Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blast from the Past - Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

So, I have to read this book for a comparison paper that I am writing for my young adult literature class. I read this book a LONG time ago, back when it first came out and I was really getting into LGBTQ YA lit. There are so many thing that I love about this book including two of my favorite characters:
Min: The main character Russel's best friend, who is bisexual! There aren't enough bi characters in YA lit. Or in any lit really.
Belinda: The straight girl who wants to join the Geography Club because she likes geography! yay geography!

I love how realistic this book is. The main characters, all who are gay to some degree, aren't perfect. The do spend a good portion of the book complaining about how it's hard to be gay in a society that devalues homosexuality. But unlike some gay teens in YA lit, they don't become dumping grounds for morality. They make mistakes and are assholes to other kids, which is totally real. (not very nice, but real). I'm specifically thinking of how they treat another student named Brian Bund. Brian is the school loser, and gets teased and assaulted on a daily basis. While some of the members of the club (Min, Belinda) think they should invite Brian to their club (even though they aren't sure if he is gay) others don't want to risk further alienation from the student body. And this sucks! But it's realistic to how teenagers are. Which I like alot. And I love how they start out this way, but grow and change over the course of the book. Yay for growing and changing! Hartinger writes teenagers as they actually would be, not how we, as readers (especially adult readers) want them to be. Good stuff.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Freaks and Revelations by Davida Willis Hurwin

Freaks and Revelations – What a book. Seriously. This sat on my shelf for a really long time, I’m not sure why. Maybe I wasn’t ready to read it, maybe I was a little scared, the subject matter is super intense, and even more than that, it’s based on a true story. Hurwin tells the story of two boys, Jason who is 13 and Doug who is 17, whose very different lives are on a collision course towards each other, tragedy and inevitably growth. Jason is a gay hustler in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He didn’t choose this life, it was thrust upon him after his mother kicked him out for being gay. Doug is unhappy with his life and his family, and is slowly sinking into the depths of drugs, punk music and white supremacy. (the ultimate trio!) The majority of the book chronicles the two years of their lives before they meet. And that meeting is what changes their lives forever.
I don't want to give away to much, but the book flap, as well as the amazon.com review, both describe the event as a hate crime or a gay bashing. So basically Doug gay bashes Jason to within an inch of his life, and both are traumatized. The amazing part is what happens when they meet up again, twenty years later. And the amazing thing about it is that it's true! It really happened! Hurwin takes some liberties with the storytelling aspect, and the narrative portions of the two years leading up to the event are all fiction, but the events are true and here are some links describing the history.


I think it is pretty amazing that two such differing people are able to learn from their history and in Doug's case, mistakes, and come together to teach others about hate and intolerance, as well as love and acceptance. I also think it is amazing that Hurwin turned this into a ya novel, it is such an important aspect of LGBT history, and a wonderful story to tell, and Hurwin tells it extremely well. Her dialogue, is sharp, witty and heartbreaking, especially Jason's, who is forced to claim a persona of a someone much older and street-wise. And she manages to imbue in Doug enough sadness and tragedy so that the reader feels connected to him, and although his actions were awful and hateful, is able to feel happiness at his ultimate redemption. This is a wonderful book and I recommend it to anyone who likes stories about love, friendship, hate, betrayal, redemption, as well is readers interested in the history of punk and the LGBT struggle.

Friday, August 20, 2010

This sucks

So Ellen Hopkins has been banned again. This time from a Teen book festival in Texas. Here is a link to her discussion on livejournal: http://ellenhopkins.livejournal.com/11666.html. In response to this, Pete Hautman and number of YA authors have dropped out of the festival in protest. http://petehautman.blogspot.com/2010/08/nasty-thing-in-corner.html Hopkin's novels, written in verse, deal with very serious topics including drug addiction, teenage prostitution, suicide and sexual abuse. She doesn't beat around the bush and her novels are raw and intense. It is understandable that some people might be offended by these topics, which is fine, they don't have to read them. But when the put their personal views upon the general population, specifically the teenage audience, they are doing an extreme disservice to readers everywhere. Two things really upset me about this.
1) The initial complainer was a librarian. Librarians are supposed to support free speech, intellectual freedom, and are under no circumstances supposed to encourage banning books. WTF? It is one of the specific statements, in the American Library Association code of ethics, that "We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources." Additionally, "We distinguish between our personal convictions and professional duties and do not allow our personal beliefs to interfere with fair representation of the aims of our institutions or the provision of access to their information resources." What this librarian did was wrong and in direct violation of her post. And I can't believe that the superintendent didn't take into consideration ANY of the other opinions, except hers and a few parents. OI.
2) Kids really like Hopkins books. While censorship is always wrong and should be frowned upon intently, sometimes the books that are opposed to aren't in wide circulation. But Hopkin's novels have a large audience, and I have met literally hundreds of kids who eagerly await her newest books. To deny them what could be a life changing moment, where they get to meet this esteemed author, is wrong. I remember when I was growing up I met two of my favorite authors, Lois Lowry and Yoko Kawashima Watkins, and what a profound affect this had on me as a child. These poor kids will never experience that.

Also, while I totally support the other authors who dropped out in protest, and I think they are doing the right thing, I can't help but feel so bad for the children and teens who are now missing out here. What message are we sending to these readers? Who is really being hurt here? Certainly Ms. Hopkins is saddened by these events, but the young adults who her visit would affect are the real losers in this situation. WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Pink by Lili Wilkinson

Alright, first of all, how awesome is this cover! I love the contrast between the pink and the black. But aside from the cover, this is probably the best book I read all summer, and I work at a bookstore and am in library school, so I read a lot of books this summer. (We will exclude Mockingjay for the moment, as it is not yet August 24th...) Pink tells the story of Ava, who transdfers schools and joins the school musical in an attempt to fit in with the "normal" crowd. She quickly learns that no one is normal, and that might not be a bad thing. So, the back of this book does not make any mention of the fact that Ava is a lesbian and is in a long term relationship with a girl named Chloe. I both like and dislike this editorial/marketing choice. This is not a coming out story, but it also kind of is. Ava struggles with her sexuality at various points in the novel, but for the most part, she is very happy in her relationship and her family is very supportive. I like the fact that Ava's sexuality, while certainly an important aspect of the novel, is not the MAIN point. It is nice to see LGBT characters that fit into the story fluidly and whose sexuality is just another awesome aspect of their character.
And the characters in this story are awesome. Wilkinson is a great writer and all of her characters are fully developed. Ava makes friends with the popular kids and with the stage crew kids (called screws) and Wilkinson manages to make the reader fell like he/she really knows these kids, without providing extensive backstory. My favorite was Alexis, who starts out as a vapid (albeit incredibly smart and talented) popular girl, but who ultimately becomes incredibly endearing and hilarious. That's another thing I loved about this book. Althought it deals with serious issues, identity, belonging, sexuality, death, it isn't super serious, and it is HILARIOUS. Good job Ms. Wilkinson. It is not preachy in the slightest! The only issue that arises, is the fact that there is no mention of Ava's sexuality at all. I can understand why they didn't include it in the blurb, as it is not THE ISSUE in the novel, but it is central to her character, and readers who pick up the book expecting the traditional coming of age story might be in for a little shock. But that isn't really a big deal and it could change before the book actually gets released. So read it!

This book will be released Feb 8th, 2011, from Harper Collins. but I loved it so much I had to review it right away! Thanks for the review copy Anne!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Obligatory BEA 2010 Post

Like hundreds of other bloggers (and publishers, authors, teachers, librarians, shnorrers) I took went to the Book Expo America last week. This was my second year going and unlike last year, my boyfriend decided to stay home this time, leaving me to carry a million pounds of heavy books all on my own! This year was pretty crazy compared to last, the whole show was on one floor instead of two, which made it seem as if there was three times as many people, and they condensed the floor show down to two days instead of three. Last year I went in with a kind of sketchy plan of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, also last year I didn't have the same ridiculous knowledge of upcoming YA titles that I do now. (I'm not bragging, I'm lame, I have every book release marked in my day planner. Also, I have a day planner.) This year I recognized a lot more upcoming stuff and was able to plan better which authors I wanted to meet. Some of the more exciting things that happened to me, in a convenient numbered list. (because I cannot figure out how to make bullets)

1. Speed dating with Children's book authors where I met some favorite authors including:
- Bryan Collier (Illustrator for many picture books including Rosa, Barack Obama and the upcoming Dave the Potter which is super beautiful)
- Karen Gray Ruelle (The Grand Mosque of Paris)
- Diana Peterfreund (Rampant!)
- Lauren Kate (Fallen and the upcoming sequel Torment)
- Charlie Higson (The Enemy)
and a lot more, but those were pretty exciting.

