Friday, April 21, 2017

What we're reading: Teens' Top Ten nominees

Every year about this time, a list of books is published by YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association). They are the nominees to become this past year's "Teens' Top Ten." These books are nominated by book club teens from 15 schools and public libraries around the country; the list is out from April until August, to give other teens ample opportunity to read the 25 or 26 (this year there are 26) nominated books to see which ones they like best, and then from August 15 until Teen Read Week in October, teens can go online to the TTT page on the YALSA website to pick their top three. From these votes, the ballot of 25 is winnowed down to 10 winners, which are announced during Teen Read Week.

Every year, we at Burbank Public Library make sure that we have copies of all the nominees for you to check out, and we publish a handy ballot so you can keep track of which books you read and what you thought of them, so that voting in August is easy. The ballots usually come out at the beginning of the Teen Summer Reading Program in early June.

I decided to get a jump on things by reading a few of these books now, and I just finished one called Love & Gelato, by Jenna Evans Welch.

The story parallels other YA books about teens who are sent away to boarding school for their senior year, or sent away for the summer, or sent anywhere they aren't particularly interested in going. In this case, though, there is a tragic reason for Lina to be sent to Tuscany this summer: Her mother, Hadley, just died of pancreatic cancer at a young age, and Hadley's dying wish was for Lina to get to know her father, who lives in Italy. This is news to Lina; it's always been just she and her mom, and her father was never discussed. But during Hadley's last weeks in the hospital, all she wanted to do was to tell Lina stories about her college years, which she spent in Florence, and the best friend, Howard, with whom she spent them. It isn't until after she's dead that Lina's grandmother reveals that this Howard guy is Lina's father.

So now Lina is off to visit him; but there is some understandable resentment, since all she can think about is, where the heck was he for the past 16 years, and why is she just finding out about him now? When she arrives at his house (which is located inside the boundaries of the American graveyard for the armed forces in Italy, where Howard acts as a sort of historian/caretaker), his co-worker presents her with a journal that her mother sent over, a journal that Hadley kept during her college years, and with its help and that of a cute and friendly half-American half-Italian boy next door, Lina begins to make sense of just what led to her conception.

While I started out thinking the author was being quirky just for the sake of being quirky (although I have to admit I have fantasized about living in a little house inside a graveyard--there's one in the Hollywood Forever cemetery they use to store tools, but I always thought it would make a cool secret retreat), and found the protagonist initially just too TOO sulky teenage girl, the book quickly grew on me. I empathized with the degree of her grief over her mother, liked the device of the diary, loved all the details about Florence, hoped Howard would finally get something out of life that he wanted, and tolerated the little romance. The romance was probably the thing that put me off the most, simply because it was sooooo insta-love (c'mon, she knows him for five days?!),'s Florence, there's gelato and pastry and pasta and statues and art and cathedrals, so who could help it, right?

I think teens who enjoyed Stephanie Perkins's book, Anna and the French Kiss, would love this, as would fans of Maureen Johnson's Little Blue Envelopes series, and the book is written in a manner that is entirely appropriate for middle-schoolers, although older teens will enjoy it too.

Next I'm going to try The Diabolic, by S. J. Kincaid, a book set in the future when people have moved outward across the universe to other worlds, and have created creatures from human DNA who are programmed to be the world's most loyal bodyguards. Diabolics are not considered human; but when one is required to masquerade as her mistress, and begins to experience feelings she shouldn't be able to have, she starts to wonder whether that's true...

Look for the Teens' Top Ten ballot starting June 5 at the library!

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