50 Years of YA, Part 4

Warning: This post may contain a majority number of books I found less than amazing on this list.  So sorry for so much negativity!

#1: The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton

According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers–until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser.

This is a book that has slipped on and off my radar since I was in high school, but I never took the time to sit down and read it.  I know there’s a definite shortage of books in the children’s/YA genres with male protagonists, but when I was younger I didn’t want to read any of them.  So, while I might have enjoyed reading this one, it always fell under a pile of other books with more female leads.

Needless to say, I’m excited that I finally got to experience Ponyboy and Johnny.  There’s a lot to be said about the fact that Hinton was only 16 when she wrote this; it feels like a book written by a kid for kids (and not in a bad way).  As I was reading it, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people to sit down and read this book when it first came out, and to finally have a voice that seemed to resonate with their own.  Now, I’m a little too old to relate to all of the teenager-ness, but I still love the book’s authenticity.

There’s not necessarily anything extraordinary about this book, in my mind, but I love what it stands for and what it sought to accomplish.

 

#2: The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

So, the whole Earthsea trilogy is actually on the list, but I don’t think my non-fantasy-reading mind can take two more books like this one.  Don’t get me wrong–the book is excellent, and there’s a reason it’s withstood the test of time.  I just don’t read fantasy if I can avoid it, and I’m going to in this situation.

I definitely understand why this book is on the list (of course it is!  It’s an incredible time capsule, teen read, and all-around excellent book!).  The character alone are powerful and inviting.  There’s depth here that I don’t notice in a couple of the other early teen titles on this list.  Also, the wrestling with self which is personified in this book’s quest (hopefully I’m not giving too much away) is something all young people can definitely relate to.  And, while I found the story long and tedious, it really is a nice short fantasy novel that I’m sure serves as a great introduction to the genre, if you like that sort of thing.

In the end, I prefer this fantasy to others I’ve read.  I’m glad it was included for its historical significance and its ongoing impact.

 

#12: Sweet Valley High, Francine Pascal

Will Jessica steal Todd from Elizabeth? Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield are identical twins at Sweet Valley High. They’re both popular, smart, and gorgeous, but that’s where the similarity ends. Elizabeth is friendly, outgoing, and sincere — nothing like her snobbish and conniving twin. Jessica gets what she wants — at school, with friends, and especially with boys. This time, Jessica has set her sights on Todd Wilkins, the handsome star of the basketball team — the one boy that Elizabeth really likes. Elizabeth doesn’t want to lose him, but what Jessica wants, Jessica usually gets … even if it ends up hurting her sister. Meet the Wakefield twins, their guys, and the rest of the gang at Sweet Valley High….

This is another book where the entire series is on the list, but I could barely make it through the first one… Unlike The Wizard of Earthsea, I feel like this one has far less redeeming qualities.  These books play on the good/evil twin motif, which is fine.  Unfortunately, I feel like it pushes it to an uncomfortable extreme and fails to fully resolve anything.

Okay, I just hate Jessica.

More than that, though, I think these books (at least the first one) attempt to portray teenage girlhood in an accurate light, but it over-portrays only certain aspects of that life, and it’s a narrative specific to the rich and white.  I understand that it’s a product of its age, but some of the language surrounding the Wakefields and their disinterest in other families and associating with them made me very uncomfortable.  If this list is honoring books held exclusively within their contexts, I can almost allow it.  However, whereas most of the other books I’ve seen as beneficial in contemporary classrooms, I’m glad to know that this series has lost most, if not all, of its following.

 

#42: They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group, Susan Campbell Bartoletti

“Boys, let us get up a club.” With those words, six restless young men raided the linens at a friend’s mansion in 1866. They pulled white sheets over their heads, hopped on horses, and cavorted through the streets of Pulaski, Tennessee. Soon, the six friends named their club the Ku Klux Klan and began patterning their initiations after fraternity rites, with passwords and mysterious handshakes. All too quickly, this club would grow into the self-proclaimed “Invisible Empire,” with secret dens spread across the South. On their brutal raids, the nightriders would claim to be ghosts of Confederate soldiers and would use psychological and physical terror against former slaves who dared to vote, own land, attend school, or worship as they pleased.

This is the story of how a secret terrorist group took root in America’s democracy. Filled with chilling and vivid personal accounts unearthed from oral histories, congressional documents, and other primary sources, this is a book to read and remember.

As you can probably tell, this is one of a different sort of book on this list!  It was very educational and eye-opening.  There’s a lot of history to the South and the KKK that I didn’t know, until I read this book.  Bartoletti does a great job of tracing the group’s growth through history, and tying into what would have been contemporary context when the book was published.  It actually sheds a horrifying light on some things today, for those who follow (willingly or unwillingly) American news and politics.  This one’s for the history fans!

 

#47: Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgwick

Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve lived another life? Been somewhere that has felt totally familiar, even though you’ve never been there before, or felt that you know someone well, even though you are meeting them for the first time? It happens.

In a novel comprising seven parts, each influenced by a moon – the flower moon, the harvest moon, the hunter’s moon, the blood moon – this is the story of Eric and Merle whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting.

I’ll be honest: I was lost.

This book was so confusing, and in the end, somewhat disappointing.  I was intrigued through the first two parts, and then I just lost track of the timeline and couldn’t find my footing.

I appreciate the unusual and the unconventional, but I’m starting to think this list has a few too many titles added purely because they’re “different.”  I’m sure this book is great to some people, but I just didn’t get it.

 

Again, sorry for the depressing reviews! I’m hoping my next set of 5 will be happier.  (If it helps, there are more series on this list than Earthsea and Sweet Valley that I’m actually enjoying, so I’m waiting until I’ve read their sequels to review them!)

Cheers.

 

 

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50 Years of YA, Part 3

I could write an introduction, but y’all know what’s coming.  Let’s do this!

Note: I decided to try including synopses with the books from here on out.  We’ll see if I remember to do this, and if it sticks.

 

#4: The Friends, Rosa Guy

A powerful, award-winning novel about friendship.

Phyllisia Cathy–She is fourteen. Her problems seem overwhelming: New York, after life on her sunlit West Indies island, is cold, cruel and filthy. She is insulted daily and is beaten up by classmates. What Phyllisia needs, God not being interested, is a friend.

Edith Jackson–She is fifteen. Her clothes are unpressed, her stockings bagging with big holes. Her knowledge of school is zero. She has no parents, she swears and she steals. But she is kind and offers her friendship and protection to Phyllisia.

“And so begins the struggle that is the heart of this very important book: the fight to gain perception of one’s own real character; the grim struggle for self-knowledge.”–Alice Walker, The New York Times

This book offers an interesting look at what it means to reach an age where you can identify your own prejudices.  Phyllisia is an extremely relatable character.  She just wants to be considered normal and to fit in, and after moving to this new place, it’s not coming as easily as she thought it might.  I really enjoyed her character in the sense that I think young people can look at her and see themselves.

