David Levithan and Cross Shelving

I am currently reading David Levithan’s new novel, The Lover’s Dictionary. This is the first of his novels, at least that I’ve read, that hasn’t been filed in the YA section. As I’ve been reading it I’ve sort of kept a check list of reasons for this in my head, but what I’ve found is that the major rationalization seems to be the age of the characters, who come across as just past young adulthood. My other thought while reading this novel is that it is probably one of the best solo novels I have read by David Levithan.

This got me thinking about cross shelving. My mother is a children’s librarian, and she has told me before that some novels (like the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books) are shelved in both the Children’s and YA sections. It makes sense to me; some kids are still okay looking for books in the Children’s section, but other kids who might not be ready for everything in YA would still like to start browsing there. Continue reading

Review: Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft

Jonathan is a kid dealing with the death of his twin brother Telly. He focuses on music and poetry to help him through his grief, which means that school takes a back seat. As a result, Jonathan is assigned the task of writing the life story of WWII veteran David O.H. Cosgrove II. With the help of his close friends (his “Thicks”), a veteran, a guitar, an angel, and a girl with ever-changing hair, Jonathan reaffirms his belief in the value of life.

I enjoyed this book, so I was really disappointed when Jonathan used the word “faggy” so casually, without mentioning how homophobic it is. I mention this right away because it colored my opinion throughout the rest of the book. Continue reading

Great YA Librarians

I know a ton of really great YA librarians, so I’ve been thinking about the difference between those who are just doing their jobs and those who are committed to the teenagers who come to their libraries. With that in mind, I tried to make a list of what I think makes great YA librarians so successful.

  1. They have read the Twilight books. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like the Twilight series at all and I wish it wasn’t as popular as it is because I think the relationships it discusses are really, really unhealthy. But I think YA librarians who haven’t read them are distancing themselves from a lot of the kids checking books out at their library. Continue reading

Book Review: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares is the story of two people who first meet on the pages of a red moleskin notebook. One day Dash is perusing the shelves of his favorite bookstore, the Strand, and instead of a first edition Salinger, he finds a notebook challenging him to follow the dares left for him by a girl named Lily and leave some of his own in return. As they follow the clues (and dares) of a total stranger, Dash and Lily end up everywhere from NYC’s Macy’s during the week before Christmas to a club in the middle of the night (listening to a band called Sorry Rabbi, Tricks are for Yids). Each dare reveals something new about Dash and Lily and brings them closer to the day they will actually meet. When that day finally arrives, they are forced to reconcile the versions of each other they had in their heads with the real thing.

This book has a frenetic energy about it, like everything is happening so quickly that neither Dash nor Lily can keep their changing opinions straight. It’s like an explosion of hormones and opinions and pretentious language and really honest emotion, all barely contained within a shell of insecurity and feigned apathy. It’s like this book is screaming, “READ ME IF YOU ARE A TEENAGER. NO, SERIOUSLY.”

In true Levithan-Cohn style, this book is full of snarky dialogue, the craziest and most awesome array of characters ever (from a gay Jewish hipster couple to a family not unlike the mafia, if you replace violence with Christmas cheer), and a plotline so ridiculous and serendipitous that it’s almost impossible not to enjoy yourself.

Even with all of this to choose from, what I love most about this book is that it is a romance that isn’t really a romance. In most YA romances, the narrator is usually a girl who develops an all-consuming crush on a boy, they meet, and then lots of sexy scenes are spliced together with lots of mushy, let’s-express-our-feelings scenes. While these books are definitely fun to read, they aren’t always the most honest or healthy portrayal of what a couple can be like.

For most of this novel, Dash and Lily never actually occupy the same space. The promise of romance is always there, but it takes a backseat to the emotional development of the characters. Because of the dares they challenge each other with, both Dash and Lily are forced to look at the world through someone else’s eyes: they challenge each other’s ideas, they unknowingly push each other outside of their comfort zones, and they ultimately help each other form a better understanding of themselves.

Why Speak is Awesome and Book Banning is Not-some

Recently, a man named Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader (Springfield, MO) in which he condemns three books: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. From the perspective of a teenager, a student, and a person, I have a lot to say about this, especially concerning Speak.

In his own words, Scroggins calls Speak “soft pornography”. This totally freaks me out. If he had chosen the word ‘disturbing’ or ‘terrifying’, I could maybe understand his reaction. His word choice seems to imply that the fact that Melinda (the protagonist) is raped is irrelevant. What’s more important to point out to the school board is that there is SEX in a book that CHILDREN are reading in SCHOOLS. This is one of my biggest issues with book banning. In so many instances a book will be challenged because it mentions something that scares people, whether it is sex or drugs or swear words. It only takes a few f bombs for a book to be placed on the “bad” list. What is pretty consistently overlooked in these cases it the impact of a novel as a whole, mostly because challenged books are so rarely read by their challengers.

