Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What we're reading...for book club

I thought it was interesting that the month after we read Lock In, by John Scalzi, in which people are using other people's bodies to get around, the 10-12 Book Club then chose Every Day, by David Levithan, as its next month's read. The plot of that book is that a person called "A" wakes up every day in a new body. The character is genderless, because one day the body might be a guy, the next day a girl. The body is always age-appropriate, though--this has been happening as long as "A" can remember, but when "A" was five years old, the daily jump was into other five-year-olds, while now that "A" is 16, all the bodies are correspondingly the same age. There are also other parameters than age, such as distance/proximity, that create some interesting challenges.

It's a strange existence, to say the least, and some conversation goes into talking about how "A" gradually figures out what's happening as he grows older--at first, it seemed like "A" stayed the same, while all the other personnel changed daily; parents would say to "A" (only those parents thought, of course, that they were talking to their own child, not realizing that "A" was in control of the body), "Oh, tomorrow we will do such and such," and "A" would cry and say "But you won't be here tomorrow." It took "A" a little time and some growing up before the realization struck that all those people would be "there" tomorrow, and only "A" would not.

The book opens when "A" is 16, and after a long life of waking up in new bodies, suddenly something has changed. "A" woke up this morning in the body of Justin, a rather hulking specimen of teenage boy, and when "Justin" gets to school, his girlfriend, Rhiannon, is there waiting. Justin (the real Justin) isn't very nice to Rhiannon--"A" can both pick up old memories and also sense this from her tentative manner around him. "A" decides, at first somewhat arbitrarily (being in a giddy mood today and not wanting to be as careful as usual) that "Justin" is going to give Rhiannon a good day. So they cut school, and go to the beach, and have what turns out to be a dream day for both of them. "A" wishes, more strongly than has ever happened before, to stay in this body and in this relationship with another person for whom "A" believes "A" could come to care. But, inevitably, the next morning comes and "A" wakes up as someone else.

Instead of going passively into that good night, though, "A" decides rebelliously that this is the moment to be a little selfish, to pursue the relationship that beckons, so "A" uses the next body to seek out Rhiannon, and the next, until finally "A" decides to disclose that all these people who have been running into Rhiannon and initiating some kind of contact are the same person inside, even if they look completely different on the outside. Rhiannon's reaction leads to the rest of the story.

I really enjoyed the multiple directions this book explored. I liked that it persisted with the lack of traditional gender roles--sometimes "A" was a girl with a boyfriend, sometimes a boy with a girlfriend, but also a boy with a boyfriend and a girl with a girlfriend. The descriptions of being inside uncomfortable "hosts"--a drug addict, a clinically depressed person--were powerful and interesting, and made the reader almost able to feel those things in first person. The idea of loving someone for their insides and not their outsides, or completely regardless of their outsides, was a challenging one, not just for Rhiannon but for the reader. And the ethics that "A" must confront each day--do I mess with this person's life so that it goes off on a tangent the person never intended? or do I continue to be careful and quiet and follow the inclinations of the host? are addressed when "A" encounters someone who seems to be like "A" but is taking a different, selfish path.

There is a companion book, called Another Day, that is the exact same story, but from Rhiannon's viewpoint, that sounds intriguing; and Levithan will release an actual sequel, called Someday, that continues with "A"'s existence, "someday" in 2018.

I should add that reactions were mixed but mostly positive in book club--we always rate the book from 1-10, and this one had a high rating of 10 and a low rating of 4, with an average rating of 7.75, which is quite respectable!



Monday, February 13, 2017

This week at the library...for teens!

On Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Buena Vista Branch, we hope teens in grades 6-12 will join us for a fun and festive evening, at


Teens have selected readings from their favorite books, and will "perform" them for the other teens present. Some are reading alone, while others have developed dialogues from their books, and we will have a variety of books represented.

The general format will be like Book Café--we will have cappuccino and cookies, do a little socializing, and then settle in to give our Cabaret performers our rapt attention!

If you are a teen who would like to share a passage from a book you love, please contact Melissa by emailing melliott@burbankca.gov. Include your name, contact information, and the book from which you will read.

Otherwise, just come and be their audience! (If we run out of readings, we will fill out the evening with book-talking, so if you're reading something you want to talk about, bring your book along and do that!)

We hope to see you Thursday night for some cappuccino and cabaret!



Sunday, February 12, 2017

What we're reading: A middle school gem

Joan Bauer has written more than a dozen teen novels (between 1992 and now), and they are "feel-good" books (some call them "soft" or "gentle" reads) filled with humor, warmth, and good plots, perfect for middle-schoolers (and the rest of us who enjoy those elements too!). Most of them feature strong, independent, and funny female protagonists, but three of the 12, including her latest book, Soar (2016) have guys as their star players.

I just finished reading and enjoying her book Rules of the Road:

Jenna Boller, 16, is an enthusiastic shoe salesperson at the local branch of Gladstone Shoes. She has a boss who is committed to quality and good customer service, and as her mentor, his training has convinced her that Gladstone's is the place to go (and to work) if you want the best at decent prices.

One day, the "big boss," Mrs. Gladstone, the CEO and one of the two founders of the company, comes into the store for a surprise visit. She is impressed with Jenna's alacrity with the customers, and decides to hire Jenna to drive her from Chicago to Texas (with many stops along the way to pay similar visits to her shoe store branches), where she has a stockholder's meeting.

Jenna has all but decided to say no--why would she want to spend her entire summer chauffeuring an old woman around, when she can work her job, hang with her best friend, and spend more time with her family? But then Jenna's alcoholic father arrives in town and starts embarrassing her by showing up at her job, calling her in the middle of the night, and otherwise behaving badly, so Jenna decides Mrs. Gladstone's offer is an opportune one, if it will get her out of town and away from this situation. The two take off on a road trip in Mrs. Gladstone's cadillac that will have life-changing results for all involved.

I enjoyed this book. I particularly liked it for its portrayal of strong women: Mrs. Gladstone is determined to prevail against those who wish to undermine her company; Jenna's mother has coped with her absent ex's alcoholism and works hard as an ER nurse to support her two girls; and Jenna herself, though in some ways self-doubting, steps up to do the right thing in almost every circumstance in which she is placed. Yes, the story may be a little idealistic in these respects, but it's nice to read something idealistic now and then! I did think that Bauer's treatment of Mrs. Gladstone's son was a bit cardboard-like (one-dimensional and cliched), but aside from that, no complaints.

The book addresses some serious subjects (corporate and personal greed, alcoholism, and Alzheimer's disease) thoroughly, but with wit and humor, and some emotion, too. I would hand this to most middle school girls and many boys, with the expectation that they would enjoy it as well.