10/26/2009

On Volcanic Eruptions and Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer: Young Adult Book Review



Life as We Knew It
Susan Beth Pfeffer
Harcourt
10/06
0152058265 / 9780152058265
337 p.

This was one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. Sixteen-year-old Miranda is a typical teen living a usual life in a small town … until an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it off its orbit. Within days, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis have killed millions. Soon after, volcanic ash permeates the atmosphere, ushering in an early, exceptionally cold, and exceedingly long winter.

Through daily entries in her diary, Miranda tells the story of how her family nearly freezes and starves to death. Day by day, over the course of 10 months, the reader experiences the grim dwindling of resources, the infrequent reasons for optimism, and the inescapable death of hope. For me, the end of communication with anyone other than those who lived within a mile or two of Miranda’s family was one of the most frightening aspects of the book. It made me realize how much I rely on television, radio and the internet to inform me about what’s happening in the world.

Fortunately, Miranda’s mother had the sense to stock up on food before things got too dire, and the subsequent, to-be-expected mass looting of provisions. Day by day, Miranda records the food her mother allows them to eat, and the too frequent times when they eat nothing at all. The book goes on and on, with Miranda recording also the struggle to stay warm, the minor irritations between her family members who are confined to one room of the house, and the disease and death that settles over her small town.

Toward the end, I seriously doubted that anyone would survive. But in the end, there is a small glimmer of hope. Had this been a real occurrence, it’s still doubtful to me that anyone would survive, but I'm glad that Ms. Pfeffer chose to come down on the side of hope. That's what novels are for.

Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Eruption

On a personal note, my family experienced the Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980. For days, weeks and months afterwards, this created varying amounts of havoc in the surrounding area. The most frightening aspect to me, once I knew what was happening, was to watch the sky growing ever darker with ash. We heard the explosion at around 8:30 am. (Mt. St. Helens is over 300 miles away from where we live.) My husband and I were outside planting shrubs at our new house. We spent the morning watching a dark cloud moving closer and closer to us. We thought it was a thunderstorm, but it wasn't getting any cooler or windier. At lunchtime, we went inside and turned on the radio. That's when we found out that Mt. St. Helens had erupted. Scientists had been predicting it for months.

By 2:00 pm, you couldn’t see your hand stretched out in front of you. Throughout the day and evening, birds, blind in flight, kept smacking against our windows, which was eerie and unnerving. When I went to bed that night, it was with dread: Would we see the sun in the morning?

Fortunately, we did.

These are our kids outside in the ash the next day. It may've looked like snow, but it smelled acrid, like ashes from a fire.
 

 
This picture was taken on July 27. I was in the hospital after having our third baby, on the 26th. The morning of the 27th, my husband and his dad decided to go see the mountain that'd blown its top off. There were restrictions about how close you could fly near it. This was as close as you could get at that time.

10/22/2009

How I live Now by Meg Rosoff: Young Adult Book Review

This book came out a couple of years ago, but if you missed it, consider reading it now. Though the subject matter is grim, it remains one of my favorite books because of the way Rosoff tells the story. Her style is both stereotypically English in setting and characters, and yet, because it deals with a world-ending terrorist attack, it also broke new ground. It reminded me at first of Burnett's Secret Garden, or Bawden's Carrie's War, but then it swiftly carved out its own territory in the geography of contemporary young adult literature.

How I Live Now

Meg Rosoff
Wendy Lamb
April 2006
0553376055 / 9780553376050
194 pages
Young Adult

Stepmother problems and Daisy’s anorexia cause her at-wits-end father to send the fifteen-year-old to England. There, on a remote farm, Daisy lives with her aunt (her deceased mother's sister) and four cousins. Raised in Manhattan, Daisy is initially rather spoiled. She doesn’t like England, but that she falls in love at first sight with her cousin, Edmond, keeps her self-pity at bay while her aunt, a peacenik, goes off to Norway for a peace summit. For a short time, life on the farm without parental restraint is idyllic for all of the children. The only thing that troubles Daisy is a slight sense of shame over being in love with her cousin. But strong passion overpowers all shame, at least in the short run. 

