Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Listmania: My Top 4 YA books read in 2012


Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
About: Sixteen-year-old Min Green writes a letter to Ed Slaterton in which she breaks up with him, documenting their relationship and how items in the accompanying box, from bottle caps to a cookbook, foretell the end.
Why I Recommend It: I felt like Min was walking around in my head. From Min's cinephilia, quirky view of the world, to her romantic troubs. Recommended listening since Hawk Davies is fictional: Michael Hurley & Ted Hawkins.

Every day by David Levithan
About: Every morning A wakes in a different person's body, in a different person's life, learning over the years to never get too attached, until he wakes up in the body of Justin and falls in love with Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon.
Why I Recommend It: Levithan deserves the genius award for writing this book. With all the forseeable plot problems I didn't know how he was going to pull it off but, he does. Every day is masterfully written, inspiring, and caused me to cry a million tears.

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby
About: Portia Remini, a normal among the freaks, on the run from McGreavy's Home for Wayward Girls, where Mister watches and waits. He said he would always find Portia, that she could never leave. Free at last, Portia begins a new life with the traveling circus while she seeks answers concerning her father's disappearance.
Why I Recommend It: Portia is unique, charming, adventurous, and wildly imaginative. I kind of felt like I was reading an Olivia (the pig) book but, for a more mature audience.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
About: Seventeen-year-old Evie O'Neill is thrilled when she is exiled from small-town Ohio to New York City in 1926, even when a rash of occult-based murders thrusts Evie and her uncle, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, into the thick of the investigation.
Why I Recommend It: If you enjoy giving yourself nightmares, The Diviners is the book for you. With the child sacrifices, demons threatening Armageddon, cult fanaticism, and roaring twenties cultural perspective well, I couldn't put this book down.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wonder Show

Wonder Show

By. Hannah Barnaby

About: “…Except, that’s a lie. I lie all the time. When mother asks me if I’ve been near the elephants again, I lie. When Mosco accused me of being the one who switched Marie’s knives around, I lied then, too. (I didn’t really mean to switch the knives, though. I was just looking at them and then I guess I put them back wrong. It wasn’t really my fault—they all look the same.)” –page 236

Portia is a 13-year-old girl growing up in the Midwest during the depression. Her family of assumed gypsies has left her in the care of her Aunt Sophia who encourages her wild imagination and lets her stay up late reading pulp novels. When Aunt Sophia can no longer care for Portia she is sent to a home for wayward girls that is run by an evil man that goes by the name of “Mister”. After a tragic accident that kills Portia’s best friend, Portia runs off to join a touring vaudeville show. She travels with them in order to escape Mister, the guilt she holds for the death of her best friend, and to hopefully find her father who never misses a show.

Why I picked it up: I loved the cover’s illustrative qualities and I usually enjoy books that explore vaudeville culture.

Why I finished it: This book is well written, descriptive, and wildly creative. I found Portia to be a great role model for girls and I think this book would be of interest to a lot of different audiences. Also, the vaudeville characters of the novel are based on real people and their personal history is told in the back of the book. You will read this book, love it, and spend countless hours looking up the people that inspired the characters in the novel.

I’d give it to: Everyone, but especially girls that have a wild imagination and people that are interested in esoteric historical fiction

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands & Teeth

By. Carrie Ryan

About: A zombie plague has wiped out the majority of mankind. Therefore, the survivors must live in a gated community that lacks all conventions of modern society. The only thing separating the village from the undead or, “unconsecrated” zombies is a wire fence. Mary is a 15-year-old girl who lives in the village. She dreams of a life outside of its confines and longs to find the ocean and evidence of high rise building, which seem like nothing more than folklore her mother passed down to her before she joined the rankings of the unconsecrated. The village is shrouded in secrecy, it sticks to traditional values and lifestyles, is governed by an organization of women known as the Sisterhood and, is protected by a group of men called the Guardians. When a zombie girl that is stealthier and more blood thirsty than any other infiltrates the community only a handful of survivors are left alive. Mary and her pack of survivors must set out on their own in search of refuge, another village or, as Mary dreams, the ocean.

Why I picked it up: I was reading a lot of zombie lit in preparation for the upcoming ZombiePalooza at Harrington and it looked good.

