Dear Teen Peeps,
Reading Rants will be off the air for the month of May while I keep chipping away at my super sekrit writing project and work on some other big review assignments. When we return, I hope to have some fabulous suggestions of hot summer reads that will set your beach bags and e-readers on FIRE. (Only in the metaphorical sense. No one wants bag smelling of scorched canvas or a melted Kindle.) And maybe, just maybe a redesigned RR logo as well. Until then, check out these other great writing sites where you can share what you’re creating and let me know what fantastic titles you’re reading right now or looking forward to reading this summer in the comments. I’m always looking for the next good book, please feel free to steer me in the right direction!
Although I didn’t want April to slip away without reviewing a poetry book, this is not the one I thought I’d cover. It has sat on my shelf since last fall, it’s slim spine slipping down between other books, sometimes shoved behind but always reemerging to ask the mute question, “Why haven’t you read me?” Why? Because I was afraid it would hurt. Because I was afraid it would make me cry. Because this is a collection of poetry in many forms that examines the murder of Matthew Shepard and it’s aftermath and I knew it would be an emotionally brutal read. And it was. All those things happened—my heart broke, my head ached, I cried. But I’m glad I read it. Because this is also a collection of poetry in many forms that pays tribute to a life cut short and calls on anyone who reads it to fight against the ignorance, intolerance and hatred that caused Matthew’s murder. Each poem assumes a voice of a person or object that either witnessed or was in someway touched by Matthew’s life or death. We hear from the fence he was hung on, the moon who witnessed it, the prosecutor who argued his case, the jury who decided the guilt of killers, the judge who handed down two life sentences in prison. But the poems that touched me the most were those modeled after the famous apology poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams. (Probably because all the apologies in the world won’t bring him back.) There’s this one, in the voice of Matthew’s heart: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/I kept beating/and beating/inside/your shattered chest/Forgive me/for keeping you/alive/so long/I knew it would kill me/to let you go” And this one in the voice of the judge who rejected the killers’ bogus defense: “This is just to say/I’m sorry/to deny/your request/to use/the gay panic defense/Forgive me/for pointing out/the obvious:/there was someone gay/and panicked that night/but that someone wasn’t you.” Author Leslea Newman has also included loads of fantastic backmatter, including a heartfelt author’s note, an annotated list of all the news sources she drew from to inform her poems and additional resources should readers want to learn more about Matthew Shepard’s life and memorial. A bittersweet and powerful collection.
Celia Door is DARK. “When I say I turned Dark, what I really mean is that I gave up. I gave up on trying to fit in and make everyone like me. I accepted that no one liked me and I didn’t care what they thought…I realized that, in a field of sunflowers, I’m a black-eyed Susan.” It’s freshman year. Celia is turning over a new leaf. And it’s black. She’s never without her black boots, black hoodie and black and white composition notebook that holds her dark poetry. This ensemble helps her get into the correct mindset to enact what she hopes will be a singular, spectacular act of sweet revenge. “I came to Hersey High School for revenge. I didn’t have a specific plan worked out, but I did know this: it would be public, it would humiliate someone, and it would be clear to that someone that I had orchestrated it.” Eighth grade was tough. Celia’s parents split, she lost her best friend and she was publically humiliated. Now she only hopes to take down the individual who made her lose faith in herself that awful year. Enter new kid Drake Berlin, who “had the kind of style that you can only achieve if you were raised in New York City or possibly a foreign country.” Drake is as bright as Celia is dark, as popular as she is unpopular. Shockingly, of all the kids at school, he picks her to be his friend. Celia is flattered, but she can’t let Drake distract her from her plan. And she can’t tell him the terrible truth of what happened last year. But Drake is hiding a secret too. And if Celia and Drake don’t figure out a way to bring their secrets to light, they just might be undone by their own darkness. If you haven’t noticed, I can’t stop quoting pithy passages from this marvelous debut. Celia’s first person narration is sprinkled with humor and pathos in equal measure, which ended up making me laugh or cry every other page. Plus, she is a woman after my own book-loving heart. Celia freakin’ adores the library and isn’t afraid to say so: “I love a library the way a swim team loves towels,” and “Libraries are my power centers.” She even organizes her book crushes by genre. “My classic crush is Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. For fantasy, I’ve chosen Aragon from Lord of the Rings. Sci-fi is a tie between Peeta and Gale from Hunger Games, and my favorite contemporary fiction bad boy is Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.” In addition to her wonderful wordsmithery and pitch perfect portrayal of a girl in crisis, author Karen Finneyfrock has crafted an all too real tale about the consequences of bullying and the high price of revenge. Celia’s ninth grade journey is painful and wonderful and tragic and true. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one.
