Monday, May 23, 2005

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Saturday, May 07, 2005

I just did a presention of booktalks to 9th and 10th graders at an alternative high school. They are studying memoirs and writing their own, so the teacher asked me to booktalk memoirs geared to teen readers. Thanks to Reading Rants and some other great recommendations, this is the list that I came up with. I put stars by my favorites:

*The air down there: True Tales from a South Bronx Boyhood by Gil C. Alicea

Living at the Edge of the World: a teenager’s survival in the tunnels of Grand Central Station by Tina S. and Jamie Pastor Bolnick

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year by Esme Raji Codell

You remind me of you: a poetry memoir by Eireann Corrigan

*Spyglass: An autobiography by Helene Deschamps

Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos

Stick Figure: a diary of my former self by Lori Gottlieb

*I have lived a thousand years: growing up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton Jackson

Red Scarf Girl: a memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji Li Jiang

*The Circuit: stories from the life of a migrant child by Francisco Jimenez

How Angel Peterson Got His Name: and other outrageous tales about extreme sports by Gary Paulsen

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

At the End of Words: a daughter’s memoir by Miriam Stone

Little X: growing up in the nation of Islam by Sonsyrea Tate

Please, don’t kill the freshman: a memoir by Zoe Trope

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I have been reading something I should have read long ago. But this way I can talk up a classic YA series.

Over the weekend I flew through the first three books in the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. I had been introduced to Pierce last summer when I had to review Trickster's Queen for SLJ. I of course had to read Trickster's Choice first, and I was totally engrossed and thoroughly loving Tamora Pierce and her work by the time I had finished. And I knew that I should be reading more of her stuff, and that I would love it, but I never got around to it because of all the other new stuff I felt obligated to read.

So Friday night I began with Alanna: The First Adventure where we meet Alanna of Trebond, who hates the idea of being sent away to a convent to be made into a lady. She wants more than anything to learn to be a knight, and earn her shield. So she convinces her twin brother to switch places with her (he wants to learn to be a great sorceror, and would have gone to the monastery near the aforementioned convent of doom) and she goes off to the palace, disguised as a boy and answering to "Alan." The twins' father is too engrossed in his studies to notice or care what his children are up to. Alanna almost gives up at first because it is so hard, but Coram, the soldier sent with her to the palace dares her into staying. She workes very hard to prove herself, and proves to be quite tenacious, even when a bully abuses her, or the sword master tells her she'll never be any good. She also becomes friends with many of the pages and squires, including Prince Jonathan, whom she saves from a strange sweating sickness that attacks the palace. Alanna has "the gift" (or magical powers) but is mostly afraid to use it for fear that the gift will overpower and destroy her. She also meets George Cooper, the King of Thieves, who lives in the city. They become friends and he sells Alanna her first real horse.

In the Hand of the Goddess is the second installment, and we see Alanna a little older. She is a squire now, and still very much disguised as a boy, even though this has gotten harder as her body is changing. She is chosen by Prince Jonathan to become his personal squire and the two form a close friendship. But the Prince's cousin, Duke Roger (a powerful sorcerer), has started to become suspicious to Alanna. She thinks he is the one that sent the sweating sickness that almost killed the prince, and he seems to be egging Jonathan on to do crazy things, which leads Alanna and Jonathan to a very scary encounter in the Black City where they battle the Unnamed Ones. The conclusion to this book puts Alanna in a duel to the death with Duke Roger.

But we know how it comes out because there wouldn't be two more books otherwise, right? So we come the third book, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man. In the conclusion of the last book, Alanna has not only earned her knighthood, she is also "outed" by Duke Roger, and everyone knows at last that she is a female. And because she feels the king disapproves of her because she withheld this information, she sets out with faithful Coram on adventures. They ride south and through a series of hair-raising events, Alanna becomes the shaman of a desert tribe of the Bazhir people. She must train her apprentices before she can move on, and ends up finding comfort in life with the tribe. However, inner struggles that have been nagging at Alanna since the beginning of her journey into knighthood seem to surface. She feels uncomfortable in her skin as a woman, and uncomfortable with the fact that two men (Prince Jonathan and George Cooper) are competeing for her affections. Which one will she choose? She is sure that she never wants to marry because that would mean giving part of herself away. I am sure most of these problems will be resolved in the final book, Lioness Rampant, which I have just started to read.

