Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

we were liarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This book has the happiest ending of any book I’ve ever read. 

(Okay–that’s a lie. But the flap copy instructs that if asked how it ends, the reader should lie.)

Cady’s wealthy family reunites every summer on their private island, where she spends most of her time with her cousins Johnny and Mirren and with Gat, the boy she has always loved (a group Cady refers to as the Liars).

Fast forward two years later to when something has happened to Cady. Something has happened, and we don’t really know what, and Cady doesn’t even really know what. She can’t remember, and no one is willing to talk about what happened that summer. So while she feels broken, headachy, and just not herself, at least she is back on the island for the summer with her gang of Liars. The story jumps around in time, revealing bits of their summers together, snapshots of what their lives are like. Cady is not really reliable–she has amnesia, after all–and the answers to what happened are very slow to come. Together, the little group tries to overcome family drama and rivalries, eventually pretty much cutting themselves off entirely from the rest of the family on the island.

This is the kind of book where it’s really best for a review to say almost nothing at all. If you haven’t already had plot spoiled for you, don’t go reading any reviews. Just read the book. It was beautiful and painful in all the best ways. I wish I had known nothing about this book going in–because even though I had avoided any real spoilers, just to know you’re looking for something sometimes makes things reveal themselves faster than they would if you were truly going into a read with no expectations at all. Were there things I found insufferable about it? Sure. Do I think it’s Lockhart’s best work? No. I’m a huge fan of all of her books, and while this is a very smart, very well-crafted book, it doesn’t stand up to my appreciation of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or the Ruby Oliver quartet.  That said, it’s absolutely worth reading, particularly if you enjoy unreliable narrators and non-linear stories.

E. Lockhart’s website

E. Lockhart’s Twitter

 

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

*From The Guardian, “Judy Blume: ‘I thought, this is America, we don’t ban books. But then we did.’”  From the article:

“When I started, in the 70s, it was a good time for children’s book writers. Children’s reading was much freer than in the 80s, when censorship started; when we elected Ronald Reagan and the conservatives decided that they would decide not just what their children would read but what all children would read, it went crazy. My feeling in the beginning was wait, this is America: we don’t have censorship, we have, you know, freedom to read, freedom to write, freedom of the press, we don’t do this, we don’t ban books. But then they did.”

Blume’s theory is that children read over what they aren’t yet ready to understand. Sometimes, she says, “kids will actually go to Mom or Dad and say ‘What does this mean?’, which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that’s when sometimes parents get hysterical. Really. It’s like, ‘Argh, I don’t want to talk to you about this, let’s get rid of this book, I don’t ever want to talk to you about this, I don’t ever want you to go through puberty.’”

*Justine Larbalestier has a guest post on her blog from @bysshefields, “YA From a Marginalized Young Adult’s Perspective.”  It’s all great stuff, but I love one of her ending lines:  “Stop telling us what we need and ask us instead.”

*I got a good laugh out of Carolyn Parkhurst’s “Eloise: An Update” in The New Yorker. Eloise at forty-six? Yes, please!

*At Bustle, “Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik is still wonderful today and here are 7 reasons why.”  Anastasia is one of my all-time favorite literary characters. On my first day working at The Children’s Book Shop, Lois Lowry called to talk to the manager about something. I answered, asked who was calling before transferring the call, and then nearly had a heart attack.

*At Salon, “I’m sorry for coining the phrase Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” by Nathan Rabin. From it:

As is often the case in conversations about gender, or race, or class, or sexuality, things get cloudy and murky really quickly. I coined the phrase to call out cultural sexism and to make it harder for male writers to posit reductive, condescending male fantasies of ideal women as realistic characters. But I looked on queasily as the phrase was increasingly accused of being sexist itself.”

