Tag Archives: 8th

Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda

Ssimonvshomosapiensimon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli

Listening to this book was a bit like watching a John Hughes movie… actually, it was a lot like watching a John Hughes movie. It is kind of sweet, there might be some heart-breaking moments, some misunderstandings, some bullying, but definitely a lot of friendship, quite a bit of sweet-loving, and totally easy to get hooked on and want to know more and want everything to work out at the end — and boy did EVERYTHING get worked out! Mostly believably so but definitely veering toward the hyper-optimistic end of possibilities: which, we all need from time to time!

I was a little sad that once Simon & “Blue” met up in real life, the author pretty much stopped giving us their exchanges of ideas: no more interesting emails to read of their views on the world around them or the quirky questions and answers. In the last part of the book, the readers are left with just observing their physical (sweet) contacts and first explorations: as if all those emails were just a precursor to what REALLY matters: kissing and other physical relationships…  It would have been more fulfilling an emotional journey for me as a reader if both physical and intellectual aspects of their relationship had been more equally represented during the last part of the story.

(And a potential quibble: I am still baffled why the characters refer to Tumblr as “the Tumblr” — was it that the author does not understand the teen-lingo these days or that it is THAT specific Tumblr page reserved for the kids in that particular town/high school — thus the article?)

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

icrawlthroughitI Crawl Through It by A.S. King

It was an intriguing and entertaining read — although using the word “entertaining” to describe my reading experience with a book dealing with mental illnesses, abuse, and traumatic events in teens feels a little crass. Nonetheless, I felt that King, as a writer, really revels in designing and playing “games” with her readers.  Mind games, for sure!

Do we really know what actually happened to each of the four main characters?  What’s with the man behind the bush?  What’s with the invisible (or real?) helicopter?  Nothing was really certain — not during and not after reading the book.  And I’m quite alright with that much ambiguity — I only wish that I had liked and/or could have felt more empathetic toward any of the characters.  Because of the stylistic choice and the hyper-reality setting, the main characters all seem to be more guinea pigs in a giant game of maze on stage, masterminded and controlled by the author for the amusement and perhaps even edification of the audience.  Even the cover design with the standardized test answering sheet reminds me of some sort of “whack a mole” holes in an arcade…

Anyway — to sum up — I admired the workmanship and enjoyed the weirdness but never quite got caught up enough to care about any of the characters or how “the story” was going to end.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon

xX: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz & Kekla Magoon

So many of my esteemed colleagues have reviewed this book extremely favorably and some of them told me exactly why they love this book.  They cite the energy in the narrative, the honesty in the young man’s anger, and the eventual growth and redemption of this lost soul.

So I feel like walking on thin ice to say that I didn’t find the novel or the protagonist quite compelling all the way through.  I found the beginning of the narrative strong and powerful.  I was moved by Red’s emotional ties to his mother and siblings; I was convinced that he would find justification of he must steal.  His slow realization of his “place” in the world saddened me.  The refrain of “Just a n****r” is both chilling and makes my blood boil!  And one cannot easily forget his witnessing a lynched body and the connection to the song “Strange Fruit.”

But then… we have 200 pages more of Malcolm engaged in various illegal activities, and continuously excusing himself because of his sorrowful past, family situation, societal reality, etc. I understand that all of these are based on real events, family stories, and Malcolm’s own words. I can only speak for myself as a reader how after a while it felt more tedious than compelling. The pacing went from tight to sloppy.  I got quite impatient and did not feel empathy or sympathy toward him.  Perhaps that’s not the intent of the author but it was difficult for me to want to follow his next missteps since I stopped caring.

The final payoff of X’s enlightenment comes very late and lasts very briefly within the confine of this novel. The book ends before his important life’s work begins.  For many who already know quite a bit about Malcolm X, his personal narrative, his rage, and his complex relationship with the Nation of Islam, the ending is but a beginning — we know what he would become.  And the book includes extensive after matter to detail Malcolm X’s achievements.  I just wonder what impression this “novel” of Malcolm X leaves a younger reader.