Why I finished it: I could not put this book down! Or, when I did have to put it down to sleep I would have terrifying nightmares of zombies clawing at the fence. The main character Mary is selfish, complicate, and hangs on the hinges of being either highly relatable or insufferable. So, a real live girl! This is a must read

I’d give it to: I would give it to you or, any girl that loves a good horror read.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No One Belongs Here More Than You

By: Miranda July

In this collection of short stories it is hard to tell what is fact, fiction, or memoir. I am under the impression that it is a bit of all of the above, with an extreme emphasis on the banal human condition, a whimsical approach to loneliness and wanting to belong, and sometimes the perverse-but with a child like twist. This book is creative, poignant, insightful, and chocked full of "a-ha!" and laugh out loud moments.

Why I picked it up: I was never much of a fan of Miranda July's film or performance art work. So, I read this book hoping to shut the door on her as a cliche fraud but was so wrong. 

Why I finished it: I was mesmerized by Miranda July's ability to combine the typical with the absurd, and make it uncomfortably humanistic yet relatable. I left this book searching out any and all creative writing exercises she ever pursued. Check this out as a teaser: Hands Off: My First Feminist Action

I’d give it to: Girls, ranging from teenage to mid thirties. Any girl that has at some time felt misunderstood or like an outsider must read this book.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blink & Caution

By: Tim Wynne Jones

Blink is a 16-year-old boy that has left his home and is living on the streets. One morning when he is grabbing someone’s leftovers at a hotel he witnesses the kidnapping of a high profile CEO. The kidnappy shows no signs of struggle and leaves a wad of cash, his cell phone, and a photo of his daughter behind.
Caution is a 16 year old girl that is living with her boyfriend, a drug dealer named Merlin. Merlin is a “magician”, as well as the definition of a scumbag. Why does she put up with this treatment? Because she did something terrible, she killed her own brother and, for that, she takes on this horrible life as her penance.
After the witnessed kidnap Blink pockets the cash and cell phone and gives the kidnappy’s daughter a call to let her know her father is okay. That opens a whole new can of worms that gets Blink personally involved. Caution and Blink cross paths once she tries to leave her boyfriend and the two become a team of misfits on the run.

Why I picked it up: It was recommended to me. Also, I wanted to flex my palette and read something out of the ordinary. I realized I was getting in to a bit of a dystopian and horror rut so, I wanted to shift gears.

Why I finished it: I was so captivated by Caution’s side of the story and wanted to know how she was going to get out of her situation. I needed to know the gory details of the murder she committed which she talks about. This book will keep you in the edge of your seat! Also, I loved how the first part of the book tells Blink’s story, the second tells Caution’s, and then their chance meeting catches you up to the present scenario.

I’d give it to: This book is smart, well written, and can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences. It is also a great book for both male and female audiences. So, I would give it to older young adults that enjoy suspenseful thrillers.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Boy Who Couldn't Die

The Boy Who Couldn't Die

Bibliographic Information:

Sleator, W. (2004). The Boy Who Couldn't Die. New York: Amulet Books. ISBN: 0810948249.


"Those are private voodoo ceremonies, run by houngans. Houngans are voodoo priests who don't practice black magic. When they beat those drums, some people get possessed by spirits-I've seen it"
page 57

"But now, he's moving in slow motion compared to me. He doesn't get a chance to turn around. Against my will, I slash his throat with a knife. Blood spurts out, splashing my face, my clothes. He makes a gurgling noise and says something garbled that might be, "A cave under the far side of the island." He crumbles to the ground." -page 73

Plot Summary:

16-year-old Ken's best friend dies in a plane crash. In order to deal with his loss he decides to see a witch doctor about making him invincible against death in exchange for 50 dollars. In return, he becomes a living zombie that losses his free will and must carry out the heinous crimes of the witch doctor's request.

Critical Analysis:

The Boy That Couldn't Die is fast paced, gripping, engaging, and most recommended for an enjoyable, quick read! Ken is somewhat of a dislikable character: he's rich, cocky, takes things for granted, and thinks everything has a price tag. Those are facts that do not particularly change as Ken goes through various trials to test hs lack of vulnerability, and then to finally cure his zombie fate.

This is a book that I would recommend for older juveniles and teens, or anyone for that matter that has a penchant for fast paced YA lit that specializes in the macabre and has a few hours to spare.

A lot of aspects of this book follow an archetypal YA lit formula. For example, Ken seems to have no parental or monetary bondaries, Also, he gets him self into life threatening problems just as easily as he gets himself out of them and, even though he makes ample mistakes that throw him into the face of danger, he just as easily gets himself out of them. But, that is what makes this book so great. It's like YA crack. This book lacks substance, most likely will not be included in the YA canon of pivotal literature but, I couldn't put it down.