Dear teen peeps,
Just a reminder that the absolutely stunning Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell that I reviewed waaaay back in October of 2012 is NOW AVAILABLE and you should run, not walk to your nearest library, bookstore or e-reader and secure a copy ASAP. I am absolutely gaga (and I don’t mean Lady) over this book and I’m not the only one. While you’re standing in line waiting to check out or buy your copy, you can take a gander at all the other folks (like John Green) who are as nuts as I am about this terrific contemporary teen relationship novel as I am.
Two Against the World: Eleanor & Park by John Green for the New York Times
Eleanor & Park in Stacked
Eleanor & Park in Reading Books Like a Boss
Interview with Rainbow Rowell about Eleanor & Park at Teen Lit Rocks
Book trailer for Eleanor & Park by the Arlington Public Library Teen Librarians
Liz and Bean are used to being on their own. When their aspiring singer mom takes off for a few days every now and then to follow her dreams, the two girls just hunker down, make chicken pot pies in the toaster oven and tell anyone who asks that she’s just visiting a friend in L.A. and will be back soon. But this time, Mom’s been gone for almost two weeks. The chicken potpies are running low and the neighbors are starting to sniff around. Liz makes the call that the sisters need to hightail it to their Uncle Tinsley’s house in Virginia before they get trundled off to foster care. Once they get to 1970’s small town Byler, they find a safe haven with Uncle Tinsley, an eccentric but kind old man who used to own the cotton mill. Mom visits, but then heads out to New York to scout singing opportunities and apartments, leaving the girls to start school in Byler. Liz and Bean love Byler, but the small town isn’t as idyllic as they first thought. The high school is being integrated for the first time, and racial tensions are high. The girls also find themselves stuck in the middle of a nasty feud between Uncle Tinsely and Mr. Maddox, the mill foreman. When Liz publically accuses Maddox of some downright dirty behavior, the incident sets off a firestorm of rumors, gossip and backstabbing in the small town that changes both girls’ lives forever. How will the sisters turn the tide of negativity that has risen up against them because of Maddox’s lies? And where is their mom when they need her the most? By turns witty, warm and provocative, this all ages read by the author of The Glass Castle is a perfect choice for your high school mother-daughter book club or to throw in your beach bag this summer. Coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you June 2013.
I have been absolutely smitten with Lucy Knisley since reading her graphic travel memoir French Milk right before I went to Paris for the first time. That’s why I was thrilled to get my oven mitts on her new foodie autobio, Relish. In it, Knisley shares the luscious narratives of her upbringing (complete with to-die-for illustrated recipes) in a gritty 1970’s & 80’s New York City and rustic upstate Rhinebeck. Her stories of eating oysters at her uncle’s knee, running away from vindictive geese and chowing down French fries on the sly so as not to offend her gourmet parents are hilarious and delicious. But my two hands down favorite stories are when she chronicles eating her way through Mexico with her mom and best guy friend Drew while getting her first period at the most awkward of times, and the day when she helped her mom cater an event at DIA Beacon as a college student and came face to face with Richard Serra’s massive iron sculptures. By herself with the sculpture while the party goes on in another room, Knisley feels surprisingly blessed to be a waiter. “I could be alone, touching the cool metal of a famous and affecting work of art, a gift gained through circumstance. I thought of all the builders and guards and custodians who have had similar moments, and felt lucky to be a server.” (I’ve seen and been inside those sculptures and they are indeed awe inspiring.) And then there are the RECIPES. For perfect chocolate chip cookies, homemade pesto and my personal favorite, sautéed mushrooms. And those are just a very few mouthwatering examples. While it’s hard to know where to shelve Relish (living room bookcase or kitchen cupboard?) it’s not hard to enjoy each and every one of Knisley’s tasty anecdotes. Whether you’re a foodie or just a sucker for a good coming of age story, you’re going to savor every page of this yummy graphic memoir.
Blessed Island is a truly stress-free place. There are no cars to pollute the air with smoke and noise, no cell phones to distract people from real connections. It’s so peaceful that reporter Eric Seven just can’t seem to motivate himself to collect the research he needs to write an article about the remote island community and it’s rumored fountain of youth. The villagers are friendly and generous, and there’s always another cup of tea to sip, another delicious meal to eat, another nap to take. Soon he’s been there for several days and it’s getting harder and harder to remember why he came. All he knows is that it had something to do with flowers, and the young woman named Merle. Eric feels certain they’ve met before, although he doesn’t know how since Merle’s never left Blessed Island and he’s never been. Or has he? In seven cleverly intertwined short stories, author Marcus Sedgwick weaves a classic yet wholly original tale of blessings and curses, love and loyalty, bitterness and revenge. Each story is like an interlocking puzzle piece that forms a fascinating picture by the immensely satisfying end. As a reader, I was completely captivated by the storytelling and as a writer, utterly blown away with the razor sharp execution of plot, clues and character. It’s an absolute stunner of a mystery and romance and I will be madly recommending it to everyone I know.
