. Mind you, all of this is great to say, but my memory skills still suck and I probably would have had to have been a different person to actually achieve this, so it’s not really a regret. It’s a wish.

What, if anything, do you miss most about that time?
Smoking. Just kidding. I miss being so in shape that I could run up nine flights of steps without being winded. (What irony here in our last answer. Which brings us back to the very first answer in this part of the interview… I’m still a walking contradiction.)

Every Day I Write the Book

Readers and reviewers have pointed out a number of recurring themes in your work: identity and self-discovery, family, choices and consequences, love.  You’ve written elsewhere that you don’t consciously write to a theme or about an issue (like bullying, sexual identity, alcoholism, etc.) but I wonder if you could talk about those themes a little bit anyway.  In some ways the themes listed above are universal, but in your books they feel specific and personal and powerful.  Any thoughts on how a theme develops, either consciously or unconsciously, in your work?
Theme doesn’t really occur to me until after the first draft is already written. I write every day without knowing what’s going to happen next, so really, the book leads me to the theme/s, not the other way around. The things my characters do and feel are very universal. You’re right about that. I think they are personal and specific to me when I write them because I affix an emotion that I have experienced onto a character’s experience. So, I know what it feels like to be embarrassed about being bullied, for example. I also know how it feels to sit at a funeral of someone who used to be a best friend, but screwed me over based on someone else’s lies. I do write personal books, but never are they true stories—rather they are true emotions superimposed onto people I have never met before, but with whom I am about to become very good friends.

I may think that a theme is developing about halfway through a book, but I don’t like to flag it for sure until I am truly done and I can get the wide story out first—because if I limit myself to that theme halfway, then I feel it will lock me in, and the last thing I want to do is give a lesson or preach, and I think locking myself into a theme halfway through would leave me open to doing this. I only tell the stories. It’s up to others to think about them and figure out what I meant. (That’s not to say I don’t know what the themes of my own books are. I do. But I layer ideas, so there are always more than one.)

Your characters are remarkable–memorable, unique and imminently relatable.  This is true of main characters like Emer/Saffron, Vera, Lucky, Astrid, and Gerald, but it’s also true of the entire population of your books, where characters like Fred Livingstone, Uncle Dave, and Ken Dietz fairly jump off the page.  Do your stories start with a character, or do they start somewhere else like a plot point or a question?  Do your characters show up fully formed, or do they reveal themselves as you write?
First: Thank you. I’m glad you feel that way about my characters and it’s nice to hear this.

My characters always come first. When I start a book, I have no idea where it will go or end or what will happen to these people I invent in my head. They are certainly not fully formed when they come to me. I often use Vera Dietz as an example of this. When, around page 11, Vera is driving to work from school and she reaches under her driver’s seat for something, I had no idea what she was reaching for. I was so surprised when my fingers typed a bottle of vodka. I remember thinking What? She’s so smart! So practical! What is she doing? Why would she do something so dumb? So risky? This is the moment when I realize that the character is about to take me on a journey…not the other way around. For what it’s worth, without tossing out a massive spoiler, I also did not know Lucky Linderman’s secret until he told me two-thirds of the way through the book. I find out when you find out—which is why I love reading. And writing.

In an interview with you for, author Paolo Bacigalupi, says that “the safe choice would have been to make this [Everybody Sees the Ants] a completely ‘realistic’ novel,” but you never seem to take the safe choice, in any of your books.  Instead, you opt for complex narrative structures (like interjecting flashbacks, changing narrators and points of view, and flow charts) and elements of surrealism or magical realism that are anything but safe, straightforward, or predictable.  Could you talk a little about the choices you make in your writing?  How do you find the narrative structure and plot elements that feel right for the story you want to tell?
It’s questions like these that make me a slightly frustrating interviewee. A lot of these elements choose me. I don’t choose them. I mean, had my dad not taught me how to flow chart as a child, I probably wouldn’t have had Ken Dietz talk in flow charts, but there you have it. The ants appeared, same as Vera’s vodka did, and then they started to talk. As for being safe, I refuse. This business is…a business. Books like mine are always going to be, how do I say this…not as popular as whatever is popular at the time? Not as financially supported as a Kardashian? You get my meaning. Why would I write any differently (and could I if I even tried?) in order to be safe? What is safe? Will safe feed my kids any better? I just don’t think it would.

And so, all I’m left with is myself.

And myself writes books like mine. If you have ever talked to me, you know I talk very much like how I write. I didn’t know this until other people told me, but apparently, you have to trust me and keep up and then whatever I am saying will lead you to the point, just like my books. So I figure if I am going to struggle through this career as I have done so far, then why the hell not just be myself?