And then, unexpectedly, comes a terrorist attack in the proportions of a third World War. After that, Daisy’s former problems are so insignificant as to disappear completely, as she and her cousins fight to survive each day. Even her relationship with Edmond doesn’t seem as shameful when neither one knows if they will be together the following day—or even alive. Instead, in the rare moments that they can be alone together, their relationship is a source of sustenance.

Soon soldiers have taken over the farm, and Daisy and her female cousins are sent away from Edmond and his brother. Despite danger at every turn, awful violence and near starvation, Daisy is determined to stay alive. Over the course of a few months, she goes from being a self-centered teenager to a courageous survivor.

While this novel is about war and its aftermath, and though raw violence is sometimes depicted, Ms. Rosoff balances it with passages of great beauty and lyricism. There is wistfulness for what was lost, but also, ultimately, acceptance. An epilogue six years later has Daisy still alive. She isn’t necessarily happy, but she is hopeful.

This was a very powerful dystopian novel that won the Printz award. I don't usually rate books that I review, but if I were to rate this one, I'd give it a 5 of 5.

More on Meg Rosoff.
Meg Rosoff's official website.
Interested in what other reviewers had to say? Review from Tip of the Iceberg. Review from Presenting Lenore. Review from Tiny Little Reading Room.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Thank you for stopping by!

10/21/2009

Top Dystopian Movies and Links to Dystopian Booklists

Teen Read Week's theme, Read Beyond Reality, can be interpreted in any number of ways, but the most popular books for teens today are definitely not of this world, thus it's a great theme choice for 2009. The books that teens are flocking to are, in fact, dystopian in genre.

What is a dystopia? Simply put, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. According to Wikipedia, it is a "culture where the condition of life suffers from deprivation, oppression, or terror." For a very thorough, enlightening definition and analysis of dystopian fiction, see Wikipedia.

Over the next couple of days, I plan to review three of my favorite dystopian novels, but first ... some exciting booklists and a movie list. Should you become interested in dystopian fiction, these are a wonderful resource, a great place to start. Or if you're already a big fan, they're a great place to fill in the gaps.  

Bart's Bookshelf has a relatively complete list of Adult and Young Adult novels that are dystopian in theme. Plus, if you're interested in joining a dystopian reading challenge, this is the place to sign up. 

Booklist Online also has a core collection list. This one is made up of exclusively Young Adult titles. It lists  titles that Bart left out, so don't overlook this one.

As you are probably well aware, Dystopian is also a popular movie genre. For a very exciting list of movies you might want to view (or review), see the Top 50 Dystopian Movies of all time. Some are definitely not for young children, but most would be appropriate for high schoolers.

(Picture is of Mel Gibson in 1979, starring as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max.)

10/14/2009

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley: Young Adult Book Review

North of Beautiful

By Justina Chen Headley
Little Brown
February 2009
Young Adult
384 pages

Terra’s an artistic high school senior who was born with a facial port-wine stain and a cruel father who regularly belittles both her and her overweight, subservient mother. He’d done the same to Terra’s brothers, but they’re grown and gone—as far away from their father as they could go. Feeling ugly, Terra escapes into art. Collage art, built layer upon layer, until a thing of beauty emerges. Kinda like the layers upon layers of makeup she applies to her face, to hide the ugly birthmark beneath. To make up for her “ugly” face, Terra exercises like mad and has an amazing body—which is the only thing her meathead of a boyfriend seems able to appreciate about her.

I like that Terra, unlike her mother, never succumbed to her father’s repeated attempts to beat her down. Instead, Terra copes by being an achiever. She’s athletic and in terrific shape. She gets good grades and has applied to an art school across the country, partly for its prestige, but more to get away from her father. She’s accepted, but her father doesn’t see any value in it.

Then one day, Terra and her mother have a minor car accident with Jacob, an Asian Goth classmate, and his mother who adopted him. It’s easy for Jacob to accept Terra; he has the scars left from a cleft palate.

Eventually the four of them travel to China, and everything begins to change for Terra and even her mother. Both acquire the confidence to be who they are, and who they will be, apart from who their father and husband had defined them to be.