*At Book Riot, Kelly Jensen has a great piece called “Libraries Are Not a ‘Netflix’ for Books.” This is another one I’d like to just quote in whole here, but I’ll just pull out this bit:

“When the library is made to be seen as a business, rather than the heart of a community or a fundamental service made possible through citizen-approved tax dollars, it makes the library expendable. That expendability then moves down the chain: staff salaries get cut, then staff withers, then more programs and projects that benefit the community — books and movies and CDs and magazines and newspapers and wifi and computer access and database subscriptions and programs for all shapes, colors, and sizes of people — disappear, too. It detracts from the unique aspects that make a library what it is: a place for all, rather than a place for some.

Libraries reach out where Netflix reaches in.”

*At Flavorwire, “Should it Matter Whether ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is Young Adult Fiction?” 

*Food for thought at 100 Scope Notes: “All Middle Grade Novels Should be 192 Pages. No Exceptions.”  Fabulous conversation happening in the comments.

Books as trophies

signed booksAs you will be hearing me talk about obsessively, we’re moving to California.

We’ve somehow been back in Minnesota for almost nine years. NINE YEARS! We left Boston in late 2005 and I don’t think we ever planned to stay nearly this long here. But we had a baby, and our families are here, and lots of upsettingly huge life events kept happening, and moving felt impossible.

But now it’s happening, and we’re starting to sort, organize, and donate things in preparation of our move. Yes, it’s months off, but if you know me even the teenist bit, you know I’m a completely hyperorganized type-A freak. My neighbor jokingly asked if I was starting to pack the day we made our decision to move, and I wasn’t. But by the next day, I was. The category of stuff I’ve spent most of  my time dealing with has been BOOKS. I know, you’re shocked. 

Matthew and I met working at Barnes & Noble the year before I went to Simmons for graduate school. He spent 15 years with the company (we moved to St. Cloud because when we came back to MN this store was in need of a manager) before changing careers. My whole life has been books. So when we moved from Boston we had 40 giant boxes of books. We lined many of the downstairs walls in our new house with bookcases and there was plenty of space for the books.

But over the years, every time we’ve had to move them (to paint, to tear out carpet and put in new floors, etc) we donate a ton of them. And with this upcoming move, we know we won’t have nearly the space we have now. So what did we do? We donated probably 80% or more of our books. It was hard at first, because we both kind of view books as trophies, like “look what I read!” Why? I dunno. It’s not like people we know come over and need some kind of proof that we read that much, or that we can’t remember what we’ve read. So out the door they went–to the library, to the thrift shop, to the teens in my book club, to anyone we thought might like a certain book. If it wasn’t an absolute favorite, or a title waiting for Callum to be old enough to read, or something we were certain we’d reread, it didn’t make the cut.

So suddenly we hardly have any books (well, “hardly have any” being an amount that is still actually an awful lot of books). We emptied entire bookcases and gave them away. And I don’t think I’ll miss any of them. And now that they’re gone, I kind of can’t quite understand why it was so important to keep them and move them over and over (Duluth, Jamaica Plain, Boston, Brighton, St. Peter, St. Cloud).

How about you? Book hoarder? Giver-awayer? Insulated your entire house with a layer of books? I’m curious. 

 

Notes from YA book club and teen advisory board

The second Saturday of every month I’m lucky enough to run the YA book club (YA Revolution) and help facilitate the teen advisory board (League of Extraordinary Readers) through the public library. We started these groups when I was still a librarian at a local high school. A couple of great public librarians and I worked hard to get these groups off the ground, and two years later, they’re still going strong. We generally have anywhere from three to twelve teenagers show up for these meetings, which feels fairly impressive to me given that they’re coming on the weekend to a place outside of school. For many of them, transportation is an issue, and they do whatever they can to get to the meetings. It’s my favorite few hours a month.

What did we talk about this time? Here are some snippets:

*One girl was really excited about having read My Life with the Walter Boys by Ali Novak. I think she said she originally read it, or parts of it, on Wattpad.   This same girl also urged us to read Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg.  Everyone was into it just from the title alone.

*The advisory board is going to make a video about why they joined to help create some interest in starting boards at branch libraries in our system. Best quote tossed out as they brainstormed? “It’s a place where everyone can fit in.” Totally true. Our book club and board includes homeschooled teens, unschooled, kids who’ve been to the alternative school, Muslim girls, blue-haired punks, 13-year-olds, 19-year-olds, and more. The common bond? Books and a love of the library. 

