Saturday, April 23, 2016

Observations on Teen Reading

I just received in my email a list of the books that were most frequently checked out during the past quarter (three months) at Burbank Public Library. This list encompasses all three branches (so it's system-wide), and is in descending order, from a high of 39 checkouts in three months to a low of five. (That's where I chose to cut it off--it was twice this long, but all the rest were one, two, and three checkouts.)

I find this list revelatory in several ways. I find it predictable, reassuring, and also a little disconcerting!

It's easy to see what tops the list: Any book, or any book from a series, that has been made into a movie within the past couple of years. That accounts for the Divergent books, the Maze Runner books, the Hunger Games books, Cassandra Clare's City of Bones series (which has been a cheesy movie followed by an even cheesier TV series), and, of course, all of the John Green canon and a couple by Gayle Forman. I suppose it could also account for the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer (although I find it astounding that there are still people who haven't read them and are doing so, they having lately acquired the same status as the band Nickelback!).

I'm not saying, however, that most of our readers discovered these books after the movies were made. In fact, I think the movies were made because of the overwhelming demand from readers who wanted to see their favorite books interpreted for the big screen. But I do think we can attribute the longevity of these books on the check-out list to those who only discovered the series after the movies were released. The lifespan of a book may have grown because of its movie tie-in, which is a reassuring thought.

So many of these books are also part of a series. It seems that when teens start a series, they are loyal to it and follow it to the bitter end. Out of the top 25 books on this list, only seven are stand-alone books, and out of those seven, four are by John Green! (Reaffirming that John Green can do no wrong...)

I'm kind of amazed, since as librarians we are focused primarily on the future in publishing--what's new this month, next month, this fall--how many of these books are not new. Of the top 40 books on this list, some are two or three years old, while others go as far back as 2005 (Uglies), the oldest publication date being 1985 (for Ender's Game). The first book still on the "new books" shelves at the library is #61, Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, and the number of new books on this list can be counted on the fingers of one hand! But I think this can be accounted for by the fact that teen referrals and word of mouth are the most powerful goad to popularity. One teen reads The Hunger Games and tells a friend, and suddenly there are a bunch of people asking for this book by a previously unknown author, and it's all anyone wants to read, for a period of time.

Burbank Public Library has one of the best, most extensive young adult collections of any library in Los Angeles. I don't say this to brag, it's a simple collision of interest and opportunity: We are fortunate, as teen librarians, to have bigger budgets than many of our colleagues at other libraries and branches, and we are also, both of us, avid readers and acquirers of new teen fiction for our patrons. But from this list, it would seem that if we simply kept up with the most popular 10 series (plus the inevitable John Green), we'd be good to go and could stop perusing the reviews!

But what will those most popular series be in the future? I do think that we as librarians can take some credit for creating buzz about certain books that then go viral. For instance, when I initially bought Twilight for the library, I bought one copy as an experiment to see if teens would like it; who knew that five years after, we'd own 33 copies and that all copies would be checked out anyway? So I am curious, looking at our recent orders and at all the books on the "New Books" shelves, what we will be seeing on this list in the months to come.

I must say that I wish more of our teens would not be entirely led by popularity and would branch out to discover some of the wonderful novels that are overlooked in the rush to check out the next book in "that" series. We have a small but loyal group of teen readers who show up about once a month to see what's new, and I'd love to see that group grow! If you'd like some ideas for new books popular with your peers, check out the top 25 new books post I did a few days back. And consider reading one of the new books pictured above--I just finished two of them (Illuminae and Ink and Bone), and reviews will be coming soon, but for now I will just say, Read them! Here is a review of The Truth Commission but I guess I never reviewed Court of Fives, so I'll have to do that. Haven't gotten to the Marie Lu series yet, but soon.

Here's the list of most frequently checked out books:

