Friday, May 2, 2014

What we're reading: magical realism

A Corner of White, by Jaclyn Moriarty
Series: The Colors of Madeleine, book one
Style or genre: Magical realism
Pages: 373
Reading level: Grade 8 and up
Cover: Perfect, except for one glaring (deliberate, I think) flaw!

Oh, if only our World had a neighboring Kingdom like this one! The World most certainly does have kingdoms, you reply, so what kind of Kingdom are you hankering for, Excitable Reader? Why, nothing less than the Kingdom of Cello (pronounced “Chello”), which, to quote “The Kingdom of Cello: An Illustrated Travel Guide,” “needs no introduction, experiences no seasons (at least not in the traditional sense), and can therefore be visited at any time all"--so why wouldn’t you?

Here’s why: It’s been almost 400 years since the cracks between the World and Cello (and its neighboring Kingdoms and Empires) were sealed by the World Severance Unit on account of the plagues that ravaged Europe and England in the 1600s and which were seeping into Cello. Since then, something small, like an orange or a leaf, might slip through a tiny crack between the two places, but Cello has long disappeared from the psyche of this World. Then, one day, a mysterious piece of paper appears wedged into a parking meter in Cambridge (our World) and is plucked out by Madeleine Tully, age 14, newly arrived in England. The paper reads: “Help me! I am being held against my will!” so, naturally intrigued, Madeleine replies in her note to the parking meter something to the effect that she, too, feels held against her will in her new impoverished life with her mother, the two of them having run away from a wealthy lifestyle and the father/husband who gave it to them. But, she adds, if this note she’s writing and wedging back into the parking meter is going to a real person, she apologizes for sounding spoiled, and recommends that the writer contact the police. The recipient of the note, however, is neither the parking meter nor the original writer but a young man named Elliot, living in the Farms (“but if there’s one province in Cello that you’ll want to skip, it’s the Farms,” states the helpful guide). And he knows about the sealing of the cracks between worlds, and that it is a sentence of death to not report a crack to the authorities.

And so the two worlds meet again, between the cracks, told in alternating viewpoints. Madeleine generally disbelieves anything Elliot writes about his “fantasy” kingdom and its strangely dangerous magical happenings (colors, for instance, can move in discrete waves and affect you profoundly, and sometimes attack and kill you! “Oh, come on,” she replies, “Newton proved light moves in waves, but killing people?”), but enjoys the correspondence even though she suspects “Elliot” may be a middle-aged lurker. Elliot is torn between outrage that he needs to justify his existence and that of his kingdom, and the curiosity he feels for the lost World of Madeleine and her strangely troubled life. And while each teen experiences heart-rending problems with his/her parents and friends that summer in their respective worlds, they are aided by the alternating challenge and compassion they encounter in each other’s letters, and eventually come to trust one another’s stories. Now the question is, how far can they actually go to help each other—and the lives of many in the Kingdom of Cello?

I can’t wait to see where this story goes! The sequel comes out soon.

Reviewed by Anarda

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What we're reading: A fairy tale tale

In Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal, Jeremy Johnson Johnson (no, that's not a typo, both his parents were named Johnson, so he got double) is the main character, but the story is not told by him. The behind-the-scenes narrator is Jacob Grimm--one of the famous Brothers Grimm who compiled all the fairy tales--and he's a ghost. He died, but he didn't move on, and at some point he discovered that there were certain people in the world who could hear him when he spoke to them, Jeremy being one of these.

Jeremy isn't going to win any popularity contests. The fact that he goes around putting his finger to his head like he's getting ready for a Vulcan mind meld and then blurting out odd pronouncements--knowing facts he shouldn't know, speaking languages he has never learned--doesn't exactly endear him to the other kids in his tiny village of Never Better. Add to that a mother who deserted the family, a father who is a recluse, and a family business called the Two Book Bookstore whose only inventory is Jeremy's grandfather's two-volume autobiography, and you can see that Jeremy is doomed to being the odd kid in town.

Also, Jacob Grimm believes that there is a particular doom waiting for Jeremy--that there is someone in his life masquerading as a regular person who is actually the sinister "Finder of Occasions," out to do him harm. That's why Jacob is here--to protect Jeremy. But Jeremy has a positive attitude and a good work ethic, and when the tale opens, he's doing just fine. Then, of course, he meets a girl and, as often happens when romance enters into things, events are set into motion so far beyond what you would expect that it carries us far into the fairy tale realm.

This was a weird little book, but I loved it. It's set in the modern day, and yet has all the trappings and sensibilities of the dark world described by the Brothers Grimm, and the contrasts are so strange that it works. It's not a book for everyone, but some will really like it. Also, both the writing and the storytelling are well done--someone besides me thought so, because the book was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Edgar Award. See what YOU think.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The book sale is on!

For the rest of this week (through Saturday), the Friends of the Burbank Public Library Used Book Sale is open to the public (that would be YOU!). Thousands of books at extremely reasonable prices, in all genres and formats, for all ages! DVDs, CDs and other stuff as well! All proceeds support LIBRARY PROGRAMS.

What does that mean? Do you belong to one of our three teen book clubs? Books and refreshments bought by the Friends. Do you participate in Teen Summer Reading? Financed by our wonderful Friends of the Library. Do you enjoy the Open Mic Nights and craft programs and teen author visits? All funded by the Friends. And HOW do they do that? Proceeds earned from THE BOOK SALES! So please do yourself a favor--support your library by spending your book budget at our sales, and your library will support YOU!

Tuesday, April 29:
10 AM - 8 PM
Wednesday, April 30:
10 AM - 8 PM
Thursday, May 1:
10 AM - 8 PM
Friday, May 2:
10 AM - 5 PM
Saturday, May 3:
10 AM - 3 PM

Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest blog: Significant nonfiction

Beyond Magenta:
Transgender Teens
Speak Out,
by Susan Kuklin

Transgender is a term that refers to a person whose gender identity, expression, or behavior does not conform to that associated with the sex to which he or she was born. In other words, a person who was born male but identifies as female, or vice versa. This is a different experience from being gay--transgenders have a persistent sense of being misplaced in their own bodies. Beyond Magenta consists of six first-person narrative accounts by transgender teens about their experiences growing up. It is edited by Susan Kuklin, and accompanied by photographs of these teens (in some cases showing “before” and “after”) taken by the author. It also includes definitions of terms, and a list of some of the major service, advocacy and legal organizations that deal with issues related to transgender teens, as well as books and movies that highlight the transgender experience.

If you are a transgender teen, Beyond Magenta will show you that you are not alone, that there are other teens who have had feelings and experiences similar to what you are experiencing, and perhaps give you some ideas about how to deal with your own challenges. But other readers who want to understand what has for for a long time been a hidden and taboo subject will also gain enlightenment and a sense of empathy from reading these stories.

Earlier this year, the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award for Young Adult Literature was awarded to Kirstin Cronn-Mills for Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, a book about a transgender teen. In nearly all of this kind of fiction, the transgender characters have been created by authors who are not themselves transgender, and while they have introduced readers to sympathetic and sometimes engaging characters, the narratives lack a certain authenticity. The real voices of transgender teens are what you will hear in Beyond Magenta, and the six stories told here all challenge our tendencies to simplify, categorize, and define.

Young adults read books about transgender teens because this is a time in their lives when they are exploring identity issues. All of us crave the freedom to define ourselves, to discover our own individual and authentic sense of self, and to have that known and respected by others. The consciousness of bullying has made us aware that stereotyping can be used to take power, to oppress races, religious minorities, sexual minorities, and women. The author writes, “My subjects’ willingness to brave bullying and condemnation in order to reveal their individual selves makes it impossible to be nothing less than awestruck.” This is, in the end, a book not just about being transgender, but about freedom and courage.

Reviewed by Hubert K., reference librarian