5 October, 2009

Can YOU spot the threat to young minds?

Consider the following excerpt:

"Hulya?" she says. "Hi!"

“Yaz!” Hulya says. “Waddup, cuz? Keeping it real?”

Yasaman grins, because Hulya only talks this way when no one else is around. To Yasaman, she’ll say, “Give me some knuckles” or “Yo yo yo,” but to their elderly büyükbaba and büyükanne and their gazillion of halanin and amcanin, it’s yes, ma’am, no sir all the way.

“Um, yeah, I guess I’m keeping it real,” Yasaman says. She grips the phone. “School starts tomorrow.”

“Yah, I know,” Hulya says. “My friend Chrissy? She’s insane. She’s planning this whole sneak attack on Joseph Terrico, who we call Jellico. She is boy crazy with a capital boy, I’m telling ya. She’s the total ditzy blonde—I love her. Only she’s smart under her ditziness, she does have brains, but she’d rather tie a pillow to her tummy and have pretend sumo wrestler fights, ya know?”

Yasaman holds the phone close. She marvels at the way Hulya’s words spill out of her like jelly beans. She also marvels at the image she gets of this Chrissy, blond and manic and pillow-huge, bouncing into people’s stomachs.

“But even when she’s sumo wrestling, she blabbers about boys,” Hulya says, “She says she’s got ‘boy crazy’ in her genes. Her older sister, Angela? She just started college—somewhere in the south, maybe Georgia?—and apparently she’s dating an entire fraternity. Can you believe it?”

Yasaman opens her mouth to reply.

Before she can, Hulya jumps back in. “But not in a slutty way, for reals. I’m friends with Angela on Facebook, and she’s just as adorable as Chrissy and not skanky at all. Oh! But their aunt? She’s a pole dancer, Yaz. Can you believe it?”

Yasaman is slightly breathless just from listening to Hulya’s spew. “Um … you’re Facebook friends with a college girl?”

“Oh, on Facebook you’re friends with everybody,” Hulya says breezily.

This passage is from Lauren Myracle’s new book Luv Ya Bunches.

Last week, it was deemed so “inappropriate” by one school’s principal that he canceled her visit to the school.

He canceled. Her visit. To the school.

So, to recap: We have dozens of famous, influential people signing a petition that a man who raped a 13-year-old should go free, and we have someone who thinks 13-year-olds should not be allowed to meet the woman who wrote the above passage.

Which do you think does more to protect young people: keeping them away from the words “pole dancer,” or pursuing justice for the people who rape them?

(For more, check out Chasing Ray’s take, which ties these two things together more eloquently than I can when I’m too busy banging my head on things at the stupidity of the world.)

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11 August, 2009

Review: City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare (2009)

City of Glass (Mortal Instruments, #3)City of Glass is the third book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy, the first two of which are City of Bones and City of Ashes. They’re written by Cassandra Clare, who, as you may or may not know, was a very popular (and somewhat controversial) Harry Potter fanfiction author back in the Golden Fanfiction Age between the releases of books 4 and 5. This makes her pretty easy to make fun of, for example by pointing out that Jace in the Mortal Instruments books is basically Leather Pants Draco from her Draco Trilogy, and I won’t argue with you there. (Shadowhunters even wear leather pants as part of their demon-killing gear. Trufax.)

But Clare was a popular fic author for a reason. In my mind, she’s proven her storytelling chops with the Mortal Instruments trilogy. I liked the third installment a lot, and I bet I’ll be going back and rereading all three books someday. They’re funny, they keep you interested, and I liked the world she built. It’s basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer if there were a bunch of Slayers and they had their own city, but with the “Ooh, mysterious stuff happened in the previous generation and it’s relevant now!” aspect of, say, Harry Potter. Also (spoilers! sort of), everyone has a different father than they thought. The characters basically play a constant game of Musical Parents.

Endings of trilogies (or other series) are tricky. Sometimes the writer has thrown so many balls in the air in the first two books that they don’t quite all get caught in the third. This isn’t the case with City of Glass, which wraps up all the major plot points in a satisfyingly juicy way, while leaving a couple of things tantalizingly open-ended, so the ending doesn’t seem too neat.

This series isn’t for everybody. If you get really annoyed by angsty teenagers making snarky quips that mostly involve taking things literally, you’ll probably want to throw these books across the room. And I definitely grew tired of lines like “There was a breathless undercurrent in [character]’s voice, if someone who never breathed could be said to be breathless” (p. 370). ESPECIALLY AFTER THE SEVENTH TIME. JUST FIND SOME OTHER WAY TO SHOW THE CHARACTER’S EMOTIONS! WE ALREADY KNOW [HE OR SHE] IS A VAMPIRE!!

Ahem.

Obviously, lines like that weren’t enough to deter me from finishing the book. The trilogy may not be winning the Printz award anytime soon, but I don’t really care. It’s fun and funny and addictive, and it has werewolves and magic runes and a sarcastic gay warlock, and everyone has a weird name that looks cool on paper but I have no idea how to pronounce in real life (“Aline”? “Amatis”?), so it’s basically everything I expect from a good escapist YA fantasy.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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29 July, 2009

fake cover time!

In the grand tradition of the fake album cover meme, the blog 100 Scope Notes has posted instructions on how to make your own fake YA novel cover:

CREATE YOUR DEBUT YA COVER

1 – Go to “Fake Name Generator” or click http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/

The name that appears is your author name.

2 – Go to “Random Word Generator” or click http://www.websitestyle.com/parser/randomword.shtml

The word listed under “Random Verb” is your title.

3 – Go to “FlickrCC” or click http://flickrcc.bluemountains.net/index.php

Type your title into the search box. The first photo that contains a person is your cover.

4 – Use Photoshop, Picnik, or similar to put it all together. Be sure to crop and/or zoom in.

5 – Post it to your site along with this text.

In my enthusiasm, I made two before I realized you were supposed to include a person on the cover. Still, I think they turned out OK:

"Frozen" by Maria J. Robichaux"Stray" by Lucy Townsend

Pretty good, eh?

The first one is obviously a fantasy novel, or maybe science fiction about a post-global warming world plunged into an ice age. I like that it came up with a Cajun name for me, as I am half Cajun.

The second one I could definitely see being a YA novel, but the one that looks most YA-ish is the third one I made, with an actual person:

Coming soon to a fake bookstore near you.

Be sure to check out the gallery of covers others have submitted; I think my favorite is this one.

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28 July, 2009

and may the odds be ever in your favor

I finished reading The Hunger Games today. I know, I know, I’m the last YA fan on Earth to read it, and I did feel kind of guilty for snagging an ARC of Catching Fire at ALA when I hadn’t even read the first book yet. How dare I take the sequel away from people who were already salivating for it?! I felt like someone would find out and screech “IMPOSTOR!!!” and then everyone who didn’t get a copy would descend on me in a frenzy and then they’d all battle to the death in a vast arena beat each other up to get it.

Anyway, I’m glad Duncan fought his way through the rabid crowd for Catching Fire, because Hunger Games is one of those books that makes you want to read the sequel RIGHT. NOW. Which I can’t do, as Catching Fire is lent out at the moment, but it’s coming back soon. And then… *rubs hands together in delicious anticipation*… there will be READING.

I didn’t write a full review because of course Hunger Games is awesome. You’ve already heard it’s awesome. You don’t need me telling you how awesome it is. If you’re interested, then you’ve already read it, or are planning to. And if you’re not, then nothing I can say is going to convince you to read it. You are BEYOND HOPE.

(Book-blogging makes me start to type like Maureen Johnson.)

But I do want to talk about similarities between Hunger Games and one of my other favorite books of last year, Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Even before I read Hunger Games, I noticed the similarity between the main characters’ names, Katniss and Katsa. And as I read it, I noticed others.

