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!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

6+7 Book Club

We had a fairly lively and well attended 6+7 Book Club on Tuesday night, with 13 out of 16 members. We added Lucas and Nicholas Flach--welcome, guys!

Most people enjoyed Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City quite a lot, although there was some grousing about the "long boring part in the middle." Three or four said they would go on to read the sequels, while a couple were reluctant to do that because they liked how this book ended. In general, the girls seemed to like the book better than the guys, although most everyone agreed that it was definitely not the "girly" book that some were dreading, and that the advice given at the end of the chapters was good for anyone (although we couldn't agree whether that advice came from Ananka or Kiki). We went from really high ratings (two 10s and six 9s!) down to a low of 2, which dragged the average down to 7.5.

For next month, we're reading Flipped, by Wendelin van Draanen, and will be showing the movie at book club, IF, after reading the book, everyone votes to do so!

For March's book, there were LOTS of ideas, and we had to have a run-off to pick the final candidate, but we agreed on The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson. (A couple of members' older siblings had just read the book in 8+9 Book Club, which may have affected the vote.) Other books we considered, in descending order of popularity:

Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld
The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann
Flush, by Carl Hiaason
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer
Spy School, by Stuart Gibbs
Masterpiece, by Elise Broach and Kelly Murphy
The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

January's meeting will be on Tuesday, January 10, back in our usual spot at Central Library!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Award-winning teen fiction post #8

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Angelo is 15 years old and is in grade 11.

by Angelo Waterhouse


The blaring sound of my alarm clock stirs me from my sleep. I glance at the clock as I hit the snooze button: 7:15 a.m. Man, I think, only 4 hours of sleep? I pull the covers back over my shoulders, still wiped out from the late night study session I had taken. My door eases open, revealing my mom.

“Aha!” she says as she sees the covers still pulled up over my shoulders. “Stayed up late studying for that math test you have today, didn’t you? Come on Samantha, I told you that a good night’s sleep always beats cramming!” She walks away, leaving me to get ready for school.

I throw the covers off and sit up in my bed. I turn to the left, where my Calculus book and notebook still lie face open, and start to stand up--

And step on my still sharp pencil.

“Ow, dang it!” should’ve been the words I used to express my pain.

“Language!” my mom calls, because they weren’t.

My name is Samantha Barnes. Today is Monday, November 6. I have a test in Calculus today. I have a pop quiz in English today.

I will die today.

7:51 a.m.

“So, what time did you get to bed last night?” Sarah asks as I sit next to her in our first period class, World History.

“Like three or so,” I reply, weary eyed. “I think I’m ready for the test though. Gimme a problem.”

“Umm…” Sarah reaches into her bag, pulls out her Calc book, and flips to the section on derivatives. “Here.” She shows me an equation: f(x)=3xcos(3x)

“Uhh… can we start with something simpler?”

“Come on, Sam, the test will be full of stuff like this.”

I try to derive the equation, but there are so many rules that I have to follow, and this problem has one of the really annoying ones. “Ugh,” I exclaim, distraught. “You’re still gonna help me at lunch today, right?”

“Of course. Oh, and the answer was… gimme a sec… this.” She shows me her answer:

3cos(3x) - 9xsin(3x)

“How would I possibly have gotten that?” Before Sarah can explain, the bell rings. The class sits in silence as our boring teacher calls attendance in his monotone voice, dragging out each word.





“Baaarnes? ...Baaarnes? ...Baaarnes?”

“Wake up!” Sarah whispers.

“Huh?” I mumble. “Oh! Uh, here!”

Our teacher sighs, then continues. He drones on for the rest of class, boring as ever, and I slowly drift back to sleep.

12:06 p.m.

“Man, why did Ms. Edwards have to give us a pop today?” I mumble. I, of course, was too busy trying to learn Calculus to actually read the book we were assigned. As I grumble, I start walking toward the library. I enter, and, seeing that Sarah isn’t here yet, sit down and open my math book.

I start reading, surrounded by the noises of kids talking, or on the computers, or on their phones. After a couple minutes, I start to wonder where Sarah is. Her last class isn’t that far from here.

“HEY!” She suddenly yells in my ear.

I jump from my chair and my knee hits the table. “Ow, come on!” I speak through Sarah’s laughs. She and I both know I get startled really easily.

“Ha ha ha! Come on, that was a good one, you know it!”

“Yeah? And you know I’ll get you back for this. You’ll never see it coming. I’ll be like a shadow in the night.”

“Uh huh. Let's see you try.”

“Oh, by the way, I shouldn’t even tell you, but you have a pop quiz next period.”

“Oh man, really? I should’ve known. I wish I knew earlier, I could’ve studied during 3rd period. Oh well, we have to get you ready for math.”

3:10 p.m.

The bell rings, signifying the end of school and of my math test.

“Pass in your tests please!” the teacher calls, and students begin passing their papers


“How did you do?” Sarah asks from her seat next to mine.

“I don’t know. I'm about to find out though. See you tomorrow.”

“Okay, later Sam!”

As students vacate the room I walk up to the teacher. “Excuse me, Mr. Soderstrom, do you have a few minutes?”

“Of course. I assume this has to do with the test?”

“Yeah. I wanted to know how well the combined efforts of cramming and Sarah influenced my grade.”

Chuckling, he flips through the tests to find mine. “They sound like a force to be reckoned with. Ah, here we are.”

Mr. Soderstrom looks through my test, shows me where I went wrong and how to fix my mistakes. My grade on the test? 78%.

3:25 p.m.

“Nice! That’s a pass, right?” My mom had called me on my way home.

I chuckle and reply, “Yes mom, I passed. C+. If it wasn’t for Sarah, I probably would have barely gotten a D, if that.”

“Well, good job honey. How about a pizza for dinner tonight?”

“Sounds great! See you soon.”

I hang up and look at the houses as I walk by. I pass by a house with short, bright green grass and beautiful flowers. I notice the street is empty, and all is quiet.

As I start to walk away I hear a loud bang, like a gunshot, only louder. Then everything goes black.

7:15 a.m.

I gasp and sit straight up. What was that? I wonder. Must’ve been a dream. Of course! How could I ever have actually passed a Calculus test? As I come to this conclusion, I notice two things: That my alarm is blaring, and that I am really, really, tired.

I fall back and let my head hit the pillow just as the door eases open.

“Aha!” My mom says, seeing me slumped in my bed and my textbook wide open on the table. “Stayed up late studying for that math test you have today, didn’t you? Come on Samantha, I told you that a good night’s sleep always beats cramming!” She walks away.

I start to stand up, when I suddenly stop my foot, just above the ground. I look down at the ground beneath my foot and see my pencil. I quickly grab my phone and look at the date: November 6. Wait, what?

7:52 a.m.

I walk into class, as tired as I was… yesterday? I can’t exactly call it that, but it wasn’t today either. So what was it? A dream?

“So, what time did you get to bed last night?” Sarah asks.

Okay, so it wasn’t a dream. Things are happening too close to how they did… before.

“Hey? Sam? Are ya with me?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, sorry.”

“Geez, you must’ve gone to bed late if you’re this out of it.”

She has no idea that this is the second time today has happened. If that is even the case--maybe it isn’t? Maybe this is just some serious déjà vu?

“No, that’s not it. Well, a little, but not just that.”

“I know. But hey-- I believe in you. Plus, we’re still doing a study session at lunch, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, could you just give me a problem real quick?”