I once saw a great interview with the Grateful Dead. The interviewer asked Jerry Garcia why they never sold out. Jerry answered something like, “We would have sold out, but nobody was buying.”

Your new book, Reality Boy, came out in October 2013.  You’ve mentioned in interviews that you aren’t really a fan of television or of celebrity culture in particular.  What inspired you to write about a former reality TV star?
I haven’t watched television in about 15 or more years. I also do not like celebrity-obsessed culture. It vexes me. I remember when Entertainment Tonight came on at first and I remember thinking then, as an eleven-year-old kid, Why would I care about the personal lives of these people? I still don’t get it—especially now, in the age of reality TV. Why do we pay attention to so many people who have no talent but to be famous? And more importantly, when it comes to the few parts of popular culture that I do see, I can’t figure out why we are essentially eating our own self-esteem. Who cares about the cellulite on female celebrities’ legs? I am disgusted by that part of my culture. I am disgusted that my daughters have to grow up in a place where they are urged to fill their gender role by buying magazines that will ultimately make them feel like shit about their own perfectly-functioning and normal bodies. Please don’t mistake this for snobbery. I totally don’t care if you or anyone else watches TV or reads celebrity magazines or not. I just can’t, personally. It’s like I’m from Jupiter or something.

Reality Boy is about Gerald Faust—a boy who was once a five-year-old reality TV “star”…if you call being a mess on TV “stardom.” Now that Gerald is a teenager, he’s suffered a lifetime of being recognized everywhere in his town, being goaded and bullied by his teachers, peers, and even his family. He is angry about everything that was once aired on TV…and beyond angry at the things that weren’t aired on TV. He’s very close to snapping until he meets the girl who works at register #1 while he works register #7 at the food stand at the local ice hockey arena. She’s the first person who treats him with any sort of respect and he’s not quite sure what to do with it.

I wrote Reality Boy after a years-long discussion with my husband about reality TV and the effect it must have on children who do not have control over whether or not their childhood becomes public property. My eventual question was: If the statistics we know regarding abuse (of any sort) of children are accurate, then isn’t it likely that at least one child we’ve seen on TV is actually being victimized as we watch them? And if so, what does that say about us?

You’ve given us a glimpse into the genesis of Reality Boy, and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to do the same with your forthcoming novel, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future?
Glory O’Brien’s genesis is an odd one. I wrote a novel for adults back in 2006 entitled Why People Take Pictures about a woman who was neurotic about death and was going somewhat crazy as she tried to raise her three-year-old daughter and look after her ailing mother. As I started writing Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, I realized that certain things were similar and that this was the story of that three-year-old girl who had grown into a high school senior.

The real genesis was a writing workshop I was doing with three classes of Bryan High School students in Omaha, NE. We were working on revision, but I had no piece written to revise, so while they wrote, I wrote the first page of Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. When I read it back to them, they told me that I had to write the rest of the book. So I did.

Just Can’t Get Enough

This question comes from Maggie Stiefvater:  “You are, in fact, a critical darling. You may bluster, if you like, but we both know that critics find your novels both delightful and well-written. Quirky and profound. I’d like to know what effect that critical acclaim has on your literary choices. Do you feel it gives you freedom — a comfortable knowledge that readers will pick up your next book no matter how peculiar it might be? Or does it feel restrictive — like you can’t whip out a series of fun, pulpy thrillers under “A.S. King.” Do you feel pressured by it? The hot breath of reviewers playing round the back of your neck as you type?”

The short answer to this is: no. Maybe that makes me a weirdo, but I think it has more to do with how I started this whole journey. My first six novels were written in a vacuum—on a farm in Ireland, living off the land, not caring all that much about this life I lead now—publishers, agents, critics, awards. It sounds a bit naïve perhaps, but I found and needed writing as an escape from real life. I was struggling and I didn’t know what to do with it. So one day I sat down at a typewriter and the release was most important. Not therapy, but a need to express myself without anyone butting in and telling me how I felt or how I should feel or how my feelings were wrong, etc. Those novels (along with others) live in a drawer as a reminder of that time, and as physical proof that I am writing for myself and not for others, which is how I want to keep it.

I am modest to a fault and I was raised in an environment that constantly reminded me that I was no one special. I think that helps me stay grounded. When it comes to critics, I am, every time, honored and surprised (and relieved) that they might like what I have produced but never have those critics been allowed in my writing space. I have no idea how I do this or why. I think it’s a mix of things. 1. My very first trade review is probably the worst I’ve ever read. 2. I do not go to online writing sites to read reviews of my own books because, as my fortune cookie said once, “People are not persuaded by what we say but rather by what they understand.” 3. I do not write for other people, but rather to release characters from my head. So far, none of those characters have come out in a way that screams “fun pulpy thriller” but if one day this should happen, then I would just write it.