The books both have:

  • A main character whose name starts with “Kat”
  • …who is independent, self-sufficient, and good at hunting/killing
  • …and plans to never marry
  • A romantic interest with a silly name starting with P (Peeta and Po? Seriously?)
  • An oppressive regime, which the characters must outsmart
  • A younger girl, whom the main character feels bound to protect
  • Harsh landscapes through which the characters must survive
  • Permanent physical injuries (I don’t want to spoil too much here)
  • A sequel with the word “Fire” in its title (I’m just saying)
  • Significant jewelry

Of course, Graceling is set in a fantasy world in which characters have supernatural powers, while Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future in the ruins of what used to be North America (in that way it reminds me more of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, which also has the oppressive-regime thing going on). I think it’s interesting that despite the complete difference in setting, the books can still be so similar.

(Just to be clear: I don’t feel this diminishes either book in any way, or that either book is a “rip-off” of the other. I think they’re both amazing books, and I love them both and can’t wait to read their sequels (which will probably be completely different from each other). I love the characters of Katsa and Katniss, and they’re definitely not the same person.

In a way, this reminds me of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, another pair of books which have striking similarities in plot, but which manage to be different and awesome in their own ways. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of fanfiction, but I don’t see anything wrong with telling the same story from a different perspective. Some of my favorite books are retold fairy tales.)

Maybe right now is just a good time for fierce, independent young women battling overwhelming odds. In which case: bring it.

Anyway I know I said I wasn’t going to do a review of Hunger Games, but seriously: this book is un-put-downable. It sucks you in. Like this: THWOOP. And you are riveted, until the very last page, which ends with a cruelly taunting “End of Book One,” and then you drop to your knees and go “WHYYYYYYYYYY IS THE SEQUEL NOT IN MY HANDS RIGHT NOW?!” And then your cat wakes up in alarm, and you think about renaming her Katniss, but decide your roommate wouldn’t approve. And anyway you’ve already had to explain Hypatia to everyone you know. So there’s only one solution: you need another cat as soon as possible.

Just read it, is what I’m saying.

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23 July, 2009

Justine Larbalestier speaks out on the Liar cover controversy

LiarI picked up the ARC of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar at ALA, but I haven’t got around to reading it yet, so I didn’t know about its Cover Problem until Duncan brought it to my attention a few days ago. In short: the cover features a white girl with long straight hair. The protagonist of the book is black, with short nappy hair, and can pass for a boy on occasion.

I’m sure you can see the problem.

Publishers Weekly published an article about the controversy today. One of the important things they note is that young readers in particular care a lot about whether or not the cover image matches the book’s description of the character. Teenagers and children have a lot of respect for the world an author creates, and having a mismatched cover is an insult to this world. Can you imagine a Harry Potter cover without Harry’s trademark scar, glasses, and unruly black hair? Kids would riot.

Justine herself hadn’t commented on the cover until today, when she wrote a lengthy blog post about race and cover art in general, as well as in this specific instance. She writes:

The notion that “black books” don’t sell is pervasive at every level of publishing. Yet I have found few examples of books with a person of colour on the cover that have had the full weight of a publishing house behind them. Until that happens more often we can’t know if it’s true that white people won’t buy books about people of colour. All we can say is that poorly publicised books with “black covers” don’t sell. The same is usually true of poorly publicised books with “white covers.”

Also worth reading is her post on why she doesn’t write white protagonists. I’m not the biggest fan of her writing style, but I’ve always admired her for having a diverse cast of characters in her books. (As a counterexample, I love John Green’s writing to death, but every time I read one of his books I’m like okay, white straight male protagonist… check. Nonwhite supporting character… check. [No offense intended to John Green here. That’s probably what my own books would look like, only with girls.]) Making all of her protagonists nonwhite is a gutsy move, and one that can have its problems, as she acknowledges in the comments:

There are people who hold that whites should not write about non-whites because they invariably get it wrong, because of cultural appropriation, and because when they do so they regularly get far more attention and rewards and publicity than non-white writers who do the same. All of which is true.

When I sell my books I am never told by publishers that they already have too many books about race or about [pick ethnic/racial group]. But I know of South Asian American/African American/Korean American writers whose books have not been picked up because the publishing house already had a South Asian/African American/Korean book.

It’s sad. And it reminds me a lot of Bev Vincent’s story of having his manuscript rejected because the male protagonist wasn’t “authentic” enough. You see, because of his ambiguous name, the editor thought Bev was a woman, and therefore unable to write from a man’s point of view. Bev is a man.