“Sure.” After finding the section in her book, she shows me a problem: 3xcos(3x). The same problem she showed me yester-- whatever! I’m calling it yesterday now!

Before I can begin however, the bell rings. Huh. I guess we talked longer than we did before. “Never mind,” I say, passing the paper back to her. If our teacher saw us doing anything but listening or taking notes, we would be in trouble.





“Baaarnes? ...Baaarnes? ...Baaarnes?”

“Wake up!” Sarah whispers.

Ugh! Not again! “Here!”

Man, why do I have to sit through this class again? It's bad enough when it's a new lecture, but I already went through this one!

“Oh, by the way,” I whisper. “I have it on good authority that there will be a pop in Ms. Edwards class today.”

“Really? Man, I haven't even opened that book yet. Where did you hear that?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

12:10 p.m.

I sit at the table, expectant of what will come next.

“HEY!” This time it isn’t startling, just loud. Also just on cue, same as the rest of the day has been so far.

“Oh.” I calmly reply. “Hey Sarah.”

“What? How did that not get you? That always gets you!”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“You’re not making that a thing, are you?”

“Maybe I will. Also, the pop was legit. I was able to do pretty good this time.”

“What happened last time?”

“Huh?” It takes me a second to realize that she's talking about the last pop we had, not about yesterday. “Oh! Same old same old, R.I.P.”

“Alright then, down to business.”

3:10 p.m.


“Pass in your tests please!”

“How did you do?” Sarah asks.

“Easy as pie, right?”

Sarah gives me a funny look, then grabs my arm and pulls me outside.

“Hey!” I complain. She lets go and quietly speaks.

“You’ve been acting strange today. Especially you doing well on a math test. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen.”

I think for a second, then tell her. “Alright. I’ve lived through this day before. That's how I knew about the pop, was ready for the test, and wasn’t scared by you at the library.”

“What, like Groundhog Day?” She asks excitedly. “Have we had this conversation before? Is this like your hundredth time going through this day and you’ve already mastered Calculus and everything and probably finished that book for English by now and--”

“No! I’ve only been through today once. I probably only got a B on that math test.”

“Oh. That’s not as interesting then.”

“Not really the reaction I was expecting.”

“I know you.” Sarah says matter-of-factly. “You’re not really a liar, and I’ve already seen enough proof to see that you’ve had some experience with today. So, you just went to sleep and woke up in the same morning?

“No, I--” I suddenly remember the bang. An explosion. It sounded like it came from that house I was walking past. “I think I died.”

“What?” Her tone goes from excited to serious in a moment. “How?”

“I’m pretty sure a house I walked past blew up. I didn’t see it, only heard it, but that was the last thing I heard.”

“Oh my… Well, what are you gonna do about it?”


“Well, you gotta stop it.”

“Screw that! I’m not going anywhere near that house!”

“Sam, you have been given a second chance. Who knows how many people died in that explosion? How many lives you could save with the knowledge you now know?”

I am silent.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes! Now go! How much time until that house goes sky high?”

I look at my phone: 3:22 p.m.

“Not enough.” I sprint down the hall. “I’ll let you know how it turns out!”

I didn’t see it, but Sarah gave me a huge grin as I ran off.

3:24 p.m.

My phone rings, but I let it go, knowing it’s my mom. I sprint down the street to where I know the house will be. Will I have enough time? It doesn’t seem like it, but hey, I was given a second chance for a reason.

I run as fast as I can. The building is in sight, so I’m just in time to see it.


The house goes up in flames, and part of the next-door houses are destroyed too.

“Oh no.” I walk past a crooked telephone pole and look in on the house I had failed to save. I spent too much time talking to Sarah, longer than I had spent going over my test with Mr. Soderstrom.

There is a loud creaking noise.

I turn around just in time to see the telephone pole falling toward me.

“Oh, son of a--!”


7:15 a.m.

BEEP! BEEP! BEE-- Click.

“Ugh. Well I’m still not dead.”

The door eases open. My textbook is wide open, and I’m laying flat on my bed.

“Stayed up late studying for that math test you have today, didn’t you? Come on Samantha, I told you that a good night’s sleep always beats cramming!” My mom walks away.

I stand up.

“Ow!” How could I have forgotten the pencil?

All I know is I am not looking forward to hearing another history lecture today.

What is it Sarah said last morning?

7:45 a.m.

“So, what time did you get to bed last night?” Sarah asks.

I hand her a piece of paper. It says, “So what time did you get to bed last night” in my

handwriting. She gets a confused look on her face. “How…”

“I’ve lived through this day before, and I didn’t want to have to wait until the end of school to tell you.”

“What, like Groundhog Day? Have we had this conversation before? Have--”

“Yes, yes, and no, this is only my third time today,” I retort, cutting her off before she runs off with her trail of questions. “Anyway, long story short, there is an English pop--”


“I do pretty well on the math test--”


“And I die from an explosion on my way home.”

“Oh--” She looks at me, surprised and knows I’m serious. “...well then… wait you said today is your third day?”


“So you’ve died twice?”


“You’d think that would be something you’d try to avoid the second time around.”

“Well, ‘yesterday’” I do air quotes, “I told you that it came from a house. Surrounded by other houses. Now, I was all for running in the other direction--”

“But I stopped you. I told you to save those people,” She suddenly looks guilty. “I got you killed…”

This isn’t going how I had planned it. “What? No no no, I was gonna die anyway. You gave me something to do with the second chance I was given. I guess I’m really supposed to change something or else I wouldn’t have been given this chance either.”

Sarah looks like she's about to say something else, but the bell rings, and class starts. I better get it right this time. I really don’t want to have to sit through this lecture again.

3:10 p.m.

The bell rings. Test was easy. Aced the pop quiz. Time for seriousness.

“Pass in your tests please!” the teacher calls once more.

I start to stand up, and Sarah grabs my arm. “Try not to die. It would be mildly inconvenient for me.”

I smile. “Third time's the charm,” I reply as I run off.

3:20 p.m.

I check the time on my phone as I approach the house. Five minutes, I think. The house blows at 3:25, and I have five minutes to find out how it happens, let alone how to stop it.

I walk up to the house and ring the doorbell. It creaks open and a gray-haired man opens the door. “Yes?” He says in a pleasant voice.

3:21 p.m. “Hi, I’m taking Statistics, and my assignment was to go to houses in my neighborhood and take a survey.” My school does offer Stat, but I’m not currently taking it.

“Well, come on in. I was just about to set some tea to boil.”

Well, that was easy. Getting in seemed easy enough, but now I have to actually stop the explosion.

3:22 p.m.

We walk in on a nicely decorated living room. A little kid runs in. “Daddy, daddy, who is this?”

“No one, David, go on and play.” The kid runs off to do whatever little kids do. Okay, more pressure on me now, kid’s life at stake and all. “Here, let me go and put the tea on the kettle.”

3:23 p.m.

I follow the man into his kitchen. “This is a nice house, Mr….”


He approaches the stove, and I smell something funny. “What is that smell?”

“I don’t know. I first smelled it a couple days ago after I caught David messing around in here. I have someone coming in tomorrow to find out what it is.”

3:24 p.m.

My phone vibrates in my pocket, but I ignore it. It means that time is almost up.

Mr. Thompson turns on the burner on the stove, but no flame comes on. Instead, the smell gets worse. “Oh darn, the pilot light is out. Give me a second, would you?” He reaches for a box of matches.

By now I’ve put two and two together. Just as Mr. Thompson is about to strike a match, I cry out, “No!” and reach for his hand.

3:25 p.m.

