Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What we're reading...for book club

I thought it was interesting that the month after we read Lock In, by John Scalzi, in which people are using other people's bodies to get around, the 10-12 Book Club then chose Every Day, by David Levithan, as its next month's read. The plot of that book is that a person called "A" wakes up every day in a new body. The character is genderless, because one day the body might be a guy, the next day a girl. The body is always age-appropriate, though--this has been happening as long as "A" can remember, but when "A" was five years old, the daily jump was into other five-year-olds, while now that "A" is 16, all the bodies are correspondingly the same age. There are also other parameters than age, such as distance/proximity, that create some interesting challenges.

It's a strange existence, to say the least, and some conversation goes into talking about how "A" gradually figures out what's happening as he grows older--at first, it seemed like "A" stayed the same, while all the other personnel changed daily; parents would say to "A" (only those parents thought, of course, that they were talking to their own child, not realizing that "A" was in control of the body), "Oh, tomorrow we will do such and such," and "A" would cry and say "But you won't be here tomorrow." It took "A" a little time and some growing up before the realization struck that all those people would be "there" tomorrow, and only "A" would not.

The book opens when "A" is 16, and after a long life of waking up in new bodies, suddenly something has changed. "A" woke up this morning in the body of Justin, a rather hulking specimen of teenage boy, and when "Justin" gets to school, his girlfriend, Rhiannon, is there waiting. Justin (the real Justin) isn't very nice to Rhiannon--"A" can both pick up old memories and also sense this from her tentative manner around him. "A" decides, at first somewhat arbitrarily (being in a giddy mood today and not wanting to be as careful as usual) that "Justin" is going to give Rhiannon a good day. So they cut school, and go to the beach, and have what turns out to be a dream day for both of them. "A" wishes, more strongly than has ever happened before, to stay in this body and in this relationship with another person for whom "A" believes "A" could come to care. But, inevitably, the next morning comes and "A" wakes up as someone else.

Instead of going passively into that good night, though, "A" decides rebelliously that this is the moment to be a little selfish, to pursue the relationship that beckons, so "A" uses the next body to seek out Rhiannon, and the next, until finally "A" decides to disclose that all these people who have been running into Rhiannon and initiating some kind of contact are the same person inside, even if they look completely different on the outside. Rhiannon's reaction leads to the rest of the story.

I really enjoyed the multiple directions this book explored. I liked that it persisted with the lack of traditional gender roles--sometimes "A" was a girl with a boyfriend, sometimes a boy with a girlfriend, but also a boy with a boyfriend and a girl with a girlfriend. The descriptions of being inside uncomfortable "hosts"--a drug addict, a clinically depressed person--were powerful and interesting, and made the reader almost able to feel those things in first person. The idea of loving someone for their insides and not their outsides, or completely regardless of their outsides, was a challenging one, not just for Rhiannon but for the reader. And the ethics that "A" must confront each day--do I mess with this person's life so that it goes off on a tangent the person never intended? or do I continue to be careful and quiet and follow the inclinations of the host? are addressed when "A" encounters someone who seems to be like "A" but is taking a different, selfish path.

There is a companion book, called Another Day, that is the exact same story, but from Rhiannon's viewpoint, that sounds intriguing; and Levithan will release an actual sequel, called Someday, that continues with "A"'s existence, "someday" in 2018.

I should add that reactions were mixed but mostly positive in book club--we always rate the book from 1-10, and this one had a high rating of 10 and a low rating of 4, with an average rating of 7.75, which is quite respectable!

Monday, February 13, 2017

This week at the library...for teens!

On Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Buena Vista Branch, we hope teens in grades 6-12 will join us for a fun and festive evening, at

Teens have selected readings from their favorite books, and will "perform" them for the other teens present. Some are reading alone, while others have developed dialogues from their books, and we will have a variety of books represented.

The general format will be like Book Café--we will have cappuccino and cookies, do a little socializing, and then settle in to give our Cabaret performers our rapt attention!

If you are a teen who would like to share a passage from a book you love, please contact Melissa by emailing Include your name, contact information, and the book from which you will read.

Otherwise, just come and be their audience! (If we run out of readings, we will fill out the evening with book-talking, so if you're reading something you want to talk about, bring your book along and do that!)

We hope to see you Thursday night for some cappuccino and cabaret!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What we're reading: A middle school gem

Joan Bauer has written more than a dozen teen novels (between 1992 and now), and they are "feel-good" books (some call them "soft" or "gentle" reads) filled with humor, warmth, and good plots, perfect for middle-schoolers (and the rest of us who enjoy those elements too!). Most of them feature strong, independent, and funny female protagonists, but three of the 12, including her latest book, Soar (2016) have guys as their star players.

I just finished reading and enjoying her book Rules of the Road:

Jenna Boller, 16, is an enthusiastic shoe salesperson at the local branch of Gladstone Shoes. She has a boss who is committed to quality and good customer service, and as her mentor, his training has convinced her that Gladstone's is the place to go (and to work) if you want the best at decent prices.

One day, the "big boss," Mrs. Gladstone, the CEO and one of the two founders of the company, comes into the store for a surprise visit. She is impressed with Jenna's alacrity with the customers, and decides to hire Jenna to drive her from Chicago to Texas (with many stops along the way to pay similar visits to her shoe store branches), where she has a stockholder's meeting.

Jenna has all but decided to say no--why would she want to spend her entire summer chauffeuring an old woman around, when she can work her job, hang with her best friend, and spend more time with her family? But then Jenna's alcoholic father arrives in town and starts embarrassing her by showing up at her job, calling her in the middle of the night, and otherwise behaving badly, so Jenna decides Mrs. Gladstone's offer is an opportune one, if it will get her out of town and away from this situation. The two take off on a road trip in Mrs. Gladstone's cadillac that will have life-changing results for all involved.

I enjoyed this book. I particularly liked it for its portrayal of strong women: Mrs. Gladstone is determined to prevail against those who wish to undermine her company; Jenna's mother has coped with her absent ex's alcoholism and works hard as an ER nurse to support her two girls; and Jenna herself, though in some ways self-doubting, steps up to do the right thing in almost every circumstance in which she is placed. Yes, the story may be a little idealistic in these respects, but it's nice to read something idealistic now and then! I did think that Bauer's treatment of Mrs. Gladstone's son was a bit cardboard-like (one-dimensional and cliched), but aside from that, no complaints.

The book addresses some serious subjects (corporate and personal greed, alcoholism, and Alzheimer's disease) thoroughly, but with wit and humor, and some emotion, too. I would hand this to most middle school girls and many boys, with the expectation that they would enjoy it as well.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Blind Date with a Book!

In case you haven't discovered it for yourself, BLIND DATE WITH A BOOK is back! There is a display on a cart in the central aisle at Buena Vista Branch, and another by the entrance to the teen section at the Central Library.

Anarda's at BV is a mix of teen and adult, so she has labeled them for "maturity level." Mine are mostly teen books, or adult books that might appeal to teens, although a lot of adults have been checking them out!

Look for the colorful Valentine-paper-wrapped books and borrow one, sight unseen, to have YOUR blind date with a book. Commit to reading it, even if it's not your usual kind of book--you never know when you will discover a new "relationship" (with reading) by putting yourself out there, right?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What we're reading: Adult sci-fi that will appeal to teens

Last month, for 10-12 Book Club, we read John Scalzi's book Lock In. It's basically a murder mystery that takes place in the future, when people who have been "locked in" their minds by a virus have figured out how to use robots (more commonly) or other people's bodies (less commonly) to get around and have a life. The complication is that if someone kills someone, was it the actual person, or someone else using his or her body? It's a fun, lively read with lots of twists that we mostly all appreciated. That led me to seek out other books by Scalzi. I wanted to read the one for which he is best known--Old Man's War--mostly because it is the beginning of a multi-book series, and I was in the mood to get dug into something substantial--but it was checked out, so I went with Fuzzy Nation, because I liked the title!

In the future (sort of like now), large corporations have discovered valuable minerals on other planets, and have staked claims to mine them. The one wrinkle in the process to derive permission to exploit a planet for its resources is, there must be no sentient species living on that planet--no beings with feelings, responsiveness, and demonstrable consciousness. In other words, no people.

Jack Holloway works as an independent contractor for one such company, ZaraCorp, on the planet Zarathustra. After a dispute over an accidental cliff collapse that Jack caused, the company fires him, after which he promptly discovers and lays claim to a seam of a valuable mineral (exposed by the accidental explosion). Now Jack has negotiating power, and he plans to use it to make his fortune. He retains the rights to the seam of sunstone, but cuts ZaraCorp in as partners to extract the mineral, since he is primarily a prospector and surveyor, and they have the heavy equipment.

Then a great big wrench gets thrown into the works for Jack AND the company: A small, furry, bi-pedal creature that vaguely resembles a cat walking on its hind legs shows up at Jack's house in the "outback," followed (after the original one makes friends with Jack and his dog, Carl) by its likewise appealing family. At first, Jack assumes they're just friendly animals, but it gradually dawns on him that they may be the people of this planet. He also realizes that, given the available wealth on Zarathustra, ZaraCorp is a real threat to his new fuzzy friends.

This book was both fun and thought-provoking, the best combination in science fiction. I liked Scalzi's use of a slightly scoundrel-y anti-hero as his protagonist--it keeps you guessing about whether he will, in the end, choose to do the right thing or not. The parallels that can be drawn to the depletion of Earth's resources today make for interesting reading--the question of who owns the land, the rights, the planet, and how this will be determined and whether people will respect that and who will keep them honest...look to the Dakota pipeline project and then project that to a planet 23 lightyears from here with an active strip-mining industry vs. a species that resembles a bunch of cats. One hopes for a happier ending than that which befell our Native Americans the first time around...

This review is my ongoing attempt to let teenagers know that science fiction is a great transitional genre from teen to adult books, since it has a lot of the same elements that make teen books appealing--humor, speculation, interesting relationships between people and other people and between people and their environments. Fuzzy Nation is a fun one--check it out!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Teen review: Not a romance!

How to Say Goodbye in Robot
by Natalie Standiford
Realistic fiction
Not part of a series
276 pages
Reading level: Mature high school students

Reviewed by Aaron Yang, grade 11

Beatrice moves to Baltimore, Maryland, after her father changes jobs. There, she meets Jonah, AKA Ghost Boy, who is a ghost-like kid, bullied throughout his entire life. She meets him during Assembly and they create a peculiar friendship, that has its ups and downs. Although Beatrice assumes Jonah is a weird type of person, as so many people tell her, she realizes that deep down, he is actually a really great guy to hang out with.

I love the way the author wrote the novel in a fascinating fashion. I am addicted to this type of novel and wished there was a sequel to this book because it left me hanging throughout the entirety of the novel. The writing style made me kept reading until the end. It's amazing to learn the lives of these two totally different teens, who have different perspectives about society. I would seriously recommend this book to fans of relationships, robots, and realistic fiction. I would give this book 5 stars out of 5, since I could not put it down until the end. Also, I would suggest that you not judge a book by its cover, because the cover of this novel looked really dull to me, but the story inside is really worth the time to read.

Editor's note: I made a point (in the headline) of saying that this book is NOT a romance, because the poor ratings it receives from some people is because that is what they are expecting, and then they are disappointed. This is a story of an unusual friendship that stays a friendship, but it's quirky and sad and interesting--give it a try! (And P.S., agreed about the cover--the book isn't set in the past, as far as I can tell, so why use a phone receiver on the cover that most teens would never have used? Weird.)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Teen review: Edgy fiction

Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
Realistic Fiction
288 pages
Not part of a series
Appropriate for ages 15+, mature content

Reviewed by M.S. (11th Grade)

Clay Jensen finds a package with no return address on his doorstep after school one day. Upon opening it, he finds seven cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, a girl who committed suicide weeks before. On each side of all the tapes, Hannah lists a person whose actions led her to kill herself, one of those people being Clay. In fear of having a second set of the tapes released by an anonymous person Hannah gave them to, the 13 people must pass them onto each other until the tapes reach the final person.

Thirteen Reasons Why is an incredibly emotional and poetic book that I could only handle in small doses. I had to force myself to finish this beautifully written novel because the stress it imposed on me was too much to handle at times. After reading it, I have found myself appreciating my friends and family even more because of the emotional trip I took while reading this book. I strongly advise everyone to read this, even though it pulls at your heartstrings and is depressing.

I would rate this novel four stars. (It would be a five, but it caused too much emotional exhaustion!)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Coming up at the library!

We have TWO ACTIVITIES for teens coming up in the next two weeks, and we really hope to see you here.

Next Wednesday night, February 8, at the Buena Vista Branch at 7:00 p.m., we're having a SHELF-TALKER WORKSHOPTeens, adults, and children (ages 6 & up) are invited to help us paper the shelves with love notes to books! Stop in and create a shelf-talker about the book you love.

Write a (short) summary of what the book is about, and why you adore it. We will have pre-printed forms for those who only want to write about it, with "The Book I Love" and some hearts on it. But if you like, you can choose a blank form for yours, and then embellish the shelf-talker with drawings, a border, some fancy lettering, or just a few hearts—your choice.

Afterward, we will hang all the shelf-talkers throughout the library with the books they recommend, in preparation for VALENTINE’S DAY, so other people will know to love those books, too!

All materials will be provided.

Then, Thursday night, February 16, also at the Buena Vista Branch at 7:00 p.m.,  we will host

This evening will feature TEENS sharing staged readings from their favorite books! 

Applaud for the BOOKS YOU LOVE or learn about some new reads, while you enjoy coffee-house treats! This program is for teens in grades 6-12 only!

TEENS who would like to participate please email by February 9 with your name, contact info, and the book from which you would like to read. We hope to have lots of participants for this! (You don't have to email if you're just planning to attend, only if you want to read. All teens are welcome!)

It's a February of book love at Burbank Public Library!