Saturday, January 11, 2014

Video Challenge for Teens!

Teen Summer Reading is being planned across the country by your teen librarians. One of the challenges is always, "How do we promote this program to teens?" One solution that the summer reading organizers have come up with is to get YOU to do it for us! So here it is--the challenge:

2014 California Teen VIDEO CHALLENGE:

Create a video to promote Teen Summer Reading at YOUR library (incorporating the theme "Spark a Reaction"), and win $275 for yourself plus $125 for your library!

For details (eligibility, criteria, deadlines), CLICK HERE.

For some cool (free) video creation resources, CLICK HERE.

The deadline in California is February 28th, so better get on it! We'd love to see one of OUR teens win, but even if you don't, we will definitely post all efforts here on the blog!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Melissa's Favorite Fantasies of 2013

Although I agree with Anarda's conclusion that good realistic teen fiction had a resurgence this year, the fact remains that there are so many great fantasy books and series for teens out there right now--some lighthearted, some dark, some set in worlds much like our own while others are set in places only their author can describe. I will mention three series I loved in 2013, with apologies to all those I know I am missing:

The Chronicles of Kazam, books 1 and 2, by Jasper Fforde

Fforde, author of the Thursday Next series, has branched out into young adult fiction by creating a charming and delightful cast of characters in a kingdom eerily similar to the British isles, in which magic, formerly prevalent, has begun to wane. The protagonist is a plucky young foundling named Jennifer Strange, who is working as the temporary manager of Kazam, an employment agency for magicians (and what a quirky bunch they are!). But an unexpected prescient vision by one of them reveals that the last dragon in the world is going to die, and that Jennifer is destined to be the Last Dragonslayer! She's not too thrilled about either eventuality, as you can imagine... I can't wait for Book #3!


Mirrorworld, books 1 and 2, by Cornelia Funke

Many know the worlds of Cornelia Funke, and most of them are for children and tweens. But these books, while completely acceptable for 6th-graders to read (as we discovered in 6+7 Book Club), are so dark and strange, and so lyrically imagined and written, that teens of all ages will want to visit Mirrorworld.

Ever since Jacob Reckless was a child, he has been escaping to a hidden world through a mirror in his father's abandoned study, a world that bears a striking resemblance to the stories we in this world know as fairy tales--but dark and twisted ones, reminiscent more of the original tales from the Brothers Grimm. He has made a name for himself as an adventurer and a finder of enchanted items, and has lived an exciting dual life; but all that is about to change. His brother, Will, follows him through the portal and is infected with a curse that is turning him slowly to stone. Jacob will do anything to reverse the dark spell before it's too late...

The lush vividness of her language, the darkness of the tales on which the narrative is based, the charismatic characters...although the first book was hard to get into at first, once I immersed myself in Funke's Mirrorworld, I revised my opinion to marvelous! Cornelia says there will be at least three more books in this series, so stay tuned.


The Lumatere Chronicles, books 1-3, by Melina Marchetta

A false king has taken over a kingdom, slaying the entire royal family; he has also put to death the high priestess of one of the goddesses worshipped there. As she dies, she curses the kingdom so that all still in it are trapped inside, and all outside its borders are exiled. The story starts 10 years later, as Finnikin, best friend of the slain young prince of Lumatere, meets Evanjelin, a strange novice from a religious retreat house who claims that they both have a role in restoring the kingdom.

Froi of the Exiles was my pick for favorite fantasy of 2012, so it's no surprise that I also loved 2013's final book in the trilogy, Quintana of Charyn. This is one of those series that is a little bit of a sell, because while I really liked the first book, it didn't bowl me over. But I liked it enough to read book #2, and that book was so gripping, with vivid character interaction, beautiful language, and gorgeous world-building, that I haven't stopped talking about it since. Ditto for the third. So if you start this series with Finnikin (which you must, or you won't understand a thing) and your reaction is "meh" (although I don't think it will be, because it's a solid effort), keep going until you can read the other two and see if you don't agree with me!

If you read and liked Graceling and Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore, these books by Marchetta are definitely for you!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Teen review: Realistic fiction

Title: Maniac Magee
Author: Jerry Spinelli
Genre: Realistic fiction
Reading Level: Ages 11-15
Reviewed by: Anonymous, grade 9

Jeffrey Lionel, "Maniac Magee," would have had a fairly normal childhood, but, sadly, a tragic accident that killed his parents left him an orphan who had to be taken care of by his unhappy aunt and uncle. This made Jeffrey unhappy himself. He decided to run away, and he eventually found an escape from his lonely, tumultuous life. His escape method was simply running. This in turn gave him his nickname, "Maniac Magee." He changed lives and attitudes in a racially charged and biased town. This eventually led Jeffrey to an unexpected change in himself, too.

Maniac Magee is an exciting and thought-provoking book! The core idea of this book is that in all races and colors there are good and bad people both. The book shows us that we cannot judge a book by its cover even if we get backlash and hate from society for it, and that we should all be welcoming and open to different walks of life and cultures. From them, we might learn something amazing and new that we would never have gotten a chance to know otherwise.

This book inspired and taught me that you can never judge someone by the way they look or seem to you on the outside, and that everyone should have a chance to prove themselves and their reputations before you go off making assumptions about them. Maniac Magee is perfect for someone who loves the classic, feel-good books, yet wants the touch of reality that makes it that much more captivating! This book is also a Newberry Gold Medal Winner, which makes this book suitable for even the young novel enthusiast. To sum it all up, this book is moving and really causes you to take a step back and evaluate the way you and others treat and are treated by one another. Rating: 5

Editor's note: You can also watch the movie online, here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Anarda's favorite books of 2013

This may have been the year when the popularity of reality-based fiction began to tip the scales over fantasy in YA literature. There seems to be a desire among teens to read about the obstacles in their lives in more familiar surroundings. There also seem to be more books being published to which male teens can relate, and that don’t involve super-intergalactic alien spores or demigods of ancient lore. Wonderful! The following are some of my favorite new titles I did manage to read:


Melissa has already reviewed two of my favorite novels published in 2013, Eleanor and Park and Fangirl, both penned by Rainbow Rowell. I’ll just add to Melissa’s accolades by noting that I finished Fangirl, sighed contentedly, and immediately began re-reading it. I admit this probably means I myself am a fangirl of Rowell’s! So be it.

Continuing in the realistic vein, I fell for Winger, by Andrew Smith, an author who previously chilled me with The Marbury Lens and its sequel, The Passenger. In an almost completely different vein, Winger is narrated by the self-same "winger" (a fast, elusive, quick-thinking player for a rugby team), playing and studying in a prestigious Central California private academy. Ryan is 14 years old, has skipped two grades, is self-deprecating when he’s actually being humane, and in love with his 16-year-old best friend, Annie, who he absolutely, positively knows could never, ever reciprocate his feelings. He’s also good friends with one teammate who might be the only gay high school rugby player this side of the Mississippi, and the two of them together get their fair share of bullying and grief from their fellow teammates--so much for playing fair in love and war. This book speaks to the horrors of hopeless love and the bigoted sexism rampant in all age groups, but especially hard to surmount in our vulnerable teen years. The book can also be incredibly funny and crude, and includes sketches by Ryan (actually illustrated by Sam Bosma) who reveals himself as an observant draughtsman.

Two other fine realistic novels of 2013 include Reality Boy, by A. S. King, and Picture Me Gone, by Meg Rosoff. Both of these books speak to painful betrayals and lies by family, but do so in very different ways.
King’s novel shows the devastating aftermath on a family after their lives are brutally exposed in a reality-show based on a fake “nanny” who comes to help them sort their problems out. No one seems to notice (or perhaps care) where the trouble really lies, and the producers gleefully focus on the only form of protest the youngest child, a fearful five-year-old named Gerald, can summon, and he is branded forever with the nickname “Crapper.” Now stuck in anger management and remedial classes, in part for self-protection, the deservedly furious high school student learns the truth about his family’s evasions in slow, painful steps, and while there are no easy answers for this seriously troubled family, we exult in Gerald’s ever-increasing self-awareness and strength.

Mila, the protagonist in Rosoff’s Picture Me Gone, prides herself on being hyper-aware of her surroundings and possessing an uncanny ability to read people and her environment for emotional clues, though she herself seems childlike in her need for reassurance from those closest to her. With a laconic tone of voice not unlike Rosoff’s protagonist in the quiet but emotionally devastating How I Live Now, Mila narrates the strange road trip to New York State she takes with her introspective translator father, ostensibly to search for his missing long-time friend. She slowly uncovers the deceitfulness of adults towards each other, towards their children (who are not always so easily fooled as their parents sometimes think), and towards themselves. To trace another’s footsteps can lead one, she discovers, to participate in the lies the other tells, and even when the lies are “for your own good,” the betrayals can still be real, and very deep, particularly for the young. Adults should know better
Just for fun, examining the more romantic side of life are Gayle Forman’s Just One Day and its companion novel, Just One Year. They are light-as-a-feather coming of age stories, but with nuggets of real wisdom for all who wish to understand themselves and their actions better. The first novel starts with Allyson, a serious, steady 18-year-old girl in the last few days before she finishes her first trip to Europe, meeting a sweet, hunky young European stranger named Willem, who offers to guide her for a day in Paris (in PARIS!), and who seems to bring out a different--exciting--Allyson, nicknamed "Lulu" by him. She finds herself forging a deep connection with Willem, though she is also troubled by his numerous female acquaintances they encounter in the City of Light. And then she loses him at a very bad moment.


Flip the coin for the complementary story in Just One Year, and you have a footloose Dutch sometimes-actor named Willem meeting a naïve American student who reminds him of Louise Brooks's iconic character, Lulu, a name he promptly bestow upon her. She intrigues him more than his usual casual encounters, for she is courageous, honest, and utterly trustworthy, something to which he’s not accustomed in women. And then he loses her at a very bad moment. Now give them a year on their own to figure their lives out and decide whether they want to find each other again, for naturally, they didn't trade any practical (as opposed to deeply personal) information before they were unexpectedly separated. Add a large dollop of Shakespeare, some well-drawn side characters, and a good dose of just desserts judiciously handed out to our protagonists, and you have a satisfying, if light, romantic confection.

Now I come to the fantastical twists of The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (the latter, by the way, not published as a YA book), both books ostensibly taking place in “this” world, and both books taking a detour into “that” world, the world of myth, of numen.

The Dream Thieves follows the characters introduced in The Raven Boys, and requires knowledge of the preceding book’s set-up, but it has an intriguing arc of its own. This book focuses on the story of Ronan, the “angry” member of this strange band of young myth-seekers--his mysterious parentage and inheritance--while moving the major story arc forward and gathering a few more characters in its wake. I finished the book intrigued and satisfied on some levels, but definitely wanting more information and insight: Where is this author taking us? It almost feels as if we are approaching a Gaelic Gotterdammerung of sorts; I need to brush up on my Celtic myths! 

Finally, what I can say about The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013's Book of the Year), is that I hope, in fact, I really, really believe, that the story is true, from the first words to the last, and that the lapse it describes is only fitting and natural when one encounters divinity in life. This story of strange encounters runs like a silken thread through all of Gaiman’s stories, speaking of the ineffable, the mysteries that rouse us, nudge us, compel us towards something larger than us, and that we are barely aware of--until, suddenly, we are. It is like a poem, too--spare and elegant. If you have enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s other works, or at least some of them, read this slim novel, and reflect upon it. If you don’t know his work, this would be a gentle introduction to his world, or rather, your world, whether you realize it is your world or not. Enjoy the ocean!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Teen Review: A "caper" novel

Title: Heist Society
Author: Ally Carter
Genre: Suspense
Part of Series: Yes
Reading Level: Grades 7-12th
Reviewed by: Anonymous, 9th grade

Katrina Bishop is a teenage thief and con artist. She has been trained by the best, a.k.a. her family. She attempts to escape that life by going to a boarding school, but is pulled out by a friend and accomplice, Hale, who needs help to protect Katrina's father from a ruthless mobster. The mobster believes her father stole his priceless art collection, and he intends to recover the art back, regardless of the expense or consequences. The adventure takes you to different cities and continents before its thrilling conclusion. Along the way you meet interesting and fascinating characters in the world of art, crime, and international intrigue.

Heist Society truly is a captivating story. It is extremely hard for the reader not to become engrossed within the book itself. I, for one, had a hard time even putting it down. The writing is so real and engaging that it is in development to become a feature film. The adventure yet realness of it is what make it so appealing. Heist Society is perfect for the young detective, because of the twists and turns and having to prove someone innocent and someone guilty. It reminds me of Spy Kids or Nancy Drew, but with a more adult and sophisticated plot.

I really loved the character of Katrina Bishop. Even though she is a con artist, I was still able to connect with her character. This is due to the fact, like all of us, Katrina desires to be normal and accepted. Being able to witness that vulnerability made it easier to connect with a person who is 16 years old going on a mission to prove her father's innocence. This book is actually one of my favorites now, and I cannot wait to read the other books in this series!

Rating: 5

Editor's note: Drew Barrymore has signed on to direct the movie. The sequels are Uncommon Criminals and Perfect Scoundrels; the library owns both of them (plus the first two as audio books).