Belated YA Dystopias

Technically, the term is over, but I didn’t get a chance to post my thoughts on the final week’s reading. I was…busy (cough-library management essay-cough). So here’s one last ‘official, course-related’ post.

I read Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Story-wise, it was okay – I didn’t hate it, didn’t love it, either. The pacing felt uneven at some points, the characters were never fully fleshed out, and frankly, I would’ve liked a bit more angst and trauma–was it just me, or did Marcus recover real quick from being held for three days by the DHS? (Digression: Is anyone watching Homeland? It’s addictive! And Angela Chase + Soames Forsyte=AWESOME!) And why did no one mention Darryl for a bazillion pages? But I think a lot of young adults would really enjoy this book. The writing is accessible, and there’s a lot of humour veiling the subversiveness. The cryptography stuff was muy interesante as well (I need to find out more about Alan Turing!). I really liked the little interlude in the Turkish coffee shop, with Marcus’s sudden awareness of the Turk as more than a stranger selling really amazing coffee, but as one of the ‘good’ guys, someone who is on Marcus’s team.

Also loved: the title’s homage to Orwell, vampire flash-mob LARPing, and nicknames (both affectionate and otherwise).

Best line(s): “Ban umbrellas! Fight the menace of lightning!”

But the best thing about this book was, without a doubt, the idea of encouraging kids to question authority, to actively rebel against ‘the Man’ and fight for your rights and for freedom. Some people might have a problem with this; I am not one of those people. (Okay, so I’ll admit that I was raised on a healthy diet of rebelliousness, subversivism, and a general questioning of authority, with a dash of paranoia and recreational anarchy thrown in. Maybe I’m not the best person to objectively tackle this subject.) I would definitely recommend this book to any young adult. I am (almost) a librarian. It’s our job to encourage independent thinking… Question everything! Trust no one! The truth is out there!

Whatever problems I have with the execution of this novel are miniscule compared to the respect I have for Doctorow in writing a book with this message. Kudos, Doctorow, and a hero cupcake. People need to be more concerned about privacy and freedom and the slow but gradual attrition of human rights in the name of national security–especially kids, who’ve grown up with routine privacy invasion and are probably hopelessly desensitized now anyway. As one of the afterwords pointed out, you can’t swap privacy for security. That’s just stupid.

This novel hardly even qualifies as a dystopia. Isn’t this just like Tuesday in some parts of the world? I mean, this is all already happening. Crikee, are we living in a dystopia? Fiddlesticks. So much for a relaxing Yuletide in Helheim.

Okay. So writing that last bit has made me feel like a crazy, bleary-eyed, caffeine-addicted, internet-trolling, conspiracy theorist troglodyte. Moving on…

Do you know what this novel made me think of? Machines. Or rather, our future machine overlords. I think it was all the talk about the scary things that Marcus could make his computer do. I was less alarmed by the eeevil DHS than I was by the crazy technological feats performed by Marcus and his hacker cronies…because how long will it be before the computers start doing that stuff on their own? There’s already Siri, with her anti-feminist right-wing agenda. Before you know it, she’s hopping on the good foot with Hal, and then the network becomes self-aware and it’s all a rainy, hellish, industrial-chic Terminator-Matrix mash-up of a nightmare with grey goo and machine rule and bald naked people-batteries, and worst of all, beloved Elven lords kicking the shizz out of Keanu Reeves and wearing sunglasses even though it’s raining!

Why, Elrond? WHY?

Now that’s a dystopia. Blue pill! Blue pill!

You know what we need? Marxist YA Lit. I’m on it.

So this week’s topic is… “Conspicuous Consumption and Teen Markets” (dum dum DUUUM). This is like double weird timeliness, what with the Occupy movement appearing to be on its last legs and – oh, the irony – the Christmas consumergasm/shopping orgy beginning to strike us all with the temporary insanity of a European soccer riot. As I consider this thorny issue, I feel like I ought to be wearing the Guy Fawkes mask my idiot brother bought before the 99% made him their poorly-reasoned poster boy (Guy Fawkes, I mean, not my idiot brother).

Anyway. The Glenn article was an excellent examination of this trend of conspicuous consumption in YA literature. I haven’t read any of the books she analyzes, but I’m familiar with the titles and the general ‘plot.’  And, frankly, the phrase “ethically and morally bankrupt” made me want to read them just to see if they’re as terrible as they seem to be (I’m sure they’re worse). (Digression: the publishers should probably emblazon that phrase across the covers of the books: ETHICALLY AND MORALLY BANKRUPT!!! There would be a huge bump in sales, I’m sure.)

And how delightful was it to analyze YA texts using a Marxist critical framework? Very very delightful. Of course, it would be even more awesome if we were to analyze YA texts from the perspective of this Marx (my favourite Marx – oh, there’s a book title for you). Glenn discusses problematic issues of entitlement, disparity of class and race, empty relationships, and conspicuous consumption (which sounds eerily like my family reunion) in three YA series: Gossip Girl, The A-List, and The Insiders. I especially liked her thoughts on encouraging and developing audience resistance: “Literacy is empowering only if one is a critical reader—one that analyzes,  questions, and critically evaluates that which is being read […] [T]hese texts provide the ideal opportunity to engage adolescents in discussions that encourage the development of a critical stance” (p. 40). I agree wholeheartedly. These books, with their atrocious writing and, worse, insidious messages of elitism, privilege, and conformity, should not be banned. Their flaws become, in fact, valuable – as tools for not only raising discerning readers, but for developing critical thinking and for encouraging YA readers to ask questions extending beyond the craptastic novel in their hands.

HEAVY!

So Glenn suggests teachers call attention to the stereotypes and elitism in these books and create a dialogue. I loved the idea of reading books like  The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men to compare and contrast the treatment of these economic and social issues (although I’m sure comparing their works to Gossip Girl would have Fitzgerald and Steinbeck rolling over in their graves ). But what can librarians do? It’s more difficult for us to convey the need for critical reading than it is for teachers, who have teens hostage in the classroom. I have no answers (remember, I’m still a librarian chrysalis). Some ideas? Teen book groups seem like a way to potentially engage YA readers in critical reading, in addition to guerilla Marxism in the form of subversive readers’ advisory (“When you finish The A-list, check out Das Kapital in the 330s!”) and muttered rabble-rousing (“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles!”). Hey, any excuse for Marxist mutters, am I right?

And you could wear T-shirts with this on it:

The REAL Communist Party

Yes, yes, I know – Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview while communism is a political movement and form of government. But come on – what teen could resist a librarian rocking that T-shirt? And if they ask about it, so much the better. Their curiosity about this slammin party is the perfect chance for the conscientious librarian to introduce philosophies often ignored in high schools and get teens to start questioning what they’re reading. Huzzah for dissidence!

Why, Zach? Why?

This week, I watched the film It’s Kind of a Funny Story (stupid title).

I was not amused (so, stupid and also misleading title).

What a terribly mediocre movie. I haven’t read the book, by Ned Vizzini, but I’m sure it’s better than this adaptation was, or they wouldn’t have bothered. Even though, Craig is the kind of weak, self-absorbed, whinging little drama queen I loathe, I’m mildly surprised that Keir Gilchrist, whom I liked in The United States of Tara, couldn’t do more with the character. Every teen character in this film needs to step out of suburbia and take a look at the real world. Perspective is the solution, not recreational psychiatry.

If I had seen this movie on my own time, I would be calling for blood (or a refund), but since it was fundatory, I’ll just say that I kind of hated everything about it. The story, the characters, the point (if there was one-was there? Did I learn anything? I learned that middle-class teenagers are weak, self-absorbed, whinging little drama queens…oh wait, I already knew that). The script made me die a little inside. Seriously…the question game? And the map thing? I can’t remember anything else offensive because as soon as the credits started rolling I forgot it. Deliberately. It’s kind of my super power. One of them, anyway…

Three little bright spots, I suppose. Bowie and Queen singing “Under Pressure” – Bowie is numero uno on my Silver Fox Sex God list, and that song alone raised this movie from torture device to just a plain old crap movie. Also, Zach Galifianakis, just for being the sly, adorable, weirdly sinister, baby-faced man-bear that he is. And the other bright spot: Craig’s little speech at the end. That feeble attempt at philosophical insight and plot resolution was a snake of awfulness devouring its own awful tail – full circle (“Breathe…live.” Gee, thanks, Oprah)… So bad it was good. It kind of made me laugh. Kind of hysterically. Or maybe I was just glad the movie was over so I could start forgetting it and maybe watch Ghostbusters 2 or something.

Ugh. I can’t even find the will to keep heckling. That’s kind of alarming. I’ll have to leave it to the professionals.

I didn’t include an image of the subject of this post due to its general dreadfulness. So here’s Book Cat #2, Titus playing hipster and giving me the cut eye for interrupting his important reading.

By the hammer of Thor! Don't you have homework to do? Philistine.

There. Now I feel better.

Cinderell-y,Cinderell-y

Interesting reading this week. Best quote: “Nonfiction remains the kitchen-bound Cinderella of young adult literature, while her stepsister—fiction—remains the belle of the ball” (p. 184). Oh how I laughed. Also hilarious: Cold War paranoia spurred the Man to give money to libraries to raise little astrophysicists so Russia wouldn’t plant a hammer & sickle flag in the moon. So, thank you, Cold War Soviets and your threatening advances in science during the space race. You got the government to give money to libraries (and RIP Laika). I love that the American Congress saw education as a weapon. That means librarians are… arms dealers. Yes! I haven’t felt this dangerous on a Wednesday morning since I was a wandering mercenary and erstwhile lady assassin. But enough about that…

I don’t think I ever read any nonfiction written specifically for a young adult audience. I’m not sure I’ve even seen any YA nonfiction. Actually, there may have been a few supernatural dictionaries and histories lurking on the fringes of the teen section at Chapters, but they were shelved alongside double-agent fictions – fictions pretending to be nonfictions, like How to Coerce a Sparkly Vampire into an Eternally Boring Marriage, that sort of thing.

My nonfiction diet as a child and young adult consisted of healthy servings of…

Really old issues of National Geographic

So… many… National Geographics… National Geographic is the king of photoessays, and like any good king, they serve the people. Anyone can read a National Geographic. When you’re a kid, you’re limited to the photos and maybe the captions, but even those provide so much information! My mom would collect old issues like a magpie. I devoured them, especially the archaeological stories. I still love reading them – and I still think the pictures are the best part.

I also read tons and tons of  Eyewitness Books

Okay, I still read tons and tons of Eyewitness Books. Because they’re AWESOME. Especially the Viking one. I guess I am a sucker for the “lexigraphic approach,” as Cart calls it. He also calls the DK series revolutionary (and I do love anything revolutionary). There is something so wonderfully freeing and almost illicit about reading an Eyewitness book; it’s definitely not the traditional reading experience. Flipping through the pages as quickly or as slowly as you want to, reading whichever “bite-size, nonlinear nugget” of information you want to and ignoring the ones you don’t care about, and, like the old National Geographics, lingering over the glorious, mouth-watering pictures that, to me, eclipse anything written on the page. The images speak for themselves (or as Cart says, they convey information). Sometimes, it’s even more visceral. Once in a while, you find an image that just hits you right in the gut and makes the information incredibly meaningful – like a twisted gold arm-ring in the Viking book that, for some reason, makes the past so close when I try to imagine the person who wore it. I think Kindersley, the creator of the series, best conveyed the unique value of the books: “Through the picture I see reality and through the word I understand it.”

And the last major nonfiction works of my youth?

Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Especially this one:

Ghosts, Witches and ESP. This book taught me so much. And also terrified me. I still keep it spine facing in on my bookshelf. When I was seven, I stole it from my evil grandmother’s Labyrinth-junkyard basement (actually, my grandmother kind of looks like the Junk Lady from Labyrinth) – don’t judge, she never knew it was gone, it was crudely defaced, and she’s mean – and it was my best act of thievery ever. I learned so much… the Bell haunting, Anne Boleyn’s ghost walking the ramparts with her head in the crook of her arm, Edgar Cayce, the real Rosemary’s baby, the curse of the mummy’s hand… I’m actually freaking myself out just thinking about it. Anyway, one of my most cherished books. (Twisted, right?) I read it over and over, and the small, three-sentence blurbs and wicked cartoons have actually inspired me to do much deeper research into the stories that interested me.

(And yes, it’s nonficiton… Skeptics. You’ll see. One day, you’ll all see…)

Another Cart-ism: storytelling is not necessarily making things up. (I’m paraphrasing, and he’s quoting someone else, but it’s still gold.)

So, that’s my take on nonfiction for young adults. I checked out the YALSA website to find out more about their Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. I hadn’t heard of any of the nominees, but some of them looked quite interesting.

To the book depository!

Let the innuendos commence

Or not. Because there wasn’t a whole lot of innuendo in Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky. It was just all… out there. Should I have expected that? There’s a creepy naked Ken doll on the cover, so maybe that should have foreshadowed the creepy naked teen sex shenanigans that awaited. I will admit, I did NOT expect it. Holy graphic sexy times! And am I traumatized?

A little bit.

Honesty time. I did not like this book. I understand why some readers might like it, and I acknowledge its value as an honest, candid, realistic (?) portrayal of teen sexuality. But as a story, as a novel, I felt it was lacking. The pacing was terrible – so sloooooooow! Characters? Boring boring boring. Dom and Wes felt so flat. Why would either of them like the other? What a pair of squares. Other complaints: unrealistic, forced dialogue, TMI (after the break-up, in the washroom – I can never unread that), and a touch of the soapbox – it wasn’t explicit, and maybe it’s just me, but I felt like there was a Theo moment lurking in the denouement. Something along the lines of, as my high school religion teacher would say –

Nope, I can’t type it. I tried, people, but it just brings back too many memories. (A pagan in a Catholic school – now that’s trauma).

Where was I? Subliminal moralizing and what not: don’t just have random sexy times because he’ll inevitably dump you and leave you. I dunno. Maybe I’m completely wrong. I also did not like Dom’s breakdown at the end of the book. I’m sure that’s what happens to some people. Me? Not so much. Am I cold-hearted? Or am I repressing my break-up depression? Or is this book terrible?

Yeah, this book is terrible. Get a punching bag, Dom, break a plate or two, throw down some curses, and get the hell over it. Sheesh.

Good points? A few realistically awkward moments that made me cringe when I read them (especially at the beginning of the relationship), the clinical detachment with which Dom describes her ‘sexual escapades’ – fitting for a wannabe doctor – and the break-up by IM. And the Princess Bride references (although maybe Dom’s love for the Princes Bride had something to do with her being so shattered when what she has with Wes doesn’t turn out to be a storybook love – geddit? Ooooooo, deep insight).

That’s all, folks. I feel too ambivalent about this book to go on. It was hard to get through. It didn’t leave me satisfied and smiling. (You didn’t think I’d get through an entire post about sex without that, did you?)

Shameful, shameful confession

You know what I love about blogs? No, it’s not the false but liberating sense of anonymity (which is nice, even though everyone who reads this blog probably knows my name).

It’s the rant factor. In person and in print, my rants always start out calm and logical, very professional. But things go downhill very quickly, and it turns into this (but without the ensuing proletariat uprisings). Or, to be brutally honest, this. And blogs give me a forum to indulge my every ranting whim. Sure, you can just stop reading, close the browser or find another blog to read with less crazy going on. Or you can stay and be disturbed by the glorious and terrible calamity that is me getting my rant on. But be forewarned, you brave and foolish souls who will brave the rant… what is read cannot be unread.

<OMINOUS MUSIC WITH LOTS OF DRUMS>

Okay, yes, I’m exaggerating a little. On with the rant.

My rant today is a self-defensive mini-rant, because I have a shameful, shameful confession to make.

I own an e-reader. And I like it.

So what’s so wrong with that? Dip your toe into the online debate about e-readers and you’ll find out it’s less of a debate and more of an epic, end-of-the-world type, good versus evil battle, and you can guess which one e-readers are. The intellectuals who command sufficient respect that their opinions are  considered important (let’s call them them the Literati because it sounds cooler) have, at least according to my perception, vilified e-readers. One gets the impression that real readers should prefer the classic book (let’s call it a book, because that’s what it is), and that the only people who like e-readers are Philistines, barbarians, the middlebrow and bon-bon-scoffing Dame Sally Markham-esque trophy wives filling the emptiness in their souls with bodice-ripper romances. 

This is what I have to say to that.

E-readers are not evil.

Best picture of an e-reader ever, stolen shamelessly from the sanctimonious http://holynerdblog.blogspot.com

Rant commencing. Merits and demerits explored in the form of huzzahs and boo-hiss-boos. Here we go.

Huzzah – Convenience

Although I have mourned and railed against the inexplicable dearth of 24-hour bookstores and libraries, there is yet to be a place where I can go for book emergencies at 3:27 in the morning, when you’ve just finished the second-to-last book in a series and your thoughts are something like ohymygod the main character just DIED how why HOW CAN THIS BE there’s no way I can go six and a half hours until the bookstore opens. E-readers are like a live-in dealer for story junkies looking for their next fix. It’s as easy as downloading the next book. Whenever you want it. Like right now. (Which can also be a boo-hiss-boo if you think about it, the instant gratification thing and all that. Whatever. Give us a hit, Swanney.)

Boo-Hiss-Boo – Moolah

Everyone knows about the perils of online shopping. It just doesn’t feel like real money when all you have to do is click a button. I may go bankrupt because of e-books and their easy obtainability. But then again, I was probably going to go bankrupt because of buying book books anyway.

Huzzah – Look, Ma, I got me a fancy future word container

Oh, the wonders of technology. E-readers are still fringey enough to be novel (ha, puns) and also can be used to taunt friends who are still reading old-timey book books. If you go in for that sort of thing.

Boo-Hiss-Boo – Smell, and overall physicality. And a bit of book fate.

Yeah, I said smell.

Here’s the thing. The most obvious thing, really. Books exist. Physically. They are objects. You can feel a book, hold it, caress it (yikes), treasure it, find it, lose it, flip through to a favourite passage, hurl it across a room, use it as a weapon, write in it, draw in it, destroy it, turn it into something else entirely, and build book forts if you have enough of them. Books carry memories. Everyone has books that conjure up uncannily vivid memories and emotions: that copy of Wuthering Heights your mom read when she was incubating your alien baby-self; the battered Gone with the Wind that got you through fifth grade; the very first (but so not the last) copy of The Fellowship of the Ring that has crossed oceans with you and fallen in the bathtub more than once, its margins filled with “Hell yeah Aragorn”s; the books that loathing lead you to (Herman Hesse, I will never read you), and the books that love gave you, the Neruda, Chekhov and Benioff.

Whoa. Forgive that maudlin and narcissistic rumination. But it got the point across, didn’t it? There’s Meaning in a book. An e-book is ephemeral, intangible, and all wind-in-the-leaves and is-it-real (am-I-real) perplexity. It’s an existentialist’s nightmare.

And the smell, dear god, the book smell. Yes, I am the kind of person who smells books. Don’t judge me, I know you all do it too. Winos smell wine, book lovers smell books. There’s something about that blend of paper and ink and glue (and dust, too, if it’s one of my books) that is intoxicating. I want to bottle it and wear it as a perfume, like Kramer and the beach cologne. (Just in case you’re wondering, the best-smelling book I ever smelled–now’s there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write–was my copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the one I spilled ketchup in. Not because of the ketchup. I don’t think so, anyway…).

E-readers have no smell. Don’t ask me how I know this.

One final point about e-books’ lack of physicality. You lose book fate. Book fate: that magical moment when, walking through the stacks, letting your eyes drift over the shelves, a single title jumps out at you, calling to you with its siren song, suddenly a part of your life for no discernible reason. Serendipity, destiny, the will of the book gods-whatever it is, its important, and it only happens with books.

Huzzah – Portability

This is the clincher for me. If you travel a lot, you know why. I have many books. (There’s no such thing as too many books, but… I have many many many books.) I travel a lot. I don’t like to travel without my books. So until someone figures out a way to make me one of Hermione’s pretty little purses, travelling and reading are at odds with each other. I stress out way too much over which books to bring, then regret the choices I made the entire trip. E-readers solve this problem very neatly. No Sophie’s choice drama, no regrets. It’s all there in that ugly little plastic rectangle. 

Boo-Hiss-Boos – Electric avenue

Another problem: books versus e-books is analogous to human versus robot. E-books are soulless and need to be charged on a regular basis. Which raises another problem, a terrifying SUPER boo-hiss-boo: what happens when the power goes out? And I’m not talking regular thunder-storm shake-your-fist-at-London-Hydro power outtages.

I’m talking Zombie Apocalypse. (Which will henceforth be referred to as Zompocalypse or Z-day. When you’re running from a horse of shambling reanimated corpses hell-bent on feasting on your flesh, you need to save energy, and linguistic blends and abbreviations might just be the difference between survival and ending up as zombie munchies.)  BUT WAIT! I will rebut this Super Boo-hiss-boo in a few short moments. Read on to find out how e-books can help avert zombification!

Huzzah – No more book shame

No one can see what you’re reading on an e-reader. There’s no terrible, clichéd, too-revealing cover to betray your ignominious taste in books! Especially relevant to us adult readers of YA, who must suffer the sneers of the Literati for our diverse, unprejudiced, complex reading habits. That’s all I’m saying about this one. The rest is between me and my e-reader.

Boo-Hiss-Boo – Potential career destroyer

E-books are probably libraries’ kryptonite. Since I am in the process of becoming a librarian (like a librarian chrysalis, you guys!), this should bother me more. (The huzzahs are adding up, people.) Wait a minute, I see a Ringer reference lurking in here somewhere. So e-books are bad news for the only career I can manage (one that will actually make me money, because for some reason there’s no market today for lady explorers in pith helmets who aren’t half bad at making up scary stories) and they are kind of soulless…but e-books are also awesome and seductive in the way that new technology always is, and they seem to solve some pesky problems… GREAT GANDALF! E-BOOKS ARE THE ONE RING!!!

Final Huzzah – Zen

Aside from evil, career-destroying, jewellery-of-doom parallels, there is a purity to e-books that I think their opponents often overlook or choose to ignore. Book lovers talk about the experience a book offers-the feel of the pages, the weight of it in your hands, the smell, the loveliness of certain fonts, the whisper of turning a page. But these are all merely frills, extraneous factors that are actually related to the container, not the essence of a book. It is the essence that matters most. Text. Words. Twenty-six letters rearranged in infinite ways. Everything else is irrelevant. Having a pretty picture on a cover or the ability to be stacked in a shelf isn’t what defines a book.

What did the first copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh look like? Inscrutable marks on clay tablets, like tiny bird footprints in concrete. What about Beowulf? My copy sure doesn’t look like the one under glass at 96 Euston Road. And the two dozen copies of Wuthering Heights grouped together on my bookshelf in a bizarre little row of redundancy? None of them are exactly alike, but their differences mean nothing in the end. They’re important because of the only thing that unites them. The words, man. (I have no idea why I suddenly feel like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.)

E-books are book zen. It’s just you and the words.

(Until your e-reader glitches out, or you try to install new software only to find yourself cursing the heavens and Bill Gates, or you try to borrow an e-book from the library and spend the night alternately weeping helplessly over your keyboard and doing your best imitation of the Hulk.)

But theoretically. E-books are zen. And zen always wins.

Did you stick with me to the end of this rant? Kudos to you if you survived the rambling, meandering, and excessive use of brackets. E-books are a sensitive subject for me, as they are for a lot of people, and I feel the need to defend my point of view fiercely and vociferously. If you disagree with me, we can have verbal fisticuffs… Oh, I’m joking, no need to bust out the fighting trousers. Live and let live and to each his own, blah blah platitudes blah. I’m arguing for e-books, but still cried tears of nerd-joy last week when I bought the 75th anniversary edition of The Hobbit, and I will continue to buy every new edition of Wuthering Heights I come across (I can’t help it, it’s a compulsion). It’s wheel of morality time, kids. Maybe, just maybe, e-books and book books can coexist peacefully, each fulfilling different needs, like the amazing super-awesome cool-beans Ringers, and those Star Wars fans who aren’t organized enough to have their own collective nickname. (Oh yeah I said it.)

Anyway, if you suffered through this and you’re not a blood relative, you deserve a hero cookie.

Or better yet, a hero cupcake.

This hero cupcake looks too heroic and too anthropomorphic to eat

… 

And now, as promised, a rebuttal in the form of a Bonus Huzzah – Zombies!!!

When the Zompocalypse hits, you don’t want to be this guy:

E-books are easily transportable if you’re on the move, fleeing from the walking dead. You can have all of your life-saving survival guides and zombie kill manuals at the tips of your fingers, without having to sacrifice valuable weapon space in your motorcycle’s sidecar. What about batteries and electricity and all of that, you say? I have three words for you, my annoyingly logical friend: bicycle-powered generator. And here’s a slice of fried gold for you-you won’t just be powering your e-reader, heady with a sense of god-like power from creating energy, you’ll be keeping fit, and adhering to the first and most important rule of Zompocalypse survival.

And that is the real reason I like e-books.

This book needs a kitten. So do I.

This book was… interesting. It’s not your usual YA read. Unwanted teen pregnancy, abandoned babies, and the ensuing moral dilemmas–I’ll be honest, it caught me off guard. I’ll admit it, I picked this book from the library’s catalogue because I thought the cover looked spooky. (So so wrong).