Ms. Headley uses map metaphors and geocaching to illustrate Terra’s journey from Washington state to China and back again; from believing she is ugly to knowing that true beauty is on the inside; from not knowing to knowing who she is, who she loves, and what she wants to do and be.

Should you read this book? Yes! It's wonderful.
Justina Chen Headley's website.


For another book about a girl with a defect, even a port wine birthmark, read Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen. Every Crooked Pot Review.



For a fantasy about a boy with a defect, read Defect by Will Weaver. Defect Review.

Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen: Young Adult Book Review

Every Crooked Pot
by Renee Rosen
St. Martin's Griffin
June 2007
ISBN: 0312365438 / 9780312365431
Young Adult

Nina Goldman was born with a disfiguring birthmark above her left eye. Along with an older sister and brother, she is raised by loving and prosperous Jewish parents. Beginning when Nina is seven years old, the story chronicles her life for the next 13 years. As readers would expect, she feels ugly and unlovable. Fortunately, her parents do everything in their power to get her to the best doctors. Eventually there's not much left of the birthmark, though a few more years pass before the internal scars are healed. The story follows Nina through childhood insecurities, including teasing by her classmates, to her first sexual experience, through first love and self-acceptance. The lives of the entire family revolve around Nina's good-hearted and loving but often exasperating, narcissistic father. In addition to making peace with her birthmark, Nina must forgive him for his failures-real and imagined-and forgive herself for sometimes hating him more than loving him. In the end, she comes to terms with those feelings as well. Beautifully written, and with larger-than-life characters, this book will remain in readers' hearts for a long time to come.

Visit Renee Rosen's website.

For another book about a girl with a birth defect, even a port-wine birthmark, read North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. North of Beautiful Review.


For a fantasy about a boy with a birth defect, read Defect by Will Weaver. Defect Review.

Defect by Will Weaver: Young Adult Book Review

Defect
by Will Weaver
FSG
ISBN: 0374317259 / 9780374317256
07/07
Young Adult

I’m not a big fan of fantasy, but this one about a boy whose birth defect gives him arms that are like a bat's wings is one of my favorite books of all time. The cover gives me a rush as well.

David is ugly: He was born with a small face, bug eyes, a stooped back, poor hearing, and a strange body odor. There is also something else that he’s kept secret from everyone: He has collapsible wings. He can fly.

After being the target of continual bullying, and moving from school to school, foster family to foster family, David finally moves to an alternative school in another state. A childless farm couple who’s seen birth defects in animals compassionately takes him into foster care. He meets Cheetah, a girl whose epilepsy makes her as much of an outcast as David is. Only, Cheetah isn’t shy like David. Cheetah fiercely champions David to the limit. They strike up a friendship, and then a romance.

As usual in a book where the protagonist has a birth defect, David is faced with a decision. Shall he live with the defect? Or shall he undergo surgery at the hands of a doctor who claims he can make David “normal”? Only, in this book, David’s decision isn’t so easy as to choose whether to become more conventionally handsome, or to live with the defect. It’s not as simple as coming to realize that true beauty lies within. That’s not to say that this type of realization is easy. But David also has an incredible gift: he can fly. It makes his decision all the more difficult, and his choice in the end is genuinely thrilling.

Visit Will Weaver's website.

For a book about a girl with a birth defect, read North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. North of Beautiful Review.



For another book about a girl with a birth defect, read Every Crooked Pot by Renee Rosen. Every Crooked Pot Review.

10/10/2009

Discover your Writing Personality

I found this cool website: Typealizer. You drop in a blog or website URL and it analyzes the writer's personality through the words on their blog. It comes up with a Myers Briggs type. Well, I typed my blog and several of the blogs I read regularly and discovered those people were writing pretty much how I thought they were, regarding what I supposed their Myers Briggs personality types would be.

I was disappointed to see that I write like an ISTP, but that's okay. I probably am, or do come across, as an ISTP. I'm a fixer. I'm a problem solver. I'm adventurous. Well, compared to my hubby, not so much. But I am always eager to go along for the ride. I love flying 220 miles per hour in the airplane he built almost as much as he does.