I also wonder how the pacing feels and my emotional engagement might have been different if the narrative voice had been a more universal third person, so that I could understand his internal struggle and also observe his external charms and charisma (and not just being told by the protagonist that “people seem to be drawn to me” or “girls like me.”)

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin

threebodyproblem The Three Body Problem (三体)by Liu Cixin(刘慈忻),translated by Ken Liu

This is a rare experience for me since my encounters with Science Fiction tend to be on the “soft sci-fi” end: where the details of the science employed by the authors are often quite flexible to suit the narrative needs of the tale.  This is Hard Science Fiction and I was absolutely fascinated (even while I didn’t quite understand them) by the explanation of the Three-Body physics problem, the unfolding of protons into various dimensional modules, and how radio waves are delivered and received, etc. However, what compelled me to keep on reading was the realistic and unflinching depiction of the story’s backdrop (from Cultural Revolution era to contemporary China,) the underlying multiple and somewhat conflicting philosophies about human nature, the life story and struggles of one of the main female characters, and the kinship I feel with a specific type of online gaming.

The author honestly and boldly laid out the views of his characters (and one can choose to side with or against whichever view) and the translator faithfully captured and presented the analytical and yet deeply emotional landscape of the story.

Let’s celebrate this book’s 2015 Hugo Award win for being a solid hard science fiction and for being the very first Hugo novel winner penned by an Asian author.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Notes

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

goodbyestranger Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

How does an author who already won so many accolades to continue pushing herself for such new heights?

This book has no surprising twist ending: magical or SciFi-esque; it has no flashy mystery elements; it is set in an ordinary school with ordinary middle school students — but yet, one cannot stop reading it because we as readers care so much about the interior lives of the characters (three “main” plus the supporting cast).  It makes one feel compassion and empathy towards all who behave “well” and who might have some questionable motivation.  It also makes readers marvel at the author’s ability to write a “quiet” book that speaks so loudly on the reality of being a young teen who must navigate the treacherous waters of friendship, social dynamics, and power-structure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Teaching The Graveyard Book in China

graveyardbookFour young readers from Shanghai (ages 13-15) and I spent two weeks together enjoying and analyzing Neil Gaiman’s Newbery winning title The Graveyard Book. The lessons were all conducted in English. We had a lot of fun and here are some of the observations that we made about the book:

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 9.18.08 AM

(silly names we gave ourselves/each other)Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 7.53.47 AM

  • The author makes it so that the supposedly bad people (the graveyard dead, a witch, a vampire, and a werewolf) turned out to be super nice and caring.  It made us reconsider our assumptions to the people around us.
  • The author effectively uses verbs and action phrases for inanimate objects to create vivid and poetic imageries: tendrils of fog could insinuate themselves into the hall, the graveyard could keep secrets, and the burnt sun could gaze into the world below.
  • We had lots of fun figuring out what Gaiman implies in his text.  Silas’ true being is, of course, the most fun to guess: so many clues about what he is without the word* EVER being present in the book. But there are many other things that the readers need to figure out: the characters’ moods, interior thoughts and motivations, etc.  In other words, this is a great book for inferences. 
  • Paradox is another literary device used often by the author.  We bookended the course with this paradoxical phrase: “Glorious Tragedy” that Gaiman used to describe what it’s like to be a parent and how The Graveyard Book can be read as a book about the bittersweetness of successful parenting.  This phrase could be used especially to frame much of the last part of the book when Nobody Owens grows too old to be contained within the safety of the Graveyard.   Isn’t “growing up” also a kind of glorious tragedy? I asked the four young readers to contemplate in what ways that “growing up” is a glorious tragedy.
  • Each student wrote me a quick feedback on their individual experience with the book.  All were positive and had strong emotional reaction to the events and characters in the book.
    • One wrote how they appreciated the many new vocabulary words (Gaiman definitely did NOT shy away from using precise, perfect, but not easy words.)
    • They all enjoyed the “guess” work whenever I asked them to infer a particular subtly presented idea.
    • One student who never read a single English language book before this class vowed to continue reading books in English!