"After his best friend dies in a plane crash, 16-year-old Ken Pritchard keeps thinking of a folktale about a monster that hid his soul, ensuring eternal life. Determined to avoid death himself, Ken finds a woman who removes his soul from his body. At first he is pleased; as in the folktale, he gains physical invulnerability, along with a respite from his misery. But, as readers will suspect from the many creepy details Ken willfully ignores, the rest of the folktale comes true as well. The woman is a zombie master, and he has become a modern-day monster partially under her control. Ken's increasingly desperate first-person narration, as he struggles to find his hidden soul and escape the zombie master's ever more brutal commands, makes for a gripping read. Particularly well rendered are the scuba-diving scenes in the shark-infested waters of the Caribbean and under the thick ice on a wintry Adirondack lake. Sleator spends little time on the spiritual or emotional consequences of Ken's transformation, and characterization is secondary to plot development, but teenaged horror fans won't mind. From the photo of a just-unearthed skull on its cover to the plot twist in its final pages, this fast-paced, suspenseful book will appeal to reluctant and avid readers alike." -School Library Journal

"William Sleator is one of my favorite young adult writers." -R.L. Stine

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row

Bibliographic Information:

Kuklin, S. (2008). No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN: 0805079505.

"There is a movement floating around that the death penalty should be as painful as possible, as brutal as possible, as ugly as possible as a way to deter crime. The death penalty does not deter crime." -page 191

"Cases like that made it pretty difficult not to respond to people who have been condemned. I felt that I had to help people who are rejected by society the way death row prisoners are rejected by society. I had to represent them, especially sncer I believe that most people who end up on death row are there because they are poor and they are black. It's the identity, not their crime, that puts them on the row." -page 186

"I went to the captain and I asked him to place me in protective custody. He said, "No, you're going to have to grow up and be a man." I said, "What you're telling me is that in order for me to be a man, I have to be gay, stab somebody, or be stabbed myself." And he shrugged his shoulders and didn't say anything. I walked out of his office and I never asked another officer for help from that day forward." -Testimony from a 14-year-old male on death row, page 55

Plot Summary:

This book is a collection of stories from the perspective of juveniles on death row, their legal representation, parents of juveniles on death row, and from victim's families.

Critical Analysis:

This book is a collection of stories from several diferent perspectives (as noted in the plot summary). The stories are told through letter writing, interview material, interview transcript material, and poems and excerpts from books written by the convicts. This non-fiction book is well organized and well written, I had a hard time putting it down. The premise of this book is to make a point of how corrupt America's justice system is, especially towards people of color, people from low socio-economic backgrounds, and those not educated. I hope that is not a surprise to anyone who comes across this book.

The book was so riveting that I found myself googling some of the juvenile convicts to see where they were now in their judicial proceedings, and if there was possibly something I could do to help. The case that I was most moved by was the story of Nanon Williams, a half black 17-year-old that was put on death row. He was sentenced in Huntsville, TX and there was a body of forensic evidence that proved his innocence. But, as suggested in the book, based on his demographic and socio-economic background he was sentenced to death regardless of the evidence. Not only was his story evidence of a failed justice system, but the injustice one might experience in the Texas judicial system under Texas Governor Rick Perry. Nanon wrote several novels, had the support of several human justice organizations, and was granted freedom last year.

What I love about this collection of memoirs is although biased, it remains truthful to the facts of a failed justice system and provides every possible perspective of the individuals involved in a death row sentenced individual.

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—Kuklin tells five stories here; four are about young men who committed murder before they reached the age of 18, and one is the story of a victim's family. Each narrative presents a picture of a troubled youth who did something he later regretted, but something that could not be undone. Within these deftly painted portraits, readers also see individuals who have grown beyond the adolescents who committed the crimes. They see compassion, remorse, and lives wasted within the penal system. Some of the stories tell of poverty and life on the streets, but others are stories of young men with strong, loving families. One even asks readers not to blame his family for his act of violence. Most of the book is written in the words of the men Kuklin interviewed. Their views are compelling; they are our neighbors, our nephews, our friends' children, familiar in many ways, but unknowable in others. Kuklin depicts the penal system as biased against men of color, and any set of statistics about incarceration and death-row conviction rates will back her up. She also emphasizes that being poor is damning once a crime is committed. She finally introduces Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has worked on the cases of two of the interviewees, who talks about his efforts to help those who are on death row. This powerful book should be explored and discussed in high schools all across our country.
-School Library Journal

Riveting! I read it in one day and couldn't wait to recommend it to my high school students. The author, and the prisoners themselves, allows readers to glimpse life on the other side of prison bars that many of us know little about. The stories are poignant, truthful, painful, and insightful. The material is somewhat biased against capital punishment, but it is written in such a manner that the reader is not easily persuaded, but compelled to see such young prisoners as human. The author did a superb job presenting the material and I am a better person for reading it and highly recommend this book!
-K. Jostes, a Reader's Review

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Boy Toy

Boy Toy

Bibliographic Information:

Lyga, B. (2007). Boy Toy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 0618723935.


