New Year’s Reading Resolutions

treeReading Bingo

I’ve never actually made a reading resolution before, but I had so much reading to do for YA book committees this year I thought I’d try it to make my workload easier in years to come.  In this episode, I discuss my own resolutions and discuss different reading challenges that you can follow and share with others.

Happy New Year, and happy reading!

Booktalk: More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than This cover

More than This by Patrick Ness is a profound book that is difficult to categorize, in part because the reader doesn’t fully understand this world until it unfolds.  And even by the end of the story … well, let’s just say this book raises more questions than it answers.  It’s a richly rewarding story, and one that will have a strong impact on teens, especially on curious teens who enjoy taking their minds in new directions.

BOOKTALK:

Seth was dead, and then he was alive again.  The last thing he remembered was swimming in the ocean.  He remembered the pull of the undertow and how he was fighting against the waves, and that no matter how hard he tried to swim away from the rocks, he couldn’t.  He remembered the waves dashing him against the rocks.  He remembered the sound of his shoulder blade snapping in two, so loud that he could even hear it underwater.  He remembered drowning  … and then he remembered waking up here.  Wherever “here” is.

Seth doesn’t know if he’s dead, or alive, or dreaming.  He doesn’t know if he’s in heaven, or hell, or somewhere in between.  All he knows is is that he woke up in front of a house that looks vaguely familiar.  He doesn’t know exactly where he is, but when he steps inside the house it feels like he’s been here before, a very long time ago.  He also knows that wherever he is, he’s completely alone.  He listens carefully, but he can’t hear the sound of any people, or animals, or birds, or even insects.  This world is completely silent.

Seth doesn’t know what kind of place this is, or why it feels familiar, or what happened to everybody else.  He doesn’t have the answers to any of these questions … YET.

The 2014 Finalists For the Cybils Awards Have Been Announced!

In 2014 I volunteered for the first time to be a judge for the Cybils Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards.  I’ve spent the last few months as a first-round judge for the YA Fiction category of the Cybils Awards, and boy is my brain tired!

Our committee judged over 160 (ETA: 170) books and narrowed them down to five finalists that we would pass on to the round 2 judges.  Here are the five books we chose:

Gabi coverGirls Like Us coverIll Give You the Sun cover

Pointe coverWhen I Was the Greatest cover

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

I am very proud of the work we’ve done, and also very exhausted.  I’m now going to be spending the next few months decompressing and catching up on books for adults and kids before my YA committee work starts up again!

You can check out our announcement about the YA Fiction finalists HERE and look at the finalists in all twelve categories HERE.  It’s a pretty extensive list overall, and you’ll see recommendations on everything from picture books to graphic novels to apps to nonfiction, with annotations written by the judges explaining why we thought each one was amazing and deserved to go on to round 2.

Enjoy, and happy reading!!!

Booktalk: The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

Riverman cover

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer is a unique story for younger teens or older kids that balances on the border of fantasy and reality, the real world and an imagined one.  That’s just one of the reasons that this book reminded me of Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson — there’s the real/imagined world, but also the profound and powerful friendship between a boy and a girl.

The Riverman will keep readers guessing and hoping until the end of the story to find out what happened.  Some but not all of their questions will be answered, but since this is part of a trilogy, it’s setting up for a much larger tale.  The next book in the series, The Whisper, will be coming out in March!

BOOKTALK:

Fiona and Alistair are very unlikely friends.  Sure, they’ve grown up in the same neighborhood and their families used to hang out together when they were kids.  But now they’re different.  They’ve each grown up in different directions and they have different friends.  And then one day Fiona shows up at Alistair’s house and tells him that she wants him to write her biography.  Alistair thinks it’s a little weird, but still, he’s flattered to be asked.  It means she thinks he’s a good writer and he’s creative.

Fiona starts telling Alistair her life story, and that’s when things go from a little weird to VERY weird.  Fiona tells Alistair that she doesn’t spend all of her time in the real world.  That sometimes she visits a magical place called Aquavania, where all she has to do is wish for something and it comes true.  She can wish for the ability to fly, or for the sky to change colors, or for a magical talking animal to be her friend.  And whenever she visits Aquavania, even if she’s spent days or weeks there, when she comes back home it’s like no time passed at all.  But as wonderful as Aquavania is, it’s also dangerous.  Because there’s a creature there called the Riverman that steals the souls of children.  And when he steals their souls in Aquavania, they vanish in real life.

