Halfway through Banned Books Week

Banning books is bad. But…

From the amazing FYA: Let’s All Ban Some Books

Red Badge of Courage… still makes me laugh.


Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick Press, 2008. 479p. $21.00. 978-0-7636-3931-0

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown, eagerly awaiting his thirteenth birthday and his entrance into manhood. Set on a planet known only as the New World, Todd is the child of settlers from a decaying Earth. Todd was orphaned as a baby when the native species called Spackles waged war on the settlers, releasing a germ that killed every female human, and left the men able to hear each and see other’s thoughts. The never-ending cacophony of the survivors’ thoughts is known as Noise. With every man privy to each other’s feelings, ideas, dreams, hopes, fear, and lies, there are no secrets and no lies. At least, that’s what Todd thinks, until he comes across something in the swamp outside of Prentisstown that he has never heard before…a patch of silence. This discovery endangers Todd’s life and sets him on a course that he could never have imagined.

 From the first droll line to the cliff-hanger ending, this first book in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy is utterly engrossing, thanks to a likeable protagonist and a fast-paced, suspenseful, and constantly surprising plot. Todd’s first-person narration draws the reader into the story with teasing glimpses into a cleverly crafted world that both is both familiar in dystopian science fiction—an alien planet settled by humans hoping to ‘start over’—and also refreshing as an recognizable rural landscape. Todd’s idiosyncratic speech and spelling errors take some getting used to, but even readers who shy away from science fiction will be charmed and mesmerized. The story is as well-written as it is finely crafted, and inspires thoughts on privacy, truth, maturing, and courage. The importance of reading, both of texts and of people, is also prominent. This book is suitable for young adult readers, but will also appeal to adults.

 Highly recommended. 4Q, 4P 


It’s the telephone game…for librarians

Booth’s “Reader’s Advisory by Proxy” was a chin-strokingly interesting reading. I’ve never really thought about reader’s advisory by proxy, which is weird because now that I do think about it, I realize it is something that I did a a lot when I worked at Chapters. Especially during the insanely hectic Christmas season, when there were more people in the store buying for other people than were buying for themselves. I spent most of the holiday season lurking around the Teen section, hoping no one noticed my “Ask me all about Teen fiction!” button, and glowering at shoppers who messed up my shelves. Alas, the button did not go unnoticed. Questions were asked. And so many of the questions were (apparently) textbook reader’s advisory by proxy questions:

  • “I have a thirteen year old boy. Can you recommend something for thirteen year old boys?”
  • “My grand-daughter likes that vampire book, the one with the movies. I need something like that.”
  • “My kid doesn’t like to read but I want to buy her a book. Can you suggest any books that kids who don’t like to read might like to read?”

Yes, I’ll admit it: I was really bad at reader’s advisory by proxy. Being a reluctant Chapters employee and a generally surly person by nature, I usually mumbled “Book Thief” and slunk off into the throng of harried shoppers. (Okay, but to be fair, The Book Thief is awesome.)

After reading the Booth article, I am struck by the general strangeness of the whole concept of reader’s advisory by proxy. It is just straight up odd. Booth’s strategies and suggestions for trying to bridge the gap between YA reader and adult proxy are helpful, but I still can’t picture it working all that well. Coincidence and lucky guesses probably have a lot to do with whether the YA reader does happen to like the recommended book. As a future librarian, I think I would be uncomfortable recommending books to a reader who was not present, whatever their age–but maybe even more so for a young adult. Young adult readers are, in my (limited) experience, a confounding and unpredictable mixture of picky discrimination and curious open-mindedness. I need to deal with that without a middle-(wo)man.

I did like Booth’s “creative methods of conveying information” to teen patrons. Booklists, e-mail availability, and online RA services are some good additional or alternative methods of recommending books to teens who, for whatever reason, can’t make it into the library themselves. And teens like the interwebs. Teens+online RA services=happy YA readers.