Rape is a serious, scary issue that affects the people from whom Scroggins is trying to keep this book. What makes it more relevant, in my opinion, is the fact that Speak deals with date rape: something fuzzy, difficult to define, and largely unreported. In a time where “she was asking for it” and “I was drunk and it’s not his fault” are acceptable explanations, Speak is more important than ever.

When I first read Speak, I was close to Melinda’s age. Reading it, all I could think was: “Why isn’t she saying anything? How can she just let him get away with that?” But then I realized something important; Wesley Scroggins is not my parent. A librarian is. My mother is a librarian who never told me I couldn’t read a book, even if it contained something with which she was uncomfortable. It’s because of this encouragement and this freedom that I could read Melinda’s story and not understand her reluctance to say anything.

Scroggins can keep anything he wants from his children. If he thinks that something is immoral or pornographic, he can choose to prevent them from reading it. What he cannot and should not do is keep anyone else from reading it.

Melinda doesn’t say anything about her rape because she has been taught that sex is something you can’t talk about and rape, especially date rape, is almost worse than that. Speak is, at its core, a beautifully written novel about finding the strength to overcome a traumatic experience and, in doing so, discover what it means to speak your mind and think for yourself even in the face of people who don’t want to listen.

Teenager’s opinions are so often dismissed because of hormones or naivety. Speak teaches us that our beliefs are important and our feelings are honest and worthy of attention. It teaches us that what we have to say matters, that speaking up and speaking out can create positive change, that remaining silent means suffering for something we didn’t deserve in the first place . Speak teaches us that we need to make people listen if we want to be heard.

Banning books teaches us to keep things inside, unspoken, and well contained. It says that rape is pornographic, immoral, and filthy and that we shouldn’t talk about it. That’s why Melinda never said anything, because she was taught that rape was her fault, it was a dirty secret that she should just keep to herself.

On her blog, Laurie Halse Anderson asked her readers to post about what Speak means to them. For me, it has always been about using your voice when it matters and learning to speak up for yourself when it’s clear that no one else will. Speak is about everything, in my opinion, that book banning prevents.

“Classic” Novels in the YA Section: I’m excited, anyway.



Before my summer is over and I have to go back to school (tomorrow) I wanted to post about something I’ve noticed in my local library.

Recently, I’ve noticed that some ‘classic’ books are being moved into the YA section; titles like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby. I wanted to comment on this because I think it’s a really good idea. Typically, summer reading assignments in high school aren’t something anyone gets excited about. While I’ve read my share of assigned reading that I hated (don’t even get me started on The Awakening) I like that summer reading assignments force you to read outside of your normal choices. It’s a chance to read something you would never pick on your own, and while sometimes you hate them (like Their Eyes Were Watching God) there are always a few that you end up really loving (like Catch-22).

I also like that once you start to read classic novels you realize all of the cultural references that always went right over your head. Having just finished Catch-22, I really can’t believe how many lines in movies or books or songs finally make sense to me. One of my favorites is being able to use the Holden Caulfield complex in arguments about whether or not a character is likable. And, I mean, at the very least, you’ll finally understand what Wuthering Heights or Romeo and Juliet has Bella so excited about (although I still don’t understand that one).

What I’m trying to say, in an apparently really long winded way, is that I’m glad the YA librarian at my library is moving some older, classic novels into the YA section because I think it might get more kids to read them just because they look good and not just because they have to for school. I think it would be cool to see how they’re compared to more contemporary fiction, and moving both into the same section is kind of an experiment I’d like to see the results of. I think librarians encouraging summer reading assignments, even in a small way like this, could be really helpful in the long run. Or, at the very least, all the high school kids might have an easier time finding their assigned reading.

Why ALA WAS Awesome (in which the word “awesome” is used far too much)

Now that my post-ALA buzz is beginning to wear off and I’ve reread my pre-ALA blog post, I think it’s time to share the joy that was the 2010 ALA Annual Conference in Washington D.C.

With my inner fangirl bouncing off the walls of my brain, I created a list of the top ten things I hoped to tell you about doing in this post. So, without further ado, here is my list of the ten things that I DID do while at ALA 2010.

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Why ALA is Going to be Awesome

My mother is a crazy, enthusiastic children’s librarian and I am her crazy, librarian-wannabe daughter which means that ALA is like Disney World for the two of us. I’m lucky that she’s my mom because otherwise I might not even know what ALA stands for.

But she is, and I do, and now we’re getting ready for our second trip to the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. As a teenager and not technically a librarian yet (even though I like to pretend that I already am) ALA is all about fun for me. Of course, I’m such a librarian nerd that even sessions about RefWorks are pretty thrilling but the true magic happens in the Exhibits Hall.

So, with excitement and antici…pation running through my book nerdy veins, I thought that I would write a list of the top ten things I hope I can tell you about in my post-conference post:

  1. Meeting Lauren Oliver and telling her that Before I Fall was one of the most beautiful novels that I have ever read. When you start a novel wanting to punch the main character in the face and end a novel crying because you know she has to die, you know you’ve just experienced something that doesn’t happen very often.
  2. Congratulating Libba Bray on her Printz Award and tell her that I TOTALLY saw it coming, because honestly, how could I not? I think she might also like to know that I am now the proud owner of a growing lawn gnome collection, all thanks to her.
  3. Participating in Libraries Build Communities again.
  4. Attending the YA Author Coffee Klatch and trying to contain my giddiness, especially if John Green is anywhere in the vicinity.
  5. Waiting just outside the Exhibits Hall just before they open and making a mad dash for all of the major publishers before the really good ARCs are gone.
  6. Talking about books with the Best Fiction for Young Adults panel (including my fabulous VOYA partner, Alissa Lauzon)
  7. Planning to fan girl every YA author I can find but ending up just staring at them in awe while my mother tells them how much I talk about their books.
  8. Recreating another serendipitous moment where I turn the corner and there is STEPHEN CHBOSKY signing The Perks of Being a Wallflower .
  9. Wandering through the Exhibits Hall pulling the “I am an eager teen reader. Please give me books” card.
  10. Being around a bunch of librarians who are as excited about books as I am.

I have no doubt that no matter how many of these things I actually get to do, I will still manage to have a great time, learn a lot, and get a ton of awesome ARCs. See you there!

Why the Weird Books Matter

I like weird books.

Books like Punkzilla by Adam Rapp,
The White Darkness by Geraldine Mccaughrean, and
Going Bovine by Libba Bray.

These books have something more than their weirdness in common. They’ve all been recognized by the Printz Committee in some way.

I think this is because the committee members know something that everyone needs to know: weird books are good.

Punkzilla is a stream-of-consciousness narrative about a boy who travels across the country to be with his dying brother. It’s full of weird characters and scenes that leave your brain feeling muddy and full of fuzz. But it’s also a book about humanity and connection. Zilla says things that make you want to cry they’re so beautiful because everything else is so confusing that only the really true things make sense.

The White Darkness is about a girl following her (possibly insane) uncle to Antarctica on a mission to find a world that may or may not exist. It’s also about that same girl finding her own voice and her own sight, something that she was unable to do in her everyday life. It took a journey into nothingness, a place where her mind was stretched to the limits, for her to discover herself. And the reader gets to go there with her.

Going Bovine, the winner of the most recent Printz Award, is about a kid named Cameron who gets Mad Cow Disease and sets off on a cross country rode trip to save the world accompanied by a dwarf, a lawn gnome who may or may not be a Norse god, and a punk rock guardian angel addicted to sugar. But it’s also about a new interpretation of what reality is, and what it means to each of us individually. The most commonly accepted reality is not the only one that exists, nor is it the most important. Cameron’s hallucinations were as real to him as any of his other experiences were. Going Bovine takes you inside the mind of a sick kid, and when you come out the other side it leaves you thinking that maybe it’s okay that none of it was “real” because it was real for Cameron, and sometimes that’s enough.

The weird books can take you places that you’ve never been before, and sometimes they take you places that you never really wanted to go. But by the time the journey is over, they leave you with something new and something important. The best part is that you might not even know what it is right away. You might have to sit with your own thoughts for a while, which is one of the best things a book can do.

While I think there is a place for fluffy romance and adventure stories in every reader’s life, the weird books need to be there too because they dare you to make sense of the ludicrous and then make it impossible to leave empty-handed.

I love the Printz Awards for seeing what I see in weird books and I love them even more for pointing those books out to the people who can do the most with them-the librarians. Librarians are in the business of opening minds and I think the weird books are a vital tool of the trade. I’m so excited to know that at least the librarians are drawing people’s attention to more than just Twilight and Gossip Girl. I guess I wrote this blog post to tell them that I really appreciate what they’re doing and that I hope they aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon.

So librarians, thanks for the weird ones. I’m not sure I would have found them without you.