Little by little, Fiona tells her story to Alistair.  And little by little, Alistair comes to the conclusion that obviously she’s crazy … or she’s lying.  But the more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that something really IS wrong, and that Fiona might be in danger.  Whether it’s happening in the real world or in some imaginary place, SOMETHING is threatening Fiona.  And it will be up to Alistair to try to save her.

Booktalk: Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang

Falling Into Place cover

If there is one niche that Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang falls into, it’s probably the “I’m looking for books like If I Stay” category.  Or, in a larger sense, the “I’m looking for books that are about life-or-death choices” category.  This would be a good book to share with large groups of teens (because after all, hasn’t everyone thought about life-or-death choices?) and it would also be a solid choice for book discussion groups.

BOOKTALK:

Liz Emerson thought that her death would be quick and easy.  She thought that she would drive her Mercedes off the road in a spot where she would die instantly and where her family members wouldn’t find her.  But she miscalculated, and now she’s alive — barely.

Liz Emerson was one of the most well-known girls in school, but not always for the right reasons.  She had friends, she had acquaintances, and she had enemies.  Maybe that’s why she tried to kill herself — because she didn’t always treat people the right way.  Maybe it was because she was unhappy, or lonely, or drunk.  But whatever the reason, she failed in her mission.  Now she’s lying in the hospital with tubes and machines keeping her alive.  She didn’t want her family or friends to see her like this, but now she doesn’t have a choice.

It might be too late for Liz, or maybe there’s still time to save her.  Her broken body lying in the hospital bed is pulling at the emotions of all different kinds of people.  Her best friends.  The boy who loved her for years but never told her.  Her classmates who envied her and hated her.  While Liz’s life hangs in the balance, all of those people will have time to wonder: Who is Liz Emerson, really?  And why would she try to kill herself?

Booktalk: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking Normal

Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens is a great teen novel about the power of secrets.  At first it reminded me mostly of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson because of its focus on a girl who’s hiding a secret and the stress is ruining her life.  But the more I read, the more it reminded me of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.  It made me think of that book because the focus expands to include a boy and a girl who would not normally have even spoken to each other, but who end up forming a very powerful bond.  I think what I’m saying here is that you should DEFINITELY be able to find a big audience for this book!

BOOKTALK:

Alexi has a secret that’s eating her alive.  The secret makes it hard for her to trust people, or even talk to them.  The secret makes her curl up and hide on the floor of her closet when she comes home.  The secret makes her scratch herself until she bleeds.  But the whole point of a secret is that nobody else knows.  She can’t tell anyone.

One of the only things that can distract Alexi from the secret in her head is Bodee Lennox, a boy in her school who’s always been quiet and weird.  His nickname is the Kool-Aid Kid because of the way he colors his hair.  That was the most famous thing about him … until now.  But everything has changed for Bodee, because now he’s famous for a different reason.  Because his father just killed his mother.

Alexi has a secret that’s trapped deep inside of her.  Bodee’s home life was a secret until now … but that secret has been revealed to the world, and now everyone knows how terrible things were at home.

In a perfect world, Alexi and Bodee would never have hung out together.  They would never have spoken to each other.  And they definitely would never have become friends.  But this isn’t a perfect world, and Alexi and Bodee are both damaged goods.  Alexi and Bodee are going to need each other’s strength and support to deal with the secrets that have the power to destroy their lives.

My Favorite Children’s and Teen Books of 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming coverGoodreads coverGrasshopper Jungle cover

Here are all of the books I mentioned in this episode:

PICTURE BOOKS

Quest by Aaron Becker

My Teacher is a Monster! (No I am Not!) by Peter Brown

Sparky! by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans

CHILDREN’S CHAPTER BOOKS

Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret by Tim Kehoe

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

TEEN BOOKS

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Amity by Micol Ostow

Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

BONUS CONTENT — I’ve read SO MANY teen books this year that I couldn’t fit all of them into this episode!  So make sure you check these out, too!

Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Oblivion by Sasha Dawn

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

Crazy by Linda Vigen Phillips

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Sekret by Lindsay Smith

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang

Booktalk: How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon

How it Went Down Cover

How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon is a great choice for fans of realistic fiction as well as reluctant readers.  But what really makes it unique is how it’s all about perspective — it’s told from different points of view, and different characters disagree about larger philosophical issues (like what kind of person Tariq was) but also about what each of them saw with their own eyes.  This would be a great choice for a teen book discussion, because it would definitely inspire conversation!  Or, hey, how about as a companion piece to 12 Angry Men?

BTW, my next “in depth” episode isn’t ready yet, so I’ve moved it ahead to next week.  That’s because December is usually when I talk about my favorite children’s and young adult books of the year, and I’ve been so busy with reading YA stuff lately that I need to catch up with some more children’s titles.  So tune in for that next week!

BOOKTALK:

Tariq is a young black teenager who might or might not have been a good person.  He might or might not have wanted to be in a gang.  He might or might not have had a gun in his hand.  But he was shot in front of a bodega in his neighborhood, and now he’s definitely dead.  That’s the one thing that everyone CAN agree on.

Lots of people had their own opinions about Tariq — friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers.  Everyone had their own opinions about what kind of person Tariq was, about whether or not he set the events in motion that led to his own death, and even about what they saw just before and just after he was shot.  The problem is that many of those people, even the ones who were out on the street at the same time and who saw what happened, don’t agree with each other.

Finding the truth about Tariq might be harder than you think.

Booktalk: Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling cover

I’ve been a fan of Lucy Frank’s writing ever since I read her YA novels I Am an Artichoke and Will You Be My Brussels Sprout? back in my librarian trainee days. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling is also an excellent book, told in a unique writing style (as a poem-format novel, with poems in each girl’s voice on different sides of the page) and with powerful themes of friendship and overcoming odds.

This would be a great choice for books about death and grief as well as survivor stories (because yes, this story includes a range of possibilities).  Do you know teens who finished The Fault in Our Stars and are looking for more books that will make them contemplate their own mortality?   Share this book with them!

BOOKTALK:

Francesca was sick for a long time, but she didn’t know it.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  She knew that something was wrong, and that some days she felt so sick that she didn’t want to move, or walk, or get out of bed.  But she just figured that she ate the wrong thing … or maybe she was imagining it … or maybe it was real, but if she just ignored it, it would go away.  Well, ignoring it didn’t work.  And one of the most romantic nights of her life quickly turned into one of the most EMBARASSING nights of her life when she got so sick that she wound up in the hospital.  Where she got a roommate named Shannon who’d been sick for a VERY long time.

Shannon tells her what it’s like to live when your body is full of steroids and painkillers.  What it’s like to live with a chronic disease that isn’t fatal … unless, of course, you die from it.  What it’s like to live when everybody you know is either lying to you or feeling sorry for you.

Francesca and Shannon are two girls lying next to each other in a hospital room.  Two girls separated by a thin curtain that hangs between them.  Two girls staring at the ceiling.

Booktalk: The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse

The Music of Dolphins cover

This week we’re going to have a change of pace, because I haven’t posted a booktalk of a children’s book in a while and because I’ve been so busy reading lately that I haven’t had a chance to write a new booktalk this week.  So off to the archives we go!

The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse is a beautiful book in an unusual format. At the beginning of the book, Mila is a wild child who relates to dolphins better than to humans.  But as the book progresses and Mila starts interacting with people, we see her language skills develop along with her mind and her writing style starts to evolve.  This is a poignant and remarkable story, and kids will keep thinking about this book long after they’ve finished it.

BOOKTALK:

Mila is famous all over the world, and she’s only a teenager.  She was rescued by dolphins after her plane crashed when she was four years old, and she spent over ten years of her life with them.  Now she’s been rescued again – this time, by people that look like her.  The difference is, this time she didn’t want to be rescued.

The doctors work with Mila, teaching her to speak and to play music.  She learns very quickly; soon she can play computer games, figure out puzzles, and play music on the recorder.  She learns a lot about what it means to be human; she learns through books, through radio, and through television.  But too often she feels like she’s trapped in a net of humans.

Will Mila ever think of the land as her home, or will the pull of the ocean be too strong?

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