I had a blast!  The students were diligent and after the first couple of days, were lively and contributed a lot.  It’s especially rewarding to closely re-read The Graveyard Book and confirm how finely crafted this book truly is, in every aspect!

* SPOILER ALERT — Silas’ identity is revealed after the cover image (for those who have yet to read the book.)

graveyardbook

Silas is a vampire.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes, Field Reports

The Truth Commision by Susan Juby

truthcommissionThe Truth Commission

by Susan Juby

Reminiscent of but less cynical than The Year of Secret Assignments (or Finding Cassie Crazy,) The Truth Commission explores the meaning of “truth” and the effects of truth-telling vs lying with a plot that started off deceptively breezy and quirky but progressively gaining weight as the readers realize that the tale is a lot more than presenting some artsy high schoolers’ (and the author’s) mercurial whims.  I definitely got hooked about half way through the story once the successful older sister’s dark secrets start spilling out, and totally appreciated the twists and the examination of unreliable narrative devices.  A memorable read.

Cultural Querries:

  1. I don’t understand why the school’s mission in multiple languages would be printed in both Mandarin and Cantonese, since for the most part Mandarin and Cantonese are the same in written form, unless one (like some publications in Hong Kong) tries to mimic the colloquial usages (like in online discourses and tabloids). Its usage has been limited mostly to Hong Kong and even though has gained some popularity, is still definitely not the practice in official documents. Since one of the main characters is half Korean, it is evident that the author is aware of the existence of other Asian cultures.  So, why not Japanese, Korean, or Hindi? Is this a deliberate choice by the author to show the supreme quirkiness of the school or is it really the practice of that specific Canadian region?  (Is it set in British Columbia?)
  2. I also wonder about the portrayal of Dusk’s half Korean and half Jewish family background.  She is described as rebelling against a family of doctors and her “tiger” parents’ expectations. It did make me cringe a little, even if I am quite aware of how this is the reality of many young people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes, WIWWAK

Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV show) Survey Report

avatar posterAvatar: The Last Airbender, the Nichelodeon channel animated show from 2005, has been and continues to be really popular with my middle and high school students.  (The show was created for even younger viewers.) I got curious and asked random internet users (via facebook, twitter, reddit, FCL, etc.) to fill out a form and tell me whether: “Avatar? OMG — AVATAR is MY LIFE!” or “This is the first time I have ever heard of this show,” and anything in between.  Although the respondents can choose from 12 different answers, I decided to consolidate them into four categories: Extreme Love, Positive, Neutral/Negative, and Never heard of/watched the show. Those who filled out the form also shared their demographic information and self-identified as one of the following: Asian or Asian American, White (Hispanic), White (Non-Hispanic), Black (Hispanic), Black (Non-Hispanic), Racially Mixed – part Asian, Racially Mixed – no Asian, Native American, or Other* * I had to take out a few responses (for example, a self-identified “penguin” – Oh, internet, you never fails to amuse me!) As you can see, the responses are really positive, just like those from my students and myself.  We are excited about the show, its spin-off Legend of Korra, and are happily reading the Graphic Novels series extending the storyline, and anxiously awaiting the new installments for both Aang, Katara, Zuko, Toph, Sokka storylines and the Korra storyline.  My notes on The Search by Gene Luen Yang will be posted tomorrow. If your browser can’t load this embedded chart, click on THIS LINK. I also asked for age ranges but decided to not include that information in the chart.

Leave a comment

Filed under Field Reports

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

shadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel José Older

The young urban teen characters in this novel feel and sound authentic — they are the artsy crowd and use their talents to navigate their lives.  Mural art is highlighted and so is spoken word poetry.  The blend of the real world with the spiritual/ghosty world also feel convincing with much respect paid to the cultural traditions and family ties with some vividly creepy scenes.  This is not a epic fantasy but a story of urban magic, much like a fairy tale where chance meetings and helpful beings are common devices to advance the plot and solve the protagonist’s problems.  And thank goodness we have a wonderful strong young woman, who is not white, whose full face is shown to the readers on the beautifully designed cover!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Firefight

firefight Firefight by Brandon Sanderson (Reckoners, #2)

This second book in the Reckoners series reads like a complete story — with it central villain(s) being dealt with by the last chapter and secrets revealed. It also sets up the next book nicely, because those secrets will propel the conflict into grander scales. A thoroughly enjoyable book that did not go beyond my expectations, even when some “shocking truths” are exposed. Perhaps because I have been binging on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as I read this book, and the two storylines share a lot of similarities especially when it comes to how the perceived good characters and those supposedly bad characters might turn out to be very different from what you have originally believed. So, I learned to mistrust all characters (even the narrator himself) until proven otherwise. This makes me wonder about the recent wild popularity of dystopian novels for young people and the central conflict rooted in a strong distrust of one’s government (or team, family, or friends, etc.)

I am all for critical thinking and questioning authority and demanding clear reasons and transparency when we are asked to behave in certain ways (and when we ask young people to follow certain rules and paths.) However, I often fear that we (as educators) are encouraging generations of young people to question everything every step of the way and mistrust those around them as the default form of interaction with the wider world. Once in a while, it would be so nice to simply just trust since I do believe that large portion of humanity is good.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Shadow Scale

shadowscaleby Rachel Hartman

Since I loved Seraphina so much and had waited for the sequel with huge anticipation, it was not surprising that I didn’t quite feel satisfied with this second volume. It took me a long time to get through it not because of its heft (almost 600 pages) but because I just didn’t quite feel compelled to know what’s happening next. Partly because I pretty much knew how things would have panned out, that readers would eventually see that Seraphina, after SOOOOOO many pages and chapters of self-doubt, self-pity, and self-blame, would have come through and be the amazing power that helps destroy the “evil side”; and partly because I was really tired of those self-deprecating qualities that were somehow more endearing in the first book. I do appreciate the varied and very invented half-dragons and their special talents and feel emotionally connected to quite a few of them. I also absolutely appreciate the non-traditional relationships between Phina, Selda, and Kiggs. Just wish that I had been swept away by this volume as I was by the first book.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

This One Summer

thisonesummer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Love the art in this bock, especially the skillful and creative ways many emotions are conveyed through imagery and hinted via lines and swirls. This is a quiet graphic story that eloquently showcases the interior life of a precocious prepubescent mind. Many of the double spreads are breathtaking and heartbreaking. It feels like a privilege to be allowed to peek into the minds of Rose and those around her.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Notes

The Impossible Knife of Memory

impossibleknifeby Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction

Basic Content Information: Hayley has to deal with caring for her father (her mother died a while back and her father’s long term girlfriend left) when he gets deeper and deeper within the dark landscape of PTSD after tours in Iraq. At the same time, she falls in love with Finn whose sister is a drug addict that his parents pour all their energy on and leave no time for him, who is in the process of applying to college. Her best (and only) friend Gracie also has to deal with parental fallouts of her father cheating on her mother and shouting matches at home. With everyone around her having to take care of their own business, Hayley is quite left alone to handle the worsen conditions of her father. When a former comrade was killed in the war, Hayley’s father left the house and a desperate search and rescue mission (by the young people themselves) ensues.

Edition: Hardcover

Pub Date: January, 2014

Publisher: Viking

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

And We Stay

andwestay by Jenny Hubbard

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Poetry infused novel

Basic Content Information: It is 1995. Emily had to leave her high school and her city due to the recent suicide in the school library of her ex-boyfriend after she told him that they were through -suicide by a hand gun he found in his grandmother’s drawer. Guilt ridden, Emily is sent to an all girls’ boarding school where the poet Emily Dickinson attended to “recover” from her nightmarish experiences. Emily was indeed named after the poet and she happens to be quite an accomplished poet — plenty of poems are included in the narrative. With the help of some understanding adults, the power of poetry, and some lucky coincidences, Emily eventually can see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Many teen issues are touched upon in the book: abortion, teen passion, kleptomania, suicides, depression, etc.

Edition: Hardcover

Pub Date: January, 2014

Publisher: Delacorte Press

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean

truestory by David Almond

Genre(s): Magical Realism(?) Fantasy(?) Parable(?) Horror(?)