Let’s talk appeal factors. The novel’s pacing was excellent, fast enough to maintain a steady level of interest, but not so rapid that there wasn’t time to sneak in some nice, thought-provoking introspection from the protagonist, Cameron–so, all in all, perfect for teens reading below grade level. There was nice balance of dialogue and description, and I felt the language was accessible for the target audience. My only complaint is that Katie, Cameron’s twin sister, has a very dark back-story that is only alluded to, and I thought this should have been explored in greater depth or omitted.

The characterizations were quite well done, considering this book packed a lot of action into only 124 pages. Even minor characters like Cameron’s crush/shoulder-devil are surprisingly well-rounded. Loved that it was told from Cameron’s point of view, rather than Katie’s–a male protagonist, huzzah! The first-person narration made it easy to like the already likeable Cameron.

As for the story itself–to put it simply, it’s complicated. It is well-written, provocative, surprisingly relevant, and retains that appealing whiff of scandal without becoming sordid or sensational. That being said, there are a lot of prickly moral issues raised and believe me, it gets TENSE. This is a potentially a good thing–it will hopefully make readers ponder these difficult grey areas. However, do not discount the potential to seriously weird out readers uncomfortable with this much heaviness in a YA novel.

My favourite part was when Cameron remembered an embroidered saying framed on his grandmother’s wall that said This Too Shall Pass — this made me get all teary thinking about the things we say to keep us going. Sniff. Cue Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and movie-Sam’s inspirational speech about the shadow being a passing thing even though THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE IN OSGILIATH!

Anyway. Back to the book. Recommended. Full of weighty issues that will have you thinking about right and wrong and the grey areas in between. Lots of lessons: appearances can be deceiving, people are complex and multi-faceted, and perfection is a massive myth. (I am so tempted to insert a LOTR reference right here but I guess one per post is enough.)

Seriously, though, this book was a downer. Even the “hopeful” ending was pretty depressing… Everyone in this book needs a kitten.

Or this.

 

 

Wondrous Strange: Title’s good, and then it’s all downhill from there

This week, I read Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston. It was… a struggle.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s not the whole fairy–sorry, faerie–thing. Faeries are cool beans. I love faeries. Good faeries, bad faeries, pretty faeries, ugly faeries, faeries that bite your finger because appearances can be deceiving (duh, Hoggle)… love it all.

Back to the book. I had a tough time with this book because I wanted so badly for it to be better than it was. It has so much potential! I love any book that plays with myths and legends and folktales, reviving them, twisting them into new things, and Livingston is working with some great source material–not only the traditional Celtic fairy mythology, but SHAKESPEARE! I love the idea of merging the two together; I always felt Midsummer Night’s Dream was something of an anomaly, with the fairies and the weird Greek elements, and also kind of unfinished, like it either needed to be twice as long or cut in half (maybe that’s just because I prefer my Shakespearean plays bleak, bloody and brutal: my cat is named Titus Andronicus… nuff said).

But this book let me down in a few different ways. First, the writing style was not to my liking. Especially the dialogue–it felt so stilted and unnatural (one of the worst scenes: when Auberon tells Kelley he’s–SPOILER–her father). And then there’s Kelley. I could not find it in my heart to like or care about this character. She felt so flat to me, no matter how much character development was attempted. Same goes for Sonny. Boring!

The worst thing, the most disappointing thing of all, though, was that this book never made me believe. Aside from the fact that this book is about faeries, which (supposedly) don’t exist, I couldn’t believe in this story. I never felt like I was living in it, the way you should with a good story. I always felt like I was just reading a book that was trying really hard. What it boils down to is this: I would not have clapped my hands to bring any of these faeries/half-faeries/changelings back to life. Just sayin.

I should probably mention Tithe, by Holly Black, one of my most favourite YA titles EVER! That book’s awesomeness has set a veeeeery high standard for modern faerie tales. One of my first impressions reading  Wondrous Strange: in a kelpie show-down, Tithe‘s kelpie would annihilate the one Kelley tries to “save” (real smart, Kelley). In fact, I think I have to reread Tithe to erase the awkward artificiality of Wondrous Strange, and give me a much needed fix of gritty, weirdly realistic and eerie modern fairy tales.

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.

–Robyn