Divergent / Veronica Roth 
The Maze Runner / James Dashner
Paper Towns / John Green
Looking for Alaska / John Green
Allegiant / Veronica Roth
The 5th Wave / Rick Yancey
Catching Fire / Suzanne Collins
The Scorch Trials / James Dashner
Mockingjay / Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games / Suzanne Collins
The Fault in Our Stars / John Green
An Abundance of Katherines / John Green
City of Bones / Cassandra Clare
If I Stay / by Gayle Forman
Thirteen Reasons Why / by Jay Asher
Twilight / by Stephenie Meyer
Insurgent / Veronica Roth
Eleanor & Park / Rainbow Rowell
City of Ashes / Cassandra Clare
Fangirl / Rainbow Rowell
Matched / Ally Condie
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children / Ransom Riggs
The Kill Order / James Dashner
Ender's Game / Orson Scott Card
The Death Cure / James Dashner
Clockwork Angel / Cassandra Clare
City of Glass / Cassandra Clare
Where She Went / Gayle Forman
City of Fallen Angels / Cassandra Clare
Uglies / Scott Westerfeld
Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson
The Selection / Kiera Cass
The Perks of Being a Wallflower / Stephen Chbosky
Four / Veronica Roth
The Eye of Minds / James Dashner
City of Lost Souls / Cassandra Clare
City of Heavenly Fire / Cassandra Clare
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas / by John Boyne
Insurgent / Veronica Roth
The Infinite Sea / Rick Yancey
Go Ask Alice / Anonymous
The Elite / Kiera Cass
Cinder / written by Marissa Meyer
Breaking Dawn / Stephenie Meyer
The Alchemyst / Michael Scott
The Young Elites / Marie Lu
Unwind / Neal Shusterman
To All the Boys I've Loved Before / Jenny Han
Scarlet / written by Marissa Meyer
Russian Roulette / Anthony Horowitz
The Rule of Thoughts / James Dashner
The One / Kiera Cass
Just One Day / Gayle Forman
Just Listen / Sarah Dessen
Before I Fall / Lauren Oliver
The Bane Chronicles / Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson
Will Grayson, Will Grayson / John Green & David Levithan
The Wicked Will Rise / Danielle Paige
We Were Liars / E. Lockhart
Unhinged / by A. G. Howard
Red Queen / Victoria Aveyard
Pretty Little Liars / Sara Shepard
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl / Jesse Andrews
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment / James Patterson
The Heir / Keira Cass
Gone / Michael Grant
Every Day / David Levithan
Cress / written by Marissa Meyer
Clockwork Princess / Cassandra Clare
The Book Thief / by Markus Zusak
All the Bright Places / Jennifer Niven
World War Z / Max Brooks
We Are All Made of Molecules / Susin Nielsen
Throne of Glass / Sarah J. Maas
Son / by Lois Lowry
Scorpia Rising / Anthony Horowitz
Reached / Ally Condie
Pretties / Scott Westerfeld
New Moon / Stephenie Meyer
The Looking Glass Wars / by Frank Beddor
Let It Snow : Three Holiday Romances / by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle
It's Kind of a Funny Story / Ned Vizzini
I'll Give You the Sun / by Jandy Nelson
I Was Here / by Gayle Forman
Hollow City / Ransom Riggs
Heartless / Sara Shepard
Graceling / Kristin Cashore
Frostbite / Richelle Mead
Flawless / Sara Shepard
Fairest, Levana's Story / Marissa Meyer
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe / Benjamin Alire Saenz
Ali's Pretty Little Lies / Sara Shepard

Thursday, April 21, 2016

What we're reading: The Infinite Sea

We just finished reading The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey, in 8+9 Book Club, to distinctly mixed reviews, which surprised me, given how much I liked it. It was a reread for me, and while I didn't have quite the same reaction the second time as the first (my first reaction was 5 stars all the way), I still liked it a lot. I think Yancey is a wonderful writer, with quite the imagination. Why are we so fascinated with aliens-take-over-the-world scenarios? This was among my favorites. I was glad that I had to reread it, because I had recently bought the second book for my Kindle, and when I opened it up a couple of weeks ago to the first page and started reading, I had no clue who these people were! There were big gaps in my memory of the timeline of The 5th Wave, as well as exactly how it ended, so the review came at just the right time to allow me to read the second book with some continuity.

The Infinite Sea opens shortly after the events at the end of The 5th Wave. Cassie, her brother, Sam, and Ben Parish, otherwise known as Zombie, along with the remnants of Zombie's crew (Ringer, Dumbo, Poundcake, and Teacup) are waiting reluctantly at the rendezvous point where Evan told Cassie he would meet her. It's not a safe place for them to be, and Ringer is growing increasingly restive about their exposure, as she should, given subsequent events.

Weirdly, although I kept wanting to hear more from Cassie's point of view in the first book, sometimes becoming impatient when another POV went on for too many pages, in this second book I was relieved when we got out of her head and into Ringer's. I liked Ringer's character the minute we met her in book one, and she was a refreshing change from the person Cassie turned into while waiting for Evan--grouchy, whiny, illogical, and not much of a team player. So I'm a fan of the Ringer story, which is probably around 60-70 percent of this book.