I’m sure you can see the problem.

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23 July, 2009

Review: A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry (1977)

A Summer to DieMy rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first encountered this book when my library was weeding its children’s paperback collection. I grabbed several out of the pile destined for the recycling bin, including this one. I knew Lowry’s work, but I didn’t know this was her first novel, or how good it would end up being.

I loved it. It was beautifully written from start to finish. The setting was rich with detail and made me want to move to the New England countryside and start my own garden. It was a bit slow to get going, but once the older sister started to get sick, I couldn’t put the book down.

I’m not sure whether to classify it as children’s or YA. The protagonist is young, but the tone is sophisticated enough for teenagers. It was in the children’s section of my library, but with the recent explosion in YA publishing, I have to wonder what it’d be classified as if it came out now. I had to wonder if it was partly autobiographical—and it seems it is—because the family dynamics in the book seemed so real to me. Several of the passages, such as this one, could have been lifted directly from my own childhood. I’m a younger sister of a sister, and my father’s a professor, so I especially identified with those aspects of the book: the older sister being the “easy” one, while the younger one was more rebellious; the absentminded professor father who invites his students over for Thanksgiving and spends hours alone in his study.

My one complaint is the title. Not only does “A Summer to Die” make it sound like an R.L. Stine thriller, but it gives away the entire plot. There’s a reason why Bridge to Terabithia isn’t called “Bridge to Terabithia… OF DEATH.” No wonder the library weeded it—if I were a kid I wouldn’t pick up a book called “A Summer to Die” either. There are so many great recurring images and themes in this book—flowers, photography, country houses, gardens, quilts—I find it hard to imagine that it was impossible to pull a better title out of one of those. If I ever meet Lois Lowry, I’ll ask her if it was her first choice.

Title aside, though, this book was a wonderful surprise. I was in the mood to read something from the 70s-80s era of children’s lit after reading Shelf Discovery, and I’m glad I picked this one.

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18 July, 2009

My guess is that most people would be embarrassed to admit they wouldn’t buy a book because the main character wasn’t white. Why we’re more comfortable denigrating books with female characters is a mystery. Whenever we cross a book off the list because it isn’t about people like us, though, we should be ashamed. And we shouldn’t let our kids get away with this.

Are We Letting Boys Be Book Bigots? - MSN Movies News (via librarianpirate)

I think the problem isn’t with boys.  I think the problem is that books designed to be interesting for girls have girl protagonists, but books designed for girls are often not interesting to boys.  That doesn’t mean the boys are bigoted, but what boy wants to read about princesses and romance?  The problem is with writers and publishers who think that girls can only be princesses whose primary goal is finding romance.

(via needtherapy)

I don’t know about that. Do you know how many boys told me they would NEVER read something as “girly” as Uglies JUST because it has a girl on the cover and the main character is a girl? But if you read it, it’s got people running around on hoverboards, overthrowing the government, and in general being BADasses!

(via librarianpirate)

See also: Graceling, Hunger Games, anything by Tamora Pierce, Bloody Jack, Dairy Queen, The Golden Compass, City of Bones/Ashes/Glass, etc, etc… If you think books with girl protagonists are all about princesses and romance, you’re not paying attention.

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18 July, 2009

Diantha McBride, you might have 30 years’ experience as a librarian. But when you told publishers to make more main characters boys so that more boys will read about them, you gave me no choice.

This idea stinks.

I get where you’re coming from. But the problem isn’t the books, it’s the way we’re raising our boys. If they aren’t willing to read about girls, and if we’re indulging that sort of nonsense, then we are raising boys who will have a hard time functioning in a world where girls play serious roles. In other words, the real world.

Are We Letting Boys Be Book Bigots? - MSN Movies News (via librarianpirate)

YES YES YES, a thousand times yes.

I also love this quote:

"My guess is that most people would be embarrassed to admit they wouldn’t buy a book because the main character wasn’t white. Why we’re more comfortable denigrating books with female characters is a mystery. Whenever we cross a book off the list because it isn’t about people like us, though, we should be ashamed. And we shouldn’t let our kids get away with this."

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