Edith is the perfect foil to Phyllisia: Aware of who she is and unashamed of it (at least, willing to admit that nothing will change for her without her initiating the change).  She’s also a character you enjoy reading about, because she so perfectly depicts goodness.

I have a few issues with how the plot of this book is carried out.  In many ways, I think it is too didactic for the teenage reader.  They can spot a phony solution.  And the trauma that Phyllisia experiences as she’s learning to accept people who are different is almost textbook sentimental literature.

Despite its shortcomings (many of which are most likely a result of its age), The Friends is a story that offers an alternative perspective, and I can understand why it was included on this list.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for “fun” reading, but it’s one to take a look at if you’re interested in what YA was like in the Beginning.

 

#5: A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich, Alice Childress

Benjie can stop using heroin anytime he wants to. He just doesn’t want to yet. Why would he want to give up something that makes him feel so good, so relaxed, so tuned-out? As Benjie sees it, there’s nothing much to tune in for. School is a waste of time, and home life isn’t much better. All Benjie wants is for someone to believe in him, for someone to believe that he’s more than a thirteen-year-old junkie. Told from the perspectives of the people in his life-including his mother, stepfather, teachers, drug dealer, and best friend-this powerful story will draw you into Benjie’s troubled world and force you to confront the uncertainty of his future.

Can I just say, I love this title?

This book is really neat due to its style.  Each chapter is from the point of view of a different character (although sometimes, like in the case of Benjie, they have mutliple chapters), and each of these characters shares his or her perspectives on what’s happening in Benjie’s life.  This gives the author the opportunity to personify the different ideologies and persons surrounding a heroine epidemic.   The other really neat part about this book is that it’s written in dialect.  It was difficult to read at first, but you quickly get used to it as you get to know the characters (and each character has a slightly different way of speaking, too).

This book, like The Friends, is from an early time in the world of YA, and therefore it has some weaknesses in terms of how engaging the plot is.  When reading it, I could definitely see this one being required reading in a freshman high school classroom.  Again, another you wouldn’t necessarily pick up for “fun.”  Yet I can also see how it could be challenged and banned in certain communities.  It’s brutally honest about how young people find and use and sell drugs, at least within the context of its day.  It also deals heavily with race issues, which in the story and in history were not resolved.

It was during the reading of this book and The Friends that I started to see this list of “50 Best YA Books” in a new light.  While I began reading these books because I thought they represented what teens loved, I think a more accurate description of them would be books that educators, librarians, and booksellers offer for their value to young people.  It doesn’t make me want to stop reading through these titles, but it does kind of change my approach to them.

 

#24: Kit’s Wilderness, David Almond

The Watson family moves to Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to care for Kit’s recently widowed grandfather. When Kit meets John Askew, another boy whose family has both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites Kit to join him in playing a game called Death. As Kit’s grandfather tells him stories of the mine’s past and the history of the Watson family, Askew takes Kit into the mines, where the boys look to find the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors. Written in haunting, lyrical prose, Kit’s Wilderness examines the bonds of family from one generation to the next, and explores how meaning and beauty can be revealed from the depths of darkness.

I actually listened to the audiobook for this title, and I have to admit, I got lost.  It was hard to follow the story.  I don’t think it was the fault of the performer or anything; I just think this text is probably best read on your own.

The overall feel of the book is very weird, but in kind of a good way.  I love the haunting images and rhythm to the writing.  And the relationship between Kit and his grandfather is sweet and believable.  Having just recently experienced the loss of a grandparent, I was able to relate to the pain behind the struggles his family was facing.

Because I got lost with the overall plot of this story, I really have no idea what was going on with John Askew.  I think if I had read the story in print, I would have grasped it better.  However, there are 50 books on this list and I don’t have time to reread at this point.  If the title still sounds interesting to you, find it in print!

 

#26: Hole in My Life, Jack Gantos

In the summer of 1971, Jack Gantos was an aspiring writer looking for adventure, cash for college tuition, and a way out of a dead-end job. For ten thousand dollars, he recklessly agreed to help sail a sixty-foot yacht loaded with a ton of hashish from the Virgin Islands to New York City, where he and his partners sold the drug until federal agents caught up with them. For his part in the conspiracy, Gantos was sentenced to serve up to six years in prison.

In Hole in My Life, this prizewinning author of over thirty books for young people confronts the period of struggle and confinement that marked the end of his own youth. On the surface, the narrative tumbles from one crazed moment to the next as Gantos pieces together the story of his restless final year of high school, his short-lived career as a criminal, and his time in prison. But running just beneath the action is the story of how Gantos – once he was locked up in a small, yellow-walled cell – moved from wanting to be a writer to writing, and how dedicating himself more fully to the thing he most wanted to do helped him endure and ultimately overcome the worst experience of his life.

I didn’t recognize the title of this book, but when I saw the cover, I had a gigantic “Aha!” moment.  I’m pretty sure every single boy in my class in middle school checked out this book from the library, at least once.  In my mind, it’s the quintessential book guys chose when they had to find something to do during Silent Reading (oh, how I miss that designated half hour of the day!).  For that reason, I wasn’t super excited about this book.  I figured it would have very little to offer me that I would find engaging.

On the one hand, after reading this book, I can TOTALLY see why a certain school demographic was attracted to it.  There’s language, sex, and drugs on pretty much every page.  I went to a rather sheltered public school, and so this was probably one of the first introductions to anything grungy and on-edge for these young teenagers.

On the other hand, I ended up really enjoying the “memoir” aspect of this book.  Gantos is an excellent writer, and it shows through this very personal story.  I love reading memoir, and this actually did not disappoint.  I still struggled to really connect with any of his life experiences.  But, to me, the mark of a good memoir is that you end up relating to its speaker even if you have no personal experience with what they went through.

In terms of required reading and recommending this to young people, I think this book continues to speak to young men entering into the stage of life in which Jack’s experiences occurred.  And I think this one will stay relevant, as evidenced by its inclusion on this list.

 

#41: Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the multiple-award-winning Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery.

I’m not going to lie–this book was extremely difficult to read.  It wasn’t that the prose was stilted or that the plot was slow-moving; it was just so emotional and dark.  As someone who has struggled with body image issues in the past, Lia’s internal dialogue gave me a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The blurb from Goodreads does not lie–this is the most emotionally wrenching book by Anderson I have ever read.

I personally cannot stand when serious emotional and physical issues are used for entertainment purposes.  There are several very popular TV shows and movies I refuse to watch because I think there’s a limit to how much violence we should willingly take in for the sake of a good story.  As I began this book, I wondered if its content would fall in the same category.  In the end, though, I agree that this story is important.  The struggles Lia and Cassie face are not glorified, by any means.  Instead, they’re exposed for what they truly are: an illness, real and powerful, that no one can fight alone.  And this story likewise highlights the important role family and friends play in combating the darkness many people face on a daily basis.