*While looking over the forms they need to turn in to make this video, someone mentioned signing over parental rights, which led to a joke about becoming wards of the library. This was greeted with great excitement. They would live there if they were allowed.

*Their desperate desire to get out on the rooftop garden is coming true! The TAB will take care of weeding the garden, just one of the many small projects they volunteered to participate in at this meeting.

*Other events coming up that the TAB will participate in: Coder Dojo, SciFi Con, a haunted house installation, and August visits from some Minnesota YA authors. They’re excited about all of these things! They’re particularly interested in talking to the authors about writing.

*They spent some time talking about how they choose a book. Some fell on the side of judging a book by its cover, some were horrified at that idea. Great titles and compelling cover art were big reasons why they’d pick a book up.

*Once again, they talked about their growing distaste for dystopias. They feel weary of seemingly interchangeable worlds, love triangles, and there being nothing that feels new or different in this genre now.

It was a blast, as usual. Can’t wait to see what our next meetings hold!

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

*“Rainbow Rowell Does Romance with a Subversive (Read: Realistic) Twist,” by Neda Ulaby at NPR. From the article:

“She also challenges the idea that a wedding is the end point of a romance, or that once heroines meet their Mr. Rights everything will be A-OK from that point forward.

“That’s a fallacy because they are going to change and change and change,” she says. “And you are going to change and change and change. And it’s so much more like agreeing to change next to each other.”

And that’s where Rowell’s real sense of romantic subversion comes in.”

*“Rowling writes story about 30-plus Harry Potter.”  Via The Bookseller:

In the article, Harry, now turning 34, and accompanied by his sons James and Albus, has “threads of silver” in his black hair, and also sports a mysterious new scar over his cheekbone, which Skeeter deduces has been inflicted as part of his top-secret career as an Auror, a specialist officer trained to apprehend evil wizards. Harry is also described as having distinctive round glasses that are “better suited to a style-deficient 12-year-old”. His wife, Ginny, is reporting on the tournament, leading Rita to question whether she really has the talent for it or whether being married to Harry has opened some doors.”

*Over at Forever YA, “YA Movie News Roundup: Emma Watson’s in a New YA Adaptation.” 

*Check out this great interview with Annie Cardi over on Story and Chai.

California or bust!

iphone 091It is with great excitement that I share the news that my husband, son, and I are moving to San Francisco. We’re moving over the course of the next several months, with Matthew going out ahead of us to start work and do some research into where we might want to buy a place. We’re beyond excited for this move. We left Boston in 2005 and never intended to stay quite this long back in MN. We’ll miss our families and our friends, but won’t miss bugs, snow, and ice.

 

Thinking about the move has made me want to pick up some YA (or MG, or adult) books set in California or written by California authors to read (or reread). Maybe I’ll start with:

The Summer I Learned to Fly by Dana Reinhardt

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

 

What else? Who are your favorite CA authors? What are your favorite CA novels? Come talk to me on Twitter! 

 

 

Reading in the rubble

Things have been a little crazy here. We’ve been having some remodeling done at home, which meant utter chaos. There was really no place to even set my laptop up. The noise made it impossible to string a thought together anyway. In addition to the noise, mess, and moving everything we own to weird places (a fridge in the living room! a toilet in the bathtub!), we’ve been working hard to make a Major Life Decision. But more on that later.

 

I’m hoping next week things will return to normal–reading, writing, blogging. But for now, I’ll be cleaning every single thing I own. Ripping up all your flooring makes a crapload of dust.

 

In the past week or so, I read We Were Liars by E. Lockart, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Shotgun Lovesongs by Nikolas Butler, and I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. Reviews forthcoming.

 

Heading to the library later to pick up my holds, which include Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn, Fan Art by Sarah Tregay, and All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner.

 

I’ve been plugging away at my novel, too. I’m kind of stuck in an endless research loop. Just when I think I’m done researching, I learn something so interesting that it sets off a new round of research. At some point I just need to say I’M DONE, but that’s hard.