Basic Content Information: In less-learned spelling (some words are correct while others are wildly inaccurate,) we read the super-natural, fantastic, and intense life story of a semi-feral child after the bombing of his town when he was born and then locked up in a small room with is mother and visited occasionally by his father who turned out to be the priest who held power over Billy’s mother and many others. Billy Dean then was groomed and turned into a prophet who “telt” his own tale with vivid and sometimes grotesque and gory scenes in a time of raging wars around the world. A combination of naiveté and extreme clarity of how the world functions can be found time and time again in this telling.

Edition: Hardcover

Pub Date: January, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick Press

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Days of Blood and Starlight

daysofbloodandstarlightby Laini Taylor

I should have read this a LONG time ago. Whoa, what powerful punches Laini Taylor manages to deal to the readers — over and over — so many surprises and things going just the opposite of what one expects. Lots of gore. Tortured romance. Amazing magical inventiveness. Just too much fun in one book. Should not be allowed! But, how happy I am to have read the second installment — and that I HAVE to read the 3rd book because it’s nominated by fellow BFYA members.  So excited.  But I’m reading another book, not yet nominated, first.  Can’t have all the goodies at once!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Dangerous

dangerouscover by Shannon Hale

Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Romance, Thriller

Basic Content Information: We follow two main teen characters with a supporting cast of adults (from trustworthy, to uncertain to purely evil) into a futuristic world that does not seem too different from our own except that some scientific discoveries and advancements have led the humans to encounter alien materials and finally aliens themselves.  The story is narrated from Maisie’s (mixed-race White/Latina) first person point of view, mostly in past tense.  Maisie is the brain and eventually also the brawn behind most of the operations and actions.  Her off and on, slightly torturous romance with Wilder (Jonathan) is what I came to expect from a Shannon Hale novel – whether Fantasy, Graphic Novel, or now, a SciFi.  The book is divided into 3 parts and could have easily been expanded and milked into a trilogy – but we got the whole story in one shot instead.

Edition: Paper Galley

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

Publisher: Bloomsbury, USA

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Tales From My Closet

talesfrommyclosetby Jennifer Anne Moses

Genre(s): Realistic Fiction, Girl Drama

Basic Content Information: Five girls in their sophomore years in a New Jersey high school tell their interlocked personal stories in alternative narrative first person view points — each has enough drama to fill a whole TV series: secret boy friend in Paris, contemplating “going all the way,” unfaithful father, therapist mother who tells the private life of her daughter, secret crush over the coach, annoying siblings, shopping addictions, hidden talents, social mishaps and embarrassments, etc. etc. — and all tied with constant obsessions over one’s own and others’ outfits and appearances… Plenty of positive messages mixed with illogical actions and thought processes.

Edition: Netgalley

Pub Date: January 28, 2014

Publisher: Scholastic Press

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Notes

The Here and Now

hereandnow: Ann Brashares

Genre(s): Sci-fi, Mystery, Romance

Basic Content Information: Time Travelers from a devastated and plagued future back to our (Here/Now is May 2014, Tristate area) with the expressed desire to “fix the future” but as the protagonist (17-year-old Prenna) finds out, they are merely hiding in their new safe colony with stringent and suffocating rules. When an opportunity presents itself for Prenna to alter a current situation that will impact on her future, she goes for it with the help of her Time Native boyfriend. Notions of free will, choices, and sacrifices for one’s community are explored. Teen budding romance with physical ramifications are explored. Climate change, dirty and clean energies, and disease control are some scientific topics touched on in the book.

Edition: Netgalley

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

Publisher: Delacorte/Random House

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes

Far Far Away

farfarawayby Tom McNeal

An usual narrator (ghost of Jacob Grimm, the German folklorist), a small town that feels subtly unsettling, and a villain that really creeped me out made this a memorable read.  The book feels like a combination of a classic Hawthorne short story and a Coen Brothers movie — the sinister thread goes through the whole book and you are just wondering worriedly what’s going to happen next… I was not sure who’s the audience of this dark tale but am hoping that it will find some deserved adoration from teen readers.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Notes