I reckon we get one chance to do this ride. The waiting line is long. (Or for me it was.) Now that I am on the ride, I will enjoy it and work hard. Although I may need help in the “enjoy it” department. My practical side takes over and I am sometimes not very quick to recognize that I have achieved something. I don’t take much credit for my books, personally. They come to me rather than the other way around. They are gifted to me. This may sound like cosmic mumbo jumbo, but it’s how I see things. The published critical darling, as you call me, is really the part of the iceberg one can see above the surface. But I can see what’s under the water, and it’s that chunk of ice that matters most when I write.


A.S. King is the award-winning author of acclaimed young adult books including Reality Boy, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner, Ask the Passengers, Everybody Sees the Ants, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and the upcoming Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future (October 2014.) She has been an Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee, a Nebula nominee, a Lambda Literary Award nominee and a YALSA Top Ten pick. King’s short fiction for adults has been widely published and nominated for Best New American Voices. After fifteen years living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and children, and teaches in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Art.

You can find her at her website, blog, Facebook page, or on Twitter.

–Julie Bartel, currently reading Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick and Doll Bones (again) by Holly Black


What Are You Reading, Kazakhstan?

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 07:00


I belong to a book club where we do a roll call to see what everyone is reading.  I am always interested to know what other people are reading or waiting to read- but just knowing what is popular in Ohio or the whole United States no longer satisfies my curiosity.  I want to know what teens are reading all over the world.

Though the nation has existed since the Neolithic Age, it just gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  The first municipal library opened in 1910.  In 1998 the library was officially named National Library of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has a very unique geography which includes , steppes, taiga, snow-capped mountains, and deserts. (Kazakhstan)  This diversity is reflected in its population of 16.6 million people who comprise over 130 ethnicities.

Which makes me wonder: what are all of them reading?

Thank you to Celia of Haileybury Astana who has the answers. Here’s what Celia has to say about her school: Haileybury Astana, is a private British international school with over 350 pupils from nursery up through secondary school, growing every year. The operate two libraries, one for primary students and the other for secondary students. The school is located in Astana, Kazakhstan, which is billed as the second-coldest capital in the world — so we enjoy staying indoors and reading in the winter! **All commentary here is of course my own, and is not an official statement from the school!

  • What are the most popular titles for teens at your library right now?

    Matched by Ally Condie with German cover

Right now our teens are picking up new dystopian novels like Matched Ally Condie, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, but others are still reading perennial favorites like Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz, Jacqueline Wilson’s fiction.

  • What genres are most popular with your library’s teens?

Our teens read a variety of historical, fantasy, or scary stories. Nonfiction gets a good go as well, especially in science or history, and anything in our adventure or teen relationship categories tends to go quickly!

  • In your teen collection, what languages are the books available in?

Most of our books are in English, but we have a growing collection in Russian – and we’ve even had donations of teen books in German or Kazakh! I’d love to see our pupils get the chance to read more intelligent teen fiction in Kazakh.

  • Do your teens prefer to read print novels or ebooks?

Right now, they prefer print, but many haven’t yet been introduced to ebooks – I hope to do that soon.

I hope to learn and share about teen reading around the world.  If you or someone you know lives overseas and works as a teacher or librarian with teens, please message me so I can  do a post about the country they live in.  To learn more about what other teens are reading, check out my previous posts in this series:

-Laura C. Perenic, currently reading Zoo Station : a memoir : the story of Christiane F.

Jukebooks: September Girls by Bennett Madison

Wed, 01/29/2014 - 07:59

What. A. Summer. Sam didn’t think it would pan out to much, going to the beach with his older brother, Jeff, and his newly singled Dad. But the sleepy old beach is filled with beautiful blonde girls. Usually Jeff is the guy who gets the girls. Not this summer. They all seem interested in Sam.

Madison’s novel is a combination of summer romance and paranormal horror. It also contains a portrayal of sexism that has prompted strong reader reactions. A thoughtful analysis of these issues (with SPOILERS) can be found on The Book Smugglers blog. To get a sense of the intensity surrounding the discussion, take a look at the comments on

Personally, I enjoy a good discussion on sexism. I was a teen in the 1970s, when feminism was seeping its way into the national consciousness, challenging the fairness of everything from high school sports to underwear. It’s an important issue during adolescence and early adulthood for both sexes, as awareness of one’s own sexual identity emerges. Life may alter these convictions over time, but it’s important to begin with an understanding of the insidious nature of  sexual discrimination.

Fittingly, the band, September Girls, is a five-woman band from Dublin that combines intense reverb with catchy melody. Want to hear how it’s done? Check out their video below.

-Diane Colson, currently reading The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt