Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Obernewtyn Chronicles

Isobelle Carmody began the first book in the Obernewtyn chronicles while she was still in high school, in the 1980s (it first came out in the United States in 1987), and wrote the rest at intervals of no fewer than three years and sometimes up to nine years! (The cover at left is from a 1993 edition published by Penguin Books.)

There are now somewhere between six and eight books (it's really confusing and hard to know for sure, because they were divvied up differently when published in Australia than they were in North America, and also given different titles!), and we Obernewtyn devotees have been waiting since 2011 for the last book. It has been promised several times and then withdrawn, but it looks like it's finally coming out in November of 2015. Yay! Whoops, November of 2015 in AUSTRALIA. The American release is…one year later? C'mon!

This series is not for the casual reader. Every book is longer than the last, and they all range between 250 and 750 pages. So to say that I have read the entire series twice is to let you know how much I like them.

I hesitate to give the series a label, because it will cause you to have certain presuppositions, based on the past five years of young adult publishing, but….this is a post-apocalyptic/dystopian series. But it's not the formula of heroic girl meets heroic boy in the aftermath of some great catastrophe, they do heroic things, they fall in love, la la la, the end! Also, its central characters have special powers--telepathy, clairvoyance, empathy, healing, the ability to mindspeak with animals, and more--but again, it's not like the latest crop of YA novels in which some event causes some girl to suddenly be able to see the future, or see ghosts, or touch people and know when they will die, or whatever. (I'm not putting any of these books down, I'm simply trying to say that these have become formulas, but Obernewtyn is not formulaic in the same way.) It's my favorite, a convincing combination of fantasy and science fiction.

Honestly, the only thing I can think of to compare it to, off the top of my head, is The Lord of the Rings. Not because they share direct similarities, per se (definitely no Orcs or fairies or trolls), but because this is a SAGA, a quest, involving multiple people united for various reasons, but with a heroine the equivalent of Frodo, destined to do what she has to no matter what the cost, sustained by some special sidekicks and her own strength and pertinacity.

The things I like about it:

It is written in a really truthful, believable way for a post-apocalyptic novel. After the "Great White" (nuclear war), the only people left were those who lived too far away from city centers to have been in the blast zones. Those people pulled together and created a couple of ruling bodies, one civil and one religious, that started out as loose associations, but now, several hundred years later, have become despotic, controlling, and punitive. The thing that makes it feel so real is that the ruling bodies were initially made up of less sophisticated people--rural people, without a lot of amenities, without a lot of modern conveniences--and so it evolves, after technology betrays the entire society, into a permanent good that people should shun those sorts of things. The longer they shun technology, the less they remember or understand it, and the bigger it grows in their minds as the root of all evil. This causes legends and superstitions to arise about the blast zones and the people who lived there, and those tend to keep the people away from all that kind of knowledge, which suits the rulers just fine. All of this gives a touching and believable naiveté to characters in the present day.

The mental powers themselves are initially billed as evolving out of people's exposure to the badlands (in other words, birth defects due to radiation), so people who have these powers are hated and feared as dangerous Misfits. Rather than being in awe of people who have special abilities, this society tends to kill them, to ban them, or to send them to work farms where they labor nonstop until they die. This causes the Misfits to hide and protect their powers from everyone--not just the rulers, but their neighbors, even their closest loved ones. But there is a rumor, in the land, about a place isolated up in the hills on the other side of the badlands, where Misfits are welcomed, called Obernewtyn….

Remember how I compared this to Tolkien? That's also because the level of detail about each and every aspect of the heroine, her many companions, and her quest is lovingly and extensively detailed, so you have to be the kind of reader who likes that kind of thing. You have to have patience with digression, with explanation, with mysterious pronouncements. But if you do…if that's your kind of series…then you will love Obernewtyn like I do! (Did I mention that there's a telepathic cat?)

As far as waiting for the last book, two things:
  1. I can't, so I have made arrangements with someone to send me the book from Australia;
  2. If you start reading NOW, you will probably be ready to read the sequel sometime in December. I will have received it and finished it by then, and I promise that I will then donate it to the library so that anyone in Burbank who takes me up on the challenge to read the Obernewtyn Chronicles will not be disappointed, as I was, to learn that there was no swift conclusion!
The books are available from the Central Library, and they are in three volumes of two books each:


Saturday, August 29, 2015

What we're reading: Edgy fiction

I picked up Althea and Oliver, honestly, because the title reminded me of Eleanor and Park. I think, also, that I confused it with Robin Benway's new novel, Emmy and Oliver, because I had just read a review of that book, which starts out with two childhood best friends as well, one also named Oliver! But Cristina Moracho's book is definitely not E&P, although they share some themes and are set in the fairly recent past (E&P in the '80s, A&O in the '90s).

I found the cover blurb a bit misleading (and it seems many on Goodreads agreed with me), and so I'll tell you that if you are picking this up because you're expecting a love story, then stop right here! Definitely a coming of age story, for both protagonists, but romance? That's tough when only one of you wants it.

Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were six years old--but now, in their late teens, they're in a moment of flux in their relationship. Oliver is that guy with all the friends, social and easygoing in any setting, while Althea is that girl who has only one friend, from whom she needs everything. Oliver is happy with the way things are between them, while Althea finds herself wanting more, and her unrequited feelings for him are painful to experience. Apart from their friendship, Oliver also wants to get out into the world, to experiment, to experience new things, while Althea is so focused on her emotional side that all she can want right now is Oliver, all to herself, wholly and romantically.

Complicating all this exponentially is that Oliver suffers from a rare condition, a sleep disorder that basically puts him out of commission for weeks at a time (he falls asleep and doesn't wake up). Events that transpire during and between his "breaks" put Althea and Oliver at odds, with the result that Oliver angrily leaves town without a goodbye, and goes to New York City for a lengthy sleep study, hoping to solve his problem. Althea, who is still unresolved with her feelings, finds a way to follow him there, but it's not as easy to reconcile as she anticipates, and this is the point at which she finally begins to go her own way.

This is a gritty, raw, and honest book about growing up, beginning with teen angst and suburban drama, and ending with life choices in the big city. Although this wasn't a favorite of mine, I can say that the writing is top-notch and would cause me to seek out other work by this author, and that I thought the story was interesting and different. It's definitely for mature teens on their way out of high school towards their own resolutions!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Now that school is back in session...

...things such as SERVICE HOURS will become an urgent consideration, for high school students in particular. So let us remind you that if you like to read and you like to write, you can write BOOK REVIEWS for the BLOG and receive one hour of credit for each review you write! Some people have done their entire 10 hours by writing reviews for YAThink!

The guidelines for HOW to write the book review spell out exactly what you need to do. Please send your review (either as a Word doc attachment or simply pasted into the email) to burbank.teens@gmail.com!

And remember...you can also write for us even if you do NOT need service hours! And we're taking submissions of original teen poetry and movie reviews now as well!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What we're reading: Realistic romance

The Geography of You and Me is the new book by Jennifer E. Smith, the author of This Is What Happy Looks Like, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Although I had read neither of those books, several teens had recommended them to me. I decided to try the new one first!

There seems to be a certain formula to Smith's books: In Happy, there's a mix-up in email addresses that brings the two main characters together, while in Love at First Sight, it's a meet-cute in an airport after a missed flight. Similarly, the two protagonists of Geography encounter one another for the first time in a hot, stalled elevator in the midst of a New York City blackout.

Shortly after Owen and Lucy get out of the elevator, though, they go their separate ways--and those prove to be radically separate, with many moves and changes on both their parts--but they manage to keep an at times tenuous connection going, despite everything. There is doubt and confusion about how the other person feels and what he or she wants; but they both hold the night of the elevator as a special turning point in their lives and hope that it will turn out to be more than just an accidental meeting, soon forgotten.

There are some unbelievable aspects--not with the relationship between the two of them, but rather with their respective family situations--but in the main, I enjoyed the pacing, the dialogue, and the storytelling. And the famous star at the center of Paris makes another appearance here (it last played a significant role in Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins). Bottom line: Who doesn't love a book that includes Paris?

Although the postcards were a nice device, I have to say that I found the lack of any connection to social media unbelievable. As a librarian who works with teenagers, I don't meet many who aren't welded to their cell phones, busily texting away; and I actually had a teen come to the reference desk a few weeks ago to ask me where to put the stamp on a "snail-mail" letter! I know that Owen's situation didn't allow for "fancy" devices such as iPhones, but I found his sentiments about using email too old-fashioned to give credence!

Over all, this was a sweetly romantic book that held my attention. I will look back on its characters with gentle fondness rather than with great enthusiasm, but it definitely hooked me from the beginning. Fans of Stephanie Perkins would probably enjoy it, and vice versa!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Central Library reopens on Monday!

The Central Library reopens this coming Monday, August 24. Construction is complete, the collection is (mostly) tagged, and some sections have been rearranged for greater convenience!

Our regular hours:

               Monday-Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
               Friday 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
               Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

See you soon!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Teen reviews: Some faves from the summer

Please enjoy these book reviews by our summer reading participants!

Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
Reviewed by Isabella C., grade 10

I SIMPLY COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN! Deep, dark, and fascinating, like a walk with the monster should be. Ellen Hopkins tells the tale of 16-year-old Kristina taking a spin on the dark side, going by the name Bree and becoming best friends with the Monster. Call it what you will: crank, speed, meth, monster. Whatever you call it, you're going to get messed up. Bree knows, and she'll take you on a fantastic and terrible journey.

This book was truly amazing and I loved every minute of it. I absolutely adore Hopkins's writing style with poems and hidden messages; its a beautiful and mesmerizing way to tell a story.

The Wager, by Donna Jo Napoli
Reviewed by Katrina D., grade 8

The Wager is a story of a young, rich man named Don Giovanni who has a thing for women and parties, and is constantly showing off his wealth. Life is good for the Don until a large tidal wave washes away his home and all of his riches, leaving him a penniless beggar. Reduced from riches to ruin, he tries to start a new life as a beggar, but is found by the Devil himself. However, the Devil is there to make him a deal: If Giovanni can last three years, three months, and three days without bathing, changing his clothes, or washing his face and clothes, then he will earn all of his wealth back; but if not, he loses his soul! But how long can the cleanly Giovanni survive like this? A story that teaches you to never deal with the Devil, and that wealth really isn't everything. I recommend it to anybody who isn't germaphobic and who is fine with reading about the dirty dealings of the Devil.

Homeless Bird, by Gloria Whelan
Reviewed by Samantha C., grade 9

Homeless Bird is a tale of hope about a young girl named Koly who is married off to a young boy in India. The story tells us her struggles with reading due to improper schooling, as well as about her marriage, her family, and womanhood. This book really opened my eyes to what life is like for a girl with no power, and made me feel lucky that I am in a good situation. Life told through her eyes is heartbreaking but you can see the bravery and courage she manages to keep despite all these issues. It can really teach us a lesson in life to be thankful for what we have, and when we feel like giving up to remember what makes us stronger. It teaches you to do your best, and fight for what you believe in. Most importantly the book shows us that even in the most bleak of times we can find happiness in the form of truth and others. I would recommend this to anyone who would like to try something new or restore their faith in hope.

The Selection, by Kiera Cass
Reviewed by Amy B., grade 9

The Selection is about 35 girls who are chosen to go to a castle and compete for a prince's hand in marriage. So basically, it's The Bachelor, but with a dystopian setting. However, not much is revealed about the dystopian setting, the most important fact being that society is split into castes. The higher one's caste, the better one lives. For example, Ones consist of the royal family and Eights consist of homeless citizens who are the lowest of the low.

I personally liked the idea for this book, but the author did not focus on what makes a good dystopian novel, which is the actual setting and how everything came to be. (There was, at one point, a confusing history lesson, though.) Hardly any world-building existed; instead, the author spent many chapters focusing on an unrealistic love triangle between the prince, Maxon, the main character, America, and her former boyfriend, Aspen. While it lacked a clear plot, this book was still entertaining to read, and I would recommend it to those looking for a light, fluffy read.

Sugar, by Deirdre Riordan Hall
Reviewed by Patrick C., grade 11

Sugar was such a raw and beautiful book that brings to light the topics of weight, image, and love. Hall wrote an amazing book that would captivate any reader with Sugar Garcia's journey of finding herself and falling in love.

It was such a short and simple book, but had great characters and writing that made it a stand-out. Sugar begins with heavy girl Sugar Garcia, who turns to junk food for comfort and strength. She lives with her mom and her younger brother, Skunk, both of whom treat her badly and at times criticizes her for her weight and worthlessness. But once Sugar meets Even, her life changes. Sugar's journey to self-confidence and romance was a big part of the book. Even and Sugar's relationship was genuine and sweet, and it felt great as Sugar began to open up to Even. Hall crafted such great characters, readers could easily relate to them--I know I did.

One element I really liked was the unexpected twist towards the end. But be prepared for some waterworks when it comes! I think the twist in the novel helped Sugar to move on with her life and embrace the person she became. Hall was able to shift the book to the realities of life, and make it feel more real and honest. I do wish the book focused more on the Sugar's family dynamic with her dad and mom, possibly with flashbacks into the past?

Overall, Sugar, was a great, heartfelt book.

Editor's note: BPL offers all of these books except Sugar, which I will buy, based on Patrick's review!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Teen Review: The Princess Bride!

Reviewed by Amy Sepulveda, grade 11

William Goldman’s The Princess Bride is one of the most adventurous, fun, and exciting books I have ever read. It is known as a love story, but it contains so much action, fantasy and comedic elements that sometimes readers entirely fall into a trance reading it.

The story begins by introducing a young girl named Buttercup, who lives on a farm. She constantly orders the “farmboy” named Westley to do simple tasks for her that she could just as easily do; he always does them anyway. The two come to realize they are profoundly in love with each other. Buttercup and Westley want to be married, but since Westley is poor, he cannot afford their wedding. He goes to sea to seek a great fortune, but soon Buttercup and her parents find out that he was kidnapped and killed by a pirate. Buttercup eventually becomes engaged to Prince Humperdink, who only wants Buttercup for her beauty, while knowing that Buttercup will never love him, nor will he love her. From this point on, spectacular adventure takes place, none of which can be mentioned because it will contain spoilers. There are some remarkable plot twists that will blow the reader’s mind.

The Princess Bride is truly an amazing story and honestly does not appeal to just girls. Each character is fully developed, complex, and realistic. I loved every page of this book, and even though it has been a couple of years since I’ve read it, it is still one of my top 10 favorites. The entire book is a daring adventure in which readers of all ages can engross themselves. I would recommend The Princess Bride to anyone, but a 6th grade reading level and higher is probably preferable. This book most definitely deserves a rating of 10/ 10.

Editor's note: Amy! You wrote this review without mentioning the movie--I certainly hope you have seen it, because it's as much of a classic as is the book! I second Amy's high opinion of the book, and recommend you invite over all your friends, make a big bowl of popcorn, and enjoy the movie sometime soon!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Teen Review: Paper Towns again

Paper Towns
by John Green
305 pages
Realistic fiction/Romance
Not included in a series
9th grade and above

Reviewed by Marlena, grade 10

Paper Towns, by John Green, is a book like none other, in which an unexpected midnight adventure leads deeper into someone’s thoughts and feelings than one could have imagined. Margo Roth Spiegelman is the popular girl in school. She is not necessarily super hot nor is she a cheerleader or any of the typical stereotypes. She has a heart for crazy adventures, seemingly made up, but nonetheless what she really does outside of school. She seems untouchable, unreal, something more than human, and she is the next-door neighbor to the unremarkable, completely normal, goody two-shoes known as Quentin Jacobsen. Since he was young, he has been completely infatuated with her and while he can’t help continuously thinking about her, he seems impossibly far from her mind. One night changes it all and nothing is ever the same. The girl Quentin thought he was in love with was more a dream than reality and reality was not as pretty as the dream.

“Margo Roth Spiegelman loved mysteries so much,
it’s as if she became one.”
— Quentin (John Green)

This book was not what I had imagined it would be like, nor did it end like I thought it would, and that is what I loved. It was nothing you would or could have expected, and in a way, the book itself was a mystery. The opinions of the characters in this book relate to reality. When you fantasize about something for so long you end up romanticizing it, you make it seem better in your head than it really is. In some ways that is exactly what Quentin does, and I feel that we can all relate to that. The inner turmoil in both characters is so thought-provoking, and even though the point of view remains with Quentin throughout the entire book, you can slowly piece together Margo as you listen to her words and actions. These troubled teens find love, but love is not as pretty as it seems. It is far from your typical teenage love story. “Expect the unexpected,” as Heraclitus once said. I would undoubtedly rate this novel a 5, hard to imagine a better book.

This book was recently made into a motion picture and the movie was very good, but the book and the movie are very different so I suggest to anyone who has seen the movie to also read the book or visa versa.