Thursday, December 31, 2015

Conviction- Book Four of the YALSA Morris Challenge

I'm on track to finish the five books in the YALSA Morris Challenge by the January 11 deadline. This week I read

written by Kelly Loy Gilbert
A small-town boy questions everything he holds to be true when his father is accused of murder. Description provided by the publisher

Braden is a sixteen-year-old whose life has been marked by abandonment. Braden's mom dumped him off at his dad's when he was just a baby, his older brother Trey bailed when Braden was seven, and now his dad Mart has been arrested for the murder of a policeman and is in jail awaiting trial. Braden always believed if he did the right things God would take care of him but now he wonders if God is testing him. Even baseball, the game he's played all his life is letting him down.

In Conviction, Gilbert explores these relationships. Braden had always been able to rationalize his overbearing dad's actions and emotions. Mart has been the only constant in Braden's life and the son both loved and feared his father. Braden also holds out hope that someday Trey and Mart will reconcile. Recent events also cause him to question his relationship with God. Braden grapples with who or what to put his faith in. As he struggles with issues of family, faith, and redemption, Braden learns that life isn't black and white. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

YALSA Morris Challenge Update

I'm finally home after spending a week visiting relatives in the Northeast. I brought two of the books for the Morris Challenge,  Because You'll Never Meet Me and The Weight of Feathers, with me on my trip. These books will not be discussed in detail here because I'm still trying to catch up at home and work after being away for a week but I wanted to at least post the publishers' descriptions.

Because You'll Never Meet Me

written by Leah Thomas

Ollie, who has seizures when near electricity, lives in a backwoods cabin with his mother and rarely sees other people, and Moritz, born with no eyes and a heart defect that requires a pacemaker, is bullied at his high school, but when a physician who knows both suggests they begin corresponding, they form a strong bond that may get them through dark times. Description provided by the publisher


The Weight Of Feathers
written by Anna-Marie McLemore

For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows-the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find. 

Lace Palpma may be new to her family's show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean eath, and she's been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it's a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace's life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees. Description provided by the publisher

Both stories involve secrets from the past that now affect the lives of the main characters.  While they are very different books- Because You'll Never Meet Me is an epistolary novel that is sometimes borders on science fiction and The Weight of Feathers is a novel steeped in magical realism, I thought they paired well together.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Becky Albertalli

 This is the first book that I read for the Morris Challenge and I fell in love with Simon, the book’s main character. Simon is a gay teen who isn’t struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, it’s just a part of who he is. Up until now it’s been a very secret part, not because he is afraid that his parents and friends will disapprove but instead because he doesn’t want them to make a big deal about it.

Unfortunately Simon forgot to log out of his email account on one of the school computers.  Simon’s classmate, Martin reads the email, discovers his secret, and now is blackmailing him. Martin wants Simon to fix him up with a certain girl or else.  Not only Simon will be outed but so will the guy with whom Simon’s been carrying on an email relationship. Simon is pushed out of his comfort zone in so many ways and begins to realize that change isn’t always a bad thing.

Albertalli writes about friendship, family relationships, and burgeoning teen romance in a voice that is believable and one that all teens- straight or gay- can relate to.

I’m off to a good start for the challenge. I’m about to begin my second book- Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The YALSA 2016 Morris Challenge

I have so many books in my TBR pile and I've been having trouble deciding on the next book to pick up and read during this busy holiday season. Last night I was online catching up on my blog reading and came across the 2016 Morris Challenge on YALSA's The Hub. According to YALSA, "The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, first awarded in 2009, honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The award's namesake is William C. Morris, an influential innovator in the publishing world and an innovator in the publishing world and an advocate for marketing books for children and young adults."

All of the challenge guidelines can be found here. To complete the challenge I must read all five 2016 Morris finalists before Monday, January 11, 2016. The books are:

Because You'll Never Meet Me written by Leah Thomas

Conviction written by Kelly Loy Gilbert

 The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly written by Stephanie Oakes
The Weight of Feathers written by Anna-Marie McLemore

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda written Becky Albertalli
I started the book this morning and I'm enjoying it so far. I like the protagonist's voice. Simon is a sixteen-year-old guy who happens to be gay. He hasn't come out yet to his family and friends but he doesn't think that it will be a big deal to them when he does. Simon explains that he isn't ready yet because there have been a lot of changes in his life over the last few years and he's tired of redefining himself and having others redefine him. Simon states, "All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again." This sounds like something most teens, gay or straight, can relate to.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Middle School Visits and Ryan Dean West

Last week the teen department supervisor and I visited one of the local middle school to booktalk some of the titles in our YA collection. We did five booktalking sessions with two eighth grade classes attending each time. We chose "safe" books (see 9/23/15 post) for the talks because we weren't sure what the school librarian and the English teachers considered appropriate for their students. 

The booktalks went well and most of these books have since been checked out from our collection. But while my supervisor was speaking, I noticed an eighth grade guy surreptitiously reading Winger by Andrew Smith. He looked up and saw me watching him. I think he thought he was about about to be busted but instead I gave him a thumbs up and mouthed, "Great book." He looked surprised, smiled, and shook his head in agreement. As his class was getting ready to go back to their room, he came over to me and told me that Winger is the best book he ever read and he's glad that his English teacher recommended it to him. I told him that I was reading Stand Off, the sequel to Winger. He was excited to learn that there was a sequel and hoped that his teacher would add it to their classroom library.

I wish I could have booktalked Winger or Stand Off. Smith writes about bullying, sexuality, loss, and friendship in a way that will ring true with teens. In Stand Off he even tackles the subject of sexual consent without sounding preachy. The main character, Ryan Dean West is incredibly likable and believable. He is funny without being obnoxious. Ryan Dean is also incredibly horny (which in my limited experience seems to be a normal state for most young teen boys) and rates everything on the Ryan Dean Scale of Hotness. For example, he rates the school therapist "a piping hot five out of five bowls of Ethiopian Doro Wat." This is the type of book I would have loved a librarian to recommend to my son when he was thirteen or fourteen but I'm not sure that all parents would feel that way. 

So here's my question. When I visit the schools do I include some books like Winger that might offend some parents or do I continue to play it safe? The English teacher that set up our visit said that she is fine with books that might be a little "edgy" and even has some in her classroom library. The school librarian seems to feel differently and told us she blacks out some language in the school library books. How do you choose your books for school visits?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Zero Day

Zero Day
Jan Gangsei
Disney-Hyperion (January 12, 2016)
368 pages.

Description (provided by publisher)

Eight years ago, Addie Webster was the victim of the most notorious kidnapping of the decade. Addie vanished-and her high-profile parents were forced to move on.

Mark Webster is now president of the United States, fighting to keep the oval office after a tumultuous first term. Then the unthinkable happens: the president's daughter resurfaces. Addie is brought back into her family's fold, but who is this sixteen-year-old girl with a quiet, burning intelligence now living in the White House? There are those in the president's political circle who find her timely return suspicious.

When a national security advisor approaches Darrow Fergusson, Addie's childhood best friend and the son of the president's chief of staff, he doesn't know what to think. How could the girl he's missed for all these years be a threat to national security? Still, at the risk of having his own secrets exposed, Darrow agrees to spy on Addie.

He soon realizes that his old friend is much more than the traumatized victim of a sick political fringe group. Addie has come home with a mission...but will she choose to complete it?

My Thoughts:
I am a big fan of television shows like 24 and Homeland where I suspend all belief, fasten my seat belt and hang on for the ride. I read the description of Zero Day on Net Galley and was intrigued so I requested an e-galley copy. Just before I received the copy I read a Kirkus review of this novel. Kirkus called it a "thriller that didn't thrill and suggested that you "skip it."  Because of this I almost passed on Zero Day but I'm glad I ignored the review. I found Zero Day fast-paced and thrilling enough to recommend to my 14- and 15-year-old teens who are tired of dystopian novels but still want excitement and suspenseful reads. I think this will appeal to those teens who enjoyed Ally Carter's All Fall Down and Maggie Hall's The Conspiracy of Us.

My only complaint was with the development of some of the minor characters, especially Addie's sister Elinor. I don't know if Zero Day is part of a series, but if so maybe we'll learn more about these characters in a later novel. If Addie's adventure continues in another novel, I plan on taking that ride too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Getting Ready for Middle School Book Talks

Next month the teen services librarian and I will be going to one of the local middle schools to meet their eighth grade students, promote our upcoming programs, and do some book talks. I chose the following books:

The Crossover
Kwame Alexander

Even though The Crossover got great reviews I resisted reading this book because I don't usually enjoy books written in verse. But once I started this book I couldn't put it down. The poetry didn't impede my enjoyment of the story; instead it enhanced it. The quick changes in font size, sentence length, and sentence structure gave the story its energy. Middle schooler Josh, nicknamed Filthy McNasty by his dad, believes that this is the year he and his twin brother JB will lead their basketball team to victory. What he doesn't expect is that JB will start spending more time with his new girlfriend than with Josh and that their dad may be hiding some serious medical issues. Young teens will be able to relate to the range of emotions that Josh expresses in this book.

I think The Crossover will appeal to younger teens who like sports stories but teens that like reading about family and friendships will also enjoy this book. This would be a great book to recommend to reluctant readers.

All Fall Down
Ally Carter

This book is a more traditional choice for a book talk. At our library teens, especially girls, love Carter's Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series. All Fall Down is the first book in her new Embassy Row series. This book offers readers suspense, action, and a hint of romance.

Three years ago sixteen-year-old Grace Blakely's mother was killed in a fire. Everyone believes that Grace's mom's death was accidental- everyone but Grace. She is convinced that her mom was murdered and she's been suffering severe panic attacks ever since. Grace's dad is in the military and being deployed overseas so Grace is sent to Embassy Row in Adria to live with her grandfather, a powerful U.S. ambassador. While in Adria, Grace spots the man she thinks killed her mom. This first book in the series introduces readers to the other teens on Embassy Row. Like many other teen novels there's the mean girl/rival, potential love interests, and other assorted friends. We learn a little bit about them in All Fall Down and we will probably learn more of their backstories in later installments of this series. Grace is a damaged and reckless heroine. As the story unfolds you root for Grace to not only uncover the truth about her mom but also to keep herself safe and sane while doing so.

Noelle Stevenson

I wanted to include a graphic novel and I chose Nimona before I even finished reading it. I still haven't finished it but I love the interplay between the shapeshifting wannebe sidekick Nimona and the evil supervillian Lord Blackheart. A graphic novel may not be a choice that will thrill the eighth grade teachers but last week's announcement that Nimona made the long list for the National Book Awards Young People's Literature category validated my decision to include this title.

Now that I've picked the books, I have to work on my book talks. Choosing the best words to sell the books doesn't come easily to me so I'm sure I'll be revising my talks right up until the day of the presentation.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Here I Go

The view from my front porch

Last month I graduated from library school. Here's a brief recap of how I spent the last few weeks: sorted through piles of stuff on my desk (found my missing passport), cleaned the rest of the house (found a warren of dust bunnies under my bed), and updated my resume (found that I'm not very impressive on paper).

Now I'm ready to catch up on my reading. This blog will serve as my reading journal. I find that if I write a review or an annotation I tend to retain more than if I just read a book and then move on to the next one.

Why is my blog called Reading YA by the River? Well, there are a lot of YA novels I need to read for work. I work in the teen department of a medium-sized public library, not as a librarian (yet) but as a paraprofessional who spends a good portion of work hours doing readers' advisory for teens and tweens. I enjoy this part of my job because I LIKE reading YA novels. Sorry Ruth Graham, no matter what you say I don't feel embarassed to admit it.

Why reading by the river? The front of my house faces the Ohio River. When I sit on my front porch, I can look out and see Kentucky on the other side of the river.

Mysteries are my novels of choice. I also like some literary fiction and the ocassional chick lit novel. I enjoy reading and collecting cookbooks. I have a pretty impressive collection of cookbooks and sometimes I even try out some of the recipes. Other nonfiction that I read include travelogues and gardening books.

I also read books that were chosen for my neighborhood book club. I used to belong to the "Adults Who Read YA Books" book club at the library, but it disbanded last year. Ruth Graham, does this make you happy?

Well enough writing. I need to start reading. Here I go....