 

In other news, it’s July. JULY! How did that happen? 

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

*At Book Riot, “Nurdfighters for Paul Zindel: A.S. King Talks Adult Characters, Darkness, and the Ahistoricity of YA.”  From the great conversation:

“When I was reading Zindel the first time, I remember writing down that when I grew up, I wanted to write books that would help adults understand teens better and help teens understand adults better. And I went home and I told my folks, and they suggested I could be a newspaper writer. As much as I respect newspaper writers, that wasn’t really what I had in mind. But then, only a few years ago, and it took me a few books to realize it: because I include adult characters, I’m doing that. And it’s wonderful. It’s kind of cool.

If I can cut down on the eye rolling when it comes to adults and teenagers, I’ve succeeded.

Here’s what I want to find out: how was Paul Zindel received? What were his reviews like? And who was he writing alongside? I would love to reconstruct YA from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s. But I’d need a clone. Or I need you to do it. One or the other.

But this stuff always existed. The darkness, or as I call it, life, has always existed. I just don’t think it’s changed that much.

But these are my thoughts: I’m a nUrdfighter. My daughter is a nerdfighter. And I love Paul Zindel.”

*On YA Highway, “Everything is Going to be OK: On Writing and Anxiousness.” From the post:
Sometimes I wonder whether writers are prone to being anxious people, because god knows there are plenty of reasons to be anxious about writing, or if anxious people are prone to being writers, because when you have the kind of brain that spends its time constructing complicated imaginary scenarios, you might as well use it for something, right?”

*At Granta, an interview with Adrian Tomine. I have been a HUGE fan of Tomine’s work since college. Part of why I love his work is because of how honest and realistic his stories are. This is touched on here, with this question about endings and unresolved issues:

There seems to be a sense of the unresolved for your characters, all round. Where do you think your stories come from?

I’ve heard people mention – and sometimes criticize – this unresolved quality in my stories. Again, it’s nothing I set out to do. I think it’s just that I’m generally trying to write realistic stories about regular people, and in that setting it’s hard to avoid the sense that life for these characters will basically continue to get better and worse to varying degrees until they die. I know that sounds like I’m trying to be flippant or something, but the structure of my stories isn’t random. There’s a reason they end where they do, and I think the challenge for me is to do that in a way that doesn’t feel completely unsatisfying to the audience. I’m working on it.”

*At Book Riot, “High School Reading, 2.0.” Contemporary books that should be added to high school reading lists.

*Need some more great lists? Check out NPR’s “Book Your Trip: Because Reading is All About the Journey.”  So many great books, and the categories make for interesting books being lumped together. Pretty cool.

*From the Simmons GSLIS blog, a great feature on the fantastic Cathie Mercier, director of the Children’s Literature graduate program (and one of the smartest people I know). When I was in Boston a few weeks back, I enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Museum of Fine Arts with Cathie, Susan Bloom, and two of my best friends (and fellow Simmons grads), Jess and Kristin. I loved hearing all about the new things going on at Simmons in the children’s lit program.

*At 100 Scope Notes, “2014 Preview Interview: First Second.”  If you know me well at all, you know I adore everything First Second puts out. Truly–everything.

*Check out the newest page of the webcomic The Dead Have Issues. Always awesome.

*At Brain, Child, “The Books of Summers Past,” by Nina Badzin. This line really resonated with me:

“I can remember some of my choices from past summers, even novels I read two decades ago. Much like certain songs can bring back memories of an entire year, person, or a special time, a book title can unlock images for me of where I was when I read it and how I was feeling at the time.”

Review: Goodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriell

goodbye rebelGoodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriell

Rebel’s not exactly a people person, so when bubbly Kennedy Green strikes up a conversation with her in detention, Rebel is less than thrilled. She just wants to do the stupid assignment they are given in detention–make a bucket list of things to do before they die–and get out of there. Kennedy is persistent, though, and seems determined to have a heavy discussion with Rebel about life and the afterlife whether Rebel wants to or not. Kennedy tells her she’s guarded, that everyone needs friends, and that Kennedy considers her a friend. Rebel is hardly moved by all of this.