But I for darned sure do not want the main character in the book I am currently writing to have an ISTP personality. An ISTP would never react the way my character needs to react, given the the person I want her to be, and the whole heap of trouble I'm going to allow her to walk into.

So I created a new blog and dropped in the first 15 pages. Sent it into the blogosphere, did the Typealizer reading--and got the personality style that I had hoped I was creating for Crystal. She is the ESFP that I was designing her to be. Yay!

Then I quickly locked the blog up again ... I might "test drive" my scenes from time to time to make sure my word choices are staying true to the ESFP spirit ... but it ain't ready for anyone's eyes yet other than my fantastic critique partners.

How to Speed Read a Novel

Let’s face it. You’ve probably been asked, or required, to read a book you just couldn’t read. It just wasn’t your kind of book, and the thought of reading it made you want to stick your finger down your throat and gag. For years, I reviewed for School Library Journal. Every month, I excitedly awaited each new book's arrival. Ripping open the padded mailer and pulling out a shiny new ARC was frequently a highlight of my workday. I had the privilege of reviewing the first book in several series that have gone on to television fame: Alias, Gossip Girl. The first book in the popular S.A.S.S. series. Jen Calonita’s enormously popular series, Secrets of My Hollywood Life. Reading and reviewing those books was a cinch. It was fun. But then there were others, which shall go unnamed. I had to read them, so I figured out a way to speed through them. Here’s how to do it:

1. Jot down the title and the author. Read the back cover blurb and the inside front and back cover flaps. There’s usually an unanswered question, stated or implied, that the character faces, which will propel her and you through the book. Jot down the question.

2. Note the number of pages in the book. Divide it into eighths, and put sticky notes at the end of each chapter that is closest to the 1/8, ¼, ½, ¾ and 7/8 marks. Mark your tabs accordingly.

3. Read the first and last page, or the first and last scene, of the book. Scenes are usually identifiable by a line break or, sometimes, hash marks or other identifiers. If the thought of reading the last page makes you cringe, we’re speed-reading, remember? What was the problem on the first page, or in the first scene? How was it finally resolved in the end?

4. Now go back and read, consecutively, the last page (or scene) before each of your tabs:

5. One-eighth of the way into the book, the character has reached a turning point. Until now, the author has been setting things up. You’ve been given the background that explains why the character is in the fix she’s in. You’ve met some of her friends and family, and the villain. Sometimes the villain is cosmic (God, angels, demons, vampires, werewolves). Often, it’s societal, or clannish. More frequently, it’s distilled into another person. Almost always, the character needs to face something in her own self that’s holding her back. There is the external problem, and the internal one. At this point, the character finally decides to take action to fix her external problem. What action does she take?

6. One-quarter of the way into the book, the character’s actions have made her situation worse on some level, either externally (plot-wise) or spiritually/emotionally (story-wise) or both. What’s worse now than it was before? What is the new development?

7. The middle, between the quarter and the three-quarter marks, is where the character develops needed skills, or discovers needed information, to surmount the external plot problem in the last quarter. The reader will learn more about the events that made the character who she is today, and why it’s so hard for her to solve her problem. The early, easy conflicts have been solved. What’s been solved? Now, a new, unexpected plot event, known as a twist, generally propels the plot in a new direction. Or if not that, the character takes bolder action to solve her external problem. What’s happened? How has she been caught off guard? What bold step is she planning to take?

8. Three-quarters of the way into the book, the character reaches a dead end, known as the black moment, or dark night of the soul. She won’t get what she considers to be the solution to her external problem. Or if she does, it’s at a devastating emotional or spiritual cost. There’s often a second twist at this point. She learns something that changes everything, but it’s too late. What did she learn? What action does she plan to take?

9. In the pages between ¾ and 7/8, she finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Here is where she is experiences most profoundly the effects of her actions. I love this part best. It’s where she finally pauses to reflect, to take measure, to regain her bearings, to decide what she really wants, and who she really wants to be. Often, another character is needed to show her where she’s gone wrong. Here, she finally makes the right decision and knows the right actions to take to solve the story question, or her internal struggle. What’s making her sting at this point? What happened to her that she feels she cannot live down, but if she would but take responsibility for her actions, she would be forever free?

10. Between 7/8 and the end, she takes whatever external actions are necessary to solve the story question that faced her on page one, and dogged her to the end. What does she do?

So there you are. Do you want to go back and read the book? Does it interest you more than before? If not, you still did what you set out to do. You just read a novel in an hour or less.

10/09/2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Book Review

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Little Brown
2007
National Book Award Winner

I meant to review this during Banned Book Week. It too is a great piece of literature that'as been challenged, though given starred reviews by no less than Horn Book Magazine, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. In addition, it received the National Book Award for young people's literature in 2007.


Yet it was challenged. Why? Because of the “M” word: masturbation, and the “B” word: boner. Those words made some people really nervous, and maybe still do. The irony of it, as I heard Sherman Alexie himself say, was that the challenged passage wasn’t even talking about literal masturbation. The main character, Arnold, gets mentally stimulated by—reading books! The only way he can describe it to his best friend Rowdy is to do it in terms that Rowdy would understand.

In the book, Arnold’s been given the chance to escape poverty, alcoholism and early death on the Spokane Indian Reservation, in Welpinit, Washington. He wants to leave it behind, and yet that also makes him feel like a traitor to his tribe. When he finally does enroll in a white school, 20 miles away in the small town of Reardon, he truly does become an outcast with his people, and completely alienated from Rowdy.

For a while, Arnold doesn’t fit in anywhere, which is understandably hard to take. He’s the only Indian in a white school whose mascot is an Indian. Eventually some of the white kids accept him, but it’s small consolation when his people, even his own father and sister, are literally dying from the effects of alcoholism. If nothing else, Arnold wishes Rowdy would forgive him. Or at least talk to him. In the end, a basketball game between the whites and the Indians—Arnold playing on one team, Rowdy on the other—becomes a thrilling showdown, and the ultimate destruction—or renewal—of the boys’ friendship.

There are both laughter and tears in this genuinely moving story. It’s only partially autobiographical, but I know it’s solidly rooted in truth. I grew up on land owned by the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Auburn, Washington. I was certainly not from a rich white family, but compared to the Indians, who often couldn’t come to school because they didn’t have shoes, we had adequate food, clothing and shelter.

In those days, few Indians went beyond the eighth grade. The building of the Muckleshoot Gambling Casino, largest Casino in the state of Washington, and only three blocks from where I grew up, has since made the tribe enormously wealthy. I hope they’ve spread the wealth among their people, and that all Muckleshoots now have enough food to eat and clothing to wear. I hope they live in houses with indoor plumbing, and  that have roofs that keep out the rain.

10/06/2009

Kaleidoscope Eyes by Jen Bryant: Book Review

Kaleidoscope Eyes
By Jen Bryant
Knopf
May 2009
Middle Grade (5th-8th)
Novel Written in Verse

I wanted to love this book more than I did, and so I’ll tell you what I think young readers will love about it, and then what Ms. Persnickety (me) didn’t like so much.

It’s the summer of 1968. The Vietnam war is raging, and Lyza’s mother has deserted the family. Both of these things hover in the background of the story, which is the way tough issues tend to be handled in MG. The foreground is on a pirate treasure hunt, which begins after Lyza’s beloved grandfather dies and leaves her a treasure map. He’d been a grand adventurer, and she’s the only family member who loves adventure as he had. Armed with the map, and accompanied by her friends, Malcolm and Carolann, Lyza sets off to find the lost treasure of pirate Captain Kidd, hidden in their own state of New Jersey. Who doesn’t like a mystery? And what kid’s eyes don’t light up at the thought of finding buried treasure? Young readers will love those elements. Probably even the implausible conclusion. Given the audience this book was intended for, this book does just fine.

Here’s what disappointed Ms. Persnickety: I thirst for books set in the late 60’s. I came of age then, and well remember the times. I spent a year writing a manuscript (unpublished) set in 1968-69. So when I cracked open Kaleidoscope Eyes, I expected to be taken on a grand journey back in time … to breathe the air I breathed … to see the sights, hear the sounds … but I didn’t. Ms. Bryant got most of her history right: the death of Martin Luther King; that young men were being sent to Vietnam, or sneaking off to Canada to evade the draft. But the details just didn’t resonate deeply with me, and I’m not sure why. Maybe the free verse poetry couldn’t come close to evoking the sights, the sounds, or the smells of the times. It couldn’t come close to catching the pulsating energy of the times, or the all-consuming anger. For that, perhaps chunky paragraphs would’ve worked better than short lines of verse, which give the illusion of slightness, airiness.

Then there is at least one factual error. Lyza talks about her sister being a Hippie—in 1966. Hippies didn’t come on the scene any sooner than the fall of 1968, early 1969. Our society underwent a paradigm shift at that time. One day, we were the plastic, space-aged people of the early 60’s, jello eaters, Kool-aid drinkers, a people destined for the moon. The next day, we were about protesting on college campuses, dropping acid, and rioting in the streets.

Even apart from the 60’s backdrop and the Vietnam War, I had issues with Kaleidoscope Eyes. When I read in the first few pages that Lyza’s mother had deserted the family, I expected the story to be about Lyza coming to terms with that, like so many other MG books where a parent leaves or dies. In the end, she realizes that finding the treasure won’t bring her mother back, nor the young men who’ve died in the war, but more of her personal ponderings about those issues throughout the book would’ve made it feel less like reading a Nancy Drew mystery, and more like the story it could’ve been, to me.

But as I said at the beginning, for the intended audience, this book works just fine.

10/05/2009

Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles: Book Review

Jumping off Swings

By Jo Knowles
Candlewick
2009
Young Adult
230 pgs

Told in four alternating viewpoints, Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles moves the teens, who are caught in an unexpected situation, through various feeling states to a conclusion—and does so with incredible deftness and reading speed.

Sixteen-year-old Ellie, who comes from a perfect but judgmental family, wants only to feel loved. Hoping to find it with someone, she has one-night stands with several boys. Before long she’s pregnant with Joshua’s baby, after Joshua loses his virginity with her.

From there, the story advances a step at a time, with each of the viewpoint character’s reactions to each new development. Though Ellie isn’t “bad,” she’s branded by her classmates as a slut. She takes it to heart, believing the pregnancy is her punishment. But she does have some friends: Caleb, who’d had a secret crush on her since forever, and her best friend Corrine, who doesn’t abandon her. The baby’s dad, Joshua, isn’t a villain, but is as confused about the situation as Ellie is.

The strength of this novel lies in the alternating viewpoints. Over the course of each teen’s short sections, the reader gains access to that person’s thoughts about the pregnancy as well as his or her current family situation, and how that family came to be—which multiplies the viewpoints to about a dozen. The attitudes and beliefs about what could be done are shown through so many different angles that the reader comes away with a comprehensive view.

In the end Ellie makes a tough and, for our times, unusual decision. Lest society has forgotten, it’s what most girls did a generation or two ago, if they didn’t marry the father. But attitudes slowly shifted and our government’s entitlement programs grew, making it easier to keep one’s baby. In the course of a generation, what’d once been acceptable became mostly unacceptable in the eyes of our society.

With our economy being what it now is, it’s possible that entitlement programs will begin to shrink, and we’ll see attitudes slowly shifting once again. Ellie’s decision will shed light on yet another option for teens who find themselves in the difficult situation of an unplanned pregnancy, and will give everyone, pregnant or not, food for thought.

If you read this book, what do you think about Ellie’s choice?

10/03/2009

Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles: Book Review

Lessons from a Dead Girl

By Jo Knowles
Candlewick
10/07
Young Adult

I’m planning to review Ms. Knowles’s newest book, Jumping off Swings, on Monday, but I wanted to review her first book, Lessons from a Dead Girl, first. It’s been two years since I read Lessons from a Dead Girl, which seemed shocking when I first read it. After revisiting it, it isn't much less so, now. Though Jumping off Swings also tackles a serious issue, it was much easier to read.