There is plenty of action and drama in this second book, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. It's a little more active, in some ways, than The 5th Wave. The struggles the characters go through--physical, mental, spiritual--are the meat of the story. In some ways it's a transitional book, with a few slow spots and some information dumping, but Yancey's writing is excellent and pulls you through.

I will definitely read the third one, if only to get my remaining questions resolved. Maybe I missed some of the significance within the exchanges between Vosch and Ringer, between Razor and Ringer, but I still don't quite get why the aliens didn't just pick a hundred percent solution to the problem of humans, instead of getting rid of 90 percent of them and then manipulating, brainwashing, and torturing the rest. (Of course, if they had, then there'd be no story!) Perhaps book three (coming soon!) will resolve things for me.

Note: Burbank Public Library offers both these books as e-books and audio books as well as in hardcover.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Teen review: Reluctant princess

The Princess Diaries
by Meg Cabot
228 pages

First book of 10 in a series
For Grades 6-9

Reviewed by Maya, grade 7

Amelia – or Mia – Thermopolis is an almost normal ninth-grade girl who has only just begun high school and is already flunking Algebra. Her father lives in a small country called Genovia, but one day he calls – sounding weird – saying he wants to talk to Mia’s mom. As it turns out, he called to tell Mia’s mother that Mia is now the princess of Genovia and will have many royal duties as soon as she’s old enough. Mia thinks, great! Now I’m a 5’9”, flat-chested PRINCESS!!!!! And things got even worse; Mia’s mother started dating her Algebra teacher. Mia is worried that she will be labeled as a freak, and so she doesn’t tell anyone that she is a princess, and then the story takes off.

I thought that this novel was wonderful, with great suspense, an interesting writing style, and amazing character development. Mia starts out as an unsure and interesting girl with few friends, but ends the story with a positive attitude – though she still doesn’t express her feelings very much – and more friends and companions than before. This novel was a very funny story that made me laugh while I read it during class. It was a comedic story that made me smile and want more. I would recommend this book – and book series – to anyone who enjoys fictional stories about learning who you are and growing up.

This novel has a pink cover with a lock, like a diary. The title is presented in an interesting way, with The Princess in a faded pink font and diaries in white on top. It is the first book in a 10-book series, and I was so intrigued by this book that I went on to read all ten books. I would give this book a 5 out of 5.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Guest Blog: Metaphor for mental illness

Reviewed by Elizabeth B., reference librarian

Challenger Deep

by Neal Shusterman
Illustrated by Brendan Shusterman
308 pages
Realistic fiction
For ages 14 and up

Teenager Caden Bosch has been acting strange lately. He seems quieter and more withdrawn than usual. He is also totally absorbed in his thoughts, and is saying bizarre things. He seems to be losing his hold on reality. Little does his family know that he has periods where he believes he is on a ship sailing to the deepest part of the ocean known as the Challenger Deep. As time goes on, these periods become longer and longer until they seem to be the only reality that Caden experiences. Eventually, it is revealed that he suffers from schizophrenia, but that is just the beginning of the story.... In order to return to reality, Caden must first find Challenger Deep and discover its secrets. What is the significance of Challenger Deep? What lies at the bottom of it? Only Caden can find out.

Having been a Neal Shusterman fan since the late 1990s and having read all of his books, I can honestly say this is one of his best. I found Challenger Deep to be a deeply moving and powerful book about a teen boy’s descent into mental illness. At first, I was a little confused by the plot because the book jumps quite frequently between the two realities Caden is experiencing. However, once the reader realizes what is happening to Caden, it is hard to put this book down. Not only is this book beautifully written, but I believe it gives readers a chance to see what the descent into mental illness can be like. I think this is because the book is based on the experiences of Shusterman’s son Brendan, who at one time suffered from severe mental illness. Shusterman talked with Brendan extensively before writing this book, to better understand what his son experienced. Included in this book are illustrations drawn by Brendan, which go beautifully with the overall tone and feel of the book. Unlike other books about mental illness in teens, this book does not romanticize or sugar-coat the experience. It shows how difficult mental illness can be, and illustrates its impact on everyone in contact with the person who is struggling with the illness.

As amazing as this book was, I wish it had given a more appealing cover. When I first saw the cover, I thought it was a book about a teenage scuba diver, not a book about a teen’s mental illness. The cover is misleading and does not give any indication of what the book is really about.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Editor's note: Others must have agreed with Elizabeth, because this book won the National Book Award.