Week 2: In which I review…some reviews

Snowball’s article (“Teenagers talking about reading and libraries,” 2008) was an interesting read. It was a detailed and insightful study of a selection of Australian teens, and even though the study was qualitative, as the author points out, the insight into the complex relationship that teens have with reading and with libraries is probably representative of a larger group of teens from similar backgrounds. Some points that stood out:

  • even the vehement “non-reading” teens could name things they liked to read and remembered enjoying reading at some point (p. 108)
  • kids from families of readers read more, backing up the research on this topic (p. 109)
  • libraries are not a popular place among teens (p.110)
  • teens love magazines, but don’t count the internet as reading (p. 111)
  • more proof that Google is like some sort of upside-down-world anti-librarian (p. 112)
  • comics and graphic novels–what’s the difference? Is there one, or is it just an arbitrary division and semantic privileging? (p.112)
  • Librarians can take advantage of the diversity in teen’s views on reading and reading materials by “providing variety in reading materials to cater to all teenagers’ tastes and not value any one material more than another” (p. 114)

Now, on to the reviews.

The Canadian Review of Materials (CM) reviews were generally well-done, descriptive, detailed, and probing. However, I disliked the excerpt portion of the standard review format. I have a deep dislike of excerpts; I feel that a portion of a novel, or of any story, taken out of context does not necessarily represent the source material. That being said, the reviews would be really helpful in determining whether the book is worth buying. I also liked that most of the reviews I read discussed the technical aspects of the writing, such as style and tone. The review of Emma Donoghue’s Room was spot on, in line with my own thoughts on the (excellent) novel.

The VOYA reviews were less helpful, consisting of plot summaries that seemed more like the publisher’s descriptions of the novels. They were shorter than the CM reviews (yay) and did not contain excerpts (also yay). Most reviews discussed pros and cons, but there was no rating given, and anyone hoping to use the VOYA reviews as guides to purchasing or recommending titles would be frustrated. And for some weird reason, I could not find a single VOYA review of a book I had read. WHAT? So weird.


Bookstore sleuthery

Part of week 2’s prep was to visit a library or bookstore and “observe, ” so my weekly excursion to Chapters actually had a purpose beyond wandering around the store in a stupor caused by excessive book-lust.

I visited the Masonville Chapters last Saturday morning. The Young Adult section, which the store labels the ‘Teen’ section, is, sadly, quite disappointing. It consists of little more than a single row of shelving, with books on both sides, and three or four tables displaying the newer or more popular titles. Following the standard Chapters practice, some shelved books were faced out to display the covers, which were all quite horrible–a baffling trend I’ve been noticing more and more lately. Why are the majority of YA novel covers so poorly designed? So many seemed to be mere variations on a silhouette in front of a sunrise or a pretty girl’s face. (More on YA book covers here . And since I’m throwing out the links, check out my fav YA blog ever ever ever!)

Anyway. I just expected more, both in terms of volume and diversity, for such a dynamic and burgeoning genre.

So… although the store was surprisingly busy (for a Saturday morning), the young adult section was comparatively deserted. During my the fifteen minutes I spent in the section, I only saw three other people, all alone, all girls, all fourteen or fifteen years old.

Some observations about the materials: the tables, as I already mentioned, featured the newer and more popular titles, as well as series of books: the Hunger Games trilogy had its own table and was displayed on the wall behind the few pathetic, abused beanbag-poofy-chair-thingys. Harry Potter was everywhere. A few of the bigger trends were glaringly obvious: heaps of sci-fi and fantasy, ranging from dystopian and AU to vampire and fairy-centric urban fantasies, and quite a few historical novels. There seemed to be quite a few repeat titles that showed up on more than one table. Lastly, the ladies dominated the YA lit on display. Almost every novel seemed to be directly geared at a female audience.


That’s all, folks!

“At first it’s constrictive, but after a while it becomes a part of you…”

So this is my new blog (eek! a new blog!), created for the Young Adult Materials course. I’ll be posting class assignments (book reviews and a booktalk) and weekly-ish reading responses to the YA novels I read as part of the course readings.

But because I am a huge nerd, I might blog about the YA novels I’m reading for fun, too. Not that the other readings won’t be fun. I”m sure they will be very fun…. They will be mandatory, though.

They will be fundatory.

It’s very late at night, hence the exhaustion-fuelled portmanteaus.

So that’s the mission-quest-thing all taken care of. Stay tuned for some fundatory YA reading!


P.S. Thank you Garth Algar for the best first-post-of-a-new-blog-title ever!