Saturday, April 9, 2016

What we're reading: Read-alikes

I mostly have a great distrust of what people call "read-alikes," that whole idea that "if you liked that book you might like this one." Even though people who read one romance, for instance, may like another, most of the time there is so much more to it than that from the reader's standpoint. There is point of view. There is language. There is plotting. There is setting. There is that hard-to-define thing people call "tone." Characters are all-important. There are so many small elements that make up the bigger picture of why you like a book that I find many attempts to do the "if-then" thing unsuccessful. (Others seem to feel the same. Jeff, one of our reference librarians, did an amusing
blog post on our main library blog about the utter impossibility of finding a read-alike for Gone Girl.)

In spite of my usual skepticism, however, for some reason I went with a read-alike suggestion this past week, and I wasn't disappointed. Our 10-12 Book Club had just finished reading the multiple award-winning Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz, and were almost universally delighted with the book, giving it a 9 out of 10. My personal reaction, in a paragraph on Goodreads, was:
I have only read a few books in my life that had a narration as perfect as this one. I kept wanting to stop reading so I could type my favorite quotes into Goodreads. (Someone had beaten me to most of them.) The characters are so beautifully portrayed through the lens of Ari's observations--his voice is exquisite. The story is moving, visceral, real, nostalgic, touching, revelatory. I'm overwhelmed.
I was so taken with the book that when Goodreads (whose behind-the-scenes owner/marketer is popped up a read-alike for it (and suggested that I could get it for the "unbelievably low price of $2.99" for my Kindle), I decided to have a little faith. That is how I came to read Gives Light, by Rose Christo.

Like A&D, Gives Light is about two boys who find each other while in the process of growing up and going through some major changes in their lives. In Gives Light, the circumstances are a bit more dramatic, though. Skylar, who is 16, narrowly escaped death at the age of five at the hands of his mother's murderer; he lost both his mother and the use of his vocal chords. He has grown up with no other family but his dad, although he has a vague idea that he may have some relatives somewhere. Then his dad goes missing, and Social Services intervenes to place him with his grandmother, a Native American who lives on an Indian reservation in Arizona. Suddenly Skylar discovers that not only does he have family, but he has a culture and a place in the world different from anything he's experienced before. He also finds out that on this same reservation lives Raphael, the son of the serial killer who took his mother's life. Their inevitable encounter puts many things into motion for both of them.

While most writers can't equal the language skills and lyricism of Benjamin Alire Saenz, I have to say that this writer came close, in her own distinct way. The characters were wonderfully realized. The conflicts and emotional baggage verged on unbelievable, but they worked. Christo depicted the life on the reservation in all its mundane detail, but because these details would be unknown to most of us, this was completely engaging. I loved Skylar and Rafael, Granny, Annie, and Aubrey, and everyone else who made up this world. The romance was sweet, and was intimate without being explicit. So I will join my voice to Amazon's: If you liked Aristotle and Dante, you might like this book too!

I see that there are four sequels, but I'm almost reluctant to go there, because this was so satisfying on its own. Our library doesn't own any of these books, but I will be fixing that issue right away!

Other books that are suggested as read-alikes for Aristotle and Dante by NoveList (that are currently owned by Burbank Public Library) are:

Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Ask the Passengers, by A. S. King
The Book of Broken Hearts, by Sarah Ockler
The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

Perhaps you (and I) can exhibit a little faith, and try a few of these while we wait for the Christo books to arrive!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teen review: Realistic Fiction

Girl, Stolen
by April Henry
213 pages
Realistic fiction
Not part of a series
Reading level: 7th to 10th grade

Reviewed by Breeana D., grade 9

Girl, Stolen is about a teenage girl named Cheyenne, who's blind and is accidentally kidnapped by a young man named Griffin. The story is told through shifting perspectives. We see things from Cheyenne's and Griffin's points of view. Their relationship is odd and complicated, because you get the impression fairly quickly that Griffin really isn't like his dad and the deadbeats he hires. Griffin has sympathy for Cheyenne. Throughout this whole ordeal, the two get to know each other. Cheyenne is so strong, and resourceful. She has this relateable feeling to her. This girl fights exceptionally well in order to keep herself alive, and figure out how to escape.

By reading this book I learned a great deal about how it is to live like a blind person, and about struggles with which they must deal on a daily basis. As readers, we also get the back story of Griffin and why he is in his certain situation. It's weird, but the two of them had some things in common, which was interesting to see.

The only thing I disliked about this book is that I felt the first half of the book wasn't very suspenseful, but then again it did have good character interactions. Also, I thought how difficult it must have been for Cheyenne to overcome so many challenges by herself while not being able to see. In my opinion I would have to say that Cheyenne is one of the most extraordinary characters I have ever read about, because she has so much will ­power and courage.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Tonight, Monday April 4, Burbank Public Library presents an author talk by Dana Walrath, author of the young adult novel Like Water on Stone. The talk will take place in the community room of the Buena Vista Branch, and will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Dr. Walrath will speak about her time in Armenia as a Fulbright Scholar, the inspiration for her book, and how writing it continues to impact her life.

Blending magical realism and lyrical free verse, the novel is an intense survival story of three siblings caught up in the horrific events of the Armenian genocide of 1915. Orphans Shahen, Sosi, and Mariam flee into the mountains, watched over by an eagle named Ardziv.

The book will be available for purchase and signing. Teens who attend for extra credit will receive a proof of attendance slip at the end of the program.

We hope to see you there!