Weekly roundup of YA, children’s lit, and other book-related links

*At The Horn Book, Ginee Seo is talking about “Harriet and Me.”  Regarding Harriet the Spy, she writes:

“It’s a giant raspberry to the school of thought that says, A-character-in-a-children’s-book-must-change-and-grow-throughout-the-course-of-the-story. Or to the school that says, A-character-must-be-essentially-good-and-lovable. In fact, any rules or precepts or cutesy-poo ideas you might have had about children’s books fly right out the window when you read Harriet the Spy. There is no great moral lesson to be learned, no transformative change that happens to the protagonist. Above all, there is no tidiness. Harriet is real life in all its messiness and ambiguity, populated by real people who are also messy and ambiguous.”


*At Book Riot, Kelly’s piece, “We Need Bigger Megaphones for Diversity in Kid Lit” should be required reading. No, really. Go read it now. I’ll wait. There are tons of extremely worthwhile links in the article, which is filled with thoughtful writing like:

“It’s hard not to wonder why some of the largest voices in the YA world and kid lit world more broadly aren’t speaking up and out in visible ways. They have far less at stake than any author of color (and most women, white or not) would have doing the same thing, in part because their privileged position affords them them their platform. They do not succeed simply because they work harder; they have more advantages. This isn’t just pointed at authors with power. It’s pointed equally toward librarians, toward booksellers, toward major media outlets, and to anyone with a position to say something.”

*ALA has released their top ten list of most frequently challenged books for 2013. 

*Diversity in YA has a great post, “Want More Diversity in Your YA? Here’s How You Can Help”

*At Teen Librarian Toolbox, “Out of the Closet and Onto the Shelves: A Tweetcap of Christie’s GLBTQ Presentation at TLA.” 

*Check out YALSA’s 2014 Teens’ Top Ten Nominations!

*Kristin Cashore is talking about her writing process in “Notes from the Writing Room.” Check out her awesome cloth-covered bulletin board full of note cards.

Review: Something Real by Heather Demetrios

something real Something Real by Heather Demetrios

As teenagers, we all did things we didn’t want to, things that our parents made us do. In seventeen-year-old Bonnie’s case, that something is once again starring in a reality show about her family, called Baker’s Dozen, after a four year break. After her family moved across the country, Bonnie started going by the name Chloe and has gone to great lengths to keep who she really is a secret from her friends and peers. It’s the only chance she has at living a normal life. But there’s no keeping the secret anymore now that her mother and stepfather have decided to do a reboot of their show, starring all thirteen children.

Chloe is horrified to come home and–surprise!–find the house set up for filming. She knows it’s just a matter of time before the show blows her identity, and she’s right. The timing couldn’t be worse. Chloe is just maybe starting to get together with the boy she’s had a crush on, but she worries that he’ll bolt when he realizes that cameras will be showing up everywhere they go. Both Chloe and her brother, Benton, want nothing to do with the show, but the producer makes it clear they have no choice in the matter–their parents signed a contract.

Chloe’s struggle to maintain some sense of normalcy while navigating the reality show makes for a compelling story. Chloe is most upset with an incident from her past being brought up again and the fact that the production is editing things to paint her in a certain light. Benton, who is gay and mostly closeted, hopes to keep his boyfriend, Matt, out of the spotlight, but of course that proves impossible. If they’re going to break away from the show somehow, Chloe and Benton are going to have to take drastic measures, and that’s exactly what they do when they retain a lawyer and pursue their legal rights. This is a well-written look at reality and privacy, packed with standout characters and great dialogue.

Heather Demetrios’s Twitter

Heather Demetrios’s website


Review: Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

lifebycommittee Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

Tabitha’s sort of floundering a bit these days. Her friends have ditched her, her parents are arguing, and the boy she likes and keeps hooking up with has a girlfriend. She takes solace in reading other people’s margin notes in used books. A big fan of underlining and squeezing notes onto the page, Tabitha is always searching for new connections in used books. When she stumbles across a website address mysteriously inked into a used copy of The Secret Garden, she checks it out. Here, she finds a small community of people who confess secrets and accept assignments, doled out by someone going by the name Zed. The assignments are not small, the idea being that grand gestures and big risks are more worthwhile than doing nothing or being scared. So, not sure who else to turn to, Tabitha begins to live her life based on the committee’s ideas. For a while she feels emboldened by her new attitude, but quickly learns that her actions are not without consequences.