Tamora Pierce is a really excellent writer. Her characters are well-developed, the plots interesting, and there is a lot of humor worked in. (Anyone who calls her husband a "spouse-creature" can present humor effectively.) And I just love that her protagonist is a female that can compete with any man on a mental and physical level. And as I am reading this series, I can totally see now how Alianne in the Trickster books is a perfect blend of her mother and father. (Ah, yes, I do know who Alanna finally chooses!)

These are excellent reads all around.

Monday, May 02, 2005

So excited to finally get our copy of Luna by Julie Anne Peters. It's the story of Liam (17 or 18 yrs old) who has felt like a girl trapped in a boy's body his entire life. His story, the story of his transformation into Luna, his true female self, is actually told by Regan, Liam's younger sister. In this way I think the author was able to appeal to a wider audience. Regan is a very appealing, relatble character. She's just a normal girl who's content to fade into the background. I also like the way Peters used flashbacks to show the evolution of Luna and how all this has affected Regan, their family, and friends. I found the story especially compelling because you are intrigued and drawn in by Liam/Luna but also by Regan. She struggles too with this identity crisis and has long felt like she needed to protect her brother and herself from the harsh real world. She has also felt attention usurped from her by her brother and I liked how in the end you feel a sense of hope for both of them even though it is no conventional happy ending (I like that too.) One co-worker thought the story was "melodramatic" but I think she's wrong. I have a few gay friends but I don't think I could even begin to understand what living with a transgendered person would be like. I felt like all the "melodrama" in the story was completely realistic and appropriate. I wouldn't have batted an eyelash if there had been even more. I did agree with her however that this is the kind of book that could save a kid's life. I wouldn't (nor would this co-worker) say that lightly. It's books like these ... progressive, cutting edge, realistic (really happening out there everyday) that we need in this society to bridge some gaps that are created by a lack of understanding.

I also recently finished Small Town Odds which was recommended here and I just want to say how awesome the blog is because if it weren't for that post I know I would never have picked up that book on my own (it's a grown up book!) and it's such a splendid book. I enjoyed it on so many levels. And there are some great lines in that book. I kept wishing for paper and pencil near me as I read to jot some down. One of my favorite characters is Tess, Eric's 5 (and a half, she'd want me to say that) year old daughter. I have a 5 (and a half, she'd want me to say that) niece and I felt like she could play the role of Tess perfectly. The author just really hit the nail on the head with that character. If the author is childless I will be really, really impressed.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

I finally got my hands on an advanced reader’s copy of the third installment in Suzanne Collins’ Underland Chronicles: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods. I’m a big fan of the series thus far and this book did not disappoint. Gregor once again returns to the underground world to play out his part in the mysterious Prophecy of Blood. A deadly disease threatens the lives of all who inhabit this world, including friends from Gregor’s previous adventures as well as his mother. The action and suspense are non-stop in this vividly drawn fantasy world. I’d recommend it for 4-6 graders, especially reluctant readers who will find themselves sucked in from the first page.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

I recently read Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.

Stained is set in a small New England town in the seventies and deals indirectly with sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. The main character sometimes feels like an outsider because her father left when she was young and her mother raised her without religion. The local priest is telling her boyfriend that he should stop seeing her because she is a sinner and her neighbor/love interest has disappeared and was last seen leaving the church late at night.

Each chapter, the story switches back and forth between the past and the present, which can be a bit confusing and disrupts the flow of the narrative. Otherwise, it's a pretty compelling reading despite the religious overtones.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Recent Reads in Denver:

Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reading this on the flight from Philadelphia to Denver was a great experience. The book's setting is a working class neighborhood of Philly and Anderson did a great job of catching the Philly flavor (including the TastyCakes) in her novel.

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman
How is it that the Schwa can be standing right in front of you, but you fail to see him? How does an old man can live in an apartment with 14 dogs named for all the sins and virtues? Isn't it strange that a blind girl, Lexie, can see better than anyone else, or can she? Who is a better cook, Antsy's mom, or Antsy's Dad?
Do we all feel invisible at times?

Naked by David Sedaris
I read this in preparation for seeing David Sedaris speak last night. I have loved the other books of his that I've read and listened to. This one was really good too. However, most of my friends who have read it thought it was his funniest ever, and I found myself crying through it. The descriptions of his OCD behaviors really got to me. David Sedaris live, on stage, is awesome. He got us laughing so hard that my roommate just about threw up and I couldn't even see for all the tears in my eyes. He is hysterical, but has so much heart. Wow!