This is not a fun book, by any means.  But it’s beautiful, and it’s important.  I’m glad it was included on this list and that I finally was able to read it.

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Happy #NationalBookLoversDay! Disney Book Tag

Hello, Book Lovers, and Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I’m spending the majority of my day at a virtual library conference called SLJTeenLive.  I am enjoying hearing from YA authors about their books and what they’re reading.  It seems to be one of the best ways to spend a day dedicated to book lovers!

I also thought it would be fun to honor the day with a Book Tag.  I’ve never done one before on this blog, and it seemed like the perfect way to highlight some of my all-time favorite works, as a lifelong book lover!  I stumbled across the Disney Book Tag a few weeks back.  It’s categories highlight some of the best titles I’ve ever read, and I can’t wait to share them with you!  I hope you enjoy.Image result for disney book tag

The Little Mermaid:
A Character Who is Out of Their Element

Wonder

Wonder, for me, is the uncontested winner for this category.  Auggie is thrown totally out of his element when he goes to school for the first time.  His classmates, even, experience some of the Little Mermaid syndrome as they learn how to relate to him.  This book has a powerful message about bullying and acceptance.  I can’t say enough about how much I loved this story and its characters.

 

Cinderella:
A Character Who Goes Through a Major Transformation

Ranma

I thought I’d be a little humorous with this one and name the Ranma 1/2 manga series.  Ranma, the main character in this story, has fallen into the Pool of Drowning Girl during his martial arts training.  Thus, every time he gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl!  And every time he gets splashed with hot water, he turns back into a boy.  Absolute madness ensues in adventures galore as he uses his curse to get out of bad situations.  Absolutely hilarious and adorable, this is one of my favorite manga series.

And, you have to admit, fluid transgender modifications make for a fairly large transformation!

 

Snow White:
A Book with an Eclectic Cast of Characters

Coville

I feel like any fantasy series is a good fit for this category, but I wanted to honor one of my favorite stories from my childhood: Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles.  With all of the mysterious and wonderful characters that usually appear in a fantasy world, this series is captivating.  Cara is one of my favorite female lead characters ever, and I loved reading about her adventures in Luster.  Also, if I could have my own Lightfoot,  that would be pretty cool!

 

Sleeping Beauty:
A Book that Put You to Sleep

Hook

Most of my followers know how much I love Peter Pan, so you may realize how painful it was for me to add this book to my DNF pile.  The film Hook is one of my favorites, but the story version was too long and detailed to hold my interest.  I know Terry Brooks is a huge and important name in fantasy literature, but I found this work unreadable.  Rarely, if ever, do I say that the movie was better than the book.  But in this case, I’ll go even further–don’t bother reading the book; just enjoy the movie!

 

The Lion King:
A Character Who Had Something Traumatic Happen to Them in Childhood

Perks

Spoiler Alert!  But not really–it doesn’t take long when reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower to figure out that Charlie has experienced something traumatic in his past.  The Big Reveal of what that was shook me the first time I read this book, and it inspired me to write my senior thesis on this title in my undergrad.  To date, Charlie is one of my favorite characters, and in many ways I consider him a friend.  I am grateful to the story Stephen Chbosky tells through him.

 

Beauty and the Beast:
A Beast of a Book that You were Intimidated by,
but Found the Story to be Beautiful

Anna Karenina

I actually signed up for a class because Anna Karenina was on the syllabus, and I knew if it weren’t required reading, I would never make it through the entire book.  I’m so glad I took that class, too, because this ended up being one of my favorite classics of all time.  The story is beautifully written and hauntingly memorable.  If you haven’t experienced Tolstoy, I beg you to give him a go.  And if you really want to dive in, push yourself to read this amazing story of love and betrayal.

 

Aladdin:
A Character Who Gets Their Wish Granted, For Better or Worse

Down with the Shine

This is another sort of ironic inclusion, because the premise of this book is essentially be careful what you wish for.  I spent the entire time I read this book wondering if it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, because it combines a very literal experience with satirical extremism.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s sort of both.  (And, while several people have their wishes granted, I can think of one specific young man who asks for an enhancement to his anatomy in the form of a metaphor, with hilarious and disastrous consequences!)

 

Mulan:
A Character Who Pretends to be Someone They Are Not

Thirteenth Tale

Another (potential) Spoiler Alert!

If you haven’t yet experienced the mystery that is Vida Winter’s life, you need to read this book.  The plot twist at the end is totally mind-blowing.  I’ve read this twice, and I bet if I read it a third time I would discover even more hints toward the revelation of the mystery.  This is such a great book for people who like to try and solve the riddle, and a perfect fit for this Mulan category.

 

Toy Story:
A Book with Characters You Wish Would Come to Life

Peter Pan

I mean, do you even have to ask?  I would love to meet Peter Pan in real life.  I feel like we would have a blast reading books together.  And I’d love to go to Neverland, even if at this point I would have to be a pirate or an aborigine (because, unfortunately, I’ve Grown Up).

 

Disney Descendants:
Your Favorite Villain or Morally Ambiguous Character

Mindy

So, I’ve never experienced The Descendants, but I like the connection this category makes.  And this book cover is actually a stand-in for another of this author’s books, The Female of the Species.  My sister has my copy, so I couldn’t snap a picture of it today.  However, in terms of a villain/morally ambiguous character, you needn’t look any further than Alex.  The Female of the Species opens with the line, “This is how I kill someone.”  And the story that follows will haunt you and challenge you on your ideas of morality and justice.

I just received Not a Drop to Drink in the mail this week, so unfortunately I haven’t been able to read it yet.  If it’s anything like her other book, I know I’m going to love it–and perhaps it has its own ambiguous character to inspire us!

***

So, that’s it!  I had a lot of fun working through this challenge, and I’m so happy to have mentioned so many favorite books on this very special day.  Celebrate today in your own way: by reading a new book, picking up an old favorite, tweeting a favorite quote, or visiting a bookstore.  And if you have favorite titles to meet these categories, let me know!  I’d love to hear your ideas, too.

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Manga Review: Library Wars

Library Wars

Last week, I finished Library Wars, a manga series by Kiiro Yumi.  This is only the second manga series I have ever finished (I’m still working my way through Ranma 1/2, which is a little longer, and I’ve read a handful of stand-alones in between).  I found the series through another bookstagrammer’s (The Paige Turner) vlog.  As a librarian, I was intrigued by the title, and I was super excited to read an action-packed adventure about my profession.  We don’t get a lot of kick-ass representatives in our field–other than The Librarian(s), who are more like archaeologists than actually information professionals.  I couldn’t wait to see how this plot portrayed us.

In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves–the Library Forces!

This book is the next chapter in the conversation started by Fahrenheit 451.   The Library Forces are actively fighting against censorship and for the right to information–hell yeah!  I think what I loved most about this series from the beginning was how accurately it approached librarians.  Word for word, it represents a normal day in the information field!

Okay, okay, so maybe the National Guard-esque protection force is a bit of a stretch, but many libraries are in constant battles over banned and challenged books, as well as the rights of their patrons to information and to privacy.  Taking it to the violent level is of course great for its entertainment value in these books, but perhaps some of the valiant action scenes from real-life are more imagined than acted out.  (We’re still kick-ass, though.  Jus’ sayin’.)

No, the more accurate representations of librarians come when Iku and her team have to help in the stacks.  Yes, librarians do spend an inordinate amount of time finding books for patrons, and the system is a little bit like learning to read a map.  Kasahara’s struggles were amusing, but I’ve had identical conversations with student workers that Dojo has with her on her abilities and efforts.

The relationship between Dojo and Kasahara is also handled well.  I have to admit that the trope found in many mangas, in which the guy and girl like each other but won’t admit it, rubs me the wrong way.  I’m not big on romance, and I don’t appreciate when coincidence pushes into the realm of impossibility in terms of almost-slips and missed opportunities.  Yet this relationship was very tasteful.  The author works to shape an infatuation that began before the two knew each other, but the interest was modified when each discovered the other’s personality.  While I did grow sick of some of the situations concerning romance and attraction, the actual affection found between these two (and other couples in the series) was fairly tolerable.

This series was also a first for the author, and that comes through in the earlier books.  It’s around the fourth or fifth volume that the plot really hits a stride, and you can begin to get to know everyone outside of the general story.  At one point, I thought there were giant plot holes in between two of the volumes; then, I realized I had skipped a book!  Whoops!  At times, I do think the subtleties to some of the illustrations are difficult to follow, but the artwork is beautiful.  In the animated form, I’m sure everything is communicated for successfully.

I highly recommend this story, particularly for those who are deeply invested in political issues surrounding privacy, censorship, and information ethics.  It’s not really a bibliophile’s book–very little reading, if any, occurs in the entire series.  However, if you find yourself appreciating your right to read and learn what you want, you will most likely appreciate this manga’s characters for the work they do to get that freedom for their world.

Again, give it a couple books to pick up before you give up on it.  You won’t be disappointed.

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50 Years of YA, Part 2

Second verse, same as the first…let’s get to it!

 

#22: The Facts Speak for Themselves, Brock Cole

I had never heard of this book before taking on the challenge of reading these 50 YA titles, but after reading its description I knew it would be one of the first I picked up. This book begins with Linda, our protagonist, giving a statement about a murder suicide that she has witnessed.  This book is her personal account of what brought her to that scene.

The premise of this story is far more intense than its actual exposition, but that doesn’t stop the plot from being absolutely chilling.  Linda’s young life is so traumatic; she goes through so much at such a young age, and in the end she sounds so numb to whatever awaits her in the future.  Incredibly dark and gritty, this book demands to be included on this list, if simply because I’m sure parents and conservative groups have been challenging and banning it since its publication.  I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but you really grow attached to Linda’s voice as she tells this story.  So many times, I wanted to reach through the pages and give her a much-needed hug.  This is a very honest look at where American culture can lead when the American Dream fails.

My one big critique on this book has to do with Mom.  I am so sick of weak maternal figures in YA literature who are incapable of caring for themselves or their children.  I totally get that this is Real Life for far too many people, but I think this version of the teen story has been told.  I would like to see more self-empowered mommies in these books from now on.

 

#30: Looking for Alaska, John Green

Okay guys; I have a pretty big confession to make:

I am NOT a John Green fan.

That being said, I understand why, if we are including Green on this list, this was the book that was chosen.  I have to admit that this one left a pretty deep impression on me, and not just because it was one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to, and I was still getting used to how having a voice actor read to you can really bring a story to life.  Several books have been written on this topic, but few so directly address the questions without answers that accompany a traumatic death.  I recently finished All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, and I can see how her approach to teen suicide is slightly different than Green’s, and that each has an important message to send to those who may be wondering or struggling or recovering.

Not my favorite inclusion on this list, but I can at least appreciate what the list creators were going for by adding it.

 

#31: American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang

This was one of the first graphic novels I ever read, and it is still one of my favorites!  I have heard Yang speak twice now, and his passion for his work is what makes me love his comics so much.  The fact that this one gets personal and works at describing some of the ongoing prejudice present in adolescent culture makes it that much cooler.

I think what makes this book unique is the portrayal of the many different hats children of immigrants must wear, and how complicated fitting in can be.  The content isn’t exactly new, but it’s a fresh set of eyes, and in a unique format from what most coming-of-age books are.

Plus, who doesn’t love a book with a Monkey King in it?!

In all seriousness, this is a great starter graphic novel for those getting used to the form (it reads left to right, so if manga freaks you out for its different layout, this is a good baby step!).  It’s also good for all ages to get a peek into what growing up Chinese American might be like.

 

#45: Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

Confession Time #2:

I hated Eleanor & Park totally and completely, and after reading it I had written off Rainbow Rowell.

So, when I came across this title on my list of 50 YA Books, I was not excited to read it.  But I saw that a copy was available immediately through my library app, Overdrive, and I thought, “Oh well, might as well get it over with.”

Now? I am so glad I gave this book a chance.

Around the middle of the first chapter of this book, I realized how closely Cath’s experience during her first days at college resembled mine.  Immediately, the narration of her anxiety began to speak to me, reaching out and bringing comfort to a time in my life that has been long over, but had left some discomfort yet unsolved.  In the end, I discovered that this particular Rowell novel tells an important story of what anxiety, depression, and grief can look like–for different people and in different ways.  Reading this, I felt understood without feeling like the happy ending was sugar coating my own struggles.  At some points, I knew Cath would be okay because I had been there; in others, it seemed that her experience was telling me the same thing.

I always read others’ Goodreads reviews when I’m most of the way through, or finished with, a book, and I saw a lot of backlash against this title for its treatment of fandom.  I have to say I agree with them–I actually really hated the Simon Snow parts.  I had trouble following them, and really didn’t care what happened to whom.  [The inclusion of a wizard in this plot also pretty much cemented my belief that Rowell cannot come up with an original story if she tried…Romeo & Juliet, Harry Potter…].  I don’t know much about fandoms because I have never dived all the way into one, but I respect these readers’ opinions on how it was portrayed.

My counter to that, however, is that I don’t think that fact that Cath’s identifying with a fandom is what’s important here.  Instead, I think Rowell just picked something out to be the example of a crutch or obstacle brought to college, or the cusp of adulthood, from someone’s childhood.  Those of us who have started “adulting” have realized that certain aspects of who we were ten years ago don’t fit into the mold of who we are becoming.  We have to make the difficult decision to dump this thing that is a huge part of us, or to modify it to fit us as we change.  Cath’s struggles with her writing and her fanfiction display this–her molding of her old self into the new.

In the end, I misjudged Ms. Rowell, and I’m grateful that I gave her another chance.

 

#50: Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Perez

Yes, this book is the “last” on the list (because it was published most recently), but it is not the last one I will be reading!

The whole time I was reading (read: listening to) this one, I had a hard time remembering that it is YA.  Think of everything that gets a book on the banned list, and you’ll most likely find it in this story.  Dark, traumatic, and with a brokenhearted ending, this book brought me to tears and filled me with anger.  I think the most important lesson this fictional story has to offer is that This Could Be Real.

It’s rare to find a YA title so hopeless, and yet I think young people who read this will feel empowered because the author chose to show them the Truth, in her eyes.  This is not an easy read, for sure.  But it’s a story that should be celebrated for what it captures.

 

That’s all I have for you today!  I’m working on another book from this list right now, and I’ll put another list on here when I’ve caught up a bit.  Until then, happy reading everyone!

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50 Years of YA, Part 1

Hey, guys!  I haven’t posted in a while.  I’ve been working on a post about my reading of Beartown by Fredrik Backman (it’s brilliant, I must say.  Everyone should read it).  However, I’m not quite ready to post about it yet.  My review has been giving me a bit of writer’s block, so I’m holding off on it for now.

Some of  you may know that 2017 is considered the 50th anniversary of the YA novel (based off of the publication date of The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton).  To celebrate the year, Booklist has compiled a list they call “Booklist’s 50 Best YA Books of All Time.”  It starts with Hinton and ends with our more contemporary literature.  While they openly admit to this not being a full-proof list, they have a number of interesting titles on it.

I love YA, like many readers, and I thought it would be fun to see how many of these books I have read and could read over the summer.  I don’t think I’m going to read all of them, but I’m going to make an effort to get through as many as I can.   As I go through this YA journey, I figured it would be the perfect sort of review to share with you.

I had read several books on the list before it was published, and I have since found lots at my local library, so I have a small list to share with you today.  More are on hold or sitting on my TBR shelf, so this will certainly be a post that will have a “Part 2” and maybe a “Part 3.”  It’s also going to be much more informal than other posts I’ve made, but I’m good with that if you are, too!

So, without further ado, here’s what I have So Far:

 

#3: The Pigman, Paul Zindel

John and Lorraine have created a game out of prank calling people, which is how they first encounter Mr. Pignati, or The Pigman, whose grief over the loss of his wife leaves him desperate for companionship.  Their adventures with and without him will have you laughing and then regretting alongside them.

This book reminded me a lot of The Catcher in the Rye, which makes sense, considering they were published around the same time.  The story is told as though John and Lorraine are typing up their account of the events, and their voices (particularly Lorraine’s) greatly resemble Holden’s.  Moreover, they’re apparent disregard for consequences easily reminds the reader of a certain high school student wandering the streets of New York and contemplating ducks…

I liked this book, but there wasn’t necessarily anything spectacular about it for me.  I think because I was part of a generation whose authors were unafraid to touch on the tough subjects surrounding growing up, I find this particular book’s approach to grief and suffering to be commonplace.  Booklist says that, when it was released, it was one of the first books of its kind to address “teen life in all its darkness and complexity.”  For a first introduction to its themes and ideas, I would say it was probably shocking.  Zindel also does a great job of not writing down to his audience; even though the teens are telling this story, they don’t offer some cookie-cutter “moral” to the story in the end, which is always a “plus” in the world of YA.

Overall, I liked it a lot more than The Catcher in the Rye, and I can see why it was included on the list.

 

#6:  I Know What You Did Last Summer, Lois Duncan

[Do you guys remember that first book you read that freaked you the heck out?  For a lot of people, it was probably that “Scary Stories” series.  For me, it was Duncan’s masterpiece.  Goosebumps for days!]

Something happened last summer involving four teens.  They thought no one knew about it.  That is, until a stranger contacted one of them, saying he knew what had happened.  What follows is a dangerous series of events that ends in a “surprising” twist that “no one” can see coming!

I’ll be honest, though–I re-read this after I saw it on the list, and I now realize that 10-year-old me had a very simplistic idea of what “scary” is.

I can certainly understand its inclusion on this list.  This was also one of my first introductions to the processing of “guilt” as a teen (or, in my case, tween), and Duncan certainly hopes to achieve an intimate understanding of what someone might go through when faced like a situation like this.  All lame-movie-making aside, the inspiration behind the threat in this book is both personified and very real fear.

It was great to return to one of my childhood favorites.  Lois Duncan’s books are all sufficiently creepy and spooky, and it’s pretty cool to see one of them featured on this list!

 

#9: Gentlehands, M. E. Kerr

This book comes with a really interesting concept–a young guy develops a relationship with his grandfather, only to find out that the same man is a wanted Nazi officer.  Unfortunately, in this particular telling, I think the actual heart of this story was overshadowed by a rather lame love story.

Buddy comes from the rough side of the tracks, and Skye is the daughter of a wealthy family who visits for summer vacation.  Their connection feels rather inauthentic, and the added drama of the hatred and distrust from Buddy’s parents toward those with “money” detracted from the overall purpose of the story (in my opinion).  Also, I always find it so difficult, and therefore weird, to tell a summer fling story from the perspective of the guy.

I liked the idea of this book a lot, and it makes me wonder if accounts like it are out there.  But I don’t think I would recommend it as anything more than a romance.

 

#11: Annie on My Mind, Nancy Garden

I think Booklist’s write-up of this one says it best:

“Garden’s novel, centered on Annie and Liza’s romance, revealed gradually through Liza’s memories, has all the iconic markers of teen romance, but it was truly groundbreaking: this teenage lesbian love story was the first of it’s kind to have a happy ending.”

I really enjoyed reading through this romance.  The story moves from friendship, to general acceptance of their identities, to discoveries considering how the world perceives them (incorrectly, I might add) and who they can turn to for help.  I like the parallel that appears between them and a couple of the other characters in the story.  And, for once, the flashback really seems to balance out the storytelling elements.  This one is definitely worth the read!

 

#14: Howl’s Moving Castle, Diane Wynne Jones

That’s right, folks–the very famous Miyazaki film was first and foremost a YA novel.  The same lovable Sophie appears to help the Wizard Howl in his escapades, just as the film portrays.

I’ll be honest–I found this book incredibly boring.  I don’t think it carried the plot well, and there were several parts of the book that I simply skimmed (without losing any part of the plot).  It is, perhaps, a perfect introduction to other fantasy novels (i.e. Terry Brooks, Robert Jordan), which I also struggle to get through.  Thus, for those who more greatly enjoy this genre, it may be a brilliant execution.  I, for one, will stick with watching the film.

 

#18: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Chris Crutcher

This book was actually a required reading title I read way back in high school, almost a decade ago.  Chris Crutcher, the author, actually came to our school to talk about his books (we could pick from a list of them, and I chose this one).  The actual plot of this story has faded for me, but I didn’t feel the need to re-read it, like IKWYDLS.

The one thing I know for sure is that Crutcher attempts to address the Tough Stuff in everything he writes.  This book alone deals with abuse, body image issues, high school drama, and so much more.  The characters are very relatable.  You feel for their experiences and recognize similarities in your own life, even if they don’t reach this extreme.

I think it’s great the Crutcher’s books are being used in the classroom (as many of these are, or might be).  One of the hardest lessons most people learn in high school is that there are no easy answers to most of Life, and authors who are unafraid to point that out in their work should be included in the curriculum.

At the same time, this was a school read, so I don’t know how fun it would be to read on your own time!  Jus’ sayin’.

 

Whew.  I need a break!

More to come in the future.  In the meantime, happy reading everyone!  If you’re looking for something fun to read over the summer, I suggest YA.

 

 

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April Review

Great news, guys!  This month, I finally finished my master’s program for Library and Information Science! Whoohoo!

I have been short and absent for a little while because most of my attention has gone toward my final research project write-up, which I finally submitted two weeks ago.  I haven’t really had much time to read physical books here recently (I’ve listened to several audiobooks this month, of course), but here at the end I was able to finish a couple.  It seemed like an appropriate time to do a month in review and catch you up on the “good,” the “bad,” and the “neutral” books I *experienced* in April.  Here we go!

The Good

I read and listened to several books this month that I really enjoyed, and it feels appropriate to start off with them.  In no particular order, here they are:

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

That’s right! I finally got my hands on the audiobook of this fantastic thriller, and I have to say it did not disappoint.  Moriarty’s books tend to be only slightly remarkable to me, particularly because I, as a very recently married, childless American woman in her 20’s, can’t really relate to the characters (too much ennui, if you know what I mean).  So, imagine my glee at discovering that one of the main characters was, in fact, my EXACT age!  Jane made the entire story more appealing to me, as she offered a perspective on the situations I could better understand.  The plot twists and coincidences were spectacular!  I have to admit that I had solved almost the entire mystery of the Trivia Night well before the characters arrived there, but knowing the conclusion did not ruin the thrill of the chase!  Plus, unlike some mysteries of it’s kind, I didn’t reach the moment of revelation and think, “Wait, that’s it?”  All in all, this book has everything a drama-loving chick lit reader could desire, and it offers it in an excellent and well-classed manner.  Plus, who can deny the storytelling wonder that is Caroline Lee?

 

The Girl with All the Gifts, M. R. Carey

To be completely honest, this book took me by surprise.  I found it on a list of recommended audiobooks based of the performance of Finty Williams, and it had previously been recommended to me by a coworker at Barnes & Noble.  As I point out in my GoodReads review, normally when I come across a book, movie, or TV show with a zombie apocalypse premise, I discard it.  They just aren’t my cup of tea.  This zombie apocalypse tale, however, was impossible to ignore.  Melanie is such an interesting character, right from the start.  Carey does an excellent job of capturing child-like innocence; it stands in harsh contrast to the actual virus that is playing out in the rest of the world.  The characters are also beautifully complex.  They each fill an apocalyptic stereotype–doctor, sergeant, humanitarian, soldier, monster–and yet there struggles over right, wrong, life, and death are very real.  Carey does more than just deliver the traditional horror story of an abandoned planet left to rot from its own disease; he tells the same story in a new way that leads you to really think about the possibilities and the consequences.  I will probably never read anything like this again, and that’s okay, but for what it’s worth this is now one of my more favored books of all time.

 

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything In Between, Lauren Graham

This book was delightful.  I love how Graham wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style, where she trips over her own sentences, starts and stops her stories, and tries to pull the wool over her audience’s eyes before ultimately admitting she was fibbing.  It was not necessarily a life-changing book (although the intellectual components of it succeeded what I had expected; I had no idea Graham had an MFA!).  However, it was heartwarming and encouraging.  In many ways, I think Graham was writing to all of the Rorys who watched Gilmore Girls as they grew up, speaking to them with just enough wisdom and humility to encourage good decisions and confidence.  I’m not entirely sure what I liked most about this book, but what I do know is that there’s no way I couldn’t like it.

 

The Bad

Let’s face it–when you read enough books, you’re going to come across some stinkers.  This month’s let-downs were a surprise to me; I picked them assuming they would be excellent.  However, I feel like I have some pretty good reasons for not fully appreciating them.

 

Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Let me just say that I really wish YA novelists would stop trying to write “historical fiction” about the 1970s and ’80s.  It’s just not working for me; it feels too inauthentic.

I think this book had a wonderful, inspirational premise that simply wasn’t carried to fruition.  What was an attempt at complexity came across as confusion.  For instance, I could never figure out the family reality for either character because it seemed to change with no warning quite often.  Also, while I understood the trope of the older brother, I did not necessarily feel like his significance in the end filled up the chasm created by mentions of him.  This book’s most redeeming quality was its honest treatment of sexual discovery for two young boys, which was treated with taste and discretion.  However, I don’t think that the fact that it openly addresses homosexuality should forgive some of its other shortcomings.  There are other LGBTQ friendly YA fiction books that handle the subject in a better way.

And, actually (perhaps most disappointing of all), I didn’t care for Lin-Manuel Miranda on the audiobook! His changes in inflection for characters’ speaking voices was not consistent, and I frequently lost the conversation as he was reading.

 

Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

Yes, I read this one because of the upcoming movie.  The way the film preview portrayed it kept me from realizing how much of a romance it actually is.  While I have my qualms about teen love stories and their inflation of reality, this one wasn’t terrible.  What bothered me more is, I don’t like reading stories about bad mothers.

I couldn’t even finish the film Mommy Dearest.  My mom is, like, my best friend, and I hate thinking poorly of mother figures, ever.  I felt like the conclusion of this book (without, hopefully, giving too much away) destroyed a well-established relationship between mother and daughter, for quite frankly no reason.  This family bond was broken so that the future could potentially bring to teenagers into a romantic relationship.  Even if the mother-daughter situation is eventually solved, I don’t care for the situations this type of plot creates.  It’s like If I Stay.  While I’m happy Mia decides to live, I hate that it is because of Adam.  This book led me to the same problems.  Don’t hurt a mother’s love to make your childhood fling work out in the end.

 

 

Diary of an Oxygen Thief

You know, I never liked Holden Caulfied, so reading about him as an “alcoholic,” as the back of this book says, should have tipped me off to how little I would enjoy this story.  Don’t get me wrong–I think it has a purpose.  I have seen other reviews that talk about how this book is terrible because it glorifies harming others and selfishness.  I don’t think it so much glorifies it as puts it under the same microscope as “Black Mirror” does for its commentaries.  The reality is that many of us do what Aisling eventually does to our main character; photographing, highlighting, capturing others’ pain is an everyday occurrence, and we need a well-written commentary on it to open our eyes to its barbarity.  This book just wasn’t the right way to go about it.

This book reads, to me, like a hipster who is trying to be edgy.  The plot is fairly formulaic and, at times, very intentionally offensive.  This step-by-step novel style takes away a lot of the authenticity, and it suggests that very little actual creativity went into the story’s creation.  Had the pages felt more authentic and less scripted, perhaps this would have been more successful.  As it stands, its just a book written to get everybody riled up for no reason.

 

The Neutral

These books weren’t bad, but they weren’t spectacular either.  It’s in the medium-style titles that I think we take the most comfort.  Most of our reading will be at the extremes, but knowing we have these to return to is a help.

 

The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson

As a fan of “The Silence of the Lambs,” this book was pretty interesting to me.  It was dark and creepy in all the right places, and it seems to be ahead of its time in its treatment of the Average Joe Serial Killer.  I listened to the audiobook because I had never really experienced a story of its kind–one in which you are in the mind of the killer, and you know that no one knows its him.  An enticing psychological drama with just enough grit to keep you interested til the end.

 

 

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

As a former English major, I feel obligated to read a classic every once in a while and stay on top of my older book readings.  I picked this one out because of several good reviews I had heard of it, including that it was significant and relevant to today.  It certainly did not disappoint, even though the ending made me very sad indeed.  I like how Hardy wrestles with what to do with a woman who has been wronged and is then ostracized for what has happened.  It was also interesting to read Angel’s perspective and to see him struggle to figure out what was right in the given situation.  It isn’t my favorite classic, but it was quite enjoyable to read.

 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series is great to reread, because on your second and third times through you pick up on subtle hints you would have otherwise overlooked.  I have never had a huge and overwhelming appreciation for Harry Potter; I like that it has created a generation of readers and that Rowling is unapologetic about the political undertones in the stories, but it’s simply not my story style.  While I rarely read zombie books, I never read fantasy.  Still, it has been enjoyable to revisit these audiobooks (read by the fantastic Jim Dale), especially alongside my husband.  It was an enjoyable ride to Hogwarts as we listened to it in the car.

 

There you have it!  My April list!  I’m still thinking through the direction I want to take this blog, so keep your eyes out for changes and developments.  Until then, I’m off to start the first book of May.

Happy Reading!

 

 

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Echo

This week, I listened to the audiobook Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan.  This book had a profound impact on me for so many reasons, and the greatest treasure of this story is that it’s written for children but has the power to speak to anyone.

Echo is four stories wound into one, one of which is almost a folktale, and three of which are about three different children–Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy–and their lives during the tumultuous time of World War II.  Each story is staggered and feeds into the next one, for one epic finale that I will try hard not to spoil here.  All I will say is that the one thing holding them together is a harmonica, which mysteriously appears in each of the stories.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but this book engaged me from the first page.  In a way, the stories were timeless even as they were attached to a time period.  Munoz Ryan follows her characters closely enough that important references to significant events like the Holocaust and Pearl Harbor serve as landmarks more than important plot points.  I also think this particular novel, in using a historical setting, still has a profound message to offer to contemporary American culture.  As I was listening to the stories, some of the conversations and experiences felt by central and exterior characters gave me goosebumps, because what was said in the 1930’s and ’40’s sounds disturbingly like some of what is rising in our political climate today.  It was almost scary, as an adult reading a children’s book about people who lived during Hitler’s reign, to think about there being any parallels between that time and ours, but Munoz Ryan subtly points them out–whether intentionally or unintentionally–in the most profound ways.  Even as a historical fiction book, this story is timeless.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of this book in consideration of its main genre (juvenile/young readers), is the fact that each story ends at first with a cliffhanger.  All four characters come to a time when it seems that hope is lost, and their story pauses until the very end.  And, really, the end does not directly address what happened to immediately resolve whatever situation the characters were left in.  It is set, instead, several years into the future when all three of the children are grown and reflecting back on their experiences.  I am proud of Munoz Ryan for including this in a book meant for young readers.  I think, too often, we are quick to protect children from the reality that life offers no easy answers.  This is particularly true in literature.  Books have quick resolutions–both because of the shorter texts for easier reading and because the Happy Ending seems so very important.  Munoz Ryan forgets both of these things, and writes a lengthy text full of despair and angst.  The Happy Ending is still (relatively) present, but readers have to commit to the story to get there, which makes it that much more beautiful.

The children in this book experience serious hardships in life; however, despite some of the extremes experienced by them contributed by the time period and the story itself, the messages are still relatable.  Friedrich is bullied for most of his life due to his birthmark.  While children today (hopefully) do not have to fear that they will be sterilized or sent to a concentration camp for not meeting a particular higher standard of “human,” bullying is an issue that culture is still trying to resolve.  Moreover, body image issues are a very real and present problem with people of all ages, even those who are very young.  Friedrich’s experiences are still relevant today, and I’m sure many young people have felt comforted and connected to him for what he went through.

Friedrich and Mike are also missing parents.  Mike is an orphan who feels very responsible for his little brother, and Friedrich’s mom died shortly after he was born.  In a time when broken families and single parents are a perfect example of the norm, young people must feel connected to these boys who are raised and adopted by single individuals (Mr. Howard, of course, serves as a good example of the “stepfather,” or the newer adult addition to a family).  Each of these boys experience their struggles around specific contexts, but the timelessness of belonging and love lead their stories to speak to people today as well.

Ivy’s family is transient, and she is constantly experiencing what it is like to be the New Kid.  Her story is unique due to the nature of her dad’s job (in connection with the Japanese internment camps) and her special school, but the anxiety she experiences over making new friends and going to a new school are extremely relevant.  Moreover, she has a family member in the armed forces and for the first time her life must learn how to live normally without her brother with her.  These emotions she goes through can mirror what children and young readers still experience and provide them comfort that they are not alone in what they are going through.

These struggles, while told through a child’s perspective, can also speak profoundly to any reader.  I was rooting for each of the characters to find success, to be safe.  Each segment held my attention to the end, and I desperately wanted to reach the point in the story where I would know that everything would be okay.  Each experience spoke to me in my past and present, and in so many ways brought me comfort that I didn’t even know I needed.

Munoz Ryan’s storytelling talent goes beyond just captivating characters; it shines brightly through the plot that twists and winds in several directions until, quite unexpectedly, even the mysterious folktale becomes linked to everyone else.  The coincidences are a stretch, but not unbelievable.  Everyone is brought together at the right place and right time because of powerful circumstances, and not convenience.  In every chapter and on every page, Munoz Ryan builds toward a crescendo that resounds with hope and community, reminding us that these characters endured and flourished and that they found a place they belonged.  There are many great storytellers out there who manage to make small connections between the beginning and end of their tales, and Munoz Ryan should be included among them.

One way in which the audiobook was made even better than the physical one, in my opinion, is that the music associated with each person and on each instrument was played and sung in the backgrounds of the chapters!  Harmonicas haunted the openings and closings of each Part.  Pianos and singers hummed out familiar tunes in context with the stories.  It definitely pulled you into the story more, and as a music lover I appreciated the aesthetic results.  It makes me wonder how you could enjoy this book in print without also looking up music and songs to accompany when they are mentioned in the story!

