Saturday, December 29, 2012

Melissa's latest favorite

This book was actually published in 2011, but since I just discovered it (and it's still fairly new), I'm going to recommend it as my "best of 2012," hoping it is a discovery for others as well.

Holly Goldberg Sloan is a writer, producer, and director, including in her credits Made in America, Angels in the Outfield, and The Big Green. I'll Be There is her debut novel, written for young adults, and I'm hoping that this career shift is going to be permanent, because I love this book! Others apparently agree with me, because it was chosen this year by the Children's Literature Council of Southern California to receive the Peggy Miller Award for Young Adult Literature, which is how I discovered it. We do not, in fact, own this book at Burbank Public Library; I don't know how it was overlooked, but I have ordered a couple of copies and it's on its way. So you may have to wait awhile to read it, but definitely put it on your list! (I would recommend this for 9th grade and up.)

Although the story, the characters, and the writing are all compelling, the thing I like most about this book is how it so clearly illustrates a librarian concept. In library school we talked a lot about the "digital divide," which is defined on Wikipedia as follows:
A digital divide is an inequality between groups, broadly construed, in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies. The divide inside countries (such as in the United States) can refer to inequalities between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socioeconomic and other demographic levels, while the global digital divide designates countries as the units of analysis and examines the divide between developing and developed countries on an international scale.
So let me break that down for you: What it's saying is that some people have computers (and cell phones, and e-book readers, and all the other digital devices you can name that are such a taken-for-granted part of contemporary society), while others do not, and this can create a Grand Canyon of difference between the haves and the have-nots in their perceptions about everyday life. We see this every day at the library, as a constant stream of people without computers come in to use ours; but many people never give it a second thought.

The thing that makes the characters in this book so interesting is that they are on opposite sides of the digital divide, and neither of them initially realizes that about the other. Sam (17) and his little brother Riddle were spirited away from home by their trainwreck of a father when they were very young, so they lead an idiosyncratic lifestyle. Because their father, a thief and a drifter, moves them from town to town on the whim of the voices he hears inside his head, they don't go to school (Sam completed the second grade, and Riddle has never attended), and they have little knowledge of television or even radio, no cell phone, no iPad, no modern "conveniences" that other teens their age take completely for granted. So when Sam encounters Emily, who comes from a regular suburban family, each is completely outside the other's experience, to the point where communication is almost impossible.

Shortly after they meet for the first time, before each knows anything about the other except that there is an attraction, the two have made a plan to meet at 7:00 in the evening at the local IHOP. Both are worried about making it to the meeting, but for reasons that are poles apart:
Sam could tell time. But it meant nothing to him. He didn't have a watch. He didn't have a cell phone or a computer or anything that even displayed time. The clock on the dashboard of the truck had been broken for years.... Time for Sam was about the position of the sun. It was about feeling hunger in his stomach. It was about the temperature just after dawn. Time wasn't measured in minutes or even hours.... All of a sudden, everything was getting so complicated.
One of the other complicating issues is that Sam needs to find a way to make enough money to buy some food at the restaurant and also to send Riddle to a movie for two hours while he's there, so he won't have to worry about leaving his brother alone with his psychotic father. (He ends up helping people unload trucks at the city dump.) Meanwhile, Emily is also thinking that things are complicated, because they picked someplace far away from her house to meet, and she doesn't drive:
Emily suddenly wished that they'd picked someplace closer. But what she really wished was that they'd exchanged cell phone numbers and email addresses and regular addresses. Because at this point, she couldn't call him or even find him online to change the plan. She could ride her bike out there [to the restaurant]...but she didn't have a way to tell him to ride there to meet her. She hoped he liked mountain bikes. She figured he wasn't someone who sat inside playing video games at all hours, because he looked weathered, and those kinds of kids looked pale and sort of fidgety. He probably did lots of sports.
Sam, of course, doesn't play sports; he's tan because he's virtually homeless and spends most of his days outdoors. Later, when they meet, he listens to Emily go on about calculus homework and AYSO (she figures maybe he will like her more if he knows that she, too, plays sports), and wonders what those are. Eventually, something happens to reveal the disconnect between their lifestyles, and from that point on the book gets sad, happy, exciting, frightening, tragic--almost every emotion you can imagine.

Lots of young adult books say, "and then everything was different," when they are referring to something not really all that earth-shattering--a crush on the new person at school or whatever. But in the case of these two, everything really was different as a result of their encounter, and it was also different for the reader. I love books like this that make you turn all your assumptions over and scrutinize them. I also make it a habit to revisit authors who make me fall for their characters and stories, so I'm hoping Holly Goldberg Sloan has another one in the works!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Anarda's favorites for 2012

It’s that time of year again when Melissa makes me name that one book--VoilĂ ! that I can hail as my favorite Young Adult read of 2012, and once again it simply isn’t obvious to me which is my absolute number one pick. So, I’ll write about several titles that I thoroughly enjoyed, that moved me, and that continued to grow in my estimation long after I finished them, and maybe one of them will rise to the top!

My short list of favorites include:

The Storyteller, by Antonia Michaelis
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Froi of the Exiles (part two of a series), by Melina Marchetta
Bitterblue (part three of a series), by Kristin Cashore
All five books had in common their ability to make me care deeply about the characters--enough to cry or at least get teary-eyed--and while I never thought of myself as a person who even liked a three-hankie book, something about these titles gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Three of the titles--Code Name Verity, Froi, and Bitterblue--address the ravages of war and its aftermath; The Storyteller heartbreakingly depicts the toll of sexual abuse on a family and community; while Tiger Lily is the artful narration by Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell of the tragically thwarted love between Peter and Tiger Lily.

Nope, I can’t choose between them! You can’t compare apples to oranges, and these were all distinctive books. Choose the one that suits your mood, and read, read, read!


These are all books that we have previously reviewed on this blog (because, of course, we review what we like!). Here are the links, if you want to know more:

For The Storyteller, reviewed by Anarda
For Tiger Lily, reviewed by Sara
For Code Name Verity, reviewed by Anarda
For Bitterblue, reviewed by Melissa
And for Froi of the Exiles, see Melissa's review on Burbank Public Library's main blog.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Teen Review: Post-Apocalyptic Classic

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
287 pages
Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
Not part of a series
10th grade and up
Reviewed by M.K., 12th grade


In the near future, some unnamed apocalypse has ravaged the earth, destroying almost all life on the planet. A father and son remain, and venture throughout post-apocalyptic America on the only remaining road in the country that leads to a coast. As the father fights a mental battle, he does everything in his power to protect his son and find a better future for him. This is not made easy by the fact that it is a constant war against the odds, including brutal conditions, scarce supplies, and savage scavengers, willing to do anything to survive. Armed only with a handgun, the father and his son, who are “each the other's world entire,” look for hope in a world that has long been deserted by it.


The Road is not an easy book to read. The descriptions are so vivid and accurate that you feel like you're right there next to the protagonists. Unfortunately, this is not exactly the ideal world to be in. The mood and setting, despite its bleak and terrifying nature, is still quite beautiful, in an eerily unnerving way. There is very little dialogue, which speaks volumes about the way it's written, because you still get to know the father and son very well. It's this ability to transmit their personalities through their choices and emotions that I think earned McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. That, and the simple, yet beautiful story of a man and his son surviving with nothing but their deep love for each other in a hopeless world. The Road is simply inspiring, and I would recommend it to anyone going through a tough time, just to show them that as long as you have someone you love, there's always a golden sky at the end of a storm.

My Rating: 5/5

Editor's note: There's also a movie (that's where this photo came from), which came out in 2010, but it is rated R...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Teen Review: Grand fantasy series

by George R. R. Martin
674 pages
Book 1 of 7 from a series called A Song of Ice and Fire
Mature young adults and up
Reviewed by M.K., 12th grade


In the fictional world of Westeros, summers can last decades and winters a lifetime. As the long summer comes to an end, a dreaded and ancient evil thought dead for thousands of years is slowly making its return, planning to take down the kingdom's massive “Wall.” As Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, head of the honorable Stark family and ruler of Winterfell, is enjoying his peaceful life, his old friend, King Robert Baratheon, bestows upon him the second most powerful title in the Seven Kingdoms, “The Hand of the King.” After making his way south to the capital, Ned soon realizes his old friend is under threat from lords, liars, princes, survivors of a previous dynasty, and even his own queen. As plots, schemes, betrayal, tragedy, war, death, and terror engulf the Seven Kingdoms, the Starks prepare to fight a battle against all odds. For "when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."


A Game of Thrones is without a doubt a classic. In my opinion, not since The Lord of the Rings has there been a more captivating fantasy series. This novel is incredibly well-written but also easy to read. The conflicts are thrilling, the descriptions of the scenery mesmerizing, and there are so many characters with such a variety of thoughts, emotions, and personalities that it's almost impossible not to be drawn into Martin's spectacular world of Westeros. But perhaps the greatest compliment I can give it is that you don't have to be a fan of fantasy to enjoy this book. There are so many references to modern politics and the dark arts behind it that it makes it enjoyable for everyone.

My Rating: 5/5

Editor's note: I, too, am working my way through this series (every single book is at least 600 pages, and the third one is more than 1,000!), and I agree with M.K. that it is enthralling. Also that people who like historical fiction will enjoy this every bit as much as those who read fantasy, because it is full of the kind of political and personal intrigue you would find at, say, the court of King Henry VIII! I hadn't thought to review it for the YA blog, since it is an adult fantasy series, but many older teens are naturally graduating to reading adult fiction (as they should at some point), so we went ahead and posted M.K.'s review here. Just note that there is some mature content (as one reviewer said, "there are graphic scenes and terrible behavior!"), so consider whether it is appropriate for you!