The book of matches falls to the ground. “What was that for?” Mr. Thompson isn’t angry, merely confused.

“That smell is the gas from the stove, and it is starting to fill this room! If you had lit that match, this whole house could have gone up in flames!”

Without another word, I vacate the house and head home, leaving a startled man still standing at his stove.

8:00 p.m.

I lie in bed, for the first time in three days. I’m curious. Why was I given those chances? How important must it have been for me to have saved both my own life, and many others? Every so often in my life, I reflect on the events of this day. I never forget.

Especially not when I find out, years later, that a certain David Thompson is running for president.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Teen review: Mystery

Night School
by C. J. Daugherty
426 pages

Mystery, first book of a series
High school reading level

Reviewed by Aaron Yang

Allie Sheridan is sent to Cimmeria Academy,
a boarding school filled with secrets, when she commits vandalism due to her brother's disappearance. From the start, she doesn't fit in with the other kids, but she does learn numerous secrets that help her uncover her family's past and her future life as an adult.

I loved how the author wrote the book, and how she leaves you hanging at the end of each chapter. It was a heart-pounding novel that kept me on the edge until the end. I would recommend this novel to fans of mysteries and boarding schools. I can't wait to read the next book in the series, because I am eager to find out what happened to Allie. I would rate this book 5 out of 5 stars because it was not a boring novel, and it kept me craving more.

Editor's note: Burbank Public Library does not own this book.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Two book clubs met this week

Nearly our whole roster (17 out of 22) made it to the rescheduled 10-12 Book Club this Tuesday. Thanks again to the 6+7 Club for pushing their meeting so they could!

We discussed Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, and though some liked it very well, we were surprised to find that no one loved it quite as much as Anarda and I did, perhaps because their expectations were heightened by all the hype. Most were impressed with the level of detail on the characterizations, but didn't necessarily find the love story convincing; they couldn't believe that two who were so different would get together. These readers are tough--no willing suspension of disbelief on this one! One also commented that she was surprised Park didn't get more flack for being "the only Korean in Kansas." Everyone, of course, loathed the step-dad, and the ending was pronounced either tragic or annoying. It received a respectable rating of 7.65.

For January's discussion, we are reading Lock In, by John Scalzi, in which people with a debilitating disease that renders them completely helpless are able to move through the world either by piggy-backing in someone else's body (only people who had the disease and got over it can provide this service) or by using a "threep" mobile robot (named after C3PO). So what happens when a murder is committed and no one knows who was using what body or threep? A complex conundrum.

For February's meeting, we will be exploring a (sort of) similar story in David Levithan's Every Day, in which a person wakes up each day in someone else's body!

Other books we considered (in descending order of popularity):
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery
Side Effects May Vary, by Julie Murphy
I'll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson
Proxy, by Alex London
I'll Meet You There, by Heather Demetrios
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

We meet in January on the 3rd (unless I hear from club members that they don't want to meet while still on winter break, in which case we will have a repeat of this month's scramble!).

The 8+9 Club met Wednesday night to review The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson, and after more than a year of promoting that book to the club as a great read, George S. was not in attendance! Its other major fan, Brenden, held up the side, though. As did everyone else--this book was immensely popular (even with Mohammad!). Everyone liked the setting (an America made up of a giant archipelago of islands), the characters (Joel and Melody were most cited, but everyone also felt for Fitch and loved/hated Professor Nalizar), and the drawings, oh the drawings! The diagrams, the chalklings, the technical aspects and the wild ones. My grousing about unexplained phenomena was ignored, and the club gave the book a big fat rating of 9, which is the highest rated book this year! Now the wait for the sequel (due out "in 2017," which as one club member pointed out "could be next month or could be December [sigh]") begins.

Our book for January is The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and although our small group of 14 (out of 24! what happened, everybody?) went home with books last night (thanks to the two who said they could raid their older siblings' shelves for this book), we are still waiting for 11 more to be delivered from the midwestern warehouse, and three to come from Amazon. So anyone who wasn't in attendance at last night's meeting, wait to hear from us before you come to pick up your copy.

For February, the group chose Jackaby, by William Ritter. Other books we considered, in descending order of popularity, were:

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
Court of Fives, by Kate Elliott
Sabriel, by Garth Nix
Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
Enchanted Ivy, by Sarah Beth Durst
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares

January's meeting (and every other meeting for winter/spring of 2017) has changed its day and date! We will see you on TUESDAY, JANUARY 24th! Same time, same place. And please look at your book club listing on our website to see the other revised dates!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What we're reading: Romance with issues

The Problem with Forever, by Jennifer Armentrout, is...well...that it goes on for, know?

I hovered over the three-star rating I'm giving it. I hovered. Because there IS a gap between "I liked it" and "it was okay," and I wasn't sure we had bridged that gap.

There were parts of this book I did like. First of all, kudos to Armentrout for taking on this subject matter--children who are severely damaged by falling through the cracks of the foster care system. That's the main reason I picked up the book, was to experience the dynamic between foster kids, the flawed system, and the horrifying possibilities if the people who took you in didn't have your best interests at heart.

I liked that both Mallory and Rider got out, that they were able to find people who cared about them, and who were willing to help them work through all the deficits their background caused, so they could begin to have a real life. And speaking of real life, I liked the detail of the book The Velveteen Rabbit being their solace. But...

First of all, if she had typed just ONE MORE ELLIPSE, I was going to throw the book across the room. Mallory, after 13 years of being told not to speak (she was trying to avoid unwanted attention from her violent foster father), finds talking a big hurdle. So she chokes, she stutters, she strains to get words out, and...she...pauses. A lot. Thus...the ellipses. The weird thing about Mallory's speaking problem was that once she did manage to say something, she then said it again...and again...and again, in slightly different words. This resulted in a book of more than 400 pages. Editor, listen up: This book could have been 250 pages and been just as (or probably more) effective with some judicious pruning.

Romance is a big, important part of this book. In fact, I would say the book is dominated by it, although that wasn't its stated theme (abandoned foster children, remember?). The descriptions of first love are sweet (and sometimes a little cringe-worthy), and that aspect of the book felt real and touching. But...I have to ask: Has anyone ever met, in real life, a boy as hot as Rider was in high school, and with a name like Rider Stark? C'mon. These are the fantasies that paperback romance novels with Fabio on the cover are made of! Also, because Mallory has been home-schooled by the people who saved and adopted her, although she is a senior in high school she is experiencing all the angst usually reserved for stories about freshmen; so even though there are feelings and physicality appropriate to older teens, the emotional age of the protagonist is young.

It would be nice if, just once, it wasn't the girl (Rider's nickname for her is Mouse) who is the weak, conflicted, helpless one who needs protecting, encouraging, care-taking, coddling. That theme does get flipped--a little bit--by the end of the book...but the tale of Mallory's shortcomings previous to that is nearly interminable.

So as I said, I waffled, I hovered, but then I gave it the three stars, mostly for effort. I know that some teens will love this book passionately for all the reasons I found to be critical of it, and that's okay. It's not a bad book, it's just not quite what I was looking for. (It does have a pretty watercolor cover.)

Those who really want to read a book focused more on foster care and less on romance could try The Last Chance Texaco, by Brent Hartinger, The Boy From the Basement, by Susan Shaw, Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt, or What I Call Life, by Jill Wolfson. For older teens (a little edgier and more mature), try Ron Koertge's Strays, and Solace of the Road, by Siobhan Dowd.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Award-winning Teen Fiction Post #7

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Hyla is in grade 7.

