Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sensitive content

Grace wants out of her house. Her stepfather is a tyrant, and her mother responds to the stress by taking her obsessive-compulsive disorder out on her. Grace wants out of her town, too small and pedestrian to contain her ambitions. Her dream is to direct plays, in New York City, and she's on point for that future, saving every penny and working as a stage director for her high school plays and musicals, when it happens: She gets involved with Gavin. Gavin, about whom she has fantasized for years. Gavin, the cool, gorgeous, talented, charming boy of her dreams. Gavin, who just broke up with his girlfriend, and is appealingly needy when he entices Grace with his interest. Before she knows it, she's having the relationship she thought she wanted...but then it starts to turn dark. The neediness turns into an obsession to, first, control every aspect of their relationship, and then every facet of Grace's life. Soon, all Grace wants is out...of her Bad Romance.

I really don't know what to say about this book. I am a huge fan of Heather Demetrios's previous book, I'll Meet You There; I regularly recommend it to high school book club, but haven't yet managed to persuade them to read it, because simply describing the events of the book make it sound like some dumb romance, when the truth, the essence of that book is so much more than that. So when I saw that she had written a new book, I grabbed it from the shelf and took it home in high anticipation mode.

Honestly, I'm not sure that I'm glad I read it. Her writing is, again, "all that," but the characters, the way things play out, the first/second person dichotomy of the narrative, the lack of resolution on so many levels—all of that left me truly ambivalent.

It's not that it wasn't authentic or realistic; quite the opposite. Demetrios managed to pull off the things that so many people get wrong when depicting abusive relationships. For instance, she gives emotional abuse as much weight as she does physical abuse, which is valid. Abuse is about the feelings of pain, fear, and anxiety, regardless. In line with that, she doesn't make it all one-sided, demonizing the stepfather and making the mother a helpless victim: Her mother's character is nuanced, and the way she takes out her frustrations on Grace seemed real and valid.

I also appreciated that she didn't give Grace another romance to pull her out of the disastrous one she was in. But...even though Grace's friendships and her own inner fortitude are what managed to pull her through, there's no real indication that she couldn't fall into another abusive relationship, given the slightest opportunity. She has become slightly more self aware, and has dumped this guy, dumped her family, and gotten on with her life...but there's a part of her that keeps clinging to the idea that she needs a guy—albeit a better guy—to complete and/or save her.

Also, since this story is told entirely from Grace's viewpoint, the only resolution we get on Gavin is that Grace wishes she could warn all his future victims about the toxicity of the love that's hiding behind that perfect, endearing, beautiful demeanor. And I know she has no agency or ability to affect who and what he is—but it just seemed like there should be something more. The book makes his parents seem so ideal, so wonderful, so caring, so how did they turn out a codependent, passive-aggressive, vindictive, manipulative crazy mess like Gavin? And why don't they see the need to help/fix him? (except to encourage his girlfriend to do it!)

The bottom line is that this was not a book I needed to read, because the book's imagery and story are powerful and will stick with me; and honestly, I don't want them to. I'm not sure that anyone who hasn't been in Grace's shoes should read it. The afterword and acknowledgments from the author indicate that this was highly autobiographical, and that's what it felt like—a major purge of the badness of the past. It seems like a book that could be powerfully transformative for someone who has experienced what she did; but to read about it if you haven't is overwhelming. I'm not advocating hiding your head in the sand and never reading about anything negative, but this was a lot to take in.

I also want to note that this book is definitely for older teens (16 and up?) because of the maturity of the content. And I'm not just talking about the sex, the violence, and the language. I'm talking about the acts, the attitudes, and the trauma. This is a story that will stick with you, so be sure you want that.

Or, you can go read I'll Meet You There, and be as smitten as I was.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Writing Contest!

The month of October is almost half over. Why should you care? Because you are only two weeks away from the DEADLINE for this year's "Stranger in a Strange Land" writing contest! That's right, your story is due on MONDAY, October 30th, before 5:00 p.m. Don't know what I'm talking about? Watch the awesome video at right, made by Burroughs High School students to advertise the contest! Or, you can go here to read all about it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


TODAY, Saturday, October 14, is the last day you can vote for your favorite books to be on YALSA's Teens' Top Ten list. Go here and vote for your favorite three you read this summer from the ballot of 26 books. This list is generated completely by teens--no adult voting allowed! Will your favorites include Heartless or Diabolic? Did you love The Killing Jar? Or was it Rebel of the Sands? Are you sticking with Cassandra Clare? or do you like The Art of Being Normal? Go make your voice heard--vote!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday the 13th!

Are you superstitious? Do you walk around ladders instead of under them, always pick up stray pennies, cross your fingers behind your back, clutch your rabbit's foot, stay away from mirrors, avoid black cats? Then you're probably tiptoeing around today, hoping that life won't notice you! But if you are one to dare Luck to do its worst, then here are a few (wildly different) books about superstition and luck, both good and bad:

Send Me A Sign,
by Tiffany Schmidt

The Jumbee, by Pamela Keyes

My Swordhand is Singing,
by Marcus Sedgwick

Lucky T, by Brian Kate

Girl Against the Universe,
by Paula Stokes

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth, by Lynne Rae Perkins

MY fingers are crossed that you'll like one of these!

And if your quest is just for a good scary book, check out some of the horrifying reads on display at the Central Library! (Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha...)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

October 6+7 Book Club Report

On Tuesday night, 17 of our 19 members came to club to discuss Masterminds, by Gordon Korman. Due to double-booking of the auditorium, the club met in the picture-book area of the children's room, which may have sparked more conversation than we usually have about a book. Initially, there didn't seem to be that much to talk about, but as we got into the book further, we all had many questions, speculations, and opinions about who was and was not in on the secret and to what degree, and the simple (or not so simple) mechanics of both hiding and running a town out in the middle of nowhere. There was discussion about whether someone (the kids? the adults who weren't in on the entire deception?) should have figured out certain things sooner, like the fact that smoke never came from the chimneys at the plant, or what, exactly, all the employees did in their work at the plant and why, if they were only making orange traffic cones, no one was allowed to go and visit (take a daughter to work day?). Our lively back-and-forth actually made us run a little long before we were ready to rate the book and choose a new one!

Some good news: We were under the impression that our library (for some odd reason) didn't have copies of books #2 and #3 in the trilogy, but we were wrong! They are both in the children's room. We figured out that the books had been cataloged, not under "Masterminds," but under their subtitles (Criminal Destiny and Payback), so those who want to read the sequel can check it out from here after all! And I asked our cataloger to fix the records in the catalog so that when you type in "masterminds," the other two books pop up as well, and he has promised to do so.

The book we will be reading for November is Variant, by Robison Wells, and for December, we ended up picking Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. If we can't get sufficient copies of that book (we're not sure we can), then our runner-up book is Cinder, by Marissa Meyer.

Other books we considered (in approximate order by preference):

Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card
The Fire Within, by Chris d'Lacey
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
Nightmares, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
The Girl With No Name, by Marina Chapman

Our next meeting is on November 14.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

National Coming Out Day

The entire month of October is LGBTQ History Month, but October 11 has taken on special significance since it was designated as "Coming Out Day" back in 1988. Some might maintain that with greater visibility and more tolerance for differences in society, the act of coming out as a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person has less significance; but studies have shown that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance. Once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to cling to fears or stereotypes. Many people assume they don't even know someone who is lesbian or gay, but in fact, most everyone does!

To highlight Coming Out Day, here are a few books from our teen fiction collection that are specifically about coming out—serious, humorous, romantic, difficult, sweet.


Whatever, by S. J. Goslee

Ask the Passengers, by A. S. King

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, by Nick Burd


Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,
by Benjamine Alire Saenz

More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera (mature, with difficult subject matter)

We have a book list of LGBTQ fiction (look for the distinctive Keith Haring artwork, right, on its cover) available at all branches of Burbank Public Library, compiled from and for all viewpoints. Pick one up next time you visit!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

What we're reading: Regency fiction with Garth Nix

On her 18th birthday, Lady Truthful Newington is to inherit the Newington Emerald, a beautiful bright green stone on a chain of silver leaves that will stunningly complement her red hair and green eyes, and will also, incidentally, give her additional magical powers. Shortly before she achieves her majority (turns 18), her father the Admiral hosts a dinner party, to which he invites her three male cousins--the Newington-Lacy boys--and a few other close companions, and decides to give the party a glimpse of the famous emerald. But in the midst of an abruptly manifesting storm, the lights go out, and when they come back on, the emerald is gone!

Newt (Truthful's nickname), who is scheduled to go up to London to stay with her aunt and make her debut in society, enlists her aunt in a scheme whereby Newt arrives two weeks early and masquerades as her (male) cousin, a chevalier from France, to try to track down and regain possession of the emerald. But there are some strange forces at work to keep her frustrated in her quest, and soon there are sorceresses, people from the government, and random strangers all either searching for the stone or doing their best to keep Newt from finding it.

I decided to read Newt's Emerald for three reasons:
  1. I liked the cover (something I can't always say about YA books!);
  2. I have heard raves by several people I trust about the writing of Garth Nix (Sabriel, etc.), and wanted to read something by him;
  3. I read somewhere that Nix was inspired to write this historical fiction set in Regency England as a tribute to the Regency Romance novels of Georgette Heyer, and since I absolutely adore those, I thought I might like this.
I did like it, but...the things that were right with this book were somehow not quite enough for me to feel truly enthusiastic about it. It was cute, it had clever moments, it was mildly entertaining, and...that's it. Nix got all the details right for a Regency Romance, plus he added magical elements, which is always fun; but nothing seemed adequately developed--not the history, not the magic, not the characters, not the romance! I concluded that it was a pleasant surface read, to which I will probably never give a second thought.

I do think, however, that if you have read and enjoyed the Finishing School books (Etiquette & Espionage is the first) by Gail Carriger, or Sorcery & Cecilia, by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, you would probably enjoy this as well. Neither of those was really my kind of book; but everyone has different taste, and some of the teens in book club loved both of those series, which are quite similar to this. So I am giving it an endorsement, for those readers!

Friday, October 6, 2017

10-12 Book Club Report

On Thursday night, eight members of the 10-12 Book Club met to discuss How It Went Down, by Kekla Magoon. This is one of those books that newscasters are so fond of characterizing as "ripped from the headlines," since it is about a young black boy who is shot on his way home from the convenience store. Magoon has attempted to show her readers how many different "takes" there can be, based on one incident, and how even those who observed it close up and first-hand may see it completely differently from others who were standing scant feet away. The story is unusually told from 17 different perspectives! Plus, of course, the reader's.

Most of our members enjoyed the book, or at least felt that it was significant or important. Some felt the start was slow; a few really didn't like the multiple points of view, particularly since some of the names were similar and they got confused; and one specifically said it was too dark for him; but everyone seemed to agree that it was an interesting and novel way to tell a story, and quite effective. Our final rating was a solid 7 out of 10.

For November, the club will be reading Beka Cooper: Terrier, by Tamora Pierce, a combination of fantasy and police procedural with an intriguing main character. Note to readers: Worst cover EVER, please don't judge the book by it! Also, for those of you who missed last night's meeting, this is very important: If you have never read anything else by Tamora Pierce, then the preface to this book will make absolutely no sense. Don't worry about it--just skip it. Don't read it, it will just put you off the book, and the book is wonderful. Skip it and start with chapter one.

For our December book, the club chose The Truth Commission, by Susan Juby. NICE cover, by contrast, and a really fun realistic fiction book.

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

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren Suma
The Program, by Suzanne Young
Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

The club will meet next on November 2. Those who missed the meeting last night may pick up their books from either Buena Vista or Central--there are three copies waiting at each location.