Friday, January 13, 2017

Closed for holiday

All branches of Burbank Public Library will be CLOSED on Monday, January 16, in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The library will reopen for normal hours at all branches on Tuesday.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

– Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–68)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Teen review: S. E. Hinton

That Was Then, This Is Now
S. E. Hinton
192 pages
realistic fiction, stand-alone novel
Reading level: Grades 7 up

Reviewed by Chloe Hu, grade 9

Bryon Douglas and Mark Jennings have lived together almost like brothers since Mark’s parents died in a gun fight. Bryon’s mother is in the hospital, and because of that, the two boys need to make money to scrape a living. The two boys were similar to one another when they were young, but as time passed, they began to have different appearances, characteristics, and behaviors. During this time, there were lots of changes happening in their lives. Bryon found that sometimes he and Mark were not like they used to be, and sometimes he felt estranged from Mark, even though they maintained their strong sense of brotherhood in daily life. Bryon then accidentally discovers that Mark has been secretly selling illegal drugs to get money. This makes Bryon realize that both of them have changed and that they are not boys any more, and makes him examine the friendship.

This book is not one that I would recommend to everyone, but I think you can experience some great feelings from this book. The author tells the story in a natural way, and it makes you feel that you are not a spectator, but a real person within the world that the author creates. Each character in this book has his or her own story, and each of them is a complete person, with difficulties and choices. Bryon wants to be mature so he can shoulder the responsibility of his family, but he is a teenager so he makes many mistakes and has many problems. Mark tries his own solution to maintain his family's happiness, bu the way he chooses is extreme. Their lives could never mesh again, which is the origin of the book's title, "that was then, this is now." We cannot influence the living style of others, we can only change our own.

I do like the cover of this book. The blue and the black and the man walking down the street alone foreshadow the story.

Personally, I will give this book a rating of 3 (readable/entertaining), because it was not a book that will give deep enlightenment, but if you choose this book you can have a great experience.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

10-12 Book Club

Eighteen of us met Tuesday night for 10-12 Book Club to discuss John Scalzi's book Lock In, which is kind of hard to summarize: It's a murder mystery that takes place in the future, after a pandemic has altered the world and people who lost their ability to move are able to get around by using "threeps" (named for C3PO) as mobile devices. One FBI agent is an "integrator" (someone who can suppress her personality and allow a "Haden" to use her body), while the other is a Haden, who uses a threep; and the main suspect? He's an integrator, so it could have been him who murdered the guy, or it could have been somebody else, using his body. You may have guessed by this point that it's science fiction. Sadly, Zoey, who has been politicking for months to read this book, couldn't be with us; but we had a lively discussion nonetheless, including some debate about the gender of the protagonist, Chris.

A few people loved the book unreservedly, while most had a few caveats but liked it pretty well. Ryan called it out as a favorite because it wasn't dystopian and it ended well! Ha! We all appreciated its lively style and the lack of excessive didactic explanation, which opinion we arrived at through discussing Isaac Asimov's series of robot novels pairing Earth detective Elijah Bailey with humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw, which starts with the book The Caves of Steel. We wondered whether people who liked Lock In would enjoy those, since Asimov does come from a tradition of "info dumping" in his novels. Hailey thought yes. The range of ratings for Lock In was a high of 9 and a low of 6, with a final score of 7.5.

Coincidentally, next month we are also reading about an out-of-body experience when we tackle David Levithan's Every Day, a book in which the protagonist wakes up every morning in a different body! And March's reading was hotly contested, with some final contenders from our ongoing list and some new nominations. We ended up choosing Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy, in which Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, expects to die, and therefore commits mean-spirited revenge pranks on all who wronged her in life; but then she goes into remission! Uh-oh...what to do?

Other books we considered, in descending order of popularity, were:

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Bumped, by Megan McCafferty
The Boy Most Likely To, by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Proxy, by Alex London
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
          (are we ever going to read this book?!)
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Conjured, by Sarah Beth Durst
Enclave, by Ann Aguirre

We will keep these on our list. Next month the club meets on February 7th. Those who missed the meeting, pick up a copy of your book at either branch.

Monday, January 2, 2017

What we're reading: "Ripped from the headlines"

The story of How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon, bears striking similiarities to the real-life shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, in Florida in 2012. Martin was on foot, on his way home from the store, when Zimmerman spotted him from his car, decided he looked suspicious, and got into an altercation in which he ended up shooting the young man. In this book, Tariq was on his way home with a carton of milk he'd fetched for his mother, when he was accosted by one man, egged on to fight him by his friends, and shot by a passerby in a car, a white man. The book is definitely not an exact duplicate of the Martin event, and in fact could stand in for many such incidents (such as the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri). But the riveting way in which it is presented shows all the possible pitfalls of making assumptions based on race and circumstance.

Magoon writes the story in short, effective, page-turning chapters and from many viewpoints (17, to be exact, with thanks to the person on Goodreads who counted them)--those of the people who were there on the spot and thought they had the facts, and those of people peripheral to the story who nonetheless made assumptions based on what they knew about the protagonists, what they were told by others, and on which side their prejudices landed when the event happened. You get to hear firsthand from the store owner, the guy who thought he was helping out, the gang members who gathered to see a fight, and the friend of the shooter, who saw a completely different scenario when he viewed it from farther down the block. You dip into the thoughts and reactions of everyone who knew Tariq, and some who did not, like the "Reverend" politician who hopes to gain visibility through his association with the volatile event.

What we are ultimately left with is more questions, because the only person who really knows the truth is Tariq, and he's dead. But the truths that we get from each of the players showcase all the nuances we need to consider when looking at every person in every circumstance, clearing our vision and refusing to be limited to one set of lenses. This is an important book, deserving of the awards it has won, and is also a riveting, gritty, realistic read.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

This weekend's holiday hours

All branches of Burbank Public Library will close early (at 2:00 p.m.) on Saturday, December 31, in anticipation of New Year's Eve festivities, and will remain closed on Sunday and Monday. The library will reopen Tuesday at the usual time for each branch. We wish all of you a positive and active 2017!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What we're reading: Next in a horror series

I just finished The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, which is the latest of four books in the Lockwood & Co. series. I hesitated to call this horror, because although the theme of these books is ghost-hunting, and some of the descriptions and actions of those entities are quite horrific, the series is pretty mild in terms of actual fright--it probably won't keep you up at night. Let's just say, Stephen King it's not! But it is well written, somewhat spooky, and occasionally humorous.

The basic scenario of the series is as follows: The books are set in an alternative London in which "the Problem" has necessarily become the focus of everyone's lives. For more than 50 years, there has been a positive epidemic of ghosts. They're not just anonymous bumps in the night, either--they're dangerous, and they're everywhere. The responsibility for ridding the country of these apparitions has fallen to the children and teenagers, because adults are unable to see them. So teams of psychic investigators who aren't old enough to vote or drive a car are madly dashing about by night, armed and dangerous, while the grown-ups cower indoors as soon as dusk falls.

The books follow a particular agent, Lucy Carlyle, as she arrives in London, joins up with the rather notorious Lockwood Agency (which consists of Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins, and now Lucy) and finds herself beset by peril. In book #3, Holly Munro (formerly a minor agent at a major agency) joins the team, and at the end of that book, Lucy decides to depart Lockwood & Co. (with a whispering skull in tow) to go freelance. She assures everyone that this desertion is not related to the advent of Holly (who is perky, pretty, and omnipresent).

This book picks up shortly after the end of the last, with Lucy attempting to distinguish herself while putting up with the annoying habits of the various clients (other psychic investigative agencies) with whom she must work as a contractor. Then Anthony Lockwood contacts her about working with her old agency on a particularly challenging assignment he has accepted from Penelope Fittes of the founding Fittes Agency, and Lucy is thrown back into confusion about her status and options. But some really big events take everyone's mind off of everything except survival as the Rotwell agency goes rogue...

I enjoyed the usual bits in this book--the descriptions of the specters, the fights, the ingenuity--but as the series continues, I would also enjoy a little more focus on and information about each individual member of the team. I thought we would get that this time, since at the beginning Lucy had gone out on her own; but apart from some descriptions of annoying clients, the skull's usual harpings, and her messy apartment, there wasn't much. 
Internal workings would be good. Insights into characters, explanations for behaviors, etc. would be good. We're still getting the glossy sheen of Lockwood, the deceptively bumbling efficiency of George, the perfection of's starting to be a liability to the series. I did like that Quill Kips, formerly cocky Fittes agent now mercifully ghost-blind, was added to the mix, but...again, he's pretty stereotypical.

The adventures in this one, however, are ground-breaking, so that part is good. And we're left with a major cliffhanger, a multitude of unanswered questions, and lots of ominous possibilities. The series goes onward! I will keep reading, but...I hope the author isn't blinded by the success of his formula and does some necessary deepening of the characters next time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What we're reading: Historical fiction for everyone

Every year at the middle and high schools in Burbank, one (or more) teacher assigns students to read a work of historical fiction. Historical fiction is not the most popular genre in YA literature or at Burbank Public Library; but because of this assignment, we try to keep a good selection of it on hand so you have options when it comes time to read some, and we publish a book list to feature those options. We are in the process of updating that book list, and it should be out in all library branches within two weeks or so. (If anyone can tell us when, exactly, that assignment happens during the school year, we would be grateful!)

In the meantime, if you would like to access the old list online, you can go to our "Have You Read?" book lists on the library website. The teen book lists are here, and the historical fiction list is called "Tripping Through Time." (They are listed in alphabetical order, so it's near the bottom.) We plan to change that name for the next version, because that one sounds more like time travel (for which we also have a book list here!).

(You may notice that, as librarians, we are not quite as stringent in our definition of historical fiction as some teachers might be; we provided you with some mystery, a hint of the paranormal, a few pirates, and some Gossip Girls of the 17th Century while making our list! It's up to you to get approval--but why not try?)

There are, however, works of historical fiction for teens that rise to the top of teen fiction in general, and are wildly popular. One of my favorites that is also a favorite teen pick is The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, in which the Devil is the narrator of a story about an orphan girl and the family who take her in, in the midst of World War II madness. This past week, I read another that may supersede that book on my greatest hits list, and not just for teenagers; Anarda read the book when it first came out, and has been nagging, er, encouraging me to read it ever since. Since I was looking for good examples of historical fiction for a class I'll be teaching in January, I finally got around to it. That book is Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein.

The book starts out a little confusingly. It's about two young women in World War II England, mostly before America has entered the war. One of the women is a spy; the other one is a pilot. Together, they make a great team. But the team has been split up; one of them has fallen into Nazi custody, and is being tortured to write down every detail she can dredge up about the British War Effort. She decides to write it down not from her own point of view but from that of her friend's. It took me a while to get comfortable with the way the narrative switches around, but once I did, I was riveted.

I can say almost nothing about this book without giving away significant details that you should be allowed to discover on your own. I will say that the first half of the book is heart-breaking, but by the time you get to the twist in the middle, you are no longer reading the story, you are living it. I am not an emotional reader, but this book made me weep, both with sorrow and with joy. This story may be among the best I have read (and as you can see from the column of books from Goodreads at the left, I have read a lot of books!).

The other thing I have to say about this book is that I do NOT understand why it was marketed and sold as a Young Adult title. Will some teens love this book? Absolutely--to the level of The Book Thief and beyond. Is it a teen book? Not in the least, as far as I am concerned. At least in The Book Thief there is a young protagonist that might justify that work being marketed to teens; that is not the case here. All the characters (except for a few extremely peripheral ones who are mentioned once in passing) are definitely adults, albeit young (early to mid 20s). I find myself saddened by the undoubted fact that Code Name Verity has been marginalized from finding its full audience by being marketed solely to teens, because this book deserves to be widely read.

Adults out there--recommend this to your teens, and then read it yourselves...and give it to your mother and your friends and to strangers on the bus!

As I said, I'm not giving away any spoilers. But I will say...the hand through the bulkhead. That is all.

Editor's note: If you read and enjoy Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein has written two other historical fiction books about female pilots: Rose Under Fire, and Black Dove White Raven. Try them as well--I'm going to!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday hours

All branches of Burbank Public Library will be CLOSED on both Sunday, December 25, and Monday, December 26, for the Christmas holiday. Additionally, we will close early, at 2:00 p.m., on Saturday the 24th, so that our staff can enjoy Christmas Eve with their loved ones.

The library will reopen on Tuesday, December 27.

We hope you have a lovely holiday!