It’s hard work fighting evil. Just ask Superhero Girl, the under-appreciated star of Faith Erin Hick‘s tongue-in-cheek graphic novel. Superhero Girl has grown up in the caped shadow of her older brother Kevin, also a crusader for good. But needing to establish her own brand, Superhero Girl moves to a new city, finds a laid back roommate who takes her superheroing in stride and proceeds to get her crime fighting on. No job is too large or too small–Superhero Girl beats up baddies from outer space AND rescues little kitties from trees. But although her calling is fulfilling, being a super hero isn’t always rewarding. Vigilantism doesn’t pay the rent, and so like every other twenty something on her own, Superhero Girl must look for a REAL job. She also finds her dating life hindered by her secret identity. And when a wave of peace comes over the nighborhood she is sworn to defend, Superhero Girl finds herself taking up knitting (with disastrous results.) This snort-out-loud GN is charm on a stick. Hicks takes the superhero mythology we know so well from multiplex hours spent in the company of bat and spider men and turns it on its ear, to hugely hilarious affect. I couldn’t stop chuckling to myself, especially when Superhero Girl is accused of beating up an innocent looking hipster and no one will come to his defense because they “hate his stupid little weather-inappropriate scarf.” Hee hee! (Oh, hipster-bashing. I just can’t quit you.) Superhero Girl started life as a webcomic, which you can read here, but I heartily recommend getting the gorgeous full color GN from your local library, bookstore or comic book shop.
Who’s afraid of vampires, werewolves or zombies anymore? These former baddies have totally lost their fear factor by becoming sparkly, hunky and objects of our affection. Luckily for those of us who still like to get our scare on, there’s a new fright in town. And it’s coming from the sky. Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said, “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Cassie should know. She’s barely survived the first four waves of the alien invasion of Earth. First, the worldwide loss of electricity, then the massive tsunamis, followed by a fatal plague and finally the outright assassinations by roving drones of any humans left alive after all that. She’s lost everyone but her little brother, lost everything but her iron will to live. When men claiming to be American military separate her from her brother Sammy, Cassie decides she will do anything to get him back, even if it means sacrificing the only thing she had left—her life. But her mission is compromised when she joins forces with a mysterious stranger who has a secret agenda that could derail Cassie’s journey before it’s even begun. And the 5th Wave is silently rolling out, even more deadly than the the first four. This tense, high wire, sci-fi thriller could only come from the terrifying mind of Rick Yancey, author of my deeply beloved Monstrumologist series. While this new series opener is not quite as ooey gooey gory as The Monstrumologist, Yancey doesn’t shy away from the visceral violence of an unfriendly alien invasion and the nearly nonstop action is super intense. I could barely sit still while reading this juggernaut of a book, surely annoying everyone around me with my tapping toes, jiggling feet and chattering teeth. Cinematic, epic and downright addictive, The 5th Wave reminded me of one of my fav Stephen King stories, The Stand. Get ready to be swept away when The 5th Wave crashes into a library, bookstore or e-reader near you!
Amelia is a fifteen-year-old high school student and part time grocery store cashier. Chris is a twenty-one-year old part time college student and grocery store trainer. The overlap in their potential mutual interests is minimal. And yet…Chris is the only one who really gets Amelia’s earnest disappointment with feminism. And Amelia, despite her tender age, is honestly the only one in Chris’s circle of stoners and dropouts who he can have a real conversation with about philosophy or the failed love lives of famous fictional characters. Together, they make the long boring shifts at the store bearable for each other. Chris helps Amelia forget about her cold home life and Amelia helps Chris believe in himself again. “I really like talking to her. I like how she turns everything over in her mind and she doesn’t censor herself. Being with her is easy. I seem to laugh.” There’s just one problem. Amelia is in love with Chris. “I’m not even sure what ‘getting’ Chris would involve, all I know is I want him…To have unfettered and exclusive access to him all the time…To know that he loves being around me too.” And Chris, besides being way too old for Amelia, is still deeply, unhappily in love with his ex, Michaela. I know what you’re thinking—but this isn’t that book about an Inappropriate Hook Up. Instead it is a nuanced and sweet portrayal of an unusual friendship and how two people with busted up backgrounds help each other through two of life’s hardest transitions: first broken heart and first time leaving home. The easy banter and witty conversation in LOVE reminded me of two other titles you might like that employ similarly droll intellectual stylings. And debut author Laura Buzo nailed the setting and feelings of The First Job, with a howlingly funny set of slacker employees that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever clerked a 7-11 or worked a big box store register. I just wish I had picked it up sooner as there is a strong possibility that it may have wandered onto my 2012 Top Ten.