Everlasting Memories
by Hyla Etame

Sometimes when I close my eyes, memories play in my mind. One memory is of when I was a young boy, fishing with my father in the Niger River, or when I went hunting for the first time with the other boys and men from my village. But, these joyful memories are instantly invaded by a flashback I don’t want to relive, but can’t erase out of my mind: The look of fear in my brother Emeka’s eyes when we were captured and sold to slave traders, forced onto a crammed ship with several hundred others, to embark on a brutal journey over seas that lasted for weeks. I never saw my younger brother again after that ship. A part of me hopes he died so that he only knew life as a free man, and not life as a man weighed down by chains.

When the ship finally docked in America, the traders gave each of us a new name. Some were asked what their name was, and if they answered incorrectly they would be hit with a cane. The traders looked me up and down, as if I was a cow up for auction (I would soon realize how close I was to the truth), then one of them said that my new name was Eddie. I was confused at first to why it was necessary to change our names; later when I would ask this of my friend Noah, on the Davis plantation, he would say, “It’s just another way for them to control us, to show how they own us.”

When I first came to the Davis Plantation, I had no friends and I didn’t talk to anybody. I was too eaten up by guilt, anger, and frustration to even notice that I had built a wall around myself blocking everyone and everything else out. I felt guilty about how I couldn’t protect my younger brother, I was angry with everyone who controlled me and got away with it, and I was frustrated about the situation I was in. The first time I was whipped was when I didn’t respond to my master calling my “name.” It was only a few lashes. I didn’t even care about that. I was just ashamed and embarrassed about the fact that the whole plantation watched me get a beating.

My first friend on the plantation was Noah. He showed me the ropes of how to survive slavery, so that you aren’t on the master’s kill list or on his favorite list.

“I was born on this plantation, so was my father,” Noah explained, “But my momma was born in Africa.”

“Where are your parents?” I asked him while I chopped a block of wood for the project the master set us working on.

Noah’s face turned gloomy, and I regretted asking. He then said, “Momma was sold to another plantation. I don’t even know how old I was. And my father was killed because they suspected him of trying to run away.”

“I’m sorry. I know how it feels to know that you’re never going to see your family again,” I replied, thinking of my family back in Africa.

Noah just nodded. He then turned around and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was in earshot and whispered, “What was it like in Africa?”

I sensed that if the master or the overseer caught us talking about this subject we’d get in trouble, so I whispered back, “Beautiful. Our village was by the Niger River, and we fished a lot. Then some nights we’d listen to the griots--storytellers--explain the history of our people and tell us legends. My best friend was Ekene; his goal was to become the best hunter in our whole village. My little brother, Emeka, was very good at herding the goats, he never let any of his flock get lost,” I paused, the memory of the terrified look on my brother's face flashing before my eyes, but I continued: “I don’t know what happened to him. I never saw him again after we were captured and placed onto that ship.”

We continued working on our project and with our conversation. Noah said that I put too much blame on myself about what happened to Emeka, my beloved younger brother, and I told him that I couldn’t help it. That I shouldn’t have let my desire for hunting make me ignore the villager’s warnings of people being abducted, and that I should have fought harder for my freedom as well as my brother’s.

I shared a cabin with 10 other people. Getting sleep was hard at first; the master didn’t provide any of us with proper furniture. The cabin had a dirt floor, and our “beds” were pieces of straw and old rags, with only one blanket to keep us warm. The youngest person in the cabin was Abraham; he was about eight years old. He had a hard time falling asleep too, so I would tell him stories of growing up in Africa and my childhood. I could tell by looking in his eyes that he was fascinated by my stories; the only environment he has ever known is Davis plantation. After a few of my tales, Abraham would fall into a deep slumber. I would fall asleep a few minutes after he did, but I always tossed and turned throughout the night. Abraham once asked me why I was such a restless sleeper, I simply replied, “Nightmares.” I could tell he was confused by my answer, wondering how a grown man could have nightmares.

I still suffer from the guilt of not knowing what happened to my brother. I can only face what my actions have led for my life: A life of a man weighed down by shackles; a life of a man being haunted by his everlasting memories.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Award Winning POV Fiction, #6

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Alissa is 12 years old and is in 7th grade. Her story was from the short category (750-1,000 words).

The Afterworld
by Alissa Shterenberg

Life after death is not what people thought it would be. There is a heaven and hell, but everyone has a job in the afterworld. There are three categories: ghosts, angels, and grim reapers. Everyone lives separately according to their groups, and has one ruler in each section. How are the dead people organized into different categories, you ask? The answer is simple: It’s completely random. Once gate guardians decide if you’re worthy to enter heaven, they let each person in one at a time, and arrange a job for you in whatever order you arrive. Angels save and bless people in the real world and always carry around a book of wisdom; ghosts look almost identical to their living form and live on Earth, but can only be seen by other ghosts. They watch humans and report their daily actions to their rulers. Grim reapers take people’s lives once a person’s time has come to leave the earth, and reapers hold a long, metal sickle with a wooden handle. We don’t have choice of what we get to do once we die, but no one complains about the tasks they get, for they are too scared of the consequences.

My name is Daniel Howell, Dan for short, and I am a grim reaper. It’s an awful job, really, ending people’s lives because of how old they are or how many crimes they've committed. Everyone in heaven despises me, for I am a reaper stuck in an 18-year-old’s body, with brown hair and a completely black wardrobe. I hate my job more than anything. All the people here in heaven look basically the same: pale skin as white as fresh snow, with legs that fade away right where our knees should be. I never wanted to be a death ghost, but I can’t chose anything here. If you disobey your leader’s rules, you’re sent to hell.

Each new mission I get is just as bad as the last one. The mission is easy, really. Murder the soul without making it obvious that a spirit did it. But to me, these jobs are hard physically and emotionally, for I have never wanted to hurt, and especially not kill, anything. But no matter how many complaints and protests I file with the council of the reapers, none of them seem to care that I would rather help souls than bring them to their death.

I am currently on a mission, so I look at my paper and read the name and location of the person I am about to kill. Catherine Howell: Berkshire England Hospital. I freeze, staring at the words that looked back at me, haunting me. I can’t kill my own mother! I think to myself.

Without hesitation, I turn around and head straight back to the office. Right away, I get called by the councilor to see the ruler of the reapers, Mr. Deyes. Slowly, I make my way to the building where I know I will get the same lecture I get every time I refuse to do a task. I walk into the deadly quiet building and wait for my turn with Mr. Deyes. My name is called, and I slowly fly over to the door, bracing myself for the upcoming speech that I’ve heard so many times, I have it memorized.

“Here we are again, Daniel. Complaining about our job again, are we?” He speaks in his loud, deep voice.

“My name is Dan.” I say, taking my time getting to the reason I am here. The leader nods and waits for me to continue.

“Do you really expect me to kill my own mother? Can’t another reaper take the job?”

He seems to stop and think about the sentence I just said, but it is only a short, five-second pause.

“You have been assigned your mission and it cannot be avoided. You have disobeyed the laws too many times, Dan. This is the last and final time you will complain. I ask you a question: Would you rather complete this job, or be sent to the flames of hell?”

I was shocked, for hell had never been a choice given to me. The thought of it terrifies me, because I have done only good in my living human form, so hell has never been brought up as an option. But I knew the decision I should make; hopefully it is the right one.

“Send me to hell.”


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Award-winning Fiction Post #5

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Lillian is in 10th grade.

Baxter the Great
by Lillian Hughes

“Hey, Ben,” Aaron says quickly, as he speeds away.

I jump at his sudden appearance and shout after him, “You know, we could ride together if you traded that bike in for a skateboard.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, faintly.

The best part about living where I live is school is right around the corner. The worst part is that the entrance is on the far side, so I have to travel about twice as far as I should. Which, actually, isn’t so bad when you’re on a skateboard. I almost eat it as the sidewalk dips down into a driveway-style curb, but I save myself and turn the corner. I secure my board to the bike rack and roll the last number on the combo lock up one. Aaron is at the other end, scrambling all his numbers.

“A nice way to save yourself some time,” I say, “is to just change one number, man.”

“It’s also a nice way to get your board stolen.” Aaron counters, finishing his scrambleizing with an elegant toss of his massive dreads. I pity the guy who has to sit behind him.

“You seen Jeff lately?” I ask.

“Nope. He was gone yesterday.”

“Yeah, where do you think he went?”

“Probably ditched.”

“Nah, I thought about that, but I really think Jeff is one of those guys who is all talk and no sizzle. Or whatever.”

“You want to make a bet?” Aaron smiles, his teeth especially white against his dark skin.

“Why don’t we ask him?” I say, as a familiar husky laugh erupts from somewhere in the hall.

We shove our way past all the other kids and find Jeff parked comfortably in the middle of the hallway with everyone else flowing around him like a rock in a river. Next to him, immediately recognizable by his impressively flaming red hair, is none other than Baxter the Great.

“Hey, hey, Brandon," Aaron deepens his voice and smacks him a little. Brandon smacks him back, saying some other form of hello.

I high-five low-five Jeff and say, “Where were you, man? I know you don’t get sick. Did you ditch or something?”

“Yeah,” Jeff opens his eyes wider so their grayish green color is fully visible. “Totally ditched. Know how come?”

I know he won’t let me answer, so I wait for him to say exactly ‘how come..

“Report cards.” He nods, apparently proud of himself.

“Report cards,” I repeat flatly, making sure I heard correctly.

“You idiot,” Aaron says, laughing. “You can’t avoid report cards.”

“Uuh, yaah I cahn, I just did,” Jeff taunts, crossing his arms.

“No you can’t,” I say. “They’re posted online, dummy. Your parents can check whenever they want.”

“And more importantly,” Aaron says, “they come out today, not yesterday.”

Jeff’s face falls into a look of pure annoyance, then it brightens and he says, “Okay. See you on Monday.” He starts to follow the general flow of the other kids, but Brandon catches him by the hood and pulls him back.

“No, you don’t. You got to be here today or the teachers will suspect something.”

“I’ll just say I was sick,” Jeff says, attempting to bat Brandon’s arm away.

“Seriously? Who gives report cards on a Thursday?” I laugh, still hung up on that.

“You won’t get into college, man,” Brandon says, spinning Jeff around to face him.

“OH NO!” Jeff yells so loud, some people turn to stare, stupidly. “Not college! Oh, what will I do? Oh deary, deary, don’t worry, Brandy, I got this. I don’t care about grades, man, I got all I need right here. Right now.”

“But right now won’t be here in three years,” Brandon says. “Don’t you want to move out of your parents’ house at some point?”

Jeff shrugs. “So I’ll be a plumber. I don’t care.”

Brandon looks annoyed, so I change the subject. “Hey, did you finish Ms. Keaton’s assignment?”

Aaron groans loudly. “Uh. Barely. I was up until three last night. I had basketball practice so I didn’t get to homework until six.”

“Luckily we didn’t have a meet yesterday,” I say.

“Wait, I forgot, what sport do you play?” Brandon asks.

“Hockey,” I say. “You play anything?”

He shrugs. “I used to play soccer when I was little, but the work load is too much now. I’m not doing it anymore.”

“Ooooh,” Jeff says. “See, that’s why you always kick butt in PE.”

“Only when it’s soccer,” Brandon corrects quickly, holding up a shushing finger. “I stink at everything else.”

“Hey, we… we all do,” Jeff says pausing to let the bell finish ringing. “Buh-bye.”

“Bye, Brandon, bye Aaron,” I call. Jeff comes with me and we head to our first class, which is approximately the farthest classroom away from everything else, so we have plenty of time to talk about everything and nothing.

I think it’s kind of not at all funny how time wanders off when you’re not in the least bit excited about something yet to come.

Basically, one minute I’m talking to Jeff on my way to first period, the next I’m staring at him on the field, watching him flick his sweaty black bangs out of his eyes. “Come on, Ben,” he says, smiling and looking at my feet. “Let me go.”

“We will not let you go,” I say, glancing at the yellow flags clipped around his waist.

“Let me go,” he says again.

“We will not let you go,” I say, looking back up to his face in the hopes of seeing some glint of mischief that would betray his next move. Wow, I feel so poetic.

“LET ME GOOOOOOO,” Jeff erupts into a high-pitched singing voice and scuttles around me while my guard is down. Shoot, he’ll dodge the rest of the defenders, easily. Sure enough, he zig-zags so quickly I can hardly keep up watching. He curves around into the safe zone where a few other yellow flags are standing looking motiveless.

I watch and wait as he stretches playfully, scoops up the football from the middle of the box marked off by cones, and promptly zooms straight down the field.

“Get him!” I shout, lining myself up to try and take him down. Brandon and a few more guys herd him off to the left, so I run sideways to keep up.

Jeff runs right at me, not even caring to slow down, but I stand, ready for almost anything. He leaps sideways at the last second, but I was ready for that, too, so I spin and claw at his shirt, trying to rip off the flags. He looks at me through the gap between his arm and the football pressed to his side, and smacks my hand away.

“HEY!” I call, slowing down as we passed the mid yard line. “Flag guarding! That’s a flag guard! Don’t call it a score--”

One of the teachers blows his whistle and I make a noise like a gorilla finally giving up.

“Yeah! Alright!” Jeff celebrates, jogging around in a small circle. He drop-kicks the football back over to the safe zone box, but all the kids are walking toward the benches like a bunch of iron shavings to a magnet. “Aw, what?” Jeff looks around. “Is it time to go in?”

“Guess so,” I say, gratefully ripping off my own flags and starting off in that direction. It’s hot.

I look over my shoulder and see Jeff dash over to get the football. Where does he get all this energy? He doesn’t play a sport. Maybe that’s it.

A clipboard is going around in my class’s area, so I sign and get my report card from my teacher. A few quick rips along the indicated dotted lines and all my hard work is ready to stare me in the face, but I don’t open it. I’m a little skeptical. Hm. Nice use of vocab.

I walk back behind the bleachers where the coaches are screaming at all the kids going into the locker rooms not to go in to the locker rooms yet. I take a long drink from the fountain and sit against a support beam, staring at the outside of my progress report.

Brandon wanders over, lazily and sits next to me. “Wha’d you get?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Haven’t looked at mine yet.”

“Do it.”

“Alright.” I open my card, bracing myself. C+, B-, C, B, B, C-. Not too bad. Not as bad as I was expecting. “Ah, see?” I say. “Always assume the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”

“Wow. That was so deep.”

“Wha’d you get?”

“Oh, you know,” he lifts his card a little in a half-hearted gesture. “Whatever. Cs I guess.”

“Uh-oh, here comes Jeff.”

Jeff is brandishing his card wildly, laughing, Aaron behind him, swearing quietly.

“A new record!” Jeff was yelling. “Straight Fs!”

“Seriously?” I ask, shocked.

Jeff stops in front of me. “No. What, are you kidding me? I’m not that hopeless.” He sits down and shows me his grades. “See? Only two Fs. Man, I got to step it up in History.”

“It was that first test,” Aaron says. “It blew everyone out of the water. I got knocked down to a B minus.”

“What,” Jeff elbows Aaron in the leg. “A B minus isn’t good enough for you, four- er- no eyes?”

“Nah,” Aaron tosses his dreads again, still failing to clear the way for his alleged eyes. “I’m fine as long as I’m passing. It’s just that it’s so early in the year, I feel like I should be doing better.”

“What about you, Baxter?” Jeff turns to Brandon.

“What about me, Wood?” Brandon says.

“Wha’d you get on your test?” Jeff leans over and smacks his knees.

“Drool. Happy?” Brandon bats him away. “Shove off.”

“Ooooh,” Jeff smiles, recoiling. “Somebody’s got a little paper in front of them with more Fs than… I don’t know, the F section of a dictionary.”

“Nuh-uh,” Brandon says angrily.

“Come on, I know that look anywhere,” Jeff teases, grabbing for his report.

“Unless it’s one of those switcheroos where it turns out he has all As,” I laugh. “Like in some bad sitcom,” I turn to Brandon. His face is frozen. “You do!” I say, not daring to believe it.

“What?” Jeff snatches Brandon’s card and looks at it with disbelief. “Wow. How?”

Brandon leans back against the post, defeated, and says, “I don’t know. I just do my work. It’s not… it’s not hard. For me.”

Aaron and I crowd around Jeff to see. All As and two A pluses. “Whoa.” I could only dream of grades like that. I had an A once. I’ll never do it again.

“Look at the courses.” Aaron points.

“Chemistry, Honors English...Pre-Calculus??” Jeff looks up and laughs. “Man, get this guy some glasses and a plaid shirt, am I right?”

Brandon just sits there and takes it, as if he knew it was coming.

This seems to make Jeff falter a little. Aaron’s elbow in his ribs helps, too.

“That wasn’t cool, Jeff,” I say, grabbing Brandon’s card and handing it back to him.

“Aw, geez, I was just messing around, Brandy,” Jeff says.

“No, no,” Brandon says. “I get it. This is why I never let you see my grades last year. Besides it being none of your business, I knew you’d probably have some stuff to say about me. Then you’d start looking at me different. Like I was supposed to be part of some other group or something. Like hey, there goes Baxter. He’s too smart. He doesn’t belong.”

I don’t really believe it still, but I gauge that now might be a good time for some comforting stuff. “Hey, no, man. We won’t disown you for being smart. That’s dumb.”

“I think that’s his point,” Aaron says. “And dude, it’s not like anything’s changed. You were always smart. And we always knew you were kinda smart anyway, right?”

“Hm.” Brandon shifts a little. “You two, I’m not so worried about.”

We both look at Jeff between us, who is still looking at the place Brandon’s grades used to be, although he’s lowered his hands now. He looks up, noticing the silence and throws his head around casually, but nervously. “Hey, yeah, no. I--what? Oh, man, no. I won’t tease you. I’ll try not to. No no, but--ah…” he goes quiet for a second, then reorders his thoughts. “Look, dude, I won’t look at you weird. I won’t be all scared off by your Godliness.” He can’t go one second without slipping in a little jab, can he? “And tell you what, no one else will either. Know how come? ‘Cause you’re my friend. No one messes with my buddies, or they’ll have to answer to me. Dig?”

Brandon breaks into a very badly restrained smile and says, “No one says ‘dig’ anymore, dude.”

“We could bring it back,” Jeff says as the whistles blow and the other kids migrate toward the locker room. “We could bring it back. So we cool?”

Brandon stands and looks at the fist Jeff had offered. He bumps it with his own fist. “Yeah, we cool, Wood.” They start off toward the locker rooms.

I stand up too, ignoring the damp butt mark I leave on the hot asphalt. I’ll be glad to get out of the heat. Aaron’s waiting for me, hands behind his back. We walk together and I watch Jeff as he playfully smacks Brandon around, and Brandon, who returns with his own good-natured hits.

“I’m glad we have friends like Jeff,” Aaron says. “It’s a good thing he’s as understanding as he is stupid.”

I laugh. “Hey, Aaron, Jeff may be an idiot, but he’s not stupid.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dragon Tales!

Dewey's Dragon Tales: Teens Read to Tots was a big success! We had seven lovely teen readers--Katrina, Mohammad, Megan, Charlotte, Amanda, Sophia, and Yogini--and they all did a fabulous job. Toddlers were enthralled by the stories, everyone liked their dragon glasses, and parents asked when we would do this again! And everyone, of course, enjoyed the "surprise" visit from Dewey.

If you would like to see an album of photographs, please go to our Facebook page to see what a great time we had.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Adult fiction that appeals to teens

I've been doing a lot of thinking about teen fiction lately; mostly it's been a reflection about the rise of teen fiction as a publishing phenomenon, which happened well after I was a teenager. When I was in high school, we went straight from children's books to adult books (mostly the classics). There were no (or few) books that were written about us or for us, no protagonists who were our age and actually sounded like we sounded or looked like us. We were not particularly entertained by many of these, but they were what we had, so we read them. If we were lucky, we knew a librarian (or another reader) who could steer us towards adult books that might appeal to us.

For teens today, all that has changed. Now there are books of every genre--mystery, horror, realistic fiction, you name it--with teen protagonists on whose lives, loves, or problems the books specifically focus. But even with the wealth of novels for teens, there are still areas of adult literature that can and should be recommended to teens ready to move beyond "their" section in the library, and one of those areas is and has always been science fiction.

Although there are obviously some books in every genre that may not be considered appropriate for teen consumption, science fiction is, in my opinion, the best genre for teens to explore, for a variety of reasons: The focus of science fiction is the future; and when are you more focused on the future yourself than when you are a comparatively new person? Science fiction is speculative fiction, and the question "what if?" is as compelling for teens as it is for adults. And the element of world-building and exploration, in which the characters travel to or through or inhabit somewhere completely different from anything with which we are familiar is equally fascinating to teens.

I discovered science fiction at age 20, when my new husband (now ex) insisted we go to the opening of a movie called Star Wars. I had no interest in waiting in line for four hours to see some "space jockeys" fly around doing whatever, but we were in Westwood and he had the car keys, so I got in line. That movie changed my reading life; I went to the library the following weekend and checked out books by Asimov, Heinlein, and Herbert, and embarked on a fascination with science fiction that has never left me.

Although those names and some of their works could be considered old-fashioned, outdated, and possibly too didactic for modern readers, there are still a certain percentage that hold up, even though they were written in the 1950s about the "far future" of the 2000s. And though some titles are unsuitable for teens, many are just what a teenager in search of a good read is looking for--adventure, excitement, and new experiences. Consider, for instance, two novels not written specifically with teens in mind, but nonetheless beloved: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. There are many more in science fiction where those came from!

For instance: Three by Robert Heinlein that are still compelling (and suitable for middle school readers) are Citizen of the Galaxy, Time for the Stars, and Have Spacesuit--Will Travel. Slightly more mature teens might enjoy The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Revolt in 2100.

Isaac Asimov's trilogy Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation still thrills us with the idea of a galaxy-spanning empire and the small group of scientists who predict its downfall.

Frank Herbert's first three books set on the spice planet of Arrakis--Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune--have a young protagonist who is put into a situation completely out of his depth and taught first to cope and then to rule. (Do NOT watch any of the movies made from this series--colossal failures, all of them, and they'll spoil the books for you for sure!) A contemporary writer whose book, Lock In, we're reading next month in 10-12 Book Club, is John Scalzi.

And as I discovered when I read further, science fiction is not the exclusive purview of men--in fact, some of the finest writers of science fiction are both older and contemporary women authors.

Sheri S. Tepper tells an intriguing tale in tune with our current concerns over the fate of our planet in The Family Tree, which is both enlightening and full of humor and unexpected surprises. Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed posit what it would be like if societies common to earth or those rebelling against its traditions were to be picked up and set down on another planet to thrive or fail in a new environment.

Anne McCaffrey's delightful stories of telepathic dragons are teen-focused in the trilogy of Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. Jo Walton is a comparatively new science fiction writer, perhaps most noteworthy for her mash-up of Plato and sci fi in The Just City and its sequels; and V. E. Schwab wrote one of my favorite sci fi superhero (or antihero?) books ever, Vicious.

Connie Willis, who has won more Hugo and Nebula Awards for her work than any other writer, has just written a new book ideal for older teens and "new adults." In Crosstalk, which is set in a not-too-distant future, a doctor has come up with a "simple outpatient procedure" (yes, it's brain surgery, but don't worry) to increase empathy between romantic partners. After a six-week whirlwind romance with Trent Worth (one of her co-workers at the mobile phone company that employs them to stay one step ahead of their competitor, Apple), Briddey Flannigan is pleased when her boyfriend suggests they undergo the EED procedure together. She is anticipating that a closer emotional connection and enhanced understanding will be the result.

Complicating these plans are her large, needy, and completely boundary-less family members, most of whom disapprove of her intention to get the EED (and some of whom disapprove of Trent as well), and her co-worker, C.B. Schwartz, who is amazingly technophobic for a guy who works for a competitor of Apple, and is worried that Briddey's EED will cause UICs (unintended consequences). Despite all their advice, 
Briddey takes the step and makes a connection--but it's with someone else, and it's definitely not what she expected. Willis takes on our over-connected world of TMI (too much information) and multiplies its perils exponentially in this crazy comedy of errors.

This book was so much fun. T
he concept, the characters, the internal dialogue, and the situations were all so clever, and before the (somewhat) anticipated ending, the plot follows several unexpected red herrings to give us a good mystery on top of our science fiction. You can find this book on the adult "new book" shelves for 7-day check-out.

Although teens now have a huge inventory of books written specifically for them from which to choose, for those whose interests are turning to adult reading, a selection of adult science fiction can be an eye-opening and entertaining transition.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Library closed on Friday!

All branches of Burbank Public Library will be CLOSED on Friday, December 2
for a Library Staff In-Service Day. We will reopen for regular hours on Saturday, December 3.

With OverDrive you can download a free eBook.

With InstantFlix you can watch a PBS documentary, a short film, or a classic cartoon.

FREE with your library card.

While we're reminding you of things, don't forget our Teens Read to Tots event on Saturday, sharing "Dewey's Dragon Tales" with toddlers and their families. Buena Vista Branch, 10:30-12:30.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Award-winning Teen Fiction Post #4

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Ashwini is 14 and is in 9th grade.

When Dreams Are True
by Ashwini Dhamodharan

Chennai = the capital/ largest city in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. This story takes place in a slum in Chennai.

Tamil = a south Indian language spoken in the state Tamilnadu

Appa = "Dad" in Tamil

Amma = "Mom" in Tamil

It’s funny how many worlds there are in one city. Take Chennai, India for example. There is a world with tall apartments and two-story houses. A world with fancy restaurants serving foreign food like pizza, burgers, and noodles. A world where there are grand malls with products so expensive that a family can live off that money for months.

And then there’s my world--tiny huts all crowded into a slum. A world where a few rupees make a big difference. A world where men, like my father, lie drunk in the local Tasmac, the government liquor shop. A world where uncleanliness is no stranger. Welcome to my world.

Every weekend, we watch a popular Tamil movie on the bulky, box-shaped TV the government gave to every household for free. Often it stars popular actors like Vijay, Surya, or Rajinikanth. I like how different the movies are from reality. It’s fun to have a break from real life.

I’ve wondered what it would be like if my life was like the movies I watch. I would be invincibly strong and smart. I would probably live in a mansion, filthy rich, or in a comfortable apartment. There would be no money problems. My father would have a college degree or a well-paying job. My grandfather would receive proper treatment from a private hospital. My mother and grandmother would wear silk saris. My three-year-old sister would have her own room with teddy bears and toys. I would finally learn to speak proper English…

But my imagination is far from reality. In the real world, I am a weak boy, only 12 years old. We live in a tiny, one-roomed hut with a bathroom outside, near the threshold. We struggle to make enough money to live on. My father, the only person who works in the family, makes a living lifting and carrying sacks. My mother and grandmother wear well-worn saris and only buy new ones once a year. My grandfather is bedridden, unable to afford the expensive treatment he needs. And I am in an ancient public school, studying subjects like science, math and Tamil, but no English.

After school, I rush to finish all my homework and studies so I can hang out with the others boys. We love cricket. We play cricket for hours. We talk about cricket players and the latest films.

When I get home, mother serves me idly, dosa, or rice with sambar. My mother is the best cook in the world. When it is time for bed, my grandmother narrates stories, usually about Hindu mythology. I love to hear them. I would go to bed, dreaming about Rama, a banished prince who saved his kidnapped wife with an army of monkeys, or the Pandavas, five brothers who went to war against their hundred cousins.

Around that time, my father would arrive. Usually, my father makes a stop at the Tasmac before coming home. When my father arrives drunk, we all leave him alone, unwilling to trigger his irrational anger due to intoxication. My grandmother always says to me, “Don’t waste your time and money on bad habits like drinking. Instead, invest that time for your future.”

My way to do that is to dream.

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once said, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” And so I dream. I dream that I am a mythological character like Arjuna, the wielder of the Gandiva bow, or Hanuman, the monkey who was able to lift the Dronagirl mountain to bring sanjeevani to Lanka. I dream about being rich. I dream about being a superhero like Spiderman. Most of all, I dream of going to college and becoming successful in my future career.


“Varun, wake up. At this rate, you’re going to be late to school.” My mother shook me awake. It was a typical Monday morning. I was groggy from studying for a test.

I did my regular ‘get ready for school’ routine: use the bathroom, brush my teeth, drink coffee, take a bath, pray to the gods, eat my breakfast, and do last-minute studying.

“Damn that drunkard. Probably sleeping on the streets again,” my mother muttered to herself. Then she turned to me. “Varun, if you see that father of yours, can you give him a piece of my mind and send him here.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for him,” I said, setting off to school. Though it was rare, there were times when my father passed out on the sidewalk, drunk. I would have to fetch him the next morning.

I walked through the streets of Chennai, busy with cars, buses, and motorcycles. I was walking through the streets imagining how life would be if my dad didn’t drink alcohol when I noticed the crowd blocking my path. As I was getting closer to the crowd, I could hear the conversation of those who gathered around.

“Someone call the ambulance! A drunken man who was lying in the street got run over by a car!”

“Too late, he’s already dead.”

For some reason apprehensive thoughts started filling my mind. My heart started to pump faster. What were the chances the dead man was my father? To me it seemed like there was no way my father could be dead. Yes, I convinced myself, it could just be a random drunkard. I decided to take a glimpse at the man just to prove to myself there was nothing to be worried about. Taking a breath, I squeezed myself through the crowd.

It was like my world had come to an end. For a moment I couldn’t think or move. I was frozen in a state of shock. The corpse was covered with blood. The leg had been completely run over. But that face, that beard was undoubtedly my dad.

“Appa!” I screamed, running to his body. “Appa, wake up. Appa ,wake up.”

I kept shaking him, as if I could wake him up. I was blinded by a flood of tears. My hands, my school uniform, they were all covered with blood, but I didn’t care. I could hear the whispering of the crowd but I couldn’t focus on them. The only thing I could think of was my dad.

The passing seconds seemed like eternity. I was crying like a fool unable to think about anything but my dad.

“Varun,” I heard my dad calling in my mind, “Varun, go call your mom.”

My dad’s voice was so soothing, so alive, and I wasn’t sure if the voice was real or just my imagination. But I decided to listen to the voice and found myself sprinting towards my hut. I ignored the weight of my heavy backpack and worn-out sandals. I ignored the piles of trash and the puddles of sewage. None of those mattered now.

“Amma,” I screamed, gasping for air. My mother was cutting vegetables. My sister and my grandparents were asleep.

My mother was alarmed at the sight of my bloody clothes.

“Varun, what happened? What happened?” she kept asking, her eye wide open with alarm.

“Appa is… Appa is…” I couldn’t think of any right words. I grabbed my mother’s hand and pulled her to my father’s body.

My mother was paralyzed when she saw Father’s corpse. I noticed streams of tears flowing from her eyes, glistening in the bright sun. She brushed them away.


It was a sunny day for a funeral. I could hear the old ladies were beating their breast and wailing, “Aaaiioooo. Aaaiioooo.”

It all seemed wrong. The traditional funeral music started playing. People started to dance. The horns and the drum blared. My mother seemed like she didn’t care, like nothing happened. It was so infuriating.

I was weary and done with this life. The night seemed so quiet, like I was all alone. It was hard to believe that a few hours ago, my father’s funeral took place. I went to the bathroom, angry with everyone: myself, my mother, my father, the world.

A huge sob startled me. There was someone crying in the bathroom. I knocked hard on the metal door.

“Coming,” a voice called. It was my mother who came out of the bathroom. She had obviously been crying and had wiped all her tears off.

I’ve thought of my mother as a strong and brave woman. She cooked for all of us, she took care of everyone, she did all the household chores. But at this moment, I was blown away by her strength. Mother was in much more pain than anyone else, yet she always showed a strong face before everyone. She didn’t want us to worry.

My mother's face was so sad and composed that I wanted to run up to her and tell her to cry her heart out. Instead, I walked up to her, and laid down with my head on her lap, as if it were a pillow. I was feeling something I couldn’t describe with words--it was like my mother was going to protect me. I fell asleep feeling safe, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I went to school the next day, despite my mother’s protest. I want a diversion from all these problems and I didn’t want my studies to be affected.

Before I left for schoo., I asked my mother, "Amma, how will we survive?”

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find a job today.”


“Amma, the milk is barely enough for four,” I observed as my grandmother made our daily coffee. My mother’s new job is in a tiny old factory, where the hours are long and the pay is low. My grandmother does most of my mother’s household chores now, but Mother still comes home exhausted.

“That’s all we can afford. You should drink the coffee. I’ll do fine without it,” my mother offered.

I struggled at school that day. I could not focus on my class work. Instead I thought of the family situation. At this rate we were going to starve. I had to to do something.

I toyed with my pencil. Should I take a job? Should I give up my education, my future? or should I ignore everything and focus on my studies?

That afternoon, the funeral musicians came, demanding payment for Father’s funeral. My mother sent them off with a cup of coffee.

I lay on my mother’s lap. She played with my hair.

“Amma, are we so poor?” I asked, staring at the ceiling with the blue paint chipping away.

“Yes,” my mother said in a lifeless tone, “yes, we are poor.”

I had never thought of getting a job at this age. There were some other boys who dropped out of school, but not me. I wanted to focus on my studies. But at this moment, I decided if my family were to survive, I had to get one.

“Amma, I don't want to go to school anymore. I don't like it,” I lied. "I want to take a job.”

“No, I want you to get an education and have the chance in life that the generations before you never got. I want you to be a father your children can be proud of. I don't want you to end up like me,” she calmly explained.

“You can't force me to go to school,” I said, hoping to convince my mother it was useless to argue with me.

“I’ll just drag you if I have to,” she threatened.

I had hit my limits. I was confused, tired, and most of all I was angry with the unfair world. It was my mother I took it out on.

“I hate school! I hate my life and I hate you! I hate you! You want everyone to listen to you and be your slave. But we aren't. I'm going to get a job. I'm twelve years old now. I can make decisions for myself!”

I walked away, not willing to face my mother. Deep down I felt guilty for overreacting, but my reaction was justified.

My mother was my motivator. Her goal had always been my goal. But now, her real goal was to keep us alive.


I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead. Even though a month had passed since I had been employed, it was tiring to lift the heavy sacks across the market. The other boys have been doing this forever. Some of don't even have a family to go back to.

They never got the chance to study and go on to make their own path in life. I, on the other hand, had that chance but I threw it away.

Every day, I see the students in their uniforms walking home. A pang of jealousy hits me. Sometimes I wish I had never taken a job, but then I think about my laughing sister, my hard-working mother, and my tired grandparents, and I start working harder than before.


My uncle once gave me a trunk, a small, worn-out thing that is sometimes used as a chair. Inside the trunk, all my valuables are safely hidden. I have the only key to open it. Deep down in my sea of treasure lies my greatest treasure of all: my school textbooks.

When no one is looking, I take them out of the trunk, sneak outside and study like crazy. I dream of going back to class even more bright than when I left. But I know I won't go back to school.

Today I made a goal of finishing two pages of the chapter. At this rate, I am ahead of my former class. I went home from work thinking about atoms.

My mother was waiting for me at the door. It was obvious I wasn't forgiven for yelling at my mother. My mother hadn't actually spoken to me since I yelled at her. It was driving me insane with guilt.

“Do you truly not want to go to school?” my mother asked when I got inside.

“Yes,” I replied, uncomfortable with the lie. The delicious aroma of my grandmother’s sambar was floating around the house. I became hungrier than before.

“Varun, answer me honestly: Do you really like not going to school?” she asked again. A hint of suspicion arose in my mind but I brushed it away.

“Yes,” I replied again, nervously .

“Then why were you reading this yesterday? I saw you sneaking out to read your school books!” she said, taking out the textbook I had hidden in my trunk.

Maybe I was just overwhelmed by all the secrets my heart had been holding, but I decide no more holding back my feelings. I would just be honest. A stream of tears began sliding down my face. My mother wrapped her warm arms around me.

“You’ve grown so much since your father died. That heart of yours is as strong as a full grown man. You’ve given up your dreams so this family can survive. It's all my fault. I'm a failure of a mother.” My mother’s voice broke into sobs.

For a while, we were just sobbing. My mother’s arms were protecting me from the outside world.

After she calmed down a bit, Mother said “Tomorrow, you are going to re-enroll in school. Nothing is more important to me than my two children’s future and dreams. We may struggle now, but someday you'll have a good job with a nice salary and I don't care how hard I have to work to achieve that.”

That night, after eating some delicious dosa and sambar, I went to bed dreaming about my future. I was going to survive this cruel world. I was going to make my mother proud.