The next day, however, Rebel learns that Kennedy died in a car accident after leaving detention. Shaken, she rushes back to the detention room, desperate to find the bucket list Kennedy had made and then (at Rebel’s urging) tossed into the garbage can. Finding it, Rebel feels obligated to complete the list for Kennedy… and she can’t get Kennedy’s voice out of her brain as she goes about her tasks. Rebel doesn’t believe in heaven or angels or an afterlife, but there’s something about Kennedy’s death that has changed her.

As she works on her bucket list, she can’t help but feel like a fraud. As she does charity work, joins the track team, and even gets closer to a cute boy, she feels like none of this is real. She’s just completing Kennedy’s list, and when it’s done, she will go back to being her old self, the one who doesn’t do things like charity work or sports. Rebel comes to realize that maybe learning some lessons from Kennedy’s list won’t be the worst thing in the world… and that she just might want to fit in more than she’s ever let on.

Rebel (whose real name is Rebecca) is guarded–Kennedy was right about that. She’s snarky, outspoken, and a loner, and seems pretty comfortable being defined by those things. But as she channels Kennedy, she slowly reveals that she never wanted to be as alone as she’s been. Without feeling too sappy or heavy-handed, Rebel’s story is funny and thoughtful. For more on bucket list books, check out my review of Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Vary, my review of Julie Halpern’s The F-it Listand Stacked’s post on bucket lists and more in YA.

 Shelley Coriell’s website

Shelley Coriell’s Twitter

 

Book club and teen advisory board wrap-up

The second Saturday of the month is always my favorite day because I get to hang out with the teenagers at the YA book club that I run through the St. Cloud public library (YA Revolution) and at the teen advisory board meeting that I help facilitate (The League of Extraordinary Readers). It’s been a year now since I left my job at the high school library, so other than social media or occasional outings, this is the main way I keep in touch with some of the amazing teenagers I know.

Our book club meeting was attended by five people, which I thought was a great turnout for a rainy summer afternoon. Our last meeting was attended by 12 teenagers. We talked about the upcoming August visits from Minnesota young adult authors Carrie MesrobianKirstin Cronn-MillsLaura Bradley Rede, and Nick Hupton. We talked a little bit about these authors, where they’re coming from, what else they do, and what they have written.

We also talked about the titles for The Battle of the Books contest, happening on August 7 at the downtown library. The books to bone up on are: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.

We went around and discussed what we’ve been reading and we’re looking forward to reading. Long story short: we’ve been reading everything. We’re looking forward to reading everything! In addition to the book I’ve reviewed on here recently, we discussed Monument 14, the anthology The First Time, What Happens Next, Attachments, Sweet Reckoning, City of Heavenly Fire, The Scorpio Races, The Spectacular Now, and 31 Hours. Everyone is looking forward to the new Stephanie Perkins book and E. Lockhart’s new one, We Were Liars.

What else? We talked about our expectations of endings of books. The teens overwhelmingly fell on the side of wanting a neatly wrapped up and happy ending. As I’ve written about recently, I don’t share those feelings.  One of the book club members said that book club allows for “the ultimate reading experience” because of how knowledgeable everyone is and the insight we can offer. I have to agree! We also spent some time talking about what we do when we finish a book–if we immediately pick up another, if we need a little time to let that one sit, and so on. A great quote from that discussion  about finishing books: “What am I supposed to do with my life?!” (said with great despair.)

Teen advisory board followed immediately after. We were joined by two more teens who were unable to make it to book club. We talked about open mic night, maker Mondays, movie nights, and more. We brainstormed for upcoming events, considering a read-in, some passive programming, digital literacy classes, Teen Read Week, and a haunted house for Halloween. We are looking forward to August, when we will have a  party to celebrate two years of teen advisory board. All in all, a great couple of meetings. I’m lucky to know such smart, thoughtful, fun teen readers!