There’s a lot going on in this novel. Tabitha is sixteen and her parents had her at age sixteen. Now only 32, her mother is pregnant again, and there’s a push to pull themselves together to really be ready for this baby in a way they were not the first time around. For her mom, it’s no problem. But her dad, who still acts like a teenager and smokes a lot of pot, is another story. The tension at home spills out in public ways. Her former best friends ditched her simply because she started to mature and change. They make constant remarks about her appearance, how she dresses, her make-up, her cleavage. Her one remaining friend puts up with a lot of bullshit from Tabitha, especially once she starts obsessing over the website and its directives. And then there’s the boy she likes, Joe. He freely admits he’s in love with his girlfriend (a fragile manic pixie dream girl), but that doesn’t stop him from carrying on a secret relationship with Tabitha. As she uses the committee’s suggestions to try to force something to happen with Joe, she walks in to school one day and finds out the biggest secret yet.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but pieces of it were hard for me to buy into. Tabitha immediately and fully puts her faith in the committee, taking the assignments extremely seriously, even though the repercussions of not doing them don’t seem that scary (in theory, everyone will know the secrets she spills on the website, though she’s doing it anonymously to a very teeny audience). Also the fixation on how she has changed, particularly in appearance, from not just her friends but a school counselor, left me confused and a little angry on her behalf (which may be the point). She just seems to be dressing and expressing herself like a regular teenage girl, yet her (not really that short) skirts and the simple fact that she grew boobs seem to mark her as “trouble.”  The big coincidence at the ending stretches the bounds of believability a little bit, but hey, that’s why it’s fiction. The writing is strong, the premise is interesting, and the characters stand out.  Definitely worth a read, especially if you’d like to be reminded to be grateful that we make our own decisions, and mistakes, rather than let a committee run our lives. Lots of big (and at times uncomfortable) topics to discuss here. (Pub date: 5/13/14)

Previously: OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

Corey Ann Haydu’s Twitter

Corey Ann Haydu’s website

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss

Weekly roundup of YA, children’s lit, and other book-related links

*Did you see what books won the MN book awards (via MPR)? 

*At The Mary Sue, “Why the New Ms. Marvel is a Promising Step Forward.” 

*You need to go read Carrie Mesrobian’s post, “13 ways of Looking at Edgy and Dark YA Fiction.” 

*“Where Can I Find Great Diverse Children’s Books?” at Lee & Low.

*At The Huffington Post, Lauren Myracle’s “I’m With the Banned.” 

*It’s National Poetry Month, so how about Samuel L. Jackson doing some slam poetry? Boy Meets World-themed slam poetry, that is (via GalleyCat).

Review: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper-Jungle-Andrew-SmithGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

If you only read one book this year about horny, blood-thirsty, six-foot-tall praying mantises, make it this one!

Look, that’s really all you should need to know to want to go pick up this weird book.  You need more information than that? Well, the prologue tells us what else to expect in this book:

“There are things in here: Babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.”


I know–it kind of sounds like maybe this review is being written by Stefon (played by Bill Hader) from Saturday Night Live. It’s almost impossible to summarize the totally off-the-wall plot. Let’s just say that I had this book with me at the doctor recently and the nurse asked me what it was about. I gave her the high points–stuff you just read up there–and she sat there just looking at me in silence. I’m pretty sure she made some kind of note in my chart after that.

Austin Szerba is 16 and consumed with thoughts about sex. I know what you’re thinking: really? A 16-year-old boy thinks about sex a lot? Yeah, that’s not groundbreaking. But what is noteworthy is Smith’s willingness to show us just how all-consuming these thoughts are. Pretty much everything makes Austin horny, including his girlfriend Shann and his best friend Robby. Austin doesn’t know how he can be in love with both of them, but he is. When he kisses Robby, he doesn’t know if it’s just experimenting or if it means something more. But who has time to dwell too heavily on their sexuality when the end of the world is fast approaching? 

The impending apocalypse began many years ago in small town Iowa, when a crazy scientist started making genetically-modified corn that had the somewhat worrisome side effect of being able to dissolve testicles. This eventually leads to the creation of these Unstoppable Soldiers–these giant insects that only want to have sex and kill things. When Austin, Robby, and Shann stumble across the underground bunker that served as the lab for these creations (as well as the safe haven for the inevitable end of the world), they begin to understand what they will be up against.

Austin weaves together the stories of his genealogy, his thoughts on his sexuality, the history of his town, and the insect armageddon in a breathlessly verbose, meandering, hyper-intellectual (and swear word-laden) narrative. This funny, crass, and deeply weird book won’t appeal to everyone, but those who give it a shot will be rewarded with one hell of an entertaining (and deeply weird–did I mention this book is weird?) read. You may find yourself exclaiming “Excrementum Sanctum” over and over as you read this one.