Lessons from a Dead Girl begins with the violent death of Leah, who’d been 17-year old Laine’s best friend and worst enemy for the past seven years. When the book opens, Laine both hates Leah for what she did to her, but also feels guilty and responsible for Leah’s death. Written in short chapters, each with a title in which Leah teaches Laine a “Lesson,” Lessons from a Dead Girl is a uniquely told story about friend abuse.

At the beginning of their friendship, Laine can’t understand why beautiful, popular Leah would single her out, choosing her as her best friend. After all, by comparison, Laine was shy and awkward. But it isn’t long before Leah is taking Laine into Laine’s closet where they play secret kissing and touching games. Leah tells Laine it’s practice for when they’re with a boy. Laine is pretty sure that other girls don’t do it, and is both aroused by and ashamed of their behavior.

Once they start high school, Leah’s abuse ends as Leah begins to date boys and act out in ever more self-destructive ways, leading to her ultimate demise. But before that happens, Leah holds what the girls did together over Laine’s head, spreading rumors that Laine initiated the sex games, and that she was a lesbian. Poor Laine is totally confused. Does she prefer girls to boys? If she does, Leah made her that way. Laine begins to hate Leah, but at the same time, the truth about Leah having been sexually abused by an older male family friend comes out. Leah spitefully tells Laine that she never enjoyed what she’d done with Laine, but had done it to hurt her, as she’d been hurt.

I am in awe of Ms. Knowles’s skill in shedding light on the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse in this haunting story. Fortunately, Leah had a final lesson for Laine: “The truth belongs to you.” Once Laine heard and understood the truth, it was for her to create the meaning she would give it. Fortunately, she was able to put it behind her and move on with her life. Regrettably, the same could not be said of Leah.

10/02/2009

Guest Blogging today at Through the Tollbooth

I am guest blogging today at Through the Tollbooth, where I was interviewed about my experiences this past summer using technology in teen programming. We had a virtual author visit with Rosanne Parry    , author of Heart of a Shepherd, via SKYPE. The interview is also about the Teen writing classes I offered, giving a fairly comprehensive summary of what we did--my library, my writing friends, the contacts I've made with the Class of 2K9, and Rosanne. I'll be discussing it all again, as well as interviewing Rosanne via SKYPE on Thursday, October 8, at a regional workshop for librarians, in Lewiston, Idaho.

One thing I neglected to mention, which I will do now, is to publicly thank the wonderful Class of 2K9 authors (20 of them) who gifted us with swag, including free books, to give away to the teens in the Teen Writing Program. Our last meeting, where we ate pizza and doled out packets of goodies and free books, was quite exciting.

In addition, the bulletin boards in the teen area are still covered with the donated Class of 2K9 bookmarks and postcards. Cover art makes the best bulletin board, and it's not easy to come by. Thank you again, Class of 2K9.

Special thanks to Zu Vincent, who interviewed me and posted the interview on Through the Tollbooth.


10/01/2009

Book Review: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins -- October is International Dinosaur Month


October is International Dinosaur Month, to the delight of children and adults alike. You might want to make plans to sit down as a family and watch (again!) Jurassic Park and Ice Age, but there are plenty of great picture books to read as well.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
By Barbara Kerley; Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Arthur A. Levine Books
48 pgs
10/2001
Grades 2-5

This book came out eight years ago, but it feels every bit as fresh and innovative now as it did then. The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins is the true story of Victorian artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a painter and sculptor who was commissioned by Queen Victoria to recreate life-sized dinosaurs based on fossil remains, thereby educating people who’d never even heard of dinosaurs about their pre-historic existence. Using clay models, Hawkins then erected skeletons made of iron, covering them with cement casts to create his public displays. In addition to the sculptures in England, Hawkins made two for Central Park in New York City. Unfortunately, he antagonized the wrong person and the sculptures were smashed to pieces and then buried beneath the park, where they remain today. Though many of Hawkins’ models have been found to be inaccurate, the true subject of this book is his passion for the ancient creatures. Selznick’s artwork contributes as much to the story's exuberance as the words do. Independent readers grades 2-5.
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