On the way home, Eve drove with one hand; we held hands over the armrest.
"Did you like tonight, Josh? Please tell me." She pouted. "Yes." Deep down, though, I felt bad. Bad that I'd made her do it. Guilty that she'd felt compelled. Guilty for making a mess, of all things.
"Good. Look, this went farther than kissing, you know. I wouldn't just lose my job if this got out. I would go to jail. You don't want me to go to jail, do you?"
-page 185

Plot Summary:

Josh is an 18-year-old high school student about to graduate. He's good looking, smart, popular, a great baseball player, has a bright future, but something happened to him 5 years ago that makes him different from the rest of his classmates. When Josh was 13 he was having what he thought to be an illicit and mutual love affair with his then 26-year-old History teacher, "Eve". Boy Toy is the story of Josh coming to terms with his past, trying to make a future for himself, and having a difficult time moving forward and being a "normal" young adult. Boy Toy tells the story of Josh's molestation through flashbacks, while he deals with issues in his present that collide as he tries to make sense of it all.

Critical Analysis:

Boy Toy takes place in modern time. It is a realistic fiction novel that tells the story of Josh Mendel, a boy that was molested by his History teacher in the 7th grade. The subject matter is heavy, and over half of the novel is Josh sorting out his relationship with his History teacher, Eve, through flashbacks, or "flickers" in graphic detail. Lyga does not shy away from explicit details in this novel which though shocking and confrontational, it is also an honest portrayal of what we know to be the inner workings of a pedophile. For example, the slow progression of Eve offering Josh sodas and video games, then casual touching, then crossing further boundaries that eventually lead to graphic and explicit sexual content. Based on the graphic nature of this book, it is best geared towards older young adults.

Mostly through Josh's neurotic examination of himself, actions, and how they have effected others, the following themes are taken in to consideration; The examination of caring, or loving someone, versus primal passions. As well as the distinction between victim and predator.

There are other marginal characters and minor stories taking place in this novel besides Josh and Eve, but none of them demand the attention or interest like the characters or story previously mentioned. Also, I had a hard time at moments when I would get wrapped up in what was taking place in a flashback, and then have to fast forward to the present which I found distracting.

I also found it disappointing how perfectly things tied up at the end and how Eve is still somewhat glorified when in actuality she is a calculating child molester. Though Eve is a repeat child molester she is still beautiful after her 5 years of prison, she has the support of a doting husband, a job proof reading for a law office, her previous apartment, and has obviously moved back to the same location where she has molested a total of 3 known students in that district. Is that likely?

When Josh was a 12-year-old seventh grader, he was sexually abused by his history teacher, the young, beautiful (and married) Eve, who manipulated him into believing they were in love. Carefully crafting a narrative structure, Lyga flashes between that traumatic time and the present, when Josh, now a senior (at the school where The AstonishingAdventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl took place), learns that Eve is being paroled. The author handles heavy material with honesty and sensitivity, capturing both the young Josh's excitement and his realization that his pleasure brought its own sort of guilt. Years later, he still struggles: he flies into rages (he punches a baseball coach in an opening scene), and he experiences flickers, brief moments which feel like actual immersions in the past. Josh also has trouble pursuing Rachel, who seems like a perfect match, because he cannot trust his physical instincts; he is, as his psychologist puts it, afraid to do anything at all because it might be the wrong thing. Details like Josh's obsession with calculating baseball statistics round out his character; the statistics speak to his intelligence and, more tellingly, to his attempts to control his world. Even his inevitable face-off with Eve proves a revelation. Readers may find the ending too neat, given the extent of Josh's problems, but in their richness and credibility the cast—Eve included—surpasses that of the much-admired Fanboy. Ages 16-up.
-Publishers Weekly