2. I got to hang out with my friends Jenny and Sarah from Foreveryoungadult.com, best site ever! yay! and we ate pretzel croissant's from City Bakery, the most delicious thing ever. I also ate a lot of beef short ribs.

3. Meeting tons of other bloggers including Steph Su, Angie,
and Tania

4. Seeing American Idiot on Broadway, YAY GREEN DAY!

5. Meeting Patti Lupone as she signed her new book (actually she signed a two page excerpt that had a book plate on it, lame! but it was still amazing)

6. Being able to cross off a ton of the books on the previously mentioned, upcoming books section in my day planner! Although I didn't go crazy like some people (I still have the elbow marks in my side to prove it) Also a lot of the hot ARCS that were out had already come into my bookstore, yay! Although I didn't get Cassandra Clare's new book, but I bet the hardcover will totally be worth it and then it can match my hardcover Mortal Instruments BOXED SET HOLLER.

7. Meeting the people from Rowand and Littlefield, the publisher's who created my favorite line of non-fiction, library related textbooks about ya novels, including The Heart Has It's Reasons about LGBT YA novels.

There were a lot more fun things but I am tired right now, I can only hope next year will be just as awesome and I will see you all there as well!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Grand Mosque of Paris by Karen Gray Ruelle

So I am not the hugest fan of picture books, who knows, maybe when I have children of my own I will develop a deep appreciation for them and the stories they tell, but right now the are just kind of meh. However, I recently read this awesome book because the author, Ruelle, will be attending one of the events I am signed up for at the BEA (wahoo! book expo!) This is one picture book that she be read by everyone (except actually, little children, because there is a ton of text on each page, It's probably better for late elementary school and onward). Ruelle tells the story of a group of Muslims who joined together to provide sanctuary to a large number of Jews in Paris during the Holocaust. They let Jewish people hide in the Mosque and provided escape routes for them to take them to safe places. Additionally, they created false papers for the Jews that could "pass" as Muslim and helped them stay safe too. I had never heard of this story before which surprised me. As a pretty well educated Jewish girl from the suburbs, I was exposed every single year of my public school education to Holocaust studies. Additionally, I read a lot on my own. Now I have heard plenty about the Righteous Gentiles, or the Righteous Among Nations, people (non-Jews) who risked their lives to help Jews stay safe, but I was unfamiliar with this particular story.
There is a lot of discord today between Jews and Muslisms, especially in the Middle East. It makes me sad to read about and witness all the hatred between the two groups that I see frequently. But it gives me hope that it doesn't always have to be like this. History proves that Jews and Muslims (and other people too!) can get along, and if we truly are doomed to repeat the past over and over again, at least this story shows us that's not all bad.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Fold by An Na

I bought this book a while ago at my bookstore, for some reason I put it on my shelf and forgot about it. About a month ago I saw the bright green cover and grabbed it to read on my break. The Fold is about a high school student named Joyce who is faced with the dilemma of whether or not to accept plasic surgery from her aunt to change the shape of her eyes. The idea of Korean women getting the fold put into their eyes, so that they might look more Caucasian is not something that was new to me. I can remember writing a paper in my freshman writing class at NYU about an MTV special I had seen on the topic hosted by Su Chin Pak (who is awesome!) I also recently watched the surprisingly awesome show, Jessica Simpson's Price of Beauty, where she went to Japan and met with a woman who was considering the surgery.
So while the surgery might not be national news, it is talked about in pop culture, especially on MTV. The book was great. Joyce was kind of aggravating sometimes, but the author more than made up for a lackluster main character with awesome supporting characters. My favorite was Joyce's sister Helen, who throughout the course of the book goes through a huge transformation of her own. The whole family is effected by both Joyce and Helen's dilemmas and that is what I loved most about this novel, it's description of family.
A lot of YA novels leave out important stuff that every day, real life teens experience. There is a great post on what's missing in YA at http://stephsureads.blogspot.com/2010/04/whats-missing-in-ya-lit-contemporary.html who is one of the best bloggers out there. There was also a recent NY Times article about parents in YA literature and how they mostly fit ridiculous sterotypes, there just arent any YA books with normal families. Now, I know that isn't true, and YA lit with well rounded families do exist, but they are far and few between. And while I wouldn't necessarily say that Joyce's family is completely normal, they are well rounded and realistic, and this is a breath of fresh air. I love reading about real families and the struggles they go through, and An Na does a great job of telling the story of this family.