I cannot say enough that, regardless of your age, your preferred genres, your experiences, or your perspectives, you should read this book.  The message is more than timeless; it’s relevant.  The stories reflect on an important time in our country’s history (a time that has a certain amount of significance today), and yet it is coupled with just the right about of fantasy to make it magical.  Echo left a big impression on me that will resound for many books to come.

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As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

The past couple weeks have been very stressful for me between work and school, so I haven’t been able to do much reading.  However, over the course of the last few days, I finally finished the audiobook of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden.  This book was amazing on many counts, but what I enjoyed most about it was the fact that each participant in the making of one of my favorite movies wrote a few passages, and in this particular audiobook many of them read those passages themselves.

This book read like a nostalgic memoir, one in which the reader is only let in on a few of the chaste secrets from the making of the movie.  Cary walks us through the creation of the film from start to finish, revealing facts about the movie that fans would not readily know.  For instance, I would have never guessed how nervous Wallace Shawn was over his role as Vizzini.  I also would have never known that Wesley’s limp in the “Life is Pain, Highness” sequence was a result of Cary breaking his toe before shooting began that day!  In many ways, particularly due to the constant changing voices, this book sounded like the audio of a television special, in which individuals interviews were held with each cast member, the director, and others.

I think this book was perfect to enjoy during my last few days.  It wasn’t highly intellectual and the revelations weren’t necessarily deep.  It was purely enjoyable, much like the film itself.  I’ve loved this movie since I was a girl, and so in many ways I felt that I was catching up with old friends.  It was a great distraction from everything else, and could not have come at a more opportune time.

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Listen Up!

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks.  Most of my time in February and March has been set aside for working on my final master’s project, which isn’t a thesis but might as well be based on all the time and energy I have put into it… Anyway, having such a large project to complete by April takes up a lot of my would-be pleasure reading time, and when I’m not working on my paper and try to read I feel guilty for not working.  Thus, the only way I can feed my reading habit and stay on top of my project is to listen to audiobooks at points where writing and editing aren’t an option–say, in the car or at work.

I know audiobooks aren’t always the most popular book format in the reading world.  For instance, whenever I tell people I listened to Harry Potter (read by the fantastic Jim Dale, who is phenomenal in all things but in particular his renditions of children’s books), I’ve had some people tell me that I haven’t actually read the series.  On the other hand, I have had many of my fellow audiobook lovers share some of their favorite aspects of audiobook listening.  I fall firmly on the side of pro-audiobook, particularly as it relates to reading.  I’m a very slow reader, and I don’t like to read really long books (and, as previously stated, no reading time).  However, when I listen to audiobooks, the story continues on even though my eyes would have given up, and I can stand to “sit through” very long and important texts.  I listened to Watership Down in January and liked it a lot, although I know myself well enough to be confident that I would never have actually sat down and read the story in print.  Thus, I love audiobooks because they broaden my reading focus and allow me to experience certain books and series I would have otherwise continued to ignore.

For me, there are certain types of books that lend themselves to audio format.  First and foremost is any book read by the actual author.  These can be fictional stories, although they are most often memoirs, which are the second best kind of audiobook to listen to.  The third best type of audiobook to listen to, in my humble opinion, are children’s books and YA.  If you have a YA memoir read by the author, you’ve hit the jackpot! (We Should Hang Out Sometime was great!).  After these typically spectacular and wonderful audios come those which are read by talented storytellers, like Jim Dale.  Will Patton is another of my favorite readers; he’s done many Stephen King books and adds the perfect gritty texture to the already creepy stories!  Unfortunately, unless you follow a voice actor through his or her entire repertoire and listen to books marked as read by them, this is the hardest type of book to find.  It is still very worth it, though, when you do come across those gems.

I tend to go back and forth with what I listen to a lot of time, and so my previous “reads” are all over the place.  For instance, last week I finished the audiobook for Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland.  This book is the perfect example of a reading by a great storyteller.  Robbie Daymond has been voice acting for (literally) decades onscreen and on tape, and his talent shows through in this book.  From the first few sentences of the story–which were very well-written, I might add–Robbie had me hooked to the content.  However, I unfortunately lost touch with the characters and the plot, and didn’t enjoy the ending at all.  For a YA, the characters behaved more like adults.  It wasn’t just that they were experiencing Adult Things, as does happen when people grow up; it was more like the story became unrelatable to most teenagers in the emotional responses and behaviors of the protagonists.  I have a full review of this book on my Goodreads if you would like to hear more about my opinions.  They aren’t as important here as the fact that this book represents what I love about audiobooks: fun, lively reads brought to life by talented voices.

I really do love listening to YA, but I have to say that my favorite type of audiobook is the memoir that is read by its author.  After Our Chemical Hearts, I jumped into With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles & Mistakes on My Way Back to KoRn, written (co-written) and read by Brian “Head” Welch.  This book, his second, chronicles his life after he found Christ and *converted* to Christianity.  He also talks extensively about his daughter and their relationship through some pretty serious stuff.  I love rock and metal music, Christian-based and otherwise, and so Brian’s story has been one I’ve followed since it began.    Listening to this audiobook, I was brought to tears multiple times by Brian’s stories, his daughter’s struggles, and his faith.  The power of his words, being read by him, was unreal.  I was also so pleased to hear him speaking to the need to diversify contemporary Christianity.  He addresses it from the music perspective, hoping that people will become more accepting of different genres in this particular niche.  Brian’s words expressed an honest, straight-forward understanding of the gospel.  Listening to his audiobook was an intimate experience for me, the perfect expression of why I love audiobooks and what they can do to and for reading.

Following With My Eyes Wide Open, I listened to Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things, written and read by Jenny Lawson.  This memoir couldn’t have been more different from Welch’s, other than the fact that both of them address mental illness in their stories.  While Brian had me crying, Jenny had me laughing hysterically! (Seriously.  I listen to my audiobooks in my car, and I got some pretty weird looks from fellow drivers, who were obviously wondering, “What is wrong with that weird girl alone in her car?  Why is she cackling like mad for no reason?”)  Jenny’s entire persona comes through her work anyway, so listening to her read her book made it feel like I was watching her speak live, or talking to her one-on-one.  Her stories were so delightful, even though their subject matter was very heavy.  She left me wanting more.  An audiobook should entertain you and challenge you to think about the world in different ways.  Lawson’s stories do just that.

These are just three of my most recent audiobooks, but I wanted to share them with you.  There’s something really special about listening to someone’s creation.  Plus, I love being able to “read” even when I don’t have time to follow words on a page.

If you’ve never tried audiobooks, let me challenge you to pick one up. I recommend Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for those who are Hogwarts fans.  Otherwise, find a book by an author you love and go for it.  You won’t regret it.

 

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