Whenever a book for young adults moves the bar sexually, it demands a closer look. Rainbow Party (2005), a treatise on oral sex by Paul Ruditis, does that in a crude, sensationalistic way. Brock Cole's The Facts Speak for Themselves (1997) is a finely crafted novel about a girl whose affair with an adult suits her purposes until a murder intervenes. Now comes Barry Lyga's novel, also about an affair, but here the boy is 12, and the woman is his teacher. The story is told by 18-year-old Josh Mendel. A fine mathematician, an equally able baseball player, he suffers from flashbacks he calls flickers. Readers are shocked into the story during the midst of one of his early flickers. He's at his friend Rachel's house, and the kids are in a closet, kissing. Then something happens, something ugly, though readers are not sure quite what. Move forward five years. Josh has not spoken to Rachel since, but now that graduation is drawing near, she reaches out to him. He's tempted but is held back by the memory of his relationship with his history teacher, Eve Sherman. Josh explains to the reader, sometimes in shocking detail, just what transpired. Under the guise of needing Josh to take some tests for a graduate-school project, lovely Eve begins bringing the boy to her apartment. Eventually, the test taking tapers off, and the kissing begins. Then things go further, much further. It is only after the incident in the closet, where it is eventually revealed that Josh ripped off Rachel's panties and started to do things Eve taught him, that the truth of the student-teacher sexual relationship becomes public. Once again, the story fast-forwards, and Josh, in his first-person narrative, chronicles his evolving relationship with Rachel and his tribulations on the baseball diamond as he tries to take back control of his life. When he is unable to perform sexually with Rachel after the prom, he breaks down and recounts the details of Eve's trial: how he refused to testify against her, how he believed he was in love with her and she with him. Then, in the final pages, Josh confronts Eve, who is now out of prison. Facing her, as well as the anger, fear, and confusion their relationship stirs in him, finally allows him to be free. A story about a pretty teacher seducing a boy has a "ripped from the headlines" quality about it.

Repossessed, A Novel

Repossessed: A Novel

Bibliographic Information:

Jenkins, M. (2008). Repossessed: a novel. New York: Harperteen. ISBN: 006083568o.


"Shaun...did something happen today? Anything out of the ordinary?"
Well, Shaun died, but other than that..."Nope, " I told Shaun's mom. "It's just been a normal, regular day."
page 30

Plot Summary:

Kiriel is a full time demon from Hell that is in need of a vacation. He has never experienced mortal life and decides to jump in to the host body of a high school slacker named Shaun. Kiriel's plan is to enjoy the pleasures of life on Earth while paying close attention to experiencing the seven deadly sins and exploring their rumored appeal.

Critical Analysis:

Repossessed: A Novel is a whimsical, comedic narrative told in first person perspective by Kiriel, a fallen angel/demon from Hell. Kiriel decides to take a short hiatus on Earth as a human in order to experience the most primal yet enjoyable of sins. He initially has his eye on indulging in the likes of cookies, losing his host body's virginity, and masturbation, but, Kiriel is a gentle and kindhearted demon that instead chooses to leave a positive mark on the world and possibly save some of the doomed souls on Earth before they end up being lost and tortured in Hell by his hands.

Though this book deals with adult issues such as sexuality it reads more like a junior fiction novel than young adult. For that reason, some young adults that might stumble upon this book will possibly find it to be too pedestrian and juvenile at times. But, if one is looking for a lighthearted comedy with equally lighthearted moral stances, this is the book for them.


“Funny and heartwarming. The demon’s winning mix of cocksureness and inadvertent bungling should resonate with teens.” (Publishers Weekly )

Janet Scherer (VOYA, August 2007 (Vol. 30, No. 3))
Experiencing frustration with his job in Hell, Kiriel takes a much-needed rest in the body of seventeen-year-old Shaun. This fast-paced novel takes place over seven days as Kiriel attempts to experience as much enjoyment as he can with his newfound physical body. He is excited by a cool breeze on his cheek and the sweet taste of ketchup as well as with the usual things a boy finds pleasurable. Because of Kiriel's experience in Hell, witnessing the sins of souls who carry shame, guilt, and sorrow, he decides to change the life trajectory of Shaun's loved ones and classmates. Kiriel gives Shaun's friendless little brother the name of someone he should get to know and plants a seed in Shaun's mother's head about reconciling with her estranged brother. He helps a girl gain confidence in herself and confronts the school bully in hopes of making him realize the pain that he causes others. Jenkins provides a great choice for both girls and boys, reluctant readers, and those looking for a quick, fun read. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12).