Andrew Smith’s Twitter

Andrew Smith’s website

Teen book club and advisory board reminder

TAB4Hey, St. Cloud teenagers, this is your friendly reminder that The League of Extraordinary Readers, the public library’s teen advisory board, meets again on Saturday, April 12th.  HOORAY!  Show up for the usual fun of eating pizza and shouting over each other!  The meeting is the usual time and place:  1:30 to 2:30 at the downtown library, upstairs back corner room. Apparently Sandy has a big announcement, which even I know nothing about. Can’t wait!

Also! Show up at 12:30 for the meeting of YA Revolution, the YA book club run by me! This month we will be talking about whatever we’ve read that we feel like sharing and getting our new books for the May meeting, which will revolve around the theme of sexual violence in young adult literature. We’ve talked about this at the past meeting, and I’ll have a wide selection of books to choose from.  We’ll be in the same spot where our League meetings are held.  Can’t make it to the meeting but want to know what we’ll be reading or what we talked about? Email me, text me, Tweet at me, Facebook me, whatever. 

Bring friends to both meetings. One of our goals is getting some new faces at these meetings. Just ask Abby how good it felt to bring a friend and be granted ROOFTOP ACCESS as a reward! 

Remember, we will be doing our homework help thing again after the League meeting. Be prepared for a long, fun afternoon at the library! See you there.

Weekly roundup of YA, children’s lit, and other book-related links

*You need to watch this teenage girl eviscerate rape culture as she talks about the abuse in the DFTBA/Nerdfighter/YouTube worlds.


*At Stacked, “Get Genrefied: Realistic Teens on the Big Screen.”

*At The Toast, “Dirtbag Anne of Green Gables.”

*At SLJ, The Battle of the Kids’ Books wraps up. 

*At Teen Librarian Toolbox, “In Our Mailbox: How Do We Guide Teens in a Safe and Critical Discussion of Sex in YA Literature?” 

*At 100 Scope Notes, “2014 Book Spine Poetry Gallery.” 

*At The Dead Have Issues, the new page, “Ghoul Problems” is up.

*Kelly Jensen has got your YA reader’s advisory needs taken care of with her page of YA book lists. 


Review: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

GIRLbrezenoffGuy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff

Main characters Lesh and Svetlana do not exactly meet cute. In fact, they meet kind of messy. While Lesh is stumbling home drunk one night in St. Paul, he collides with Svetlana on her bike, knocking her off and causing her notebooks to tumble out of her bag. One of them drops into a puddle of questionable origin, and when Lesh retrieves it for her, he sees an elaborate fantasy scene inked on the cover. Little does he know that Svetlana is a gamer, and a dungeon master, and she spent all summer creating that notebook. He’s immediately intrigued by this girl, but for now the main gamer in his life is Greg, his best friend, who’s addicted to playing MMORPG games. Lesh isn’t into them, but after he finds himself grounded, he begins to play the one Greg is into. He creates a character, then secretly creates another–an elf named Svvetlana. Thus begins an unforgettable look at gender, expectations, identity, and the many roles we all play.

Lesh and Svetlana (one “v,” the girl, not the elf)’s relationship unfolds slowly, with a lot of bumps in the road. Lesh, a metalhead clad all in black, is hesitant to let his friends know that he’s into Svetlana. He’s awkward and sends her mixed messages. Plus there’s the whole thing of role-playing as her online, something that he continues to do even when he realizes the people he’s playing with think he’s an actual girl in real life (though as Greg says, there are no girls on the internet; “girl” = “guy in real life”). As they get to know one another, it feels completely realistic as we watch them hang out, listen to music, and meet (and get judged by) each other’s parents and friends. The evolving relationship is in turns incredibly sweet and incredibly cringe-inducing–again, making the trajectory of their relationship feel very realistic. Things take a dark turn when Lesh’s decision to play online as Svvetlana has unforeseen consequences–ones that throw their burgeoning romance for a  big loop.

Readers not into gaming may be tempted to skim or skip the chapters that take place in the game’s realm, but to do so would be a mistake. These scenes offer further insight into who both Lesh and Svetlana are, and I found Lesh’s scenes role-playing as Svvetlana particularly interesting as he explored his new identity and what it meant. The overriding idea that appearances can be deceiving and that we all play different roles at different times–especially when forging an identity as a teenager–is universally relatable. This will be an easy one to recommend to a wide teen audience, appealing to boys as much as girls, to readers who like both fantasy and realistic fiction, and anyone looking for a love story that isn’t saccharine or simple. This one’s a real standout. 

 Steve Brezenoff’s Twitter

Steve Brezenoff’s website

Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss